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Girls Can Do Better

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Janet offers to take her shopping hours after Stephanie is thawed out.

It's months before she even considers the offer. It's months before she needs anything other than the leather and mail, a standard issue SHIELD uniform, or whatever disguise she can scrounge up. Eventually though, she can't avoid it. Being an Avenger and working with Nick keeps her busy, but the country's not at war anymore, and after the initial excitement is over, she finds that she's got days and days of time to herself, that she's expected to fill.

She's sitting in her apartment, nursing a cup of spectacular coffee, and watching the morning joggers go by, when things come to a head.

There are girls racing by in slick, skintight fabric, or very short, soft looking shorts. Girls shuffling bleary-eyed to the station in denim. Ripped, baggy, tight - a million different colours and textures. Stephanie has never owned anything denim. There are women in suits and heels so high and thin she can't figure how they manage to stay upright. This brave new world has women who look like they've stepped out of a German cabaret, and women who, so far as Stephanie can tell, dress exactly like men do, and everything possible in between.

The closet came as furnished as the apartment. There are trousers and shirts in neutrals and primary colours, socks and underclothes, a couple of pairs of shoes. All courtesy of Janet and Tony, who insisted that she needed something, and that she would of course, call Janet when she was ready to go find something she really liked. Everything is exactly her size. It shouldn't surprise her, because of course, the Army had her measurements, along with Nick's peacekeeping-through-espionage agency. The Avengers too, since she'd spent hours in Tony's machines being analyzed, after they'd found her.

Still, did the Avengers have a standard issue, new hero survival kit?

One (supposedly) modest apartment, fully furnished.

Five changes of clothing, including shoes, a coat and even an umbrella.

One plastic 'debit' card to access her new bank account, (which would, Tony and Nick both promised, soon be augmented by decades of hazard pay and her Army pension), and lessons on how to use it.

One tiny computer that fits on her bedside table, and instructions on how to use that. (With more to come because let's be honest, she's nowhere near comfortable with turning the thing on, let alone using it).

Discs and discs of modern and contemporary history films that she's supposed to be watching on the television, in all the spare time she has now.

It's all a little unreal. Forget being frozen in Antarctic ice and waking decades later. Forget going to sleep in the middle of a war - one she sometimes thought, when she had time to be indulgent and miserable, was never going to end - and then waking up in this decadent, pulp fiction future.

Forget all of that. She looks down at these girls and women, hurrying to work and school, strolling to cafes for breakfast, and blazing along on their morning run, and she just-- has no idea how she's going to pass as one of them. She was going visit the Met today, on Janet's suggestion. Instead she's drinking coffee that she made herself, with her brass and steel coffee maker - better than the best coffee she ever had before waking - and trying to figure out what the hell she's supposed to wear.

And it's-- frustrating. Because she has better things to do than worry about what to wear. Or she should. She went years without a day off before, and now she's just left to her own devices, whenever there isn't a criminal or megalomanic in a costume to fight, or an international criminal network to bust. She went years without wearing civilian clothes, outside of trying to pass as a French citizen. She'd worn the uniform until it had holes in it, and she had to patch them. She'd worn it until she smelled as bad as any of the Howling Commandos, and any notions they'd had about her delicate femininity were well and truly debunked.

She calls Janet.

Her plans sound entirely too grand and too upscale. Stephanie keeps reminding her, "Simple. Just something simple."

"Right. I'll pick you up. We can't go shopping on a motorcycle." Which is Stephanie's only mode of transportation, aside from the subway. Or walking. Jan isn't fond of either of those options, Stephanie has learned.

"Not the limo."

"What's wrong with the limo?"

"Nothing. I'd just prefer-"

"Not to have someone drive you everywhere?"

"Well..." Stephanie says ruefully. She rubs a hand over her chin - a tick she'd picked up from Arnie, she thinks.

Janet laughs. "I get it. Hank's the same."

Jan shows up in a Mercedes that looks like a miniaturized rocket ship. That's another thing: the cars. In endless variety. Most of them shiny, and new-looking.

"Top down or up?"

Stephanie grins. "Down of course. Unless you want to protect your hair?"

Jan rolls her eyes. "The hair will survive." Still, she takes a minute to tie a scarf over it, while Stephanie's buckling her seat belt. "Well hello gorgeous," Jan says to her reflection in the rear view mirror. She blows herself a kiss, then guns the engine. She weaves in and out of traffic like a woman on a mission. They're going shopping - apparently that's mission enough for Jan. Stephanie grins.

"What're you smiling about, blondie?"

"Nothing."

They make it in what Stephanie is sure is record time. It's a small, unassuming store, in a line of other unassuming stores. The whole neighborhood is upscale, but subtly so. She'd expected Jan to take her to the mall, or to 5th Avenue, (which yes, she is now aware of, thanks to television). The quietness of the street is reassuring. Jan parks in front of a no parking sign. "They have valet," she explains.

"Of course they do." Stephanie suppresses a sigh. "Simple, right?"

"Don't worry, blondie." Jan winks. "I've got you."

"Sure," she says to Jan's back. Stephanie trails after her, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her sweatshirt.

Jan tosses the keys to a valet with a genuine smile and a very nice tip, and then moves on to air kiss the elegant woman who greets her warmly. "Jan. It's been too long."

"Victoria. It has."

"Top designer and superheroine, darling. I'm sure it's hard to find the time." They smile at each other. Fawn over each others' outfits. Victoria is curvy, where Jan is slender, but Stephanie's at least a foot taller than either of them. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, while they're wearing designer concoctions - she can't even identify the fabrics, much less the labels. To say she feels awkward would be an understatement.

