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Title: Bravado (Also on AO3)
Author: enmuse
Fandom: MCU
Characters: Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov
Rating: All
Words: ~4,000
SPOILERS for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Summary: During the events at the very end of the film, Tony Stark makes an appearance.
Notes: Intended to make the dialogue I jotted down at the end of my reaction post into a fic and instead this came tumbling out. Basically a response to my strong desire for Stark during the film. Also, at its most basic, my headcanon ignores IM3 because while it's a decent movie, I have many issues accepting the contents as canon. I don't know how long this is after The Avengers, consider the timing hand-wavy.

Additional proofing as of April 5, 9:00PM EST
---


"So, guess who shows up at HR yesterday," Stark says the moment the door's barely opened. Steve just stares at the dark sunglasses turned his way. "Go on, guess."

Steve searches the rather short list of names of people he imagines they're mutually acquainted with. Though he doubts it, he tries, "Natasha...?"

Stark scowls and shoves past Steve into the living room.

"Who the hell is it?" Sam's voice drifts through the kitchen doorway. A moment later he pokes his head through, expression wary and posture tense in preparation for a potential attack. Steve gives his friend an apologetic shrug as he closes the door. Sam's eyes widen in surprise when he sees Stark but thankfully doesn't protest the invasion into his home.

As for Stark, he nods briefly to Sam before spinning on his heel to face Steve again. "No, Romanov knows better than to come sniffing around my business again." Stark moves close enough to poke a finger against Steve's sternum – and oh, that's still bruised. Stark flips his glasses onto the top of his head and says slowly, enunciating each syllable, "Maria Hill." His eyebrows arch dramatically. "Maria freaking Hill shows up, to apply for a job! What the fuck?"

Steve slides away from the prodding finger and puts a little distance between them as he crosses his arms. It's hardly news that there's a number of people in the market for a new job, but it is surprising that Hill went to Stark. Steve had the impression she didn't like the man. Besides, what would someone with her background do in the corporate world?

"Did you give her a job?" Steve asks.

Stark scoffs and looks around for a place to sit. He wrinkles his nose at the sagging couch cushions and proceeds to perch on the arm. "For what? People like Hill and Romanov don't just leave the spy game. Once you're in, you're in. They're women of action, just like we are." He waves his hand quickly. "Except that we're men. Men of action. But you get my meaning."

"So you didn't give her a job."

"I didn't say that!"

Steve feels a headache coming on, and he manfully resists the urge to rub at his temples.

Sam finally asks, "What happened to her?"

Stark rolls his eyes. "I hardly took her for a joyride and then dumped her body in the Hudson, though it might have crossed my mind. No, I had an interesting interview with former Assistant Director Hill as she was plugged into the lie detector." Steve raises his eyebrow, which Stark blatantly ignores. "Not very useful on a top-level spy," Stark admits. "Still, entertaining. She starts turning red when you get her frustrated enough. I almost expected smoke to come out her ears." He seems to sense that his audience is reaching the limits of their patience, so Stark quickly concludes, "So she survived three straight hours in my presence and what some might consider nagging questions, and I told her there was nothing she was qualified for. But she looked ready to use the detector's wires as a garrote and I said HR might give her a list of possibilities to consider for the next two weeks."

The quiet that follows seems too good to be true. Steve sees Stark's mouth opening again so he quickly says, "Maria Hill's going to be working for you. That's... unexpected."

Stark smirks. "Her own fault if she does. I was ready to turn her away. God, I need another spy running around like a need a hole in the head."

"Another?" Sam repeats as he steps further into the room.

"You've met her as Natasha," Stark says dryly. He shrugs one shoulder as if dismissing whatever story there is to his past with her. Steve remembers that Natasha had a hand in Stark's initial evaluation for the initiative and some remark she'd made about a brief stint as a PA at Stark Industries. "Also, Barton's underfoot." He stands up and fixes Steve with a pointed stare, not that Steve has any idea what he's supposed to understand from that look.

"Clint's here?"

Something in Stark's expression seems to tighten. He flicks his sunglasses back down over his eyes and says dismissively, "Still in New York when I left this morning. Widow about bit his head off when he said he could come down and offer some support for the hearing."

"She can handle it," Sam remarks.

"Doubt that was his point," Stark returns. He glances over his shoulder at Sam. "What name did you get saddled with? The Falcon? You gotta meet Hawkeye and share nesting tips."

Steve cuts in before Sam can take offense – though he might not, Steve's found him to be a pretty easy-going guy. "Why are you here, Stark? And how did you find me?"

Stark's attention returns to Steve and he pulls out a slim little phone and waggles it back and forth. "JARVIS helped find your new BFF and I knew you'd be here."

