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The Perfect Roommate

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Darcy walked out of her bedroom, an energetic bounce in her step.  It was a gloriously sunny day, and a fresh breeze was drifting in through her wide-open bedroom window.  She danced a little, happily debating how she was going to spend her free day, contemplating heading out to the park.  She swung into the kitchen and froze in surprise. The tall, ridiculously attractive man who could normally be found in her kitchen on Sunday mornings making pancakes was sadly absent.  She frowned and glanced at the clock. It was almost noon, she supposed. She couldn’t expect her roommate to wait around all day for her to wake up before making breakfast.

 

Her stomach rumbled and she fought back a pout.  Deciding to take matters into her own hands, Darcy padded over to the coffee maker and flung some grounds into the filter.  Feeling empowered, she turned on the stereo and connected her iPod. As the Supremes filled the speakers after she selected her Motown playlist, she danced over to the cupboards and began pulling out the ingredients for pancakes.  Tradition was still tradition, even if Steve wasn’t around.

 

Ten minutes later, the skillet was smoking rather alarmingly, her batter resembled a greyish-tinged glue-like substance and she couldn’t stop sneezing from the blast of flour she’d dusted herself with as she tried to sift it.  She was relieved when she heard the front door click shut.

 

“Oh thank god.  Steve, come rescue me before I burn down the building,” she called out to her roommate.  

 

“You must be Darcy,” a confident female voice declared from behind her.  Darcy swung around, surprised to find a woman leaning against the counter, a smile on her face as she glanced around the kitchen.  “I’m Lucy. I’m a... uh... friend of Steve’s.”

 

“Oh, awesome.  Don’t mind me, I’m kind of a psychopath in the kitchen.  At least when flour is involved,” Darcy said with a gesture at the mess littering the counters.  She grabbed the skillet off the stove and turned off the burner, before turning back to Lucy.

 

Steve’s friend was tall with long, willowy limbs, perfect shiny shampoo-commercial hair, and a face that belonged on the cover of a magazine.  She was dressed in that effortless elegant style that Darcy could never figure out how to achieve, and Darcy suddenly felt a bit silly as she glanced down at her baggy lime green pajama pants, and her favourite university t-shirt that was still stained from the time she decided to repaint the bathroom at 2 a.m. on a Friday night.

 

“We just had brunch. It’s too bad you couldn’t join us,” Lucy said with an amused smile.

 

“Hey Darcy,” Steve said, coming into the kitchen, smile growing on his face as he took in the mess of the kitchen.

 

“Traitor,” Darcy growled playfully.  “Leaving me to fend for myself with no warning.”

 

He was holding a large coffee, which he held out to her and Darcy felt her knees grow weak.  God she loved him.

 

“Leave you without Sunday Pancakes?  Of course not,” Steve said with that charming smile that, if Darcy was perfectly honest with herself and actually admitted it, was the reason she’d offered him the extra bedroom in her apartment.  “We brought you take-out. It’s on the coffee table.”

 

“Hero,” she declared and followed him out to the living room where, as promised, a take-out container was sitting on the coffee table.

 

Steve followed her, with Lucy trailing behind, and placed her coffee in front of her.  She grinned up at him fondly.

 

“Seriously dude, best roommate ever,” she said.  “What’re you up to this afternoon? I was thinking of hitting up the park later.”

 

“Lucy is taking me to see an art show she’s been talking about for weeks.”

 

“It’s a mixed-media art installation by this up and coming artist from Colombia.  It’s supposed to be groundbreaking,” Lucy chimed in excitedly. “Steve and I have been trying to find time to check it out for a few weeks now.”

 

“You should come with us,” Steve suggested.  Darcy glanced at him quizzically before her eyes flicked over to Lucy, whose smile was suddenly looking a bit tight and forced.  Oh Steve. You clueless, clueless idiot.

 

“Nah.  I’m going to try to crash a football game in the park,” she said dismissively.  

 

“Alright, but you’re missin’ out!” Steve said.  Darcy mumbled a goodbye through a mouthful of pancake and watched as Steve guides Lucy towards the door, his hand at the small of her back.  

 

They look good together, a well-matched couple.  Darcy ignored the strange uncomfortable feeling settling in her stomach as she watched them leave together.

 

As soon as the door clicked shut, she jumped up and fished her phone out of her purse to write Steve a text.

 

Dude, what is up with you? Never invite your female roommate along on a first date

 

Her phone buzzes a few minutes later.

 

Date?  Wait, this is a date?

 

Well, I guess if you want it to be.  Relax and don’t worry about it. She totally hopes it’s a date , she wrote back.  Darcy stared at it for a minute, and then powered it off, burying it back in her purse.  She stared at her half finished pancakes, her appetite suddenly gone.

 

* * *

 

Sunday Pancakes was just one of the silly little traditions that Darcy and Steve had started after they became roommates. One Sunday just a few weeks after he’d moved in, she had dragged him out to the park, where they had somehow found themselves recruited into a pick-up football game.  Steve had been reluctant to join, but Darcy had danced around him like an excited puppy, claiming that touch football was totally her game, until he gave in. Turns out, he was amazing and adorably sheepish every time he pulled off an incredible hail-mary pass for a miracle touchdown. The game was interrupted by a sudden freezing cold torrential downpour, and they had run back to the apartment laughing, completely drenched.

 

Steve had commanded her into the shower after noticing her teeth with chattering with cold, using that authoritative voice of his that she found it difficult to argue with.  When she emerged from the bathroom half an hour later, warm and dry, and wandered into the kitchen, she found her stupidly hot roommate sliding a pancake out of a skillet onto a waiting plate.

 

“Oh my goodness Steve Rogers, if you keep this up, I’m going to have to keep you,” she cried in delight.  He grinned at her, a pleased look on his face, and set the plate in front of her. And thus, their Sunday Pancakes tradition was born.

 

When her last roommate had moved out, Darcy had only briefly considered giving up her fantastic apartment rather than go through the soul-destroying process of trying to find another one.  The large two bedroom apartment was something out of myth - top floor of a three-storey walk-up, large, bright, full-sized closets, a decent-sized kitchen with an actual island and a bite-sized balcony with enough room for one lawn chair, two if they were tiny.  And, with her half of the rent only costing two-thirds of her monthly salary, it was practically affordable by New York standards. So, while the idea of posting a Craigslist ad and sifting through the replies of increasingly crazy people was daunting, the reward of keeping the place would be worth it.

 

Jane had brilliantly suggested that she just post ads at work.  That way, she’d end up with someone with at least minimum security clearance who would have (hopefully) been screened by SHIELD’s onerous psychological review process.  So, deftly dodging the ever-watchul eye of Maria Hill who would undoubtedly disapprove, she had posted a few on every floor. And had only received one email inquiry.

 

He’d knocked on her door a full 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, and Darcy was still dashing around straightening the place up, and hadn’t really had time to change out of the shorts and ratty old tank top she’d worn to bed the night before.  Throwing her hair into a messy ponytail and yanking on a sweater in a small nod towards modesty, she’d swung open the door.

 

And found a seriously hot dude on the other side.  Incredibly blue eyes, all-American good looks, deliciously broad shoulders... Strangely startled expression on his face.

 

“Dude, you’re tall!  I’m sure you get that, like, all the time, but it needs to be remarked upon.  Seriously, I barely reach your shoulders. Anyway, why don’t you come on in so you can see the place,” she exclaimed stepping aside and waving him into the apartment.

 

“Thanks.  I’m sorry to interrupt your morning like this,” he said, an air of awkwardness about him.

 

“No worries.  I mean, you’re a bit early, hence the rockin’ outfit I’ve got on, but I’m just so thrilled that someone from headquarters responded to my poster.  I was afraid I’d have to resort to screening randoms from Craigslist!”

 

“Oh, you are Darcy!” he said, sounding surprised.  She looked at him skeptically.

 

“Well, yeah.  Who did you think I was?” she asked, hand on her hip.

 

“I just... well, I thought that Darcy was... you know, a man,” he said, sounding incredibly uncomfortable.  Darcy stared up at him, almost entranced as she watched him fidget and his face flush slightly. “All the agents refer to you as Lewis, and from what they were saying... I mean... I just assumed...”

 

“Huh. Yeah, I guess that’s fair. I’ve got three big brothers, so I guess I kinda pal around with the all macho secret agent types like I’m one of the boys.  But nope, definitely not a dude,” she shrugged.

 

“No, definitely not,” he said with a laugh, and Darcy felt her stomach  flutter as his blue-blue eyes flicked over her and he flashed an undeniably sheepish-yet-charming smile.

 

“Well, I hope that’s not a problem, big guy.  At the very least, it shouldn’t be once you’ve taken a good look around. This apartment is amazeballs .  Tons of space, tons of light.  The kitchen is pretty good, if you’re into that kind of thing,” she said, leading him through the living room.  “I so don’t cook, unless you count microwave popcorn.”

 

She led him down the hallway to the empty bedroom and opened the door.  “So, this would be your room. It gets all kinds of light in the mornings, which I’m told is a huge plus. I’m definitely not a morning person, so I am completely opposed to this room on principle.”

 

Darcy finished showing Steve the apartment, keeping up a steady stream of dialogue as he followed along, looking around him thoughtfully.  He was quiet, Darcy had noted, but not like in a weird anti-social way. Importantly, he didn’t seem at all put-off by her nattering on which added points to his column.

 

“So, do you have stuff? Like, furniture?  Because the living room is pretty well furnished and even though I don’t use it a lot, the kitchen has basically everything you could need.  But if you’d got stuff, I can probably get rid of some things to make room for you,” she said, sitting on the arm of the couch.

 

“I’ve got some stuff.  But not a lot - it would all definitely fit here,” he said, assessing the room.  “Wait, does that mean you want me to move in?”

 

“Obviously, dude.  I mean, you seem pretty normal, we work at the same place and so even though we’re strangers, we’re not, like, actual strangers.  Plus, these ceilings are pretty high and there are some lightbulbs that need changing, which seems like it’s right up your alley,” she answered, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.  “I mean, if you want it, the room is yours.”

 

“You know, I think this is exactly what I’m looking for,” he’d answered thoughtfully, after a minute’s pause.  “I’ll take it.”

 

“Excellent!  You seem like the fine, upstanding ‘my word is my bond’ noble type, so I’m holding you that, even though I’m totally about to confess that I’m a pretty terrible roommate,” she’d declared, jumping up from the couch.  “I have very little patience for cleaning, I play music really loudly whenever I feel like it and I don’t share the remote very well.  Oh, and you’re totally in charge of spiders. I so don’t do spiders.”

 

He stared at her in that way a lot of people did when they weren’t quite sure what to make of her, but then he smiled - a truly breathtaking All-American kind of smile - and Darcy was suddenly uneasy about agreeing so quickly to let him move in.

 

“Dude, has anyone told you that you are, like, stupidly hot?  We’re going to have get you a bodyguard or pre-treat you with a can of Axe before you leave the house!” she said and then was pretty sure he blushed a little before nearly slaying her with a sheepish glance at the ground before regrouping.

 

“Do you, ahh, always do that?” he asked.  “Say whatever it is you’re thinking?”

 

Darcy shrugged.

 

“Pretty much.  I guess it can kind of rub people the wrong way - think it’s probably why I get along better with dudes than ladies.  Guys tend to appreciate the honesty. What you see is what you get with me,” she declared. “Speaking of... It’s only now dawning on me that you’re a stupidly hot complete mystery to me.  Which section do you work for? You must not be with covert ops, because I know all of them.”

 

“You know all of the covert operatives?” he asked skeptically.

 

“I know, right? How covert is that ?  And you’re not with R&D or the research labs, because I’m the queen of that particular area - no minion enters my domain without my knowledge.  And you’re not top brass...”

 

“Umm… Security.  I work with the security team.”

 

“Office, local, national or global?” she peppered.  He frowned, hesitating a bit.

 

“All of the above, I guess you could say.”

 

“Alright, I get it.  Maybe you do work in covert ops, because you clearly don’t like talking about where you work. But on the other hand, you might be just about the worst liar I’ve ever encountered,” she declared, peering at him over the rims of her dark-framed glasses.  “It’s all good, dude. There’s plenty that happens in my area I can’t talk to you about either. How about we make that a rule? We’ll leave all the details at the office slash laboratory. This is a work-free zone… Except for any really good office gossip.  I need to know about any and all hookups.”

 

“I think I can agree with that,” he said with a warm smile.

 

“Alright dude.   Place is all yours.  I’ve got, like, a sub-lease agreement you should have a look over and sign. I’m not super type A about it, I promise.  My dad’s a lawyer and would kill me if I let someone move in without some kind of written & signed agreement in place. You know fathers and daughters...” she said, pulling out a crumpled document from her purse.

 

He took it and said he’d look it over and drop off a signed copy tomorrow.

 

And while perhaps it was her natural impulsiveness that led to her agreeing to let him move in, or the fact that he answered everything correctly and didn’t seem put off by her rambling monologue, but really, it was those blue-blue eyes that won her over.

Chapter Text

Darcy burst back into the apartment later that evening, the same way she always did, banging through the door, kicking off her muddy running shoes.  She was covered in mud, positive she had streaks of it across her face and caked in her hair. One of the boys at the park had gotten a little overzealous when she’d made a breakaway with the ball and had tackled her to the ground.  He’d knocked the breath of her, smashed her chin into the ground and now a muscle in her shoulder felt all twisted, but she’d jumped up from the ground and resumed the game as fast as she could. When you played with boys, you tried not to remind them you were a 5’2” 130 pound woman for fear they might decide they didn’t want to play with you anymore - for your own safety, of course. 

 

She’d played the rest of the game, celebrated her victory and had a beer at the bar with the team.  But now, she was feeling a bit stiff and bruised and wanted nothing more than to strip off her muddy clothes, wash the mud out of her hair and relax with an ice pack pressed against her throbbing face.

 

Of course, Steve and his maybe-date were sitting on the couch, she poised elegantly with a glass of wine in hand, both staring at her.  Did Steve really have to pick the perfectly dressed and made-up type of woman? And did she always have to look like a complete mess whenever Lucy was around?

 

“Darcy, you ok?” Steve asked slowly.

 

“Looks worse than it is. Tough tackle,” she said, waving a dismissive hand in his direction as she crossed the living room and headed for the bathroom.  She was walking a little stiffly and tried to hide it. “Don’t let me interrupt.”

 

“Wait, you got tackled ?” he demanded, jumping up and following her down the hall.

 

“Not intentionally, Jack just kinda… forgot the rules. I pulled a few great passes, getting the upper hand, and he just got a little too competitive,” she explained.  Those blue eyes of his were looking her up and down, and she tucked her chin down so he wouldn’t see the bruise she was sure was forming. He frowned.

 

“You’re hurt.”

 

“Nah, nothing a hot shower can’t fix,” she said, shrugging and then wincing a bit as it tugged the sore muscle in her shoulder.  She dropped her voice lower. “Get back out there and finish your date.”

 

She ducked inside the bathroom before he could say anything more.

 

After taking the longest, hottest shower she could stand, she wrapped her hair up in a towel and dug out her fluffiest pajamas before crawling into bed with her tablet, planning to lay low for the rest of the night and stream some Netflix.  While she was scrolling through the titles, she heard a soft knock on the door. Steve stuck his head in.

 

“Ya decent?” he asked, the warmth in his voice washing over her.  She hesitated. She was tired and sore, and had embarrassed herself twice in front of Steve’s stunning possible-girlfriend and it all made her feel a bit vulnerable and less than her fully confident self.

 

He didn’t wait for her to answer, just nudged open the door with his hip and came in.

 

“Cute jammies,” he said with a big smile and a raised eyebrow.  

 

“Don’t mock my fluffy bunnies, man,” she groaned, setting aside her tablet as he sat next to her on the bed.  Ever observant, Steve hissed a bit as he saw the purpling bruise on her chin that seemed determined to spread along her jaw and reached out, tilting her face gently as he took it in.

 

“Jesus, Darcy, they really did a number on you,” he murmured, and pressed the ice pack she hadn’t noticed he’d been carrying against her face.  “You really should be icing it.”

 

“Well it seems like I am now, so no cause for concern,” she said softly.  He was all Serious Face, staring at her like the force of his disapproval alone could heal her bruises, and she found it hard not to just stare at his beautiful face.  She tried not to let these moments - when he was near, when she was his sole focus - overwhelm her, but she was feeling weak and couldn’t help it.

 

She made herself look away after a few minutes, convinced that she was in danger of turning into a living representative of the heart-eye emoji if she wasn’t careful.  When had she switched from playful banter to openly pining for her roomate? She needed to squash whatever this was, and fast.

 

“Here, hold this and follow me,” Steve said, pressing her hand to hold the icepack and standing up.  

 

“No, Steve, it’s okay really.  I mean, there are only so many times I can show up looking ridiculous in front of one person in the course of one day, and I don’t think your friend Lucy knows me well enough to appreciate the fluffy bunnies and hair towel,” she said, gesturing at her pajamas.

 

“Lucy went home, and I like the bunnies. Now c’mon.”  She groaned as she climbed out of bed, shuffling down the hallway after him.

 

The wine glasses had been cleared away, and now there were two steaming mugs and a plate of what looked like brownies in their place on the coffee table.  He picked up one of the mugs and handed it to her. Hot chocolate. Which he’d made from scratch and sprinkled with cinnamon, because he was wonderful.

 

“I know I’ve missed it the past few weeks, but it’s still Movie Night,” Steve said, sitting down on the couch.  He sometimes worked weird hours and had the habit of disappearing regularly, sometimes for a couple of weeks with just a text that he’d be away, could she water his plants and he’d let her know when he was back.  She knew there was a lot more to what he did than just “security” but tried to respect that he couldn’t talk about it. All the supposedly covert ops guys bragged about what they did so often, which meant to her that Steve’s reluctance to divulge more meant he was into some shit .

 

“Yeah, we totally left those poor hobbits stranded in Mordor,” Darcy said, as she decided to sit down.  “Where did you get brownies ?”

 

“You take the longest showers,” Steve said with a laugh as he settled next to her. “I could have made a three course meal with time to spare and you’d still be in the shower.”

 

“What stopped you? That would have been amazing.  Anyway, it was long enough for you to ruin your date and make baked goods, so I don’t see how I’m the problem here,” she said, arching an eyebrow in his direction.  Steve chuckled softly as he picked up the remote to turn on the television.

 

“It wasn’t a date, and I didn’t ruin it. I just told her I needed to hang out with my roommate,” Steve said, his voice a bit tight as he stared straight ahead. Darcy bit her lip, debating whether or not stay what she wanted to in that moment.

 

Saying what was on her mind without filter was basically her brand , so she put her hand on his arm and he turned to make eye contact with her.

 

“You can totally date, Steve, you know.  You can date, and you can bring your dates here . This is your home. I know it might feel a little weird because you have a female roommate and we’re pretty tight, and that’s awesome , but you can and should feel like you can do that. It won’t make things weird with us,” she said.  She mentally patted herself on the back. She sounded very sincere, even though she only meant about 80% of it.

 

He put his hand on top of hers and stared at her for a moment. She thought he was going to say something, seemed like he started to, but changed his mind. He shrugged.

 

“Well, like I said, it wasn’t a date. Now how about we watch this movie?  I need to know what happens to these little guys,” he said, pressing play and throwing an arm around her shoulder, encouraging her to snuggle against his chest.

Chapter Text

“Seriously, that guy? Of all the hot eligible guys infesting our work place, you’re going out with that guy?” Jane complained as she focused on copying down a bunch of readings. They were out in the field today, setting up a bunch of strange devices that Jane had invented, out in the middle of Nowhere, upstate New York.  

 

“Oh Nathan isn’t that bad,” Darcy laughed. “Plus he’s hot, and he invited me out. It’s just drinks with a few other agents. Everyone has been on high alert the past few days, they just want to blow off some steam.”

