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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.

Chapter Text

Steve headed to the kitchen for a bottle of Gatorade after dropping Darcy at her door. He ran into Tony, one piece of pizza shoved in his mouth, and a second gripped in his hand. "Oh, hey" Tony said around the pizza. Steve edged around Tony to get to the fridge. "You're up late."

"Says the man regularly awake until sunrise."

"I've trained for that, though. I'm a qualified professional," Tony said. Steve drank half of the pink Gatorade in one huge swig. "Anyway, you have fun bestowing your favors on strange women?" he asked, equal parts off-handed disinterest and disdain.

"Yes, actually. How did you know about that?"

Tony waved his hands, flailing pizza about, "Oh, you know, Jarvis knows everything."

"Aah. You could come if you wanted," Steve offered, unsure if Tony was feeling left out, or jealous of the friendship he had with Darcy, or for some other unknowable Tony reason.

"No. Nope. These dance moves - this body - is too hot for that old-timey shit." Steve quirked an eyebrow at 'shit'. "Stuff. Dancing." Tony amended.

"Well, we had fun. Don't stay up too late, now."

"Yes, Mom," Tony replied around his pizza.
--
Darcy had gotten stashed in SHIELD housing when Jane had gotten shipped off to the snowy wastes of Norway for reasons undisclosed (but most definitely Thor-Related) to her. Stash the spare in the shoddy temp housing - that never goes wrong for anybody, Darcy had groused to herself. When everything went down in New York and in the magic flying military base, she was more than a little glad that she'd ended up in the remote base in South Dakota. Lock-down had been lifted 24 hours after the attack was confirmed to be over. Suddenly everyone, and they meant EVERYONE, was shipped out to New York. Soldiers on peacekeeping duty, engineers in the massive cleanup efforts, and folks like Darcy who had gotten swept up by the right person at the right time into the path of oncoming classified information, to help with whatever was put in front of them.

In all honesty, Darcy didn't mind much. She'd finished her degree the previous summer, and job prospects were not sunny outside of SHIELD. Agent Coulson had, at one point, redacted her resume, and it was a rather hilarious mixture of indefinite articles and sharpie. She liked a challenge, she got bored easily, and she thrived in the mixture of order and chaos that was the cleanup efforts. Her squad director had noted her somewhat manic energy, fearless grin, and steady hands, and sent her up the chain.  This eventually lead to the science units and a position in the labs as an assistant, general go-to, and all around awesome gal. She had no science background. She had no idea what she was doing beyond that one researcher had given her a basic safety talk (don't put anything in your mouth, nose or eyes, wear gloves if you don't know what it is, and ask for help if you're handling anything with any of these symbols or names on them) and set her loose.

Doctor Banner had adopted her by the simple fact that nobody else seemed to want to help him, and she didn't know why. "Can I borrow you?" he'd asked, glasses smudged with a print from a gloved hand, hair tousled in really adorable curls. Both of his hands were occupied.

"Um... Sure," Darcy had said, putting down the article she had been flipping though. "But you'll have to explain the, uh," She checked the paper, "'methylation-sensitive sequence-specific DNA binding' article I am supposed to be reading."

"Oh. Pendergast in Science?" he replied without looking up, transferring samples from gel plates to sample tubes with a glass rod.

"Yeah," Darcy said, shuffling. "What did you need?"

"Tubes - labeled to match those plates, with 'a' through 'f' after the numbers." Darcy labeled tubes and fed them to Dr. Banner's hands under the hood while he explained DNA binding elements and methylation-sensitive promoter regions in a simple, clear way which Darcy, lacking in biological science background, understood. When they finished, Bruce stripped his gloves off, wiped down his glasses, and gave her a big, bashful smile. "Thanks for your help. It's really nice to have an extra set of hands."

"That's what I'm here for," she said.

"You didn't have to." Which was when Darcy noticed that there was a SHIELD agent lurking nearby, apparently ready to take out the research scientist at a moment's notice, and she realized that maybe she should have puzzled through the paper by herself.

"I'm Darcy," she said instead of panicking, because she had never been one for taking the wise, or the safe, route.

"Bruce Banner," he said, smiling but not offering a hand to shake.

"What's with the fuzz?" she asked him in a conspiratorial manner, quirking an eyebrow at the agent.

"I have anger management issues sometimes," Dr. Banner replied, bland.
--
Darcy was approached later that week by none less than AD Maria Hill, thick dossier in hand. "Dr. Banner has requested you as a lab assistant, provided you're interested in the job after a full brief," Maria informed her, leading her to a SHIELD conference room and settling her down in an industrially comfortable chair. "Read through these, look through the videos on the laptop. If you have any questions I'll be back in an hour." Darcy flipped open the file.  It had a photo of Dr. Banner looking dubious, and on the opposite page a still from a video of the green Hulk, screaming his rage at something behind the videographer. Her eyebrows went up.

An hour wasn't nearly enough time to get through everything, and she'd be kidding herself to say that she understood a fraction of the science packed into the dossier. She watched the videos, the Hulk leaping several city blocks, leaping out of buildings to smash into alien flyers, a whole lot of screaming on his part. Well, on everyone's part. Nobody faced the Hulk with aplomb except for Thor, and Thor got his shit handed to him in a bucket, by all accounts.

Hill came back in and Darcy flipped shut the file. "Any questions Ms. Lewis?" Hill asked, not unkindly.

"Why me?" Darcy asked, because 'Is he under control' and 'what is the likelihood this job will kill me' and 'holy crap' weren't really questions or comments that would get her anywhere.

"Dr. Banner liked you. Your aptitude tests place you well within parameters for junior science staff. You're familiar with working with meta-humans. And you haven't said 'no' yet." Hill listed the reasons, not without a hint of amusement.

"Huh."

"The contract is in the second folder. If you're interested just fill it out and we'll send in Financial and Legal to finish out the paperwork. Otherwise you're welcome to continue as before."

Darcy signed the paperwork, and spent the longest three hours of her life going through confidentiality agreements both from Stark Industries and SHIELD. The tax forms were, to put it mildly, INSANE. She was not given much instruction beyond, "Show up around 9 to Dr. Banner's labs and do what he says," so she spent her last night as a free agent (kind of), looking up articles on, by, or about Banner.

She showed up at 9 the next morning with a cocoa and a chai latte, because Banner's last known whereabouts before the New York Smashing Spree was India and she figured, hey, buttering up the new boss with a taste of home wasn't below her. He was already in the lab when she knocked to be let in. Her key card access was still not working properly, and she wanted to make it obvious that she was there. He looked up, almost startled, but wentto the door and propped it open for her. "Darcy."  He said it warmly, like she was a friend and he was happy to see her. And maybe that's what his life is like - the first person who responded to his requests for help was suddenly a close friend. She offered him the latte which he sniffed and then took a sip of. "I'm impressed."

"I try to be well informed." Her cocoa was dosed liberally with espresso. "And I come ready to work."

Bruce had her doing anything he didn't have time for. He sent her all over the building for training on multitudes of machines - calorimeters, liquid chromatography machines, cell sorters, genome sequencers, a variety of machines that appear home-made and are surrounded by foil-wrapped bricks ("Just for some extra protection") which she was certain will give her cancer if she was exposed improperly, and all sorts of radiation guns, detectors, and scanners. She trained with engineers and biologists, chemists and physicists. It was a whirlwind and Darcy decided in the middle of it that maybe she could be awesome at science, like AD Hill had suggested at her signing.

She always stops in with Bruce, as she trained herself to call him. She does so to check how he was doing, that he was eating, and that he had slept in a real bed. He seemed to appreciate the attention, and after two months of constant training (she has four binders, each three inches thick, filled with technical specs, instruction manuals and hand written notes), she found herself more in the lab with him than out and about the Tower or helicarrier. Tony spent his fair share of time in Bruce's lab, bothering him, arguing loudly about sciency ideas, or trying to convince Darcy that she should be helping him out with an experiment.

