sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-05-16 07:40 am

Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do 2/3

Title: Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do
Rating: R
Artist: Lienwyn
Author: Copperbadge
Summary: The year is 1930, Prohibition and the Depression are both in full swing, and Chicago Police Detective Steve Rogers has his hands full. There's a dead body on the banks of Lake Michigan, the entire city's legal system is corrupt, and the king gangster of the North Side, Tony Stark, has taken more than a passing interest in him.

Chapter One

***

Sunday morning found Tony in a pew at Holy Name, with Pepper and Natasha to his left, Thor on the aisle to his right, and half his close associates scattered around the rest of the building. It always amused him how many would-be lieutenants showed up to prove to the boss they were good, churchgoing gangsters. Nobody in Chicago looked more pious than the Irish Catholic mob, unless it was the Italians. And nobody looked more Irish, whether he was or not, than the black-haired, blue-eyed Stark boy with the pretty redhead on his arm.

"If I go to church on Sunday, and a cabaret on Monday..." he sang under his breath, and Pepper elbowed him. The service had yet to start, and she might not be the most spiritual woman ever graced the Earth -- something of a scarlet woman if it came to that, not that she'd ever worked for money or needed to -- but she didn't approve of blasphemy in a church.

"You look magnificent," he said in her ear, to make up for it.

"Thank you," she replied, turning to give him a narrow look. "You look like you're up to something. How did your fishing expedition go yesterday?"

"Could've caught bigger. Nobody knows nothing, even when I'm the one doing the asking. Natasha had fun, though. And we ran into that cop again, Rogers."

"I think that was the fish you were going for, wasn't it?"

"You wound me. I have genuine heartfelt reasons for investigating, Pepper, I am not so low I'd use a man's murder to hook a fish like him."

"Hm, but you're not above taking advantage of the situation if it pops up."

"Well, I'm only human."

"Nice to hear you admit it before God," she replied, turning to face front again. "Watch yourself with him, Tony. There's nothing more dangerous than an honest cop."

"Especially to himself."

"You're playing with fire."

"My favorite kind of play. Nah, he and I have a deal on. We help each other with the case, and when we catch the bastard who did this -- "

"Tony, we're in church."

"When we catch the child born out of wedlock who did this, Rogers and the courts get first crack. But, if he's not found guilty, I get him. And there's nothing Rogers can do about it."

"You sure you can trust him?"

"Like you said. He's an honest cop."

"Or pretending to be one."

"Well, pick a side, Pepper my own, you can't have it both ways."

She rested a hand on his. "I just worry about you. You know that."

"I do, and thank you, but I'm handling it just fine," Tony said, as the service began.

"I still miss Orthodox church," Natasha said, from Pepper's other side. "Not enough demons in this one."

***

Steve had tried to go to church a few times, when he got back to Brooklyn after the war. He hadn't had a whole lot of faith left in God, to be honest, but he'd thought he ought to try. He went to his old parish church for a few weeks, but it was hard. Half the women there looked at him like they didn't know why he was there when their sons weren't anymore, and a fair number of folks just looked at him with pity, because they knew (except they couldn't really ever know) what he'd been through in the war. He gave it up, eventually, and found he and God had got on just fine for the last ten years or so without a preacher getting in the way.

So on Sunday he praised the Lord by getting a few extra hours of sleep, and went downstairs to eat breakfast with his landlord, an elderly Jewish man who'd come over from Poland forty years ago and still referred to Chicago as "my new home."

He mooched around for most of the morning, reading the paper, watching people pass on the street below his window. He wondered what Tony could have found in South Bend, and what a guy like him had done to find it. He didn't admire him, exactly -- he knew that even if you didn't like violence you didn't run rum in a burg like Chicago without getting your hands a little dirty -- but Tony had something. Panache, maybe, but with brains to back it up. There was something in him that Steve liked. Obviously, he supposed, or else he wouldn't have agreed to this deal with the devil.

He had clever hands, Tony Stark. Clever eyes. Steve had seen a lot of bootleggers and gangsters in his time, in the papers and occasionally -- though not often -- in the precinct house in New York. They controlled people through fear and raw shows of power, and they weren't very...self-aware, by and large. Ruled by ego. It was always what brought them down.

Tony was different. Self-controlled, even when he didn't seem like he was. Disciplined, perhaps, was a better word for it.

And he wears a suit so nicely.

When Steve showed up at the Tuxedo Club again, in the full light of day and trying not to look like he was skulking, the doorman said, "He's waiting for you, sir," and let him inside before he'd said a word. "Up the stairs, they're in the dining room."

Steve followed the stairs up to the next floor and found himself in a place as swanky as the one below, if a little more subdued. There were a few tables scattered around, but only one was occupied, by a brunette and a blond man and Tony, who rose out of his chair to come greet him.

"Slight change of plans," he said under his breath, as they shook hands.

"I thought we were meeting alone," Steve said, just as softly.

"Guests came in from back east, I couldn't say no. We'll talk after," Tony replied, and placed a hand on the small of his back to guide him to the table. "Now we're four," he announced to the others with a smile. "Hank, Jan, this is Steve Rogers, he's lending me a hand with some problems. Steve, that's Jan van Dyne Pym -- "

"The fashion designer," Steve said, taking her hand.

"You know me?" she asked with a beaming smile.

"Ma'am, half the country knows you," Steve replied, admittedly a little awed.

"And her husband Hank Pym, the biologist," Tony continued.

"Pleasure," Hank said, shaking hands over the table.

"Likewise. Tony tells me you're visiting from New York."

"Well, the shopping in Chicago's wonderful this time of year," Jan said.

"Steve's fresh from back east himself," Tony put in. "You've been in Chicago what, two weeks?"

"Little under ten days, matter of fact. Born and bred in Brooklyn," Steve said.

"How are you finding Chicago?" Hank asked.

Steve considered his answer. "Complicated," he said. He heard Tony snort. "Folks are nice, though. Everyone sure does want to lend a hand."

"Midwestern manners," Tony said, and moved the conversation along. Nobody asked what Steve was doing in Chicago; he could only imagine what the Pyms thought of him.

He didn't pay much attention to what they were eating, more inclined to watch the way Tony interacted with his guests. Jan van Dyne Pym was a rich socialite and a famous designer in her own right, like Coco Chanel. Steve had never heard much about her husband, other than that he sometimes went off on bug-hunting expeditions for months at a time, to Africa and South America and God-knew-where. Steve supposed it took all kinds.

Tony was charming, interested, witty; showing off, Steve thought, though whether for his benefit of theirs, or just because he liked to, Steve couldn't tell.

"You should come with us this afternoon," Jan said, when they'd finished eating. "We're going to the Field Museum, and I need someone to squire me around the exhibits while Hank talks bugs with the curators."

"I'd love to," Tony said, kissing her hand. "But I'm afraid I have business to conduct. I'll see you at the Iron tonight, though?"

"You'd better," she replied, following Hank to the door. "Enjoy your business, Tony," she added with a wink.

"So," Tony said, turning to Steve. "You play cards?"

"Not really a gambling man," Steve answered.

"Don't tell me you didn't have a hand or two in the trenches."

"Now and again, I suppose."

"Great. Come along," Tony called, already heading for the staircase. They went up another floor, to what seemed like an empty storage space, and through a door into a snug little room with an impressive array of alcohol along one wall and a bare table in the center. Tony picked up a deck of cards from the bar and tossed them onto the table.

"I'll concede to your Puritan values and play you rummy," Tony said, as Steve sat down warily.

"I'd just like to find out what you learned in South Bend."

"Sure. Tell you what, we'll play a better game. One question each, then the other one gets one. Keeps things organized," Tony said.

