As Darcy sorted through Jane’s email she might have sighed just a little over the reminder for the Stark Industries’ Holiday Ball. It was THE most elegant party of the season, where people still dressed up in tuxedos and ball gowns. Couture wasn’t out of place. People Magazine covered the event every year. Darcy, like millions of other twentysomethings, turned the pages afterward, wishing and dreaming just a little.
There would be champagne, caviar, and dancing like nobody’s business.
Jane had an invitation tacked to her cork board above her desk. A real one, handwritten in midnight blue ink on thick gold paper stock with soft edges.
Of course, Jane would go. Thor. Avengers. That kind of thing.
Darcy found the invitation crammed under Jane’s monitor, still sealed. She wrinkled her nose at the crinkled corner, opened it like a good unpaid intern, and fished out the reply card behind the invite. She filled it out and personally walked it to Pepper’s office to hand it over to one of the assistants. Then she threw away the envelope and tacked the invitation up on the board to remind Jane of the upcoming party of the year.
As Jane was dating an Avenger, Darcy had come to know some of them. Natasha, because she and Pepper were friends. Tony, because he kept poking his nose in Jane’s lab, and Darcy had become pretty good at shooing him away. Clint, because he was everywhere, all the time. The others, not so much. She’d seen Bruce and waved at him, happy when she got a shy smile in response.
Steve was more elusive. She’d heard from Jane that his friend, Bucky, had a rough go of it at Hydra’s hands. Steve spent most of his time in Brooklyn helping Bucky come to grips with it. It was noble and something like Captain America would do. She caught a glimpse of him here and there, enough that they would smile in at each other in passing, but they’d never met formally.
She spent the week poring over Pinterest pages and clicking on various dress shops to find something fashionable and affordable, though Jane could spring for something nice, considering she lived with Thor and ate cereal four times a day.
She found the perfect place, a dress shop operated by recently graduated fashion designers hoping to make their name in the industry. Dressing an attendee to the Holiday Ball would be quite a coupe for one of them.
Darcy dragged Jane out of the lab and into the shop that Friday morning. With only a week before the ball, there wasn’t much time for alterations and shoe shopping.
The designers fell in love with Jane. With her long hair, slight curves, and petite figure, she was a perfect form for the lean lines designers adored. Jane giggled her way through the dresses and landed on something that would complement Thor’s elegance. It was long, red, strappy, and nothing like anything she’d ever worn. Tiny crystals made long trails in the front of the gown.
The designer nearly hyperventilated when Jane selected his gown, and it took a good five minutes of Darcy plying him with water before he could pin it up properly for alterations. He carefully marked on the fabric where Jane’s soulmark curved along her shoulder. He would cut away the heavy fabric, replace it with something shimmering and translucent, and edge it in crystals in the current fashion trend.
The ecstatic designer provided the scrap of fabric and a photo for shoe shopping, and off they went for that part. As it turned out, there was a school for shoes not too far away, and they stopped there first.
Jane wasn’t too keen on heels, but when she discovered what it was like to wear elegant shoes (Darcy had a single perfect pair) with cushiony support, the perfect height and not a rub mark to be found, she changed her mind. The color of moonstones, they wouldn’t detract from the fabulous dress, and yet, they, too, were beautiful enough to stand on their own.
Darcy refused to be jealous, but it was so hard not to touch the gowns and shoes and wonder what it would be like to walk into that ballroom as if she belonged. To have her soulmarks on display (One around her ankle, “Did you lose something, doll?” The other started between her middle knuckles on her left hand, wound through the same fingers, skimmed along the top of her palm and ended on along her little finger. “Don’t mind my staring, ma’am. You’re beautiful, I’m a jerk, and may I help you to your feet?”) Both of her soulmarks had beautiful handwriting, something less and less common these days. (She’d even heard of someone with a soulmark in Comic Sans. Ewww.)
She hadn’t met her soulmates yet, but that didn’t bother her. Her parents hadn’t met until they were fifteen years older than she was now. But the marks were darkening, a sure sign that the time of their meeting was approaching, though it could be tomorrow or sometime five years from now. It wasn’t an exact science.
Of course, she wondered, but dwelling on it wouldn’t get her anywhere, so she set it to the back of her mind and focused on keeping Jane headed in the right direction.
The night of the ball, Darcy chivvied Jane along, making sure she got to the hairdresser on time. The designer personally dressed Jane, ooh and ah’d over the shoes, and made one too many adjustments that drove Jane batty until Darcy shooed him away. Really, the dress was perfect.
