Steve only learned about the charity gala when Pepper appeared holding a dove grey suit and a thick binder full of glossy photos in the middle of the week. “The gala starts at 7 pm this Saturday,” the red-headed woman was saying as she hung the suit up in his closet, the protective plastic bag crinkling. “The limo will be here at 6 pm sharp. This will leave you and the other Avengers enough time to traverse the red carpet outside and speak with the media.”
“Media?” squeaked Steve.
Pepper gave him a sympathetic look. “One of Stark Industries’ PR reps will be with you. Amanda, I think. Tony and I will be nearby if you have a problem. Just be calm and answer questions posed to you politely. If they ask you something you can’t and don’t want to answer, then just say ‘no comment’ and you’ll be fine.” She set the large binder on a table and lifted her StarkPad up to make some note with a silver stylus, the type Steve kept breaking or losing all over the Tower. “Dinner will be at 8 pm. Is the beef okay for you or do you want the chicken or fish? There is also a vegetarian option, if you want.”
“Um, the beef will be fine.”
The stylus moved quickly across the StarkPad again. “After dinner will be the speeches.” Steve felt himself pale and Pepper gave him another sympathetic look. “You won’t be required to make a speech yourself. Tony has it covered. After that will be the social part of the gala, drinks and dancing mostly. Try to relax for that. I suspect a lot of people are going to want to speak with you and the other Avengers. Just be calm and make polite small talk.” There was a buzzing noise and Pepper pulled a cell phone out from somewhere on her person. From where, Steve had no idea. She was wearing a sleek skirt that didn’t appear to have any pockets. It was like magic. Pepper frowned down at the device for a moment and then looked up at Steve. “Any questions?”
“No, Miss Potts,” replied Steve, feeling like he’d been run over.
“Great. And I’ve told you repeatedly to call me Pepper. Just go over the binder and be ready by 6 pm on Saturday. You’ll be fine.” Pepper then breezed out of Steve’s room, already speaking into her cell phone in a language that was not English and Steve didn’t recognize.
Steve ran a hand over his face and sighed. This could only end badly in his opinion. Well, at least it wasn’t dancing girls and war bond promotions. He could probably handle this. He hoped. He had dealings with the media during the war. It couldn’t be that bad. Steve retrieved the binder Pepper had left and began to flip through it. It was nothing more than photos of people and a short blurb about who they were and what they did. Steve assumed it was the guest list for the gala. He only recognized the Mayor of New York and that was only because Steve had seen the man repeatedly on the news. He got about ten pages into it before sighing in frustration and tossing the binder away. If Pepper thought he was going to remember all of those people then she was crazy. Everyone in the future was crazy.
Still, after a day of distracting himself in the gym, Steve showered and began to get dressed Saturday evening. He was nervous, despite repeatedly telling himself he had no reason to be, and was on his fourth attempt to knot his tie correctly when there was a soft knock on his door. Maybe it was someone who could help him with his bloody tie. “Yes?”
“Captain Rogers? It’s Amanda Warner, your PR liaison? Can I come in? We need to go over a few things.”
Steve looked down at himself. He wasn’t wearing any shoes but was wearing the rest of the suit, minus the jacket. That was more than acceptable now, wasn’t it? He supposed so, seeing as Clint often walked around in his boxers and Natasha in a long sleep shirt like it was no big deal. “Yes, you can come in.”
The door clicked open and a young woman walked in. She was faintly familiar, in that Steve thought he’d seen her in the cloud of people that often followed Tony and Pepper around more than once. She was wearing a long black dress with her brown hair done up in a French braid. “Oh good. You’re dressed. We might actually make it down to the cars on time,” the woman said with obvious relief in her voice when she saw Steve.
Steve blinked. “Are the other’s having problems, Miss Warner?”
“Amanda, please.” She dumped several small boxes and a StarkPad on the table, along with a…hat box? “Laura is having problems tracking Mr. Barton down and, well, Pepper is handling Mr. Stark but there’s nothing new with that.” She made an impatient gesture toward Steve’s chest. “Now, stop mangling your tie and come here.” Amanda knotted up his tie with a few deft twists and then opened up some of the small black boxes she carried in. She secured a gold tie pin, smoothing down the silk tie, and started to add a matching pair of cufflinks to his shirt sleeves.
“I couldn’t possibly wear these,” protested Steve when he saw them.
“Nonsense. Everyone has been loaned the appropriate jewelry for the evening from Mr. Stark’s private collection. You can return them in the morning,” said Amanda crisply.
“I guess that’s okay,” muttered Steve, uncomfortable.
Amanda tugged on his clothing like he was a fidgety child, making Steve blush. “Shoes,” she ordered when she was done. She snatched up the StarkPad as Steve sat to pull on the shiny dress shoes. “Now, I know you had some dealings with the media back in the 40’s, so this shouldn’t be too much of a disaster.” Steve very much doubted his experiences were going to be much help. “We’ve agreed to speak with People, TMZ, NBC, ABC, and CBS.” Steve had already learned that lovely bit of alphabet soup meant television channels. “Mr. Stark is refusing to let Fox Network anywhere near any of you on pain of something really nasty being done to him by Miss Romanoff. So we are lucky there. They’ve been given a list of approved questions and strict guidelines to follow when speaking with any of the Avengers. Jacket, please,” Amanda ordered when Steve had his shoes on. “Mostly how you find the 21 century. What’s it like to work with a team again. How it feels to save the world. That type of thing. If you don’t want to answer anything then just say so. Don’t feel obligated to put up with anything invasive or rude.” Amanda gave Steve a big smile, light pink gloss on her lips. “I will be with you every step of the way. If you feel uncomfortable at any time, then just let me know and we’ll hustle you out of there. Mr. Stark has made it very clear that none of the Avengers are to feel harassed.”
Steve could feel his lips turning up at that. “That’s nice of him.”
Amanda gave Steve a critical look over and nodded sharply. “I think you’ll do.” She snatched up the round box from the table and slipped off the lid. Inside was a fedora to match the suit. Steve couldn’t help the pleased smile the crossed his face as he took out the hat. Amanda chuckled as he put it on and turned toward the mirror. “Mr. Stark thought you would be pleased by that.” Steve pulled off the hat with a blush. Amanda checked a dainty watch around her left wrist. “Time to go,” she announced. She stacked the empty boxes neatly on the table and picked up a small black purse on a gold chain and her StarkPad. She then herded Steve out of the door and down the hall to the elevator. “Jarvis, please let Pepper know that Captain Rogers is ready and on his way down to the garage.”
“Of course, Amanda,” replied the AI.
“Please, call me Steve,” said Steve. Everyone calling him by his rank and last name made him nervous.
Amanda smiled, tapping at her StarkPad. “You are too precious. Steve it is, then.” Steve blushed in response and Amanda chuckled at him. The elevator opened and they stepped out into the garage in the basement.
A nervous looking Bruce looked up at them and smiled wanly. Thor fidgeted next to him, wearing a suit instead of his armor. Natasha gave Steve a bored glance, her red dress hugging her curves. Steve felt himself flush again and fiddled with his hat. A small group of StarkPad carrying young women and men stood with them. “We’re still missing Mr. Barton and Laura and Mr. Stark and Pepper,” announced one of the men.
“Jarvis?” prompted a woman with long dark hair.
“Mr. Barton and Laura are in the elevator and will arrive momentarily. Mr. Stark and Pepper are on their way.” The AI’s voice sounded tinny down in the garage.
They all stood there for a long moment. Two black limos pulled up before them and several men in dark suits got out, Happy Hogan being one of them. Several silent nods were exchanged between Happy and the Avengers. Steve began to feel slightly awkward as Amanda toyed with her StarkPad next to him. He put on his hat before he could mangle it with his fiddling. The dark haired woman that had spoken to Jarvis fished in her little bag and offered Bruce a peppermint. The man brightened and took the candy, then looked lost with the empty wrapper. The woman, who Steve assumed was Bruce’s PR liaison, took the wrapper from him with a soft smile. The elevator finally opened and Clint was fairly shoved out of it by a small blond haired woman who must be Laura.
“Well, don’t you look dapper as shit,” Clint said as he caught sight of Steve.
“Clint,” warned Natasha.
The archer turned toward the assassin and pointed sharply back at the woman that had arrived with him. “Can you believe she actually climbed into the air duct to fish me out!”
“I wouldn’t have had to if you weren’t acting like a complete child,” snapped Laura, yanking off a pair of sneakers and accepting some heels from Bruce’s PR liaison. “Thanks, Emily.”
“Lord Brian, are we going to be late to the feast?” asked Thor loudly.
“It’s only 6:03, Thor. We’ll be fine. And it’s just Brian, no lord necessary.”
“This is a bad idea. Emily, this is a bad idea,” muttered Bruce.
“You will be fine, Bruce. Don’t worry,” replied the dark haired woman with the candy.
The elevator opened just then and Tony sprang from it, collar up and missing his suit jacket. Laura and Brain jumped out of his way as he plowed through their group, talking a mile a minute on his cell phone. “No. No. NO! A thousand times NO! I swear to god if I arrive there tomorrow and it’s gone I will end you.” Happy yanked open the door of the limo he was leaning against and Tony disappeared into it without pausing.
Pepper was on his heels, tie draped over her shoulder and jacket clutched in her arms. “Let’s go people! Avengers in this limo. PR liaisons in the next. Chop chop!” called Pepper as she followed Tony into the car.
“You heard the woman,” said Amanda, herding Steve forward. Steve took off his hat and got into the limo, finding Pepper trying to strangle Tony inside. Or, well, it seemed like she was trying to strangle Tony.
“Stop wiggling. You’ll wrinkle it,” hissed Pepper.
Tony tilted his head back so Pepper could get his tie on. “Well, you could do that, if you wanted to explode and die a horrible messy death. Please don’t. I hate having to pay to have that shit cleaned up.”
Steve had learned not to take the things Tony said literally, even if he couldn’t stop faint horror from twisting his mouth. He slid in next to Pepper and laid his hat in his lap. Natasha shoved Clint inside the limo and climbed in after him. Thor and Bruce seated themselves and Happy shut the door. Pepper’s foot shot out and pushed a button with the spike of her heels. The window partition to the cab slid down. “I think we’re good to go, Happy,” Pepper announced, shoving Tony’s right arm into his suit jacket.
“Sure thing, Miss Potts,” replied Happy. The limo began to smoothly move forward.
Tony made a sound of frustration usually bestowed upon super villains. “You know what? You don’t touch anything. Yates, I forbid you to touch anything else. Is Patterson there? I want to talk to Patterson! Get me Patterson! Patterson? Yates is not allowed to touch anything else. Tie him to a chair if you have to. He is going to kill you all. You are now head geek, Patterson. I dethrone Yates and crown you. Now, stop trying to rewire my baby. You are going to kill yourselves. Stop. I don’t care. It will explode if you do that. This is an order from your lord and master. Save your work and go home. Home. Do you understand me? No. NO! Go home. Yes. Thank you.” Tony snapped his cell phone shut and groaned. “How did I end up employing such stupid people?”
“Do I need to call security?” asked Pepper, trying to tame Tony’s hair.
“No. Patterson is a good girl. She’ll wrangle the others and actually get them to leave.” Tony allowed Pepper to yank his arm into her lap and force cufflinks into his sleeves. He blinked around the interior of the limo, as if he had no idea how he’d gotten there. Then his brain seemed to catch up and he grinned. “Well, don’t you all clean up nice.”