"And it's a game of strategy," Steve replied.

"Eh?"

"Knowing which questions to ask," Steve said. "You think you can run rings around the flatfoot. It's fine; I'll play along."

"You're a suspicious man, Captain."

"Comes with the job."

Tony offered him the deck, and he drew a card -- ace of diamonds. He flicked it around in his fingers. Tony held up a second card, the four of clubs.

"Guess you go first," Tony said. "Only got one rule."

"Yeah, what's that?"

"What we say at the table stays at the table. I got a lot to protect," Tony said, when Steve raised an eyebrow. "If this is gonna work, I need to know I can trust you not to use what you hear against me."

"That go both ways?"

"You expect to say something I could use against you?" Tony asked.

"Just making sure."

"Sure. Both ways," Tony agreed. "Fire away, Captain."

"What'd you learn in South Bend?"

Tony gave him a dry look. "Not much, I have to say. I did find out where my scotch comes from. There's a shipping company that brings it west from Boston. If I had to guess, I'd say it was getting to Boston from Scotland, through Ireland by way of Galway port, and from Boston to us overland. It comes through a warehouse in South Bend run by one of my regulars, name of Fury. He knew what Yinsen was taking to Chicago, and so did his guy, Philly, but they had no reason to go after the drink. They could get their own if they wanted, and anyway why not just knock Yinsen off at the warehouse?"

"Unless they wanted to throw off suspicion."

"I can see why you're the Detective. Fury's wily that way, but I don't get the sense he'd bother. And they're discreet fellas. So what I learned in South Bend is mostly that South Bend's not where we ought to be looking."

"Then where?" Steve asked.

"Ah ah, my turn," Tony said, waggling a finger. "What'd you find here in Chicago?"

"Bunk," Steve admitted, folding his hands on the table. "All my leads here are dead. I wouldn't have been so eager to talk about yours if I had anything of my own to go on. So I suppose my next question is, who in Chicago has the guts, the power, and the motive to knock over your guy?"

"I'm on pretty good terms with most of them. There's a short list. Capone, maybe, but I thought we were getting along. A couple of the Greek's guys. The Greek himself wouldn't give a shit."

"Does he seriously not have a name?"

"Not your turn, but no, not that any of us are aware of," Tony said, eyes bright and amused. "Possibly a few aldermen might have it in for me."

"Aldermen!" Steve said. "Elected city officials. Jesus Christmas, Tony."

"Hey, nobody twists their arms. If they were as good as they oughta be they wouldn't get elected," Tony said with a shrug. "I'll write you down a list if you want one that badly, but you're taking tips on who to investigate from someone who's their biggest rival."

"I'd like it all the same."

"Done. My turn. What's your next move? Gonna shake down the boys on my list until one of them rattles?"

Steve considered it. "Don't see what else I can do. I'll look into them first. I'll keep your name out of it."

"Thanks for your concern, but I wasn't actually worried about that," Tony said, grinning.

"You should be. This kind of thing can start a war. I saw it happen in New York. Why, do you recommend something different?"

"Sure. I recommend you let my people look into it for you. Oh, don't give me that look," Tony said, when Steve scowled. "I can put a handful of people on it and make sure they report directly to you."

"What, like a capo?"

Tony narrowed his eyes. "Wrong immigrants, and no. Like people who can do more for you in less time than a couple of flatfoots, even if you could get 'em and if you could trust 'em. Where were you for eight years?"

Steve blinked, taken aback. "That's your question?"

"I didn't say I was gonna stick to the case," Tony replied, leaning forward, keen and interested now. "Course, if you want to end this, now's your chance."

"It's like that, huh." Steve shook his head. "Fine. It took me a while to get my head right when I got home. When I did, I joined the force. That's as much as you're getting, so don't ask again."

"Interesting," Tony replied, eyes lowering a little, looking into the distance speculatively.

"Were you really in the war?" Steve asked, mostly to shock him.

It worked, too. Tony looked up. "Where'd you pick up that tidbit, Detective?"

"I believe it's my turn," Steve replied evenly. Tony nodded.

"Yes. I was in the war. Why'd you get thrown out of New York?"

Oh, so that was how it was going to be. "I wasn't thrown out. I was transferred."

"Bullshit. You were run out of town and I want to know why."

"I was half of a scandal," Steve said slowly. "I was offered a resignation or a transfer to Chicago. Why'd you stop making guns?"

"I developed a dislike for things that suddenly go boom and blow off half a man's body. What was the scandal?"

"I had an affair. You lose a buddy?"

"Don't fuck me around, we all lost buddies in the war," Tony snarled. "Nobody gets religion over that. I stopped making guns because the Germans got hold of some of mine and one of them happened to get lucky."

"Lucky?"

"My turn. Wife or daughter?"

"Excuse me?" Steve asked.

"You had an affair that got you thrown out of New York? Did you fuck a fellow officer's wife, or the police commissioner's daughter?"

"He hasn't got a daughter, but if you want a complete answer: neither. What do you mean, got lucky?"

Tony patted his heart. "I got a bullet about five inches from my ticker. Good news is, it's stuck in a rib. Bad news is, I ever take a hit right about here," he pressed a finger down just below and to the right of where his heart would be, "it might finish the job. I decided liquor was a little safer than guns."

"Tony," Steve said, staring at his chest. He'd heard of wounds like it, even encountered one or two, but the horror never went away.

"I don't want your pity, I get by just fine," Tony said. "Who'd you seduce?"

"I'm not answering that."

"Then we're done here."

"Fine by me," Steve said, and started to stand, when Tony asked, "Was it the commissioner's son?"

Steve froze. He knew he shouldn't; he knew how a man was supposed to react. But dammit, Tony was getting under his skin and he needed his help and anyway, they were standing above a gin joint where --

"No," he said, bowing his head. "Fellow officer."

"Now we're getting somewhere," Tony replied. Steve rested his hands heavily on the table.

"It wasn't an affair," he admitted. "I misjudged him. I made a...suggestion. He reported me. End of story. No great romance, I'm afraid."

"I could blackmail you with this," Tony pointed out, standing up and going to the bar. He took a stopper out of a glass bottle and poured amber liquid into a tumbler.

"What we say here stays here," Steve said. Tony nodded, allowing it. "Besides, you'd have found out eventually, if you really went lookin'. And there's no proof, just his word and mine, but mine's a little less trustworthy. That's probably why I got sent here, instead of drummed out completely."

"And what happens when you make a suggestion here?" Tony asked, offering him the glass. Steve took it and set it carefully aside on the table.

"I wouldn't try that twice. Men like me, Tony, we live on the edge or we end alone. I've been on the edge; I don't think it's worth it."

"The problem is, it isn't an edge," Tony said. Steve was aware of how close he was, with his hip hitched against the table next to Steve's arm. Close enough to sock, and Steve considered laying one on him; close enough to feel his body heat. He decided against it. "Detective. Captain."

Steve glanced at him, then looked back down.

"It's not an edge, Steve," Tony said quietly. "It's a border. What you saw here the other night? That's a whole new country just past it. I'm not saying it's right and it sure as hell isn't perfect, but it's what we got, and we keep our own secrets. Nobody gets reported for a suggestion. Nobody gets drummed out for looking where he or she oughtn't."

"I'm a lawman," Steve said. "That's not a place I can go."

"Well, that's between you and your morals, I suppose, but you wouldn't be the first we had down there, or the last."

A warm palm cupped his cheek, and Steve jerked away slightly, startled, but Tony just followed his movement, turning his face so that they were eye-to-eye.

