The pH strip shows normal levels. Of course.
Darcy pulls a face and drops it into a labeled plastic bag. Not that she wants something to be wrong, but honestly. She tips the tested slurry out into the grass, cuts a new soil sample with the little spade from her kit and puts it in a plastic jar, then returns everything to her backpack. You’d think if (alleged) aliens had (allegedly) landed here, something would be out of the ordinary.
She knows a “fuck off” job when she sees one. But hey, maybe there’s a bigger one than Site 946. Maybe if they really hate you, they stick you in a subbasement somewhere and give you boxes of field reports to digitize. Seems reasonable--she’s pretty sure the only thing worse than writing a field report would be rewriting it.
Darcy straightens up, knocks the dirt off her knees, and surveys the landscape around her. She remembers what her supervisor had told her. This is Site 946. Suspected extraterrestrial contact, 1979. At the time, several pieces of material not naturally found on Earth were removed to SHIELD storage facilities for research and cataloging. Follow-up survey of site to be done annually thereafter. No signs of unusual activity for the past thirty-two evaluations.
The “even you can’t fuck this one up, Lewis” was implied.
There’re the burned-out remains of a farmhouse about an eighth of a mile away, so she starts hiking that way. (Nothing exciting happened there, either. Just a bunch of drunk teenagers with fireworks back in the late nineties.) At least being in the field means she gets to wear jeans instead of a skirt, she thinks, dodging a huge clump of multiflora. Dress codes are the third worst part of her job. The second is the complete lack of fun and fulfilment. The first is, oh, the way they basically kidnapped her into working for them.
After Puente Antiguo, they’d let her go back to Culver with her six credits in hand. You take an internship for an astrophysicist, you slam a moving vehicle into a god, you nearly get incinerated by a mindless furnace on legs, you go back to your polisci degree and graduate cum laude, it’s all good. If it weren’t for the “we know where you live” gag order she’d inferred from Agent No-Shades-in-the-Desert-Sun and friends, she’d’ve had a hell of a drinking story out of the whole thing and not much else, and that would’ve been okay. Then New York got overrun by giant aliens--which she didn’t know about at the time, since she had been on a plane headed to New Zealand. Her “friend” had a sudden extra ticket, and who the hell passes up a chance to see Middle Earth? (So majestic, man.) Except said friend turned out to be a SHIELD plant and she was stuck in the Auckland airport for two weeks while the whole world freaked out and shut down. Later she found out about Jane and Tromsø and Dr. Selvig and the brainwashing and it all made more sense, but at the time? It sucked. Afterward she’d been “hired” by SHIELD, which basically involved Agent Sitwell showing up at her house one day and telling her she was being relocated to New York, giving her twenty-four hours to pack, then assigning her to Agent Jacowski in a nondescript two-story building in Utica and basically abandoning her to her fate. No aliens. No glowy stuff. Just a sterile lab and approximately a million file cabinets.
She arrives at the charred and rotting remains of the farmhouse and scrapes a little bit of siding into a containment jar. Thorough. She can be thorough. She will be the best damn follow-up specialist at the Utica branch--just as soon as she can get the threads on the jar to line up with the ones on its lid. She wades through the tall grass, heading towards a big gnarled tree while fighting with the jar.
To the day she dies, she will swear the pit came out of nowhere. One minute she’s slogging through weeds, the next her footing is sliding and she feels the sick pull of gravity in her stomach. Darkness, an impact, the inability to breathe, a sensation of surfacing. She gasps and chokes and flails for a minute before she realizes she can stand; it takes another two minutes of panic before she realizes that she’s fallen into a well.
She’s fallen into a well.
Maybe they’ll fire her now, she thinks, looking up at the circle of light a couple dozen feet above her. For a moment panic crushes down on her, and the breath she pulls in is more like a whimper than anything. No, she tells herself fiercely, stop it. She can do this. Assess, formulate, act--just like the training manual.
Assess: she’s in a well. Concrete sides, covered in gunk. Water up to her shoulders. Water temperature is cold. Her next scheduled check-in with Jacowski isn’t until six. Her phone has been drowned to death anyway. Final assessment: she needs to get the hell out of this damn well.
Formulate: she might be able to monkey her way out by bracing her legs on each side of the well.
Act: do it, Lewis.