 

“What about Steve?” Jane asked, looking up for a moment, before a beeping distracted her again.

 

“What about Steve? My roommate has been MIA almost all week, I’ve barely heard from the guy,” Darcy said, flopping down in the camp chair she’d had the foresight to bring with her, foreseeing a long day of waiting around in an empty field.  Since their cozy movie night, he had all but disappeared, just sending her one text to warn her he’d be away for a bit.

 

“If you want my advice…” Jane said.

 

“No, I do not. You’re going to tell me to blow off the available but kind-of-douchey hot agent that asked me out, and pursue my dangerously attractive, awesome roommate instead.  Jane, that is a recipe for disaster.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why? He’s perfect, our living situation is perfect, that is why.  In the soul-destroying pain and suffering that is the New York rental market, I have basically landed a freakin’ unicorn. I can’t let feelings get in the way of that,” Darcy explained, gesturing madly about her.  

 

“Wait, you never said anything about feelings. I thought this was just a crush?” 

 

“I was speaking in the hypothetical . At this moment, there is nothing other than an awesome roommate dynamic, and I refuse to let anything ruin that.  I’m not giving up my unicorn.”

 

“That’s all fine and good on your side. What happens if he is the one who falls madly in love with you?” Jane asked, as if she’d had a great epiphany.

 

“Oh sweet baby Jane. You’re so innocent and naive, I love you for you it,” Darcy said, throwing on her sunglasses and stretching out in her camp chair.  “But seriously though. You should see the woman he brought home the other night. He’s got options , you know?”

 

“And you’re not an option? I don’t follow,” Jane said as she smacked her beeping gizmo against a rock a few times.

 

“Well, I’m not exactly supermodel material. I busted in on his date covered in mud looking like I’d been in the middle of a brawl,” Darcy reminded her friend, absently touching her fingers to her chin, which was still bruised and a bit tender.

 

“He ended the night with you,” Jane said pointedly.  Darcy shrugged it off, uncomfortable with where that train of that could lead her.

 

“Okay, no. No no no. We are not following this train of thought. It’s getting derailed, like natural disaster-style derailed.  We are going to accept that I am in a totally platonic roommates situation with the perfect man, realize that we’re destined to just be great friends, and you are going to encourage me to date other guys,” Darcy declared.  “Now let’s finish whatever it is we’re doing out here so I can get back to the city and put that plan of action into place! Nathan’s been sending be a bunch of dirty texts, you should see this nonsense!”

 

“Ugh I hate that guy,” Jane complained.  “Why can’t you bring me home a nice boy like Steve?”

 

“I’m attracted to assholes, Jane.  The only good guys I’ve ever liked are pathetically out of my reach.  Might as well have a bit of fun with it.”

 

***

 

By the time she and Jane had returned to the lab, she was already late to meet Nate.  He’d sent a few impatient texts, and then finally, the address of the bar where he wanted her to meet him because he didn’t want to “waste too much time waiting for her.” Not exactly a great start.

 

But she rallied, changing out of her comfortable leggings and tunic sweater, pulling on her perfect Date Night black dress, shaking her long hair out of its ponytail so it fell around her shoulders, swiped on some red lipstick and a dab of mascara, and finished it off with some strappy black heels.  Jane nodded approvingly as she emerged from the bathroom.

 

“How you can transform yourself from ‘hungover-university-student-chic’ into a total bombshell in like 5 minutes is categorically unfair,” Jane grumbled, and Darcy beamed at her friend’s veiled praise as she slid on her glasses.

 

“Thanks so much for your approval,” she laughed as she threw on her favourite leather jacket and grabbed the little clutch now holding her phone, keys and cash.  “Wish me luck, don’t wait up. Sure you don’t want to come?”

 

“Ugh, no ,” Jane answered emphatically, already turning her mind back to science, and Darcy laughed as she sauntered off.

 

It was drizzling out when she left for the bar, so she hurried as fast as she could in the slinky heels she’d chosen to wear. She wished Nate had waited for her and they could have walked over together, as she wasn’t entirely sure where this bar was.  Darcy eventually found the place, relying on her phone’s GPS, and pushed her way through the crowded area near the bar to find Nate squeezed around a table with a handful of other agents she recognized from the halls. They all looked up when she arrived at the table, and she could feel a touch of hostility, despite the fact that she greeted them with her most winning smile.

 

As she scanned their faces, she mused how different things might be if they knew her actual clearance level.  The Baby Agents were always eager to brag about their exploits to each other, and an Outsider meant they’d have to reign it in.

 

“Lewis! You made it.  Pull up a chair!” Nate called out.  But the place was packed. While he poured a pint from one of the pitchers on the table, she pushed her way through the crowd, circling a few times until she finally found an empty chair and squeezed it in between Nathan and his friend Jason.

 

Someone she didn’t recognize was sitting across from her, and he was staring with a faint smile on his face. He had a very distinct air of authority about him - it wasn’t that he looked older, but there was just something about him that screamed “leader” to her - and the buzzing adrenaline of Nathan’s rookie team members was noticeably absent from him.  This was definitely someone in a senior position, someone who’d seen some things.  But the way he was staring at prickled at her, especially as she as already feeling unwelcome by the sideways glances Nate’s team members were giving her.

 

“Would you care to see my security clearance before I share a beer with you all?” she asked pointedly, leaning across the table so he could hear her.

 

He smiled, big and bright, and Darcy immediately liked him.  He leaned close to her.

 

“I’m just wondering why this table full of healthy, able bodied young men in the prime of their lives didn’t give up their chairs for a lady,” he said.  She considered that for a moment.

 

“Well, had they tried, I’m not likely to have accepted,” she answered back, putting on her most dazzling smile to soften the bite behind her words.  The truth was, a small part of Darcy was surprised too. But then, her main form of male companionship in recent months had been Steve Rogers, someone to whom chivalrous acts were entirely natural.

 

“Darcy brings new definition to modern, independent woman,” Nate said as he passed her a beer.  “She hates it when I try to hold the door open for her.”

 

You’ve never actually tried , she thought, glancing at him sceptically.  She started to protest, the nuances of chivalry, feminism, male dominance and power structures between the genders difficult to explain in a crowded bar, but she couldn’t let that comment slide.

 

Turns out, she didn’t need to.

 

“That just means you’re not doing it right, Phillips,” the man across from her said, with a pointed look at her and she broke into a laugh.  She held up her glass in a mock cheers in his direction, and then took a swig.

 

“If he’s calling you Lewis, does that mean you’re Darcy Lewis?  I’m Sam Wilson, I’m a good friend of Steve’s.”

 

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you! He’s mentioned you quite a bit. I have to say, you have been an excellent influence on his musical tastes,” Darcy cried.  A few pieces of information suddenly fell together in her mind, and even though she knew she shouldn’t go there, she couldn’t help herself. It had been days .  “Are you guys on the same team? You probably can’t tell me anything, which is totally cool and I won’t press at all, but I haven’t heard from him in, like, over a week. Anything I should be worried about?”

 

“Nah. Steve isn’t one you need to worry about, he can take care of himself,” Sam said. “But yes, we’re on the same team. Which means if I’m home…”

 

“...so is he,” she finished, with a grateful smile.  He just nodded at her and took another swig of his beer.  At this point Nate was clearly unimpressed at being left out of the conversation, and grabbed her attention back. 



***

 

A few hours later, Darcy was full of giggles, giddy with the special buzz that the combination of beer and chemistry brings, as she flirted shamelessly with Nate.  He’d turned his chair to face her, blocking out the conversation of his coworkers.

 

“Have you ever thought about contacts?” he asked, his eyes locked on hers in a way that suggests he’s trying to see around the dark frames sitting on the bridge of her nose.  Darcy makes a wry face in reaction. She liked her glasses quite a bit, liked the way they framed her face and sat on the bridge of her nose, and she didn’t really understand why people encouraged her to stop wearing them.

 

“Too much hassle. After one too many explosions in the lab, glasses just seem a lot more practical. Besides, I look damn good in these,” she answered.  Sliding them off her face, Nate paused for a moment to stare at her with a look in his eyes that made her eyes dart away, flushing with pleasure.

 

“I’m confiscating these, Lewis.  I consider it my civic duty - it’s a crime to hide those eyes behind a pair of glasses,” he said, with a mock seriousness as he pockets her frames.  Darcy protested meekly, but her heart’s not in it - besides, she has started to imagine all the playful ways she can convince him to hand them back over.

 

One of the other agents has picked up on their conversation.

 

“Are you one of the scientists in R&D?” Jason asked, and Darcy tries not to let his shocked and awed tone bother her.

 

“Ha! No. Darcy here is just Dr. Foster’s assistant,” Nate barked with a laugh.  “You help out Dr. Banner sometimes too, don’t you?”

 

All eyes were now on her.  The heat that had been flushing her face has been chased away by anger and a bit of panic.  Darcy feels the weight of a number of eyes on her, including Sam’s.

 

“I may be just an assistant, Nate,” she said, speaking softly, her voice ice cold.  “But I understand the importance of fucking discretion in public areas.”

 

Jerking his hands away from her thighs, where they’d been lingering as they’d giggled together, Nate glares at her.  Darcy doesn’t care, can’t bring herself to worry that she might have embarrassed him in front of Sam, who was probably his supervisor.  Sam, she noted, seemed to be observing her with an air of approval as the rest of the conversation resumed. Dr. Banner’s location at any given time was top secret, a lot of dangerous people were often looking for him.  Hadn’t Nate read the security briefings?  Okay, she would be embarrassed if anyone knew how closely she paid attention to them, reading and re-reading them, but she’d seen some things too, you know? You take that shit seriously when you’ve been through it.

 

Nate has turned away, ignoring her.  Conversations start happening around her and over her, and she’s once again an outsider, an intruder.  She glances up to see Sam watching her carefully. He is leaning back casually in his chair, his relaxed pose belying the intense way he was observing her.  

 

Minutes pass painfully as she is completely shut out by Nate, and Darcy contemplates her options.  She could sit there, feeling awkward and ignored. She could get up and leave, making a bit of a dramatic scene as she struts out of the bar.  She could break back into the conversation, brashly demanding they all pay attention to her.

 

But the taste of beer, not her favourite drink by any stretch, is thick on her tongue and she is sure her lipstick has smudged. So she stands up, excusing herself, not that anyone cares, and retreats to the ladies room, planning to face them all again once she returns.  

 

She rinses her mouth with water, dabs on some Ruby Woo, laughs with a few of the other women crowded into the tiny washroom, and feels much better.  Her courage and confidence decidedly in tact, she heads back to the table, prepared to re-engage her date in conversation.

 

It has apparently taken her too long, because when she comes back to the table, Nate and almost all the others have left.  Her jacket and umbrella are still there, along with two other agents seated at the far end of the table, a half empty pitcher sitting between them.  They shrug apologetically at her, as her face burns with the realization that she’s been ditched by her date. Embarrassment is quickly replaced by anger.  She puts on her jacket and throws down some cash for the bill, marching towards the exit. 

 

It started to rain harder, and the lights are reflecting off the wet pavement, making everything blurry.  Shit , she thought.  Nate still had her glasses, had left with them in his pocket.

 

She fishes her phone out of her purse, planning to take Uber despite the unexpected expense.  As she’s about to confirm the car, someone calls her name. Jumping at the sound, Darcy orders herself to calm down, but she’s a bit drunk, a bit embarrassed, and feeling a bit vulnerable without her glasses. She squints up at the dark figure approaching her, trying to make out his facial features.

 

“Darcy!” they call, and the nervous tingling in her stomach is swept away in relief.  Steve.

 

“Hey roomie! You’re back,” she called out as he sweeps her up in a big warm hug. And just like that, her horrible date was forgotten, like it was swept completely clean.

 

“I’m back,” he answered in return. 

 

“And you’re going into a bar ?” she questioned teasingly, feigning shock and surprise. 

 

“And I am going into a bar. Are you heading out? Why not come have a drink with us?” he asked.  Her mind whirled for a moment, wondering if us was his possible-girlfriend and if he’s just invited her to be a third wheel on yet another date.  “Sam said he was waiting by the bar.”

 

“Oh, you’re here to meet up with Sam ! I met him earlier tonight,” Darcy said, following Steve as he held the door open for her, ushering her back inside.

 

“Yeah, I heard,” he said.  Darcy was about to ask him how he’d heard, but then he stopped suddenly, looking down at her with a frown.  “You’re not wearing your glasses?”

 

“Dude, you’ve seen me with contacts in before, this isn’t an earth shattering development,” she said with a casual shrug, trying to deflect attention from the topic.  It was true, she always wore contacts when she went to the park to play soccer or football with the boys.

 

“You look really nice tonight,” he said.  She frowned a bit at him, and his eyes widened, realizing the implication.  “Not because you aren’t wearing your glasses. I like your glasses, you always look really nice in them. Just… you’re really dressed up and it looks nice.”

 

I know, right? I’m lookin’ like a girl and everything,” she said, with a playful punch to his arm. Sam was waving from a table in the corner, so she walked over to him.  Steve came up behind her, and pulled out a chair for her. 

 

“Have a seat, I’ll go find another chair,” he said.  “And I’ll grab you a drink - gin and tonic, right?”

 

“Perfect.”

 

As she sat, she had trouble reading Sam’s expression because she couldn’t see him clearly enough, but she knew he was likely smiling at her.

 

That is doing it right,” Sam said with a pointed towards Steve, and she laughed.

 

“It happens so fast with him, you hardly realize it until it’s over,” she responded, half in amazement.  “If we’re roommates for too long, he’s going to spoil all other guys for me. I usually only go after guys who are pretty much sure to be assholes, but Steve is really making a case for trying to find a genuine good guy. He just might be the last one.”

 

“He is basically a Brand Ambassador for the Good Guy,” Sam laughed.  Just then, Steve returned to the table, dragging a chain and balancing a beer and Darcy’s drink in his other hand.


“What’s so funny?” Steve asked, and Sam and Darcy just exchanged looks before laughing again.

Chapter Text

Darcy sprang out of bed Sunday morning, full of energy as usual.  After her disastrous Friday night date with Nate, she’d had an amazing night out with Steve and Sam, laughing so hard at points her sides hurt.  Steve was such a closed book sometimes, it had been amazing to see a window into his life outside the walls of their apartment.

 

And then Steve had ushered her home, lead her into a taxi, listened to her babble in her drunken state with an amused smile on his face, and then made her a grilled cheese sandwich when they arrived home, before he sent her off to bed with a giant glass of water. 

 

Saturday was Market Day, a particular quirk of Steve’s that Darcy found charming until he was knocking on her door at 7 a.m. asking her to join him.  Steve was old school, and that meant he preferred to visit the weekly farmer’s market instead of just hitting up Trader Joe’s like a normal human.

 

But it meant tagging along after him drowsily while eating an oven-fresh croissant from the bakery around the corner and offering her vague (non-existent) opinions on the freshness of the ingredients he was perusing. Once he had everything he needed, they stopped for cappuccinos at a food stall on their way out, and strolled the long way back to the apartment.  Fall was descending over the city, and the crisp air was refreshing after months of a stifling heat waves, and Darcy felt a certain lightness to her steps. Life was just better , easier, brighter, when Steve was around, and the city seemed to be echoing her contentment that day.

 

And now it was Sunday morning, which meant her weekly football game in the park. She pulled on her sweats and runners, and headed out to the park, eager to redeem herself after the previous weekend’s mishap.

 

She was surprised to see Steve already there, standing around in the group of guys she always played with on Sunday mornings.  After that first rainy day, she had a hard time convincing Steve to come along again, which always surprised her. Steve was obviously an amazing athlete, like way better than this casual pick-up game, but she suspected that even still, he was holding himself back at times, not wanting to be the best on the field. Which baffled Darcy, because all she ever wanted to be was the best at everything.  But she figured it didn’t make playing football in the park all that exciting.

 

“Steve-o! Didn’t expect to see you here,” she exclaimed.  Steve just shrugged, and continued stretching as they waited for enough guys to gather to break into teams.  He seemed a bit distracted, scanning the field.

 

“Yeah, I didn’t think it would be a big deal if I joined the game for a bit today,” he said.

 

“Hey Lewis, didn’t think you’d be back here after Jack pummeled you last weekend,” Terry, one of her usual teammates, called out, running up to them.  “You sure you weren’t hurt? That was a pretty bad fall.”

 

“Nah, I took it as a compliment man.  It was the only way Jack could stop my killer passing last week, I was on fire ,” Darcy said, high-fiving Terry.  “Are we ready to do this or what ?”

 

“Seriously, are we still letting her play with us?” a deep voice whined behind them.  Darcy’s eyes narrowed, hands on her hips. All six feet and 250 pounds of Jack had arrived, and he was not pleased that she was back.  “She’s just going to get hurt again and ruin the game.”

 

“I think what ruined the game, for you at least, was getting beat by a girl half your size.  But I’m wiling to give you a rematch because I’m such a good sport,” Darcy said with a shrug.  She glanced over at Steve, who was staring very pointedly at Jack.

 

“Whatever. If you get hurt again, it’s no one’s fault but your own,” he warned, and Darcy made a face at his back as he walked to the other end of the field.

 

“Ugh that guy sucks so much,” she muttered.  Terry just clapped a hand on her back.


“Leave it on the field, Lewis. Time to have some fun,” he said, calling the rest of the team over into a huddle.

 

And fun they did have. Darcy was quick and agile, and amazing at dodging the larger guys running for her. Combined with Steve’s amazing arm and Terry’s inability to miss a catch, her side was well in the lead before long.

 

Jack was fuming, becoming more aggravating with each touchdown and Darcy couldn’t help but be amused at someone who could stress out so much over a casual touch football game.  Her indifference to his frustration only seemed to make it worse, and when the next play started, she took a step back, ball in hand, looking for an open pass when she saw Jack sprinting straight for her.  She planted her feet, bending her knees, knowing she was about to get pummeled and there wasn’t enough time to get out of the way.

 

Something blurred in front of her eyes just as she was bracing herself for impact, and then Jack was laid out flat on the ground in front of her, groaning.

 

“Oh hey sorry man, I think I caught you with my elbow there. Are you alright?” Steve said, bending over to offer Jack help standing up.  Jack shoved his hand aside.

 

“You did that on purpose!” he yelled.

 

“And you were just about to tackle Darcy. Again, man.  What the hell?” Terry demanded as he ran up to them. The play had stopped and everyone was standing around, gawking at the commotion.  “What is your problem?”

 

“I don’t think we should have to hold back because you let a girl play with us,” Jack muttered, pinching his bleeding nose.

 

“Are you seven years old? If you want to play rough, join a contact league, dude. No one else has a problem here but you,” Darcy shot back, fed up.  She checked her watch. “Alright dudes, today has been super fun , especially the part where this asshole got his face smashed, but I’ve had my fill of bullshit for the day. See you all next week.”

 

She grabbed her bag from the sidelines and stormed off.  Steve ran up behind her, calling her name.

 

“What the hell, Steve? You didn’t need to elbow the guy!” she shouted at him when he caught up to her.  His eyebrows shot up in surprise.

 

“I should have let him smash into the ground?” he demanded. His voice was calm, but she could tell he was agitated.  “He’s three times your size.”

 

“I don’t need someone to protect me, not when we’re just playing a game.  Why did you even come this week?”

 

“I wanted to play,” he said, looking away.

 

“You are such a terrible liar. Like, seriously, you’re so good at so many things, but lying just isn’t a skill for you.  So, please be straight with me. It’s because of what happened last week. You thought someone should be here to look out for me.”

 

“I know you can look out for yourself, you don’t need anyone else to do it for you,” Steve said adamantly.  Darcy softened a little bit. “ But .”

 

“No, don’t add a ‘but’, you were doing so well,” she groaned, her head in her hands.  Steve chuckled, taking her gym bag off her shoulder and slinging it over his own.

