Title: Everybody Knows
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Genre: Canon Divergence
Warnings: No beta.
Word Count: 5,000
Author Note: For the One Sentence Prompt on Rough Trade. You can find the challenge here.
Keira’s Response: Trust Issues (link to her site)
Prompt: The only things that Steve Rogers knows about Tony Stark came from a file given to him by SHIELD and he’s starting to realize that’s a problem.
– – – –
Steve finished packing his uniform into a bag. It was in need of repair after fighting the Chitauri, but Natasha had said that SHIELD would care for his gear. He had one change of clothes besides the ones he wore, all provided by Stark.
His last duty in regards to the invasion was to act as escort to the Asgardians, ensuring Loki left Earth with Thor without any incident. Then he was going back to DC with Barton and Romanoff.
He headed for the elevators but impulsively decided to see if he could help one of his teammates. He knocked on the doorframe, getting the attention of Dr. Banner who was also packing his few belongings.
Banner looked at him, brow arched in inquiry.
“I wanted to ask one last time for you to reconsider going with us,” Steve said.
Chuckling, Banner shook his head. “To SHIELD? I don’t think I’ll be doing anything that crazy.”
Steve frowned. “I’m concerned about you, Dr. Banner.”
“That’s sweet,” Banner said dryly.
“I understand that staying with Stark seems like a good idea, but I don’t think trusting him is in your best interests. SHIELD is much better positioned to help you.”
Banner blinked at him in what looked like astonishment then he started laughing. “Wow. I mean… Wow!” The amusement vanished from Banner’s face and he zipped the duffle closed in a way that was borderline aggressive. Then he turned to face Steve. “For a guy who is seventy years out of touch, you sure have a lot of faith in your opinions.”
“I don’t need to know every event for the past seventy years to be able to evaluate a situation and the players in it.”
“And what information are you using for those evaluations?”
“I’ve been provided full briefing packets—”
“You are woefully uninformed, Captain, and I’m not going to follow the lead of someone who is being led around by the nose and is quite happy with the situation.” He grabbed the duffle bag. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to join the others so the Big Guy will be on hand in case things go south with Loki. Then I will be staying at Tony’s mansion until the clean-up efforts are complete and we can move back into the tower.”
Banner got right in front of him. “You know nothing real about Tony Stark. I never met the man before a few days ago, and I have a more accurate view of him than you do. I’m pretty sure you could talk to any random person on the street and their view would be less biased. I have no idea who has been spoon-feeding you your opinions, but I can only conclude it’s SHIELD, so I have yet another reason to want to have nothing to do with them.”
Steve started to say something, to explain, but he noticed the greenish tinge coming into Banner’s eyes.
“I think we’ve said enough, don’t you?” Banner said. “I’m happy to work with the team if there’s another alien invasion but, otherwise, I want nothing to do with SHIELD. Now, please move.”
Steve held up his hands in a no-harm gesture and backed away.
– – – –
Right after they’d seen Loki and Thor off, Natasha and Barton had invited him to lunch before they began the drive to D.C. They were all headed the same direction, so he’d accepted. As he’d watched Banner drive off with Stark, he had the gut feeling that something wasn’t right.
He followed them to a diner two hours outside the city in Pennsylvania. The place wasn’t busy—the few customers were crowded around the TV, which had non-stop coverage of the invasion even two days after the fact.
They were served quickly, though the waitress seemed distracted, focused on what she was hearing on the news. Steve was grateful that none of the shots of him that he’d seen on the TV had been without his cowl on. Natasha was the most likely to be recognized based on media coverage, but she’d put her hair in a ponytail and pulled on a ballcap before they’d come inside.
Steve picked at his food, his thoughts spinning on what Banner had said.
“Something on your mind?” Barton asked.
“What do you know about Stark?” Steve asked.
“Not much other than what you can find through Google,” Barton replied with a shrug.
Steve had no idea what Google was, but he’d heard it mentioned a time or two. He gathered it was some index of common information that was accessed through the computer everyone had.
“He took over his father’s company after he finished college, and his talents took the company to an international multi-billion dollar behemoth. After the whole kidnapping, torture, and betrayal thing, he got out of making weapons and he’s now the biggest name in clean energy, clean water, and all the really cool tech.”
