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The Almost-No-Burger Job

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The first time Eliot Spencer sees Tony Stark, he’s a mess. Mesh shirt, tight jeans that are soaked and dripping all over his platforms. There’s an extremely glittery leather jacket sliding off the crook of his arm, and he’s sliding, too, smearing more glitter everywhere as he slumps into the leather seat of a corner booth. He’s alone. He is also, very obviously, drunk. He pays Nicole in hundred dollar bills, tells her to keep the change as he tries a half-hearted leer. He doesn’t try to order a drink, doesn’t finish his fries, just totters away after staring blankly at the table, jacket forgotten under the booth table. It’s not even midnight.

Eliot, who’s keeping an eye on things from behind the bar, is not impressed. Drunk kid, sure, he’s seen plenty of those before, but to leave a good bowl of his fries half-eaten? It borders on offensive. Still, he asks Hardison to make sure that Stark returns to his dorm without getting mugged, run over or kidnapped before he does his customary check on Amy and their brewpub in Portland. They don't need a police investigation on their asses, especially not while they're still in the first stages of what is going to be a very long con.

Stark makes it back safely. Eliot puts him out of mind after he fails to come back for his jacket.

☆☆☆☆☆

The first time Tony Stark sees Eliot Spencer, he’s running on very little sleep. Tony has only emerged from the graduate labs because Rhodey threatened to hand over all his fake IDs to the Faculty Head, and while he can make more, he doesn’t want to hear Jarvis’ disappointed tones over the phone. Muttering about bad habits, Rhodey promises the best damn pub food that Tony will ever have at a newly-opened joint not far from campus, and so Tony lets himself be pulled away from the laptop he was curled over.

Still at the wired stage of being awake too long, with flushed cheeks and slightly trembling fingers, he talks Rhodey through the latest bits of coding he’s doing on the (as-yet unnamed) AI he’s creating while they sit on the bus into town, while he’s led towards a vaguely familiar building, while they get seated at the well-varnished bartop, while Rhodey orders for them. It’s only when a thick-cut fry gets shoved in his open mouth that he stops. His automatic glower fades in the face of deliciousness, and déjà vu clubs him in the back of the head at the taste of perfectly seasoned potato.

Blinking rapidly to shake the sudden dizziness (potentially caused by the lack of food he’s consumed in the last 24 hours, Jarvis’ voice in his head says with a raised eyebrow), Tony asks Rhodey, “Have I been here before?”

“Not with me, man,” Rhodey replies, looking put out. “I was looking forward to seeing you react to their burgers.”

“Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I would remember having a burger experience like the one you were talking about. I must’ve just come by for some fries and a drink.” Tony turns back and squints at Rhodey in the warm light of the bar. “Unless you’ve been telling tall tales, Honeybear?”

“Nah, Tony, I wouldn’t do that to you,” Rhodey protests. “I know how seriously you take your burgers. Just wait, it’s gonna blow your mind.”

“Well, if it’s anything like these fries,” says Tony, taking a generous handful and cramming it into his mouth, “I think I might have to bribe the chef to deliver.”

The burger doesn’t disappoint. The burger is, in fact, to die for, with a crusty brioche bun and juicy meat and just the right balance of salty and sweet for the salad, plus a bite of heat from the pickles which the menu had proudly proclaimed were homemade. It appears to be staying upright in defiance of the laws of gravity. Tony’s groan of appreciation is loud enough to turn heads.

This time, Tony does finish his fries, even tries to scope out Rhodey’s bowl for more. When Tony asks the waitress, Nicole, about speaking to the chef, she says that he doesn’t come out to talk to customers. So Tony, to Rhodey’s visible horror, proceeds to systematically insult everything from the light fixtures to the beer he hasn’t tried, volume rising consistently until the staff door by the bar slams open and a highly irate man emerges, furiously wiping his hands on a pristine white tea towel.

