The Ring: Sleight of Mouth
November 21, 2016
Barnes was waiting in the hallway for Natalia to give him the signal – stay or go – when the spy suddenly stepped to the side for a dark haired woman. Natalia shut the door with a click, hell of a signal, and he had only a brief moment to identify Darcy Lewis before she was in his personal space. Without any warning, the Lewis woman thrust her arm under his and tucked her hand around his elbow. His metal one. He froze for one second. Assessment. Secondary association. Threat level –
“Thank god I have you, handsome. I’ve had it about up to here with Tony and the legal eagles,” she gestured with her free hand at a spot about a foot above her head. Her huge leather handbag thumped against her body in protest at the motion. “I promised my dad I wouldn’t wander around foreign government buildings on my own – on account of this one little misunderstanding during Spring Break my freshman year, so you can be my escort. Have you ever considered that, by the way? I assume you know the euphemism. If not, I’d like to tell you about a fantastic business proposition I have for you. As the management, I would of course take the first sixty percent of profits. Standard fee, really. For overhead.” She snickered to herself. “Ha. Overhead. And your part will be easy. You just lay around, looking like your own beautiful self, and the money comes rolling in.”
Barnes found himself walking beside her, letting her direct them, and his own train of thought completely derailed. He was still surveilling the area, he wasn’t completely brain dead, but he had never had anyone out talk the Soldier. Not the Winter Soldier, because he wasn’t in there anymore, would never be coming back. Barnes really would eat a bullet first. But there was a part of him that had been the cold, calculating sniper, wet works operative, assassin or whatever it was called long before Zola and the Chair. The Army had seen it during basic training, and it was why he was assigned to the Commandos. That part of him was bigger and darker and colder now, but it was still him. It had taken nearly a year of agonizing therapy to separate the two. And all of two seconds for Lewis and her mouth to bulldoze him out of that mindset.
“If that’s not your thing – and I completely understand. My body is my temple, after all. Then we could start with something more low key. Tasteful pictures? How do you feel about using your sex appeal to start a porn empire?”
“I…don’t.” Lewis was distracting, and despite the low probability of danger, Barnes wasn’t certain he liked it. He did feel a wave of relief at not having to confront Tony Stark. Steve would be fine. Intellectually he knew that. And with Natalia in the room there was no threat that couldn’t be handled. Still, Barnes felt himself slipping back into hyper vigilance and looking-
“Hm. Well.” She frowned for a brief moment. “I guess I’ll continue with my 401k then. If you don’t have one yet, I’ll help you look into it. Social Security was never intended to be a pension plan people!” The last she said in a stage whisper while glaring at random strangers in the lobby. Barnes wasn’t sure if Canadians had Social Security – or whatever the equivalent would be. “Ah, there it is!” With an abrupt yank she attempted to spin him to the left. Barnes decided to see how serious she was. He held his ground. She snapped back to him like a rubber band, crashing into his side.
“Oof.” She sucked in several deep breaths and stilled before looking up at him. He realized it was the first time she had met his gaze since she took his arm. “If you aren’t comfortable, you need to tell me. Right now. I won’t take you back into that room,” she warned gently. “We are already sitting on a powder keg and between Rogers and Tony they have enough matches to make the Hindenburg look like a birthday candle. The last thing this situation needs is more tension. But if anything is happening that doesn’t sit right with you – including me, I will find you a nice, quiet spot where you can wait until the meetings are over. Just say the word.”
He wasn’t going to go off the deep end or go catatonic just because he was sans keeper, but Barnes wondered what she thought she would do to prevent him if he did decide to go back. He wondered how one civilian could go from ridiculous to serious, logical, and so very insightful in the blink of an eye. Her voice was low and sincere, her eyes blue-green and hard with determination. Darcy Lewis was extremely pretty. Luscious dark curls trying to escape a low bun. Smooth, creamy pale skin. Lips painted velvety plum and so full they would make any man’s mind dip into the gutter. And that was before they took her body into account. Silky blue blouse that was demure in cut but floated over generous assets. Tight black skirt with a small, high waist and respectable hemline. Sensible shoes. Flat, black, and with a strap across the top so that she could run in them if she needed to.
Commanding. Gorgeous. Fucking fearless. She was exactly what Stevie needed. Punk won’t know what hit him. It had been ages since he had played the game, but there was no better reason to dust off his old skills than to get a girl for Steve. And hopefully shame and embarrass him in the process.
