All I Want for Christmas: Whiskey Fever
December 23, 2016
Sam followed Barnes across the landing pad at a sedate pace, his backpack over his shoulder, and watched the former assassin visually check the perimeter and security measures of the Tower as they made their way to the elevator. For obvious reasons, Barnes had never been inside before, and he was coiled tighter than cobra waiting to spring. Sam had been assured by Steve – and then he double-checked with Natasha because Steve could be a bit of an idiot sometimes – that Tony would not be in the building when they arrived. If that wasn’t the case, he was one hundred percent prepared to pull his wing pack out and jump out a window.
Sam counseled Steve occasionally because he viewed it more as helping out a friend than anything else. He had worked with Wanda on the Raft and continued to do so because she had desperately needed to build and maintain relationships to the team for her own stability. Steve had asked him to talk to Barnes as a favor, and because the guy, understandably, didn’t trust doctors – not even the brilliant, kind ones offered by T’Challa. As much as Sam wanted to punch Barnes in the face sometimes, if ever there was anyone who needed an entire cadre of mental health professionals, it was the POW.
That being understood, he was not counseling Tony Stark. In fact, if there was a just and good God looking over this world as his Mama and Mrs. Lindy, his favorite Sunday School teacher, had always said, he would never, ever, not in a million years, be called on to listen to Stark’s problems. Thinking about it made Sam want to drink. Heavily. Or break out in hives.
Or throw himself off of a ninety-plus story building to avoid that whole situation.
Healthy? He actually thought it showed a mature and well-formed understanding of his own psychological needs and limits. Also, he didn’t want to get shot.
“Welcome to Avengers Tower, Sergeant Barnes.” Friday’s voice added another level of tension to Barnes’ shoulders, but he reacted normally enough by nodding shortly. “And may I say, Staff Sergeant Wilson, that it is a pleasure to have you back with us.”
Sam refrained from asking if the AI was denoting her own pleasure, which was a little creepy, or Stark’s, which was a stretch of the imagination if not an outright lie.
“Thanks, Friday. It’s nice to not be a wanted criminal. Is Steve available?”
“Captain Rogers is currently on his way back to the Tower. I have alerted him to your arrival, and he has requested that you meet him in the Yinsen offices.” Sam raised an eyebrow. Darcy had gone over the whole concept of the new foundation during one of the many conference calls after Thanksgiving, but he wasn’t aware the offices were already set up.
“Sounds good. Thanks.” He leaned against the elevator wall, and watched as Barnes positioned himself to the right of the doors, out of the way of potential fire. He did not move for any weapons, which Sam took as an ongoing sign of his recovery. Frankly, if it had been him in Barnes’ shoes, entering Stark’s home, he would have wanted to be armed.
Armed. That will never get old.
“You and Steve got plans for Christmas?” He said instead of voicing his thoughts. Sometimes, worrying about other people’s mental health really cramped his style.
Barnes snorted. “Yeah. Thought we’d bake cookies and write letters to Santa.”
Sam smiled as sweetly as possible. “Aw, that’s great, man. You gonna ask him to bring you a knife set? Or maybe a less emo haircut?”
“Fuck off, Wilson.”
“A radio flyer?” Sam continued, really getting into it. “Dear Santa, I have been a very good boy this year, and only annoyed my awesome and handsome friend Sam twice a day, so I would like a toy truck, and a-”
“Handsome? You should ask for a mirror.”
“I know! You should ask for a girlfriend. I mean, she might need to be blind. And have an age kink. And a thing for broody atmosphere.”
“A blind, goth gal with daddy issues?” Barnes scowled at Sam. “Don’t push your secret fantasies on me, Wilson.”
“Hm. Well-” The elevator dinged softly, interrupting Sam, and opened on a scene of mild confusion. Two Stark Industries security guards were arguing with a whip thin man in an open lobby area.
“-can’t go down to get it! Everyone else has left for the day except Ms. Lewis and she had a very full schedule!” He paled, “There is no one here I can ask!”
“Look, sir. We are here to maintain safety in the building, not to fetch deliveries for you. Please, do not call security unless there is an incident that actually requires our services.” The guard who spoke was being far more patient that Sam probably would have been, and his colleague looked like he was struggling not to roll his eyes. The thin guy was practically wringing his hands, worry lines deep on his forehead.