She heaves herself upward and manages to get the toes of her Converse on the walls before they promptly slip on the slick surface and she’s plunged back under. She comes up spluttering, mouth and nose full of foul-tasting water. She spits and coughs, shoving wet hair out of her face. Okay, that sucked. She takes a calming breath, steadies herself, and gets ready for a do-over.
She tries it eight more times with no better results before she realizes she’s not gonna make it happen. By now she’s sore and exhausted and her ankle twinges angrily whenever she tries to put weight on it, so she makes the very reasonable and grown-up decision to stop before she seriously incapacitates herself. She has no idea what time it is--she checked in with Jacowski at two, then left the car by the road and started the sampling. Overhead the light is turning richer and more reddish--it’s got to be late afternoon. If she misses her check-in, they’ll dispatch another agent. They know where she is, roughly. She can wait this out. She’s cold, and chafing, and frankly kinda scared, but she can wait this out.
The sky above her has deepened to a rich blue when she hears the voice. It’s faint, but it’s calling her name, she’s sure.
“Here!” she screams excitedly, voice bouncing off the concrete. Her name again, closer this time. She beats at the surface of the water and calls back, like the most unfun game of Marco Polo she’s ever played.
Suddenly a figure appears at the mouth of the well, haloed by sky. Broad-shouldered, male. “Agent Lewis?”
She’s not going to cry, she tells herself. “Hi, oh my god, hi, I’m down here.”
“Are you hurt?” Mystery Savior asks her. He sounds friendly, with a healthy mixture of calming and concerned. It’s the perfect combination to soothe her panic--and let mortification flood in to fill its place.
“I broke a nail,” she replies, affecting a self-effacing smile. Okay, she’s also a little bruised and battered, and her last attempt at scaling the wall may have sprained her ankle, but she isn’t seriously hurt, and she’s going to get mocked by the other agents enough as it is, so.
A good-natured huff echoes down to her. “Okay, I’m gonna get you out. You got any rope in your car?”
Is he kidding? She’s got a full zombie-apocalypse kit in her car--food, water, flares, med kit, thermal blankets, the biggest fucking knife it’s legal to have--it’s SHIELD standard issue. Well, maybe he assumes that if she’s dumb enough to fall in a well, she’s dumb enough to tamper with her survival gear. But he doesn’t have to hike all the way back, she realizes. Her field kit has a fifty-foot length of nylon cording. She shrugs her sodden backpack off and fishes the bundle of cord out. “Taa-daa.”
“That’s great,” the guy says. “Can you toss it up here, Agent Lewis?”
It takes four throws and a really amazing lunge from the agent at the mouth of the well, but they do eventually make the trade-off. She can see him fiddling with it in the dimming light; it’s getting really dark down here, and she wants to go home and take a hot shower and change her clothes and drink soup and never speak of this again. “Hey,” she calls, hugging herself for warmth, “what’s your name? You’re not from Utica.”
“Steve,” the guy says. “I was closest when your boss put out the call that you might be missing. Here.”
He’s lowering one end of the rope, looped and knotted. She stretches up and grabs it. The circle is way too small to go around her waist, so she figures it’s going to be a stirrup. She grimaces a little at the idea that she’s going to have to put her weight on her bad ankle long enough to get her other foot into the loop. Well, it’s her own fault for the stupid broken-nail line.
She splashes around trying to get it on, and yeah, it hurts, but she manages it. She tugs a bit on the cord and Steve calls down, “Ready?”
“Yeah, just--are you planning on straight-up pulling me out?” There are no extra guys, no pulleys, not even a point of contact between her and Steve. He’s just standing on the lip, rope wrapped around his forearm. It doesn’t seem like a very good plan, but hey, she’s the one who fell down a well, so what does she know.
A self-deprecating laugh from above. “Don’t worry. I’m pretty strong.”
The first heft pulls her halfway out of the water and sends bits of loose dirt down on her. Darcy dips her head to avoid getting it in her eyes as he tugs again, and now she’s suspended in air. He keeps pulling, each movement bringing her up another couple of bone-jarring feet, twisting the extra rope around his arm as he goes. When she’s about halfway up, he grunts and shifts.
“You okay?” she asks nervously, bumping into the slimy wall of the well. She’s clinging to the nylon cord so hard that her fingers are turning white.
“Fine,” he says, and to his credit he doesn’t even seem winded. “Just need to adjust. Hold tight.”