"What I really did," Tony said, "when I stopped making guns, was I started making things right, law or not. I made places for people who didn't belong. Soldiers who left parts of themselves back in the war and needed some time to get their heads right. Folks who just want a drink and a dance and don't want a bunch of Presbyterians praying outside the dance hall. People who don't mind so much if the music they hear isn't played by a white man. People society won't tolerate because they don't love like they're told they oughta."

"Which one of those are you, then?" Steve asked.

"Oh," Tony said with a small smile. "All of the above?"

Steve lost his temper, and he knew it was happening even as he moved, but he couldn't help it. Hot rage surged up in him, resentment that this had been here all along and he hadn't known it, fury that he'd spent so long alone. Anger that this man was toying with him, taunting him.

He pivoted swiftly, reacting as the war had taught him, turning the anger into defense. He grabbed Tony by the lapels of his nice suit and pulled him close and asked, "What do you want from me, Stark? You're playing this game, what do you win if I lose? Or isn't it my turn?"

Tony, to his credit, brought his arms up and broke the hold, not effortlessly but with no fear in his expression. "You want to know what I want?" he hissed, leaning in. "I want to own you."

Steve jerked back, shocked.

"I want every devious little thought and clever deduction that ever went through your head. You're too damn smart to run around enforcing laws you don't believe in, for a system that's so broke it can't even tell it's crumbling." He took a step forward, and Steve stepped back involuntarily. "I want you for a soldier in my country. I want your soul, because fuck knows nobody else is making use of it, not even you." Another step, and Steve's shoulders slammed against a wall. "I want your body to belong to me."

They were pressed chest-to-chest, now, and Tony reached out --

And straightened Steve's tie.

"But I'll settle for the guy who killed Joe Yinsen," he said softly. "Because you're too scared to come over to this side. It's a rare moment I don't get everything I want; you should treasure it."



He stepped back, and Steve exhaled.

"There's the door," Tony said. "I'll make sure that list gets to you. If you need some of my guys, you know how to get in touch."

Steve was ashamed of how relieved he was to flee.

***

Tony, true to his word, sent a two-page document over to Steve by courier on Monday, with nothing to indicate it had come to the police station from one of the biggest crooks in Chicago. It was only six names, but each one had a paragraph or two below it about who they were and why they might have it in for him, written in a neat drafting hand that had to be Stark's.

Steve folded up the document, put it in his inside pocket, and went to see what he could find on his new suspects.

It wasn't easy, not knowing who to talk to, who to shake down, who to avoid. People were people everywhere, but Chicago might as well have been a new world for him. He got a few answers from the aldermen's offices, enough to scratch three names off the list of six, but not nearly as many as he'd like. And he suspected word was getting around that a flatfoot was nosing in where he wasn't wanted or welcome.

Tuesday night, after a long day of pounding pavement and getting nowhere, he went home and rummaged around in the trunk he still hadn't fully unpacked, pulling a battered book out of the bottom. He shaved, put on a clean suit, sat on his bed for a while to consider this madness, and finally got up and went out.

The minute he walked into the Tuxedo Club, Miss Potts found him.

"Tony said you'd be back," she said with a smile, a martini in one hand. "I didn't think it would be so soon. Can I buy you a drink, Steve?"

"Still a detective, Miss Potts," he said, and she made a little moue of disappointment. "I'm looking for Tony. I don't imagine he's here, but I thought you might be, and know where I could find him."

"Not going to arrest him, I hope?"

"No," he said, and then admitted, "I need his help."

"Don't we all," she replied. "Is this about Joe?"

"What else would it be about?"

"You never know," she said airily. "He's been looking into things, you know. If you're racing him to the finish, he might be ahead. Might not want to let his lead go to waste."

"We had an agreement."

"Well, Tony always honors his bets. He's at the Iron tonight, I think. Do you know where it is?"

"Not the faintest clue," he said.

"I'll have Happy take you."

He wasn't sure what to make of that, until she lifted a hand and waved at someone sitting behind the bar. "Happy! Happy, sweetheart."

"Miss Potts," the man said, coming up to them.

"Be a good boy and take our friend here to the Iron. VIP treatment the whole way, he needs to see Tony," she said.

"I can get there myself," Steve began, because he was a little suspicious of a gangster moll's driver taking him anywhere, but she just laid a hand on his arm.

"Please. A friend of Tony's is always a friend of ours. Go on," she added, with a little push.

"Happy to take you," Happy said, with a grin that told Steve he probably never got tired of the joke. "This way, sir."

Happy led him to a car outside the club, a long sleek number but not quite as flashy as the one Natasha had been driving in South Bend.

"So you work for Miss Potts?" Steve asked, awkward about having a door held for him.

"These days," Happy replied, getting into the driver's seat. "Used to drive Mr. Stark, but Miss Potts does a lot more traveling than him now."

"How was Stark to work for?"

"Oh, fine. Liked to drive himself, made my job easier. Heck of a mechanic," Happy said, pulling onto the street.

"Mr. Stark?"

"Sure. Most of his regular delivery drivers've had what you could call some Stark innovations. He makes 'em lighter, makes 'em run faster."

Steve digested this in silence as Happy prattled on about engines and construction, until they pulled to a stop outside another alley.

"I don't know the password," Steve said, as Happy held the door for him again.

"Tell 'em Happy sent you to see Mr. Stark," Happy replied. "They'll take you up to the VIP bar."

"Thanks, pal," Steve said, tipping him.

"No problem. You want me to wait?"

"No, I'm sure Miss Potts will need you."

"Enjoy your night," Happy replied with a grin, and the car roared off as Steve murmured his makeshift password to the doorman, who led him inside.

He had to stop for a minute when they entered, just to take in the glory of the Iron, the most infamous speakeasy on the north side. It was all scarlet and gold, gorgeous in an overwhelming sort of way, full of people with drinks in their hands and dance partners on their arms. It glittered and roared. It was...it was very Tony.

There were two bars, on two separate levels; one next to the dance floor, where cigarette girls were circulating, and another on a raised sort of balcony up half a flight of stairs. He was led up the stairs, noting the envious looks as he passed, and guided under a velvet rope. The doorman said something to the bartender, who nodded and gestured for Steve to head to the far end of the bar. A cluster of people there told Steve what he'd find.

Tony was standing in the middle of a crowd, telling some story, clearly a little tipsy. Steve tried not to elbow anyone as he approached.

"So then I -- hey!" Tony interrupted himself, noticing Steve. "Hey, c'mere."

"Oh, it's Steve!" one of the women said, and Steve caught the face under the fashionable hair set with a little diamond-encrusted band.

"Mrs. Pym," he said. She offered her hand to be kissed, so he did his best. Tony laughed.

"Business or pleasure?" he asked Steve, offering him a cigar from a plate on the table. Steve waved it off.

"Business," he said quietly. Tony nodded.

"Scuse me, my babies, I have work to do," he said. "Step into my office, Captain."

Tony's office turned out to be an actual office, through a door off the bar, with wide glass windows looking down on the Iron, and a desk and typewriter and telephone.

"How's your search going?" Tony asked, leaning on the desk.

"Not that well," Steve said, feeling a little foolish. He wasn't sure why he was here, wasn't sure if he'd read anything about this man correctly.

"Hey, my offer stands. You want a few of my boys, they're all yours."

"Tony, we didn't part ways so well," Steve said. "I been thinking about it."

"No, I suppose we didn't," Tony agreed.

"Brought you a peace offering," Steve added. He held out the book. Tony took it, but didn't open it; instead he studied him.

"Wasn't necessary," he said. "If anything, I should've sent you a couple of bottles of top shelf, except I know you wouldn't take 'em."

"Leastways you were honest," Steve said.