"That's what you built your robot friends for," Darcy reminded him, recalling vividly her one trip into Tony's workshop.

"But they're no fun to talk to. And most of them don't have thumbs."

"Bruce needs me," she tried again, looking pointedly at Bruce.

He seemed to know she was doing it because he added, "Yes. We have the transfections at 4:30. Go away, Tony - I'll get you the results by tonight."

In there, between work and grocery shopping, she built a life for herself in New York. She went dancing, she convinced Steve to move with her into the Tower and they watched movies. She got drunk with Clint, and she came to terms with that her friends and co-workers were now superheroes and super-scientists. She knew Bruce's life outside of the lab was limited at best - he lived tangled in a tenuous net of fear and self-limitations - but he never begrudged her an early night so she could go out, and he put up with her 4PM Beyonce dance parties.

The first time she hugged Bruce was only a bit awkward. She'd asked for something little, and he'd looked at her like he would happily give her the moon, and said yes like it was the most natural thing in the world. And she had, without thinking, wrapped her arms around him, trapping him at the elbows, and squeezed with some enthusiasm.

"Oof," he huffed out, going un-naturally still under her grasp. Sensing that he was not used to giving or receiving hugs, she held on for a moment longer, waiting for him to relax. He did, just a little, before asking her to move lest he get sample on her.

The world of the lab was very much Bruce's. Everything was precision and exactitude - part of that was because the experiments required it, and part of it was because she'd learned that that was how Bruce's mind worked. Pipettes were always put back in their holders, everything was stacked and labeled in the same manner, and experiments were recorded religiously both in a bound notebook and with Jarvis. When things were passed from one person to another, they were passed by sliding them over the bench top, or being placed within easy reach of the requesting individual. There's no opportunity for the casual brushes of contact Darcy was familiar with from her stint in clerical work and relief efforts. Still, she found chances to bump Bruce affectionately with a hip or shoulder, and Tony seemed to derive a lot of pleasure in manhandling the other scientist whenever the opportunity arose, so through their combined efforts Bruce was probably subjected to more physical contact than he had had in the previous years of his life, during those months in the lab.

Darcy's not sure when Bruce went from "Boss man" to "Cute Boss Man" to "Bruce who is really pretty attractive and totally her boss", but it's a slow descent into hell paved with daddy issues, more than a bit of fear, and a healthy dose of sexual tension. Darcy knew about Betty - there was a whole packet on her in his dossier. Betty who kind of waited for him, and kind of couldn't. Betty who let him go, literally years ago, to find himself in remote countries and dire circumstances. Betty who had moved on with her life without Bruce. He still had a photo of them, on his desk, but it was like she had died and he had mourned her and moved on. She would be the first to admit that yeah, that kind of loyalty was a bit hot.

It was late, and Darcy had already left work once, coming back to check on some mice they had done radiation exposures on that morning. Bruce was still at his computer/3D projector/Stark Surface running simulations. "Hey, Bruce." He startled just a bit, but smiled at her through a haze of floating equations. "Have you eaten dinner?"

He raised his eyebrows in the, "Oh, that again," expression that he used whenever he was caught not taking care of himself. "No. I just have a few more-" ee yelped just a bit when Darcy grabbed the scruff of his shirt and hauled him out of his chair.

"Come on. We're getting dinner," she said, turning him around and slinging an arm around his waist so he didn't get the chance to squirrel away. "Jarvis can save everything, right?"

"Indeed, Miss," Jarvis replied, and yeah, she lived and wored in a building with a sentient computer butler. Her life was awesome.

She took him to her apartment and fed him pasta and jarred sauce, because that's all she has to make.  They drank a $3 bottle of wine that would probably make Tony cringe or laugh and he told her about India and Kyrgyzstan and North Africa because she'd never been outside of the US and he sounded like the medical version of Indiana Jones. She kissed him that night, because she was more than a bit drunk on her share of wine, and because he let her run a hand up the front of his shirt tracing the planes of his stomach and chest in one long, libidinous drag. She pinned him against the wall, and he groaned under her mouth like she was killing him, and when she pulled away he was beet red.

When they need him - the Hulk, not Bruce - Darcy was the one to run to his room and grab his go-bag, tossing it to Clint just as the Quinjet was pulling up wheels in the hangar. She loaded it with a few Gatorade bottles, some power bars, and underwear for Bruce, because for some weird reason SHIELD only ever packed him pants. He didn't say 'thank you', but when she picked him up from SHIELD medical, looking like he went a few rounds with a wood chipper and won, he gave her a shy smile which was almost the same thing.

Bruce found out Darcy danced in almost the same manner that Steve did - running into her in the meditation room. He'd actually come down to meditate, and he was startled to open the door and hear rather loud music coming out. "Darcy?" he asked, because he was not sure if he was allowed to interrupt her. She stopped mid-movement.

"Bruce! Hey, did you need the space? I didn't reserve it so you're welcome to it..."

"What are you doing?"

"...Practicing?" Darcy replied, shaking her hair out and pulling it back up into a ponytail. "My class is performing during the set break at the Jazz Age Lawn Party this weekend."

"Oh," Bruce replied. "What's that?"

The Jazz Age Lawn Party turned out to be a combination jazz festival, vintage-enthusiast gathering, picnic and dance party. Bruce was more than a little out of place in his usual somewhat ill-fitting slacks and shirt. Men and women congregated in various shades of weird - flappers in bonnets and men in three piece suits, lounging on blankets with lavish lunches spread out. Bruce went because, though Darcy was constantly pestering him to get out of the lab, she rarely asked him to go somewhere with her. It was a window into her life outside of the Tower. They lounged on their own gingham blanket, Darcy chatting with people nearby that she knew, listening to music floating by on the sultry summer air. She left him alone for a half hour, which he spent dozing in the sunlight, and the last song stopped, silence playing out over the lounging crowds.

There was an announcements and a jaunty tune started up.  A crowd of girls in old-style bathing suits and heels flooded from the back of the stage area, lining up. It was like something out of a movie stage show - from when movies weren't quite sure if they were theatre performances being filmed, or something entirely new. He spotted Darcy just to the left of the point of their little dancing chevron and grinned. She was good. Though he knew nothing about the dance style, they were adorable, and Darcy had a big grin on her face.

The song ended with the women in a large, posing pile. "Lets hear it for Darcy Lewis and her Midtown Strutters!" The announcer said, and it was only then that Bruce realized that when Darcy said 'her class' she really meant, 'the class I run'. The girls poured off stage and DJ'ed music started. Darcy flopped down on their blanket a few minutes later, diving cap still on. Bruce was smiling goofily. "You guys were great," he said, and meant it.

"They worked so hard - it was really funm" she replies, gulping down half a bottle of water. Looking at the people now taking advantage of the stage floor for dancing, "Do you dance?" she asks, somewhat hopefully.

"Oh. Um... Not like that," he said blushing.

"Like what, then?"

"I used to tango when I was in Argentina. But I haven't done it in years. And I never was very good."

"We should go out sometime. There are milongas on Thursdays, I think."

"Uh," Bruce said in response.
--
"You take the Star-Spangled Man dancing?" Tony said, almost choking on his drink when Darcy mentioned it.

"He takes ME dancing," Darcy corrected slyly.
--
"Come on, Bruce. Tony needs you down at the reception." Technically Pepper sent her up to get Bruce, but who's counting. "It's not that bad, really."

"I don't wanna." Bruce very, very rarely, could pull off a truly decent pout. Nothing on the pouts Darcy had put on when she was a little girl, but it was passable, truly. His statement was at least partially false, as he was wearing his crispest, whitest dress shirt and the appropriate slacks, and his tux jacket and bow tie were on the coat rack. He'd probably just gotten sidetracked/shy.

