Being Wrong

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Lindsay Tanner is an Original Character, created for my own convenience.

Lindsay Tanner had been reporting on Tony Stark long enough to know he was a ruthless bastard. The girls who covered the society pages might be fooled by the cultivated smiles and the good looks and the money he tossed around, but Lindsay's turf was the business section and she knew better. You didn't grow a company from a mid-level player to an international powerhouse--and then maintain that position after a drastic shift in corporate direction--without being willing and able to cut the legs out from under any given opponent. Or ally, if necessary.

The charitable causes and the "revolutionary green policies" and the disproportionately large human resources department didn't fool her, either. If she'd learned anything in fifteen years on the business beat, it was that successful CEO's didn't have a purely altruistic bone in their bodies. Donations to charities provided tax breaks. Green policies provided good PR and prevented losses due to lawsuits--and Stark was brilliant enough that his green technology was just as effective as the dirty kind. And good employee support improved productivity, decreased turnover (and therefore training time), and encouraged company loyalty (and therefore the security of corporate secrets). The only surprising thing about how fully Stark threw himself behind all three was that it was rare for any corporate bigwig to think far enough ahead to be aware of the benefits. But then, Stark did fancy himself a futurist.

Nor had his penchant for running around as Iron Man change her evaluation of the man. (And no, she wasn't fooled like everyone else seemed to be. A control freak like Stark would never hand that much personal power over to anyone else.) Stark was an egomaniac and an adrenaline junkie. Of course he wanted to hang out with superheroes and battle supervillains.

No, nothing had ever made her question her evaluation of Tony Stark. Until now.

Unlike her colleagues (if you could call them that) in the society section, her confusion had nothing to do with the fact that his recently publicized relationship with Steve Rogers was apparently well established and long term. She'd paid more attention to what said colleagues had written than they had, it seemed; Stark had had half a dozen serious relationships. And if he was going to settle down with anyone, it was no surprise that he'd pick the most perfect specimen he could find.

What had her puzzled was why Steve Rogers would settle down with Stark. With anyone else she'd have chalked it up to the usual "aphrodisiacs". But Lindsay was certain that Captain America wasn't in it for money or power. Which meant that either Stark had fooled him, or he'd seen something in Stark that she hadn't. If it was the former, she needed to collect enough proof to enlighten Rogers. If it was the latter...well, Lindsay didn't like being wrong, but exclusive information was more important than her pride.

Which was how she found herself crouching behind a battered car, occasionally ducking when a piece of broken masonry flew her way. The Avengers were fighting something that looked like a cross between a crocodile and a horse--if either a crocodile or a horse were fifteen feet tall--and had apparently come from another dimension.

Lindsay wasn't actually stupid enough to follow the Avengers into battle, it's just that battle tended to come to the Avengers. Stark and Rogers had been having lunch when this thing appeared out of nowhere and started knocking pieces out of buildings. This was the third time something like this had happened and Lindsay had stopped goggling at the battle and started wondering how Stark had fooled anyone, given his penchant for throwing the armor on first and worrying about explaining where the hell Tony Stark had gone later.

Twenty yards down the street, Iron Man seized the crocodile-horse's tail in his hands to stop it from snapping at Giant-Man and swung it in an impressive arc, slamming it into the street all of five feet away. Lindsay couldn't help yelping.

The crocodile-horse's eyes fixed right on her.

"Oh shit," Lindsay breathed, unable to tear her eyes away from vertical, golden pupils.

It scrambled to its feet and lunged for her. Multiple rows of large, sharp teeth filled her vision for an instant and then there was a flash and a metallic clang and Captain America's shield was rolling away from her and the crocodile-horse was stumbling backward and a hard, metallic grip was lifting her into the air and away from danger.

Iron Man set her down on top of a nearby building. "Stay here, Ms. Tanner," he said, voice humming mechanically but still clearly irritated. "We need a word."

Lindsay nodded and waited until he'd returned to the battle before carefully brushing off and straightening her pants and blouse.

With a distraction provided by the Wasp, Iron Man and Giant-Man managed to wrap a pair of lamp posts around the creature, more or less immobilizing it. The four Avenges consulted for a moment and seemed to make some sort of call on their communicators. Then Iron Man wrapped an arm around Captain America's waist and together they flew up to the roof where she was waiting.

Captain America on TV was inspiring. Captain America scowling at you from a foot away was intimidating as hell. But Lindsay had learned not to flinch a long time ago. She smiled and held out her hand. "Lindsay Tanner, Captain. A pleasure to meet you."

He had manners; he shook her hand. "I wish I could say the same," he said. "But the fact that you've been following me around for three weeks inclines me to reserve judgment."

"I think it's me that she's been following," Iron Man said. He lifted his faceplate, revealing Stark within the armor. Rogers frowned at him, but Stark just snorted. "My costume changes can't always be discreet, Steve, and she's been paying attention."

"Actually," Lindsay broke in, crossing her arms over her chest and smiling smugly, "it really is Mr. Rogers that I've been following."

Stark raised his eyebrows. "You're a reporter for the Bugle's business section. Why on Earth are you interested in Steve?"

Rogers didn't looked surprised or curious at all. Just frustrated. "Let me guess," he said sharply. "What on Earth could a nice guy like me see in--Tony." Lindsay could actually hear the adjectives Rogers had cut out of the sentence. "Do you know how many people just walk up to me on the street every day and ask me that?" Rogers demanded. "And now it's apparently such a tantalizing mystery," he said the word like an insult, "that you're willing to risk your life over it? What is wrong with you?"

"Steve--" Tony began, his tone apologetic.

Rogers spun to face Stark instead of Lindsay. "No!" he snapped. "This is not your fault. And it's not a 'reasonable level of media interest' either." The quote in the words was clear. "When did reporters lose all respect for privacy and decorum? And why is it so unbelievable that I'd fall in love with a dedicated and brilliant man with whom I've shared some of the most significant moments of my life?"

Stark's expression went softer than Lindsay had imagined possible. He reached out and brushed Rogers' arm with his fingers. "Steve. That's not the first description of me that pops into most people's minds."

"I know," Rogers sighed, the anger draining out of his posture. "Moments like this I wish--"

"That they'd left you in the ice?" Stark finished, smirking.

"That you could've come back instead of me being carried forward," Rogers shot back.

Stark snorted. "Can you imagine me in 1945?"

Rogers opened his mouth, paused, tilted his head, and grinned. "Actually, yes. The War Office would have loved you."

"I'd have turned their brains inside out," Stark said dryly.

"Hopefully thoroughly enough for them to overlook your seduction of their national icon." Now Rogers was smirking.

"You weren't an icon at the time," Stark argued.


"Excuse me," Lindsay broke in, hands on her hips. "Could you get me down off this building? There's no roof access."

Stark and Rogers exchanged a glance. Stark caught her eye. "Follow either of us again and I'll have you arrested. Print a word of this and I'll sue your ass for libel."

"Understood," Lindsay said easily. She didn't have anything solid, anyway. But she'd only really wanted to understand for her own peace of mind, and now she did. Rogers had an ego of his own, and maybe a man who really thought the world had been a better place in 1945 needed a ruthless bastard to be happy in modern times.

She could handle being wrong about Rogers; she hadn't spent nearly a decade studying him. She was just glad she hadn't been wrong about Stark.