 

But… It doesn’t mean someone else can’t, you know.  Look after you. From time to time,” he said, falling into step beside her as they started walking the five blocks back to the apartment.  “Besides, isn’t this what roommates are for? What is it you’re always calling it?”

 

“Bro Code.  I suppose it’s total Bro Code,” Darcy conceded.

 

“Totally.  Some big bully picks on your bro, you get to step in and help ‘em out,” Steve said.  Darcy felt a strange prickling in her stomach at this, and looked up at him.

 

“Is that what I am, Steve? Your bro?” she asked, her voice soft.  He smiled down at her fondly and threw an arm over her shoulder, pulling her close.  She felt her heart drop.

 

“My best bro.”

 

It should have made her feel amazing.  Who wouldn’t want to be Steve Rogers’ “best bro”?  But she didn’t. She just felt like crying. 

 

***

 

The problem with working with so many covert agent-types was that they were an extremely observant bunch.  Even the brand new Baby Agents, who were still basically on training wheels, could observe someone for a day and work out their routine.

 

And that, Darcy assumed bitterly, was how Nate had managed to corner her in the hallway the week after he’d abruptly left her in a bar. Darcy usually swung by the mailroom on her way to pick up cappuccinos for her and Jane after lunch, and he was perched by the door, waiting for her.

 

“What do you want?” she snapped.  He hadn’t tried to call, hadn’t texted, sent an email - nothing at all to explain why he ditched her in a bar with strangers.

 

“I’m sorry. About what happened, I mean,” he said with an awkward shrug.  He shifted his eyes around, scanning the rest of the hallway to make sure they don’t have an audience.  She stared at him, as if mulling over his half-assed apology.

 

“Give me back my glasses,” she demanded before moving past him.

 

“Lewis, let me explain,” he called, pleadingly, but she ignored him.  But then he followed, grabbing her arm and pulling her to the side. She twisted away.

 

“Darcy, listen.  You show up, looking like fucking bombshell, intimidating the shit out of everyone - not that I’m complaining of course, I highly encourage you to look like a bombshell whenever the mood strikes you, but I want to get it on the record that I thought you looked amazing.  But then, you call me out in front of Sam freaking Wilson. I mean, the man is an actual legend and you embarrassed me. I was pissed!” he hissed, moving in closing, backing her against a wall.

 

“You embarrassed yourself!  You talk out of turn, potentially endangering someone I consider a friend with your stupidity… And then you act like an even bigger ass by ditching me in a bar.  I am the one who is pissed off,” she cried, pushing him out of her space. “I want my glasses back. You can messenger them to my lab.”

 

“Didn’t you hear the part where I said you looked amazing?” Nate asked.  Darcy looked away with a muffled laugh, exasperated. He sensed his opening and attacked, a full-on charm offensive.  “Come one, Lewis. You know you want to give me a second chance. Just you and me - no bullshit.”

 

“I don’t believe that is possible,” Darcy replied, crossing her arms, warding off his attempts to break her down.  His hand touches her hip and she meets his eyes.

 

“Your glasses insist.  They miss you.”

 

“Really?  This is the kind of material you’re coming at me with?” she demanded, sarcastically. “By saying yes, I’d be basically taking pity on your pathetic lack of wit.”

 

“I knew I’d convince you. Text me sometime.”

 

“Text you? What do you think I’d be texting you for, a booty call?” Darcy asked lightly, amused by his daring.  “No way, friend. You want to make it up to me, you owe me a proper date.”

 

“Oh yeah? How proper? Do we need a chaperone?” he asked, eyebrows lifting suggestively. She scoffs and pushes him away.

 

“Ew. No, I just mean you’ll show up when you say you will, you won’t ditch me to meet at the bar because you won’t wait ten more minutes for me, you’ll ask me what I want to drink, and you say goodbye when you are ready to leave,” Darcy listed.  “This is like, Dating 101. If you don’t think you can handle it…”

 

“Oh, I know I can handle it.  Let’s do this, Lewis. Say, Thursday at nine,” he said.  “But the other thing wouldn’t be such a bad idea either, you know.” 

 

“I am not booty-calling you!” Darcy called after him as he sauntered away from her down the hallway.

 

“If you change your mind, you can text me any time!”

Chapter Text

Darcy is pretty exhausted the next night when she finally arrives at the apartment, hours past her usual time.  The day had been akin to a perfect storm. No new interesting astronomical phenomena has been captured by Jane’s instruments, leaving her testy and irritated a few hours before Darcy had to get her ready to speak at an academic conference in Midtown.  There had been a small explosion in Dr Banner’s lab that she had to deal with, making her late to ferrying Jane into a cab. Traffic had been horrible due to the rain, Jane wanted a number of revisions made to her presentation last minute and Darcy had forgotten her laptop.

 

By the time she got her there, handed Jane her newly proof-read speaking notes and made sure she made it to the podium and through the whole presentation, Darcy had a splitting headache and a strong desire to dive deep into her bed’s duvet for a few hours, only emerging to convince Steve to order Chinese food with her.

 

As she slowly walked up the four flights of stairs to their apartment, she heard a familiar voice speaking quietly, which was followed by a light laugh.  Darcy slowed down, and peered around the corner.

 

Steve was standing in front of their front door, unlocking the it while speaking to an extremely beautiful blond woman Darcy hadn’t seen before. She was tall, thin and wearing fantastic trench coat and pencil skirt.  In short, she looked like everything Darcy felt she wasn’t. His date leaned against the door frame and was gazing up at Steve as she laughed at whatever he was saying to her. She was definitely into him.

 

Darcy pressed her body against the wall, her heart beat slamming into her chest.  This was clearly the end of a date, and Darcy was once again showing up at an inopportune moment to bust in and ruin it.  


But curiosity got the better of her, and she peeked around the corner, knowing full well that she was officially spying on her good friend and roommate while he tried to put the moves on another woman.

 

Steve had paused in unlocking the door, and smiling at something she said, he reached out, cupping her face in both her hands before leaning into kiss her.  Darcy watched from her concealed spot around the corner, feeling her face burn as she is painfully aware that she should just turn around and leave, but she can’t make herself move.

 

The woman wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him close against her body and Steve responded , pressing her against the doorframe as he deepened the kiss, his hands moving to her waist as if he needs to feel her body against his.  Feeling hot and prickly all over for reasons she doesn’t fully understand, one clear through breaks through the cloud in her brain. Jesus, Steve really seems like a good kisser.

 

He pulled away, giving his date a charmingly bashful smile, and unlocked the door. Swinging it open, he took her hand and pulled her inside.  Darcy heard it click shut, and slumped against the wall, unsure what to do now. There were some definite ‘third date come to my place to make out and maybe more’ vibes to the whole scene she’d just witnessed, 

 

The hot and prickling feeling hadn’t subsided, and was now joined by a tight grip of anxiety that had wrapped around her stomach, making her feel vaguely nauseous.  The last time she remembered feeling that way was in eleventh grade, when she’d witnessed her years-long unrequited crush make out with Darcy’s best friend at the homecoming dance.

 

Darcy pulled out her phone, and made a decision that part of her brain knew was a truly terrible one.

 

***

 

When Nate meets her at the pub down the street from his condo ninety minutes later, she is seated at the bar with three empty shot glasses in front of her.  She’d bought one herself, the other two had been courtesy of the investment banker types hovering nearby, attempting to catch her attention. She was irresistible tonight.

 

“I knew you’d text me eventually, but I figured you were going to make me wait it out a bit longer before I got the booty call,” he said softly, his breath hot against her ear as he slips his arm around her waist.  “Getting the party started without me?”

 

“Important fact - I am the party, Nate.  It starts when I arrive,” she said, turning to face him.  She is feeling impatient, restless, and all kinds of reckless.  

 

“Could we have two more shots please?” she called to the bartender.

 

“What are we drinking, Lewis?” asked Nate.  He didn’t sit down next to her, chose instead to remain standing, his hands brushing her hair back behind her shoulder, his fingers lingering at her neck. 

 

“Tequila.”

 

“Tequila is nothing but trouble,” he said as he leaned in closer to her.  Touching her face, he tilted her head up towards him. “Are you in the mood for trouble, Lewis?”

Tequila makes her feel sexy, powerful in her own body. Especially after three shots.  She bit her lip and stared at him as she decided how to answer. 

 

So much trouble.”

 

He put something down on the bar as their shots were poured. 

 

“Thought you might want those back.”  Her glasses. She threw back the contents of one of the shot glasses, letting the alcohol burn down her throat. Nate watched, his eyes glassy as he smiled at her with what Darcy imagined he thought was his very sexy grin. He wanted her, and in that moment, the one thing Darcy needed most was to feel wanted.

 

She reached out and grabbed him by one of his belt loops, pulling him closer to her as she settled her legs around him, looking up at him. She knew her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were bright and fueled by the warmth of the alcohol. With his eyes practically devouring her, she felt undeniably sexy.

 

“Why don’t you give those back to me tomorrow morning instead?”

Chapter Text

Darcy kicked off her shoes, carrying them with her, as she quietly unlocked the door to let herself into the apartment very early the next morning.  She wanted the coldest glass of water she could find, to peel off the dry contacts that were burning her eyes and sink into her own bed for a few hours before she had to drag herself to Jane’s lab.

 

What she did not want was to run into Steve’s overnight guest as she tried to make a quiet exit from the apartment.  But that was exactly what happened as Darcy entered the dark living room and nearly jumped out of her skin when she spotted the tall dark shadow moving soundlessly towards the front door.

 

The woman froze, staring at Darcy like she’d just been busted committing a huge crime.  They stared at each other, not quite sure how to proceed from there.

 

“Darcy. Roommate. Just getting in,” she whispered, and then waved towards the door.  “As you were. Although I should warn you, Steve’s not the kind of guy who will appreciate you taking off without giving him the chance to walk you to the door or get you a cab.”

 

“I have a flight to catch. I told him I would try not to wake him up when I left,” she explained with a tight smile.  “Can we… I mean, if we run into each other again, can we pretend this didn’t happen?”

 

“I think that would be a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Darcy said with a touch of gratitude.  “Do you need an Uber? There aren’t a lot of cabs around here at this time.”

 

“Thanks but I’ll take care of it.  See you around,” she said as she opened the door and left.

 

Darcy put down her bag and shoes as quietly as she could, and walked to the kitchen. After pouring a glass of water, she opened the freezer, finding the ice tray by feel as she didn’t want to turn on a light.  As she cracked the tray and dropped a few cubes into her glass of water, one came loose and clattered to the ground.

 

“Leslie?”

 

A crack of light filled the hallway was the door to Steve’s room opened, and he sauntered out, rubbing sleep from his eyes.  He was shirtless, wearing only his boxers. Darcy leaned back against the counter, watching him as she took a long drink of water, her eyebrows raised.

 

“Did you lose someone?” she asked.

 

“Jesus Darcy, I didn’t see you there,” he said, startled as he spotted her leaning against the kitchen island.

 

“Steven, I thought we had a rule in this household about pants,” she said, forcing her voice to be light and teasing.  Her head was pounding.

 

“Are you just getting in?” Steve asked, leaning beside her over the counter, smoothly taking the glass of water from her hands and stealing a sip.  “What kept you out so late, young lady?”

 

“Well Steven , I imagine the same thing that has you up so early this morning,” Darcy said, shooting him a knowing sideways glance.

 

“Funny, I didn’t picture you as the type,” he said.

 

“Type for what?” Darcy demanded, grabbing back her glass of water.

 

“To get up at 5 a.m. for a 12-mile run,” he said with a teasing grin. “ That is why I”m up so early.”

 

“Such a liar,” Darcy laughed.  “I’m going to bed.”

 

“You mean back to bed, right?”

 

“Shut up Steve.”

 

***

 

One night stands didn’t usually leave her feeling like this.  Not that she made a habit of them, either, but every once in awhile, you met a guy at a party or while you’re out at the bar, and chemistry takes over.  Usually it was a fun little adventure she’d laugh about with her girlfriends over brunch. She would typically exchange a few polite texts the following days, just to be friendly, but with no real expectations of any follow ups.  She knew and he knew exactly what to expect.

 

But she felt very strange after her night with Nate.  Maybe because it wasn’t a cut-and-dry one night stand. She was bound to run into Nate again at some point.  And there was nothing fun to giggle about with her girlfriends. Drunken mediocre sex motivated entirely because she saw her stupidly hot roommate making out with someone else didn’t check any boxes in the “Fun Brunch Topics” checklist. 

 

Sex with a stranger didn’t bother her. Sex without emotions didn’t bother her either.  But her motivations for seeking him out, how she felt when she made the phone call… that was lingering around her like a shroud of anxiety.

 

Darcy managed to catch a few hours’ sleep in her own bed before she dragged her hung-over body into the shower.  Her shower was far too long and far too hot, but it felt really good to scrub last night’s make-up off her face and slather her body with fruity body wash.

 

After, she threw her wet hair into top knot and put on soft jeans and a worn Culver hoodie, and discovered Steve eating cereal in the kitchen.  He nudged a bowl in her direction.

 

“Did you make me breakfast?” she asked with a wide smile.

 

“I poured cereal into a bowl and coffee into a travel mug,” he said with an easy shrug.  “Does that count?”

 

“Only if it means you don’t expect me to return the favour any time soon,” she said, splashing some milk into the bowl and digging in.

 

“So… how was your night?” he asked, glancing sideways at her.  She could tell he was aiming for casual, but there was a hint of concern in his tone that grated at her, and she felt a bit defensive.  “Shall we Debrief?”

 

After he’d first moved in and was still quiet and kind of introverted around her, she’d tried a bunch of different ways to break the ice, to get him accustomed to her no-filter way of living. She had been in the midst of a pretty big Tinder phase, figuring at the very least it was a way to meet new people and explore new places in the city.  The first time she’d come home after a terrible date, agitated and fuming mad, he’d asked her how her night had been, in his polite “hey you’re my buddy” kind of way, and she’d unleashed a rant about the rude obnoxious man she’d just had a drink with.

 

He’d been equally amused and horrified as she retold the events of the night, embellishing the way her date had stared openly at her cleavage and offered to pay for her drink since he thought he was going to get “lucky”. 

 

After that, he seemed to be always around when she arrived home and the tradition of the Debrief began. He’d always asked how her night had been, and she’d always given him an exaggerated report of how her date had gone.  Laughing with him about them had somehow became the best part of her dates, and she eventually left Tinder behind, preferring to just hang out with Steve.

 

She shrugged at his question, really not wanting to get into the details with him.  She thought quickly for a way to deflect.

 

“Maybe I should be asking you that question, Steve-o.  How was your night?” she asked wickedly, and he chuckled and gave her a shrug. she decided to go for the obvious double entendre. “Certainly seems like you already had quite the Debriefing of your own!”

 

“Not much more to say other than it was pretty great,” he answered, looking away, slightly bashful.  Darcy’s stomach twisted a bit, but she did what he would have done if it were the other way around, and held up her hand for a high five, like any best bro would.

 

“How’d you two kids meet?” she asked, bumping his hip with hers, faking genuine interest as best as she could.

 

“Ahh well… that app you showed me? The one with the swiping?” he says with a bit of a grimace followed by a shrug, like he’s embarrassed.  “Thought I’d give it a shot.”

 

“Great, that’s so great,” she said stiffly. Her head was still pounding. Her perfect roommate was on Tinder and she knew, she just knew, some nice, beautiful, ambitious woman was going to snap him up like he was an ice-cold, freshly made green juice and she just got out of hot yoga. Perfect

 

***

 

Darcy hid herself in the area the HR team liked to call the “flexible work space” but that Darcy often referred to as “the Murder Library”.  It was usually empty, filled with giant mahogany bookshelves and large oak tables, and had a few dusty-looking couches in dark corners. It would actually have been cozy, but Darcy never saw anyone there, it was on one of the highest floors in the building yet had no windows and had these giant heavy passcode-operated doors, she always felt it was the perfect space to set a gruesome slasher film muder scene.

 

It was also her favourite place to steal a nap.

 

Jane had taken one look at her pale face and dark circles, and banished her from the lab, grumbling that Darcy needed to learn how to “adult” better. So Darcy grabbed some paperwork and her laptop and retreated to the quietest place she could find so she could wait out the day alone.

 

Also, it was a variation to her normal routine, which means a certain covert-agent type would be unlikely to find her.  She was not ready to deal with the awkward work place run-in yet, and was banking on the fact that he was a Baby Agent who really didn’t know as much as he thought he did, and therefore wouldn’t come looking for her in the Murder Library.

 

No, instead Nate had another plan, one that she really didn’t see coming.

 

It was late in the afternoon when Darcy finally gave into the Hangover Demon’s demand that she stop trying to be productive.  She stretched out on the sofa in the dark back corner with her eyes closed, letting the quiet wash over her, the only sound in the room the pounding of her head.  She really needed to never drink tequila ever again.

 

She frowned and cracked one eye open when she heard footsteps nearby.  No one ever came up here. She shifted, rolling over so she could see who it was.

 

It was Steve, dressed in that black henley shirt that made him look ridiculously attractive, and wearing his Serious Face.

 

“Hey roomie,” she said.  He pressed a cold bottle of water into her hands and sat down on the coffee table in front of her as she sat up. “What brings you to my lair?”

 

“Jane said I could probably find you here,” he answered and nodded towards the bottle as she cracked it open.  “And said I should bring you something hydrating.”

 

“She wasn’t wrong about that,” Darcy said after she took a large sip of the water.  It was very cold, and she could feel it trickle all the way down as she swallowed. “Well this is a first, you’ve never come to visit me at work before.”

 

“Yeah, I had no idea where to even find the labs,” he chuckled.  “I must have been stopped about fifteen times to swipe my access card, had no idea the security was so tight down there.”

 

“We are meddling with the laws of astrophysics, it’s probably best to keep that all under lock and key and high-level clearance,” she shrugged.  “What made you come looking for me?”

 

He hesitated, as he if were carefully mulling over his words before speaking.

 

“I just wanted to check on you.  You seemed like you weren’t in top form this morning,” he said with a shrug, but his movement was stiff and he wasn’t meeting her eyes.  She gave him a searching look, staring at him until he looked away, uncomfortable.

 

“Oh, you are lying to me, Steven Rogers. Something is up. Spit it out, soldier,” she demanded.

 

“It was just some… talk among the group of agents I was training today,” he said, a hint of anger in his voice.  “I didn’t like what they were saying.”

 

Darcy had the type of body that a lot of men stared at, lusted over.  The type that made them assume a lot of things about her character, intelligence and behaviour, and seemed to make them feel free to share those assumptions with others. She generally stopped caring about all the things they whispered about her back in high school, but knowing they were saying this tO Steve… that stung. What he thought of her mattered a lot. 

 

She frowned and pressed her fingers into her temples, massaging, preparing herself for what she knew was coming next.

 

“You didn’t like what they were saying… about me?” she asked. He nodded slowly.

 

“And I… probably made it worse?” he said with an apologetic tone.

 

“Oh, I don’t think either of us are to blame in this little scenario,” she said bitterly.  “But alright. Confess, if you must. What did you and that big noble heart of yours do to make things worse?”

 

“Well, just what any decent guy would do when people are talking crap about a lady. I told them to stuff it,” Steve spat out, clearly still angry.  She smiled, she couldn’t help herself. What did it matter what a jackass is saying about her when his big noble heart would defend her without a second thought?  She had to blink hard a few times, her eyes burning as they misted over, but she held it together. 

 

“Well thanks for defending my honour, Steve-o,” she said when she was able to speak again. “Not necessary, but appreciated. I don’t see how that could make things worse, though?”

 

Steve hesitated and then shrugged it off.

 

“I guess Agent Phillips - Nate - didn’t realize we were roommates until I opened my big mouth.  Anyway, after the training session, in front of all the other guys, he asked me if I could give these back to you.” 