"Leastways I was. So what's this all about?" Tony asked, flipping the cheap cover open. He looked down at the page inside, then flipped it; he got through a few more before he looked up again. "A sketchbook?"

"My sketchbook," Steve said.

"You're a hell of an artist."

"You wanted to know where those eight years went," Steve replied. "That's how I tried to get my head straight. Some sketching, mainly painting."

"These are really good. You never had a show in New York?"

"Nope. Never got that much attention. Starved on a pension that wouldn't feed a child, till the days I wanted to eat somethin' outnumbered the days I wanted to paint somethin'. Pal of mine got me a job at the PD."

"I gotta say," Tony said, fingers drifting above a pencil sketch of a male nude, "you sure aren't fooling anyone with this book."

"Figured that," Steve replied. Tony closed it and offered it back, and Steve took it.

"Thank you," Tony said. "Far as I'm concerned, we're square. What do you need?"

He'd intended to say that he needed help on his end of the case, that he needed more than a paragraph on paper to figure out who his first suspect was. But the easy, loose way Tony said it made him look down and blush.

Tony cocked his head, then reached out and flicked a curtain across the windows into the bar; a second sharp movement and dim lights rose from a pair of lamps in the room. He pushed off the desk and came forward until he was standing in Steve's space again. He smelled like aftershave lotion, and something a little nicer than gin.

"Do you want to be owned, Steve?" he asked.

Steve's head came up. "No."

"Not even for a little while?" Tony pressed, hands sliding under his overcoat. "I'm very careful with my things. More so with what others lend me."

Steve could hear himself make a soft noise, half-protest and half-surrender, and Tony touched his tie again, tugging it loose. He leaned up and kissed him, right on the mouth, and Steve heard a soft thud as the sketchbook dropped to the floor.

***

Tony, the minute he felt Steve bend into the kiss, suppressed his initial instinct to crow triumphantly. He might not own the cop and he might not even own the man, but there was a certain thrill in bringing someone this far past the line. Especially someone as interesting as Steve Rogers.

He brought his hands up from Steve's loose-hanging tie to wrap around his neck, thumbs holding his jaw in place, just in case Steve had any thoughts of backing out. Tony would admit to being a little drunk, but he strategized just as well drunk as sober. Steve coming here and showing him that book meant something, meant he wanted more than an uneasy truce with a gangster who could help him. He wondered how Steve had found the place, but not for long. Not when Steve's mouth was opening under his, tongue licking up the taste of alcohol in his mouth.

Tony slid one hand up the back of Steve's head, gripping his short hair firmly, and brought the other one down to undo Steve's tie completely, working one-handed on the buttons of his vest. Steve moaned and turned them, pushing Tony back against the wall, and began working on Tony's necktie. The pin holding it in place clattered to the floor. Tony was pretty sure at least one of the buttons had come off his waistcoat and he was beginning to worry about the chain on his pocket watch.

"Easy, soldier," he said, catching Steve's lower lip in his teeth. "Careful with the goods."

"Careful, he says," Steve breathed, rutting his hips against him. Tony grinned and pushed back, shoving overcoat and jacket and vest off in a single move, tugging Steve's shirt-tails out of his trousers. Steve's hand went for his belt-buckle, hampered by the closeness of their bodies.

"What do you want?" Tony asked, rolling his body up into Steve's touch.

"For you to shut up for a little while," Steve answered, before he kissed him again so Tony couldn't reply. Fair enough. Steve got the buckle open and the buttons on his trousers, and Tony felt them slide down to his thighs, catching on his spread legs.

"How very like the army," Tony murmured, and Steve laughed hoarsely as he shoved his own pants down, burying his face between Tony's collar and the side of his throat. Tony brought a hand around to touch Steve or possibly even himself, wanting to ease the ache of arousal a little, but Steve's big broad hand wrapped around both of them and Tony allowed himself a whimper.

It wasn't elegant or particularly romantic, but for romance you could read a book. Their bodies rolled together, Tony panting, Steve groaning in a stifled sort of way that said more about his previous experience than anything else. He was clumsy and a little on the rough side, too, but Tony let the sensation ripple through him, enjoying the faint edge of pain as much as the pleasure. God damn, the man had some shoulders, he thought, as he gripped one tightly.

Steve's hand, jerking around them both, stuttered and lost its rhythm for a moment, and Steve bit down on the skin beneath his mouth. Tony felt the orgasm rise through him, surging in a way he hadn't felt in too long, and he dug in his fingers as he came -- as Steve came too, with a bitten-off shout.

Tony let go slowly, cupping one hand against Steve's head. Steve shuddered and made a sobbing noise against his collar.

"Mind if I talk now?" he asked. Steve made to move, but Tony held him there -- the other man was bigger and stronger and younger, could pull away if he wanted, but the touch seemed to be enough. "Easy. It's not a mortal sin, you know. Just a little pleasure. Sounds like you're owed it."

Steve exhaled heavily, and Tony let him go. He watched as Steve shamefacedly pulled his pants up with one hand, casting around for something to clean off his other with, and Tony offered him a handkerchief.

"Thanks," Steve muttered, wiping at the come on his shirt-tail. Tony smiled, feeling easy and spent, and pulled his own still-immaculate clothing together.

"Have a seat," he said, guiding Steve to the chair. He took down a bottle of scotch -- his last, in fact, given that Yinsen's delivery had been so disastrously interrupted -- and poured out two glasses. "Drink."

"Why not," Steve muttered, still not meeting his eyes, and took a sip, coughing a little.

"How long since you've had some?"

"Never did."

"Never?" Tony asked, surprised.

"Went to war when I was eighteen. Then Prohibition came in."

"War sounds like enough of a reason to drink."

Steve shrugged. "I had men to look after."

"Well, that's the good stuff," Tony said, reaching out to smooth his hair down. He was surprised when Steve allowed it, both hands clenched around the glass. "This isn't what you thought you came here for, but I think it is, isn't it?"

"Christ," Steve muttered.

"Had very little to do with it, nor do I suspect he cares," Tony drawled.

"How can you just...just not care? What we've done?"

"Done worse." Tony continued to touch, thumb brushing along the little swirl where Steve parted his hair. "I like making people happy. I like pleasure. If I could light up the entire world, I would, but I can't. So I make a point of not feeling sorry when someone is pleased by what I've done."

Steve huffed.

"Don't mistake me. I don't fuck everyone I meet just to make them smile. But you? I'd do more to get less. Come on, gorgeous," he said, sliding his hand down to tip Steve's chin up. "Give me a smile, at least."

Steve gave him a weak, slightly rueful smile, but he'd take it. He leaned in and kissed him again.

"May I keep your sketchbook for now?" he asked. Steve nodded. "Good. So, I can leave here, and you can come with me. Or you can leave by your lonesome and sleep, and come see me at home tomorrow, and we'll talk business then. I don't let myself get distracted by pleasure either. At least, not for long."

"I couldn't come home with you," Steve said.

"Well, you could, but I understand," Tony answered.

"What am I doing?" Steve asked him.

"What do you think?"

"The world's not black and white," Steve said, turning back to his drink. "I know that. I know cops have to compromise. But this place seems like it's all grey. Half the men I work for actually work for you, or someone like you. The laws I'm breaking are bad laws, but I swore I wouldn't break 'em, and I am. I'm no better than they are."

"Oh, I don't know," Tony said. "You're doing it out of need. Little better than greed," he said, holding up his fingers a few inches apart. "Go home, Captain," he said, infusing the title with the affection of an endearment. "Sleep well. Have nice dreams."

Steve made a thoughtful noise, but he turned his face up to kiss Tony again, rising out of the chair. "What will you do?"