She escorted Jane to the lobby, where she’d made Thor wait for his date. That whole finished product thing. And given the way his eyes glowed, Darcy gave herself double-kudos for a job well done. And then they were in the limousine and off to the hotel for the party.
Darcy shrugged and went back to Jane’s place to clean up and get her purse for the subway ride home.
She found Clint and Natasha leaning up on either side of Jane’s door. Clint looked a little like Daniel Craig in his dark grey tux. Natasha had poured herself into a sheath that slashed across her throat but left her arms bare. A tiny cutout at the waist showed off her soulmark, Clint’s words in a slashing script.
“Why aren’t you dressed?” Clint demanded. “We’re going to share a limo.”
She blinked. “I wasn’t invited.”
Nat frowned at her, something that made her take a full step backward. Natasha produced an invitation just like the one on Jane’s corkboard. Darcy leaned in. It was the one off Jane’s corkboard because the corner was smushed just a little where Jane had crammed it under her computer monitor.
Natasha held out the envelope that she’d fished out the trash can, and turned it over. Darcy’s name was clearly written on the back in that same elegant penmanship. Nat rolled her eyes. "I'd wondered why you didn't RSVP."
Darcy pressed a hand to her forehead. She’d found the invitation on Jane’s desk, didn’t bother looking at the envelope, and stuck it on the board for Jane to see. And now it was too late. No dress.
For a couple of spies, they had no trouble discerning way things had played out just from her expressions alone. Natasha gave her a good look from head to toe. “Come on.”
Darcy tried to protest, but Nat and Clint gave her twin dirty looks. Clint called someone on his cell phone. “Give us thirty minutes and send the limo back around.”
Nat shoved her in Clint’s direction when they reached their apartment. “Get started on her makeup and hair. I’ll have something in a couple of minutes.”
“Up or down?” he asked.
“Down. Let’s go vintage today. She’s got the figure for it,” Nat replied. “I have an idea.”
Clint led Darcy to the spacious bathroom he shared with Natasha. “Shirt off. Bra, too, if you’ll let me have a peek.”
She hesitated, saw the sparkle in his eyes, and retorted, “Don’t be an ass. I know you spy on me, but you’ll have to do it the hard way.” Clint only smirked as he pulled out curling irons and a freakin’ tool box of a makeup kit. “Holy shit, I had no idea,” Darcy marveled. “Duh. Spies, assassins. I guess you know your way around a disguise or two.”
He grinned in the mirror. “One or two. Wash your face and let’s get started.”
By the time Clint finished pulling her hair back into a forties wave, she’d applied the make up as he directed. For the most part, it wasn’t too far off what she might have chosen, but he had a bit more talent in contouring and a knack for smudging eye shadow. She did her own brows and lips and the finished result wasn’t too bad at all.
“Strip,” he ordered as he directed her back into the bedroom.
She blushed pink. “Yeah, no.”
Nat chuckled. “Turn around, Clint, give the girl some privacy.”
Darcy snickered and took a look at what Natasha had found as she peeled out of her leggings and bra. There was a foundation garment that, okay, whoa, look at what that did to the girls.
“How do you have all this stuff that fits me, Natasha?”
The Widow smiled. “You haven’t noticed that our figures are almost identical? We both gain weight and it goes straight to our breasts, so I’ll bet you have bras in three different sizes. So do I. You’re a couple of inches taller than I am, but we want to show off your ankle anyway, so dress length isn’t going to be a problem.
Her mouth fell open. “Yeah, okay.”
Natasha handed her a v-necked, sleeveless dark green gown entirely overlaid with black lace. The body of it hugged her curves and the tapered hem split just below her knee. Enough that the soulmark could be seen around her ankle.
“What size shoe do you wear, Darcy?”
“Seven and a half.”
“Good. I can work with that.”
The shoes were a little more than a mesh of silver, hardly enough to see. “Okay, I thought I knew what great shoes felt like,” she quipped. Her feet were in heaven and she twirled once to see if they would stay on if she danced. “Wow.”
“Nobody makes shoes like the Italians, Darcy. Lesson learned. Gloves.”
Darcy had never worn gloves like these. Black lace elbow gloves ended midway down her hand, with a hole for her thumb and bit of lace that went around her third finger. Natasha had done something to the lace on the left one so that it lay alongside her soulmark.
Natasha slipped lipstick into a matching silver clutch and handed it to her. “Put your cell phone in. There you go. Ready?”
She took a long look in the mirror. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
Clint escorted both of them, one on each arm, into the limo and into the hotel ballroom.
It was everything she imagined and a thousand times more. Sparkling chandeliers, a band on the dais, food everywhere. Someone handed her a glass of champagne aa Darcy spied Jane.
