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Make-Believe Ballroom Time

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"You do realize that swing is much more of an athletic event nowadays than like, a swell way to meet a nice gal, right?" Darcy asked, improbably shoving ANOTHER pair of shoes into an already overstuffed handbag.

"Well sure - I mean, I didn't realize that - but I still would like to learn." Steve offered her the water bottle from the counter which she shoved into the handbag. Giving her hair one last primp in the mirror she gave him one of her all-teeth smiles.

"Well sure then. You can come to classes if you want - they're every Tuesday at seven at Dance Manhattan on 19th street." Darcy unwrapped several sticks of gum and began chewing them all with a determined enthusiasm, toeing on a final pair of shoes and moving to leave her apartment.

Steve blocked her way, looking uncomfortable. "Could you just show me? I'm kind of-"

"A studly supersoldier who will probably blow the curve for the rest of the class? Yes."

"-self conscious," Steve finished, and he thought he'd managed to play on Darcy's emotions, because she gave him this understanding, somewhat exasperated look.

"Tell you what - we do a couple privates and then you have to go out and shake your stuff without me holding your hand. Sound fair?" She brushed by him out her door and headed towards the elevator not giving him time to respond. "I'll have JARVIS pull up some stuff so you can decide what style you'd like to learn." She stepped in to the elevator and was gone...

"Style?" Steve asked the now-empty hallway.


--

Darcy had convinced him to move out of SHIELD housing and into the Tower very simply by doing it herself. She had been one of his few contacts with the outside world back at SHIELD HQ after his defrosting, and she was also the only person not to be assigned to be friends with him. Her leaving without him would have meant living virtually friendless in a barracks, so he had packed his shield and his costume and showed up on Stark's front door. He was relatively certain Stark hadn't asked her to move, but Ms. Potts was more than accommodating for Bruce's lab assistant and semi-handler, and she had dragged him along by force of will and good nature. They had become even closer friends - she had revealed a remarkable fondness for old films and they had bonded over a mutual horror at the loss of film reels from the 30's and 40's. He hadn't known about her dancing until that night, though.

"Oh, yeah, I've been teaching for a few years. I travel to events sometimes, but really, everyone comes through New York eventually, so it's not as necessary as when I was in like, New Mexico," she said when he had asked. He'd caught her in the meditation room in the gym performing some sort of solo choreography to music that he actually recognized. She'd been sweating profusely but didn't seem upset that he had caught her.

The desire to learn had always been there for him. When he was younger, he and Bucky would fake-waltz around the living room with each other or one of Bucky's sisters while Bucky's parents danced in a more competent manner, to the Saturday night broadcasts of the Ballroom Hour from wherever they were recording. The easy way Bucky's mother stepped along with his dad had always fascinated Steve, and in a way, had defined how he viewed relationships in the future.

When he actually got old enough for real dancing, the combined stress of getting up close with a girl combined with a certain level of physical exertion had inevitably sent him into an asthma attack.  He was relegated to punch-fetching duty at any dance while Bucky was out on the floor with both their dates. Once the serum took effect, he was with the Army and on tour, and there weren't any dames who were not either with the USO circuit or prostitutes, and he just never got the chance.

Darcy was true to her word and his Stark Pad showed approximately twenty waiting videos for him the next morning, along with his newspaper articles and daily comics. The music off the Stark Pad was pretty abysmal but he happily went through the videos, flagging his favorites as the note from Darcy indicated he should.

A flag popped up on his calendar that he has an appointment with Darcy the next day in a free time block. It was labeled, "Dancy Darcy!" which made Steve smile. They met in the meditation room where Darcy was flipping through songs on her iPod hooked into the room's stereo system. Steve wasn't sure what to wear so he was somewhere between 'going to dinner' clothes and 'working out in the gym' clothes in ironed slacks and a t-shirt with an arc reactor printed on it that Tony thought was adorable on him. He was relieved to see he hit the right tone as Darcy was in yoga pants and a t-shirt as well.

"Hey," he said to break the silence, "I hope I'm not late."

"Nope! Bruce just got finished with a timed cell culture experiment and I wanted to scoot before he could rope me into more cell counting." She put on a Benny Goodman song of which he recognized the tune but not the words. "So you seemed to gravitate towards the more social side of the dances - not a big performance guy or anything too showy. That's fine: that's good," she assured him when he looked uncertain. "So we're going to do a lot on leading, and generally how to move your follow, and not worry too much about doing anything really fancy. You'll be great at this - really."

It was hard to feel uncertain under Darcy's relentless enthusiasm and gentle instruction. This side of her was so at odds with the woman who had screaming matches with Thor, and slap-fights with Clint, and who bawled out Tony when he managed to stain her clothes. He felt that moment when things could be awkward - when he could tense up and get nervous because there was a woman's breasts pressed against his chest and that woman was looking up at him expectantly, with just a dash of hope - but it was Darcy, and it was weird, but it was also just like a hug, and he could do that.

