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The first letter came on a Friday.

 

Actually it came on a Monday, lodged somewhere in the throat of the Avenger's Tower Mail Room (yes, the uppercase was necessary. Brand name recognition or something.) It resided there through Wednesday.

 

It wasn't junk mail, so it passed that screening.

 

No toxins.

 

No known poisons.

 

Once it passed those tests, there was some general confusion. Apparently not having physical mailbox to stick real mail in was kind of a head-scratcher for some folks. The intern that drew the short stick eventually showed up on Friday morning, looking confused, waving an envelope with Miss D. Lewis printed on the front.

 

Like, hand printed. In some seriously nice penmanship.

 

Darcy's heart was doing a straight-up Riverdance routine.


She wanted to rip into it like Tuesday Tapas night at Freddy's, but oh my god, this was a real, honest to god letter. Sure the envelope was nothing special, the kind you could get at any drugstore, but it was A Letter.

 

A Letter...from Someone Special.

 

Darcy squirreled herself away in the break room just off of Jane's lab (such a good call on her part) and tucked her legs into the corner of the couch.

 

How did she open it? The side tear? Fingernail under the flap? Straight across the top?

 

It was thick. Like, really thick. How many pages did he write? If it was him. What if it wasn't?

 

Oh god, the suspense was killing her and the only one keeping her from opening the damn thing was herself.

 

Biting her lip, Darcy settled on the side tear.

 

The neatly folded sheaf of papers slid out. The corners were a little messed up, like someone had carried them around in a pocket for a while.

 

She unfolded them.

 

Dear Darcy,

 

She squealed, clutching the letter to her chest. He called her dear! Yes, it was a standard greeting, but she didn't care!

 

Darcy quickly flipped to the end, wanting to make sure, really make sure that it was from who she thought.

 

Yours, Steve

 

Darcy read the familiar name again. Then again, her heart melting into a puddle of goo.

 

She had it so bad. For all she knew, all...six (!) pages were song lyrics and rhapsodizing about baseball or something.

 

Yours, Steve

 

God, she missed him. She missed them both. Were they okay? Were they getting along? Were they eating? Did they have enough clothes?

 

She went back to the beginning.

 

Dear Darcy,

 

How are you? Bucky and I are fine. It's been a long three weeks, but we're doing as well as can be expected.

 

I've never been much for letters. Everybody I knew was always in the same neighborhood, so I never had a chance to practice. Bucky wrote to me a few times during the war. I only got two. The tour was never in one place long enough for me to have a permanent address.

 

It's raining today. Buck talked me into buying another bike. He's got one too. Something about Born Wild or Born Free? I don't know. He says it was a movie. I haven't seen it.


We're stuck in this hotel room. It's nice. Bigger than our apartment used to be. Bigger than some of the places we slept in with the Commandos.

 

I miss you.

 

I told Bucky what you said about going and never coming back. I told him everything. I think that's why this hotel room feels so small, even with all the space. He's in his head. I'm in mine.

 

I don't want to be. I want to be the kind of person that can be free whenever they want. I want to talk. Can't talk to him right now. He's got things to sort out. Maybe we should have gotten two hotel rooms.

 

It's funny. Growing up in places that had twenty people on any given side of you felt cozy. Hemmed in, but comfortable. I feel like all this space just gives us room to blow apart and never come back together again.

 

Talking to you has always felt cozy. Right. I want to talk to you now, hear your voice, ask you questions. Where did you grow up? Do you have brothers or sisters? In the neighborhood, everybody knew everything about everybody else.

 

The first apartment building I lived in was more crowded than most people these days would tolerate. Mrs. O'Hare was on the first floor. She had the best window. It was the one she could see everybody going and coming from. I used to wonder if she had a tally sheet she kept on the windowsill, just to keep track of everybody's schedules. If Fury had put her in a van and given her some headphones, she would have made a good surveillance tech.

 

She always knew when Ma had to work doubles. Sometimes she'd pretend she made too many cookies for her grandchildren and slip them to me when she checked on me. Said it was our secret. Ma found out years later and told me that Mrs. O'Hare's only son died when I was two. No children. Mrs. O'Hare had passed on by then. I used to visit her grave, but they moved the cemetery at some point. I can't find it now.

 

What did people do when they came back from the war, Darcy? The therapist they sent me to used to say that everything I felt was normal, that thousands of people experienced it after traumatic events. I see photos of soldiers kissing their girls and read about the economic boom, and I gotta wonder how many of the men smiling were really screaming inside.