“How do you young people say it?” His throat felt a little raspy. It had been a long, silent ride from the airport. “My safe word is grapefruit.”
She blinked. A slow flutter of dark lashes made thick and ridiculously long with makeup. Then that sinful mouth curled up in a smirk that promised very, very bad things.
“Fan. Tastic.” She gave a warning tug and he allowed her to pull him away and into a Starbucks. Damn things were everywhere, apparently even in Canada. They had to wait in line for a few minutes and she didn’t speak until it was nearly their turn to order. “Mine’s Elmo, for future reference. In case anyone wants to know.”
Barnes let out a snort before he controlled his shocked amusement. Lewis kept right on talking.
“First appearances would brand you as a black coffee kind of guy, but I hate to be presumptuous.”
“More presumptuous,” he managed to break in quietly.
“Exactly.” She nodded decisively as if he had agreed with her. “Hi!” Her bright smile for the barista was echoed and the younger woman behind the counter flicked her eyes over him appreciatively. Maybe if I were ten, or eighty, years younger and not a mindless assassin. It didn’t matter, flirting with Lewis was the closest he’d come to even thinking about action since he woke up from HYDRA. It felt nice. Safe – because Steve was already interested and Natalia had given them her stamp of approval. Not that Barnes needed any more reckless punks to look after. “We’ll take a coffee – black, a London Fog, a Peppermint White Mocha Hot Chocolate, and a chamomile tea – soy milk please. All mediums.”
“What are the names?”
“Jim. For all of those. And I’ll have a large Pumpkin Spice Latte. Extra whip with caramel. For Darcy. And a couple of croissants, please. Warmed.” She paid, the total was exorbitant. Steve had mentioned it took a couple of years for him to get used to inflation, but Barnes did the mental math. Even in 1940 dollars, her drink would have cost ten times what a cup of coffee was worth.
“I know what you’re thinking. Pumpkin Spice? What am I? The devil incarnate? A sonority sister? An overprotective multi-tasking helicopter mom? Eugh, right? It’s the Achilles heel to my awesomeness. I’ve tried to quit it, but I just can’t. This shit is more addictive than KFC – and that has eleven secret spices. Eleven.” She turned back to the barista who was chuckling as she made the drinks. Lewis made big gestures as she talked, nearly hitting him in the chest. “What do you people put in that? Crack-cocaine? Powdered unicorn heart? It’s nuts.” There was laughter from a few other people waiting for their drinks and Lewis grinned while she grabbed her receipt and the baked goods.
Without asking his preference, she lead him to a table at the far end, with easy access to the storeroom – and presumably a back entrance, and sight lines to the front door. She sat first, dumping her bag next to her and leaving him the seat that faced the front. Barnes appreciated a partner that understood strategic dining.
“So, how was your trip?” She folded her hands under her chin and waited expectantly.
Barnes gave it a few beats. “Oh, is it my turn to talk now?”
Lewis batted her eyelashes. “Only if you want to. And I’ll probably interrupt. It’s my way. You’ll get used to it. I’m charming.” She stopped again.
“Your trip. Come on. Gimme something to work with here. Turbulence? Rousing game of Eye Spy? Gosh darn that TSA? Nothing?”
“It was fine.”
“Wow.” She grinned. “I can tell we are going to be great friends. Others might be off put by your monosyllabic ways, but not me. Finally, someone who will listen to my every amazing word without constantly trying to jab in with how their grandma died or they’re allergic to salt and have to quit their job as a deep sea fisherman, or how they’re saving the universe again. Bor-ing.” The barista arrived with their order in two little cardboard carriers. Barnes hadn’t spent a lot of time out and about, but he was pretty sure she was just supposed to call out their names. It was doubtful that HYDRA or the less savory legitimate agencies had a plant working at a Starbucks inside a Canadian government building on the slim possibility he might drop in, but there was no point in taking chances. He nodded politely to let her know they didn’t need anything else and then watched as her smile faded and she left.
“Dude. Is it possible you have worse game than your childhood buddy?”
She was staring at him, those full lips twisted as if to hold in a smile. “She wrote her number on your cup.” He turned the black coffee around and saw the phone number, under the name Jim. Barnes frowned. Nobody had ever called him Jim. It was a stupid name. She spun the other drinks in the holder. “Dude. It’s on every cup. Holy shit you are bad at this.”