Natasha nudged Barton, and he shot her a confused look.
Shaking his head, he looked back to Steve. “There’s also all the philanthropic work the foundation does. Mostly education, dealing with hunger and famine issues in third world countries, and—”
“None of that’s important,” Natasha interjected, shooting Steve a smile. “We all know about Stark’s flashy image. It’s not relevant to SHIELD.”
Barton looked confused. “Since when? SHIELD follows every detail of Stark’s life like it was the Real Housewives.”
“What kidnapping and torture thing?” Steve asked, feeling stupid for not knowing something so basic.
Barton’s mouth fell open. “How can you not know about the whole Ten Rings shit that went down. It’s the source of that thing in his chest. Didn’t they brief you on Stark at all?”
Natasha nudged Barton sharply with her elbow.
“What the hell?” Barton glared.
“This isn’t an appropriate place to be discussing this.”
“It’s public knowledge,” Barton countered. “I’m not giving away classified intel here. Steve and Tony are supposed to be our teammates—that’s what Coulson said.”
“Clint,” she said sharply.
Barton shot her a baleful look. “What?! Is there some reason I shouldn’t talk about Stark? Is there some directive we’ve been given to feed Captain America a narrative about the boy wonder? Because I must have missed that memo. I guess I’ll have to wait to check in with my boss. Oh, wait.” Barton smacked his palm against his forehead. “I can’t. He’s dead. Stabbed through the heart by a guy I helped put in his path.”
“Agent Barton!” she snapped.
Barton pushed back from the table. “Oh, blow it out your ass, Tash. I’m not helping you run a long con on Steve fucking Rogers.” With that, he stomped out.
“It’s fine,” he said in a conciliatory tone even though it was anything but fine. “Maybe you should go after him. I think he’s had a rough time of it lately and lacks perspective. Besides, you drove together. I’ve got the bike—it’ll be fine.”
She looked relieved, though Steve didn’t think it had anything to do Barton. “We’ll just be outside.”
“You guys go on ahead. I’m going to drive out into the country and enjoy the fresh air. I’ll meet you in D.C. in a couple days and we can work out the training schedule.”
“I should probably stick with you.”
“I’m not asking, Natasha. It’s been a hell of a week, and I need to clear my head. I need time alone. I’m not too keen on working with SHIELD if they’d deny me downtime after a major battle.”
“Of course they wouldn’t, Steve.”
“Then I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
She looked conflicted, but she finally got up and followed the path Barton had taken.
Hoping he wasn’t being foolish, he ran his hand under the table, reaching far across to her side. He closed his eyes and sighed when he felt some small device. He’d seen them at SHIELD. Even though he didn’t understand how something so small could work, he didn’t need to in order to understand what her spying on him meant. SHIELD was very invested in knowing everything he said or heard.
The bad feeling in his stomach was worse.
Grabbing his plate and coffee, he crossed to the other side of the diner where there was only one open spot at the bar that faced the TV. It took Steve a few minutes to realize what he was seeing. Apparently, after they’d parted ways, Tony had donned the suit and gone back into the disaster area to help with moving large debris and cutting up the leviathans.
Impulsively, Steve turned to the guy next to him. The man looked young, but Steve thought they were likely of a similar age, which was a surreal thought. “Do you know anything about Tony Stark?”
The guy snorted his coffee then dabbed at his nose and face as he shot Steve an incredulous look.
“Sorry,” Steve said with a wince.
“It’s all right. But, seriously, where have you been? In a cave?”
“I’ve been out of, uh, the country for a few years.”
“What country doesn’t know about Tony Stark?”
“Well, I know of him, but I’m not sure what I’ve heard is accurate, so I’d like the commonly held opinion.”
“I’m not sure there’s a common opinion, he’s kind of a polarizing figure, but I personally admire the hell out of him. I think he got a bad rap for a lot of years because of stupid shit we all do in our teens and twenties, but he’s had nearly every minute of his public life filmed and put on the Internet. No one looks good under that kind of spotlight, right?”
