Clint stared at Rogers and tried to think of what Phil would do in this situation. Because he was drawing a total blank. “Let me get this straight,” he started. “You want advice on what you should do next from someone that SHIELD has officially labeled as compromised?”
“Yes,” Steve Rogers confirmed.
“Because when I asked Hill, she told me to trust Fury to know what was best for me. When I asked Romanoff, she just looked at me like I was too dim to breathe before agreeing with Hill. I can’t seem to get a hold of Stark or Banner when I try to call, and Thor is back on Asgard.” Rogers sounded peeved, and Clint wondered when he was going to drop into angry.
“Wait, you can’t reach Banner or Stark? Are they avoiding your calls?” Clint asked. He looked at the phone on his desk and contemplated trying to call out.
“Every time I try to call out, I get what I’ve been told is a busy signal.” Rogers looked confused before he drew in a deep breath. “When I try an internal phone number, the phone works just fine. When I dialed the main branch of the New York City Library, it went through. Just not the two phone numbers I have that connect to Stark.”
“Well, that is just a bit fishy, now isn’t it?” Clint observed before he looked at Rogers again. “So the other reason you came to me is that I’m not one of the trusted crowd and I might tell you the truth?”
“Yes.” Rogers stared at him before he tilted his head to the side. “And everyone I’ve talked to says that you’re only here because you want to be, not because SHIELD has a hope in hell of actually keeping you here.”
Clint snorted in bitter amusement. “To be fair, most of the methods that have been used to keep me still in the past have been punitive, but the time needed to heal after would be prohibitive if SHIELD tried it now. So yes, unless there are orders to shoot me, I can get out of here anytime I really want.”
“Okay, that’s good to know,” Rogers murmured before he shrugged once. “So any suggestions on how I can get into contact with Stark?”
“Is anyone following you when you leave headquarters?” Clint asked as he turned over possible scenarios in his head.
“Not that I know of,” Rogers said after several moments thought.
“Then go to the library, find a librarian you can charm into letting you use their phone and call Stark. Then head to wherever he sends you. Because you can’t stay here,” Clint directed.
Things were coming together in his head, and he was getting a very bad feeling at the base of his brain. It was the same feeling that let him anticipate attacks from his blind spots. And it was telling him it was time to go.
Rogers got a pinched look on his face at that. “Why?”
“What does Fury want you to do?” Clint asked instead.
“They said something about missions?” Rogers offered and then shrugged. “To be honest, I mostly stopped listening and started wondering why they were so desperate to keep me here.”
“Jesus,” Clint ran a hand over his face and tried not to shudder. Phil had to be rolling in his grave over this shit. “They want you to do black ops missions?”
“I’m not sure,” Rogers admitted. “But there was a mention of working with Romanoff and STRIKE, but again, I stopped listening because something about it the whole thing gave me the willies.”
“Your instincts were spot on,” Clint admitted. “STRIKE is SHIELD’s black ops arm. Well, the beyond black ops arm of a black ops agency. Most of those guys would fit right in with the Nazis you fought in World War II with their ability to kill without thought.”
“So not people I want to deal with,” Rogers said with a sigh. “Right. I’m not black ops though.”
“And they would have slowly, carefully moved you from some fairly innocuous missions into the darker and darker missions until you were neck-deep in black ops and sinking deeper,” Clint warned him. “Which is why you need to go to Stark. Because that’s not something that you want to be a part of.”
“No, that’s not me,” Rogers agreed. He stared at him for several moments before he looked around at the room they were in. “What about you?”
“I’m where I need to be because I led Loki to the Helicarrier and I exploited its weaknesses.” Clint swallowed heavily at the thought of what he had done. It had seemed like the best idea ever at the time, and he had done it to the absolute best of his abilities.
Rogers nodded once and then stood. “Thank you,” he said before patting him on the shoulder once and heading out.