She watches as he eases closer to the edge of the well, finds footing he’s happy with. The movement makes her dip a little bit, scraping scum onto the sleeve of her hoodie. She’s going to have to burn this thing, she swears it. “Okay,” Steve says, and she braces herself for the upward jerk.
The next instant she’s plummeting amidst a shower of clumped earth and concrete rubble. She doesn’t even understand what’s happened as she hits the water again, and then there’s a crushing weight on her, forcing her further down, pinning her below the surface. Something sharp and heavy drives into her middle, and all of the air leaves her lungs in one huge bubble. She’s paralyzed with confusion and shock and pain, and all she can think is she can’t breathe, she can’t breathe.
She tries twisting, turning, but everywhere there’s something in her way, concrete or silt or someone else’s limbs. She can’t tell where the surface is anymore, and everything is so close that she can’t kick free to find it. She’s panicking, using the last of the oxygen in her bloodstream, but then hands clutch at her, catch the fabric of her clothes, and haul her upward. Steve is holding her out of the water, expression blurry. Her chest convulses as she tries to draw in a breath, but it’s no good. She beats at his arms weakly, slapping water at him. She can’t, she can’t--
“Calm down,” he commands, and the friendly tone has settled into something deeper and more serious. It’s a shut up and listen voice, and she stills instinctively. “Okay, good. It’s all right. Just stay calm, Agent Lewis.”
He’s got her pinned against the wall of the well, half-out of the water, hands on her shoulders and knee braced between her thighs, and for a moment all she can think is that she’s going to die down here, that she’s going to suffocate. Her vision is spotty with grey and flashing neon, but his thumbs are rubbing warm circles through the soaked cotton of her hoodie and she remembers stay calm. There’s an impossibly long, very scary minute of listening to her own heartbeat slowing down in her ears, then with a rush something loosens in her chest and her lungs fill again.
She gasps two, three times. Then, because she is an idiot and having a terrible day, her fourth gasp transitions into a sob, and then she’s just flat-out bawling. Her chest hurts, her ankle hurts, her head hurts, she’s cold and wet and pruny and now they’re both stuck down here, and she feels like such a dumbass and she’s going to have to listen to Jacowski and his stupid lectures for the rest of her life, and that’s assuming she’s not going to just be trapped down here forever like the girl from The Ring and oh god, oh god--
Steve is making freaked-out, helpless noises next to her, all of that self-assurance gone, and that just makes her cry harder. Suddenly she’s pulled forward, and he’s wrapping his arms around her, one big hand cradling her head, the other a solid warm weight across the small of her back. “Hey,” he says uncertainly. “S’all right, you’re all right. Just got the wind knocked out of you, that’s all.”
Slowly she reels it back in, sobs giving way to little hitches. “Oh my god,” she says finally, shoving away from him. “I’m so sorry. I just totally melted down.” She rubs the wet sleeve of her hoodie over her face and feels her expression go squiggly again before she snaps a lid on it.
“Okay?” Steve asks warily.
She nods, chin dipping to touch the water. Steve nods in return, then holds up a finger. The next moment he’s disappeared below the surface. She can feel him, though, warm brushes of him against her legs as he twists around. She holds still and tries telling herself that this isn’t the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to her, but she’s definitely lying to herself. After a minute or so, he breaches the water again, but this time he’s got something in his hand. Her glasses--she hadn’t even consciously realized they were missing, but they must’ve been knocked off in the second fall. She takes them gratefully and shakes as many of the droplets off as she can before sliding them into place. He’s got an earnest, hopeful expression on his face. She nods at him again and gives a wavery smile. “Thanks.”
“Sorry for landing on you.”
“Sorry for falling down a well and making you come out here.”
Steve laughs a little. “Sorry for not rescuing you properly.”
“Once again, sorry for falling down a well in the first place.”
He pulls a dead-looking phone from what she assumes was his pocket and looks morosely at it before shaking his head and starting to coil the rope that’s still tangled around one of his forearms. “My fault for moving closer to the edge. Didn’t realize the concrete was that unsound. Too much pressure on it when I tried to pull you up and the whole lip just slid. I’m still gonna get us out of this, though, so don’t worry, Agent Lewis.”
She grimaces a little in what dim light remains. “Just call me Darcy, okay? I’m not an agent. I mean, technically that’s my title--Darcy Lewis, Level 1 Agent, Utica--but I’m not an agent agent. I’m a ‘go get us coffee’ agent and a ‘we don’t want to do this field report so we’re sending you’ agent. So just call me Darcy, please?”