"You'll like it once you start. I got asked about speaking with you by like, five different researchers giving update talks once they saw my lab affiliation." A neat, subtle little name tag was pinned adjacent to her cleavage reading 'Ms. Darcy Lewis' and below that, 'Banner Lab/Stark Industries'.

"That is a strategically placed name tag," Bruce said, looking up at her. She tugged his arm gently and he stood without resistance, holding his wrists out so she could thread his cufflinks through the eyelets. He gave her a baleful look while she did so.

"It's half science geeks and half senators and fortune 500's down there," she said, handing him his jacket. "The Senators all have clearance to know you're the Hulk, so they don't want anything to do with you, and the science geeks all know you're the Hulk and couldn't want anything more in the world. Unless you count unfettered access to Tony's workshop." Bruce blanched a bit at that comment, but nodded thoughtfully. Darcy evened up his bow tie and knotted it with a few assured gestures.

"Have I said you're gorgeous yet? Because wow," Bruce said, looking up to give her access to his neck.

"Isn't this thing great? Pepper picked it out. You should see the one Natasha is in." She pinned his name tag on his breast pocket and rested her hand over it for a brief moment, ducking in to kiss him on the cheek.

"The dress is nice, but it's nothing without you in it." He murmured into her cheek, sincerely and Darcy frowned to hide her sappy smile. "Alright Ms. Lewis - lead on."

The fundraiser/investment-raiser was held in the massive ballroom adjacent to the grand entryway in the Tower. The floor was a smooth parquet and the lighting was ambient but from unidentifiable sources. The whole room was a bit... zoomy - like what they imagined the future would be like in the 50's. There was a small orchestra playing, audible through invisible speakers perfectly calibrated around the room, and a huge banquet table across one side was piled with finger foods.

Darcy had her arm looped through Bruce's, her other hand resting lightly on his bicep, and she steered him deftly around the room. She waved over the scientists who had cornered her earlier and introduced them. She disappeared and returned with two plates of finger food and champagne flutes. Once Bruce got going, he was actually a gifted conversationalist, so she handed off Bruce-piloting duties to Natasha who materialized at his other arm, and walked the floor.

She got a few interested looks, but "Lab assistant to an Avenger" wasn't really a big draw at a function like this, and she found herself drawn into the orbit around Tony. Tony was demonstrating repulsor technology that he has been miniaturizing for commercial applications, levitating a toy car and directing it via keypad. Steve was at the edge of the circle of onlookers, mesmerized with a childlike smile on his face as he tracked the tiny vehicle through the air. She put a hand on his shoulder, looking up and up into his face smiling down at her. "Dance with me?" she asked, gesturing with her head towards the nearly abandoned floor.

"I should be talking to people," Steve replied, glancing just a bit anxiously around at all the people he should talk to but who didn't particularly care about talking to him. It was strange not being a big ticket item in any room. Darcy gave him a look and he smiled bashfully at her, offering a hand.

Steve Rogers may not garner much attention on the fundraiser beat, but Captain America and a beautiful young woman partner out on the dance floor drew more than a bit of attention. He and Darcy made their sedate way around the area in front of the orchestra delineated by tables, comfortable and quiet and with nothing to prove. In a room of people wanting to show off their wealth or prove themselves worthy of investment they stood out.

"Thanks Darcy. I never know what to do with myself at these things."

"For a start, ask that woman to dance," Darcy told him as they finished the song, indicating an older woman in a sedate but elegant gown. She was the wife of a senator, abandoned by her husband at some point in favor of schmoozing.

"What if she says 'no'? What if she doesn't want to dance?"

"Do you trust me, Steve?" Darcy replied, looking up into his damnably earnest face.

"Of coursem" he replied, though she could read that easily enough.

"Then go ask her to dance." Steve looked like he just swallowed a spider for a moment - unreasonably scared, a little disgusted at himself, and concerned about the future.

"Ma'am - would you like to dance?" he asked her, and it was all downhill from there. An informal queue of women formed by the time he finished his second dance. They were interested in talking to him about investments and the future of science, and some of them introduced him to husbands who were CEO's or politicians. Two were reporters of the actual-not-rag-news kind.

Darcy smiled at a job well done, seeing the smaller, more earnest crowd now engaged with Steve. Bruce ducked next to her, another plate of finger foods in his hand. He offered her a cocktail shrimp which she took delicately with her newly manicured fingers. "Thanks for dragging me down," he said, bumping her hip with his own. "This is actually not awful."

Bruce perked almost imperceptibly when the orchestra shifted to a driving beat and a violin solo. He suddenly looked nervous, glancing down at Darcy. "Would you like to dance?"

Her eyebrows shot up. "To this?" she asked, in what would become a running joke between the two of them. He nodded, offering his left hand. "Okay. But I don't know how."

"That's fine - I'm out of practice too."

Everything about Bruce was orchestrated to make him seem smaller. He hunched his shoulders. He sat whenever possible, knees drawn up as though crouching on his chair preparing to flee. His shirts were too big and his pants never fit. He ducked his eyes when a stranger entered the room, and Darcy was certain that if he had a tail, its natural position would be tucked between his legs.

As they stepped out on the floor, hand in hand, she was witness to something in Bruce unfurling. He always seemed to be at war with his own body - an imperfect vessel which he was trying to escape from. In the gradual sweep of a few steps he was inhabiting himself. His posture straightened along with his limbs, and his steps were even and balanced. When he brought a hand to her back and she settled a hand down his arm she felt the thrum of suppressed power and potential energy coursing through their bodies, and they moved together. It wasn't the disaster it could have been - Bruce clipped her toes a few times with his dress shoes, Darcy misstepped often, scooting off-beat to keep on balance. They wobbled once, dangerously, and another time Bruce stopped and looked at her as though she was supposed to do something which she didn't know how to do.

In the depths of it, though, was the primal grace of two beings moving as one, the wordless exchange of thoughts in the democracy of muscle memory making decisions for the both of them. They locked eyes for a brief moment, an intensity of emotion and feeling free-flowing between them, unfettered by physical constraints. They nearly kissed. Bruce ducked his head, though, and they nuzzled into each other's necks, temples kissing gently instead. The song ended in a flourish of violin arpeggios and Darcy felt Bruce breathe out a shaking breath.

"I know, right?" she said to his non-verbal comment, and he laughed into her neck. "We are so doing that again." She pressed her temple a bit more firmly into his before pulling back. Tony gave her an eyebrow raise as she was walked off the floor, which she returned to him twofold.

Chapter Text

"Steve, there you are." Darcy found him writing up a HYDRA threat assessment in the library. She was half-dressed, blouse unbuttoned over a tank top, skirt askew, and hair only put up on one side.

"Darcy?" He asked, putting his pen down.

"Andrew is puking like a scene from the Exorcist and we're supposed to be teaching in an hour. I know it's huge to ask and you could totally say no but what are you doing for the next three hours?"

Steve went through his plans; finish HYDRA report, get Jarvis to transcribe and submit said report, maybe go for a swim, bug Tony to eat something. "Nothing that can't be delayed."

"Will you help me? I'll do most of the talking and you know everything we're going over tonight." Her eyes were wide and a bit wild. Her forehead creased together hopefully. "PLEASE."

"I can help you, Darcy," he said, bowing his head. "Tell me what to do."

Darcy stared at the corner of the room, compiling a list in her mind. "Get dressed, get your shoes. I'll get music and finish my hair and meet you in the lobby in fifteen. We can talk about class material on the walk over. Sound good?"

"I can do that," Steve replied. He was ready in just over ten minutes, hair wetted and slicked down in what Darcy jokingly called his 'Swing Kids' hair style. He wore a pair of what Clint called his 'old man pants', and a button down that Darcy got him from a vintage resale shop. While he waited in the lobby, Tony ran into him coming up from the garage. Tony was wearing the dark look which only board meetings put on his face. He saw Steve and some of the scowl-front dissipated. "Cap - what are you doing all dressed up?"