Clint leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling before he took out his hearing aids. He set them on the table before him and tried to enjoy the silence. He wasn’t so naive as to think that he wasn’t under observation, but he hadn’t seen any bugs, so he was reasonably certain that his conversation with Rogers was safe enough.
When Natasha slipped into his room, Clint raised an eyebrow at her in question.
“You’re taking an awful risk talking to him,” she signed.
“And you lot are taking an awful risk at trying to snow Captain Fucking America,” Clint snapped. “Remember, this is the guy who defied orders to go rescue his best friend from behind enemy lines and successfully did so while blowing the shit out of the enemy position.”
“He’s a soldier, he’ll follow orders,” she disagreed, gestures crisp and precise.
Clint thought of all the stories that Phil had told him about Rogers and the Howling Commandos. There was no way the man in those stories would let himself be drawn into the murky world of black ops without repercussions. And he wanted nothing to do with that level of insanity.
“You keep telling yourself that, Nat,” Clint murmured. He pushed himself back in his chair to let it balance on two legs. Shifting his weight until he was comfortable, he closed his eyes and ignored his partner. He had some thinking to do.
– – – – –
Steve walked out of SHIELD Headquarters and headed for the library. Barton had given him some good advice, and he was going to take it all. He had memorized the phone numbers he had for Stark, and due to that, he had left his SHIELD issued phone behind. He wasn’t going to take anything of theirs with him. His shield was on his back in a leather carrying case.
He ignored the looks he was getting as he walked downtown. His face had been splashed over the media for more than seventy years, and he was getting used to being recognized. Due to the invasion, his profile had been raised even further, so he accepted the looks and let the whole thing wash over him.
When he reached the main library branch, he stared up at it. It looked almost the same as he remembered from when he had last visited. Drawing in a deep breath, Steve walked up the steps and made his way to the information desk.
“I was hoping that I could use your phone?” he asked the man sitting behind the desk.
“Uhm, what?” the man looked befuddled before blinking once.
“I don’t have a phone. Can I borrow yours to make a call?” Steve asked.
Blinking again, the man pushed the phone on the desk over to him. “Dial 9 before you dial the number, you want to call.”
Steve picked up the handset and brought it up to his ear. He heard the clear dial tone and quickly dialed 9 and then the phone number Stark had given him. The phone rang once before he heard the voice of Stark’s majordomo. “Stark Tower, Mr. Stark’s office. This is JARVIS speaking. How can I help you?”
“Hello, JARVIS, this is Steve Rogers, I was hoping to speak to Stark,” Steve said. He was keeping an eye on his surroundings. So far, no one seemed to be curious, but he wasn’t going to count on that lasting.
“Sir has been expecting your call for the last two weeks, Captain,” JARVIS told him.
“I’ve been having some issues on that,” Steve explained. “Can you ask Stark where we can meet up? Somewhere SHIELD isn’t going to be able to get their ears on?”
“Sir suggests that you meet him at the Wall Street Bull in an hour. He states he’ll arrange a safer meeting place from there,” JARVIS informed him.
“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve murmured. He hung up the phone and nodded his thanks to the man at the desk. Reading the name tag, he smiled. “Thank you, Daniel. That was very helpful.”
“You’re welcome,” Daniel replied before he shook his head once. “Can I get your autograph?”
Steve nodded. “Sure, got a pen?”
Daniel handed him a felt-tipped marker, and Steve quickly signed the paper the man thrust at him. He made certain to add a small decorative touch. When he handed it back to his helper, he was pleased to see how thrilled the man was. Steve tapped the desk once and headed for the door. He needed to find a bull. That was apparently on Wall Street.
It took him most of the hour to make his way down to the point of New York. The bull in question was a beautiful bronze statue that a number of people were molesting for pictures. Steve shook his head at the insanity of people and looked around.
The invasion had only lightly impacted the area, and the tourists were out in force. The shops in the area were all open and seemed to be doing decent business, and from his angle, he could see one of the coffee shops he had seen all over the city was open as well. He wasn’t thrilled with their product, but it would do in a pinch.