"O...kay." It probably wasn't hard for Stark to figure out Steve's apartment had been pretty much wrecked. If it hadn't, well, Steve still wouldn't go back now that he knows he's been living in a fishbowl under observation for almost a year. He stares at Stark, waiting for the answer to his first question.

"Oh. Why am I here, right." Stark tilts his head towards his phone as he taps on the screen with a thumb. "Was in the neighborhood, had some gossip, maybe could gather some intel on Romanov for Clint. I have no idea how you'd tell, but Clint asks how she's holding up."

Steve absently lifts a hand to lightly scratch at the freshly healed skin of his cheek. The recent week is a blur of motion and noise in his memory. Natasha and Sam are his anchors. He thinks about what he's learned about Romanov in a matter of days and it abruptly hits him just how vulnerable and bare she must feel after exposing S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets to the world and hers along with it. Stark waves a hand to get his attention and it suddenly grates on his nerves that the man is trying to pry for more personal information.

"If you want to know, ask her yourself," Steve says stiffly.

"I'll pass that on to Clint," Stark says calmly, but the line of his shoulders has stiffened and he moves for the door. "Well, this was a delightful chat, kids, but I've got places to be. A subcommittee waiting, you know how it goes. Charming place you have here, Wilson, but get in touch if you want an upgrade. This doesn't look big enough to house you and your new roommates."

Stark is out the door before Steve or Sam can respond. A car engine purrs to life outside and then peels away from the curb.

"Are you moving in?" Sam eventually asks. Steve glances over sharply to protest but relaxes when he sees Sam's amused expression. "Was he suggesting Natasha's bunking here? Don't get me wrong, I certainly wouldn't mind, but then I need to boot you out. My bed's got room for two."

"I'd still have the couch," Steve replies easily. Sam looks unimpressed and Steve grins.

The humor fades as Sam narrows his eyes thoughtfully at the closed door. "He said subcommittee...?"

Steve blinks, realizing he had heard the words but not really considered their meaning. He glances at the TV sitting silent on the stand across the room. They haven't had it on, neither of them really wanting to watch images of the things they already see replaying in their heads.

"They'll be televising the hearing," Sam says. "If you want, we could find it."

Part of him wants to say no, he'd rather find out what's happening on the Hill after the fact from Natasha. He can trust her take on things. But now he wonders what Stark is doing in DC and why he's involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. hearings. Stark only contracted to the organization; the Avengers had quickly been established as its own entity after the fiasco with the World Security Council during New York.

"What channel?" Steve asks as he reaches for the remote. Sam crosses the room and drops onto the couch, hand out for the remote after Steve turns on the power.

~ * ~

Stark turns up on screen as members of the committee drag out a threat to incarcerate Natasha, not that she looks bothered by their threats. She turns her head when the cameras abruptly start flashing in the other direction. For the first time on screen Steve sees honest emotion in her expression. Natasha's bare surprise is quickly covered with a mask of indifference.

Stark smoothly weaves through the reporters and guards alike. At the gate leading to the committee and Natasha, he takes off his sunglasses and addresses the group of men staring at him with expressions ranging from anger to weariness.

"Do I need to ask for permission to approach the bench or something here?" Stark tucks his sunglasses into a pocket and arches an expectant eyebrow.

A few of the committee member exchange looks. Finally someone near the middle – Steve can't see the man's nameplate at the camera's angle – heaves a sigh and waves Stark forward. "You're ahead of schedule, Mr. Stark."

Stark settles into a chair one over from Natasha and pulls his microphone forward. He taps the mike once before leaning in to speak. "It seemed like a better idea to be early. Though I can always play catch-up while you continue to interrogate the lovely Agent Romanov here."

"Ms. Romanoff was an agent of a now defunct agency," someone reminds, his pronunciation of Natasha's name a little off.

Waving a hand dismissively, Stark agrees, "Of course, why worry about titles. Let's just forget about expertise here. Could be any number of people sitting here and chatting with this lovely group."

"Mr. Stark, please show some consider—"

"Excuse me, could you remind me why you called me in?" Stark folds his hands on the table in front of the microphone and though his tone remains casual, his posture is straight and serious.

"Mr. Stark, you have been called to testify regarding the contracts you accepted from the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D.."

"And the former director, Nicholas Fury," someone adds.

"Oh, was there a difference?" Stark asks, but his tone doesn't even try to deny that apparently there are separate categories.

"Mr. Stark."

"Alright. Let's review why Director Fury contracted with Stark Industries and – if we're making a point to separate – contracted with me. SI provided parts and labor with the construction of many of the operations rooms within S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Triskelion. We also manufactured parts of the Helicarriers currently being fished from the Potomac. Additionally, we developed body armor similar to those we produce for the United States military branches."