 

He pulled something from his pocket, and she wanted to die of embarrassment as he set her glasses down on the coffee table.  “Nate said you forgot them at his place when you left… this morning.”

 

“Oh my god, he is such an asshole,” she groaned, closing her eyes and dropping her head into her hands. “An unbelievable, next-level asshole.”

 

“Okay, yes , he is!” Steve declared, his voice full of relief, the concern on his face seeming to melt away. “I didn’t think - well, I was worried you didn’t see it.”

 

“What, you think I can’t recognize an asshole when I see one?  That’s never the problem, Steve,” she said wryly. “I think, if we examine this situation closely, we will find that I have what scientists have labelled Perpetually Terrible Judgment.”

 

“After what he did at the bar last week, I don’t understand why you’d see him again,” Steve muttered, looking away.  Darcy perked up.

 

“Wait, how do you know about that?”

 

“Sam.  He texted,” Steve said with a shrug.  A few things clicked into place in her mind.

 

“Is that why you showed up?” she asked, her voice soft and quiet as she fought down the butterflies rioting in her stomach. “I thought it was weird, you at a bar .”

 

“It’s not that weird. But, yeah. I wasn’t going to just let some jerk ditch my best girl,” he said with a fond smile. His blue-blue eyes locked on to hers and her throat felt tight, like it did when she was about to start crying and she was trying really hard to stop it.  She looked away.

 

Best girl . She exhaled, giving herself a moment to digest his words.

 

“Best bro, you mean. I’m your best bro ,” she said, nudging his shoulder with her fist playfully. “You gave me that title, remember? You can’t take it back now.”

 

“I think I’ll reserve the right to take it back anytime I want to,” he said with a loaded look that she couldn’t quite make out. “Besides, Sam is workin’ pretty hard to edge you out.  You’ve got competition now.”

 

“I will crush him, Steven. Sam’s a good guy and all, but he’s got nothing on me,” she declared.  She jumped up, grabbing her bag and starting to stuff her papers and laptop inside. “Now. Your bro is in desperate need of spicy noodles to knock out the last of this hangover. Are you in?”

 

“Sure, that sounds good.”  He stood up, picked up her bag while ignoring her grunt of protest, and lead her out into the hallway.  And stood beside her in the elevator and glared at the junior agent, one she recognized from Nate’s table during the disastrous night at the bar, who gave her a lecherous smirk when he saw them.  Steve took a few steps closer to her, his hand brushing the small of her back as he glared, stone faced, until the agent turned red and looked away.

 

Big noble heart, indeed.

Chapter Text

 

When Darcy arrived home, Steve was sitting in the comfortable worn leather chair they kept by the window, that Darcy graciously referred to as “the study”.  She figured she’d stolen the chair from her father’s study, so it was apt.

 

He was staring out the window, looking rather pensive.  He said hello as she dropped her keys on the counter and slung her bag off her shoulder, letting it drop to the floor with a thump, but then turned straight back to continue to stare.

 

“Didn’t expect to see you home so early,” she commented.  

 

Steve had taken to Tinder like a champ, it had been a few weeks of seeing him come and go from one date to another.  Which has been super fun for Darcy, trying to balance feeling jealous with the rational part of her brain that was telling her this was a good thing.  She needed some distance, given her over-the-top, unhealthy reaction the last time he brought a girl home.

 

“What’s put a pause on the Tinder parade?”

 

“Just needed a break,” he said with a shrug, eyes still locked on the window.  She paused in sifting through the pile of mail she had been ignoring, and took a good look at him.

 

Her roommate was brooding.  Something was up.

 

“Steve?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“What’s up, buttercup? You seem upset,” she said, dropping onto the footstool in front of him.  He smiled weakly at her, and kind of shook his head.

 

“Just a bad day.”

 

“Wanna tell me about it?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“Alright. Want me to leave you alone?”

 

He gave her that wan smile again, and her concern spiked.

 

“Yeah, if that’s okay?” he asked apologetically. 

 

“Yeah, it’s cool. Wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t.  But if you change your mind, I’m just down the hall,” she said, standing up.  She grabbed her phone and entered her bedroom, and flopped down on her bed.

 

She tried to concentrate on what was trending on Twitter, but it was very difficult.  Her mind was down the hall with Steve, staring at the grey November sky. She wanted to go back and do whatever she could to help him shake it off, but he’d told her what he needed.  Space. And that was hard .

 

Twenty minutes later, she heard a tap on her door.

 

“Okay, I’m finished being alone,” Steve said, as he entered her room and stretched out on her bed beside her, lying on his back.  Darcy put her phone to the side and rolled to face him, resting her head on his outstretched arm.

 

“What happened? Tell Darcy all about the horrible no good very bad day,” she said, her voice light.  “Unless something really bad happened, in which case, we’re going to forget I just said that, and pretend I just asked you about your bad day in a normal way.”

 

“I… I think I’ve been a real jerk,” he said, and his tone was so serious, she had to laugh in surprise.

 

“Okay, you’re going to have to explain that one a bit more, Steve. I’ve known a lot of jerks in my time, and I definitely wouldn’t count you as one.”

 

“I couldn’t remember her name,” he said, his voice low, tinged with embarrassment. 

 

“Whose name?” Darcy prompted gently, trying not to smile.

 

“The woman, my… uh, overnight guest from a few weeks ago? I ran into her in the coffee shop this morning, and I… I couldn’t remember her name.”

 

“Oh Steve,” Darcy sighed and then bit her lip to keep herself from saying anything more.  They lay in silence for a few moments. “It was Leslie. I ran into her on her way out that morning.”

 

“Leslie,” Steve repeated with a groan.  “It was so awkward, and I just stood there, staring at her, feeling like a complete jerk.”

 

“It happens,” Darcy said with a shrug. “I mean, it’s not exactly amazing ‘good guy’ behaviour, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.  Wait, hold on… Did you promise to call her?”

 

“I did call her.  She didn’t answer, and didn’t call me back,” he said.  “I even texted, because you’re always telling me no one actually uses their phones to talk anymore.”

 

“What? Are you kidding me?  She ghosted you?” Darcy cried, sitting up.  “You called her - on the phone - and she didn’t call you back or return your texts? Okay, I am calling it. You are definitely not the asshole in this situation.”

 

“I didn’t say asshole, I said jerk,” Steve muttered under his breath, making Darcy giggle.

 

“My judgement is that you are about 15% jerk, she is the rest.  I can’t believe she ghosted you. Unless… Steve…” she trailed off, narrowing her eyes at him playfully.  “Is it possible that you are… bad in bed ?”

 

“Darcy!” he protested, covering his face with his hands, and Darcy collapsed beside him, unable to keep herself from laughing.

 

“It’s the only thing I can think of! You are basically perfect in every other way, which means you must have some deep, hidden flaw.  If you think about it, it would only be fair. You can’t be all this ,” she said, gesturing over his body and handsome handsome face, “ and dynamite in the sack, that would be deeply unfair to the rest of human civilization.”

 

Steve rolled to face her, his blue eyes staring intently straight into hers.  She felt her face flush, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when he reached out and tucked her hair back off her face.

 

“Darcy. I’m not the kind of guy to brag about things that are private between two people.  So you’re just going to have to take my word on this,” he said, his voice deep and low, making her stomach flutter. Maybe she was hallucinating, but was he staring at her mouth? “ That ain’t it.

 

The words were like a lightning bolt straight through her body, igniting the overwhelming attraction she felt for him but generally managed to keep well buried most of the time.  She jumped up out of her bed, needing space between him and the intense way his eyes had been staring into hers, needing an outlet for the huge surge of nervous energy now pumping through her body.

 

“Okay, I guess that settles that question.  Now, have you had dinner?” she asked, practically bolting for the door.  “I was going to run out and pick up something from that place down the street. Do you want anything?”

 

She didn’t wait for him to answer, just walked straight out the door, barely remembering to pick up her keys and her purse, leaving her stupidly attractive roommate lying in her bed, looking after her with a bewildered and slightly amused expression on his face.

 

***

 

“So, let me ask you something,” Darcy said, a few hours later. She’d recovered her composure, managed to buy them dinner using her credit card app, thus saving her a humiliating return trip to their apartment to grab her wallet, and they were now lounging on the living room floor, boxes of takeout spread all over the coffee table.

 

“Sure,” he said between mouthfuls.

 

“I mean, I know you’ve been pretty enthusiastic about it, but the whole Tinder thing… You just… well, you don’t really seem like you’re in it for the hook-ups, you know?” Darcy said with a shrug.  “It’s like you’re allergic to hook-up culture, or like, don’t really understand the rules. And it bums you out. So why keep doing it?”

 

Steve was quiet for a moment.

 

“I thought it would help.  Coming home, everything has been different than I remembered.  It’s why I wanted a roommate to begin with. I could have taken a room at the Tower, but it just felt like this bubble. Same people, same experiences, same lifestyle.  I wanted to see more of what life is like here and now,” he explained. “And, I don’t know, you seemed to be having fun with it.”

 

“You mean all those times I came home, enraged and needing to vent to my roommate who is a decent human being and therefore the exact opposite of almost every Tinder date I had?” Darcy scoffed dismissively.  “Tinder is terrible .  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.” 

 

“I certainly don’t feel like it’s helped me get caught up on what I missed while I was… err, deployed,” he said, looking away, uncomfortable.  His obvious tell when he wasn’t tell the full truth. She had never met a man who was so uncomfortable with lies or half-truths.

 

“I know you can’t talk about what you did before you came home, Steve,” Darcy said gently.  “It’s cool. I get it, you don’t have to feel weird about avoiding the topic.”

 

“I was just searching for the right word,” he said, staring down at his food as he pushed it around with a fork.  “I was gone a long time. It’s been… a hard adjustment, getting used to life… well, life outside of a war zone, for starters.  I thought spending more time with… normal people, I guess? I thought it would help.”

 

“I’ve really led you astray with Tinder, Steve. It’s not the answer,” she said with a big smile while shaking her head. “Like, I couldn’t have picked a worse way for your re-acclimatize to civilian life if I tried.”

 

“Darcy, you’ve helped me more than you could know,” he said, his voice quiet.  She darted her eyes up to look at his face, and he was doing that staring thing again.  He reached out and placed his hand on top of hers, where it was resting on her knee, and she felt her heart start to pound.

 

“Too bad we couldn’t find you a few more Darcys out there in Tinder Land. You could have had an army of us helping you,” she said.  She could hear herself babbling and making no sense, but his hand on hers was sending a shock through her system and the system was breaking down.  “Unfortunately, there is only one of me.”

 

“I am well aware,” he said, shifting his body closer to hers and ducking his head down so he could meet her eyes. “I’ve got the real deal right here, why would I go looking anywhere else?”

 

He was so close and Darcy could hardly breath.  She was sitting there, staring up at him like a wide-eyed ingenue, unable to talk or form a coherent thought. Darcy wasn’t the type of girl who turned to mush when an incredibly handsome man leaned in too close, but this was exactly what was happening.  This is Steve. Just Steve. Your Steve. Act normal, for gods’ sake.

 

Before she could snap herself out of her frozen state, a barrage of pounding on the door interrupted them. She jumped, her body reacting to her state of high tension and the shock of the noise, and she banged her elbow on the coffee table. Steve was on his feet in the blink of an eye, already halfway towards the door.

 

“Stay there,” he ordered, sounding very protective which was doing things to Darcy’s insides as she watched him take a defensive stance before looking through the peephole. He sighed and then swung the door open.

 

“Hey there, Rogers. So glad you answered your door, as you definitely haven’t answered your phone in the past five hours,” a female voice scolded, deftly mixing terseness and friendliness into an effective combination.  Darcy was immediately convinced of her authority. “Grab your go bag, we’re wheels up just as soon as I can get you to the hangar.”

 

“Nat, this isn’t a good time,” Steve said.

 

“I know. But I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t need you,” she said, sounding apologetic.  She leaned inside, and Darcy caught a glimpse of an extremely beautiful redhead in a form-fitting tactical suit.  “Cute place.”

 

Darcy watched as she quickly scanned the room, and she had the feeling that in the two seconds since she’d spoken, she’d memorized most of the details of their apartment.  Then her eyes landed on Darcy, sitting on the floor surrounded by the mess of their takeout feast, and she was pretty sure she saw the other woman’s eyes light up at the sight of her.

 

“Cute roommate,” she said with a pointed look in Steve’s direction, and he just shook his head. Darcy waved, feeling a bit awkward and like there was a whole conversation happening between them without saying much and that Darcy didn’t understand. 

 

“Nat, this is Darcy.  Darcy, this is Natasha. We’re on the same team,” he said, and Darcy could tell he was a bit exasperated and impatient with the other woman.  “I’ll grab my bag.”

 

“I’ll stay here and have a chat with Darcy,” Natasha said, her voice promising mischief. “A little girl talk.”

 

“I’m not going to be gone long enough for that,” Steve warned, pointing at Natasha as he stepped away, and she laughed.

 

“Don’t worry Steve, I won’t make her tell me all your secrets,” she responded with an arched eyebrow.  “Except, I can’t help but feel like I’ve interrupted something.”

 

“Just an act of shameless gluttony between friends,” Darcy said, waving in the direction of the takeout boxes. 

 

Steve emerged from his room, a small leather duffle bag slung over his shoulder. 

 

“I’m ready,” he declared. Darcy looked down, but she could feel Natasha’s eyes on her. Like she did with the apartment, Darcy had the sense she the other woman had already observed and memorized everything about her.

 

“I’ll be downstairs,” Natasha announced, swiftly disappearing down the hall, leaving the door open. Darcy stood up, feeling a weird heavy weight in the room. 

 

“Not sure how long I’ll be gone,” Steve said, his voice quiet.

 

“I’ll do my best to keep your plants alive,” she offered. Another awkward silence. “Can I text you?”

 

Her voice was tight with emotion that she didn’t fully understand. She hated the way it sounded. 

 

“Of course. I might not be able to answer, but I will if I can.”

 

They were slowly moving closer to each other while they spoke. 

 

“But don’t worry if you don’t hear from me. It could just be a… you know, no contact situation,” he explained. Realizing in that moment that she had no idea what kind of situation Steve was about to head into, what he actually did, how dangerous it could be, the reality of it hit her like a slap to the face. 

 

She reached out, pulling him into a hug. Seized with an intense fear, understanding now, for the first time, that there was always a chance he might not come home, she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on tight. His arms were warm and strong around her, pressing her against his body, unlike any hug the two friends had ever shared before.

 

She pulled away after a few moments, knowing he had to go, that time was ticking. In a spontaneous act, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. 

 

“Be safe,” she whispered near his neck and she could feel him shudder slightly. He nodded.

 

“I always try,” he said, his eyes dark as they met hers. She smiled for him, a big wide one, trying to reassure him that she was going to be okay, even though she didn’t really understand why she felt she needed to. 

 

“And top up your data plan, I’m going to send you so many awesome memes, it’ll be like you never left home,” she promised. “I don’t want to hear you complaining about any overage charges this time.”

 

“Okay,” he said with a smile and soft laugh as he walked to the door.  “See ya, Darcy.”

 

“Bye Steve,” she said. The door clicked behind him and she walked over to lock it. Turning around, she looked around her apartment, and hated, in that moment, how empty it felt without him.

Chapter Text

11/15  - Dear absent roommate, Mr Johnson from the bakery down the street has stopped serving me the warm fresh croissants when I drop in on the weekends. Clearly this means he likes you best and will treat me like I’m a normal customer unless I bring you along. So, this fresh but not oven-fresh croissant is all on you, buddy.

 

11/22 - Hey Steve-o, come home and save me from my own cooking, it’s getting real bad. Pop tarts for dinner tonight, I know how much that would drive you crazy.

 

11/25 - Can we get a puppy?? Ran into a cute one at the park today, clearly a sign we should get a puppy.

 

11/27 - Okay, fine, we won’t get a puppy. Don’t worry,  I won’t do anything crazy while you’re away.

 

11/29 - But seriously, can we get a puppy? Look at this face.

 

11/30 - Okay, I take it back. I took the neighbor in 4E’s puppy for a walk and it threw up on my shoes. No puppy.

 

12/1 - I’d be perfectly happy to get my roommate back instead.

 

12/4 - Steve? Are you still alive?

 

12/5 - I’ve decided that, given your absenteeism as a roommate as of late, that I should list your room on Airbnb. I will use the extra income to subsidize the Postmates and Uber Eats I order when you vanish into thin air and I have to “cook” for myself. 

 

12/6 - So, on the off chance that you haven’t been able to answer me because something really crazy has gone down, I’d like to retract my last comment from this one-sided text chain as it could lead some to think I was being a jerk.

 

12/6 - I just miss my roommate.  This is the longest you’ve ever been gone.  I would like you to come home now, please.

 

12/9 - Steve! Check out this 100% EDIBLE pancake I just made entirely by myself! Aren’t you proud?  This independent, self-sufficient, modern woman has now conquered the kitchen and thus need never spend another moment cooking ever again...  Although I might be convinced to demonstrate my skills when you’re home.

 

12/10 - ... How much longer before I’m allowed to start worrying?

 

Darcy was in the lab with Jane, staring blankly at her laptop screen and tapping her pen against the desk.  She was trying to focus, but most of her attention was spent on willing her phone to buzz with a text message.

 

“Darcy, I can’t take much more of this.  Find something to do,” Jane muttered from her corner.  She had cracked open one of her devices with a screwdriver, looking to make a repair to the sensitive equipment.  “Or just go home.”

 

“I don’t want to go home,” Darcy sighed.  “It’s worse there. Can we test again? To make sure my text messages are going through?”

 

“Darcy, we’ve done it every day for 25 days now. Yes, your phone is still working. Your text messages are going through.  He just hasn’t answered,” Jane said, not unkindly.

 

Darcy picked up her phone, scrolling through the chain of unanswered messages again, looking for a read receipt on any of them.  Nothing.

 

“If you just let me check the news,” Darcy said, popping up from her desk. Jane had the building’s AI block Darcy’s computer and phone from accessing news sites after Darcy had mainlined almost 24 hours of CNN and BBC World in an effort to figure out where her missing roommate might have gone.

 

“No news. Data entry,” she said, as her device started sparking as she tested it with a voltage metre.  “Remember when you used to find it soothing, to enter data?”

 

“That was 15 days ago,” Darcy muttered.  “Why do I feel like I am going crazy ?  He’s been gone before with no word.”

 

“You weren’t in love with him back then,” Jane said casually, and Darcy felt her stomach twist.  Jane was so straight forward in how she said it, as if this were a well-known fact about Darcy. “What? Don’t look at me like that. That’s obviously the variable that’s changed.”

 

“Jane. Just… please don’t go there,” Darcy pleaded.

 

“Fine. But at some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with how you feel about him and be honest with yourself… and him.”

 

“And lose him? Sure, great strategy,” Darcy said, her voice bitter as she turned away from her boss and friend.  She slumped down in her desk chair, picking up her pen to start tapping it again while she stared at her phone.

 

“Darcy, I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way you decided that he’s too good for you or that you’re not good enough for him,” Jane said quietly.  “That just isn’t true.”

 

“It feels true,” Darcy answered.  “I’m just his buddy, Jane.  It took me a tequila bender and an embarrassingly ill-advised hookup with a jerk to really process that, but I have now and… it’s just the way it is.”

 

“Darcy…”

 

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she said, her voice firm.  “I’m sorry, I won’t distract you anymore.”

 

Whatever else Jane was going to say, Darcy never heard, because the screen of her phone lit up. Steve was calling.

 

“Well hello stranger,” she said when she answered, trying to keep her voice sounding normal even as her stomach erupted into butterflies.  “Are you finally back in civilization?”

 

“Darcy? It’s Sam, Sam Wilson,” the voice on the other end of the line said.  It felt like Darcy’s heart had tumbled out of her chest, landing somewhere near her feet.  “Don’t worry. Everything is fine.”

