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Due Diligence

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Steve stared at his drink, as if doing that would give the alcohol any power.

Natasha had left half an hour ago -- she had to be up early in the morning, going who knows where to do who knows what -- and he was getting pretty tired, but he wasn't yet ready to disappear back into the loving embrace of his S.H.I.E.L.D. handlers. He'd been trying to make his apartment his own, but it still didn't feel remotely like home, and it was lonely when the only people you saw were people paid to be nice to you.

That was why he liked going out with Natasha. She might be paid, but she never did nice on cue, and she was good company. Sometimes they took Clint with them, but he was off on assignment somewhere. That was the biggest problem with hanging out with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; they were off doing work you weren't supposed to know about half the time.

Steve knew he could start pushing to do some of that work himself, but he wasn't sure he wanted to. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s work was important, but they were also the people stockpiling alien tech just in case. They were the people who'd lied to him about it. It wasn't as if Steve didn't know there'd been covert ops in his time; he'd read about a lot of them since, some of which he was proud of, some of which made him sick to his stomach. But he'd still rather be the guy who knocked out Adolf Hitler over 200 times.

He was getting maudlin again. Seemed like he should at least be able to get drunk if he had to end up maudlin. Wasn't fair.

A man sat next to him; he was Asian, maybe Korean, on the tall side of average. He looked like someone Steve used to know, just a little, but Steve couldn't place where or when. He smiled at Steve, but not with his eyes. "Can I buy you a drink?"

Steve shook his head, gesturing at his beer. "I'm not really--"

"Let me rephrase, Captain Rogers," the man said, his voice soft and persuasive. "Let me buy you something fresh and we'll move to a table. There's something I'd like to discuss with you. We'll call it a business proposition."

"I'm not in the mood for any proposition," Steve said. He wasn't S.H.I.E.L.D., and he was dressed too nicely to be a reporter: business suit that looked like it'd been made for him, white silk scarf around his neck instead of a tie. "With all respect."

"With all respect, Captain," the man replied, "this one might grab your interest. It concerns Agent Carter."

Steve's heart froze. Not many people knew about Peggy; all that had been classified, and a lot of it still was. "All right," he said, cautiously. His beer had gone pretty stale.

At the table, the man extended a hand. "Gavin Park. I'm with a law firm, Wolfram and Hart. We specialize in...unusual services, personalized protection, a variety of work. My employers wanted to contact you personally. We could use a man with your skills."

Steve's fresh beer was lighter than the last one, some kind of pale ale. He'd finished off his old one before moving to the table; wasting it felt wrong. "You know I'm not going to be interested," he said.

"Ah," Mr. Park said. "I think we might have something that interests you." He opened up his briefcase. "You see, Captain, we have a large variety of resources. We can make things happen. Things you might otherwise not think possible." He pulled out a photograph and handed it to Steve.

It was a headshot of Peggy Carter. It looked like it had been taken from her personnel file. Her smile was just as beautiful as the last time Steve had seen it. Maybe more.

"I know you've seen amazing things," Park said. "You were at the Battle of New York. So I hope I won't have to prove anything to you when I explain that we have resources. Spellcasters. Interdimensional portals. We can give you what you want, Captain Rogers. You can go back to that time and live into a happy old age with Agent Carter. You can bring her here, to the future with you, and start anew. The choice will be yours."

"And the price?" Steve wasn't stupid. There was always a price. And he'd paid enough prices by now.

"You work for us," Park said. "As simple as that."

"Doing what?"

Park shrugged. "As I said, we provide a variety of services, though you’d mostly likely be used for intelligence -- not many people have the natural memory bank you do, Captain -- or personal protection. It wouldn't be a full-time job. You'd have plenty of time to draw, to paint...we could likely arrange a career for you as a commercial artist, if that appeals to you."

Steve held up the image to the light. God, he missed her, missed having that promise in his life. If he could, would he go back with her? Or would he bring her here? "May I keep this?"

"Of course," Park said.

He put the photo back down. "Did you really think I'd say yes?"

Park's face creased into a genuine smile. "My great-uncle served in the Atlantic during World War II, Captain Rogers. The Commandos liberated his unit. I...learned a lot about you from him, let's say. My employers insisted I make this contact and attempt to recruit you, but I decided it would be better to not waste too much of my time or yours."

Steve nodded. He had an odd respect for his honesty. "Well," he said. "Thanks for the drink."

"It was good to meet you, Captain," Park said, extending his hand again as he left. "Honestly."

It was another ten minutes before Steve realized the guy had stuck him with the bill for the beer.

But it was well worth it for the picture.