“I suppose that’s true.” Steve had no idea what he was agreeing to. “So why do you admire him?”
“He’s smart as hell for starters, and he does something with it, you know? He’s not just uselessly smart. There are rumors he’s made a real AI, but no one can confirm that, but just those bots he did at MIT are something else. People always talk about weapons manufacturing and the whole ‘Merchant of Death’ thing, but that wasn’t the only stuff he did. He was always funding grants for energy research, and the Maria Stark Foundation existed long before he stopped making weapons.”
“Maria Stark Foundation? Is that something his parents started?”
“Man, you have been living under a rock. The Maria Stark Foundation was started by Tony right after college to honor his mother. He funnels millions of dollars personally a year and the company contributes as well. I have a buddy who got a scholarship through the Foundation. My friend is scary brilliant, but he went to a public high school in a poor area and had no chance of going to college without going deep into debt and even that wouldn’t have been to a good school.
“But the foundation runs competitions to find undeveloped talent in the STEM fields, and he won a design competition that Stark himself judged. Bobby is working on finishing his Ph.D. and then he’s going to work for the clean energy division of Stark Industries when he’s done. Stark paid for the whole thing. That’s like three hundred grand SI paid for him to go to school. So, yeah, I think Stark is pretty great.”
“STEM?” Steve was absorbing the rest.
The guy shot him another confused look. “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The future is there, and the U.S. is pretty far behind when it comes to that stuff. Other countries are way ahead of us, so the Maria Stark Foundation focuses some of its efforts on it. Particularly in recruiting women and minorities into STEM fields.”
“I see.” Steve chewed his food, thinking through what he’d heard. “But what do people tend to think about all the weapons he made?”
“People forget Tony inherited the company. His dad got into the weapons biz but they all act like it was Tony’s idea. Like he woke up one morning and went ‘oh, I think I’ll give up on my dreams of a true AI and clean energy and start making bombs.’ I personally think he was pressured to keep his old man’s dream alive.”
Steve blinked. He’d known that Howard started the company, but he had been mentally putting the blame for the weapons on Tony.
The waitress refilled their coffee cups. “My opinion is that it’s kind of sad that Stark stopped making the weapons. I get that he’s pursuing his passion and that he doesn’t want to make things that kill people anymore, but it’s not like the world’s a better place with Stark out of the weapons game.”
Steve glanced at her nametag. “Why’s that, Helen?”
She leaned her hip against the counter. “My husband is in the Marines. Said he could always count on a Stark weapon, you know? They didn’t misfire. If you shot an RPG at something, it was never a dud. Said the servicemen were never as comfortable with Hammer Tech. That means something. I don’t begrudge Stark getting out of that business, especially in light of what happened, but the men and women who defend our country aren’t better for it.”
“So you think he should still make bombs?” the guy next to Steve asked. “Don’t we need clean energy more than another thing that explodes?”
“I’m not saying that,” Helen said calmly. “I’m saying for the men and women who serve, their lives aren’t better for Stark focusing on clean energy. Maybe the world is better, but I’m selfish, and I worry more about my husband when he’s deployed than I do about the world. It’s a personal failing, but I manage to live with it.”
“Why did he stop selling weapons?” Steve asked then hastily added. “I know it has something to do with the kidnapping thing…” He really didn’t know, and he was wondering why SHIELD had left out so much important information.
Helen stared at him for a few beats then replied, “According to that interview Stark did with Time magazine after he announced the whole Iron Man thing, he said that he found Stark ordnance in the hands of the terrorists. I think that was the proverbial straw, you know? After everything he’d been through, he was confronted with his weapons in the hands of terrorists who would use them to kill innocent people.”
“How’d the terrorists get them?”
“No one is going to admit to how that might have happened. Stark Industries has been fully transparent about their contracts, and they primarily sell to the U.S. Department of Defense and select, approved allied nations. Which means, to my way of thinking, that someone was buying the weapons legitimately and not disclosing losses and thefts that wound up on the black market. Because while SI may have been transparent about inventory records, the same cannot be said about various world governments. Including our own.
“Like I said, I don’t begrudge him changing direction, especially in light of what must feel like a betrayal, but it doesn’t make me feel better about my husband’s next deployment. Still, Stark is contracted to make body armor for the Marines, so that’s something.”
Steve frowned, staring at his plate. “Stark had been presented to me as being a narcissistic party boy who didn’t care about anything.”
Helen cocked her head. “I can’t say one way or the other about the narcissism—”
“You don’t think revealing himself to be Iron Man was narcissistic?” Steve interjected.
The guy nudged Steve. “Don’t you get that that was the only way to protect his intellectual property?”
“Come on, man, think like a politician. Stark says he doesn’t want to make weapons and then he has that suit. The government would just seize it and slap a gag order on him about it. The only way for him to be Iron Man was to be upfront with the public about. The court of public opinion matters. The government can’t hide what the people already know about.”
“They wouldn’t do that,” Steve protested.
“Dude!” The guy looked appalled.
“Honey,” Helen said gently, “they did do that. I’m not sure who’s been selling you a story, but most people know all about the Air Force seizing one of Stark’s suits. On Stark’s own birthday no less. Then they turned that over to Justin Hammer. And then all those people nearly died at Stark Expo because of Hammer? That’s the U.S. government for you.”
With every word said, Steve realized how much SHIELD hadn’t told him about Tony because he had no idea about anything related to Stark Expo or Justin Hammer or any of it. He’d seen the press conference footage and been told how Stark had been asked to keep quiet about Iron Man. It had never occurred to him that not only was Stark under no obligation to accede to SHIELD’s demands but that it might not even have been in his own best interests. And if someone had already done something bad with Stark’s tech, maybe going public was the right move.
“How do I research all of this?” Steve asked.
The guy sighed. “Come on, man, let’s move to a booth. I’ve got my tablet, which has cellular, so we can get you some web pages to read.”
“I’ll bring you boys over some fresh coffee,” Helen offered.
As soon as they were in the booth with fresh coffee in hand, the guy stuck his hand out. “Dave.”
“Right.” He fiddled with the device, shooting Steve looks. “You’re Steve Rogers, aren’t you?” he asked softly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna say anything.”
“Yeah,” Steve admitted. “It’s weird having people know who I am, and I didn’t think I’d be recognized.”
“There are some pictures of you in a museum from back in the day. Plus your build is kind of… distinctive.”
Steve felt his face heat.
“I’m not trying to embarrass you, dude.”
“So, they found you…what? A month ago?”
“That’s not a lot of time to learn about one person much less the world.”
“I’m starting to see that,” Steve admitted.
“Well, I’m not here to judge, man, but thank you for what you did in New York.”
“Oh. Um, you’re welcome.” Steve hesitated. “But if you were judging, what would you think?”
Dave cocked his head to the side. “I’d wonder why someone wants you to think negatively of Tony Stark. I mean, it’s pretty obvious your opinion is negative even though the guy saved you and like ten million other people, and he had to think he wouldn’t survive that. He barely made it back through that portal.”
“Ten million?” Steve echoed. “Isn’t that a bit hyperbolic?”
Dave stared, expression blank. “Tell me someone explained nuclear weapons to you?”
Steve frowned. “I read something about them, but it’s just a bomb, right?”
“Oh, we are so starting there. Stark Expo can wait.” While Dave was tapping away at the tablet thingy, he kept talking. “Someone sure seems to want you ignorant, and if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s because they don’t want you and Stark on the same page.”
“But why? What could it hurt if he and I worked well together?”
“I don’t know, man, but my best guess is no government agency has ever been able to control Tony Stark. Maybe they figure if you’re in bed with him, they wouldn’t be able to control you either.”
Steve sputtered, causing Dave to look up in concern.
Then Dave rolled his eyes. “Figure of speech, dude. I don’t mean literally in bed. Though he’s hot like burning. If you swing that way, you’d be hella lucky to tap that. And we all know Stark swings that way.”
“We do?” Steve asked, voice sounding strangled.
“You mean whoever was crafting the narrative didn’t show you the sex tapes? I’m not sure if that’s disappointing or not. Seems like they’d try to appeal to your prudishness.”
“Why would Stark share sex tapes?”
“He didn’t. You really need to stop thinking the worst of him. Yeah, he’s done some questionable shit, and he may have been a party boy, but he was dogged about his privacy. Some of his significant others when he was younger, I mean people he was in an actual relationship with, snuck cameras into their bedroom and sold the videos for a fuckton of money. People think it must be so great to be Stark and have all that money, but can you imagine people stabbing you in the back all the time? Never knowing who you can trust.” Dave shook his head. “No thank you.”
Steve was more confused than when he’d impulsively first asked for Dave’s opinion.
Dave turned the tablet-thing around so Steve could see the screen. “Here we go.”
Steve stopped Dave from starting whatever video he had queued up. “Thanks. You didn’t have to do this.”
“I’m just happy to help. I think most people would be given the opportunity. Especially after everything that’s happened.” Dave pressed the screen. Black and white video footage from the end of World War II began to play.
– – – –
Steve stared out at the lake, occasionally throwing one of the rocks he’d collected, watching it skip across the water. He’d heard Tony’s car pull up a couple of minutes ago, and he was waiting for Tony to join him.
“That’s just bragging,” Tony said as he stepped up next to Steve.
“The skipping rocks thing.”
“You can’t do this?” Steve asked with a grin as he glanced over at Tony and blindly sent another rock skipping over the water.
“Only tried a few times. Never got the hang of it.” Tony shrugged. “But you didn’t ask me here for a rock skipping lesson, so what’s up, buttercup?”
“SHIELD…” He trailed off, not even sure how to begin. “They were very selective in the information they shared with me. I imagine they were selective about what they told me about Banner too, but I’ve come to believe the way they stitched together information about you borders on…lying.”
“Ah.” Tony rocked back on his heels, hands shoved in his pockets. “This footage you mentioned on the helicarrier.”
“Lots of things, but the thing that stuck out was your press conference revealing that you were Iron Man. The briefing packet made it clear that you’d been asked not to reveal that in the interests of national security.”
“Yeah, I get it. They were misleading me.”
“You had it right. They were telling you selected truths that nets into an impression that’s a lie. Meanwhile, their hands stay clean because they never told you anything blatantly false.”
Steve threw the last rock, feeling frustrated. “And I fell for it.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Cap, I keep falling for their manipulations too.”
“So what do we do?”
Tony turned to face him, pushing his sunglasses up on top of his head. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to do better. I don’t want to be anyone’s puppet.”
“The only way you can even hope to achieve that is with knowledge.”
“That’s fair.” Knowledge is what he really needed, after all.
“You prepared to spend the next year or two learning? Acclimating to the time you now live in? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but are you ready to get help with all the loss you suffered being thrown forward in time?”
Steve wanted to protest, but it felt like the old defensiveness that he’d resolved to try to let go of. “I want to try. But I don’t even know where to start.”
“Then we’ll figure it out.” Tony hesitated. “If you want my help that is.”
“Yeah, I do, but before we discuss anything else, I need to say something, and I need you to not dismiss it.”
Tony frowned, looking worried, and made a go-on gesture.
“I’m sorry. Not only for misjudging you, but also for the way I treated you. Even if everything they told me was true, I should have judged you on your merits and not some old videos and carefully worded ‘reports.’”
Tony stared off into the distance, looking remarkably uncomfortable. Finally, he huffed a little. “Fine. I accept. Can we never revisit this again?”
“I’m not sure I can commit to that. If a sincere and deserved apology makes you this uncomfortable, perhaps you should talk to someone about it.”
Tony blinked in obvious astonishment. “Wow, Rogers, who gave you an intro class on trolling?”
Steve smiled, feeling settled for the first time since he’d awoken from the ice
– – – –
Tony stepped out of the car and surveyed the construction site.
“You can’t be here without a hardhat,” the foreman said, approaching Tony. Then he dropped his clipboard. “Oh my god, you’re Tony Stark.”
“Every day of my life,” he agreed. “I’m looking for Dave.”
The foreman blinked. “Dave? We have three Davids on the crew.”
“Mid to late-twenties, 5’11’ish, dark hair, dark eyes, tattoo that sounded like it was probably tribal on his left forearm,” Tony supplied easily.