“But-” He stopped mid-rebuttal, finally catching sight of Sam and Barnes. His eyes widened and he gulped audibly. Sam stepped out first, keeping his expression friendly. The pardon of Captain America and his team had been national news for over two weeks, and all the talking heads seemed to be in agreement that they were good guys again, but it was always best to start with a smile.
“Hi. Sorry to interrupt. Is this the Yinsen Foundation?”
“Sir,” the older security guard straightened his spine and nodded respectfully. “It is, Staff Sergeant. And, welcome home.” His companion nodded as well with an awed smile.
“Thanks. It’s good to be back.” Their eyes shifted to something behind him, and Sam hoped Barnes was using the there’s-a-real-person-in-here-and-not-a-killer-robot resting face that they had discussed. “Anything I can help with?”
“Delivery,” the thin guy blurted, then winced.
At the same time the guard answered, “No, sir. Please, don’t let us keep you.” He stepped aside and motioned for the other man to do the same and they both moved to the stair exit. It opened from the other side before they could reach it, admitting Steve, who was carrying a large box.
“Oh, thank god,” thin guy whispered.
“Captain,” surprise and a little bit of censure colored the security guard’s voice, “is that the delivery for Yinsen? You didn’t need to get that.”
“No problem, Brad. Evan,” Steve smiled at both guards. Of course he remembered their names. One month back and Steve had probably memorized the names of spouses and children for everyone that worked in the Tower, he was just that kind of guy. “I had just finished my run when it arrived, and I was already coming up.”
No one was looking, so Sam really did roll his eyes. Only Steve would think it was no problem to carry what looked like a substantial package up seventy or so flights of stairs. After what was no doubt his customary twenty mile run.
“Hey!” Steve’s gaze turned on them and his smile widened to a grin. “Have you met with D – Ms. Lewis yet?” Sam desperately, desperately wanted to make fun of the D- slip, but he wouldn’t do that to Steve with an audience of strangers. Sometimes I’m so nice it hurts.
“Just on our way in. Need any help with that? Barnes is available.”
“Punk has two good arms,” Barnes mumbled softly enough that no one but Sam and Steve, with his crazy hearing, would catch it. “Think he can manage.”
The guards made their goodbyes to Steve and the thin guy scuttled back into the only lit office, so Sam replied,
“What’s wrong with your arms? Tired from all the flying you did today – oh, wait. No, that was me who did all the work. Lazy Army assholes.”
“Watch it, Sam.” Steve smiled and stepped up to them, waiting for one of them to open the door. There was a brushed steel plaque that announced that it was the Yinsen Foundation, Director D. Lewis, to one side and a yellow sticky note at eye level that announced none would be admitted unless on party business. Barnes read it and snorted again.
“You’re outnumbered, two to one,” Steve continued, leading the way through an empty reception area and another frosted glass door and into a large, open office space. There was room for maybe ten or fifteen generous cubicles, although there were only a couple set up in addition to some long worktables. The thin guy was standing at the far end of the space, shooting them nervous glances and talking to someone out of sight around a low partition. As they drew closer, he could make out a conference room in the corner, and next to it two private offices guarded by a thin and lethally modern desk. The first office was dark but had a discreet plaque that read, Research Division, N. Romanoff. If Sam had been any more surprised, his eyes would have fallen out of his head.
“-here now,” thin guy was hissing.
There was a hollow thunk from under the desk. “Ow! Fuck! Goddammit, Tommy! Would you just hand me the fucking cable?” The thin guy, Tommy, did as he was asked and then promptly speed walked through a door at the far side of the office. “Finally! One bad Cat-5. For fuck’s sake, shouldn’t have to fill out a requisition…” Her words trailed off with another series of curses and then a slightly mussed brown bun popped up above Darcy Lewis’ pretty face. “Should work now.” She stepped out, brushing off the knees of her leggings and offering a smile as she held out a hand.
It did not escape Sam’s notice that she looked appreciatively at all of them. Or that her gaze lingered on Steve. It also didn’t escape Sam’s notice that Darcy filled out her leggings and silky-looking green tunic in an exceptional way.
“Sam Wilson, I presume? We haven’t met in person, and may I be the first to say, that is a real shame.”
“You only say that ‘cause ya’ haven’t met him,” Barnes muttered. Sam held in a grin. He had known the two spent time together during the Canadian meetings, but they must have gotten along well for the reticent man to joke with her.