He pauses, then one side of his mouth quirks just a little. It’s a charming smile, and she finds herself returning it without even meaning to. He sticks out his hand above the surface of the water. “Darcy. Steve Rogers.”
She’s actually in the process of taking it when the name registers. She goes completely, utterly still, and his brows knit together in concern. She clears her throat. “Just to check, you’re not Captain America, right?”
The awkward rolls off of him so strongly she can almost taste it. “Actually, uh.”
Okay, she thinks, in a zen-like state of calm: given a chump assignment, she not only happened to fall in a well, she somehow managed to drag Captain America--living legend, supersoldier, level 7 SHIELD consultant, and Avenger--down with her.
This means two things:
1) Captain America knows who she is now, and thinks she’s a dumbass, and
2) SHIELD is probably going to make her disappear as punishment (likely by throwing her in another, deeper well and pretending she never existed).
“Don’t mind me,” she says faintly. “I’m just gonna drown myself now.”
“What? No!” Steve--Captain America--snags her by the shoulders and holds her above water.
“I’m just having a really bad day,” she murmurs. “A really bad day.”
“We’ll be out of here in no time,” he tells her quickly, then slings the rope over his shoulder and spreads his arms to test the walls. It looks like he’s preparing to climb out like she tried to. He can probably do it, too, because he’s Captain America and not, well. Her. She flashes him a meek double thumbs up and he looks at the circle of rapidly-fading light before leaping.
It’s fucking impressive, is what it is. He goes nearly seven feet straight up, including the five feet of water he had to clear. He snaps his feet out and for a second it looks like he’s going to get into position. Then his boots slip on the grossness on the walls and Darcy shrieks as he very nearly lands on her again.
She gets to watch him do this a dozen more times before he comes to the same conclusion she did--the algae (or scum or slime monster or whatever it is) makes the smooth concrete unclimbable. He’s panting a little as he slides down the last time, feet and hands leaving long trails in the gunk. He exhales irritably as he hits the water. The circle of sky far above them is a deep, royal blue now; night’s officially begun. It’s dark as hell down here; the starlight doesn’t make it this far. The only indication she has of Steve actually being next to her is his breathing and the quiet rippling of water around his body.
“Don’t happen to have a grappling hook or anything, do you?” he asks.
Wouldn’t that be convenient. “Not standard issue,” she tells him. Then, quietly, again: “I’m sorry.”
He blows out a breath. “No, I’m sorry. I was supposed to help you.”
She wraps her arms around herself, trying to keep in some warmth. She’s been down here at least three hours now; she’s freezing. Her extremities actually hurt with it. “How did I manage to snag you for the rescue party, anyway?”
“Radio...thing,” he says, sounding a little abashed. “Don’t know if it’s actually a radio, to be honest. SHIELD issue, but Tony rigged it up for me. Picks up broadcasts on the secure SHIELD frequencies.”
She thinks about that for a second, once she finishes being supremely weirded out that he’s likely talking about Tony Stark. “So, like a police scanner.”
Water sloshes, and she imagines he’s turned towards her. “That’s the term Tony used, yeah. I like knowing what’s going on; keeps me from going stir-crazy. Heard an agent had missed a check-in around the Berne area, and thought I’d volunteer to look, since I was just leaving Albany after a meeting with the governor.”
Darcy nods, though she doubts he can see. Of course Jacowski put out a lazy-ass bulletin about her missing status instead of just assigning someone to come get her, and of course Captain America answered. Because, y’know, what else does he have to do when he’s not saving the world? On the upside, though, SHIELD’s almost certainly not going to leave him to rot in an abandoned well, and she tells him so.
Steve snorts. “They wouldn’t leave you either.”
“Debatable. They already stuck me in Utica, and that was before I went all Little Timmy on them.”
She can sense a moment of hesitation, then he says, “Regardless. They’ll be coming soon, I’m sure.”
They’re quiet for a little while. She’s not sure how long it is; above them, the sky is now velvety dark and scattered with stars. Every sound echoes loud in the tube of concrete, and she’s uncomfortably aware of her own breathing. If there was ever a time for the awkward turtle, being trapped in a well with Captain America would probably be it. Pity she can’t untuck her hands from under her arms for fear of them turning black and falling off from cold.
Overly dramatic? Maybe. She’ll reevaluate when she no longer feels like she’s on the cusp of hypothermic death.