Client leaned over to her. “Limo is picking us up at midnight. We’re all going back to the Tower for our own private party. It’s even more fun than this one, but if you decide not to come, that’s okay too.”
A little stunned, definitely overwhelmed, she waved off Clint and Natasha with one too many thank-yous. Still red with embarrassment, she weaved through the crowds to admire Jane and Thor. He kissed her hand. She curtsied properly this time. (An inside joke to the three of them and he let out a booming laugh that brightened her whole night.)
Jane admired the dress she wore. “I thought you weren’t coming and where did you find that?”
“Apparently, my fairy godmother and godfather appeared with a magic wand, waved it, and here I am.”
Never say Jane was stupid. “Did I see you come in with Natasha and Clint?”
“My new godparents? Yes.”
Darcy did and didn’t even stumble in her fairy shoes. The dancing hadn’t started yet, so Darcy wandered after Jane, kept both of them supplied with champagne, and kept tabs on the number of celebrities she recognized.
There was a formal sit down dinner, and after a full ten minutes of searching, she discovered her name card at the same table with Steve Rogers and his friend--Bucky, was it? Or was she supposed to call him “James” like his card read? She didn’t know and figured that would come later.
But the two of them were late to the party and she’d been introduced to two other couples and a nice old lady who had been attending these balls since Howard Stark started holding them in 1947. She regaled Darcy with tales of celebrities that had her enraptured to the point that she didn't notice the two gorgeous men sitting on the opposite side of the table until dessert had been cleared.
Steve waved at her, a little salute of acknowledgement, and flashed her a gorgeous smile that made her heart melt just a little. Bucky—James—gave her a curious look and a tiny nod. He didn’t look particularly comfortable to be at the party, but wasn’t rude either.
The dancing started and Clint reappeared to take her around the floor for a couple of songs. Then she danced with Tony, and Thor, and a few of the faster ones with Jane. Pepper even joined in on one of them.
She was having such a fabulous time that she completely forgot to watch the clock--not that there were many of those around. She ducked into the bathroom to freshen up and do something about the umpteen glasses of champagne she’d sipped all night. She checked her cell phone as she looked herself over in the mirror.
“Oh, it’s almost midnight," she muttered.
"This party is just getting started," the blonde slicking on lipstick next to her countered.
She skirted the tables and did that run/fast walk thing to the hotel lobby and down to where the limos were parked. Nat and Clint were climbing into the front one. She stumbled on the third step down, lost her balance, her shoe, and her dignity as she sat down hard on the stairs--only to watch the limo pull away.
“Damn.” She sat there, reminding herself that pride wasn't a virtue, so what was a few more minutes of catching her breath?
Footsteps on either side of her proved to belong to the two gorgeous men at her table.
Bucky had her shoe in his hand and knelt down in front of her. “Did you lose something, doll?” Without looking away from her eyes, he reached for her ankle, his metal hand curling around her words, to slide her shoe in place. His ice blue eyes warmed at her sudden smile.
Stunned, she looked at the hand waiting in front of her and put her fingers in them. Steve pressed his thumb lightly against her knuckle, his forefinger on her palm and their hands connected at her little finger. He gaped a little until he caught himself. Then he blushed as she tilted her head, waiting. “Don’t mind my staring, ma’am. You’re beautiful, I’m being a jerk, and may I help you to your feet?”
Unable to decide which man to look at first, she said to both of them, “I take it you two come as a set? Because if you do, I think I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”
Steve and Bucky did a fast double-take at her and each other. Then she laughed outright as they each peeked under their fingers to see that, yes, their words were written on her hand and ankle.
The subsequent smiles blinded her with their radiance. Steve pulled her up and pressed his lips to her knuckles. “Steve Rogers, ma’am.”
Bucky took her other hand in his metal fingertips and kissed her there, too. “James Barnes. Punk here calls me ‘Bucky.’ I’d be pleased if you would do the same.”
“Darcy Lewis.” She tilted her head. “Either of you boys have plans this evening?”
She found later that Steve and Bucky shared words on their shoulders and had taken heart in the identical words on their right and left hands, respectively. All but the last of Steve’s words to Bucky were lost with his arm. He’d despaired over losing a connection to the girl they’d never met and wondered if the metal arm would prevent him from finding the soul bond.
She also cornered Natasha and Clint. She determined that, yes, they had seen her soulmarks. Clint crossed his arms, smirking. "Aw, Darcy. Like 'doll' and 'ma'am' aren't a dead giveaway around here." Maybe they were. To the right people.
She hadn't been looking for a prince. All she'd wanted was a pretty dress and a party.