Faster, But With More Cleanup
March 8, 2017
It was called a fluff piece. That was how Darcy had described it. A fluff piece to improve public relations and get people feeling like they could relate to the Avengers.
Barnes did not want to be there. Not only did he not want to be there, he didn’t particularly want anyone to be there. Steve looked like he was going to break his own teeth if he smiled any harder – which was a real feat given how strong his teeth probably were. Barnes wasn’t psychic, but he could read Wanda’s body language well enough to know she was about two annoying questions away from levitating herself right off the building. Darcy was sweating enough that she had put on a suit jacket – despite the comfortable temperature in Stark’s living room.
Stark was the only one who looked comfortable. He had insisted he be interviewed first by the blonde woman – Everheart. Christine. Threat level one. – but had used that as an excuse to stick around and butt in on any of the other interviews, drawing attention away from his teammates. His glass had been refilled twice. Barnes wondered if the reporter knew it was only tonic water and lime. For once, the value of a personality that was over-the-top and constantly demanding attention was clear to Barnes. Stark was helping them. Shielding them from questions that cut too close and attempts by Everheart to become too personal.
Wanda had gone second – to get it over with Barnes was sure. Now she looked like she wished she had relocated from the couch next to Steve instead of staying when the questions turned to him. Barnes was confident that if they got through the next twenty minutes without bloodshed he would spend his interview time staring at the reporter and using what Wilson called his Nobody-home-but-us-killer-robots face. It usually got people to leave him alone fairly quickly.
Which was good, because no way in hell was he going to sit politely through the shit Steve was being asked.
“Cap – may I call you Cap?” She was smiling widely. Too widely. In Barnes’ opinion she needed less dental bleach and more carbs. Woman looked like a strong breeze might snap her in half.
“Some people do,” Steve answered noncommittally. He smiled in return, but it was the tooth-grinding plastic thing he had learned in the USO, not his real smile. Everheart laughed and reached out to touch his knee. Steve almost flinched, but resolutely did not look to Darcy or anyone else.
“Now that you’re back in the States with us, everyone is dying to know if your bad boy image came with you, and what you did with it while you were running from the law.” She batted her eyes and sat forward in her chair, teeth biting into her lip with manufactured anticipation.
“I’m not certain I understand what you mean, Ms. Everheart.” Steve kept his smile, but it dimmed a bit and his brows drew together as if he were puzzled. “What would I do with a poor reputation?”
Punk’s gotten even better at playing like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Barnes still knew the tells, though. Steve looked too earnest, too sincere, and far to willing to wait as long as it took to get an answer. Everheart, however, either couldn’t tell Steve was putting her on or wasn’t sure how to call him on it. She stammered, fumbling with her notes.
“We’ve been working on that,” Darcy whispered.
“The halo and wings effect?” Barnes murmured out of the side of his mouth. “He’s been doing that since we were ten.”
Darcy snorted and they both focused on the interview.
“Yes. Well. Captain, you are on the most eligible bachelor lists of multiple publications and media sites this year – as you have been since your resurrection.”
Steve’s jaw tightened at the description. Darcy swore quietly.
Everheart continued, “And you’ve been moving up in the ranks. Do you think that trend will continue, or is there someone special that has caught your eye? A Mrs. America in your future? Or can all the ladies out there continue to hold out hope that you might take interest in one of the many fans that follow you on social media and wait outside the Tower for a glimpse of the handsome Captain America?”
Darcy tensed. Wanda was beginning to glow around the eyes. Steve opened his mouth. He had that look about him. The one that said, to hell with the plan – justice will be served. Barnes was aware that Darcy had convinced Steve going public about their relationship was a bad idea. It should be something that happened naturally, carefully, with as little fanfare as possible. Certainly not on a taped interview with Christine Everheart, who was apparently some sort of cable news talking head.
“Actually,” Steve began, but Stark cut him off.