Someone taps a pen against his notepad as he leans forward to ask, "And your... personal contracts?"

Stark's lips purse for a moment as if in thought. "Well, Director Fury justifiably was a paranoid bastard, so some extra safeguards were on his list of things to do. The fewer people who knew about them, the better." He shrugs a little. "Modifications on his vehicle, I think you've seen the footage? He wouldn't have survived long enough to reach Steve Rogers without the enhancements."

"There were two dozen casualties during that incident."

"I believe the men and women responsible for the attack on the Director and bystanders have died in recent events or are currently in custody awaiting trial," Stark returns coolly, clearly challenging any attempt to lay blame at his or Fury's feet.

"Other projects, Mr. Stark?"

"Base coding for the S.H.I.E.L.D. vocal-interactive computer system. Extra encryption layers for the highly classified materials. Specialized armor for Agents Romanov and Barton, Steve Rogers, and Director Fury. Suggestions may have been made for equipment for the Agents, seeing as they also belong to the Avengers."

"Weapons," the man at the far left says. His lips curl into a mean smile. "I thought you were out of the weapons business, Mr. Stark."

Stark seems to lean a little closer to his microphone. "Senator, what I do in my spare time for people I need to rely on covering my ass is not a business transaction."

"You don't deny that you have produced weapons for members of the Avengers?"

Stark's jaw visibly clenches for an instant, so brief that Steve wonders if he's the only one who sees it. A small, self-deprecating smile crosses Stark's lips. "I would like to take credit for Black Widow's rather effective bracelets."

"Did you or your company provide plans, manufacture, or distribute weaponry for S.H.I.E.L.D. and/or Nicholas Fury?"

Stark's casual demeanor falls away again. "No. SI maintained detailed records regarding our transactions with S.H.I.E.L.D. and contracts were strict in the use of products. We do not condone the weaponization of our technology."

"Only for your personal 'projects' do you compromise your no-weapons policy, then," the man with the mean smile sneers.

Stark's mouth is tight and Steve notes that Natasha's gaze darts to Stark.

"I'm sorry, am I on trial here?" Stark drawls, but his eyes are shuttered and the tendons on his hands stand out.

"Returning to the subject at hand, gentlemen," the head of the committee prompts. Some throats are cleared and the cameras crowding the chamber sound overly loud during the pause. "Mr. Stark, by your own admission and through examination of records, you contributed a considerable amount of time and resources to the structuring of the Helicarriers integral to Project Insight as well as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s security. Why is it that you were not involved in exposing Hydra's infiltration? Why was Iron Man not present in the takedown of Project Insight?"

Stark's gaze darts to Natasha and away again in the blink of an eye. "My involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been as a civilian consultant and contractor. All business negotiations, gentlemen. Director Fury trusted next to no one and was able to impart that bit of advice before his death." He stares at the committee head unflinchingly. "I guess I didn't make the list. You should also remember that until a few days ago, I was overseas on business that required bouts of radio silence."

"Unrelated to—"

"Unrelated to S.H.I.E.L.D., yes," Stark confirms.

"Yet a known S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was with you."

Stark's smile is sharp. "Part-time agent, from a now defunct organization, as you said. I was with Hawkeye, a member of the Avengers, on business. Not on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s time or with their resources."

The session goes on, digging into minute details of Stark's and his company's dealings with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Frequently a committee member darts in an insinuation about Avengers involvement or picks at Stark's admission of still putting weapons into people's hands; there are other barbed personal comments that Steve wonders how they can be considered justified as having any relevancy. Sam watches silently, occasionally snorting in amusement when Stark gets in a good crack, shaking his head when an argument starts, and smirking a little when one of the men have to eat their own words as Stark competently counters.

By the time Stark is dismissed, Steve wonders how many members of the council regret calling in the man. Stark smiles beatifically as he pushes his chair back, he leans forward into the microphone to say, "It's been lovely, gentlemen. What's it been, four years? I know you've missed me, but let's not make this a habit." He stands and glances pointedly at Natasha. "Let the nice men threaten you with imprisonment for another half hour, then come on home to see how those renovations of your apartment went."

Natasha shows no sign of surprise. "I asked for oak but you still went with teak, didn't you."

Stark affects shock and hurt. "I would never criticize a lady's style choices."

"Excuse me, Mr. Stark, you're dismissed."

"Of course, continue about your business, gentlemen." He moves to the gate and tosses over his shoulder, "Plane leaves at eight, don't be late."