 

I grew up wanting to be useful and couldn't. The army told me that I could make a difference, but the war wasn't supposed to last forever. I keep thinking about it, Darcy. If I'd lived. What would I have done after? I was built to fight and protect. Army bases were abandoned. Tanks dismantled. Guns stored away.

 

What if I'd lived?

 

All this quiet makes it a little hard to sleep. Maybe that's getting to me. The longer we're out in places that have wide open spaces, the less safe I feel. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the Tower. At least there we were in the city. There are distractions there. Things to focus on.

 

Now there's nothing but ourselves, and we haven't been able to find anything to say to each other for hours. He's my best friend, Darcy. He knows what I've seen, but I don't know the same about him. That's the hardest truth I've had to face so far.

 

We are not the men we were. You were right—we need to find out who we are now. Anything worth having is also worth fighting for. I'm willing to do the work, the same way anybody who's walked away from what we did would.

 

Bucky's making noises about ordering pizza. Thank God it's not another hamburger. The last one we had was awful, and their cake almost made me cry.

 

I hope you're well. Stay safe.

 

Yours,

Steve

 

Darcy sat on that couch a long time, staring into nothing. It was tempting to cry. She hurt on the inside, and people were supposed to cry when they were sad. Mostly she wanted to write him back and tell him he was brave. Say that she wanted to take it all away from him and make it better again. Good things were supposed to happen to people like Steve and Bucky.

 

He'd spilled his guts all over those pages. Pieces of himself were right there.

 

“Darcy?”

 

She looked up at Jane, who stood in the door with a Poptart in one hand and her mug in the other.

Private moment over, it seemed.


She swiped at her eyes. “What's up, boss lady?”

 

“What's that?”

 

Well, their lesson in social cues had fallen through yet again. “It's a letter.”

 

“A letter that made you cry?”

 

Tear up, thank you very much. And it's a great letter. The best one I've ever gotten, in fact.”

 

Jane looked dubious. “What's so great about it?”

 

“You know how you get when you're looking through Hector--”

“It's a telescope, Darcy--”

 

“And you're staring at all the stars and waxing poetic about the mysteries of the universe and how we have to find out as much about it as possible?”

 

“I only did that one time.” She shuffled her feet. “Maybe.”

 

“You do it all the time, and it's cute. This,” she held up the letter, “is one of those stars.”

 

Jane blinked. Slowly. “Someone sent you a star?”

 

“Not a literal—you know what? It doesn't matter. I'm good. Also, are you aware that you still have the wrapper on that Poptart?”

 

She kept the letter with her for the rest of the day. That night, she sat down at her table and thought about writing him back. It wouldn't actually get to him, of course, but it would get all the things she wanted to say out of her head.

 

She didn't, in the end. It seemed like one of those schmaltzy things that didn't suit the gravity of the occasion.


But it had to be answered.

 

Darcy dug out a shoe box and wrapped it in leftover gift paper. She took down the Chocolate Layer Cake recipe from her fridge and un-hid the iPod ransom note Bucky had drawn for her. She baked the cake, took a picture, and had it printed.

 

The cake was left in the common room. Anybody who wanted to could eat it.

On the back of the picture she wrote:

 

Dear Steve,

 

Thank you for your letter.

 

I'm an only child.

 

I want to take you to Norway.

 

I want you to see the Northern Lights.

 

Nobody built you—you are not a machine. You're a man. And you did live.

 

Yours,

Darcy

 

 

It wasn't anywhere near as eloquent as what he'd written, but she supposed it didn't have to be. She'd just wanted to record her answers and other tidbits she'd tell him when he got back. Becuase he was going to get a reply, one way or the other.

 

She fixed the photo to the letter with a paper clip. It'd come off later when she reread everything, but for now, the letter, the recipe, the photo, and the drawing were going into her box.

 

On the side she wrote: From Someone Special, 2016.

 

Steve may have been afraid of scattering pieces of himself all over open spaces, but Darcy was a professional support team-like person. When things went to hell, she rounded up the bits and made them make sense again. “Hey JARVIS? How good are you at research?”

 

“That would depend on the public record available to me, Miss Lewis.”

 

“So if it's not digital, you can't do anything about it.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Old School it is. Alright, Mrs. O'Hare. Let's find out where you went.”