“Are you okay?” Steve asks some small time later.
“Yup,” she replies through clenched teeth.
“It’s just--” he says, and she wonders if he can sense somehow that she’s trembling, hear or feel it. There’s the swishing of water, then a hand grazes against her. “You’re freezing,” he adds, sounding admonishing and unaccountably guilty. Before she can react, he’s drawing her in, wrapping huge arms around her, and she finds herself cheek-to-chest with him. His skin is cold initially, but after a moment she can feel the heat flooding through the wet fabric of his shirt. Despite telling herself very firmly to be cool, she octopusses her limbs around his body the minute she realizes she can get warmth from him. He’s like a six-foot-tall, allegedly-patriotic space heater.
“Oh my god,” she mutters happily into his shoulder.
“You should’ve said something.” His tone is decidedly frustrated. “Instead of suffering because you think this is somehow your fault.”
She blinks. Where has he been for the last hour? “Um, it is my fault.”
His arms tighten around her, and his voice is sharp and deep, bouncing off the concrete walls. “No, it isn’t. It was an accident.” She has a retort for that, she really does, but her train of thought is interrupted when he unexpectedly continues, tone dropping. “Sometimes things happen, things we can’t plan for. Things we can’t stop. And we have to accept that. We have to accept that there’s nothing we could’ve done.”
His heart is beating under her cheek, rapid and loud. After a moment, she swallows and says, “That wasn’t really about me, was it.”
Steve doesn’t respond, just tucks his head down next to hers and draws in a slow breath. She doesn’t know much about him, to be honest. Just that he’s chronologically old enough to be her great-grandfather and that, for him, last year was 1945. Basic level 1 SHIELD dossier stuff. She doesn’t know who or what his accidents were. Chances are, though, they were worse than falling down a well in a known location while working for people who have a habit of sending out search parties. She cups the back of his head with one hand, running her thumb through his wet hair. She turns a little, just enough to press her lips against the shell of his ear. “Hey, Cap, it’ll be okay.”
He freezes, then winces a little. “Sorry,” he mutters, and tries to shift away, head still ducked.
“Hey, whoa, where do you think you’re going?” She clings tighter to keep him from shaking her off. She apparently fails comforting forever, but she can’t let the moment end like that. She’s got a soft spot for sad people and a willingness to play up the damsel-in-distress card. “Dying of exposure here, Steve. You’re my only hope of surviving the night.”
He laughs a little, a dry sound that says he can see the ulterior motive, but she dares him to call her out on it when her core body temperature actually is down, like, three degrees.
They stay twined together for a while longer, ostensibly for the warmth, before the whine of engines splits the night like a swarm of angry insects. They barely have enough time to glance up before a spotlight is being beamed straight down onto them. Darcy yelps from the sudden, searing pain of 2000 watts flooding the well; she’s lucky she wasn’t looking directly at it. What the hell are they trying to do, blind them?
“Aww, Cap,” a voice echoes down to them, longsuffering and maybe a little amused. Steve pulls a face.
Turns out that when Captain America goes off the grid, it’s a big deal. Turns out that when Captain America goes off the grid while searching for a missing agent on a known activity site, it’s a huge fucking deal. Darcy gets pulled out of a hole in the ground to discover that an entire SHIELD tactical squad has descended upon them, headed by both Hawkeye and the Black Widow and coordinated from the Helicarrier by Deputy Director Hill herself. There are strange glowing weapons everywhere; overhead a partially-cloaked Quinjet hums. It’s got to be a million-dollar rescue effort--all because she fell down a well.
She has never been so mortified in her life.
The SHIELD medic that strips her from her wet clothes, bundles her into thermals, wraps her sprained ankle, and swaddles her in a blanket with heat packs keeps a carefully neutral face the whole time, but Darcy’s pretty sure she’s judging the hell out of her. She gets a good long time to think about what she’s done while the Quinjet takes them to the Helicarrier; she was informed that another agent would be returning her car to Utica for her.
On the way, she learns all sorts of fun things. Like the fact that Hawkeye knows who she is (terrifying), what Steve’s face looks like when he’s reached his threshold for teasing (even more terrifying), and that she will be having a solo debrief when they reach the Helicarrier (most terrifying). Really, the best part of the whole thing is getting to sit across from the Black Widow, who spends most of the ride with her legs crossed one over the other, tapping what is most likely a report into a datapad. The part of Darcy that is secretly a twelve-year-old girl wants to be her for Halloween. Then, of course, the part of Darcy that is a damp, probably-smelly twenty-three-year-old remembers that the Black Widow was dispatched for an emergency that ended up being Darcy Lewis, Girl in Well. The universe is a cruel mistress.