"Well Darcy asked me-" Darcy came running up right at that moment, cherry red lips matching cherry-red blouse, hair mostly in place. She skidded to a halt next to him, raising on tip toes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you so so much, you are amazing, I love you," she said all in a rush, looping her arm around his elbow. Tony's look darkened back to thunderous. "Hey Tony - sorry to interrupt but we gotta run."

"Bye Tony." Steve threw behind his shoulder as he was dragged off by Darcy.

Tony stalked off without farewell.

Darcy walked them much faster than normal, calves and ankles flashing a rapid beat in the early evening sun. He kept up with her easily with long strides and listened attentively as she ran through class material.

The dance studio was one that he's been to several times since Darcy had dragged him out initially. It had a huge picture window looking out from the second story which let in light, and blond wood flooring which reflected it around the space. Darcy set up the music and they ran through the material quickly. Students showed up shortly, some directly from work ducking into the bathrooms to change, others already in workout or dance gear.

They warmed up with a shim sham routine, Darcy calling out the movements in her Clint-wrangling voice. For as much as Steve has been thrown into leadership positions, he had done surprisingly little teaching. Leading the Commandos was an exercise in herding cats who came as trained as they were going to get. It felt like the Avengers had more to teach him than he could ever possibly learn, about the modern era, and nobody's interested in many of the antiquated skills which Steve was actually familiar with.

She introduced him as Steven who was substituting for Andrew this week. She made a joke about Andrew's illness which flew over Steve's head. Nobody seemed to recognize him as Captain America out of cowl, so everything was good.

He was rather in awe of Darcy's handling of her class. It was the second or third class in a series so they'd settled from first-night jitters, but they're as mouthy as any class Steve remembers being in on any subject. She neatly deflected a few questions which were irrelevant, calmed down one of the leads who was nearly vibrating with anxiety, and taught them a new movement and step pattern.

As promised, she did most of the talking, subvocalizing what she needed him to demonstrate and trusting super senses will pick her words out. A couple of times she asked him to describe what a specific movement felt like to him and he did his best. He was never uncoordinated as a kid, he was just tiny and weak and got asthma attacks like most kids got scraped knees. He got the scraped knees too. For that reason, he had a bit of difficulty identifying with the pitched battle some of the students seem to be having with their feet. One almost fell over into another couple. He saw them all walk into class under their own steam, and yet some are at war with their limbs giving them stern talkings to, censorious looks, or looking to the ceiling in frustration.

The class was over and students flux in and out, the next set rushing on the floor in a flurry and scrape of shoes. Darcy was starting to fade, a day of lab work and one hour of teaching already taking its toll. Steve rubbed her back absently and she groaned in appreciation. "I want super strength back rubs all the time," she said. "Is that a mis-allocation of SHIELD resources, do you think?"

Steve shrugged. "I won't tell them if you don't rat me out."

"Deal."

The second hour was beginners. In a lot of ways it was an easier class. The students were wide-eyed with trust and admiration for Darcy, and by extension, Steve. They're awkward, both socially and physically, and they progressed slowly, but that was basically what Steve was expecting. Darcy turned her ipod on random when class was done for open practice, and circulated amongst the students.

She danced with some, demonstrated with others, and talked to a few at length. Steve recognized the brewing friction between a lead and a follow and stepped in, mediating and clarifying. He danced with all of the follows he saw from class, carefully practicing what they were teaching and doling out encouragement.

After one of the songs he noticed one of the women, hands braced on her hips, breathing heavily by the fan. Not so distant memories surface and he went to her. "Ma'am - are you alright?"

She wheezed a bit, "Yeah. Asthma is kicking up," she managed. He recalls the feeling of a vice around his airway and lungs, the struggle for breath that simply wouldn't come.

"Just focus on breathing out." He breathed with her, and that seemed to help.

"You're good at this," she said when she was no longer wheezing.

"I used to get attacks all the time. My friend Bucky would breathe with me to help me through it."

"That's sweet."

"Bucky was swell," he said just a bit sadly.

The woman barked out a surprised laugh. "Oh, sorry. I have just never heard anybody use the word 'swell' non-ironically."  That made Steve laugh as well.
--
"Did you have fun with our little Super Soldier?" Bruce asked the next morning when Darcy walked into lab. She had a doughnut shoved in her mouth so she only nodded enthusiastically, saluting Bruce with the coffee tray. He opened the door to their little break room and escorted her in with the lightest of fingers on her lower back.

Darcy swallowed all of the rest of her doughnut in a gulp that probably hurt, "You could come out with us if you wanted. They're super tolerant of... everything."

"Yeah." Bruce rubbed the back of his head in a nervous gesture, "Me plus anxiety of dancing plus crowded room of people is probably not a good idea." He sat down on a chair when Darcy gave him his coffee, settling down herself.

"It's up to you. I think you'd be fine, though. I mean, didn't you live in like, one of the densest urban areas on earth for many, many months?"

"Well, but that was different."

"Dude, no pressure. I love dancing. I like you. We don't need to get your peanut butter in my chocolate." Darcy put her hands up in what might be a placating or defensive gesture.

"What?"

"Like, I can do my thing, and we can have our thing, and you can do your things too. As long as you're okay with Steve and I hanging out. And we can go to more milongas because fuck me that was good."

"Why wouldn't I be okay with you hanging out with Steve?"

"I've done the jealous boyfriend thing before and I Do Not need that, is all I'm saying."

"So I'm a boyfriend now?" Bruce teased. "Not a Sugar Daddy any longer?"

"Nope. That's Stark - I figured out where the real money comes from," Darcy replied. Bruce's face actually fell a bit, and wasn't that adorable but not at all what she was going for. "Hey, hey. Even if you never got another grant or endowment or made a patentable discovery ever again, I would still be totally into you. It's gotta be the glasses."

"You only love me for my big fat brain." He happily buried his nose in his coffee cup for a long moment. "Speaking of Stark, he seems to be under the impression that you're cheating on me with Steve. He came up here all put out last night and wouldn't shut up about it until I agreed you were a hopeless hussy."

"Are you serious?" Darcy asked, barely holding laughter in check.

"Tony certainly was," Bruce replied, all sombre eyes.

"Well maybe that will get him in gear with Steve. I swear - if both those men were any more clueless... I'd knife one of them."

"Probably Tony," Bruce said solemnly.

"Probably Tony," Darcy agreed.

Chapter Text

"Steve! Steve Steve Steve Steve Steve Steve STEVE!" Darcy barreled into him broadside, bouncing off instead of jostling him as she had probably hoped. He laughed easily, caught in her enthusiasm. "What are you doing over new years?"

He blinked, caught off-guard. "I don't have any plans," he replied slowly. "Why do you look so excited?"

"You want to come to dance camp with me?" Her lips were parted in a big, toothy grin. He was unsure if it was a question or a statement of fact.

"Dance... camp?" he asked finally.

"Picture this-" He could see Tony's showmanship rubbing off on her as she swiped her hand across the air in front of his eyes as though wiping clean a marquis, "Five hundred dancers, secluded resort upstate, five live bands, dancing until the sun comes up..." He gave her a skeptical look. In response she rattled off a series of band names which faintly rang bells.

"Artie Shaw is dead - I looked that up. How does he have an orchestra still?"

"It's—" she waved her hands, "They're good - you'll like them. We can share a room and it will be cheaper." Her wheedling tone was out.

"Aah," Steve replied, nodding, "You just want my government pension to defray costs."

"Sorta. But oh my God you will have so much fun. You can wear your uniform to formal night. Army, not Captain America."

"What about Bruce? Won't he want to spend time with you over new years - kiss at midnight and all that?"