Darcy showed him how to move her around the floor in an open position, and a closed position, and something she called 'mush-mush', where she glued herself down one side of his body and they moved like a single entity. She showed him a box-step basic which was more of a refresher because even he learned that back in the day, and she showed him what she called east coast swing, even though he was sure he never saw that sort of thing going on on the east coast before his big nap.

They met up two days later and she continued, going over lindy hop . He remembered that from watching films clips, and from seeing Keep Punching like, five times. He never went down to the big dance halls in Harlem to see it live, but he'd watched all the films. Bucky had gotten the hang of the fast, circular pattern, but Steve never had the knack. It turned out Super Serum was just as good at improving coordination on the dance floor as on the battlefield. They did some charleston which was also familiar. The next class they were doing Balboa, which had them mushed up against each other and making small, precise steps. She gave him a history lesson as they danced, talking about the ballrooms on the west coast and how they'd get so crowded you'd be thrown off the floor if you broke chest-to-chest contact on them. He constantly had difficulty keeping his steps small enough for Darcy, who was in rather impressive heels. The heels meant that her face was closer to collarbone level than nipple level on him, which he was grateful for.

Their fourth lesson, Darcy gave him a serious look. "You're doing really well, but you need to get out and dance with some girls who aren't me so you can get the hang of leading all kinds."

"What?" he asked, feeling a little panic. It was one thing to dance in the meditation room to the soft strains of Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald, but it was quite another thing to face... he had no idea what it would actually be like - the ballroom culture of his era was gone, and he couldn't even imagine what had replaced it. The one time Clint and Thor dragged him out 'clubbing' he had not enjoyed himself in the least.

"It'll be fun - you'll like it. Just don't wear your uniform." His look said he was considering barricading himself in his quarters rather than go out dancing with Darcy. "Do you trust me?" she asked, suddenly all in his personal space and looking earnest.

"Of course."

"Then we're going out on Thursday. No backing out: be ready at eight."


--

Darcy came to pick him up, which kind of fit with the 'not quite date' feel of the night. She was... wow. She was in a red and black halter dress, pinched in at the waist and flaring into a wide skirt, it emphasized her bust and hips. Her dark hair was swept up into victory rolls which would have gotten approval from the USO stage director, and she was wearing very, very red lipstick.

"Wow," he said finally. She had her huge satchel of shoes and water bottles, which somewhat pulled him out of the fantasy, and she had her own broad smile on.

"You are such a cutie," she said, punching him in the shoulder before looping her arm through his elbow and leading him to the elevator. "You got your shoes?" He obediently held up a pair of leather-soled dress shoes. "Did you tell Tony where you'd be?"

"Why would I tell Tony?" Steve replied, baffled.

Darcy squeezed his bicep briefly, "He worries about you - that's all."

They walked to the dance venue in the lengthening shadows of mid-summer's evening. They drew a few stares, but for once Steve wasn't the only one dressed out-of-era, and it didn't bother him as much as it normally would have.

The dance hall, "speakeasy," Darcy corrected him when he started to object, her lips twisted ruefully. "I know - it's not the real thing, but it's what they're called now if the concentration of hipsters gets high enough."

Steve merely raised his eyebrow, a gesture which he learned was seen as enigmatic instead of just plain confused, and insisted on paying the cover fee for both of them. The 'speakeasy' was on the third floor above a Chinese restaurant and a hat shop: it was softly lit and a little bit crowded but nothing like the clubs he'd been to before. Aside from an absence of cigarette smoke, the bar looked like it could have walked out of the 40's, perhaps with the exception of the bartenders.

The dancers were milling around with cocktails, in a lesson that is just finishing up by the 'stage', talking with the band, putting on shoes, or talking in groups of three or four. They look like the result of a frappe'd time machine - a mix of eras from a pair of flappers, to men and women in modern dress. A few obvious mutants were in the mix, and a few men dressed as women, and one woman dressed in a three-piece suit with a fake mustache on. There were old people and kids he thought were probably underage, and everyone in between. There were sock garters and pillbox hats and fedoras and veils and elaborate hairstyles and long strings of pearls, and the sheer variety of people and dress was more than a bit overwhelming. Darcy still had his elbow and dragged him to the bar to buy drinks - one ginger ale, one gin and tonic. She handed him the ginger ale and dropped one of the technicolor cherries into it with a wink before she was spotted by her first acquaintance.

Predictably, Darcy seemed to know everyone. There were hugs, and kisses on cheeks, and she was picked up and swung around a few times. She hugged one woman and they ended up shimmying in greeting at one another, bosoms rubbing together in a bizarrely erotic display of friendship. She introduced each person to Steve with a careful formalism.  "This is my friend Steve - he just started dancing but he's doing really well," and they all respond with a handshake, or a kiss on the cheek which he never quite returned properly, and an, "Of course, darling. I'll catch you on the floor."

Around the 20th person, Darcy squeezed his arm and looked up at him, "You doing okay?"