The beep of a horn pulled his attention to the road and Steve glanced to the side. Stark was in a pretty little car waiting at the curb. “Going my way, soldier?”
Snorting in amusement, Steve walked over to the car. “I sure hope so.”
“Come on, we need to get out of public,” Stark said.
Steve pulled his shield off his back and set it in the small sliver of storage space in the back of the car before sliding into the passenger seat. “Thank you for picking me up.”
Stark gave him an assessing look over his sunglasses. “I expected to hear from you almost two weeks ago, Cap.”
“I’m sure JARVIS told you I was having issues?” Steve asked cautiously.
“Yeah, he mentioned. Let’s wait until we get to my house,” Stark told him.
Steve nodded once and settled in to enjoy the drive. He looked around him, trying to place the new city in his memory. So much of it had changed that he could barely place where he was. New York had changed and reinvented itself many times since he had gone under the ice.
When Stark pulled into what looked like a parking garage in a private building, Steve looked up and blinked. The whole façade looked like it had been there for ages and screamed understated wealth. “Is this whole thing yours?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, dad bought it after the War. He wanted to have a home base in New York, so he got the building on the cheap. Then he spent the next year renovating the whole thing,” Stark informed him as he got out of the car. “Come on.”
Steve followed closely behind Stark as he headed deep in the building. He didn’t say anything since he had no idea if it was safe.
When Stark led him into a sitting room and closed the door, Steve raised an eyebrow at him. “Can we talk now?”
“JARVIS, privacy protocols,” Stark murmured.
“Privacy protocols in place, Sir,” JARVIS announced.
Stark looked at him in question. “What can I do for you, Cap?”
“I need advice,” Steven admitted. “Fury wants me to join SHIELD, and at best guess, be a part of a black ops team. I’ve been told that the team in question would remind me of the Nazis I fought during the war. I’m not interested in working with Nazis, I’d rather punch them.”
“Fury wants you to work with STRIKE.? Cyclops is dumber than I thought,” Stark observed. “Who gave you the advice?”
“Barton,” Steve said with a shrug. “He seems rather resigned to his fate.”
“Yeah, that’s bullshit,” Stark ran a hand over his beard. “JARVIS, look into what’s going on with the Birdbrain. I don’t want to leave him hanging any more than we have to.”
“Yes, sir,” JARVIS agreed.
“So you’ve said why you want the advice… What do you want?” Stark asked.
Steve took a deep breath as he thought about what he wanted out the new world he found himself in. “I want to understand this new world I find myself in. I want to do something that I can be proud of. I don’t want to join an organization that tolerates behavior that is Nazi-like.”
“And would you want to join an organization that would let you help the world by protecting it under the banner of an organization that is under the world’s banner? Not just the US?” Stark asked. He seemed intent on Steve’s answer. As if it was important.
He took a few minutes to think things over. He thought of how Hill, Romanoff, and Fury wanted him to obey without questioning their motives. Barton had obviously felt that whatever they had in mind would be bad for him. And it rubbed him wrong to work for an organization that lived in the shadows. He had never been one for hiding his light under a bushel.
“So, this would be aboveboard? We wouldn’t be operating in the shadows?” Steve asked.
“I don’t do the shadows, Spangles, just ask anyone,” Stark reminded him. “And there’s no way that I would be a part of an organization that hides in them either. Nor one that tries to kill the population of the city I live in.”
“I asked about that,” Steve swallowed once. “They had no right.”
“No, they didn’t,” Stark confirmed. “So, are you in?”
“After I read the charter,” Steve decided. “I’ll make my decision. But I’m certainly open to advice.”
Stark looked at him for a moment before he started to laugh. “You got it, Cap.”
Steve held out his hand for Stark to shake. “Nice to meet you. I’m Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America.”
When the other man took his hand, he tried not to wilt in relief. “Tony Stark, known as Iron Man.”
“I’m looking forward to working with you.”