"Then what's the point of a private jet?" Natasha shoots back, a tiny smile curling the corner of her mouth. Stark looks genuinely pleased as he waves and disappears into the flashes of cameras.

~ * ~

Despite what Stark said during the hearing, Natasha is with Sam and Steve come evening. They settle on the floor, the couch, or bed for the night and if no one sleeps through the night, they don't comment. In the morning Natasha disappears after breakfast without a word. Steve knows they'll see her later at the little meet-up at Fury's grave.

Steve washes the dishes and Sam ducks into the bedroom to make some calls. As he rinses sudsy water from plates and silverware, Steve wonders about Stark. Natasha asked last night if they'd watched the hearing, then said Stark did well. She offered nothing else and Steve decided not to ask. Now he wishes he had. Did Stark leave at eight like he told Natasha? What had he and Clint been doing overseas – and where had they been? Should they have tried to contact Stark when the whole mess had started? Steve sets aside a plate and braces his hands on the edge of the sink. He bows his head and closes his eyes as he tries to remember the times he heard Stark's name dropped while S.H.I.E.L.D.'s newest developments were explained to him.

He'd known Stark had a hand in a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tech, he knew Stark was considered one of the top minds when it came to cutting edge tech, and he knew from experience that Stark could hack into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s systems. Yet it had never crossed his mind to try pulling in Stark. He hadn't even thought of the man when he started running. It had all caught him off-guard – being introduced to Project Insight, Fury's assassination, agents he'd trusted at his back turning on him, Zola, and Bucky.

There's no shame in forgetting the others when everything was happening so fast, Steve tries to tell himself. He hasn't had much prolonged interaction with the other Avengers since the Battle of New York. There are scheduled training days every month, but everyone has other commitments. Steve and Natasha just happened (but it probably wasn't a coincidence) to be positioned in a way that kept them in constant contact. He's seen Clint every couple weeks, due to their mutual S.H.I.E.L.D. involvement. There had been something with Thor in London the past November and ever since, the demigod has attended trainings. Steve doesn't see Dr. Banner or Stark outside of training. But even that... until yesterday, Steve hadn't seen Stark for two months as various conflicts canceled training.

He tells himself there's no reason to feel guilty about leaving Stark out of the loop. It would be easier to accept if he could forget how Stark had come into the living room so comfortably and left with a fake smile.

~ * ~

Steve and Sam stop walking when they see Natasha approaching. She has what looks like a file tucked under one arm.

"Say goodbye to the dearly departed?" she asks in way of greeting.

"Something like that." Steve glances over his shoulder and watches the slouched figure wearing a hoodie amble through the headstones. He would be hard-pressed to identify Nick Fury if he saw that figure in a crowd. He turns back to Natasha to ask, "You aren't going with him?"

She says, "I think it's time to sit out the spy game for a bit. All of my covers are blown."

"I'm sorry," Steve tells her sincerely.

Natasha shrugs. "I've had covers blown before. Just not... all at once." With a wry smile she continues, "The only ways I imagined it happening were scenarios where I was dead or permanently detained."

"Then you're already ahead – alive and free," Sam replies.

"There's that." She pulls the file folder from under her arm and begins to hold it out before abruptly bringing it back close to her body. She's scrutinizing Steve when he turns his gaze away from the folder covered in Russian type.

"I'm going to find him," Steve tells her firmly, sure that she's hesitating because she thinks Steve's quest for Bucky is hopeless.

"I'm going to give you the file," she answers with a sharp look. "But I'll lose your attention when I do."

Curious, Steve says, "You have it now."

"Don't be a smartass," she chides. She takes a moment to quietly look over Steve and Sam. When she speaks, she addresses Sam first. "There's several veterans' groups in New York who could put you to work. Might even find someone willing to let you take a flexible schedule while you fly around with Cap."

"You didn't strike me as the type for bird jokes," Sam grumbles.

Natasha's lips twitch in a quickly suppressed grin as she turns her attention to Steve. "You need a base of operations. That's not going to be Sam's place."

"I take it you have a suggestion."

"I hear there's a place in New York with a killer view and the rent's a steal. Landlord's a bit of an ass, but he's a decent guy and the perks make up for the days you want to strangle him. Seems like a good break for an old man suddenly out of work."

Steve doesn't know why he's surprised, given that he had a good idea of what Natasha would suggest when she brought up New York to Sam. Maybe the surprise is because there's the hint of uncertainty in her expression.

"What are you planning to do from here?" he asks.

"Headed to New York, at the moment." She rolls her eyes. "I need to see Clint and share 'all the gory details' before he does any of the hundred idiotic things he threatened to do." She holds out the folder but doesn't release it until Steve meets her gaze. "It's not that I doubt you can do this, Steve," she tells him gently, "it's that I doubt you can do it alone." She lets go of the folder and takes a step back.