 

“Is it though? I don’t think you’d be calling me from Steve’s phone if everything was fine,” she answered, rising panic making her fingers start to tremble.  

 

“I grabbed his phone and saw some of your messages and thought I should call.  Steve is fine , really,” he said.  Darcy held her breath and waited for the other shoe to drop.  “He just got banged up a bit.”

 

“How much is a bit?” she asked. Her voice sounded faint.  Jane had put down her tools and was standing at her work bench, looking poised to run over to Darcy if she needed her. She shook her head at her.  “What do you mean by ‘banged up’?”

 

“Nothing to be worried about. Darcy, I promise.  We’re all home, and he’ll be fine. The docs want him to stay a few nights in the medical wing, just to keep an eye on him, but that is it,” Sam said.  “You’ll have your roommate back in a day or two.”

 

“A day or two?” she repeated.

 

“Three at most,” he said.  A giant rush of air seemed to be escaping from her lungs, and Darcy realized she’d been holding her breath.  Her knees suddenly felt a bit weak.

 

“Which medical wing?” she asked, pulling up the building directory on her laptop.

 

“Level 89,” he answered, and Darcy could hear the apology in his voice.  Darcy didn’t have the security clearance for that level. Very few people did.

 

“Oh. Okay.  I guess I’ll see him when he’s… better? Done being observed?” she said.  “Thanks for calling, Sam. That was really nice of you.”

 

“Anything for a friend of Steve’s,” he said.  She hung up the phone and stared at the screen in front of her, the schematic of the Tower and the various access levels needed to enter certain parts.

 

A friend of Steve’s . What would a friend of Steve’s do in this situation?

 

Darcy checked over her shoulder. Jane was back to operating on her instruments, tools in hand.  Darcy pulled out her security badge, studying it. After tapping it against the desk for a moment, she pulled up a program on her laptop and got to work, finally able to focus.

 

***

 

She held her breath for a second as she flashed her security badge in front of the electronic reader by the door, and released it in a rush as the light turned green and she heard the magnetic lock click open.  It worked .

 

Darcy walked in, trying to act like she knew where she was going and that she belonged.  A few people in white lab coats walked past her, and she nodded, faking an air of authority and walking briskly down the hall, even though she had no idea where she was going.

 

And her heart nearly stopped when she spotted Sam walking towards her, alongside another man.  They were deep in discussion, and Darcy stared straight ahead, trying to avoid his notice.

 

But that was obviously destined for failure.  She could tell the instant Sam recognized her, his eyebrow arching in surprise, his eyes locking onto hers with a questioning look. To his credit, he barely paused in what he was saying, and all Darcy could do is smile sheepishly at him as he passed.

 

Thirty seconds later, her phone buzzed in her pocket.

 

Room 302, down the hall and to the left.

 

Sam really is Steve’s best bro , Darcy thought to herself.  He deserves the title, not me.

 

She crept down the hall until she spotted the room number.  The door was open, and the sound of laughter was echoing through the hall as she approached.

 

The small space was crowded with five or six people, all with their backs to the door. She spotted the redhead, Natasha, who’d appeared at their apartment to take Steve away. She scanned the room as she crept inside, hovering near the back of the small crowd.

 

Steve was sitting upright on the bed, shirtless, wincing slightly as a medic tended to a deep gash across his forehead, but he was focused on what someone else was saying, a good natured smile on his face even as he flinched away from the sting of the antiseptic.

 

“I don’t see why you couldn’t just stick a bandaid on it and call it a day,” one of the guys near the bed said.

 

“Bandaid wouldn’t do much for the bullet hole,” Natasha said, her voice tinged with exasperation.  “Or the concussion.”

 

“Well sure, if you want to be dramatic about it,” the other guy said, and Steve rolled his eyes, laughing.  

 

Darcy stood near the door, trying to make herself small and unnoticeable, feeling deeply out of place.  She and Steve had a kind of understanding about work - they never really talked much about it. It was unspoken, that there was a line between their home life in the apartment and their work life at the Tower, and it was very rare that the line was crossed. And here Darcy was, violating it in a rather spectacular kind of way.

 

Steve looked, from what she could tell, exactly as Sam had promised.  A little banged up but ultimately fine. The gash across his head looked scary, especially as it was still bleeding, and the way he was holding his side and groaning when he laughed worried her, Natasha’s offhand comment about a bullet hole echoing in her head.  But overall, he was sitting up and laughing with his colleagues, and the relief Darcy felt by seeing it with her own eyes was enormous.

 

He had a team, a group of people who cared about him, had his back.  Who hung around with him while a medic patched him back up after whatever it was that they were doing.  Steve had said that living with them would be like living in a bubble, but she wondered if living with her had become the bubble. She hadn’t ever heard of any of these people, and they were the first ones at his bedside while she had had to hack four different databases and override seventeen different security protocols, just to hover unnoticed at the back of his room.

 

Content that he was safe, and grateful that no one had spotted her, Darcy turned to slink back out of the room before she got busted by whoever it was that controlled who had access to what floors.

 

“Darcy?” Steve called, his voice resounding with shock. “Is that you?”

 

Busted.

 

She turned slowly, feeling all eyes in the room were on her.  She waved sheepishly.

 

“Hey roomie,” she drawled out slowly.  “Welcome home. Glad you’re all in one piece.”

 

“Wait, you are Lewis?” one of the guys asked, surprised.  She shrugged and nodded.

 

“What are you doing hiding back there?” Steve asked, amused.  The medic, by this time, had placed a bandage over Steve’s head wound and was tidying the mess.  Steve shifted himself to stretch out on the bed, laying back against the pillows with a groan. She stared at him, each of his movements were stiff and lacking the usual easy athletic grace he had, and concern gripped her stomach again.

 

“I was trying to be stealthy,” she declared.  “Way to ruin that for me, Steve-o.”

 

“Why would you need to be stealthy?” the guy who had been surprised to learn her identify asked.  “And, Steve, you never mentioned that Lewis was a woman.”

 

“Please, I am a lady ,” Darcy corrected with a sassy grin as she approached Steve’s beside.  “And I was being stealthy because I’m not technically supposed to be up here.”

 

Now that she was up close, she could see the thick bandages taped to his abdomen, a fresh circle of blood red in the centre.  She took a deep breath, forcing her fear down so she could try and keep up the light banter. Steve reached out with one hand and hooked a finger through hers, and smiled up at her from his reclined position on the bed.

 

“I’m fine,” he said quietly. She nodded, biting her lip.

 

“Seeing is believing,” she whispered back, squeezing his finger between hers.  

 

“How did you get up here?” the other guy questioned, sounding suspicious but not in a threatening way, more like he was curious.  “Level 89 is top level clearance only.”


“Rumlow, don’t interrogate my roommate,” Steve called, closing his eyes.

 

“I sort of overrode a few...dozen... security protocols on my access badge and swiped my way in,” Darcy responded slowly with a shrug.  “I mean, it took awhile to do, but it was pretty easy for anyone who has, like, a beginner level knowledge of hacking. Like, the labs have tighter security than the so-called ‘top level clearance only’ floors.”

 

“You hacked your way in?” Steve asked, sounding touched but also like he disapproved of her vigilante move.

 

“Hey, why don’t we all clear out and let Steve get that rest the doctor ordered?” Natasha suggested, herding the other men out of the room as they grumbled a goodbye.  Darcy waited until the sounds of their hushed conversation in the hallway faded away.

 

“Steven Rogers, regardless of consequences, we uphold all treasured traditions in our household,” she said.

 

“Committing low level treason because a friend needs to spend a night in medical?” Steve asked, eyebrow arched.  She reached into her bag and produced a small bakery box.

 

“When one of us gets knocked on the head, they get brownies.  Don’t dispute it, you’re the one that started the whole thing,” she said.  “Don’t worry, I didn’t bake them, I like you too much to celebrate you not dying by poisoning you. I got them from the good place four blocks over.”

 

“I wasn’t even close to dying, Darcy,” Steve said gently.  He took the package out of her hands and set it on the table next to the bed, the movement causing him to wince, even as he shifted to sit up straighter, to meet her eyes.

 

“The reference to a bullet hole would argue otherwise,” she muttered, looking away.  “Also, shouldn’t someone be offering you, like, some ice or painkillers for that giant headwound you’re sporting? Do I need to go flag someone down for you?”

 

“They’ve given me what they can.  Don’t go harassing anyone, you gotta keep a low profile up here,” Steve reminded her.

 

Right , low-level treason and all.  I should probably duck out before someone blows my cover...again,” she said, gesturing towards the door.  “Also, I left Jane unattended and she was taking out her blowtorch out of the cabinet, which is a whole other kind of low-level treason.”

 

“Or… you could stay for a bit longer?” he asked.  “Keep me company? I’ll cover for you if anyone comes to take you away.  I did just take a bullet for the cause.”

 

Even though he was joking, his casual reference to the fact that he had been shot made her chest feel very tight.  Her eyes drifted down the bandage around his midsection and she felt her eyes start to burn. She blinked, hard.

 

“Sure, I can totally stick around for a bit,” she breathed, the words coming out in a rush.  “And if you’re not going to eat it, I’m stealing that brownie.”

 

“Hey, I’m the one that got knocked on the head,” Steve protested weakly.  But his eyes were locked on hers and there was a certain look reflecting in his face, and she knew, she just knew , that he’d give her anything in that moment.  She just had to ask.

 

It was a terrifying thought on a day where she’d already had to battle too much fear.  So, she leaned in and pressed a very light kiss on his forehead, right on top of the clean bandage, her lips barely brushing against it.  She pulled away and paused for effect, holding her breath.

 

“Oh too bad , kissing it all better didn’t work,” she said with a shrug after a moment.  “Instead, you’re stuck with me giving you a recap of three weeks of internet memes you missed while you were away.”

 

“Yeah, too bad, I guess I am stuck with you,” he said, shifting over to make room for her on the bed, patting the space beside him.  She climbed in, gingerly avoiding jostling him, and pulled out her phone as he pulled her close to his side.

 

“So, here is what you’ve missed.”

Chapter Text

Steve stopped by the lab, dressed in his work out gear, causing Darcy to eye him carefully.  The gash on his head had almost completely healed and his bullet wound was doing fine, he claimed,, but Darcy wasn’t finished scolding him for pushing himself too hard.

 

“Where are you off to?” she asked, her eyes narrowing in suspicion as he leaned over her desk.  

 

“Going to get in a quick run. Doc cleared me this morning,” he said.  She stared at him, allowing silence to fill the moment.

 

“Okay.  I have trouble believing it, considering you were, I don’t know, shot , like five days ago, but whatever. I’ll trust the doctors and their cutting-edge medical technology, I guess ,” she sighed dramatically.  “What brings you down here? Not exactly the best place to squeeze in a work out.”

 

“Are you going to that holiday thing some of the agents are organizing tonight?” he asked.  She shrugged. She hadn’t really decided yet. She’d made a lot of friends among the various teams, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to socialize with Nate and his group of leering, smug Baby Agents quite yet.

 

“Not sure,” she muttered, her fingers picking at the paper sleeve on her coffee cup.

 

“Sam asked me to stop by for a bit,” Steve said.

 

“Ah, he’s enlisted you for babysitting duties?” Darcy asked, smiling up at Steve with an evil glint in her eye. “The Baby Agents too much for him to handle?”

 

“Something like that.  I thought we could go together - maybe get dinner first? Makes no sense to go all the way home just to turn around again,” Steve offered.  Darcy thought about it for a moment. She did need to start reclaiming some of her friendships with the agents, and start undoing the reputational damage her fling with Nate had caused.  Plus, a night hanging out with Steve and Sam was sure to be a good time..

 

As she worked out her decision in her head, she noticed Steve staring at her intently.  He seemed to be very interested in her answer to hanging out. 

 

“Sure, that sounds like a good plan. But I have one condition,” she said. Steve gave her a little playful suspicious face, squinting one eye and crinkling his nose in a way that made Darcy’s face feel warm as she tried not to think how adorable he was.

 

“What is that?”

 

“Tacos.”

 

“Why do you always want tacos?” he sighed, in that long-suffering-but-really-just-joking way he had.

 

“Because tacos are amazing. Get on board Steve-o!” she said, laughing. “If you tested my blood, my blood type would be tacos al pastor.”

 

“You eat an unhealthy amount of tacos!  Fine . We will get tacos. How about I meet you here and we’ll head out together?”

 

“Excellent plan.”

 

Darcy watched as Steve walked out of the lab, and noticed Jane staring at her with a fond smile on her face.

 

“What’s that look for?” 

 

“You are both such idiots,” Jane declared. “Oblivious, adorable idiots.  That’s all I’m going to say. It’s like watching a baby deer emerge from the forest - one sudden move or loud noise will scare it back into hiding.”

 

“I’m a baby deer?” Darcy asked, rolling her eyes. “Really?”

“Not you, your feelings. Your feelings are the baby deer.”

 

***

 

Darcy managed to pull herself together quite nicely before Steve came back to the lab to meet her, promptly on time.  Leggings, suede boots and a great white tunic sweater with a slouchy neckline hung off her left shoulder, which she’d managed to find at the little boutique where she normally bought her and Jane lunch. After tossing her hair up in a high bun, swiping on her usual red lipstick and readjusting her glasses, she was ready for a night out in Manhattan.

 

Steve had smiled when he saw her, and told her she looked nice, prompting a heavy sigh from Jane in her corner.  Darcy ignored her friend and boss (and the butterflies that swarmed in her stomach when he had smiled at her), and led Steve out, promising him a taco feast.

 

And now they were sitting across from each other, having just giggled their way through ordering such a large variety and quantity of tacos that the waitress had been left a bit speechless, and Darcy unusually found herself struggling to make conversation.

 

It didn’t help matters that Steve’s eyes were a particularly bright shade of blue that night, or that he looked breathtakingly handsome in the cream-coloured sweater he’d put on.

 

“So…” she said, her fingers playing with her napkin, “how does it feel to be released from your cage? Doctors all signed off, you can go about your life again?”

 

“It feels good. I’ve been fine for a few days, they were just being cautious,” he said, shrugging.

 

“How were you fine just a few days after getting shot ?” she demanded, her eyes narrowing.

 

“I behave myself and listen to my doctor’s orders,” he said pointedly.  “I’m not a rule-breaker unlike someone else seated at this table.”

 

“If they didn’t want their system hacked, they should really boost their security,” she said innocently, but punctuated it with a sly smile.

 

“Yes, I believe that message was communicated rather clearly after you got busted the next morning,” Steve laughed.

 

“And whose fault is that? You let me fall asleep,” she protested.

 

“I was the one who was injured! I fell asleep first,” he shot back.

 

“Whatever, it’s fine.  Actually , did I tell you?  The Strategic Communications division - which I can only assume is fancy for ‘team of hackers’ - wants to set up a meeting with me. Jane is furious because she thinks they’re going to try to poach me from her.”

 

“Oh yeah? Would you want to leave Jane?” Steve asked, a frown creasing his forehead.  She tilted her head slightly.

 

“Probably not, but I’m happy to take a meeting with them.  Everyone likes to have conversations that revolve around how clever they are,” she said.  “Why the frown?”

 

Steve startled at her question, shaking his head.

 

“No, it’s nothing,” he said, with that certain pitch to his voice as he avoided eye contact.  The waiter arrived, carrying a large tray, and they paused their conversation while she set everything on the table.

 

“That was a lie, Steven. Why do you think you can lie to me and get away with it?” she said with a laugh.  “Now, spit it out. Would it be so terrible if I started working with Strategic Communications?”

 

He hesitated, looking down at his plate and it was Darcy’s turn to frown.  He finally looked up to meet her eyes.

 

“It’s not terrible,” he said. “It’s just that… you’d be a spy, basically. I’d just… worry about you, keeping so much of your life a secret… I’m surrounded by them, all day, every day. Never know who I can trust, who has more than one motive whenever they’re talking to you... It can be a little toxic.”

 

“I see,” she said slowly, looking down.  A heavy moment of silence passed before Steve reached across the table, sliding his hand on top of her hers.

 

“I’m sorry, Darcy. It could be a great opportunity, and if you want it, you should go for it,” he said.  She met his gaze, his sincere blue eyes looking straight at her and her heart fluttered. “I’m just being selfish.  When I’m surrounded by those guys, all I think about is when I can see you next, because you’re the opposite of that.  The idea of you… being like any of them… just made me feel a little selfish, like I need to keep you far away from them so they can’t make you like one of them.”

 

Darcy’s legs felt shaky, even though she was sitting down. Steve’s hand was warm on hers, and she placed her other hand on top of his, clasping it between her palms.  She really really wanted to kiss him that moment.

 

“That’s not being selfish. That’s being honest,” she said when she could finally speak.  “And besides, working for Science is totally different than working for The Man. I prefer to think of myself as a vigilante, defying all the rules, not working within deeply bureaucratic structures and rigorous chains of command.”

 

“It meant a lot to me that I’m someone you went all vigilante for,” he said with a soft smile.

 

“Not many that earn it the way you have,” she answered, her voice weak.  She needed to take a deep breath afterwards, the strain of saying something so close to how she felt had wrapped itself tightly around her chest and she needed to release the pressure.  “Now, look at all this glorious food going cold. Shall we?”

 

***

 

Darcy walked into the lounge, with Steve a few steps behind her, and tried to quell the flutter of nerves gripping her stomach.  She could see Nate in the far corner, surrounded by a small group of other guys, and she immediately darted off in the other direction.

 

Steve touched her elbow, getting her attention.

 

“Do you want a drink or something?” he asked, a slight frown on his face.  “I’ll grab you something.”

 

“Sure, a gin and tonic would be great,” she said and smiled reassuringly at him.  Before he turned to head to the bar, he leaned down, close to her ear.

 

“We can go any time you like, just say the word,” he said so only she could hear him.  She nodded, and smiled gratefully at him. She’d confessed, near the end of dinner, the trepidation she was feeling about seeing some of the junior agents.  He’d offered to do something else that night, to make his excuses to Sam, but Darcy had waved it off, declaring that everything would be perfectly fine.

 

She surveyed the room while he headed to the bar, looking for a friendly face she could start chatting with.

 

“So, you are Lewis,” a voice drawled.  “Brock Rumlow, we met the other day.”

 

“Why are you so surprised that I’m Lewis? Most people call me Darcy, by the way,” she said.  She recognized him from the Steve’s room in the medical wing.

 

“None of us expected Rogers’ roommate to be a woman, that’s all,” he said with a shrug.  “But then it all started making a bit more sense, given what I’d been hearing about another Lewis,” he said, with a smirk. Darcy bristled.

 

“And what might you have heard about that particular Lewis?” she asked, ignoring him and glaring in Nate’s direction.

 

“That she’s a bombshell... and one source described her as sexual napalm,” he said, leaning too close as he dropped his voice lower.

 

“Ew, did you just John Mayer me?” she cried, backing away.  “That was so gross. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

 

He laughed.

 

“We’ve got a live one here!” he called, lifting up his beer, with a few cheers answering him in return.

 

“Ew,” she said one more time before walking away.  And running straight into Nate.

 

Ew ,” she said again, exasperated.  “What is with this party?”

 

“Lack of tequila throwing you off?” he said with a smirk. “I can run and get you some, if that will put you into the party mood?”

 

She spotted Steve in the crowd, leaning against the bar, waiting for their order.  He glanced in her direction, and she caught his eye hoping he’d get the hint and come right over.

 

“No thanks,” she said, crossing her arms and turning to glare at Nate again.  “Hey, remember that time you told everyone we slept together? That was super awesome of you, you know. I forgot to thank you for that.”

 

“The way you’ve been avoiding me was clearly all the thanks I needed,” he said with a shrug.  “I joked about being a booty call, but I thought I’d at least see you again after.”