Furrowed brows and muscular arms are in firm complement to his pale pink apron, which has “Don’t Insult the Chef” printed on the front. His hair is tied back in a cute little ponytail. Behind him, Tony can see a slim blonde and a tall dark-skinned man with eyebrows raised extremely high. By now, Rhodey’s looking like he wishes Tony had succeeded in building that teleportation device last month, so that he can disappear from the situation.

Of course, as soon as the man appears, Tony switches gears; he grins and proceeds to flirt brazenly, clearly angling for a personal chef. The man is not impressed. His two shadows seem to be suppressing laughter as Tony’s antics get more ridiculous.

“What.” The man growls, finally, after Tony has suggested a buyout of the brewpub so that he can get meals delivered straight to his lab. His white tea towel is now slung over one shoulder in a way that accentuates its breadth. His glare has not subsided in the least.

Tony shrugs disarmingly, repeats himself: “If the owners don’t wanna do deliveries, it’s cool. I can buy the place and then you won’t get in trouble! Nothing else would have to change, promise.”

“I,” grinds out the man behind gritted teeth, “am one of the owners.”

Huh. Tony wouldn’t’ve called that; usually the chef and the management don’t mix, and this guy doesn’t look like he would enjoy doing paperwork. Tony can recognise a kindred spirit. He cuts a glance to Rhodey, who’s now slouched as far down the seat as possible, shaking his head and mouthing I don’t know this guy. He’s not with me to the pair behind the chef. As soon as he sees Tony looking, he immediately refocuses and whispers, “Oh my god dude, stop. You’re not gonna win this one, let it go.”

After another minute of Tony failing to persuade the man—who still hasn’t given his name, or said anything apart from flatly refusing to consider any of Tony’s generous offers through a clenched jaw—another head peers through the staff door and tentatively calls out, “Chef?”

“What?” This time, the growl is more of a rumble, and the face the man turns to the door has incrementally softened.

“Uh, you said to get you when the timer goes off?”

“Yeah, I did, well done, Lani. Did you leave someone on the grill while you fetched me? No, don’t answer that, just go back and make sure the burgers don’t burn. Don’t let Bert forget the garnish, remember the pairing work we went over last week, and remind him to chiffonade the mint properly.”

“Yes, Chef!”

The head disappears, and the man turns back to Tony. Flatly, he says, “You’re wasting my time. If Lani burnt the burgers to get me, the next thing I serve will be your ass out the door.”

He strides past the pair who are still leaning on the bar behind him watching the discussion gleefully, mutters, “Damnit, Hardison,” and closes the staff door behind him. Seconds later, Tony hears a chorus of “Yes, Chef” emanating from the kitchen.

Apologising profusely to everyone in the vicinity, Rhodey takes the chance to drag Tony out, affectionately berating him about proper manners and not annoying people that can kill you with a kitchen knife or poison you. In the taxi back to campus (apparently Tony owed him for the embarrassment of the meal), he complains about being kicked out, and warns Tony that if he doesn’t behave, he won’t get an invite to the next place. Tony admits grudging defeat and promises not to do it again—that burger really was a masterpiece.

Back at the brewpub, Hardison breathes a sigh of relief beside the bar; punching Tony Stark in the face would have definitely harshed on their anonymity. Not that he couldn’t bury it, of course, pffft, who did they take him for? But it was cool of Eliot to have restrained himself. He deserved something nice for that.

☆☆☆☆☆

Next morning, Tony wakes up to discover there’s a cool mill missing from his account, which is surprising because they’d gotten back to the dorm without any major catastrophes. A bit of clandestine digging reveals that the person responsible was the tall gentleman behind the chef, one Alec Hardison, an infamous grey-hat hacker in the US-based community. Most of the money went into a very expensive and fancy knife set, Tony tells Rhodey as he flops down dramatically into bed that night.

From Rhodey’s disturbed expression, maybe he should be taking that as a threat. Instead, they make plans to go back next week.