Darcy rolled her eyes. "He's scheduled to be networking with the International Space Station on some kind of crystal growing, cell culturing thing then. He gave me permission to get my midnight kiss from wherever I wanted. And there'll be a live feed from the ballroom - he can watch if he wants."

Steve shrugged. He didn't have other plans. "Sure."

Darcy squealed in delight, throwing her arms around his shoulders in a sloppy, enthusiastic hug. "I'll get us tickets!"
--
The weeks leading up to the New Year were busy. The whole team, with the help of Rhodey, were breaking in a new trio of handlers from SHIELD. Together they were about 75% as efficient as Coulson had been. Individually and as a group the Avengers had mellowed, just a bit, so 75% was almost enough. Clint and Natasha disappeared around Thanksgiving and reappeared just before Christmas. Clint looked windburned, Natasha appeared tanned and happy. Darcy visited her family for the holiday. The Avengers did a lurching, broken, sad sort of Christmas helped along by Pepper's competent enthusiasm, Thor's inexhaustible source of ebullience, and a thick blanketing of snow just before the 25th.

Through it all Darcy and a mailing list he was sure he hadn't signed himself up for sent him excited emails. There were notes on scheduling, clips of the various bands and orchestras, clips of performances and instructors, and one intentionally humorous video outlining how to pack for the event.

Tony gave him a dubious, surly look when Steve let him know he would be gone for a few days. Tony must have known - Darcy used the Stark Industries platinum/gold/diamond plus status to swing them an amazing-looking suite.

"I'll have my... everything—" referring to armor, shield, and communicator, "with me and I'll have my communicator on me at all times. If there's any trouble SHIELD will send a helicopter." Tony's look didn't improve. "Tony, what's wrong?" he asked finally.

"Oh, nothing. Just my science best-y's girl and my Captain driving off into the woods for a romantic New Years romp at a cozy resort," he replied, tone sharp enough to cut.

"Darcy and I are just friends."

"You're staying in their honeymoon suite," Stark replied, now honestly sounding distressed.

"We are friends going to spend the weekend doing something we love with other people that love it too. I don't see that it's any of your business. Bruce isn't exactly in the dark about any of this." Steve didn't think there was a member of the janitorial staff in the Tower that was in the dark given Darcy's all-encompassing enthusiasm.

"You're right. This isn't any of my business. We'll call if the world is ending." Tony abruptly shut down the conversation leaving Steve feeling confused and hurt.

"Do you mind if we share the ride up?"

Darcy explained that some out of town dancers needed to get upstate too and didn't have a car.

"No, of course I don't mind."

Steve dutifully packed - practice clothes for class, uniform for formal night, nicer clothes for less-formal nights, shoes, swim trunks (because Darcy had told him those weren't optional) and sandals, armor, communicators, chargers for communication devices, socks, more socks, toiletries. He met Darcy in the parking level of Stark Tower. The SUV they were borrowing from the motor pool was, like everything Stark did, filled with an unnecessary level of functionality and brightly colored. The SUV they were issued was electric blue.

Darcy loaded it like she was preparing to journey into the woods for a few weeks. In there already was a case of Gatorade and a case of red bull from the bulk discount store, several bottles of liquor, well wrapped, a huge canister of nuts and a second of pretzels, along with what looked like five or six pounds of chocolate. She tossed her suitcases and Steve's bags on top.

"What is all this for?" Steve asked, which was stupid because the answer was obviously eating and drinking.

"Just trust me," She said giving him a pitying look and a pat on the cheek. They picked their passengers up at a boutique hotel on the way out of town. The party consisted of an Austrian named, honest-to-God, Wulfgang, a small African American woman from Florida - Ruth - and Emma, a quiet dirty blond with a wicked smile.

Darcy let him drive, trusting his reaction times and experience over the sometimes icy roads. Darcy, Wulf and Ruth congregated in the back seats talking animatedly about what sounded like twenty topics at once. They took pictures of themselves and each other and traded Stark Phone app recommendations. They shoved ear buds into one anothers' ears to listen to tracks of songs they liked. Emma was from Australia, and said her name like 'Ee-mah' or sometimes 'He-mah', and was almost comically jet lagged. She was asleep as soon as they left the city.

Steve was greatful for the silence to mull over his earlier conversation with Tony. He and Tony weren't exactly friends. Grudging mutual respect they had, sure, both of authority and abilities. But in point of fact, aside from running into each other in the kitchen or halls, they didn't interact outside of combat or SHIELD that much. What interactions they did have tended towards the critical, biting, and harsh. Steve could understand Tony's protectiveness of Bruce. When not the Hulk, he gave the impression that he might just crumple in on himself from physical or emotional strain. Steve and Darcy were just friends in this refreshing way that it seemed men and women of reproductive age could be friends in the 21st century. Tony's continued surliness - almost jealousy - of their time spent together made no sense.

Howard had been, in his own way, kind to Steve. He was kind when Steve's wellspring of optimism had all but dried up into the cracked stream bed of a cynic. He'd given Steve the chance to do something bigger and more important than keeping up morale. He wanted to like the prickly son-of-Howard, but circumstances just weren't the singing serendipity that had helped Steve overlook Howard's sparkling personality flaws.

Perhaps this was something to do with Howard, in Tony's mind. Displaced anger at his father? Jealousy of Steve for attentions or affection? The GPS that sounded like Jarvis told him to turn. GPS was high on Steve's list of nifty things from the future. A few hours' brooding had done him some good, and he felt prepared to face the last few days of the old year.

With some preternatural sense, Emma awoke just as they made their final turn, stretching and yawning. The back seat quieted noticably as the hotel's signs came into view.

"We're HERE!" Darcy nearly shrieked.
--
The check in desk was overwhelmed with every type of person imaginable. A group of Koreans was congregating in the foyer taking photos of each other in every combination possible. People were running into each other - obviously old friends and acquaintances, hugging, bouncing, picking one another up, and generally expressing their excitement in the most physical ways. Others were quieter, checking phones in nooks or laptops with the practiced air of frequent travelers. At least five languages were flying back and forth, greetings and responses, debates over lunch plans, invitations to rooms.

The resort itself was enormous. The main hotel was four stories, sprawling into three wings, with cottages and cabins dotted through the rest of the grounds just making up enough sleeping capacity to house everyone from the camp. Steve and Darcy were in a suite on the fourth floor looking out on the wooded portion of the grounds. Darcy dropped her bags in the front room and launched herself at the king-sized bed with a whoop. Steve hung his garment bag and began unpacking - toiletries, undergarments in the drawer, pants hung, shirts on hangers - before allowing himself to explore the plush space. It had a sitting room with couches, a powder nook, and a bathroom bigger than his room at SHIELD had been.

Darcy was rolling around the bed like a cat trying to get its belly rubbed, rumpling the comforter and rolling an excess of pillows off the sides. "I am never traveling not on Stark's preferred status ever again. Ever," Darcy said fervently. "You have to feel these sheets." She made grabby hands at him, so like Stark sometimes, and Steve obediently sat on the bed. She rubbed a pillow against his face.

"Where am I sleeping?" he asked, looking around the room. Darcy patted the slightly less rumpled side of the bed. Steve colored. "But-"

"Seriously - I have seen you basically naked and I'm not a cuddler. There's more than enough room for both of us to sleep and never even touch. If it really makes you uncomfortable I can fit on the second bed in the sitting room."

Steve ran a hand over the very soft sheets. "No. No - this is fine. It just caught me off guard."

"I'm going to go check in. Do you want to come with?" she asked, rising.

"No. I, ah, need a bit of alone time," he said, running his palms over his thighs and thinking about the crowds of strangers.