"Spend a few more hours lighting up my little corner of the world," Tony answered. "Goodnight, Steve."

"Goodnight, Tony," Steve said. He bent and picked up the sketchbook on his way out, laying it on the table. "I'll be by tomorrow at eight."

"Better make it nine," Tony called. Steve turned, questioning. "Sinners sleep late."

Steve's smile was at once shy and brilliant. After the door shut, Tony collected the sketchbook, settled down in the chair, and began to page through it.

***

Steve didn't sleep as well as he could have hoped; the night had not gone how he'd planned and his dreams knew it, cycled him back through the war and kept waking him up with half-cried names of dead soldiers on his lips. When he presented himself at Tony Stark's palace of a home the next morning, he was still tired, still confused. At least, he supposed, the exhaustion kept him from being too nervous.

A servant answered the door, smiled when he heard the name Rogers, and showed him upstairs to a bedroom where Tony was sitting at a little table, wrapped up in a silk dressing-gown over a pair of warm-looking pajama pants. Two cups of coffee were on the table, and a basket of bakery goods.

"Put up a chair," Tony said, setting the newspaper aside. The headline read LABOR LEADER JONES DEAD AT 93. "I'd have dressed, but I warned you I sleep late."

"It's fine," Steve said, sipping the coffee. It rolled across his tongue, smooth and rich, and he looked down at it, startled.

"Good stuff, huh?" Tony asked. "Imported from Italy, they know how to do it there. How's morning treating you?"

"Not this good," Steve said, gesturing around him.

"I'm a lucky man. Have a muffin if you want one, they're blueberry. What've you got on the business front?"

Steve studied him for a moment, wondering if they were going to ignore what they'd done, and his frankly embarrassing behavior afterwards. There was a warmth in Tony's eyes that promised they weren't, but the set of his jaw said they were going to work the case first, come hell or high water.

Or hand jobs, he thought with an inner sigh, and took the paperwork out of his pocket.

"I managed to cross some off your list," he said. "The Greek's men have alibis that stand up, even if they wouldn't be the kind of thing you'd use in court."

"Off whacking some other poor bastard?"

"Knocking over a bank out of town."

"Fulla class, those boys," Tony said with a sigh. "Why'd you nix Logan?"

"He's been in Joliet -- the prison, not the town -- for the last three months. And the aldermen you mentioned have alibis."

"Haven't got the dope on him yet, then. But I suppose Jim Logan wasn't ever much of a thorn in my side to start with. So," Tony said, studying the scratched-up papers. "That leaves Modock and Danvers."

"What can you tell me about them? Aside from what you've got here," Steve said.

Tony sat back. "Danvers is a good kid, but she's got a mean streak. I wouldn't be surprised if she tries to move in on me in the next few years. Can't really blame her, she doesn't like being blocked out of Chicago. She runs pretty much everything up in Milwaukee now. Nice work for a girl from the sticks. You'd like her. Served as a Marine in the war."

"She was a military nurse?"

"No, she was a Marine," Tony said placidly.

"I don't follow."

"Nobody checked her drawers before signing her up. Or giving her an honorable discharge. It's a pretty funny story, way she tells it. Come on, Captain, did you think only queers and the morally intemperate got through?" Tony asked, when Steve gave him what was admittedly probably a shocked look. "You're like a shorn lamb. You need me, clearly." He leaned across the table and picked up a telephone receiver, cradling it next to his ear with his shoulder while he poured himself some more coffee. "Jarvis, send Lang up, would you?"

"Lang?" Steve asked, as Tony hung up.

"One of my guys. After all, why have a dog and bark yourself? He's reliable, and it frees up my morning, too," Tony added, as a man in a dove-grey suit entered. Steve could see a shoulder holster bulging slightly under his arm. "Lang."

"Sir."

"This mess with Yinsen. We're looking into Danvers for it. You know a few boys up Milwaukee way, don't you?"

Lang smiled. "Yes, sir. Grew up in Cudahy."

"Go. See if she did it."

Lang shoved his hands in his pockets, pulling back the edge of his coat. "If she did..."

"No. If she did, get me something I can hang around her neck. The law gets her first this time."

Steve found himself on the receiving end of a narrow, suspicious look. "The law, boss?"

"I made a deal," Tony said. "You interested in debating it?"

"No, sir."

"See Jarvis for some traveling dough on the way out. I want to hear from you one way or another by tomorrow morning, you get me?"

Lang nodded and left. Tony leaned back, folding his hands across his stomach.

"I'm not making your life any easier than you're making mine," Steve said thoughtfully.

"Difference is, I can't be fired for this little complication. Which reminds me," Tony added, standing, and Steve was about to ask what reminded him of what when Tony slid smoothly onto his lap, straddling his thighs. "Hi."

"Tony," Steve said, with a mixture of annoyance and affection. "I got work to do this morning."

"Modock's never up before noon," Tony replied in his ear. "And you need me to get close to him."

"This what you call helping the police with their inquiries?" Steve asked.

"Live a little, baby."

"I've lived a whole lot already," Steve said. Tony inched forward, and Steve's hands came up to his hips -- just to steady him, or they might both fall off the chair. "This is a murder investigation, I can't just take a few hours off."

"You sleep at night. You eat three meals a day. There's nothing you can do right now. Let me take you to bed," Tony insisted, hips flush with his, erection evident under his pajamas. "My walls are thick. Bet I could make you yell."

"Some kind of personal goal?" Steve asked, sliding a hand under his robe, moving the untied belt of it aside. Tony's skin was warm and sleek, not thickly muscled but not too slim, either. The small of his back dipped a little, more when he arched and pressed himself against Steve from belly to throat, mouth working at the skin below his ear.

"If you only understood," Tony said into his skin. "If you understood what I'm offering you."

"I think I understand just fine," Steve replied. Without warning he stood, both hands securing Tony's thighs; Tony yelped, but he held on for the few steps it took them to get to the bed, and when Steve tumbled him onto it he laughed and wriggled out of his robe. Steve was struck, looking down, with how rare this really was. The few times he'd done this, mostly during the war, he'd never even been allowed this much skin, or the luxury just to look. Tony stretched and posed, utterly relaxed, clearly trying to entice.

Well, it was working.

Still, Steve went to the door as he pulled off his tie, flicking the deadbolt and only then unbuttoning his shirt, shrugging it off and reaching for his belt as he returned to the bed. Tony rolled onto his knees, batted Steve's hand away and used his grip on the belt to pull him close, unbuckling it.

Steve bent to pull his shoes off but Tony caught his arm and shook his head, continuing to undo his trousers. Steve watched, perplexed, as Tony shoved his clothes down around his thighs and leaned in to kiss his abdomen.

"You are ridiculous," Tony said, nuzzling against him. "You have the body of a Greek sculpture. Do you weight-press barrels or what?"

"Calisthenics," Steve replied, smoothing down Tony's wild hair. "What are you -- Jesus Christ," he broke off roughly, as Tony bent and licked a line up the underside of his dick. Tony leaned back and licked his lips.

"If you get on the damn bed, Captain, I can do that without putting my back out. War injury, y'know," he said with a cheeky look. Steve toed his shoes off and struggled out of the rest of his clothing in a daze, letting himself be pulled onto the smooth blankets, propped against the heap of pillows at the head of the bed. Tony stretched out like a cat and bit his hip gently.

"You make a fella believe there might be a God," Tony said, and bent his head to take him into his mouth. Steve gripped the blankets tightly.

