Unlikely Singularities – Chapter 91


Announcements, Announcements, Announcements

February 26, 2017

Barnes had been invited to brunch, of course. It was Pepper Potts who added the ‘of course’. As if it would have been unconscionably rude to neglect him. Which was laughable. He had actually gotten a small chuckle out of the idea. Somewhere, that Post lady must have written a section on the etiquette for inclusion of your beau’s parent’s murderer in neighborly activities. If it existed, Ms. Potts would have read it and adhered with a graceful panache that would shame anyone who considered not agreeing. Considering Barnes had been less than a proper polite gentleman before he had been armed – armed – and shocked straight to a grassy knoll, he doubted that his reluctance to attend was a surprise to anyone.

Still, Steve and Darcy were going to be there. Darcy had suggested, in sotto text message if such a thing were possible, that his absence would be viewed as disrespectful, hostile, and she might trap several alley cats and loose them in his apartment to disincentivise such behavior. Steve had only stated that Ms. Potts wouldn’t have asked if she didn’t want him there.

Sam, thank god, was upstate and didn’t have a chance to weigh in on the – doubtless – deep, meaningful psychological ramifications of going or not going.

Wanda had texted to ask if he would sit next to Vision. Apparently there had been a discussion between him and Steve on an unnamed topic and it left Vision confused and Wanda not speaking to her Captain. Sounds about right, Buck thought.

Brunch – contrary to what he had looked up on the internet – was also not really a morning activity, given that it was initially scheduled to start at eleven a.m., then rescheduled to noon, with apologies. Then it was moved back to one due to some ‘travel delays’, which Barnes knew from Clint was actually a hungover Wanda. Then it was moved back, again, so that Doc Vivas might eat with them, since she was expected to arrive Sunday afternoon. He had, against his better judgment, agreed to show up. He figured that there would be enough people there that he could avoid Stark, stay for a quarter hour or so, thank Ms. Potts for the hospitality, eat a damn muffin, and skip out before shit hit the fan.

He scanned the security feeds from his apartment while he put on a tie. And that was another thing. Fucking ties. Friday had assured him that ‘business casual dress’ would be erring on the side of caution, and that Stark would probably have on jeans and a t-shirt, but Barnes did vaguely recall something about Church clothes and Sunday meals, and he distinctly recalled a wooden spoon to his backside for running to Stevie’s apartment for dinner in just his shirt sleeves, so he tied the fucking tie and tried to keep his scowling to a minimum.

On the screen, he could see Happy was waiting in the lobby. When Doc Vivas entered, the Head of SI Security quickly took control of her red suitcase and escorted her to the elevator. Barnes estimated how long it would take them to get to the penthouse, and grabbed the sport coat off the back of his couch. It was light camel and fitted enough to look neat without being so fitted his sidearm was noticeable. He’d split it if he rotated his prosthetic fully, but if he needed that much movement he wouldn’t give a shit about the state of his coat. Dark navy slacks, a pale blue checked shirt, and a blue striped tie all combined to make him feel vastly uncomfortable, even though he knew he looked as presentable as possible. He had even switched out his boots for dress shoes, which made him antsy as hell, but he figured if someone attacked the penthouse with Captain America, Iron Man, War Machine, and the Scarlet Witch there, the idiot was just looking to be shot. And he doubted he would have to lift a finger if a gate crasher came to a Pepper Potts shindig. She could reproach them to death.

Shall I summon an elevator for you, Sergeant?”

No thanks, Friday,” he murmured. It had taken him a while to get used to the AI, but he felt they were on good terms now. Honestly, she was better company than most people he knew. Certainly she had a better sense of humor. “I’ll take the stairs. Would you please shut off the feeds?”

The television went black and Barnes set his security measures before locking the door himself and heading upstairs. He arrived in the entryway outside the penthouse moments before the elevator doors opened. Through an archway he could see the guests mingling. Wanda and Vision were already there, the former sitting on a low couch with Stark and Maria, pointing out various ports and parts on himself. Wanda’s head snapped up from where she was in conversation with Ms. Potts and the Colonel and she practically flew to Barnes’ side. She may have actually flown. Her travel was suspiciously smooth.

What took you so long?” she hissed in his ear.

Barnes didn’t have time to explain – he planned to use the driest tone he could muster – that he wasn’t aware he she was in charge of his schedule. But the elevator opened and Happy came out, laughing at something the Doc had said. Barnes casually steered Wanda through the living area to an empty art niche. He kept one eye on Stark and an ear on the newcomers.

Wanda’s bony fingers hovered near his shoulder, threatening but not quite daring to poke him. “We’ve been here for twenty minutes! You have to fix this problem. Darcy said that was your job – Steve is your friend so you are responsible for his misunderstandings and general incompetence.”

Barnes raised an eyebrow. Steve had been called a lot of things. He had been called a lot of derogatory things. Some of them by Barnes himself. Rarely, however, had the man been accused of incompetence.

He has completely mudded this up. Just look at that.” She gestured with her elbow toward Vision, who noticed them and gave a stilted but welcoming wave. Stark noticed as well and stood up with a tight jaw to go to the buffet that was laid out on a long table.

Yes,” he agreed, having no idea what she was talking about. “Disaster. Better scrap the whole thing.”

What! No, no! YA ne khochu tsʹoho, ty niby! You are the one who supposedly has experiences. I watched the made for television series. Go, explain things.” She gave him a shove that did little to move him.