"See you around, Natasha?" Sam says.

Natasha looks at Steve for a moment longer, then turns her gaze to Sam and offers him a small smile. "I have that feeling."

Steve opens the folder and stares at the pictures pinned at the front facing a stack of files. An old army portrait of Bucky captures his attention first. He's so absorbed in memories of Bucky in that uniform that Steve almost misses Natasha's parting words.

"Oh, I forgot to mention – Tony found your shield, said he'd give it a new paint job. Also said 'Wilson's jetpack is shit, tell him to come try some alternatives.' See you around, boys."

Steve tears his gaze away from the file in his hand and stares at Natasha's back.

"Holy shit, I'm getting customized Stark tech," Sam mutters in amazement. "Wait, I'm not going to be stuck in some red and gold contraption?"

Steve thinks, He got my shield? He knows the retrieval of all the Helicarrier debris will take ages to fish out and Stark Industries is part of the cleanup, in large part due to overseeing "corporate secrets" of the various tech they'd provided. Stark doesn't have to be involved personally, though, and one small shield would have had to be buried beneath literal tons of debris. Yet less than a week after the crashes, his shield is out and apparently ready to use after some cosmetic touch-ups.

Sam claps a hand on Steve's shoulder. "So... can we take a detour through New York on our quest?" He nods at the open folder. "I mean, I'd be way better prepared to deal with potential disaster with some new equipment. And I admit, I'd feel a little more secure knowing Captain America actually had his shield along."

Steve looks down at the files and scans the top page. Cryo-freeze. Mental programming. Brainwashing. He realizes they need to get to New York for more than fresh equipment.

"Yeah," he finally answers Sam's question. "I think New York's on our way."

---
Afternotes: Someone's pointed out that Steve's shield can be seen in the hospital scene. Since that's the case, just ignore that for this fic's plot purposes.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
lynnenne
Apr. 5th, 2014 04:35 pm (UTC)
Aw, this is great!

"What name did you get saddled with? The Falcon? You gotta meet Hawkeye and share nesting tips."

HEEEEEEEEEEEE.
outercorner
Apr. 5th, 2014 07:50 pm (UTC)
This is amazing; I love the interaction, the hearings, the nitty gritty details of rebuilding and recovering from this mess. Can I just say - if you continue this story into something longer, which is of course your prerogative - I think Hill would make an excellent PA? Since Pepper's now CEO and not the one tasked with keeping Tony on point ;D I'd love to see how Hill handles it, and how Tony is stymied by her.
enmuse
Apr. 5th, 2014 08:35 pm (UTC)
Oh god, I can just imagine the potential bloodshed if Hill became his PA. I feel like it would be a hazing. XD Actually I could potentially see her working closely with Pepper. (I wouldn't mind seeing Natasha back as Tony's PA, though she'd also probably employ some of her fight training to literally wrangle him to where he's supposed to be at.)

It's hard for me to imagine what Hill would do. I think especially because she's now more cemented as a character I like, I want her to have a good opportunity in a position that will actually utilize her skills. IDK.

But I am starting to think about adding to this, gah, muses. u_u
azewewish
Apr. 5th, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC)
I really really hope that the fandom gives us ALL the fics where Maria & Pepper take over the world. :D

And I liked this a lot, especially Tony at the hearing, because that's just vintage Stark right there.
enmuse
Apr. 5th, 2014 08:37 pm (UTC)
LOL! Yes, Pepper and Maria and Natasha (and May pops in) will dominate everything.

Thanks so much for the comment. I didn't have any idea that Tony was going to show up at the hearing until I reached the scene and by then it just made sense. :)
mskitsch
Apr. 5th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
Yes. This. Thank you.

And thank you for doing it so beautifully! :)

Edited at 2014-04-05 08:41 pm (UTC)
enmuse
Apr. 5th, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
♥ Thanks so much for the comment!
tabaqui
Apr. 24th, 2014 03:41 am (UTC)
OH, lovely! This movie was so damn good, I am thrilled to be able to finally read the after-movie fic and reaction posts. :)
enmuse
Apr. 24th, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC)
:) Glad you enjoyed! I really adored the movie. Waiting for roomie and/or my friend to pick out a time to see it again. I also need to finish the sequel I've got going to this thing... it's already longer. 9_9;;
tabaqui
Apr. 24th, 2014 08:42 pm (UTC)
Sequel, yay!
:)

I'd like to see it again, too - and i'll have to hurry up and do that because movies don't stay long in my stupid little town.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )