It was no surprise that it was Tony who was designated to public reputation clean up. Well, a little bit, but because this was mostly done through interviews, something that the billionaire could really excel at when he wanted to, it seemed a safe enough bet.
Well, safer than the rest of them, at least.
Clint or Natasha would be a disaster-neither overly excited to be outed to the public so blatantly. Despite how many toys Clint bought of himself, it was a tad difficult to carry on on missions where blending in was not only key, but a very real necessity in coming out alive when the entire world knew your face. Coulson was straining himself enough nowadays on that alone, and he was still technically on medical leave.
Steve still broke three Stark phones a week. The only online news site he read when he didn't remember to get the paper was Fox News.
Thor or Bruce...
Well, they both spoke for themselves, really.
And, oh sure, on the street, after a battle, when really all they wanted to do was go home and bicker in good, tired humor and relax, they could answer brief questions with even briefer answers. Steve was a perfect gentlemen. Thor was charming and lovable. It was rare that Natasha or Clint or Bruce ever got caught, but when they did, they could bullshit by with smiles and jokes and threats. To be fair, the last one was only one time, and that was Clint; in his defense, Natasha had been suffering a head wound and Tony's comm had gotten cut off from the rest of them and they still had no idea where he was, and whatever, it was just one teeny tiny arrow, it didn't even explode or anything Christ, bursting into tears was a little overly dramatic, alright.
So when it came to making good with the public and assuring the general viewing audience they were, indeed, trying to help and no, they had no real interest in world domination, Fury turned to Tony.
It pained him to do so, it really did, but the mans CEO was a literal godsend, scarily efficient and organized and, really, it was no wonder Coulson liked the woman.
And Tony, for all his bitching and moaning, got the job done. When the interviewer or talkshow host scratched too hard at certain questions best left alone("What are the identities of your two allies-The Black Widow and Hawkeye? What is Hulk? Do you know who the villain is who tried to destroy New York-and is he in any way related to the Avengers?") Tony knew how to pull the strings and turn the attention back on him and 'safer topics'.
That didn't mean Bruce liked it, though.
It wasn't often that Tony was required to go on tv. They were superheroes, they did have a job to do-but when too much property was damaged, or the news began hinting towards the Avengers actually being a menace("Fuck you too, Daily Bugle, they at least deserved an adjective that hadn't been repeated to the point of exhaustion on Spiderman." was Tony's firm opinion), or Tony got too mouthy and pissed Fury off before Steve could shush him, he'd get sent out to smooth ruffled feathers that he, nine times out of ten, succeeded at doing.
The man could be damn charming when he wanted to be.
Even when he had his pants off comparing boxers on Jay Leno.
Out of all of them, it was Tony who took the most hits, publicity wise-and sometimes in the field, too.
When interviewers began commenting too much on Black Widows suit, he'd casually pull out a flask and make a 'no do go on' gesture with it before tossing it back.
When Thor was getting backlash from an assortment of religious fanatics and affiliations for claiming to be a god, Tony had done his best to work in as many religious puns and jokes as he could in each interview until he was the one getting raging letters and emails pouring in.
When Steve got caught on film punching a man out(who had been physically harassing a young woman on the street, though that part of the video had been conveniently left out) Tony melted a TMZ camera mans camera with a spare gauntlet he kept in the dash of his car.
Clint and Coulson were eventually caught kissing via journalist after a particularly harrowing battle, and Tony had disassembled the suit in the middle of the street at the next one. He had 'forgotten' to put on the black mesh skintight suit underneath.
Tony took hits for all of them, all the time. Bruce was ninety eight percent sure Miss Potts popped antacids like candy, and he felt bad about that, he did, but it was really nothing compared to seeing Tony make a fool of himself just to spare them a little embarrassment or harassment.
Anytime they brought it up, he'd either act like he had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, or he'd smile(not like how he did while on tv; this was no where near brittle and sour underneath a pound and a half of oozing charm and flirty sexual innuendos)and wink and go, 'Hell, what're you guys going on about? This is nothing. You should've seen the time I...'
So they all took it on themselves to be there waiting for him in his dressing room, or backstage, hanging out and eating the complimentary food basket(Thor and, surprisingly, Steve) or texting dirty jokes to Tony to make him flip out on set(Clint), or trying to harass and/or threaten people into cutting the interview short when Tony's smile became noticeably strained(Coulson, Natasha).
And Tony would laugh, laugh and complain about Pepper being his keeper, just Pepper, okay, thanks, but for a split second when he came in or walked behind the curtains and saw them all standing or sitting around waiting for him, the relief and small, small amount of gratitude would be near palpable on his face, and Bruce... Well, Bruce thought it was worth it.
He hadn't been mentioned too much; at least not as himself. They'd been careful to keep his face and name away from the press, but, well. There was the occasional comment or print questioning the Other Guy's trustworthiness or loyalty, but Tony would get an eerily blank look on his face when they questioned him about it and tilt his head at the interviewer, smiling pleasantly and repeating "No comment." to any question until they cleared their throat loudly and carried on.
It really shouldn't warm Bruce the way it does, all the way down to his bones until his stomach is fluttering with it, but it does, and if Bruce is being honest with himself, it's a nice feeling. A very, very nice feeling.
He doesn't feel warm now, though. He feels a cold twist of dread and worry in his stomach as they sit in the back lounge waiting for Tony to go on. Bruce is sitting in one of the too plush, too stylized chairs while Thor and Clint argue over the remote to the tv where the ritzy looking talkshow host chatters with a pretty looking Taylor Swift about her music and-of all things-her taste in bathroom decor.
Natasha is on the couch beside him, running her hand through a sleeping looking Steve's hair. In the corner of the room, Coulson was talking low and purposefully into his phone.
Wild, insane cheering and applause erupted from the tv, and everyone stilled as Tony came out, throwing up his signature double peace signs as he walked across the stage.
After a moment, Natasha's hand began threading back through Steve's hair. Thor and Clint quieted down, settling on the couch opposite of Natasha and Steve, though Thor purposefully kept the remote out of the archers reach. A minute later Coulson was carefully settling himself down on an armrest of Bruce's chair, lips thin and looking displeased, while the crowd continued to cheer.
As soon as they began to quiet down, the host grinned, wide and huge and too bright to be real.
"Tony! Good to see you again, so glad to have you back on the show."
Tony smiled, eyes assessing. One eyebrow arched, and the feeling of dread in the pit of Bruce's stomach instantly dropped to be replaced with cold finality. "Oh, was I here before? Sorry, can't recall. Though the fake tan and teeth look familiar." He winked, and the audience and, after a moment, host broke into laughter. The mans smile was distinctly less vibrant than before.
"Ah, Stark, you're a riot. Funnier every year, I swear." Now it was the host who threw a wink at the camera. "Though nothing could top the hilarity of your decision regarding your company in 2010."
Natasha cursed in Russian, and Steve yelped, hair caught in her firm grip when he instinctively jumped. She apologized in low tones, still speaking Russian, but Bruce was staring at the screen.
Tony's smile was frosty and razor-sharp. "Which one would that be?" He asked coolly.
The man barreled on, shooting conspiracy looks at the camera in such a blatant way it was near painful. "Assigning your longtime secretary Pepper Potts as CEO, of course. I'm still waiting for the punchline to that one, by the way."
Tony leaned back, thoughtfully studying the host and smile turning predatory as he draped his arms over the back of the couch. Taylor looked like she was watching a car crash take place. The way it was heading, Bruce figured she very well might. Coulson was back on his phone.
"Punchline? Here's the punchline, Dick."
"My name's Andy."
"I know. Here's the punchline; Stark Industries sales have risen steadily since I put Miss Potts in charge. You wanna know what sales was like when I was head honcho? Like a three year old with an Etch-E-Sketch. Stock, sales, all of it has gone up since Pepper Potts was put in charge. It's still going up. Steadily. This woman," and here, Tony pulled out his phone, flipping through it before holding up a picture of Pepper in a stunning evening dress at a charity auction. The feed zoomed in. "Is the best thing to happen to Stark Industries, in case I didn't make that clear."
The host cleared his throat as the camera zoomed out, eyes narrowed and smile sharp. "Some people would disagree."
"Some people sleep with their siblings," Tony pointed out calmly, and Taylor's hand raised to cover her mouth. Her eyes were saucers. "I'm not saying that's the kind of people who are disagreeing, but that's exactly what I'm saying."
Immediately Tony's phone began to ring. Without missing a beat, he answered. "Hi, Pepper." He smiled serenely. "How are you? No, Pepper, I'm not using you to start a pissing contest with Dick here."
"Shh," Tony hushed him reprovingly. "No, Pep, not you. No, that wasn't me being patronizing." He turned to Taylor, whose eyes, if possible, went even bigger. "Pepper says she likes your dress."
"...Thank you?" The singer squeaked.
"Do you wanna say hi?" He asked kindly.
"Hi." She squeaked again quickly.
"Pep, Taylor says hi. Taylor, Pep says hi back." He paused, nodding thoughtfully after a moment.
The host looked ready to leap across the desk. "Yes. Okay. Yes, this is very rude. No, you were right the first time, I don't care. Sad but true, Peppy. Okay. Yes. Yes. Yes, I will apologize. Bye, Pep." He smiled, turning from the expectant and supremely pissed looking man to give Taylor an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that."
A laugh burst from the woman.
Bruce, quite simply, was speechless.
"Oh my god," Clint said, looking absolutely delighted.
"That poor girl," Steve murmured.
Coulson looked ready to snap his phone in half-or tase someone-when he disconnected the call.
"They can't cut the feed." He said, voice expressing just what he thought of this. "He signed a contract."
"The Man of Iron must be displeased by this stranger strongly indeed," Thor said thoughtfully.