Steve sits next to her the whole ride, their thighs almost-but-not-quite touching. He scowls at the ribbing, sure, but he never pulls away or blames her, and through her embarrassment and exhaustion, she’s almost stupidly grateful. The last she last she sees of him, he’s being bustled toward the bridge area. She really meant to thank him one last time for at least trying, but the minute they touch down, SHIELD personnel are everywhere. She’s escorted briskly into the bowels of the ship and into debriefing.
By the time they finally let her out--apparently these are considerably lengthened by contact with an Avenger--the sun is coming up out the starboard windows. Her hair is crunchy, there’s still gunk under her fingernails, and she’s barefoot because her shoes are with her civilian clothes, all wrapped up in the containment bag she was handed. The debrief was supremely unhelpful; they wanted to know how she ended up in the well, how much time passed, whether she attempted to escape, and what she and Steve said to each other (she may have omitted certain awkwardly sad moments, whoops), but at no time did they give her indication of what her fate was to be. Part of her hopes they’ll fire her, and she can go back to being a twenty-something with a polisci degree and no appreciable skills; part of her (the part she likes to think of as Stupid Darcy) really hopes they’ll give her a second chance to prove she’s not always a fuck-up. Stockholm Syndrome, gotta be.
When she reaches the hangar, all of her luggage is waiting for her. All of it. It’s like someone went into her apartment and stripped it bare--which, when she thinks about it, is probably exactly what happened. So, not going home, then. She should probably be more concerned about that, but she’s been up for twenty-four hours now, and she spent a good chunk of yesterday in neck-deep water. Lends a different sort of perspective. So she just nods at the pile of luggage and laundry bags, boards the waiting aircraft, and promptly falls asleep.
As it all shakes out, she never sees Utica again. Apparently Jacowski was relieved of his post for allowing circumstances that led to Captain America falling down a hole, all of the filing cabinets were relocated to Albany, and they leased the building to an image design firm. She gets set up with an apartment in Midtown that, while fucking tiny, is still way too expensive for her paygrade. Her job will no longer take her to any place with wells, her new supervisor tells her with an impressively straight face. She swears they must train higher-level agents in the art of deadpan.
Now she “monitors.” She gets to sit at a receptionist’s desk in the fake front of a SHIELD-owned building and be irritating and unhelpful until unauthorized visitors and callers go away. She loves it. She gets three security camera banks, two stun sticks, and a panic button to call for armed guards (and also the new SHIELD-standard cell phone, which is water-resistant and has the most crazy-powerful signal she’s ever seen). It turns out she’s really good at giving people the run-around, too. Agent Kramer even put it a request to promote her to Level 2, and it’s only every other Thursday night cocktail hour that she gets asked by coworkers if she really trapped Captain America in a well.
So, y’know, big picture? Everything is coming up Darcy.
Two months in, her job satisfaction is at an all-time high. She’s still not sure how she’s being “punished” for her mistakes by being given something to do that she’s good at, but what can you do? SHIELD, they work in mysterious ways.
She’s scrolling through Foodgawker, casting around for dinner ideas, when she hears the pneumatic hiss of the front doors sliding open. She doesn’t look up from her screen--if it’s an agent, they’ll just badge in; if it’s a civilian, step one in a good defense is to make them feel unwelcome. She clicks on a link to “the perfect fettuccine alfredo” and suppresses a whine of desire at the huge, beautiful foodie pictures. Pasta, pasta, her one true love--
“Hi,” somebody says from the other side of the counter, and Darcy leisurely adds the recipe to her bookmarks before deigning to look up at...Captain America.
She squeaks and nearly knocks the mouse off of the desk in her rush to close out from the window; his eyebrows are nearly meeting his hairline by the time she’s recovered. “Shut up,” she tells him, then winces and tries again with, “Hello, Captain Rogers, how can I help you?”
“I’ve got a three-thirty with Agent Agyeman?” he replies, and is he asking her or telling her? Darcy stares at him for just long enough for it to maybe tip into weird before her brain reengages and she snaps her arm out to point to the elevator banks. He follows her movement, then looks back at her quizzically.