 

“Oh, are your feelings hurt? Do you feel rejected? Or, is all that bullshit building up to toxic levels and affecting your cognitive functions?” she demanded. “You blurted everything out the very next morning, couldn’t wait to talk trash about your conquest.”

 

“And you neglected to tell me that you live with Steve freaking Rogers,” Nate shot back.  “The guy is a legend, you should have warned me. I never would have -“

 

“Been a jackass? Somehow I don’t believe that,” she said interrupted. He rolled his eyes and smiled.

 

“Lewis, that quick wit of yours… I mean, you couple that with everything else you got going on,” he said, gesturing towards her body. “Well, it’s a pretty killer combination.”

 

“Did you just objectify me alongside a weak compliment to my intelligence?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

 

“You didn’t seem to mind the way I was… objectifying you a few weeks ago,” he said, leaning in too close.  Her stomach reeled at the double meaning he obviously thought was so clever.

 

“Gin and tonic for the lady,” Steve said, walking up just then and holding out her drink.  “Hey Darcy, can we chat for a minute over there?”

 

“Happy to,” she said with a grateful smile, allowing him to lead her over to a corner, leaving Nate behind.  “Thanks Steve, good rescue.”

 

“What were you doing even talkin’ to that guy?” he asked, a hard edge in his voice that surprised her.  She stared at him for a moment, realizing with a shock just how agitated he looked.

 

“He came up to me,” she said slowly.  “I wasn’t talking to him, I was dismissing him.”

 

“Why are you wasting your time with someone like him? He’s not… he’s just not worth it,” Steve said, frustration creeping into his voice.  Darcy was taken aback.

 

“I want nothing to do with the guy!” she protested, throwing her hands up defensively.  “He came over to me, I was waiting for you to come back so I could get away.”

 

“You’re more than capable of doing that on your own,” he muttered.  “Rumlow is another one you should steer clear of. I’m gone less than 60 seconds and he’s chatting you up.”

 

“Your powers of observation aren’t as good as you think,” Darcy snapped. “Because I did steer clear of him.  What is going on? Why are you mad at me?”

 

They were starting to attract some attention from the others in the room.  Steve took her arm and lead her into a little side room that was dark and empty.

 

“I’m just tired of seeing you with these guys that aren’t worth a second of your time,” he said, as soon as the door was closed and they were alone.  “Do you have any idea what it’s like, seeing it play out in front of you? They’re not good enough for you, Darcy.”

 

“Why does it matter to you, roomie ?” she shot back.  “You don’t hear me commenting on who you spend your time with!”

 

“It matters because you matter,” he said, his voice intense as he stepped closer to her.  In that moment, she started to panic and back away, until she bumped against the door.  “Can’t you see that?”

 

“Yeah, I’m a real good bro,” she said. He groaned, running his hand through his hair in frustration.

 

“I wish I had never called you that,” he muttered.  She drew back, stung by his words.

 

“Why not?” she asked, and hated the way her voice trembled.  He closed his eyes for a moment before stepping closer, pressing up against her.

 

“Darcy,” he said, his voice low.  “Come on, it must have been obvious what I was tryin’ to do here tonight. I’m a terrible liar, just like you said.” 

 

“What do you mean?” she breathed.  He was so close, and so tall, and leaning over her with a look on his face that she recognized in other guys she’d been with, but never expected to see on his face while looking at her .

 

His eyes flicked down to her mouth and he seemed to hesitate, and she could almost taste his mouth on hers just by the way he was staring at her.  In that split second, she knew he was going to kiss her and she wasn’t ready for it, the implications of it far too big for her to handle.

 

A loud shrill alert erupted, shattering the loaded silence between them.  It sent Darcy’s heart scattering to climb into her throat as she jumped back against the door, and Steve moved away from her, pulling his phone out of his pocket, cursing under his breath.

 

She could hear similar shrill noises out in the other room, and a groan of voices all raising at once.  Steve looked up from his phone, his eyes locked on her.

 

“I’ve gotta go to work now,” he said, with an air of resignation. She moved away from the door so he could leave, and he slid his arm around her, guiding her out with him.  She was trembling, and she really wanted to get that under control while he was distracted with whatever crisis had just exploded.

 

The room was buzzing, various teams of agents grouping off into circles, shouting orders at each other.

 

“Sam!” Steve called when he spotted his friend.  “Hangar in 10 minutes, get Nat to meet us there.”

 

“On my way,” Sam called over his shoulder as he raced out of the room.

 

Steve caught Nate by the arm as he marched past, looking eager to get into the action.

 

“Agent Phillips, I need you make sure Lewis gets home safe,” he said, his voice full of authority.  Nate glared at Darcy, and then back at Steve.

 

“I can’t, I’ve been called up by the STRIKE team,” he protested.  Steve grabbed him by the shoulders.

 

“My orders are that you will escort her to her door and you will not leave her side until you are 100% positive that she is safe. I need you to do this,” he said, insistent.  Darcy watched him with amazement, the complete command in his voice surprising to her.

 

“I understand,” Nate said, petulantly.  Darcy shuddered, knowing it was going to be a horribly awkward trip back to Brooklyn.  Satisfied, he turned to Darcy, placing his hands around her hips and pulling her close to him.

 

“I know you’re going to hate it, but please let Nate get you home safely. Let me know when you’re at the apartment, and as soon as you’re there, lock the door and don’t unlock again until you hear from me,” he said.  There was so much urgency in his voice, the part of her that wanted to protest being managed like this stayed quiet, and she just nodded.

 

“I’ll do that, I promise.  Stay out of trouble this time, please,” she whispered, the memory of his bleeding bullet wound top of her mind.

 

“I’ll do my best,” he said, releasing his hold on her.  He turned back to Nate.

 

“Do this for me, Phillips,” he said, pointing at him, before he marched off, leaving Darcy standing with Nate as they watched him disappear into the crowd heading through the door.

Chapter Text

Nate kept sighing in frustration as yet another Uber cancelled their trip, and Darcy struggled to flag down a taxi.  Traffic was gridlocked, and crowds were pushing through the sidewalks as yet another loud explosion erupted overhead, raining fire and debris down on the streets below.

 

“It’s not happening, Nate. Subway is the best option,” Darcy said for the fifth time.  He shot her a hateful look.

 

“That is going to take forever. By the time I’m back, I’ll have missed everything ,” he complained.  

 

At that point, a cab pulled up beside them, and Nate jumped towards the door, yanking it open.  A young woman, carrying her small daughter in her arms, a look of complete terror on her face, had ran up when the cab pulled over the side.  She was about to plead with them, Darcy could tell immediately.

 

“Where are you headed?” Darcy asked her, and the woman’s face dissolved into relief.

 

“Queens,” she said apologetically.  “I got separated from my husband, and cell phones aren’t working. I just want to get my daughter home.”

 

“Take it,” Darcy said, elbowing Nate out of the way. Nate stared at her, a look of abject rage on his face.  Darcy ignored him, helped the woman climb into the cab, and closed the door. As it drove, slowly merging into the gridlocked street, Nate grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to look at him.

 

“What the hell , Lewis? It took us twenty minutes to hail a cab, and you just give it away to some random woman with a sob story?” he shouted.

 

“There are things exploding in the sky,” she shot back, disgusted.  “Woman with a young kid takes priority, don’t you think?”

 

“I got called up by the STRIKE team! And I’m stuck babysitting and missing all the action,” he yelled, his face nearly purple.  “You’ve got me on the friggen’ sidelines just because Rogers clearly wants a piece.”

 

“You are such a jackass .  You only want in the game for bragging rights, you don’t actually care about helping people!”  She was enraged. It was like he completely missed the point of the organization he was working for.  “I don’t actually need your help, you know. I just accepted it because Steve asked me to.”

 

“Fine, if I’m such a jackass, why don’t you get yourself home!” he shouted, before stalking away.  Darcy stood there, gaping after him for a moment, before another burst of flames lit up the dark sky, causing her to jump back.  She took one look around her at the scene of chaos slowly unfolding, and made a beeline for the subway station, dodging through the crowd until she was underground.

 

***

 

By the time Darcy arrived back at her apartment, she was exhausted, cranky and extremely frazzled.  It had taken almost four hours, between the delays and crowds and general havoc sweeping across the city.  She’d been jostled, pushed and had yelled at more than a few jerks who thought they were the most precious person on the train, acting like they were the only ones who needed to get home.

 

When she finally reached her stop, she’d emerged out into the silent, snowy streets and been completely unnerved.  It was such a sharp contrast to the chaos she’d been locked in for hours, she had run the entire way to her apartment, not stopping until the door was locked behind her as Steve had instructed.

 

She sent him a text message, but kept getting the “message not sent” error, and she assumed the networks had crashed due to whatever was happening.  She tossed it aside and kicked off her boots. They had been so cute at the beginning of the night, but she now hated them from the way they’d pinched her toes.  She plugged in her useless phone, leaving it charging in the living room, and wandered into her bedroom.

 

Stripping off her clothes and tossing her bra aside, she pulled on an old, extra large t-shirt, stumbled to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth, and then collapsed gratefully into her bed.

 

She thought about trying one more time to send a message to Steve, mostly so she could tell him to be safe, but figured nothing would have changed in the five minutes since she’d last tried.  She closed her eyes instead.

 

***

 

A loud crashing noise and a blinding light filling her bedroom, wrenching her awake.  She jumped up and scrambled to the far side of her bed. She was about to reach into the nightstand for her taser when her disoriented mind made out a tall dark shape filling her doorway.

 

“Oh good , you’re still alive,” Steve’s deep voice rang out.  She squinted in the light, her eyes still adjusting, and she heard his footsteps stalking back towards the living room, followed by a series of loud bangs as he moved about.  Her heart was pounding, adrenaline spiking through her bloodstream. She took a deep breath and followed him, walking tentatively and keeping her footsteps light.

 

He turned to face her, hands on his hips, as she came into the room.  His face was smudged with soot, and there was a small scrape on his cheek.  But she ignored all of that, because the look on his face was filled with such anger, it almost caused her to back away from him.

 

“Answer your goddamn phone next time,” he spat out, viciously.

 

“My phone couldn’t send or receive messages,” she said, keeping her voice quiet.  He scoffed, and turned, pacing around, agitated.

 

“Communications were back online a few hours ago,” he said, his words sharp.  “I called you dozens of times.”

 

She spotted her phone where she’d left it, and grabbed it, feeling her stomach drop.  15 missed calls and 10 unread text messages. It was four o’clock in the morning, and he’d been messaging her for hours with no response.

 

“I fell asleep,” she said, weakly.  “I tried to message you, but it didn’t go through… and then I fell asleep.”

 

He’d stopped pacing and was now standing in the middle of the room, his head in one hand as he breathed deeply, seemingly trying to gather himself. After a heavy moment of silence, he moved forward, sweeping her into a powerful embrace, his arms locked around her as he pulled her close.

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmured into her hair.  She shivered, the adrenaline fading now, leaving her feeling shaky and cold.  She was suddenly painfully aware that she was standing barefoot in the living room, wearing nothing but a white men’s t-shirt.  “Phillips turned up at Base Ops and said you’d run off into the crowd and he’d lost you, and then I couldn’t reach you. I just… I lost it . Had to find you.”

 

His body was so warm, she melted against him, his strong arms almost supporting her as she clung to him.

 

“I was here the whole time,” she breathed, her voice hitching at the end as he nuzzled against her throat.  Her heart beat began to race, her body tingling all over as the thought that this wasn’t really how friends greeted each other echoed distantly in her mind.

 

“Mm, you were,” he said, the vibration of his voice against her sensitive skin causing her to gasp.  He pressed his lips to the hollow of her collarbone and her knees nearly gave out. “Always been right here.”

 

She leaned back, wanting to see his face.

 

“What are we doing?” she whispered.  His hand cupped her chin, tilting her head up, his thumb tracing along her jawline.  The soft light in his eyes, the way he was staring at her, was making her hands start to shake, and she pressed her palms against his back, trying to make it stop.

 

“Deciding to stop wasting time,” he answered.  And then he kissed her, a soft, lingering kiss that left her breathless.  While it weakened her knees and sent a thrill down her spine, it also unleashed all the longing she’d been repressing, probably for months now, if she were being honest.  He pulled away, staring down at her, his hands cupping her face, a searching look in his eyes. She wanted to kiss him again, to pull him near, to eliminate all the space between them.

 

But something wasn’t right.  She pushed him away, wriggling out of his grasp.

 

“You can’t just… you can’t barge into my room, scare me half to death, yell at me for something I had no control over, and then kiss me like that,” she cried.  “You scared me.”

 

“You scared me first,” he fired back.

 

“And you basically yelled at me earlier tonight, again over something I had no control over,” she said, her lip starting to tremble as tears burned her eyes.  “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!”

 

Her heart started pounding in her chest.  She’d said too much.

 

“No, it wasn’t,” he agreed, stepping closer.  “I had a very different vision for how I wanted tonight to go.”

 

“What does that mean?” she demanded, frustrated.  Everything came bubbling up to the surface, and in that moment, she realized she was so angry with him for every mixed signal, realizing how much it had been hurting her.  “First I’m you best bro, then I’m your best girl, and then you wish you’d never even said I was your bro... and I’m your friend and you shield me from Nate and his creepy agent friends but then you yell at me because some other dude spoke to me! All I know is that you keep flipping back and forth and I have no idea what you want !”

 

He was breathing hard, his jaw tense as he stared at her, seemingly thrown by what she’d just said.  She’d backed away, bumping up against the kitchen counter. The silence was palpable, and Darcy really just wanted to escape to her room so she could cry alone, a deep cleansing cry that would expel all her pent up emotions.  Before she could dart around him to retreat to her room, he spoke.

 

You ,” he said hoarsely.  In one fluid motion, he closed the distance between them, wrapping one arm behind her waist, the other at the back of her head, and he kissed her.  The gentleness from before was gone, it was all heat and passion as he invaded her mouth with his tongue, pressing himself tightly against her body.

 

And she responded, clawing her arms up around his broad shoulders so she could gain leverage to pull herself even closer.

 

He broke away.

 

“I just want you,” he said, his voice rough with need, and she shuddered, feeling like her body was on fire.  He scooped her up with one arm, sitting her on the counter. He moved to fit between her legs, and as he dipped his head to kiss her again, she wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him in.

 

Darcy’s senses took over, and she was lost in the sensation of his lips, his hands, his breath warm against her neck.  She ran her hands down his back, over the corded muscles in his arms, down his chest. His lips were everywhere, along her jawline, in the sensitive spots under her ear, in the hollow of her throat, along the neckline of her shirt.

 

He pressed forward, and she arched against him, pulling him down.  They were writhing against each other, and the friction felt amazing and overwhelming and she was positively aching with how much she needed him.

 

“Mine or yours?” she breathed, breaking away from where she’d latched her mouth against his neck.

 

“What?” he huffed. He looked dazed, his eyes dark and half-lidded.

 

“Bedroom,” she said.  “Or.. here could work?”  She didn’t know why she was suggesting moving, she couldn’t walk, her legs were positively trembling even as they were wrapped around his waist.

 

He blinked, and then understanding seemed to dawn on his face.  He grunted and then picked her up. He pressed his mouth against hers, a fierce kiss that she felt all the way down to her toes, as he carried her the few feet down the hallway, before he kicked open the door to his room.  A few steps more, and they tumbled down onto his bed.

 

He rolled so he was hovering over her, leaning his weight on one elbow as his other hand caressed her face.  She closed her eyes, reveling in the feel of his body against hers as his hand wandered down, skimming over her body.  It stopped at the hem of her t-shirt, just below her thigh, hesitating.

 

She smiled against his temple.  She squirmed against him, making him groan.

 

“Go ahead,” she whispered. “I want to feel your hands on me.”

 

Steve responded with another fierce kiss, and he slipped his hand under her shirt, his large warm hand running up her side.

 

“Your skin is so soft,” he groaned.  He rucked up the shirt, moving it out of the way, and then his lips were trailing across her stomach.  She shifted, pulling her shirt off and tossing it aside, before settling back down under him, completely naked.  The light in his room was dim, and she could barely make out his features, but she could feel that he was looking at her, taking in the shape and sight of her body.

 

“You’re so perfect,” he murmured against her ear as his hands gently stroked up her side, moving up to caress her breast.  “Wanted you for so long.”

 

“Really?” she breathed. Vulnerable. Hardly believing he could want her.  He kissed her again, grinding against her with a moan. He then redirected his attention to her breasts, as his hands swept over them, followed by his mouth and flicking tongue, making her gasp.

 

She was positively writhing against him as he continued his ministrations, desperate and grasping at him, tugging powerlessly against his clothing, needing to feel his skin against hers.

 

He chuckled, getting the hint. The cool air tingled her bare skin as he moved away, quickly shedding his clothes, and then the heat of his body was pressed against her again.

 

His fingers slid towards her center, and she gasped at the jolt of sensation.

 

“Is this okay? Do you want to stop?” he asked, his voice gentle.  She nodded, arching towards his hand. As his finger stroked her, his mouth made its way back to her breast and within moments, she was shaking and gasping, desperate for him.

 

“Now, please” she said in a needy moan, as her hands wandered down to stroke him.  He shuddered against her, pressing against her hands, and she fondled him, amazed that she had the ability to make that sound come out of him.

 

“Let’s not waste any more time, then,” he said, his voice gravely as he positioned himself, and then he was pushing inside her with a strong thrust that made them both gasp. She moaned as her body stretched around him, as he filled her, pushing deep inside her, both of them gasping.

 

He buried his face in her shoulder, his breath gasping against her ear.

 

“Need a second,” he huffed, but she couldn’t stand it and started wriggling her hips against him.  After a deep breath, he obliged, moving with strong, slow thrusts, each making her cry out.

 

Finding their rhythm, their bodies moving together in sync, need and pleasure took over, picking up speed.  He was moaning her name, she was grasping at his back, wrapping her legs around him, pushing him closer.

 

“Steve,” she pleaded, not really knowing what she wanted, but he seemed to know, as he moved his hand between them, his thumb rubbing against her until she came with a loud cry. A few more thrusts, and his hips were stuttering against her as he groaned her name, finding his own release.

 

She stroked his back as he lay on top of her, their gasping breaths the only sound filling the room.

 

In the haze that followed, as he moved away, sliding out of her, leaving her feeling empty, she started to tremble.  He rolled to his side, curling up around her, pulling her close, his hands caressing her stomach, her things, her arms, as she settled against him.

 

“You were right,” she murmured as she pressed a kiss on his forearm, which was wrapped around her chest.

 

“‘Bout what?” He asked, his voice sleepy and satisfied.

 

“That definitely ain’t it ,” she said.  She would have giggled, but he was kissing her again and she never wanted him to stop.

Chapter Text

The strange light filtering in through the window woke Darcy the next morning, disorienting her. Her bedroom never got that much light so early in the day.  She shifted, turning her head away from the window as the light stung her eyes. As she nuzzled down into the pillow, she noticed that it didn’t smell like hers.  And that it wasn’t a pillow.

 

It smelled like Steve.  Because she was in his bed.  Because she’d had sex with her roommate and had passed out sprawled across his chest.  And she was now awake, in his bed, completely naked and she should be starting to panic right about now.

 

Except that she wasn’t.  Steve had his arm clamped around her shoulder, anchoring her in place against his bare chest.  The deep rhythm of his breathing, the gentle sway of it below where her head rested, was calming and reassuring to her.

 

She was a bit amazed that she was here, amazed that everything that had transpired the night before had actually happened .  They’d gone three rounds before finally collapsing, exhausted and lust-drunk on each other, and just remembering it lit a warm fire in her belly.  

 

The first time had been all hurried passion, fueled by nervous energy and anticipation that they were finally coming together.  Round Two, with both of them more relaxed, no longer afraid that someone was going to get cold feet and put a stop to everything, had been fun .  A giggling, giddy exploration of each other’s bodies, focused on learning how to make each other gasp and moan the loudest.