"No problem!" Darcy disappeared with the car keys leaving him alone with his thoughts to reassess whether this had been an entirely good idea. Steve was familiar with a good anonymous crowd - the ebb and flow of spectators at a baseball game, the press of a parade, or the measured separation in a marching unit. These crowds wouldn't be anonymous. They would want to meet him, talk to him, dance with him, and make those personal connections he had been unconsciously shying away from since waking up. Needing something to do with his hands he stood and got his sketchbook. There was a tiny balcony to which he dragged an armchair to sketch the view, heedless of the brisk wintery air.

Darcy returned lugging her flats of drinks and made a second trip for more foodstuffs an hour later. She tapped the glass of the balcony door and held up a sandwich and mug of tomato soup, miming placing them on the armoire before leaving again. The cold finally got into his fingers, and Steve went back to their room. He lay out his clothes for the evening and showered. He ate the sandwich in a towel and drank the now-lukewarm soup. After dressing there was really nothing to keep him from going and checking in. He brushed his hair a few more times trying to get it perfect.

The check-in desk looked swamped but was actually just crowded with already checked in people who got distracted and continued to hang around. Steve 'excuse me'd himself to the desk manned by two women. "Can we help you?" The younger asked, leaning forward.

"Yeah, checking in."

"Last name?"

"Rogers," Steve replied, a bit uncomfortable. The older woman flipped through her bin of registration packets, pulling his out.

"Steven?" she confirmed. The other woman gave him an assessing look as though something was just confirmed.

"Yes ma'am," Steve replied, shoulders hunching under the scrutiny. She offered the packet.

"XL t-shirt, Lina," the older woman nudged her counterpart.

"First time here?" Lina asked casually.

"Yes ma'am," he replied, tucking the manila packet against his chest.

Lina pulled a royal blue shirt out of a stack and unfolded it dramatically so it showed the name of the camp and a line-drawing of two cheshire cats dancing. "Well, save me a dance then, Steven," she said, handing him the shirt. "And put that wrist band on - you wouldn't want to get kicked out of the joint."

"That would be embarrassing," Steve agreed.

The hall was clogging even worse when he finished at registration, as pairs of people turned into knots, which turned into groups, blocking the free-flow of foot traffic down the hallway outside the ballroom.

"Steve!" He thought it was Darcy but it turned out to be Ruth's hand waving over the crowd from within a group. Ruth and Wulf were talking with two others towards the end of the hall by a display of shoes. "This is Ana and Leo - they came out from Switzerland," Ruth introduced a happily nodding couple. They were speaking with Wulf in German which Steve could mostly understand.

"Pleased to meet you," Steve responded in his least bad German. Their faces lit up and Steve realized his mistake when they began gushing in rapid-fire German and Swiss-German.

"I really don't know that much-" Steve was trying to explain while Wulf and Leo debated his accent.

"He sounds like my grandfather," Wulf said and Leo's eyes opened wide as though realizing something.

"Yes! That is it! Where did you learn?"

Steve blushed and ducked his head and really didn't want to say anything. "Mostly near Innsbruck," he said finally.

Ana rescued him from the conversation with a hand on his arm. "Would you like to go in?" she asked in accented English, nodding towards the ballroom. Soft music was now issuing out of it and people were filtering from the halls, inside. He offered his arm which she took willingly, and they entered.

The ballroom was cool verging on cold, the HVAC systems pumping the winter air in with some enthusiasm. Ana put her things under a chair and Steve followed her lead. The band was just done warming up and began a song in earnest. "Would you like to dance?" Steve asked in his best Swiss-German, which was awful. Ana smiled at him and scuffed her shoe experimentally on the floor.

"I believe I would." Ana went willingly into his offered arm.

The sensation of another human - a woman, usually - nestling comfortably, trusting into the crook of his arm never lost its appeal. Her left arm draped comfortably down his own, warm and light, and her hand curled around his, firm but light. Ana was delicate were Darcy was solid, quite thin with long limbs and fine-boned hands. Leading her was like directing a feather through the wind. She twisted in unexpected directions but never quite threw him off. When they pressed close, she was as solid as anything; he could feel the rumble of her appreciative chuckle when he did something that surprised her.

"Another?" she suggested when the song ended, and yeah, that was amazing. Steve agreed happily.

It was as though some dam within him broke some time in the second dance. He was no longer afraid - in fact he felt a bit wonderful. The band was a mix of contemporary sauce and old style groove with a reliable beat and an exceptional wind section. Steve asked a random woman to dance, and another, and another. He began a systematic approach, making his way around the room.

Some partners were good. Some were new. Some stammered and refused him. Some stammered and accepted. One looked politely at him until he made dancey fingers at them and they accepted. She didn't speak any English that he could tell, but they yelled enthusiastically at one another in their own languages, passing information which was completely incomprehensible to the other.

Half-way around the room (which he'd have to make another go-round of because people filtered in after he passed certain parts of the room and he knows he missed some), he was hit in the back by the full force of Darcy jumping on him. Her thighs dug in above his hips and her arms were wrapped around his chest and neck. Having lived with Natasha and her just-for-fun sneak attacks was the only thing that kept him upright. Darcy's green shoes with little bows at the toes waved in front of him. He braced her thighs with his hands looking back into Darcy's face.

"You made it down," she said, breathless.

"Yep," he replied, adjusting his stance to one which was a bit more steady. Darcy didn't seem inclined to get down any time soon.

"You're tall," she said, peering around the room.

"Well, I used to be short, but I got over that," Steve replied with a straight face.

Darcy's mouth bunched up - she made such a valiant effort not to laugh Steve couldn't help but laugh at her. She started when he did, and pounded him on the back to be let down.

They danced and Darcy introduced him to what felt like another thousand people.

The MC stood on stage some time after midnight and called for attention. "Please keep in mind that we have auditions tomorrow morning so you might want to turn in early and get some rest. The band is done at two, and there will be DJ'ed music until 4 for those interested." Darcy appeared at his shoulder some time during announcements.

"You want to go up? I'm getting tired and auditions tomorrow will suck balls." She gave an expressive eye-roll.

"I don't have to... you know... do I?"

"Yeah, hotshot. All levels above Intermediate, and you are definitely past that."

"Oh," he said, voice suddenly small.

"Look, it's not that bad, I just hate it 'cause it's this pissing contest and it just takes forever and I have to be up before 10 AM on a holiday," she said, trying to sound reassuring. "So in preparation for that, I am going to go shower and get to bed. You coming?"
--
Steve was up before Darcy. He wiped down his shoes of scuffs from the previous night, washed up, and went down for coffee. There was a dining room where everyone was eating - a buffet of breakfast foods spread along one wall. Steve made up a Steve-sized plate and a Darcy-sized plate, put them on a tray with juice and coffee, and brought it back to their room. Darcy was just stirring, rolling petulantly under the covers. She cracked an eye to look at him when the scent of coffee penetrated the sheet she was hiding under.

"Marry me," she croaked. "Have my babies. Please."

They ate breakfast in the sitting room at the little table there. Darcy's eyes flicked regularly towards the clock. For once Steve wasn't the one most worried about the time.

Auditions turn out to be 70% of the camp dancing in front of the judging eyes of 5% of the camp while the remaining quarter watched as though it was some sort of excellent spectator sport. Colored and patterned wrist bands were handed out by runners, people were tapped out of the circle, partners were constantly changing. It was controlled chaos but only just. Steve was given a blue wrist band and told to rip off the white one of the previous evening. Darcy waved a Hulk-green wrist band at him excitedly, and the little part of him that was hoping Darcy would be in classes with him wilted. He raised his wrist and she gave him an, 'I'm impressed' look and a thumbs up.

Ana crab walked up to him, offering her also-blue wrist band to bump against his. They attempted to read the class schedule together and ended up in the correct room eventually. Classes were exhausting. Steve was familiar with exhausting having completed basic training as a 40 lb underweight asthmatic, but this was a unique combination of physical and mental exertion which just would not let up.