The elevator chimed softly again and Steve and Darcy tumbled out. Darcy looked lovely, if a bit less made-up than usual, in a pair of leggings, boots, and a long sweater. Steve was dressed similar to Barnes, but his tie was askew and he had lipstick on the edge of his jaw. Barnes could feel a smile coming on. He wondered how many comments he could make before the punk figured out he had evidence of his foolin’ around on his face. He also resolved to take the stairs from now on. Happy had taken the Doc’s coat and suitcase somewhere, and her black check wool skirt brushed against her knees and contrasted sharply with the red of Ms. Potts’ slacks as she greeted the Colonel. Barnes let Wanda’s increasingly sharp whispers fade to the background as he waited to catch sight of the Doc’s shoes. Boots – which seemed to be standard for every woman during the winter in New York – but hers had a slender heel and alligator leather in an unnatural metallic sheen. Gold matches her hair.

Stark was approaching with two champagne flutes and a cup of coffee. Barnes straightened his spine and prepared for the usual insults, invasive questions, and the wash of guilt and self-loathing.

Wanda,” he handed her a glass, which she immediately threw back and emptied. “Pinocchio,” he bared his teeth in a parody of a smile and passed over the second drink. Barnes held it carefully, smelling bright citrus and what he could safely wager was expensive alcohol. He had to remind himself to relax his fingers before he squeezed too tightly and broke the slender crystal stem. “How…” Stark grit his teeth. “How about this weather?”

Barnes stilled every nerve, slowing down his pulse and looking for the shot about to be fired. The room went quiet.

You’ve got to be kidding me.” Darcy’s whisper was easy for him to pick up where she stood with Pepper, Steve, and the Doc. Pepper looked oddly satisfied with the current situation. The Doc’s dark gold eyebrows were pulled together with concern or confusion, he couldn’t be sure. The Colonel had taken up a strategic position near Vision at the arm of the couch and directly behind Stark. Whether he was preparing to hold the billionaire back, catch him if Barnes knocked him unconscious, or offer tactical support remained to be seen.

Stark’s gaze narrowed even further, and his own grip on his cup tightened dangerously. One more fraction of a millibar of pressure and it will shatter, Barnes assessed even as he relaxed his legs and face, preparing for the burn of hot coffee against his skin.

I hope you are enjoying…this…brunch…thing.” The smile came out again, all professionally whitened teeth and repression.

Barnes caught the Doc softly singing under her breath, “We’ve sold our cow, we’ve sold our cow.”

Ms. Potts’ loud laugh was heard by everyone and broke the tension.

Stark was apparently finished with his attempt to…honestly, Barnes wasn’t certain what the man had been attempting to do. He stalked back to the buffet, where a smiling Ms. Potts met him and wrapped her arm through his. Wanda traded her empty flute for Barnes’ full one, muttering in Sokovian about idiots, welshed agreements, and nonsense English idioms. Barnes took the opportunity to slip away and head for Vision on the couch. Maria sat at the other end of the cushions popping blueberries into her mouth and staring intently at the seams on Vision’s face.

Good afternoon, Sergeant.”

Barnes had given up on getting the man to call him Bucky. “Vision,” he nodded shortly. Wanda was watching them with all the intensity of a lovesick, buzzed, partially-trained spy, and gesturing emphatically at Darcy to join her. Right, he remembered. I’m supposed to fix Steve’s screwup. Problem was, Barnes wasn’t entirely clear on the problem. Something about Netflix. And Wanda. Best just to get to it, then I can get the hell out of this FUBAR. The Doc was somewhere behind him, near his four o’clock – he could smell the distinctive scent of her perfume. Colonel Rhodes barked out a sharp laugh at her murmurs which Barnes couldn’t make out over soft music, other conversations, and the clank of dishes at the buffet.

You and Wanda seen anything good lately?”

Vision immediately brightened, “I recently heard of a cinematic feature that was filmed on location in Sokovia prior to the second World War. A French film. We will require use of subtitles, but I thought Wanda might enjoy seeing her homeland.”

Privately, Barnes thought it would be depressing as hell, given that she had been born into a time of extreme political strife and wouldn’t remember a Sokovia that wasn’t ravaged by war, government upheaval, and crime. He doubted she would recognize the Sokovia region that he had stalked through in his early years as the Winter Soldier.

If this was Steve’s suggestion, it really was for shit.

Sounds kinda heavy. Might want to let her find that one one her own.” Vision nodded thoughtfully and Barnes continued, pulling together the few concrete memories he had of going to the movies in his day. There had been a thriller, he couldn’t quite think of the name or even the actress, but he did remember two soft bodies pressed against him in delighted fear. Wanda wasn’t the type to scare easy, though. And they got enough of that in their day jobs. Vision couldn’t actually take her to a dark theatre anyhow, which was the whole point of that sort of thing. They were just planning on watching a show in the common area at the facility. It wasn’t like a date or anything.

How ‘bout something with animals?”

A smaller hand on his arm. “Come on, Bucky! We’re going to miss the reel!”

Ya already seen this one twice, shortstop.”

But I love Katnip Kollege! They’re so adorable!”

He breathed slowly to clear his head. “Girls like animals.”

There is a documentary on ocean life that Netflix has found compatible with my viewing preferences.” Barnes had meant something fuzzy, but whatever. Vision went on, “It looks both educational and visually stimulating. And I do not believe there will be any heavy, as you say, emotional connotations.”

Great. Problem solved.

Barnes stood to go scarf down whatever would be quickest – as politely as possible – and find Ms. Potts so he could thank her and leave. His eye caught a row of shot glasses, some green and some pink, all with decorative leaves and crap on top. Perfect. Fast, and a bonus slim chance I could come down with a severe case of poisoning and not ever have to do this again. Behind him, Maria was talking to Vision.

-no, chill, dude. Like hang out.”

The shot had the sweetly bitter tang of a narrow escape. And also kale.

YA ne khochu tsʹoho, ty niby! – I don’t want that, you nitwit!