 

Afterwards, Darcy was laying drowsily on her back as Steve settled in beside her, pulling her close. He’d started peppering kisses along her jawline, down her neck, across the tops of her breasts, quick feathery kisses that made her giggle.

 

“Don’t think I can stop kissing you,” he murmured, as he moved to her mouth, kissing her deep and fierce.

 

“Mm, so don’t,” she muttered as he broke away.  She could feel him pressed against her leg, hard and ready, and she giggled, amazed at his stamina.  “Unless you have something else in mind?”

 

“Sorry,” he chuckled.  “We can… ah, just ignore that.”

 

“Absolutely not,” she responded, working her legs around him, pulling his hips down between her thighs.  “In this household, we leave no man behind.”

 

He then stared deep into her eyes in a moment so intense, so filled with emotion, she was almost paralyzed with feeling.  So she wrapped her arms around his broad chest, pulled him against her and kissed him as thoroughly as she could.

 

Which led to Round Three, the single most intimate sexual experience of Darcy’s life. He slowly, languidly consumed her -  it was the only way she could think of to describe it - touching her everywhere , following the trail of his hands with his mouth.  When she was shaking, almost sobbing, with need, he slid in slowly, torturously slow.  Bracketing her face with his hands, he kissed her, gentle patient kisses, even as he moved slowly, almost lazily, inside her, bringing on a long, rolling orgasm that left her breathlessly sobbing his name.

 

Thinking about it now, the next morning after waking up next to him, had Darcy weighing the merits of morning sex, given how tired and deliciously sore her body felt.  Steve was sprawled out, the blankets he’d kicked off during the night draped over one leg. She ran her hand lightly down his chest, over the ripple of his hard stomach muscles, until she felt a hard ridge.  She frowned, and shifted so she could get a better look.

 

There was a round, puckering scar on his abdomen, with the slightly pink tinge of a healing wound.  His bullet wound. She covered it with her hand, feeling it under her palm, and she sighed. She looked back up at Steve’s face, and was surprised to see him awake, staring at her.

 

“Still healing?” she asked, trying to quell the shyness that was threatening to overtake her.  Steve nodded, and then lay his head back on the pillow, looking up at the ceiling.

 

“We didn’t… like, re-injure it or anything last night?” she asked quietly but playfully, her hand lingering on his chest as she moved to lie back down beside him.

 

“Nah. I told you I was fine, docs cleared me,” he answered.  Darcy startled, a spike of fear sharp in her stomach.  

 

She wasn’t sure what it was, but something was wrong.  His tone wasn’t right, not what she was expecting at all. It was almost… cold… or maybe distant? Her hand tensed where it was resting against his warm skin, and as the silence stretched out between them, she withdrew it slowly, trying not to call attention to her movements.

 

She spotted her shirt, crumpled on the floor near the door to his room, and she desperately wished she could grab it, put it on, without drawing his attention.  She wanted to just slither away, unnoticed. The energy was all wrong now.  Steve should be warmly greeting her, pulling her close, saying good morning and giggling with her, playful and affectionate like he’d been last night.  

 

But he was staring up at the ceiling, tense and unmoving and painfully silent.

 

Which is why she was unsurprised and strangely prepared for what came next.

 

“Darcy,” he said, his voice serious.  She took a deep breath, bracing herself as a wave of fear swept over her.  “I - I’m sorry.”

 

“Sorry for what?” she said, her throat so tight, it came out practically as a whisper.

 

He turned to her, and she sat up, on her knees, pulling the sheet up around her neck defensively, wanting to shield herself.  His face was white, serious and sad.

 

“I’ve messed this up.  I need to tell you… I-I don’t know where to start,” he was saying, but it was hard to hear over the rushing in her ears, the storm of humiliation raging under her skin.  “I know it was a mistake to -”

 

The word mistake thundered in her ears, and all of her defenses came soaring to life.

 

“Yes, totally. Steve, don’t worry about it.  If you think it was a mistake, we can pretend this never happened, and just, like, go back to the way things were,” she stammered out.  She was out of bed in a flash, stumbling across the room as she dove for her t-shirt, yanking it on as quickly as she could.  

 

Wait - no, Darcy -”

 

“I’m going to go hop in the shower, and when I get out, it’ll be like this didn’t happen,” she said, trying to sound light and carefree even while she was reeling, her chest feeling like it was going to explode.  He was sitting up now, a twisted look on his face. Her eyes were burning with unshed tears, and she needed to get out right now .

 

She made it to the bathroom, closing the door and locking it, before the tears overflow and she covered her mouth to contain the sobbing.

 

A soft rap on the door made her jump.

 

“Darcy, please, come out and talk to me,” Steve said.  She dived towards the shower, turning on the water full blast, drowning out the sound of his voice.

 

***

 

She cried the entire way through a long shower, and only turned off the water when she felt she had enough control over her emotions to make it to her bedroom without giving herself away.  She emerged, wrapping herself in a towel, feeling raw, her head cloudy and aching from the tears. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she had to look away from her reflection, feeling abjectly miserable. 

 

She was so stupid , she thought to herself as she angrily tugged her shirt back over her head.  She knew that even thinking there was a romantic future for her and Steve was a path to disaster , and yet, she’d fallen for it anyway.

 

As she dashed down the hallway, which suddenly felt miles longer than it had yesterday, her heart pounding in her chest the entire way, terrified he’d be waiting for her. Slamming her door too loudly behind her, she thought about all the ways her life was now ruined .  How her perfect roommate was now someone she needed to avoid, how her perfect apartment was the site of her humiliation and devastation and she never wanted to be inside these walls ever again, how she didn’t know how she’d ever even be able to face Steve again.

 

She dressed as quickly as she could, not paying attention to what she put on, putting her wet hair up out of her face, and grabbing her glasses and her bag. As she walked down the hall, focused on the door and her exit from this horrible morning, she could see Steve’s tall form hovering near the living room.  She hesitated for a second, steeled herself and pushed forward.

 

“Gotta go meet Jane, see you later roomie !” she called, darting out the door.  She heard his voice, but ignored it as she closed the door behind her and practically ran for the stairs.

 

***

 

“Darcy, you’d tell me if I need to stage an intervention, right?” Jane asked.  Darcy stared at her darkly, before turning back to her computer screen, choosing to ignore her.

 

“Because I’m pretty sure that you have been here for around 52 hours straight and you’ve barely said anything. You just grunt at me, stare at your computer and nap on the couch in the office. Well, except when you’ve snuck out to the Forever 21 three blocks over so you can buy new clothes instead of - I don’t know, going home ,” Jane said, turning Darcy’s swivel desk chair until she was facing her friend.

 

“Jane, I don’t want to do this now,” Darcy groaned, her voice raspy.  Jane ignored her, pulling her own chair closer to Darcy’s and sitting across from her.  Darcy crossed her arms in front of her and stared at her friend, a sullen expression on her face.  She knew she was being a brat, but she couldn’t help it. She was exhausted and sad, and the terror of running into Steve anywhere - at home, in the hallways, out on the street - had stranded her in the lab, unable to move.  Except when she received a text alert any time he left the premises, which was a system she’d enabled by rewriting the building’s security protocols with a few simple lines of code.

 

“Sorry kid, something’s gotta give.  I left worried behind around 16 hours ago and I’m now in a full-on spiral that’s making me concern-troll you.  Darcy, what happened ?” Jane asked.

 

“The other shoe dropped,” she said quietly, her eyes filling with tears.  “And I spent months expecting it to, you know? But then it actually happened when I wasn’t expecting it anymore, and… it blindsided me.”

 

“Darcy, honey, you’re using metaphor. I need you to tell me facts ,” Jane said, taking her friend’s hand.  Darcy huffed for a moment, and swallowed back a sob as tears spilled over, running down her cheeks.

 

“I slept with Steve,” she said finally, her voice barely above a whisper.

 

“It’s about time, you two have been dancing around it for-freakin’-ever,” Jane said with a smile. Darcy shook her head, and then tilted her head back, looking at the ceiling lights, trying to stop the tears.

 

“He said it was a mistake,” she said, her lower lip trembling as she tried to speak. 

 

“What, how is that possible?” Jane demanded.

 

“It’s what he said. He was sorry, and that he’d made a mistake.”

 

Jane squeezed her hand, and then reached out with the other one, wiping a tear away from Darcy’s face.

 

“Darcy, I’ve seen the way he looks at you. There is no mistaking that,” Jane said quietly.  “Maybe he got scared or overwhelmed, but it has nothing to do with you.”

 

“I’ve known this whole time, Jane! I told you it would be a train wreck.   That of all the people he could choose… but I let myself get caught up,” Darcy managed to croak out.  “I believed him when he said he wanted me. I’m so stupid .”

 

She covered her face with her hands, allowing herself to cry.  Jane moved closer, wrapping Darcy in a fierce hug. Jane held her for awhile, rubbing her back and encouraging her to breath deeply.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” Jane said, pulling back but keeping her arms on Darcy’s shoulders.  “It sucks pretty bad right now, I know. But it will get better.”

 

“Everything is so messed up,” Darcy said, her lip trembling.

 

“You are exhausted. Of course everything seems impossible to manage right now. Trust me, I speak from experience.  You need to rest . Like really rest, not sleeping in the office,” Jane said, standing up. “In an actual bed.”

 

“But I can’t home,” Darcy whispered, feeling like she was going to start crying again.  “ I just can’t.

 

“So you’ll come to my place, silly,” Jane said gently.  “Okay, new plan. Go find somewhere to have a nap and I’ll come get you in about four hours and take you home.  Or you can text me when your Steve Alarm gives you the all clear to leave the building without running into him.”

 

“Thank you Jane,” Darcy said, weakly.  As miserable as she felt, everything seemed so much better now that she’d shared her problems with Jane.

 

“Off you run, I need to input those calculations to get the virtual model to render, or we will never actually leave and this intervention would have been for nothing.”

 

***

 

Darcy woke up in a dimly lit room, groaning at her sore muscles.  She must have slept for a lot longer than a few hours, judging by the way she felt - stiff, cold, thirsty and very disoriented.

 

After being ushered out of the lab gently, but insistently, by Jane, she’d made her way to the 89th floor using the service elevator, and hidden herself in the most private, most hidden corner of the Murder Library, her favourite seculded spot.  Stretching out on the couch, she’d closed her eyes, reveling in the silence of the little-used space. She hadn’t seen a soul.

 

And now she had a serious case of nap hangover.  She wiped at her gritty-feeling eyes, and grabbed her phone to check the time, trying to figure out if it was still Monday afternoon.

 

And she nearly dropped her phone when she saw the bright red emergency alert flashing silently on her screen.

 

Status: Threat Level 14; Mandatory evacuation order for all non-essential employees. Calmly proceed to the nearest emergency exit, vacate the building immediately and proceed to your assigned rendezvous point. 

 

Complete lock down begins in 7 minutes. This is your only warning.

 

The time stamp was from 96 minutes ago.

 

Darcy took a few deep breaths, and tried to remember the various codes and procedures from her orientation.  She couldn’t remember what the threat level meant - all the numbers were blurring together, but she knew 14 was bad.  Like probably bad like armed-enemies-infiltrated-the-building bad. Especially if they were going into a complete lockdown so quickly after calling for an evacuation.

 

“Okay, so this is not great,” she muttered to herself.  At least I’m in a deserted room and nobody knows where I am , she thought ruefully.  

 

She stood up as quietly as she could, all of her senses on high alert, and carefully took her taser from her bag.  Pocketing her phone, she walked the long way back towards the door, skimming along the large, solid bookshelves. Her plan was to exit the library and head for the emergency exit next to the elevator, with the hope that the staircase would still be open. 

 

The door, however, opened with a fierce crash, and she ducked down, hiding behind a shelf, a death grip on the trigger of her taser.

 

Oh my god, I’m going to get murdered in the Murder Library, she couldn’t help thinking as she spotted a pair of heavy black boots walking towards her hiding place. Perfect.

Chapter Text

“Well, aren’t you just my lot in life?” an annoyed voice commented sarcastically.  Darcy jumped up, taser drawn and nearly dropped it to keep herself from pulling the trigger when she realized who was speaking.

 

“Jesus, Nate!” Darcy gasped, catching her breath. “I nearly tased you.”

 

Nate was standing in front of her in full tactical gear, carrying a rather large weapon, and he did not look impressed.

 

“Civilians were supposed to clear out over an hour ago! What are you doing up here, Lewis?” he demanded, unable to keep his irritation out of his voice.

 

“The problem with stealth alerts is that not everyone is on their phone all the time!” she shot back.  “I just got the message.”

 

“You’re always on your phone,” Nate scoffed, rolling his eyes.

 

“Okay, whatever the reason, I’m here and we’re on lockdown. How do I, you know, not be here anymore?” she asked, gesturing around her like it was an obvious question.

 

“Threat seems to be under control, all the fighting is about 5 floors up - the Avengers got called out and are in control of the situation. My team is sweeping the building, clearing it room by room,” he said, clearly thinking he sounded important. “You know, I have personally cleared 17 floors and you’re the first person I’ve found who ignored the evacuation order.”

 

“I didn’t ignore it, I didn’t receive it in time!” she growled, irritated.  “So what do I do? What are you supposed to do when you come across someone who isn’t supposed to be here?”

 

Her question triggered something in his brain, and he narrowed his eyes at her.

 

“Not again!” he cried, sounding like a petulant child.  “You are not screwing me out of a mission again .”

 

“I’m sorry my existence is such a burden to you,” she shot back. “Surely you have some orders about what to do in this situation?”

 

Nate stared at her for a moment, and Darcy could see him making a clear calculation in his head.

 

“Shelter in place,” he said.  Bullshit , she thought to herself. He was obviously lying.  “You’ve got a weapon, you’re in a secure location, and I’ve just cleared the floor.  Stay here until the all-clear sounds and the lockdown is cancelled.”

 

He looked around them, surveying the room, and picked a spot. He grabbed her arm, leading over to a large desk with a clear view of the door, pushing her down until she was crouching.

 

“Here. Stay here, do not move,” he said.

 

The sharp sound of rapid gunfire sounded from somewhere above them, and Darcy met Nate’s eyes.

 

“Please do not just leave me here,” she said, as calmly as she could muster.

 

“If anyone comes in, just use your taser and ask questions later,” he said.  Another round of gunfire, and he was running for the door.

 

“Can you at least radio someone my position?” she called after him, but he’d clearly moved on to more exciting things, desperate to get into the action.

 

She cursed as she heard the door bang shut behind him, and shifted slightly, uncomfortable in her crouched position.  She pulled out her phone from her back pocket, clearing the now-useless emergency alert. She typed out a quick text to Jane, and watched as it refused to send, sighing deeply. Even the WIFI was out.

 

She stayed in her hiding space, moments passing slowly.  She could hear a lot of noises in the distance, and huddled further into the space below the desk, her fingers locked around her taser.

 

Then the door creaked open, and she could hear the quiet shuffle of footsteps.  Her heart started pounding in her chest. Someone was definitely in stealth mode.  There were muffled voices in the hall, the gruff murmur of someone calling out orders.

 

She closed her eyes and exhaled as silently as she could.  The footsteps were sweeping methodically back and forth through the bookshelves, making their way towards her.  She didn’t have much time.

 

A sudden commotion erupted in the hallway, loud voices were yelling, the distinct sounds of a physical fight.  It covered the sound of the footsteps, and Darcy lost track of whoever was in the Murder Library with her.

 

Until the pair of boots stopped a few yards from her hiding spot.  She held her breath. She hoped it was another SHIELD agent, just running another sweep to double-check Nate’s work, but she knew, deep inside, that the chances of that were low.  She needed to be ready to defend herself.

 

A series of metallic clanging crashing around the room interrupted her frantic planning, and she had to muffle a scared yelp when a body crashed to the ground in front of her.

 

She jumped up, taser in hand, and found herself face-to-face with Captain America, shield in hand.  She let out a shaky breath, her heart still racing.

 

“Oh thank god,” she sighed with relief.  She took in the sight of the legendary hero standing in front of her, who had so obviously just saved her life, the infamous shield shining even in the dim light.  She mused for a brief second that she would have been a bit star struck by the sight of him, standing strong and tall and like he was poised to spring into action to defend her, but the massive surge of adrenaline hitting her bloodstream was distracting her sense of awe.

 

Also, he was staring incredulously at her, like she had two heads.

 

Darcy ?” he asked.  “What are you still doing up here?”

 

Heyyyy Captain America,” she drawled out. “Totally cool that you know who I am.  Thanks for taking out that dude, really great that you could stop by.”

 

He stalked over to her, gripping her shoulder.  

 

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” he demanded, concern apparent in his voice.

 

“Just stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she shrugged.

 

“I’m going to get you out of here,” he said, so full of determination, Darcy was amazed that the force of his conviction alone hadn’t magically transported her outside.

 

“Pretty sure if you’re hanging around this whole situation , you have more important things to be dealing with,” she said sceptically.  He hesitated, and then smiled at her a bit sheepishly.

 

“I’m going to find someone to get you out of here,” he said, before activating his comm.  “I need an available team on 89. I’ve got a civilian needing immediate evac.”

 

“All teams occupied at the moment.” Darcy could hear the response crackling through his radio, and she resigned herself to the inevitable.

 

“Shall I… shelter in place?” she asked with a wince.

 

“What? No ,” he scoffed, clearly disgusted with the idea. “You’re getting out here. Come on, and stay behind me.”

 

“Hey Cap, we could really use your help up on the roof.  Tony’s trying to deactivate this device, but we can’t get to it, and the clock is ticking. We’re outnumbered.  Like, very outnumbered.”

 

They both paused.

 

“Hill, are you sure there are no available agents?” he asked.  He was staring at her, and Darcy kind of shrugged awkwardly. Interrupting Nate was one thing, he was a just a Baby Agent who thought he was more important than he actually was.  But this was Captain America, and the actual lives of actual real people could be at stake. She just couldn’t rate as a priority. 

 

“Negative. Sorry Cap.”

 

“Cap, we really need you on the roof ASAP.”

 

He emitted some kind of frustrated growl, before cursing and pacing a few feet, clearly struggling with what to do.  Darcy decided to voice the clearly logical solution.

 

“So, I have an idea,” she said.  “How about… I save myself by taking - what like 90? - flights of stairs, no big deal, freeing you up to, you know, save the world? Just point me in the direction of the fire exit.”

 

He stared at her, and with so much of his face obscured, she had trouble reading his expression, but she could tell he was torn.  After taking in a deep breath and closing his eyes while he exhaled, he nodded at her.

 

“Okay, come on,” he said, taking her hand to lead her into the hallway.  He guided her to the corner, shielding her body as they walked. “Stay here, stay low.  I’ll be right back.”

 

She crouched down.  The hallway was littered with bodies, all faces and uniforms she didn’t recognize.  She realized with horror that they clearly belonged the other side, whoever it was that had infiltrated the Tower… and then it sunk in just how close to danger she’d really been. If only Nate had stuck around, he could have finally had his taste of the action, she thought ruefully. 

 

As she was still processing the scene of carnage around her, he returned to her side, holding a flack vest he’d peeled off one of the bodies.  He gestured for her to come forward, and he slipped it over her head, velcroing it in place.

 

“It’s too large for you, but the best I can do in a pinch,” he said, his voice low.

 

“Are you sure about this? It didn’t really do them any good, did it?” she asked, fueled by nervous energy.  

 

“I didn’t use a gun to take them out,” he muttered, focused on tugging the straps to test the fit.

 

“Hot,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.  He glanced at her with a bit of a fond, exasperated smile, and it helped her relax. 

 

“Move around a bit, make sure it’s not restricting you too much,” he ordered. She felt bulky and awkward, the material stiff and uncomfortable, but still had a full range of movement.  He surveyed his handy work, and then he was tugging her along down the corridor, pausing before each door to make sure it was clear.