Then Jan grins widely. "This is Stephanie. She needs a few things. Simple things," she says with emphasis.

Victoria looks her over, a slow, penetrating gaze that put to Stephanie's drill sergeant to shame. "Have you ever considered modeling?"

"No," Stephanie says firmly, then blushes when she realizes how that sounds. She's sure that she didn't manage to hide her horror. "I mean... no, I haven't.

"She's in the military, Victoria," Jan says with a grin.

"Please, don't drop and give me twenty for the suggestion."

"I won't," Stephanie says.

They shop. Victoria puts together outfits, while Stephanie and Jan sip bottled water.

She only manages to get out one protest. "I don't really-"

"Steph, you're going to need some nice things, too. A good suit. A little black dress? You can't wear the uniform all the time, not anymore." Stephanie just blinks at her, but must look far gone because Jan puts a hand on her shoulder. "This isn't supposed to be a traumatic experience."

"I'm fine."

"Well then--dresses?" She gives Stephanie a searching look and an encouraging pat. It's all terribly kind and sweet; something Stephanie hasn't experienced for too long.

"Yeah," she says, squaring her shoulders. "Let's look at dresses."

Jan laughs. "Victoria? Stephanie has an OPlan and is ready to tackle the dresses."

***

They leave the shop without bags. "They'll deliver," Jan assures her, steering her toward the waiting car. "How do you feel about lunch?"

Stephanie's grumbling stomach answers for her, and Janet heads for, "somewhere discreet."

"I didn't realize you were so famous."

"It's not just for my sake, blondie. Not everyone knows you're back, but the movers and shakers? There's no way Nick could keep you--Stephanie Rogers, and not just Cap--secret forever."

Stephanie Rogers was never publicly identified as Captain America--it was always about the uniform, not the woman--but there are records. Someone could connect her face to uniform, mask or no. It had happened before, and she had no reason to think it couldn't happen now, so many decades later. Now that she was a confirmed national hero, there would be more pictures than ever before.

"The hero thing..."

"We learned about you in school," Jan says. "Tony had a poster."

"His parents let him have posters?"

Jan laughs. "He had a surprisingly normal childhood for a filthy rich genius. He's older, but I remember what he was like. MIT before he finished puberty, robots instead of dolls, and Captain America posters as far as the eye can see"

"Posters, now," Stephanie says, emphasis on the s.

"He had a few," Jan says, grinning. "I had the one with the skirt."

"They still print that one?"

"It's a collector's item."

"That's it, I'm done. Put me back in the ice," Stephanie says, and part of her isn't joking.

"It's not that bad," Jan protests.

"Oh it is. You don't know how hard I fought them over it." The skirt uniform. Not the first model the designers had come up with, but oh, it had been so popular with the generals.

"It had nice lines," Jan says with a pout.

"There was a skirt. It was ridiculous. I'm not a pinup--Captain America is not a pinup."

"Of course not."

"The skirt was an insult to the uniform and everything it stands for!" Stephanie glares at the windshield. "You know they let me into the program as a kind of novelty act? 'How interesting it will be, to see the effects of the serum on a woman!' And then I was the only success--most of the test subjects died, Janet. Did you know that?"

"No."

"Suddenly I was faster, stronger, better--better than any man they put me up against. Do you know what they wanted to use me for? Recruitment films. USO shows."

"I know," Jan says, but she doesn't--how could she?

"I don't know everything you went through, Steph, and I know that this is strange for you, but you need to understand that you're a part of our history now."

Her right hand curls into a fist. She taps it against the door, lightly. She finds that her body's gone cold, colder than the wind blowing around them can account for. Finally she says, "A few months ago I was praying that we'd get someone into Hitler's bunker."

Jan pulls over, sending the unfortunate souls behind her into a flurry of honks and skidding tires. Then she leans over, and puts a hand on Stephanie's thigh. "I didn't... I'm sorry. I could have put that better. Steph, this country cares about you, about Captain America. You're a part of our history--and you're a part of our present."

Stephanie knows that of course. She's been dodging the interview requests. She just doesn't know what to say in response. It's the clothes, the cars, the posters. Everything.

"Hey, don't go all strong and silent on me."

"What it means to wear this uniform, Jan--" She's been going into battle wearing the flag since the beginning, but they aren't at war anymore. People like Janet and Tony grow up learning about her in school.

"Steph, you know that you're more than that uniform to us, right?

"It's not that, Jan. I'm just... still finding my sea legs. I was a soldier first. Even the Invaders existed as part of the war effort. Now I'm fighting giant robots and aliens, and shopping for dresses with a fashion designer." Stephanie smiles at Jan, who's still touching her, as though trying to will comfort into Stephanie's skin. "An incredibly kind and understanding fashion designer."

"And heroine, don't forget that part."

"You're a pretty great heroine," Stephanie says. She doesn't have to lie, Janet is a great superhero. They all are. Stephanie is lucky to be fighting alongside them.

"Obviously." Jan starts the car, and pulls into traffic. She drives for a while, without any trace of her earlier wildness.

"You can speed up."

Jan hums, let's the speedometer inch forward. "You're allowed to take your time, you know. Figuring things out."

"Thank you, Janet," Stephanie says, not at all managing sarcastic.

"The skirt did have nice lines though."

"Janet no, it was so ugly."

"Great for your legs."

"Can we stop talking about this now?"

"Of course, blondie." Janet winks and for the rest of the drive back to Stephanie's place, is silent.