“That Laura woman is a menace!” cried Clint, apparently unable to hold the comment in anymore.
“Laura woman?” asked Tony, looking at Pepper.
“Short blond hair, brown eyes. Chased you across Madrid two years ago. Punched out that horrible reporter in Cannes last summer.”
“Laura woman!” exclaimed Tony, recognition lighting up his eyes. “I like her. She’s got spunk.”
“And a great right hook,” agreed Pepper with a smirk.
“What about you, Cap? Do you like your liaison? Uh?” Tony looked toward Pepper again.
“Amanda. Long brown hair, blue eyes. Handled that puppy mill horror last year. Threw her drink at Justin Hammer when he grabbed her butt a couple months ago.”
“Yeah! I like her too,” said Tony happily. “I see she got you your hat.”
Steve ran his fingers around the fedora in his lap. This was probably the best dressed he’d ever been outside of his military dress uniform. “Yes. Thank you so much for the clothing, Tony.”
“Yes, thank you for the clothing,” said Clint snidely.
“I think you look very nice, Clint,” said Natasha calmly. They watched Clint freeze and then blush.
“Are you sure this is appropriate clothing for feasts?” Thor asked doubtfully.
“Yes, Thor. You are not wearing your armor to a sit down dinner. You look fine,” answered Pepper, tapping away on her cell phone.
Tony leaned in. “You told the staff to have extra for Thor, right?”
“Of course,” Pepper muttered back. Bruce sucked noisily on his peppermint.
“Happy? Are we there yet?” called Tony impatiently.
“Almost, sir. Just a bit of traffic around the banquet center,” replied the driver. Tony sighed and stretched out one leg to tap Steve’s shoe with his own, his tongue peeking out between his lips as if this required a great deal of concentration.
“Don’t be childish,” scolded Pepper. Steve ducked his head and fought back a smile. It was like being on a car trip with a bunch of siblings. The car stopped and Pepper closed her cell phone. “Alright. Here goes nothing. Remember to smile, everyone.” Happy opened the door and Thor sprang from the limo like it was a horrible prison. Bruce edged out after him. David and Emily were standing by to collect them, guiding them through flashing cameras. Emily offered Bruce another hard candy.
Natasha and Clint left the limo next, a man Steve hadn’t caught the name of and Laura waiting for them. Laura looked as if she was posed to chase Clint down if he tried to make a run for it. Steve exited the dim car after them, freezing as cameras flashed and the noise of people talking and shouting swelled. Amanda appeared by his elbow. “Put your hat on,” she ordered calmly. He did as he was told stiffly. “Now, walk forward so Pepper can get out of the limo.”
Steve flushed and jumped forward, turning to see Pepper giving him a worried look from just inside the car door. “I’m so sorry, Pepper,” he said. There was a soft whistle from behind her and Pepper stood, her long blue dress settling around her legs. Tony climbed out next, his own concerned look directed at Steve. Then the noise rose again and a bright false smile spread quickly across his face. Steve felt himself hunch a little. He hated that smile.
Amanda patted his arm, angling herself to block the action from the cameras. “Relax. You’re doing fine,” she soothed. Steve winced; he could barely hear her talk over the noise of people calling for Iron Man and Captain America. It was chaos. “Smile and wave,” instructed Amanda. Steve did as he was commanded, his face feeling rigid. Amanda shuffled him forward.
Steve was proud to say that even while his ears buzzed with panic as he talked with the first media person, the other half of his mind was cataloguing where his team was and how they were fairing. As promised, Tony and Pepper were right next to him. The dark haired genius was talking a mile a minute and the hum of his voice settled in the back of Steve’s brain, familiar and calming. Emily had positioned Bruce with his back to a wall, the tips of her fingers gently pressed between his shoulder blades. Thor and Brian were next to them, the god with a blinding grin on his face. Natasha and Clint were in the thick of it, people swarming around them like a small whirlpool. Both SHIELD agents were calm among the madness. Laura and the male PR liaison whose name Steve didn’t know were nearby. Laura was still watching Clint like a, well, hawk.