"I make -- " he managed, groaning. Tony's head bobbed, and Steve choked on whatever nonsense he'd been about to say next. It wasn't his first, but it was his first when he wasn't standing up, and Tony was taking his sweet time. The hot, wet clutch of his mouth slid down slow, pulled back like it was taking his soul with it, and he threw his head back and gave in again. It was better than the burn of alcohol, better than pinning Tony to the wall and taking what he wanted, with Tony's warm hand curled around his thigh and Tony's body undressed before him.

His head thudded against the board of the bed and he closed his eyes, breath catching every time Tony moved, tension curling itself up his body until he gasped "Oh -- oh, stop, I can't -- "

There was a sudden rush of cold air, and when he opened his eyes Tony was resting his head on his bent thigh, grinning.

"You did say stop," he said.

"Come up here," Steve managed, tugging on his arm until Tony obeyed, settling into his lap once more. Steve whined when it slid their bodies together.

Tony curled his hands at the back of Steve's head and kissed him, coffee and salt. Steve kissed back, greedy for this for however long it lasted, guilty over what he ought to be doing. It made the sweetness a little sharp, made it all the better.

"I'd like to ride you," Tony said, which made next to no sense, but Steve was too lost in the feeling of his skin to question. "Some other time, perhaps. Really -- oh -- I should do everything I can to stop you from solving this case, don't know what I was thinking, why I would ever want this to be done...yeah," he added, as Steve keened into his shoulder, unable to bite it back any longer. "That's it, make some noise, I want you to."

Steve breathed hard against him, the sweet rub of their bodies together obscene and wonderful. "Tony -- Tony -- "

Tony wrapped his arms around Steve's shoulders, cradling his head, blatantly affectionate, another thing he'd never had before. A man didn't do that, and didn't ought to want it, but he did so much he was gasping for it, high thin noises that echoed in the still room. The first touch of Tony's hand between them sent him spinning over the edge and he didn't bother to bite back the yell this time.

Tony shuddered against him, going lax and limp as Steve tried to pull his wits together.

The warm, brief kiss was unexpected. Tony flopping back onto the bed, boneless and smug, was not. He shot Steve a self-satisfied grin and passed him a handkerchief again, one of an apparently endless supply.

"I fear for whoever does your laundering," Steve said, tidying himself and easing down to lie next to Tony, staring at the ceiling.

"Why? I pay extremely well," Tony answered. He rolled, curling his body around Steve's, nuzzling at his shoulder. "Welcome to the borderland, Captain."

"I suppose it's not all bad," Steve allowed, drowsing in the afterglow. He slid his hand down Tony's body, shoulder to hip, and back up. "I like the uniforms."

Tony laughed. "Well, you're made for them."

"Is that so."

"You're beautiful. Surely you understand that," Tony replied.

"I'm just another cop."

"Trust me, if they made more cops like you I might be a more law-abiding citizen. Though perhaps I'd go the opposite route, just to get your attention."

"Are you saying I could tempt you to the straight and narrow?" Steve asked, tugging lightly on his hair.

"You should continue to try," Tony informed him solemnly. Steve laughed.

"I'll bear that in mind," he said, and when Tony kept looking up at him, eyes dark and considering, he frowned. "What?"

"Just thinking," Tony said, rolling off him, turning his head to keep eye contact. "What I wouldn't do with you," he added, almost to himself.

Steve pushed himself up on one arm, leaning over him.

"How d'ya mean?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know," Tony said. "Dress you up in a thousand dollar suit. Take you to the Iron on my arm. Introduce you to your police commissioner -- let him know who he can't put the screws to," he added, grinning. "Get you out of that ratbag room of yours and put you in a palace."

"How do you know where I live?"

"Been looking into you. You think I didn't know you're doing the same? Barton said you asked about me."

Steve cocked his head. "The reporter? How do you know him?"

"Am I being interrogated, Detective?" Tony asked.

"Tony."

"He's a reporter. Everyone knows him. See that?" Tony said, pointing to a framed photograph on the wall. It showed Tony, hat tipped over one eye, leaning in the doorway of a building with steps leading up to it. He had one foot two steps higher than the other, leg cocked, and Miss Potts was sitting on his bent knee, beaming. In the background, the shadows of other people loomed through the door. "Clint's work."

"He did say he was a dead eye with a camera."

"I lend him a hand sometimes, he does me some favors. He's probably got the best camera in town. I don't hold it against him when he has to run stories about me, either. Man's gotta make a living."

"You fix cameras."

"I fix his camera."

"And soup up your drivers' engines. You run booze, and you investigate murders. Anything you don't do?"

Tony leaned away from him momentarily, fetching what Steve recognized as his sketchbook from the bedside table.

"I don't do this," he said, handing it to him. It was open to a page Steve remembered from a day he'd taken the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, before he left New York. He'd seen two men sharing a smoke at the railing, and drawn them hastily; the painting he'd done from it was good, but in retrospect he wasn't surprised he'd never sold it.

"The point is," Tony continued, stretching out, arms behind his head, "You got one room and a hob in a boarding house, when you could have a penthouse studio. Not just from me. You could charm a dozen women and as many men in this town, if you knew how. I'd be the best, though. Fix you up right, soft chairs and silk sheets. Pay you to paint my portrait once a week. I'm a self-centered kinda guy; I'd enjoy that."

He said it serenely, as if it were a foregone conclusion. Steve heard alarm bells ringing in his head.

"For how long?" he asked. Tony glanced at him. "How long before you get bored'a me and I'm back in the one room with the hob?"

"I told you, I look after my things," Tony said. Steve felt a chill creep over his skin.

"I don't want to be your belonging," he said, sliding off the bed. "This was a mistake."

"Steve -- Steve! Captain!" Tony grabbed his arm, startling him, and pulled him into a kiss. "It's not a condition, it was just a daydream," Tony said, still holding him firmly by the arm. "My mind's always going. It's why I...do so much. Sometimes I say things out loud. I don't mean anything by them."

"If that's your daydream, I think you mean a lot by them," Steve replied, but he sat down again when Tony tugged.

"You never once had a fantasy you knew shouldn't come true?" Tony asked. "You never thought you'd like a patron, someone who'd pay your way and leave you be? I've always been rich," he said, settling down again. "My old man made our fortune even before the war. So I dream about...possession. It's what I know. You tellin' me growing up poor in Brooklyn you never dreamed about being possessed? Someone just...stepping up and making that road easy for you?"

Steve looked away. "Don't make it right."

"Right's not the point. You don't want to be a kept man, don't be one. Plenty of fellas at the Tuxedo would give you a tumble and never look you up again."

"No middle ground, huh? Ownership or solitude?" Steve asked. "Are you not interested in equal partnerships, or do you just think they don't exist?"

"Do you?"

"I hope they do," Steve said, still not looking at him -- but he could see his reflection in a mirror on the wall. Tony was studying his back, a complex expression on his face. "I know this can't last. And I'm grateful for your help and your...understanding. But I won't put myself in your power. Not even for this."

Tony reached out and ran a hand down his spine. "We would be magnificent," he said quietly.

"I never really aimed for magnificent," Steve said. "Just wanted to make my way. I wanted to fight for my country and ended up Captain America. You know how hard it is to carry that kind of thing? They put me on war bond posters. Thank Christ I was younger then, nobody recognizes me now. I wanted to fight. I thought it was a just war. I hated it by the end."

"Didn't we all?"

"Guess so. I tried -- being a bohemian in New York wasn't exactly hard, but I wasn't cut out for that, either. I tried being a copper there, asked a pal if he'd get me a job, and they put me up as a Detective without even askin' me first. I made one stupid mistake and here I am. Starting over. Your magnificence is tempting, Tony, but that just means another start when you got tired of me. No thanks."

"You seem awful sure I'd get tired of you."

"It's how you live, isn't it? One shiny moment to the next."

"You have no idea how I live."