“As you know, I have a particularly infatuating effect on people. Most of those fans outside are actually for me, Christine,” Stark said with a smile. He took a long sip of his drink and leveled his eyes over the top of dark sunglasses. “Or the Falcon. Next time we’ll make certain to have him here. You really should meet him. Nicest guy. Very eligible.”
Christine looked torn for a moment. Stark swirled his ice and made barely veiled suggestions on how Christine could meet an eligible bachelor of her very own. Wanda got up as casually as she was capable of and headed for the tray of snacks on the bar.
The elevator pinged softly behind him, and Barnes angled his body so he could see who had arrived. No one else was scheduled to join the interview, and his security brief did not have any other upper level residents or visitors planned to arrive at the Tower for several hours. Dr. Vivas emerged, towing her red suitcase. Her hair hung over her pink coat in a long braid. Her slacks were a milky coffee color. Her pumps a two-tone with a wide heel and laces on the front that reminded him of men’s wingtips. She stopped just inside the elevator, obviously confused. Darcy quickly shuffled the doc’s case and coat into a hall closet before Everheart could realize Stark had an overnight guest.
The Doc came to stand between him and Darcy at the edge of the living room. In her shoes, the top of her head was at his eye level. She smelled of sweet spice and old-fashioned chocolates.
“Captain,” Everheart finally wrested the interview away from Stark. “I’m sure you are familiar with the old saying, ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’-”
Evelyn dryly murmured to Darcy, “A rib spreader would be faster.” Darcy choked on a laugh. Barnes disagreed with the doc in the practical sense; the soft tissues of the abdomen were easier to puncture at an upward angle and less likely to interfere with a weapon than the bony sternum and rib cage. Of course, he wouldn’t turn down a home cooked meal, either.
“-so tell me, what should those hopeful of securing your heart consider making? Any recipes that would draw your attention?”
“No woman – or man,” Steve answered sternly, “should have to worry about old-fashioned and irrational gender roles to help them secure a significant other. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone who was truly interested in me trying to mold themselves into someone else or bribe my affections. That isn’t healthy in any relationship.”
Everheart looked taken aback. Barnes bit the inside of his cheek to hide his smirk.
“But if there was someone I wanted to impress,” Steve added with a genuine smile, “I would probably put together some fresh sourdough with a warm, honey brie spread and a spicy roasted corn and tomato soup.”
Barnes could feel his mouth watering.
“The bread is already rising in his kitchen,” Darcy whispered to the doc. “If he really is making that brie stuff, I might give him my heart as well as a couple of orgasms.”
Evelyn laughed. The sound was rich and warm, washing over Barnes like the waft of air bursting out of a cozy house and into a cold afternoon. Everheart and Steve turned to look. Stark lazily waved his glass.
“Ah, there you are,” he said to Evelyn. Or perhaps all of them. His focus was vague. “Someone should be up in a few minutes with the documents you need.” He turned back toward Everheart, slouching further into the couch and propping one ankle up on his opposite knee. “Looks like we are all done for today, Christine. Time does fly when you are having fun, am I right? Go ahead and send the raw footage over to the Yinsen Foundation and we’ll get the approved cut back to you in a jiff. You know where the elevator is.”
The reporter smiled tightly at Stark and gestured to Barnes. “But I haven’t yet interviewed the Sergeant. I wouldn’t want to leave him ou-” She turned what he supposed was intended to be a sultry smile his way. Barnes held her gaze, unblinking.
Everheart backed down quickly. She cleared her throat and gestured to her camera operator to pack things up. “Actually, we can pause here for today. I think we got plenty of footage for our first installment in this series. Thank you for your time, Tony. Captain. Ms. Maximoff. Ser, er, Sergeant Barnes.” Her voice cracked a bit on his name.
It was often uncomfortable to have people afraid of him when he was not making any threatening moves, but in this case Barnes was grateful. He promised himself he would find a way to be on mission the next time Darcy invited a reporter to the Tower. Or dead. Dead might be preferable to sitting through inane questions about how he was adjusting to life, his ideal afternoon, or the potential for a future Mrs. Winter Soldier.
Dead was definitely preferable.