“Sixth floor,” she says, and he nods, badges in, and heads for the elevators. She sits perfectly still until he gets on and the doors shut, then puts her head down on her desk. She did once spend an hour with her body firmly plastered to his body; she wonders if that should make things more awkward or less. Oh shit, she remembers with a lurch, he’s seen her unattractive cry-face. And she’d bet anything Tony Stark gave him a raft of crap for like weeks afterward. And she just called him “Captain Rogers.” Okay, she decides, cheek still squished against marble, she’s going to put her headphones on and just do a “we cool” chin-jut at him when he leaves. For both of their sakes.
It’s a good plan. It’s such a good plan, in fact, that it is automatically doomed to failure. She gives him the chill “look at me working, I am so busy” nod as he walks past her an hour later, but instead of following the bro code like he’s supposed to, he instead loops around to stand in front of her desk again. Reluctantly, she pulls an earbud out.
“Hi,” she says.
“I didn’t know you were transferred to New York City, Darcy. I heard Utica was shut down, but nobody told me what happened to you,” he says, and oh god, he’s going to be friendly. He’s going to be friendly to the girl whose fat butt pulled him down a well. He really is a superhero. “You look nice,” he adds, and it is possibly the most forced thing she has ever heard him utter.
She nods slowly, a little weirded out. “You mean, when you’re dry and don’t have scum in your hair, right?”
His eyes go wide. “No! I mean, yes, but also just...generally.”
Darcy feels a flush go up the back of her neck. Look, she knows she cleans up well. But she can't tell if that was a pity-compliment or if Steve Rogers is attempting to flirt. She’s not sure which is worse, to be honest--that he’s stepping up his game in this round of subtly shame Darcy Lewis, or that he’s got bad enough taste to go for a girl who nearly caused their deaths by hypothermia and/or drowning. “Well, thanks. Not-wet is a good look for you, too.”
“I was wondering,” he says, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet like a kid, “if you’d let me buy you a cup of coffee some time.”
She blinks at him. Oh. Flirting, then. “Why?”
“As an apology? ‘Sorry I drove an elbow into your ribcage’ or something,” he says. She must process this just a hair too long, because his expression goes a little desperate. “I don’t know many people outside of my immediate circle, and I feel like we got off on the wrong foot, and I really do wanna--”
Sometimes you just have to go in for the mercy kill. “Okay,” she cuts in. “On one condition: I buy. You don’t get to apologize first.”
He blows out a breath and ducks his head to hide his smile. It is honestly the most endearing pleased reaction she has ever seen, which is just unfair. Nobody who’s rocking pecs like that gets to pull off schoolboy charm, too. Avengers, man.
She reaches over to the speakerphone, calls upstairs, and informs them that she’s taking her state-mandated lunch break now (never mind that she ate leftovers at her desk two hours ago while clicking through cat gifs). Steve blinks, then nods when she gives him a questioning look. She probably should’ve cleared it with him before telling the bossmen that she was temporarily ditching, whoops. Worked out, though.
“Let’s go then, Cap,” she tells him, digging around under her chair for her bag. She’s not gonna let this be awkward, she tells herself. She is going to go have coffee with Captain America, who almost totally failed to save her life that one time, and who has definitely already seen her at her worst, and it is going to be awesome. “We’ll go up the street to--”
“Um,” Steve says, and for just that one moment her determination falters. Then she follows his line of sight.
He’s looking at the phone on her desk, where four lines are blinking pitifully, the people on the other ends languishing in call-waiting purgatory. She smiles, catlike. She chooses one at random, presses the button, and says sweetly, “I’m sorry, Mr. Reynolds has left for the day. If you could try again later?” She can almost hear the shriek of tortured souls as she places the phone back on its cradle. Let the other three keep listening to the smooth jazz remixes of Katy Perry songs that she requisitioned for this exact purpose.
“I’m very good at my job,” she tells Steve, rolling back and brushing down the front of her skirt as she stands.
His eyes sweep down to the phone, then back to her. “I’m sure that you are, Agent Lewis,” he says, far too diplomatically to be sincere. She fixes him with a look, and he glances up and away, one corner of his mouth tugging just the slightest bit. Yeah, she thought so.
“On second thought, you buy the coffee,” she tells him with a sniff, circling around the desk.
He tucks his hands in his pockets and grins down at her. “Ma’am, it’d be my pleasure.”