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Simply indispensable

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Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world - who let those bitches in, anyway?

Darcy Lewis breathed slowly and deeply - just like Dr. Banner had taught her - and managed to keep the official smile on her face as she turned her back on the entrance to the ballroom. It was some reception-celebration-honoring-thingy thrown by the mayor and the governor in recognition of the Avengers. Jane had come in from Norway, Erik was looking a lot better these days (thank God for Asgard healing stones), and even Colonel Fury had swapped his leather duster for black tie for the occasion.

All these happy thoughts evaporated when Darcy spotted a small group of people approaching the open doors. It was just like old times - except back in the day, she spent her life looking anxiously over her shoulder. Whereas by now, she thought she was past all that.

"Past all what?"

She gave a little squeak of surprise at the comment. The speaker was leaning on the wall near the corridor at the rear exit, glass in hand, looking very unlike himself in formal dress.

"Captain Rogers," Darcy sighed. "Sorry, I was kind of preoccupied for a minute there. What can I do for you?"

Steve smiled and Darcy's knees made the usual attempt to fold up and quit.

"First off, you can tell me what you're past," he said. "If it's okay with you. Not a deep dark secret or anything, right?"

Darcy eyed the glass in his hand. "You're not really drinking that, are you?" she asked.

"Nope. But holding it keeps people from offering me more and me having to explain why I don't drink."

"I bet that gets boring," said Darcy. Plucking the glass from his hand, she downed its contents in a couple of swigs (semi-flat champagne) and handed the empty glass back to him as he watched, bemused.

"The short version is," she told him, "that when I was in middle school and high school there were these - people. People who made my life hell, wouldn't quit teasing me, stealing stuff out of my desk, spreading rumors, you know."

Steve was nodding. Of course he knew; hadn't he been the 98-pound weakling in his day?

"I couldn't wait to go to college. I actually made an effort to find out where They were going and applied to schools on the other side of the country. As far from our hometown as possible."

"In New Mexico, right? So what gives, now?"

"There were five chicks that led the pack," said Darcy. "And three of them just came in the door."

"No shit," Steve exclaimed, straightening up and peering across the room. "Which ones?"

"Don't look!" Darcy grabbed his arm and hauled him out the door and a few feet down the hallway.

"Why? Don't you want to show them how well you're doing, how you're so over them?" Steve only blushed a little when he added, "What a babe you turned out to be?"

Darcy blushed a lot and giggled to boot. "Thanks, Cap." Then she looked down at her feet and sobered. "Nah, I think I'll just sneak out the back and go home and eat ice cream."

"Hey."

The first Avenger tipped up her chin with his finger and looked her in the eye.

"You know what?" he said. "I hate bullies."