“Don’t be a sourpuss, James T. I still like you best. But I meant it was a shame for him.”
“Same thing applies.” Barnes was almost smiling, and Steve was grinning like an idiot watching the two interact.
Her eyes narrowed behind black rimmed glasses. “I am fucking delightful, James Barnes.” Sam would have enjoyed listening to her bicker with the former Winter Soldier, but Steve claimed her attention.
“I believe this is for you, Ms. Lewis.” He held up the box.
“Why, Captain,” she batted her lashes, “presents? So soon? We barely – wait.” She frowned. “Did you carry that all the way up here? That has to weigh thirty pounds. Egh, super soldiers.”
“It’s no trouble, is there somewhere I can set it for you?” Steve was blushing, just a little, and if Sam didn’t know how socially inept the man was with women, he would have sworn Steve flexed a little extra, showing off the muscles under his t-shirt.
“Hm.” She did look at the muscles, but Sam gave her credit for returning her gaze to Steve’s face after only a couple of seconds. “Well, I was just going to leave it in my office until I’m done packing, but it needs to be on the helicopter tomorrow. Tony’s comeuppance wouldn’t be complete without it. I’ll get a dolly to move it eventually.”
“You’re on the lower landing pad, right?” At her nod, Steve smiled even wider. Sam had the sudden urge to laugh. Steve’s game, up to this point, had consisted entirely of running around punching things and looking bashful. Apparently he had added flexing and helping girls move into his repertoire. Classic. “I can just take it up for you, so you can – so you won’t, uh, have to worry about it later. I’ll meet you, er – everyone, back on the residential floors. If that’s okay?”
“Beat it, Rogers.” Sam finally took pity on the guy, who was swiftly devolving into stammers and repetition. “Ms. Lewis, Nat said you could show us where we’ll be staying?”
“Please, it’s Darcy.” She slung her arm through Barnes’ metal one and lead the way out, Steve trailing behind them. “Not just where you’ll be staying. I know where Tony stashed all the good liquor. And I’m happy to send you home for Christmas with enough outrageously expensive booze to kill an elephant. Or Thor. Whichever takes more. Probably Thor.”
Thirty minutes later, Sam had dropped his bag in a sparse, but luxurious studio apartment which Darcy said was just to supplement his place at the upstate facility. If, in the future, he decided to live full-time in New York she had a larger apartment reserved for him. Then they had gone up a couple of floors to a spacious three bedroom place with deep black leather couches and a gas fireplace. It was for Steve and Barnes, at least until they decided what they were going to do on a more permanent basis. Steve had chimed in that Tony had already talked to him about a place in Brooklyn.
The whole tour was quick, efficient, mostly for Barnes’ benefit, and punctuated by easy humor and blinding smiles. If Steve hadn’t seen her first, Sam would have been tempted to ask Darcy Lewis for a drink.
“That’s pretty much it,” she summed up, returning to the entry hall in Steve’s place. “Anything I left out, Friday knows. And gentlemen,” she looked pointedly at Steve, “you have my number. Call anytime. Except before eight. I don’t do mornings. Or people who shame those of us who eat in bed. Sheets can be changed, comfort food in times of need is irreplaceable. You need me for anything else, Captain?”
She said it with a straight face, but Steve still fumbled, “Ah, no. No, thank you.”
Without a hitch, she turned to Sam, “Helicopter takes off for Virginia at nine tomorrow. Be there or – actually, I’ll totally wait for you. No rush. Just have Fri let me know if you’re running late.” She reached back for the door knob and narrowed her gaze on Barnes. “Jimmy, have you thought anymore about my business proposition?”
Sam had no idea what she was talking about, but the way Barnes’ eyes widened and he carefully inhaled spoke volumes. Sam really, really wanted to know. Steve looked equally confused.
“Er. No thanks.”
“You sure? No need to be shy. We can start online – build your brand. I’m telling you, this is a goldmine.”
“I’m good.” Barnes looked both uncomfortable and pleased. Which was disturbing on multiple levels.
“Okay.” She pulled open the door and held up her thumb and little finger to the side of her face and mouthed, call me, to the world’s deadliest assassin.
“What was that all about?” Steve asked after the door shut softly.
Barnes shook his head. “Better question. What was in that box?”
Sam chuckled out loud, “Even better question. How do you think she feels about handsome Air Force vets?” Steve frowned hard. Barnes scowled. Sam just laughed harder.