Steve tried to smile down at her but he had a feeling it was a bit strained. He couldn't remember more than three names, and he'd promised to dance with at least fifteen people, including the shimmy-greeting woman. The music hadn't started yet and he was already feeling hunted and overwhelmed.

"Lets sit down - I need to get my shoes on and you need to drink that," she said, indicating the ginger ale. Obediently he drank it down, and it was spicy and reminded him of the home-brew he and Bucky had attempted in the basement with a mail-away kit which had resulted in explosions and a lot of mopping.

A few more people walked by to say hello while Darcy put on her shoes - a cherry-red pair from her satchel (what were they all for?) - and then there was someone on a mic announcing the band. They started out with a hot number, and a few eager couples fly onto the floor, all beginning-of-the-night energy and high kicks. Darcy nudged him when the next song started, a bit slower and softer, and he offered his hand. "Would you do me the honor, Ms. Lewis?" he asked, knowing it got under her skin when he called her that.

"Of course, Captain Rogers," she returns, look clearly saying, 'turnabout is fair play'. Steve was a quick study, and he made it through 80% of the dance before running out of things to do and bringing Darcy close to box step his way through the remainder of the song. He felt her "hmm" in contentment snuggled close to him in a loose frame. "You could totally do that all night and every lady here would melt," she told him when the music stopped, and he looked down at her bashfully. "Now go punch some holes in your dance card." She made a face. "That sounded dirtier than I intended."

There was a rapid, tidal flux going on on the floor as couples exited, broke apart, reformed with different partners and returned to the floor. This was so foreign to Steve that for a moment he hung on the edge of the floor with Darcy near at hand. She had explained how people traded partners now and it was not really the courting ritual it had been in his time, but the reality of it - jovial strangers settling comfortably into close embraces, was just a bit more than he could readily process.

But then someone was bumping his hip with their own, and he looked down and it was one of the women that Darcy introduced him to, smiling up at him. "Just pretend she's me," Darcy whispered in his ear and abandoned him to this she-wolf.

"It's Frannie," the she-wolf said, and Steve realized this was just ridiculous. He'd faced Hydra. He'd faced Nazi's. He'd faced space alien invasions with more aplomb.

"Steve," he replied, forcing a smile by thinking of Darcy's mischievous look, and offered a hand. She took it without hesitation. She was wearing a high-necked drop waist dress of the type his mother would have worn in her younger days, and her heels sparkled just a bit in the low lights, and if he didn't think about her as some strange woman, it was actually a lot of fun.

The song was over, and she grinned large, "You're doing really wonderfully - you'll keep coming out, right?"

Steve found he was smiling too. "I hope so. Work can be pretty crazy sometimes, but that was a lot of fun. Thank you for the dance Ms. Frannie."

After that it was a constant stream of dances interspersed with trips to the bar for water or ginger ale. He was glad that Darcy suggested he bring another undershirt because he could change into it to avoid inflicting his sweat on the seemingly endless stream of women (and a few men) who wanted to dance with him.

"So what do you do for work?" a woman with shockingly platinum blond hair asked him.

"If I told you it would put you in immense danger," he told her in a confidential manner, a slight quirk to his mouth. She laughed loud and genuine and dropped the subject.

"Steve, like that Captain Steve Rogers?" one of the cross-dressing men who asked him to dance wonders. Steve was glad he was in the process of turning the man ("just call me Dolly") out, so he didn't notice the choke of surprise.  "He's so dreamy. Utter heart throb," Dolly continued, lost in his own little fantasy world, not realizing he was dancing with the real thing.

"So what got you out here?" Steve isn't sure how to answer that question.

"Ma'am?"

That elicited an outrageous smile from Lilly, the woman he was dancing with. "What started you dancing?"

"I always wanted to learn - I just never got the chance. I was a kid, then I was in the military... I just never had time." And that phrase jangled a nerve, sure, but it didn't hurt so much as it would have just a few months ago.

"I know how that is. Good thing you're friends with Darcy - she got me started."

He spent an entire song with one older woman in a close embrace, talking in each others' ears about growing up in Brooklyn, and the feeling that one can never really leave the city.

He kept an eye on Darcy who went through slews of partners good and bad. She spent the song that Steve spent talking, doing laps around the floor in a weird skipping sort of traveling dance that he insisted she teach him later.

They met at the bar, her getting another gin and tonic, him getting another ginger ale. She was flushed and happy looking. She punched him in the arm. "You're looking great out there! Like, half the floor wants to adopt you and take you home." He looked affronted. "That's a good thing - it means they want you to come back."

"Oh. I'm glad then."

They left late. Darcy looked a bit like a drowned rat with victory rolls, skin slick with sweat and makeup running just a bit. She looked exhausted, and they walked home slowly, Darcy waving her hands and talking about various dances. Steve actually understood some of what she was talking about.

He walked her to her room. "Thank you. For taking me out," he said before leaving, and she gave him her all-teeth smile.

"Thanks for coming with me. You should get out more - it looks good on you." She hugged him goodnight, and he was not sure who got more sweat on the other.