Steve ducked his head, acknowledging the protest. "Maybe not."

Tony sat up, leaning against his back and snaking his arms around his waist. "I know the value of things. I know what can't have a price put on it. I liked Yinsen, a lot, and I want to avenge his death, but I also know what this case means for you, for your new life in Chicago. If you want to make it quits when this is done, well, I won't say I won't be sorry. But if you don't want to make it quits, I won't blink first."

"And the first time you have someone killed, Tony?"

"I told you, I don't do that."

"I know how dangerous this business is. You can't promise you won't. Can you tell me you never have?"

"Can you?"

"What?"

"You killed men in the war. So did I. And yes, there have been other times, but never out of convenience. I have killed men coming at me with crowbars and guns and knives, on account of it being them or me. I never killed a man because he might make things difficult for me. If I were the ruthless murderer I'm taken for, I wouldn't just own my little slice of Chicago. I'd own the whole damn state, and in a couple'a years I'd own this country. You know the difference between a gangster and a president?" Tony asked.

Steve sighed. "I ain't gonna like the answer, am I?"

"A president gets paid less."

Steve covered one of Tony's hands in his, twining their fingers together. "Can we pretend we don't have to decide yet? About makin' it quits."

"Sure. Far as I'm concerned we can pretend forever." Tony kissed the back of his neck and climbed off the bed around him. "We should get dressed. It'll take me a while, gotta look good. I'm going to bring you with me to call on Modock personally."

"Should I stop by the precinct for my second gun?" Steve drawled.

"Nah, he's civilized usually. Just a friendly meeting between rivals. Should be enlightening, if there's any light to be thrown." Tony slapped his shoulder as he passed. "Help yourself to the paper if you want it, I have to go put on my armor."

When he was gone, whistling, Steve buried his face in his hands and sighed.

***

Tony was standing in his closet, considering what to wear to subtly interrogate his rival, when he heard the shriek and the yelp. He grinned.

"Pepper!" he called. "I have a guest!"

"So I see," she called back. Tony put his head out the doorway. Steve was hastily knotting his tie. Shame he got decent so fast. The man could use a little shaking up.

"My darling dearest," he said. "Steve, pour the lady a cuppa."

"Already had one, thank you though," Pepper said. "Detective, I'm going to politely ignore you, I'd appreciate if you'd do the same."

"Good as done, ma'am," Steve replied, and hid behind a newspaper. It was upside-down.

"Morning schedule," Pepper said, as Tony went back to dressing. "You have a meeting with the directors of your actual legitimate company at eleven."

"Cancel it," Tony called. "Business to do."

"Thought you might say that, so they're not expecting you."

"You're a doll," Tony said.

"You have legitimate companies?" Steve asked from behind the newspaper.

"Gotta launder money somehow," Tony pointed out.

"Don't tell me that!" Steve groaned.

"Then don't ask. Next!" Tony yelled.

"Lunch with the Deacon."

"Cancel."

"You can't stand up a priest," Steve said.

"Sweetie, that's a nickname," Pepper informed him. "He's an arms dealer."

"I hate him," Tony pronounced.

"Yes, but you have to keep telling him that every three months."

"Ignoring him ought to get the message across. Next!"

"Manager interviews at two for the place on Clybourn."

Tony took down a gold Egyptian-cotton shirt. "I thought you were handling those."

"I am."

"Then why am I there?"

"You are the boss, Tony."

Red tie. "Handle it, what do I pay you for?"

"Sometimes I wonder," Pepper sighed. "You're booked for dinner with Fury at seven."

"The price I pay for information. Probably can keep that one but if I'm late, send Natasha, he actually likes her."

"Woman-stealing jerk," Pepper muttered.

"Pepper, my own, Natasha fears God, Stalin, and you when you're angry. Only one of those three is in the vicinity. If she stepped out on you, God and Stalin couldn't help her. Nobody is stealing your woman. Go along if you wanna, Fury likes you too."

"Philly likes me. Fury puts up with me."

"Anything else?" Tony asked, stepping into a pair of deep red-brown trousers.

"You're supposed to be at the Malibu this evening."

"Well, we'll see how the day goes," Tony replied, pulling on a waistcoat and slinging the jacket of the suit over his shoulder. He walked out and cocked a hip, grinning at her. "How do I look?"

"Like a box of Japanese lacquer savaged you," she replied. Steve, however, was peering at him over the top of the newspaper, and he looked hungry, so Tony counted it a win.

"Have Jarvis hold my calls," Tony told her. "I'm heading up to see Modock, so if I'm not back by dinner, send armed thugs."

"Why on earth are you -- never mind," Pepper said, glancing at Steve. "Do try not to get yourself or anyone else killed."

"I make no promises." Tony kissed her shoulder, and went to the table by the bed, where his pocket-watch and sidearm lay. "I'm told liquor's a dangerous business."

"Well, you boys would know. Good seeing you, Detective; I'll give your regards to Natasha," Pepper said, and swanned out as gracefully as she'd swanned in.

"I could not run my life without her," Tony said, checking himself in the mirror. "It's difficult to overstate the necessity of having a dependable dame in your corner."

"I'm beginning to see what you mean," Steve replied. "You and her ever...?"

"Oh, sure, ages ago, we had some fun. She's still my date when I need someone sharp. That's all over, though. She met Natasha and that closed the book," Tony said, fixing some cufflinks in his shirt. He looked up and saw Steve's curious look in the mirror. "What?"

"You like women?" Steve asked.

"I got catholic tastes."

"Then why..." Steve gestured at himself, then at Tony. "Why make life difficult?"

"Difficult," Tony repeated, shaking his head. He turned around, leaning on the table. "I don't like people telling me what to do. I especially don't like people telling me where to put my prick, seeing as how unless I'm putting it in them it's none of their damn business. Now," he added, checking his pocket-watch, "you ready to give Modock a shakedown?"

"Yeah," Steve said, setting the paper aside and standing. "Are you sure he isn't dangerous?"

"Everyone's dangerous, but he hasn't got it out for me this week. Least, not that I know of. Besides, that's what I have this and you for," he added, slinging the holster on over his waistcoat. "Coming?"

"You're missin' a lot of business, doing this today," Steve said, as he followed Tony out of his bedroom, down the stairs.

"I enjoy missing business. I tend to do nothing else," Tony answered. Jarvis met them at the foot of the stairs. Tony rolled his eyes, handed over the gun in his holster, and waited while Jarvis checked it.

"One time I forget to load it, one time, and now he makes me do this," he complained.

"Shocking how people care about you, sir, I agree," Jarvis said, handing it back. "Your car is waiting."

Steve was mostly quiet on the drive north to Evanston, but Tony filled the silence with information, so it wasn't a loss. "Modock's pretty small-time," he said, as they drove. "He makes a lot because he supplies the gin joints for the college boys at Northwestern, but Evanston's not your general booming metropolis. Still, he's like Danvers; smart and hungry. I got raiders from the north, is what I got," he continued. "Vikings, for the love'a God."

"Is Modock an immigrant?" Steve asked.

"Rhetorical vikings. Actually we're both interested in science and mechanics, so you'd think I'd get along better with him. I'd buy him out 'cept he won't get bought. Modock's got ambition."

"But?" Steve said, with a small smile, anticipating him.

"But he hasn't got what it takes. He's not a lateral thinker. You need a good amount of ingenuity in my job. He's smart. Just not very clever."

And not very stylish either, Tony was reminded, when they were shown into Modock's personal library after arriving. Tony had timed it for a lunch invitation -- or rather breakfast, given the hours Modock kept -- and he wasn't disappointed.

"Anthony," Modock said, coming forward to greet him. He ignored Steve completely. "Good to see you, old bean."