Wordlessly, Bruce nodded.
On the screen, the host took a deep breath, fixing a smile noticeably strained at the edges on his face. "Alright, well, enough about the infamous, famous Tony Stark," he said, tone laughing, though his eyes flashed. "Let's talk about your teammate."
"Oh," Tony says, smiling. He crossed his legs, reclined back. "Let's."
"Damn it." Coulson sighed, pulling his phone back out.
"What can you tell me about Captain America?"
"He likes his popcorn burnt, the disgusting bastard."
Steve choked, and Natasha pounded him on the back absently. The hot didn't appear moved, and instead went on, eyes turning sly. "And Thor, the supposed God of Thunder?"
"He's the God of Thunder." The crowd laughed, and Tony turned to grin at them. "Yep, you heard it right here folks, the mystery is solved, hail Thor."
He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "She's a girl."
Taylor smothered a giggle, and Natasha's lips twitched.
"Prefers milky mac and cheese over the cheesy."
"The man in the suit-I assume an Agent of some sort, FBI? He's only very rarely seen."
"FBI?" Tony snorted. "Really? That's the best you can do? Pfft. No wonder your ratings are shitty."
The mans lips thinned. "CIA?"
"I assume he goes to CIA buildings and pretends to be one for the trolling, but that's all speculation."
Tony gave him a look. "Yeah. That's even dumber than the rumor going around on the Internet that he's a pimp and we're all his hoes. Please. Tony Stark is no ones hoe."
From the corner of Bruce's eyes, he thought maybe he saw Coulson's mouth bow up the barest bit.
When he looked, the man was as deadpan as always.
"Alright." The host spread his hands. "Let's talk about the Hulk."
Instantaneously, Tony's face closed off. The silence that settles over the stage is heavy and tense, and Bruce only realizes he's been holding his breath when Coulson leans ever so slightly and presses the side of his arm against Bruce's. He breathed in deeply just as Tony said, flat and with barely any inflection, "No comment."
"We hardly know anything about the-well, I don't even know what to refer to it as. Care to elaborate?"
The man seemed to be really getting into it now, leaning forward and pressing his palms flat against his desk. "How was it created?"
"Was it born?"
"Is it an alien?"
"Is it intelligent?"
"Is it dangerous?"
"Is it your pet?"
Everything fell to silence for a beat, two, then- "No!" A faux surprised gasp, and the man looked delighted, absolutely gleeful as he jumped in with both feet, and Bruce's stomach was rolling. "Cute! An Avenger's pet! Like, a guard dog, right? Train it and you'll never have to whip out that schnazzy suit again. Ohh, could we get Tony some gifts here? Like a chokechain, or an electric c-"
Tony leaned forward suddenly, and the man jerked back; too late, his tie was already caught in Tony's grasp, fingers gripping tight as he tugged the host forward to push their faces close together. Eyes at half mast and lazy as he said, lips curved dangerously, "Would you like to know what to refer to him as? You refer to him as a hero, because without him, you'd be some little aliens space bitch right about now.
We're all created, we're all born, and of course we're fucking aliens, the only difference is now we know. He's incredibly in-fucking-telligent; in case you're wondering, ten fucking times more so than you. He's dangerous, we're all fucking dangerous, so get over yourself. I'd rather have him covering my ass than you with any weapon out there, Stark included. And he, he is no one's fucking pet."
Satisfied, Tony released the tie and leaned back. The host didn't even move, wide and terrified eyes still locked with Tony's, whose mouth was curved.
In the ensuing silence, Taylor looked around and shrugged.
"I agree," she said, voice completely pleasant. "He's my favorite, too."
The feed cut, and the silence was now only in the room.
"That..." Steve looked like he was having trouble forming words. Natasha's hand was still tangled in his hair. "That was..."
A ding echoed in the room, and Thor pulled out his phone to offer to Clint. The archer took it(and the remote, to Thor's dismayed yell)and read out loud, eyebrows nearly to his hairline, "'Thor, oh my god, get me Taylor Swift's autograph, that bitch is sassy.' S'from Darcy, dude."
The god was already rising from the couch. "Aye. I believe I shall request the fairy Lady's signature as well. Her teardrops on her 'guitar' is a worthy post battle song, indeed."
"Bruce." Carefully, Natasha patted him on the shoulder. "C'mon. Let's go meet your fans." Her voice is wry, but there's a distinct amused look in her eyes. He blinked.
"I," he shook his head, dazed. "Okay?"
She makes a soft sound of amusement, reaching out to secure one of his arms and dragging him up as they all pile out of the room, already hearing the echoing ends of the argument Tony was having with the shows lawyers.
I WANT TO DIEEE.
Wrote all this out in a notebook, then transferred it all to wordpad. Argh. 3:46AM, ladies and gentlemen, if there are any inaccuracies or, uh, I dunno, weird shit, it's because of that, and I haven't slept.
That's all she wrote.
Thank you and goodnight.