 

They reached the emergency staircase, and then he pushed something cold and metallic into her hands.

 

“Do you remember your firearms orientation?” he asked.  She swallowed hard, she hated guns, hated everything about them, and here he was, handing her one.

 

“Just point and shoot, right?” she answered weakly, holding it out.  His warm fingers passed over her hands, correcting her grip, squeezing her hand tightly. 

 

“This is a different pistol than you would have trained with. It’s really powerful, you gotta be prepared for the kick-back. Hold it with both hands, direct the force up and over your head after you shoot,” he said, focused on what he was doing.  “You’re going to go down this staircase, which will take you to the northwest corner of the building. Once you’re on the street, head directly to the beta site, they’ve already set up a command there, and check in with the Director.”

 

“Okay, sound easy enough.” Her voice was shaking, but she was going to blame that on the gun. She could walk down a staircase, everything was going to be fine. 

 

“You’re going to stop before you walk around any corner, and check to make sure the coast is clear.  Slow and steady, alright? If you hear anything or you see anyone , you shoot first,” he ordered.

 

“What if they’re with SHIELD?” she asked shakily.

 

“They won’t be. Our teams are all above the 70th floor. We cleared all the lower floors, so chances are you won’t run into anyone. But if you do… Shoot first,” he repeated.  She nodded solemnly, hoping that this was just an abundance of caution.

 

“Okay, let’s do this!” she said. “You should really go save the world now.”

 

“Darcy?” he called as she pushed open the door to the emergency staircase.

 

“Yeah?”

 

As she turned towards him, he swept her up into his arms, one strong forearm locked around her waist, pulling her close, a hand behind her head as he kissed her fiercely, pushing against her as she arched against his body.

 

In the space of a heartbeat, he was already releasing her, leaving her breathless and baffled.

 

“Be safe,” he said.

 

“Sure thing,” she quipped back, and then wanted to die of embarrassment.  She gave an awkward wave and entered the staircase, leaving him and the feeling of safety behind.

 

***

 

Walking down 90 flights of stairs was making her dizzy, and following the Captain’s instructions about checking every corner was making it torturously slow.  She was stuck in a beige hallway, walking down beige stairs, checking around beige corners. As she trotted down, she kept track of the numbers on the doors she passed by.

 

78...63...57...42...31...20...14...8...4

 

She was grateful that she’d at least managed to talk him into letting her evacuate herself, she’d hate to think that he would have wasted any time on the most boring mission instead of stopping whatever the hell it was that was happening up on the roof.

 

Between floors four and three, she stopped before turning the corner, keeping herself from barrelling forward, so excited to be nearly at her goal. And then froze, the gun pointed out in front of her as she came face to face with someone dressed all in black, wearing a ski mask over their head.

 

They stared at each other in surprise, and then she remembered his orders.

 

Shoot first.

 

A terrifying loud noise erupted and she instinctively squeezed the trigger before something exploded in her chest, knocking her backward.  She was falling, her lungs burning as she tried desperately to inhale, pain wracking her left side. As she hit the ground, darkness overcame her. 

 

***

 

Steve Rogers was having a pretty shitty day. Shitty couple of days, if he was being completely honest. And if he were being even more honest, which he tried to be with himself as often as possible, it was all made even more shitty by the knowledge that it was 100 percent his fault.

 

Darcy hadn’t come home in three nights, because he was an idiot and said something horrible to her and she was rightfully avoiding him.  It had been such a train wreck. There he was, extremely content to be lying with a beautiful woman curled up beside him, debating what would be the most charming way to proposition her for morning sex, when he could feel her hand on his stomach, examining the rapidly healing scar from his bullet wound.

 

And it hit him.  He’d taken this big important step with a woman who meant the world to him, and he’d been lying to her this whole time.  He was such a jerk, what gave him the right to expose her to all his baggage without being completely honest about his life?

 

And then he fumbled the conversation so badly, she literally fled from his room and refused to speak to him. He was such a jackass

 

He desperately wanted to make it right, to fix it , but had managed to stay away, convincing himself it was better to let her come to him when she was ready. He’d made Darcy, a strong, extremely capable woman who didn’t seem to let anything rattle her, cry , an experience he wanted to make sure he never let happen again.  He just wasn’t quite sure how to do that.

 

So, he’d been carrying all of that around for three days, hoping to see her and terrified about what would happen when he finally did.

 

And then he found out, the hard way, that Dr Foster had him barred from entering the labs, as alarms blared around him. He had finally worked up the courage to go talk to Darcy, and her friend had literally locked him out so he couldn’t bother her. Jane had come out when the commotion started, and stood on the other side of the glass doors, arms crossed and a stubborn expression on her face.  He wasn’t getting through that door, at least not today.

 

And while he was busy being humiliated by Darcy’s very protective friend, which really just made him respect the scientist all the more, he missed the first call to suit up, and thus, spent the majority of the next hour playing catch up to the rest of the team.  Which meant getting shot at, nearly blown up three times, and having to punch his way through five different floors after the elevators were shut down.

 

So, he was just really done with this shitty day by the time he reached the 89th floor. Only to find out that it had one more gift planned for him.  This shitty shitty day had decided what it really need to do to ensure it just defeated Steve Rogers was to force him to make an impossible choice between what he wanted to do, and what he needed to do.

 

What he wanted to do is take Darcy, who was uncharacteristically pale and shaken and looking terrified, into his arms and just run with her until she was somewhere he knew she’d be safe, forgetting all of his other responsibilities.  What he needed to do was hustle up to the roof and help take out whatever device it was they were trying to activate up there, for whatever evil and nefarious reasons they were doing it.

 

His life always came down to choices.  The lesser of two evils. The greater of two goods.  What he needed to do versus what he wanted to do.

 

Of course, this was all complicated by the fact that he was hiding his other identity from her, and in the midst of making sure she stayed alive, he was also trying to keep her from figuring it out.  A life or death situation was clearly not the ideal time. Besides, she was too busy coming up with a simple plan to save herself (she was so magnificent) while he was too busy cursing fate for putting him into this situation (he was such a jackass sometimes), that she didn’t even really seem to notice.

 

She was heading off into the unknown, scared and trying to be brave and in control, and he was letting her go because he had to choose the greater good, not his greater good.  So he kissed her, because he just needed to.  As she waved to him with an uncomfortable smile (probably planning a tweet thread about how Captain America got a little handsy with her that one time) he couldn’t help but feel, with every molecule in his body, that he had made the wrong choice.

 

***

 

“What a mess,” Steve groaned, much later that afternoon.  He’d been blasted off the roof twice, and had scaled back the wall. Twice . And had to run to catch their helicopter before they escaped. And crashed it back down onto the roof, taking out whatever doomsday device they had planted there.

 

Things were finally under control, with reports coming in from all the various teams throughout the Tower who were doing final checks to ensure they were clear of all hostiles.

 

“Nice work, boys. Rumlow and his team are on their way up to collect the fine gentlemen you’ve detained,” Natasha’s voice crackled over the radio.

 

“How did the evac go? All accounted for on our side?” Steve asked.

 

“Getting the final count now, but we’re looking good.”

 

“Any casualties or injuries?” Sam asked, groaning as he sat down next to Steve.

 

“Hey Sam, can you switch to my personal frequency for me real quick?” Natasha asked.  Steve glanced at Sam, perplexed. Sam shrugged, and made the adjustment. He then sat in silence, listening to whatever Natasha was telling him. Sam glanced at Steve, and then shut his eyes, cursing under his breath.  Steve sat up from where he’s been leaning against the wall.

 

“Okay, I’ll let him know.  Keep us informed as you can,” Sam said.  

 

“What happened?”

 

In Steve’s experience, people - all people, no matter their age, gender or the generation they were from - had a few tells when they were about to deliver bad news.  It was a hesitation about their mouth, the way they couldn’t look you in the eye for too long, the way they prepared themselves before speaking. He tensed, waiting for Sam to speak.

 

“Two bodies were just found in the northwest stairwell.  One of theirs, and one of ours.”

 

Sam ,” Steve said, jumping up to his feet in one swift motion.

 

“Hostile is dead. Gunshot, point blank range.”

 

“And ours?” Steve demanded, fear threatening to overwhelm him. Sam was standing beside him now, his hand on his shoulder, calm and serious.

 

“It’s Darcy.”

 

Where is she ?”

 

“They’ve got her down in the med bay on five.  Nat says she’ll be fine , she was wearing a vest - where are you going?”

 

Steve was already running, couldn’t hear what else Sam had to stay because he had to go and get his girl .

 

“Medical!” he called over his shoulder.

 

“Steve, the elevators are still out of service!” Sam called.  Steve cursed. He needed to see Darcy with his own eyes, and nothing was going to stop him, and it needed to be now .

 

He ran to the corner and hopped up on the ledge, and without pausing, jumped over the side.

 

“Just take the stairs , man,” Sam groaned, exasperated. 

 

“Did he just…” Rumlow trailed off, having just arrived with his team.   He leaned over the ledge, looking down.

 

“Yeah, he jumped off the roof.”

Chapter Text

“Confirmed gunshots fired in the northwest stairwell. We’re going in!”

 

Footsteps echoed around her, the staccato beat of boots running up the stairwell filling her ears. She was paralyzed, she couldn’t breath even as she was gasping to fill her lungs with air. Everything hurt.

 

“One confirmed body. No, it’s not one of ours. Yeah, he’s definitely dead.”

 

The voices were bouncing around in her head, and she tried to move, tried to speak, but she couldn’t, the painful rasping against her lungs as she tried to breath consuming her ability to move, to speak, to think.

 

“Wait - we’ve got another one over here! It’s moving!”

 

Footsteps rushed towards her. She tried to move, to put her hands up, to show she wasn’t holding a gun anymore.

 

“Oh Jesus, I know her, it’s Darcy Lewis.  We need a medical team up here right now! We’ve got a civilian down, northwest stairwell between the third and fourth floor!”

 

Jason Henderson was peering down at her.  He was one of the Baby Agents that had hung around with Nate. They had been friendly at one point, she thought distantly as the crest of pain was pulling her away, detaching her from what was happening.  He was cupping her face with his hand, holding her head steady as he looked down at her.

 

“Hey Lewis, can you hear me?  You’re going to be alright, okay?”

 

“What the hell is she even doing here?” another voice muttered, sounding angry.  

 

“Her floor should have been evacuated over an hour ago,” another voice rang out. “How did we let this happen?”

 

Hang on, Darcy.  We’ve got you,” Jason was saying.  “I know it hurts like hell, I’ve taken a slug to the vest before myself.  But you’re going to be fine. We’ve got you now.”

 

Darcy drifted awake, consciousness slowly cresting over her as her eyes slipped open and she became aware of her surroundings.  She reached up to her face, groaning, pulling the oxygen mask off her face.

 

They’d checked her, dosed her with pain medication and left her in a quiet room with supplemental oxygen, telling her to rest.  She pulled herself up into a sitting position, gasping as pain radiated up her left side and her breath came out in a wheezing cough.  

 

Darcy really wanted to take her bra off, the band digging in unbearably into her side. After trying to pull up her shirt and undo the back clasp and nearly passing out from the pain, she allowed herself to whimper in the quiet of her room.  Deciding to try a different tactic, she shifted herself slowly off the bed and shuffled over to the small bathroom in her room.

 

Now standing, she was able to pull her shirt off with one arm, moving stiffly and carefully, and hunching over the sink, she splashed water on her face, hoping it clear her foggy mind and wake her from the horror of the day.

 

Her eyes fixed on her reflection in the mirror, wandering down to the massive welt forming over her ribcage.  With a shaking hand, she gingerly cupped her hand over the swelling bruise, her eyes fixated on it.

 

Her eyes snapped up as she sensed movement behind her.  Steve.

 

She watched him in the reflection of the mirror. He was standing in the frame of the bathroom door, and he seemed to be panting, out of breath.  She wondered about that, she’d never seen him winded before. His eyes locked on hers as he stared at her in the mirror, and he moved in close behind her.  Darcy could feel him close to her back as he came towards her, and she didn’t look away as she took in the emotions playing across his face.

 

She could feel his breath on the back of her neck as he bent his head over her, standing just a whisper away from her, a seemingly protective stance that made her legs feel weak at the relief of him just being there with her.

 

His warm, large hand moved to close over hers, where she clutched her bruised ribcage, a gentle whisper of a touch.  His eyes, intensely bright and serious, flicked downwards, taking in her injury. She watched his face as he processed what he saw, the memory of the sound and impact as the bullet overwhelming her senses.

 

She doubled over as nausea roiled through her, and she moved blindly, hands out in front of her, reaching the toilet just in time before she started retching.  She could feel hands gathering her hair, pulling it up and out of the way. When she finished, she slumped to the floor, her head spinning from the pain that was radiating with each ragged breath.

 

Steve was on the floor with her, tissue in hand, wiping her mouth carefully.

 

“Hi,” she said, her voice barely a whisper, her throat so tight she could barely speak.

 

“Hi,” he said, and she wondered how it was possible that a two-letter word could hold so much emotion, but it was all there, in his voice and on his face.

 

“I killed someone today,” she said, blinking hard as tears burned her eyes.  Steve nodded slowly, solemn. He took one of her hands, pressing it between his, solid and reassuring.

 

“He would have killed you,” Steve said after a moment, and she nodded.  She could still feel the gun in her hands, could still remember the cold, hard weight of it, and tried to focus on his warmth of his hands holding hers.

 

“I couldn’t take my fucking bra off, it hurt too much,” she said, her voice watery as the tears that had threatened her overflowed and streamed down her face.  Darcy Lewis, survives a gunshot at point blank range but is utterly broken by her goddamn bra. He brushed a tear away with a gentle swipe of his finger, and smiled softly at her.

 

“I can help,” he said.  She looked away, trying to control her tears because crying hurt her ribs and she nodded.  “Come on.”

 

With a swift movement, he carefully scooped her up off the floor and carried her back over to bed, setting her down.  She pointed towards the folded gown the medic had left for her but hadn’t helped her put on, still sitting folded on the table next to the bed.  He picked it up, laying it out beside her.

 

He leaned over, his arms reaching around her, feeling for the clasp of her bar.  He hesitated for a moment, before burrowing his face into her neck, holding her close.  She moved one hand to the back of his head, holding him there as they both breathed together for a long moment, him taking deep breaths, seemingly collecting himself, hers shallow and laboured as she fought the pain.

 

With one final deep breath, Steve moved away, and gingerly undid the clasp and Darcy moaned with relief as the pressure lessened.  Steve picked up the gown, holding it out for her as she shuffled her bra off, letting it drop to the ground.

 

“Eyes up top, soldier,” she said lightly, hating how weak her voice sounded, as Steve helped her slide the gown on.  He rewarded her with an embarrassed smile and a roll of his eyes as she moved to lie back, him sitting beside her on the bed.

 

“Where’s my brownie?” she asked, and he closed his eyes, wincing as if in pain.

 

“This is a bit more than a knock on the head,” he said when he could finally speak.

 

“So, what are you thinking instead? Eclairs? Macaroons?” she suggested, trying to keep her tone easy.  She needed him so much, it hurt more than breathing right now. “Ooh, are cronuts still a thing?”

 

“How about you take some painkillers and get some rest before we talk treats,” he said, gently exasperated with her.

 

“I’ve already done both those things, you’re a little late to this show, Steve-o,” she said.

 

“Story of my life,” he muttered bitterly under his breath, looking away.  It was then that she noticed something, a detail that the fog of pain and medication had obscured from her.  She frowned, her eyes running up and down, taking in the full sight of him for the first time.

 

“Hey Steve,” she said slowly.  “What’s up with the Captain America outfit?”

 

He startled, a look of panic flashing across his face before he set his jaw in a certain way that Darcy knew meant he had just, in that moment, made some kind of difficult decision.

 

“It’s… uhh… it’s mine. My suit,” he said.  Darcy stared at him for a long moment, processing this information, while Steve stared back at her intently, waiting for some kind of reaction.

 

“Huh,” she said slowly. “That… actually makes a great deal of sense.”

 

“It does?” he asked, and she could hear the uncertain hope in his voice, which she thought was weird. What’s the big deal?

 

“I knew the less you could say about what you did, the more it meant you were into a lot more than just security,” she shrugged, and then groaned as the movement sent a jolt of pain through her body.  “You’re not even the only Avenger I know.”

 

“I”m not?”

 

“When I come down from these painkillers, I’ll probably be a bit embarrassed that I didn’t figure it out myself,” she said, wondering distantly how she hadn’t put it together. 

 

“I wanted to tell you. I tried to tell you but -”

 

“- Steve,” she broke in, her voice insistent.  “If this is your suit… That was you. Up in the library. It was you .”

 

“I left you,” he said, his voice sounding tortured.  “I’m so sorry-“

 

“You saved me,” she interrupted, taking his hand. “And now, because I got shot, you owe me a treat and an act of low-level treason. It’s tradition.”

 

“Okay,” he said.  He leaned over her, his hand cupping her face gently.  “But it’ll have to be treason I can commit from in here, because I’m not leaving you again any time soon.  Deal?”

 

“Deal,” she said with a smile, before the tears came back again and he was gathering her into his arms, cradling her against his chest as she began to sob.

 

***

 

Nate walked into the morning team meeting feeling really good. He’d finally gotten into the action during the incursion yesterday, finally getting a chance to prove himself, supporting the STRIKE team and getting real battle experience.

 

So good, in fact, that it took me a few moments to realize that something felt off. First, he noticed Henderson, standing off to the side of the room, glaring at him, his stance hostile.

 

Then he noticed Gibson and Dwyer were huddled near him, all wearing the same glaring expression.

 

Nate shrugged it off.  He’d heard they’d been on clean-up duty yesterday, sweeping through the empty floors. They were probably feeling crusty because he’d seen some action while they’d been stuck on the most boring detail.

 

“What’s got your panties in a twist, Henderson?” he scoffed, taking a seat.  “Do we have a problem?”

 

“Yeah, we have a problem,” Jason shot back, surprising Nate.  “I don’t like guys who disobey their orders and abandon an unarmed woman in the middle of a conflict.”

 

“What the hell are you on about?” Nate exploded, jumping out of his chair.

 

“Jesus, man, we all know her. She’s one of ours and you just left her.  We all saw the security footage - if Cap hadn’t just happened to come that group at the right time, she would’ve been killed for sure!” Jason was shouting.  “We’re the ones who found her in the stairwell.”

 

“What, are you talking about Lewis?” Nate said, dismissing his accusation. “The stupid girl is always getting in my way. Besides, she can handle herself, why sacrifice a good assignment to lead her down a flight of stairs?”

 

“Because it’s our job!” Henderson shouted at him. “Do you not get what we’re doing here?”

 

“Agent Philips!” a stern voice rang out, cutting through the shouts of the other agents, who’d started to pile on Henderson’s accusations.  He sighed heavily, recognizing the Black Widow’s voice. He hoped she was about to lead the debrief, she was such a stickler for detail, they were painfully long and tedious.

 

Natasha Romanov strutted towards him, not hesitating or flinching until she was right in his face.  She stared at him, a good foot shorter than him, but under her intense scrutiny, he suddenly felt himself wavering, breaking eyes contact first when he couldn’t stand it any longer.

 

“You are done here,” she said, her voice low but ringing with authority.  “Henderson, can you escort him out of the building?”

 

“Gladly,” Jason spat out, grabbing his arm.

 

“Wait a minute!” Nate protested, wrenching his arm away. In a flash, Romanov had him pressed against a wall, her hand nearly crushing his windpipe.

 

“No minute, no second chances, no opportunity to explain,” she said coolly.  “You are done .”

 

She released him and walked away.

 

“Get him out of here before Cap sees him,” she said, before leaving him in a room of former friends and colleagues, staring at him as if he were a leper.