“Oh. Um, that sounds exactly like Dave Mitchell.”
“Then I’d like to speak with Dave Mitchell.”
“Uh, sure. I mean, of course, let me get him.”
“I’ll just wait here.”
“Of course. Of course.”
A couple of minutes later, an astonished-looking young man followed the foreman over. Tony got them a bit of privacy by promising he’d have a look around the construction site later. Though Tony had no idea why the foreman thought Tony would be interested in the construction methods for retail buildings.
“Mr. Stark,” Dave said hesitantly, holding his hardhat in hand. “It’s an honor.”
Tony waved that away. “You did me a solid recently.”
“I did?” He blinked several times. “Is this about Steve?”
“Yeah, it is. He needed someone to be in the right place at the right time when he had his little crisis of faith, and you were there. Better, you didn’t drive an agenda or try to get anything from him. I appreciate that—more than I could ever tell you.”
“Oh, well…” Dave scratched the back of his neck. “I really didn’t do anything.”
“We’ll just have to agree to disagree. So, thank you.”
“Uh, you’re welcome, Mr. Stark. Really, I feel like I should be thanking you.”
Tony held up a hand. “I’m allergic.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stark.” Dave grinned.
“You have a funny understanding of the word ‘allergy.’”
“I don’t think my understanding of the word is at issue.”
“Whoa.” Tony rocked back on his heels with a big grin. “Nice one. Okay, here’s the thing. I’m gonna offer you a job.”
Dave’s mouth fell open. “I work in construction.”
“And SI has construction crews working 24/7 in New York right now.”
“I don’t know anything about that type of construction.”
“You’ll learn. And when the construction is done you can apprentice to learn to do a new thing.”
“I don’t… I mean, how could I…”
“SI will pay to relocate you and your family. Starting salary is 100k plus benefits. And there’s this whole bonus schedule for the invasion-related clean-up. Do you want the job or not?”
“Of course I want the job, but why would you offer me that?”
“Because I do what I want?” Tony sighed. “Look, you’re a stand-up guy, and Steve trusts you. I like the idea of trustworthy people hanging around—we’ve had more than enough of the other sort to last the rest of my life and his. So come to New York, prove you’re trustworthy to my head of security, and then hang out with Captain America.”
“Are you trying to buy Captain America…a friend?”
“It sounds terrible when you put it that way.”
“Yeah, it does. Besides, Steve has my phone number if he wants to talk to me.”
“I know. That’s how I found you. Got your number and traced the GPS.”
Dave glared at him. “You’re used to getting your way, aren’t you?”
“Oh, it happens less than you probably think. In any case, I’m not buying him a friend. It seems he already has one, as evidenced by your indignation over the possibility of being the new feature in SI’s build-a-buddy store.
“What I’m trying to do is get his friend closer. I have money to burn, kid, and a super soldier angsting over the Vietnam War. I had to stop working on the next StarkPhone to design a better heavy bag because Steve was going through three a day in his quest to catch up on life. And, really, that’s just wasteful. So you’d be doing me a solid by letting me throw my money around on relocating you and yours. You can do what you’re already good at and you’d be closer for Steve being all…Steve.”
“But what if I’m a terrible construction worker? You don’t know anything about me.”
“No matter how much Steve needs a buddy, I despise incompetence. I’m offering you the job because you’re good at it. This company is one of the most reputable in Pennsylvania—they wouldn’t keep you on if you sucked. And that’s my whole pitch.”
Dave shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m interested, but I’ll have to discuss it with my wife.”
“Great.” Tony rubbed his hands together then reached into the car, pulling out a bag. “We have an apartment ready for you. Your new StarkTab and two new StarkPhones are in there—one for you and one for the missus. Jarvis will be in touch to sort out the details of your relocation.” He shoved the bag at Dave, whose mouth was hanging open as he grabbed it reflexively. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a tour of the site and pretend I’m fascinated by how the electrical is laid down in a strip mall.”
– – – –
EndNote: You can answer this prompt if you’d like (see the Rough Trade link above), but you do not have permission to continue my work on this prompt.