“She’s twelve.” He pointed out. He might have also been a little off his game, but it had been seventy-five years. He thought he deserved some slack.
“She’s at least twenty-one, only a few years younger than me, grandpa. You look – maybe thirty. Thirty-five when you scowl like that,” she amended.
Barnes took a sip of the coffee. It was hot as hell and burned his tongue, but he’d be damned before he said anything about it. “Thirty-two,” he mumbled.
“Not unless you buy me dinner,” he said without thinking. Her mouth fell open and he barely held it together. What is it with this woman? He was feeling more and more like Bucky Barnes rather than the Soldier. It was nice. “We did the math. Steve and Sam and I. I’m thirty-two. Steve was twenty-five when he went into the ice. He’s thirty now, give or take a few days. Added up the time I remember being out and what’s in the file, and I’m thirty-two.”
“Give or take a few days?” He nodded at her question. “Wait. Wasn’t he born before you?”
Barnes snorted. It was still strange to think that so many people he had never met, whose grandparents hadn’t been alive during the war, knew details about his life. “Yeah. My birthday’s in August. Punk held it over me all the time when we were kids – and now I’m older ‘n him.” He allowed himself a small smile while he tried the hot chocolate. It had almost turned into a tussle when Sam showed the figures to Steve. Nothing like bringing up a childish rivalry to start a good time.
She rolled her eyes and blew on her drink. “Pft. Like it matters. You were both hot as hell in 1940, you’re hot now, and you’ll still be hot in twenty years. It’s like an amped up Harrison Ford thing you two have going on.”
He ignored the Harrison Ford comment. Barton had shown him both Working Girl and Cowboys and Aliens, the implication was clear – and flattering. “Steve didn’t get the…” Barnes was conscious of opportunities for eavesdropping in the small cafe. It wasn’t very crowded, most people got their order and then went back to work, but he still choose his words carefully. “…treatment until forty-two.”
“Yeah, I know. And he was hot before.” Before Barnes had a moment to process that, she leaned in closer. “Okay – I’ll admit it. This was a bribe.” She glanced around like it was a secret, but continued to speak at a normal volume. Darcy Lewis would make a terrible spy. “The history books all say he was a perfect gentlemen and couldn’t get a date before, and Tony claims the Captain is right next door to being able to legitimately wear white at his wedding, but between you and me – level with me here – he had to beat them away, am I right?” Barnes sipped at his cocoa and watched her through narrow eyes, trying to decide what part of her conversation to tackle. It was all fairly ludicrous. “That face!” She sighed dramatically and slid down in her chair. “He’s just so pretty! And the old pictures? Oh my god, I just want to carry him home and ravish him. You know?”
“No.” Barnes had to use all of his training to keep from grinning. She was serious. Aside from the fact that he doubted Lewis had a deceptive bone in her body, in the quiet corner of the cafe he could hear her heart beat evenly and see the slight dilation of her pupils. She honestly thought Steve had been good-looking before the serum. He was reminded of a cartoon Clint liked to watch where the evil old man would rub his hands together sinisterly. Exxxx-cellent.
“Ugh. Whatever.” She glanced at her watch, a plain black leather band that seemed out of place. Most young people now seemed to just use their phones to check the time. “Okay. The Captain and Tony should be done with their little tete a tete now. That, or Natasha has dropped them both like a bad habit and is enjoying her own coffee while they sleep it off. Let’s head back up so I can compare notes with legal one more time before the real meetings begin. Do you want to like, scout the perimeter or something?”
Barnes hadn’t even thought about the meetings, or Steve, or Tony Stark since they got to the cafe. He narrowed his eyes at Lewis. She was rifling through her bag, but her shoulders were subtly tensed and she bit the inside of her lip when she thought he wasn’t looking. Whatever she appeared to be with her heart-throb figure and mile-a-minute mouth, she was something more. Something much, much better. It was rare and beautiful to know what the world was like and still be so open.
It had been a long time since he had just enjoyed a conversation, and Barnes figured he owned her something for turning a high-stress, high-stakes morning into a normal interaction for him. He knew just how to repay her.
“Sure thing, doll. I just need to check in with the others first. And, how would you like to make little Stevie-boy blush?”
Her own cheeks turned pink, but her smile was wide enough he guessed it was from excitement. “Well, hopefully Stevie-boy isn’t too little. And what did you have in mind?”