Then they were suddenly at the doors to the banquet center. Steve blinked. The red carpet and the interviews were a blur, in much the same way that battle became hazy with adrenaline and pure terror. Steve felt his lips twist in self-deprecation. Apparently, invading aliens he could handle but not the media. Now the Avengers were standing at the top of the steps while countless cameras flashed. Tony leaned toward him. “Are you okay? You look like you’re in pain,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.
Steve tried to get his face to settle into a more natural smile. “I’m fine,” he muttered back.
“Uh huh,” replied Tony, one eyebrow arching. He stepped forward and raised both hands to the crowd. “Thank you everybody!” Tony cried. “You’ve been lovely! Thanks for coming out! I love you all!” He then spun on his heel, putting his back to the media and cameras. “Everybody inside.” Steve didn’t have to be told twice and fairly lunged through the doors. The PR liaisons and Pepper brought up the rear, closing the doors firmly behind the team.
“That wasn’t so bad,” commented Bruce. Emily was once again holding out a palm full of candy since her purse was apparently nothing but sweets.
“Aye! I was led to believe it would be more torturous,” said Thor.
“This was not what I signed up for,” complained Clint. “I am a highly trained SHIELD agent with a specific skill set! I should not be made to dress up like a Ken doll and make nice with rude reporters.”
“They weren’t that bad,” said Steve, hoping to calm Clint down.
Tony snickered. “The CBS lady asked you if you wore boxers or briefs.” Steve blinked and turned red. He didn’t remember that.
“I thought you were going to faint,” said Amanda, tapping away on her StarkPad. “Things are looking good. The first news blurbs are positive and you’re already trending on Twitter. Google hits just skyrocketed.” She gave Steve a sly smile. “You are apparently the most handsome thing on two legs and too cute for words.” Steve felt his face flush again.
“Tony was charming and lively,” announced Pepper, scrolling through her cell phone. “Bruce was sweet and shy and Thor is a big old puppy dog. Good, good. You both need the good press.”
“Mr. Barton and Miss Romanov are sexy and deadly and, I quote, too hot to handle,” said Laura. She smirked at Clint. “Not bad for a Ken doll.” The archer glared at the PR liaison.
“And that’s us done,” announced Amanda. “We get to go home and change into comfortable clothing. You shmucks get to stay here and suffer through the boredom.”
Tony pouted. “I’m liking you a lot less all of the sudden.”
“Sorry, Mr. Stark. I only herd superhero cats until you hit the doors. After that you’re on your own.”
Tony grinned. “Forgiven, if only because that image is hilarious.” Pepper was trying to subtly nudge everyone toward the entrance to the ballroom. There was a man standing at the doors, pointedly checking his watch and staring at them.
“Thank you so much for your help, Miss Warner,” Steve said as they were shuffled along. Emily was offering the last of the candy in her purse to Bruce and Clint and Laura were hissing at each other like snakes, holding some low conversation not even Steve’s super solider hearing could make out. Thor was hailing Brain as a most excellent steward and the silent young man that had been Natasha’s PR liaison was already striding away from them across the lobby. Steve knew a strategic retreat when he saw one.
Amanda flapped a hand and rolled her eyes. “I said to call me Amanda and you’re welcome. Have a good evening.” She left with the rest of the PR liaisons. Steve was kind of sorry to see her go.
“I like Amanda. She’s nice,” said Steve.
“Nice. Right. We’ll get you some friendship bracelets later,” snipped Tony. Pepper pinched him in the arm. “Ow!”
“Behave,” muttered the red-headed woman.
“I am being an utter angel and you know it,” grumbled Tony, allowing himself to be shuffled along to the ballroom.