The Ring: Maple League Rules
November 21, 2016
“You’ve got your notes?” Darcy asked, for perhaps the third time since Tony had landed in Ottawa. She handed a file over to Pauline. Paulina. Paula? The head of his legal department, and her…other person. Those two would actually review the details of the agreement that would mark the beginning of the end of the Sokovia Accords. Tony would read it too, of course. He hated being handed things and loved making people think that he didn’t pay any attention, but there was no way he was signing another government document without making sure it did exactly what he needed it to do.
“Like a steel trap, Lewis.” Tony tapped his temple just over the tinted glasses he was wearing. They were not reading glasses, Rhodey.
Let it go, Tony thought. Let’s talk about something else. Anything else but having to apologize to Mr. Liberty. “Stop being a worry wort. It’s harshing my vibe here.”
“Nobody says that anymore, Tony. Get with the times.” Darcy opened her tablet, flicking through the agenda that had been finalized days ago. She knew that Tony knew what to do; they had gone over it a million times. She still looked a little bit like she wanted to vomit. Tony could understand. He kind of wanted to vomit. Or maybe drink heavily. Yes. That was it. Drink heavily and then vomit. Or run away. Run away to drink heavily and then vomit. Elsewhere. He was sure there was some pressing business he needed to take care of. Somewhere…not in Canada. Somewhere far, far away from Steve Rogers and all of his own massive, massive mistakes. Super-massive black hole sized mistakes. Muse would have understood.
Darcy being nervous was ridiculous. This was what she had been studying for, what she had spent years researching. At a liberal arts school, he reminded himself indignantly. Darcy was better at understanding individual personalities and group dynamics than anyone he had ever met – even better than Pepper. Not that he would ever say so. He loved Pepper. And Darcy would be insufferable if she received too much praise. She had that look about her. Reminded him of him.
And when she was nervous it made him nervous. Tony didn’t like being nervous. It was unnatural. There were exactly three things that were allowed to put fear into him. Pepper (and the potential that she could leave him and then he’d be alone again but it would be so much worse than before because he knew now what it was like to have someone and to love them and to have them love him back and the very thought was crushing and horrible so he pushed it far down and deflected), Space (just in general, it was a dark, cold place that should stay out there while he stayed firmly inside the atmosphere where there was air and heat and light and no maniacal aliens with a thirst for death and power and the end of mankind which included him and more importantly Pepper and he couldn’t-), and mayonnaise. (Why did it exist? Why were so many people enamored of it? How did eggs get in there in the first place? Disgusting.)
“Settle your wig, Lewis. It’s just the future of the world riding on how well you have done your job. And you don’t even have to sit in the actual meeting. Lucky duck.”
“No pressure. Thanks, Tony.” Darcy said dryly.
“You’re welcome. Glad I could help. Now is there espresso? I specifically told you I needed an espresso.”
“No espresso. There is herbal tea and Pepper sent me with four of your gross green shake things.” She pulled one out of her Mary Poppins bag and handed it over. It made Tony think about folding space and the implications of manipulating molecular density or better yet pocket dimensions and how Foster’s theories might apply to creating a hole not unlike the Acme cartoons. It would be great for preventing his car keys from ruining the line of his suit. Also, Manhattan rental rates. Also, energy storage utilizing radiation that might otherwise be life-threatening. Also, party games. “Let’s go over the high points for your meeting with the Captain, one more time.”
Fuck, no. Anything but that. If Tony had to hear her coaching him, even one more time: I was wrong, Steve. I take responsibility. He was going to lose it. His mind or his breakfast, could go either way.
He was going to say it. He would say it, because it was the truth and it needed to be said and goddammit if he wasn’t going to get this shit the fuck back on track before anything worse happened and Ross blew up the whole goddamn world because that asswipe dickhole couldn’t-
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Tony clapped his hands together, ” I have things to do, Lewis. People to ignore, machines to build, money to burn. You aren’t getting paid to waste my time, so where is everyone?” He clasped his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels looking if he hadn’t a care. Darcy knew better. He knew she knew better. She could see through his bluster and suave charm and it was both irritating and a relief. An irritating relief. A relieving irritation. Oxymoron. She hadn’t been working with Tony long, but she knew when he was deflecting.
Trudeau stepped in shortly after that making friendly overtures, assuring Tony that everything was well in hand, complimenting Lewis on her crackerjack negotiation skills. He might have actually used the word crackerjack. Tony wasn’t really paying attention. He was too distracted by what appeared to be a politician who genuinely seemed to care about things. And stuff. It was unsettling. As soon as the man left again Tony went back to his smoothie, sucking it dry and pointing out to Darcy how Paloma. Portia? Paige? Looked like she smelled blood in the water. Canada was too far north. They weren’t adequately prepared for a shark attack.
Steve Rogers, Captain America, entered the room and Darcy could feel Tony tense up beside her. He abruptly turned his back, facing the coffee bar and forcing nonchalance into a diatribe about matcha tea and caffeine-free products. She nodded to the legal team and they quietly slipped out another door. This reunion was going to be difficult enough without an audience. Captain Rogers looked determined, and maybe just a tiny bit nervous. He rubbed his palm against the top of his thigh, as if to smooth the already perfectly smooth slacks.
The Black Widow was right behind him in what Darcy thought of as her Natalie uniform: a tailored dark raspberry dress with a skinny belt and heels high enough to break an ankle. She was even carrying a slim briefcase. Darcy had the dangerous impulse to find out what was inside. Tablet? Top Secret files? Handgun? Tieks? It could be anything. She hadn’t been positive Natasha would show up. The spy seemed to think that playing for both teams might come around to bite her at the pending meeting. Darcy was more concerned that there be someone in the room physically capable of stopping Tony and the Captain from beating the tar out of each other. She breathed a little sigh of relief knowing that Natasha Romanoff could enforce a time out if necessary.
Past Natasha’s shoulder, loitering in the hallway, was a face Darcy would have recognized anywhere. Aside from his brief but scorching fifteen minutes of infamy after the assassination of King T’Chaka, James Buchanan Barnes featured heavily in Tony’s Avengers files. Darcy hadn’t read through most of his history; she found after a few pages she usually had to go watch Hanna Barbera cartoons or eat raw cookie dough to feel human again. What she had read made her cognizant of one fact that would put the entire negotiations in jeopardy.
Tony Stark hated James Barnes.
Conflict resolution, she thought, feeling her armpits starting to get damp and her stomach twisting with nerves. You can do this. No problem. Just a little Lewis misdirection and some patented Sheryl Fate charm and BAM! crisis averted.
Please, Lord, if I die, let Jane enjoy my porn collection. Amen.