They broke for lunch, and Steve ate with Ana and Leo and two other people he didn't know. He talked about wanting to go to art school when he was younger, and he doodled a copy of one of the less biting political cartoons he remembered from the war for Leo. He learned about Bern and more about people's opinions on vintage jazz recordings versus modern versions. It was not what he might have called 'getting to know' people before the big freeze, but it was sharing and it was easy and it was something with so much less gravitas and so much more untempered joy than most of the rest of his life.

That evening was mostly competitions, and Steve brought pencils to sketch between watching and clapping. He sprawled on the floor to draw and before he could object was being used as a back pillow by three women from his class track who were in turn propping up a man he didn't know.

The competitions were lively - men and women in stupendous shape performing with vigor and enthusiasm. The music made his feet tap, the steps made him whoop with the crowd. The crowds clapped. They pounded on the floor. After one particularly well received routine a hail of shoes flew at the performers. Wulf was flexing socked feet next to Steve, eyeing the volunteers sweeping up shoes from the floor for the next performance.

"Why do you do that?" Steve asked him. Shoes (especially the heels) probably hurt, though the competitors took it with good humor, shielding their heads.

"It's like, to say they were excellent. Like I they should have my shoes because I know I would never dance better than that." Wulf shook his head, obviously frustrated with subtlety of language he wasn't getting across.

Steve's pencil was kept busy, quick freeze-frames of movement, poses, aerials. He filled page after page, sometimes with just a few suggestive lines for a figure, a couple times with smears of shading and gradation filling them out. The band played for a few hours after the competitions were over. At around two the band played a really fast number and two of the instructors are surrounded by a clapping, howling ring of people, clearing room for them and simultaneously trapping them within the circle.

Like any good performers they take advantage of the spotlight, throwing some flashy aerials in along with intentionally comedic moments. The follow dragged her lead out of the circle by one leg on his back and another couple was thrown in with some enthusiasm. The jam circle continued for one song, and another, and a third. Steve's hands were sore from clapping and he realized that it was late, he was tired, and he should get to bed.
--
Darcy lied - she was a cuddler. She may have just been drawn to his warmth under the bedsheets, as she had rolled over several times and settled along his back during the night. It was new year's eve and they had classes in a few hours. He was just going to get a tray and bring it back up to the room, but Emma was perky and very awake thanks to Canberra time, and invited him to breakfast.

For all that Steve lived with what felt like thirty people but was actually around ten, he didn't socialize a lot. In the last 72 hours, he had probably been in as many non-work related conversations as he had in the previous month, and he'd met more new non-work acquaintances than he had in the last six combined. Emma, when awake, had a viscious sense of humor which reminded him of Tony. He slipped back into the room to get his shoes trying to be quiet, but Darcy had already risen and gone to class.
--
Wulf, Leo, and two men Steve didn't yet know ("Jon and John - we're everywhere!") commandeered Steve after class. "We are going to the spa," Leo told him decisively.

"The spa?" Steve asked, feeling as though there were unstoppable forces larger than himself at work.

"Indeed," Wulf agreed.

Steve knew little about what a spa was beyond that Natasha and Pepper came back from them looking refreshed and relaxed and smelling of fresh, minerally things.

They changed into swim suits and showered and spent time soaking in a hot tub. Jon explained that the resort had started because the springs had such a high mineral content in this area that they were thought to have restorative powers. The resort was built around a quadrangle of spa facilities enclosed under a glass-topped roof which let in a peachy glow from the afternoon sun. They alternately ran out into the snow, rolling through the white drifts before jumping back into the heated mineral baths. Somewhere in there John procured a restorative face scrub which was applied to all.

In this way Darcy found Steve in the mineral hot tub with red-faced Jon and John, and mud-faced Wulf and Leo. Steve himself was slathered with mineral face mask and with a towel wrapped around his hair. Darcy took a photo before doing anything else.

"What are you doing?" she asked, stifling a giggle.

"We are exfoliating," Wulf replied, accent making the word almost incomprehensible and grave.

"And you didn't invite me?" she asked, sounding offended.

"If you would like some mud mask you need only ask," Leo replied indicating the mostly empty tub of goo. He did her the honor of painting war-like stripes across her cheeks and forehead, which seemed to satisfy her. Darcy nearly drifted off, floating in water that smelled like salt and stone.

It became clear where Darcy acquired the amazing ability to sleep anywhere, anytime, under any situation. Steve found her asleep on a row of three hotel chairs, under a coffee table in the hotel bar, and on the hard, wooden dance floor of her classroom throughout the day. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, Darcy was perky and alert in preparation for the banquet that evening. It was formal night, and she dressed early, spending an extra few minutes getting her hair perfect.

"I invited some folks over for pre-dinner drinks. I didn't think you'd mind," Darcy said it in a way that indicated she knew he probably would have minded. Their little sitting room filled to bursting with dancers in various states of dress. Darcy chatted away through bobby pins between her lips, fixing the hair of a friend. Wulf and another man were on the loveseat, carefully rubbing knots out of the shoulders of Ana and Ruth, seated at their feet.

Darcy's bottles of liquor and pounds of chocolate have made an appearance, and the overlarge quantity of sweets was explained when one of the Swiss men broke off a huge chunk and happily consumed it. Steve was pressed with a glass of liquor before he could wave it off. Five cherries chased each other around the bottom of the tumbler as he sipped.

"So I've been wondering something." Ana said, looking directly at Steve. "Are you THE Steve Rogers? Captain Steve Rogers?"

Perhaps it was just his perception, but the room seemed to freeze at her words. Her eyes were bright and intelligent, her head rested lightly on Wulf's knee. Steve's mouth went dry. He had never been ashamed of being Captain America, but the notoriety of it could be unnerving.

Darcy spit out several bobby pins on the carpet, holding a curl in place one hand and pointing the other at Steve.  "Steve is totally Captain America, and he is a fucking national icon, and if I hear one word of this spread around the camp I will personally come and kick all your teeth in." Darcy said that with a ringing authority. It was no mind trick that the room was completely silent after that, everyone staring at Darcy. Steve blushed and tried to hide behind his tumbler.

"You don't need to defend me," Steve said steadily.

Darcy narrowed her eyes at those assembled around their sitting room. "Damn right I don't. Because these people are going to keep this to themselves." With a final glare Darcy went back to fixing her friend's hair leaving Steve the sole focus of attention once more.

They all had questions, but at least they were all polite about it. The group as a whole was eager to hear whatever he might feel like talking about - going to ballgames with Bucky, how other couples in the apartment block would congregate in Bucky's parents' flat to dance on Saturday nights to the radio, his time selling newspapers, and his experiences in basic training. They wanted to know about the fashion, about music, architecture, his view on various historical events, and of course, dancing. He didn't have a lot to say on certain topics but that didn't seem to bother them.

"Oh my god, it is like super-soldier story time in here," Darcy said. "He's got to go get dressed for dinner."

It was true - they had ambushed him in only undershirt and the slacks he'd worn all day - he needed to iron and change into his uniform. In a way the honest curiosity of these near strangers was less threatening and intrusive, and more effective, than any attempts previously to draw him out.

Steve showered, and everyone disappeared from their sitting room while he changed. Darcy was the only one there to greet him when he exited their room, whistling appreciatively. "The Army did some things right," she said, patting him on the arm.

Darcy looked just amazing in a silky blouse pooling and pouring over her breasts and shoulders, and a pencil skirt slit to just above the knee showing off ass, ankle and calves. "I forgot to get someone to do this before - could you do my stocking lines?" Darcy had a bottle of waterproof liquid eyeliner held out to him.

"Just the back seams?" he asked, because he had gone through this routine with Bucky's sisters. He had steadier hands than Bucky and wouldn't tell their mother. Back then it was because silk for stockings was too rare and expensive. He couldn't guess the reason Darcy didn't just buy some nylons - perhaps for authenticity's sake - he took the little bottle of eyeliner and knelt behind her, drawing a steady stripe up the backs of her legs to mimic stocking seams. She held very still only until it dried and dragged him downstairs for dinner.