"Modock," Tony said, shaking his hand. "How ya been keeping yourself?"

"Oh, I get along," the other man answered. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see Steve getting Modock's measure. He was an oddly-built man, short legs and stumpy arms, with an oversized head covered in wispy, combed-over hair. And if Pepper had cast aspersions on Tony's red-and-gold, she'd never have let him out of the house wearing a suit like Modock's: the collar of his yellow shirt was too high, the fact that his tie was the same shade as his shirt was just laughable, and his pale cream suit already had dust on the cuffs. He looked like a bad director's idea of a stage-play angel. "What brings you north?"

"Passing through, thought I'd stop and see how you were," Tony answered.

"Looking for a hot meal, I think," Modock corrected.

"Well, I know you put on a good spread. This is my associate, by the way. Sketch Rogers," Tony said, and enjoyed seeing Steve suppress a wince at the name. "Sketch, this is Modock."

"Any friend of Tony's," Modock said, and didn't actually complete the statement. "Well, come on in to the morning room, do, there's a fantastic buffet. Do you like anchovies, Mr. Rogers? Divine on toast."

"I'm more of an eggs and bacon man," Steve replied.

"Suit yourself," Modock said, leading the way. There were a dozen people in the morning room, sitting, talking, or helping themselves to platters of food laid out on a sideboard, some of them looking as if they'd slept in their clothes. Tony had breakfasts like this himself, sometimes, usually evidence of a good party the night before. Less, now; it got old after a while. Besides, with the Depression on, the Jazz Age wasn't what it used to be.

He helped himself to some food -- Steve helped himself to less -- and followed Modock to a secluded little table near the windows, which most of his hung-over guests were avoiding.

"Here we are," Modock said, bringing an unlabeled bottle over from the bar. "A little early in the day, but hair of the dog and all that. Mr. Rogers?"

"No, thank you," Steve said calmly.

"Sketch is a puritan," Tony said with a grin. "I'll have some, if you're pouring."

"Just so," Modock pronounced, and measured out two fingers into a glass.

It struck Tony suddenly, what was happening here, and he didn't have much time to formulate a reaction. He could pretend oblivion or let on that he knew; if he did the former, Modock might be suspicious, but if he let on, that didn't exactly give him the tactical advantage. His mind worked furiously as he lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip, the smooth blue-label scotch rolling over his tongue.

His scotch.

He set it down, ignoring Modock's expectant expression, and began to work on the fried potatoes he'd dished up. "We 'preciate the hospitality," he said, around a mouthful of food. "We're on our way to Milwaukee."

"Oh? Dreadful place, I've heard," Modock replied. Tony laughed.

"It's not so bad. Danvers is a peach."

"Not conspiring against me with her, are you?" Modock joked, but there was an edge to the question, a hint of real worry. It hadn't actually occurred to Tony to trap Modock between himself and Carol and crush the man, but it wasn't an unappealing thought. Rage was settling in the pit of his stomach, the kind he normally reserved for personal betrayals. Anger might be an instinct, but rational thought was a response he'd trained into himself. Still, he understood now what Modock had done, and it was hard to maintain control.

"Hey, did you get my invitation for the New Year's Eve shindig?" he asked. "Pepper's making me check."

"I did! I'm sorry I haven't replied yet, but I'm afraid I can't come," Modock answered. "I'm throwing one of my own, you know. Thought of renting a downtown hotel, but it's so much cosier here, don't you think?"

"Shame," Tony said. "It'll be a hell of a bash."

"No doubt. I imagine we're competing for attendance," Modock answered with an evil little smile. Tony itched to choke the man.

"Well, next year warn me and we'll lay bets," he answered with his own smile, guileless and cheerful.

"A lot can happen in a year, Anthony."

"Sure. You never know, we might get the repeal. There's a lot of wet Dems in Congress now."

"Bad news for us if we do. We'll have to drop our prices."

"Good news for the country, though."

"We could use some," Modock agreed, and Tony changed the subject. Steve mostly kept his mouth shut, which he appreciated. After the requisite coffee and cigar, Tony put on his hat and took his leave, strolling calmly out to where he'd left the car.

"It was Modock," Tony said, as they pulled down the drive.

"I know," Steve answered. Tony glanced at him. "The bottle was the first clue. That man's the kind of blue-blooded good-for-nothing we got in New York. Unlabeled bottles? Not fashionable, even I know that. And you didn't talk about anything coulda helped us get any information. Besides, I saw Modock's face when you took that drink."

"He served me some of my own damn bought-and-paid-for scotch."

"You think he did it himself? Did Yinsen, I mean."

"He's not the type. Probably had one of his boys do it. You get what it means?"

"We're going north," Steve said abruptly, noticing that they were headed away from Chicago instead of towards it.

"He's got a tail on us. He knows this might've been a fishing trip," Tony replied. "I'll lose them, don't worry your pretty head about it."

"I gotta go after Modock and his boys for murder, is what I figure."

"Above and beyond," Tony replied, heading for Evanston's small downtown. He could lose them around the University. "You heard him. He's planning a party. Maybe he gets some bites; people with power and money, people with connections, people who should be at my party -- not all, but some. He's going to bring out my scotch at that party and he's going to pour it around, and he's going to make it clear he hit one of my men to get it and there was nothing I could do. He's going to humiliate me. Make me seem weak. He's going to move on my operation next year, and this is his first step. Yinsen was killed so he could knock me down a peg."

"And you're square with that?"

"No," Tony snarled, moving the car smoothly through the increasing traffic, checking his mirror every once in a while. The tail was dropping back. "I am very definitely not square with that. There are a lot of reasons to kill a man and some of 'em I might even understand, but putting Yinsen out on the ice for a...for a prank? No. That's not square and for it I will make him regret being born."

"What are you planning?" Steve asked. Tony pulled a sharp turn and then a second, and Steve grabbed the dashboard for purchase.

"You tell me, lawman, you're the one who says the courts get him first. What are you going to do?" Tony demanded.

"This isn't enough for a warrant, and to get that I'd have to drag you into it anyhow," Steve answered. Tony darted the wrong way up a one-way street and then floored the engine for the edge of town. "Got to bring some kind of pressure to bear on Modock. And this is outside my official jurisdiction. I may need to talk to the local precinct."

"Right now?"

"No. Strategy first. I'll want every lever you can think of, every crack in his armor. Some way to get him legally on the ropes. You don't think he did it himself? Do you have any idea who he'd call for something like that? If we can get the trigger-man, would you let him off light if he turned over Modock?"

"Won't happen."

"Consider it a hypothetical, then. Would you? Give up the man who did the killing for the man who ordered it?"

Tony drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "If Modock knows that much about my supply runs, if he knew Yinsen would be on the ice, then he's already on the road to taking me down. It's his hand behind that death. Yeah."

"Then help me find the trigger-man, and help me work out how to flip him."

Tony shot him a look. "Who owns who, now?"

"Ain't about that," Steve replied. "Now I got something you want more than you got something I want, that's all. I'm catchin' a murderer; for you this is personal."

"It isn't for you?"

Steve's look turned softer, affectionate. "Maybe it is, a little. Now, anyway. Tony, promise me you won't move on Modock without me. I'm not fixed to see you die chasing him down, or go up for killin' him."

"I made you a deal. But if you can't get him, I got the right to act," Tony replied.

"All the more reason for me to bring him down before you put him down."

"Shame. Shooting him in the street like a sick dog's what he deserves. Jumped-up little Yalie," Tony muttered. "What do you need?"

"Tell me everything you know about him," Steve said. "And take me home so I can put it to use."

Chapter Three

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