Banquets as a rule, were more about company than food. This one was no exception. Steve felt that he should be overwhelmed. There were moments where he could almost be back in the USO, looking over the table at a few women in vintage-inspired clothing and makeup, men in waistcoats and subdued neckties. Then someone in a t-shirt and sport coat will walk by, shattering his illusion. Discussion flew over and around him as everyone was served and ate. Two people at the table donated their desserts to him, and another half her dinner. His increased metabolism plus exercise levels on par with strict training regimes had him struggling to keep up with a necessary caloric intake.

Drinks passed around the table, and most people loosened up considerably without getting drunk. Everyone was ushered out while the tables and chairs were cleared away, and Steve felt lost in the sea of dapper, brightly-colored people milling in currents around the hotel. He was surprised by how many people thanked him for his service - strangers and foreigners, young and old. There are two other men in uniform that he noticed - one Navy and one Air Force - and someone wrangled them together for an 'all services' picture. Steve didn't point out they were missing Marines and Coast Guard.

The ballroom was transformed when they re-entered. The band - orchestra really, there is a string section - was set up on stage with a backdrop of glowing cascades of Christmas lights. For all the noise and people there was a quiet elegance to it all.

With a few minutes to midnight glasses of champagne began circulating along with party hats and noisemakers. The toot toot of kazoos, incongruously, followed along with the music. He found Darcy to stand near as the countdown happened. Her eyes were shining with excitement and alcohol and a glassy euphoria that only comes with a certain type of sleep deprivation. They counted down together and Darcy leaned up to give him a kiss. She kept it friendly, a quick brush of lips, and smiled up at him.

"Happy new years, Cap."

"Happy new years Darcy." They clinked glasses, and Darcy turned to kiss anything else that stood still long enough. Steve counted seven before he lost sight of the flower in her hair.

The band played Auld Lang Syne, slowly and sweet, and Steve rocked to the beat on the edge of the dance floor.

"Rogers."

Steve startled, turning to his right shoulder where the voice was. "Tony," Steve said. Surprised would not begin to cover how he was feeling. Tony was in a tuxedo, normally unruly hair tamed with some powerful product. He reminded Steve a bit of Gene Kelly and a bit of Errol Flynn and a lot of Howard. "What are- Is there-" Steve stuttered to silence.

"I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by. Happy new years." He had a martini which he raised in a salute.

"Happy- Really? You were in the neighborhood?" Steve asked, reflexively raising his own glass to Tony's.

"No." Tony frowned as though he has said something particularly stupid. "No, I was not just wandering the woods of upstate New York - who do you take me for - Wolverine?"

"Then what are you doing here?"

Tony shifted, shoving his non-martini-wielding hand in his pants pocket, and looking honest-to-god uncomfortable. "I talked to Bruce," he said finally, sidling closer to Steve so he didn't have to yell over the band. Steve remained quiet, observing Tony. His face was a bit flushed - cold and booze combined most likely. His eyes weren't settling anywhere, flicking around the crowd, around various points on Steve's face and uniform, to the lights and back again. "He made it clear I'd been a bit of a dick. I wanted to start the new year fresh." Steve raised an eyebrow at that.

"There's no need to apologize," Steve said finally.

"I know," Tony said as though he was just waiting for Steve to say that, "But Bruce..." He trailed off and squared his shoulders. The straight thrust of his spine spoke of duty, responsibility. The downward twist of his mouth said determination, necessary force, resignation. The loose-limbed relaxation was forced. "Captain Rogers, would you go to dinner with me?"

"I already ate," Steve said before the thought could filter through his mind. Tony was frozen, ready to accept a blow or withstand a shock. "Wait, you- can you elaborate that please?"

"You, me. A date?"

"With me?"

"Well I was hoping,"

"You don't like me. You don't like like me, but you don't even like me." The determined twist of Tony's mouth grew more severe with hurt and rejection. "Do you?"

"I will admit that our intitial interactions were... strained." A thousand different things looked as though they were bursting under Tony's skin trying to be said. Tony nodded his head as though having a conversation with himself with which he didn't at all agree. "I have been informed that my flirting could, by some, be considered verbal assaults. And that you're probably too nice to realize that. And that I should probably just out and ask you to dinner before Bruce and Jarvis lock me out of the lab."

Steve looked at Tony as one might a wild animal: unsure if the kindness was merely the prelude to an attack. "You like men." He stated finally.

"I'm... flexible. For the right person I can be quite flexible." The leer didn't fit the tremor of anxiety in the hand in Tony's pocket.

Steve held out a palm, broad and calloused. "Would you like to dance."

Tony's goatee twitched much like a cat's whiskers, apprehensive, anticipatory. He tossed back the remainder of his martini and placed the glass on the lip of a wall sconce. The slap of calloused palm to calloused palm was that of team-mates - of men familiar with hard labor and facing death and hardship, but the arm Tony settled on Steve's shoulder was hesitant, almost coy. "Be careful with me. It's my first time being the girl."

"It's called following," Steve said softly into Tony's ear. Tony was broad and solid, light on his feet but with mass, like a boxer. "I thought you didn't like me because of something to do with Howard," Steve admitted.

"Him? No. Well- no." Tony sighed after replying, looking up into Steve's face. "Dad never really let you go, yeah, but... To me, as a kid, you were like Robin Hood and GI Joe rolled into one. You were a real life hero." Tony looked down at the medals prominently displayed, perfectly shiny, on Steve's chest. "I guess I got jaded about that sort of thing, and then we find you and you're all that stuff I thought as a kid, but you're so much more."

Steve held on to Tony, firm arm across his back, leading a sedate box step that kept them out of the way of everyone else. Tony was moving along with him unconsciously, intent on pouring his heart out. "I wouldn't want to mess up the team - if you think that's even a possibility just tell me hell no - but... It's just dinner." In their synched movements, Steve felt a measure of trust and a need of support which he knew Tony would never be comfortable voicing.

"I've never really gone out to dinner before," Steve replied. "Nowhere too fancy. And you have to stop giving Darcy the evil eye."

"Somewhere casual, be nice to Darcy, got it," Tony repeated, mouth turning up for the first time in the conversation.

"Just like that?"

"You're free Tuesday according to Jarvis - say seven?"

"It's a date," Steve replied, coloring at the words.

They separated at the end of the song. Darcy appeared from nowhere. She must have been taking classes from Natasha, Steve thought. "OH MY GOD you are the cutest thing ever," Darcy crowed at Tony's tails and crisp white waistcoat, "I just want to pinch your cheeks until they become necrotic and fall off." From somewhere in her dress she pulled her phone and snapped a quick photo. "Now one of you together."

The photo that resulted was a bit goofy, and a bit deadly serious, and was a good representation of the next several months of feeling out their relationship. Tony was smiling his best paparazzi smile, broad, shit-eating, and completely shameless. His arm was curled around the back of Steve's waist, his unoccupied hand curling in some indeterminate gesture at Darcy. Steve was formal and sombre in his dress uniform - rough wool and shined metal. A drop of sweat stuck his hair down at the temples and the faintest, driest hint of a smile graced his lips, as though he was trying not to encourage Tony too much in his antics. He was reaching towards Tony's waving hand as though to catch a flighty bird.

In that secluded bubble of the world, far from and beyond the reach of normal life, Steve could see how this had been building. He could remember the few possessive touches, apprehensive glances, cutting remarks and subtle jibes which were Tony's way of showing true interest. Steve got a hold of Tony's waving hand, bringing it down between them in a loose grasp.

Of all the ways Steve imagined that he would start the new year, this was not one of them. That wasn't to say it was a bad way at all. They swayed together to Begin the Beguine, enchanted by the night.