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When You See Me

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The first time Steve sees her, it’s only a few days after he has moved into his new D.C. apartment. He has queued up Star Wars on his television and is returning from the kitchen with a can of orange juice in his hand when he gets the shock of his life in the form of a young woman sitting on his couch. He is embarrassed to say a rather undignified sound escapes him at the sight of her. He hasn’t really been expecting any company so late at night.

“Dude, you haven’t seen this movie yet?” the woman asks. She is not looking at Steve; she’s looking behind him somewhere. “Science has ruined your life, Janey. You need a serious moviefication.”

Steve gapes at her and then turns around to check behind him in disbelief. But there’s no one there. Who is the woman talking to and where the hell did she come from? When he turns back to look at her, she’s gone. Steve blinks and looks around, his eyes searching for her. He makes his way through the entire apartment, pushing doors open and even checking in the bathroom, but she’s nowhere to be found.

“Huh,” he says. Maybe she was just his imagination. He settles down to watch Star Wars and soon forgets about her.

The second time he sees her, he has returned from a mission tired and hungry to find her standing in his bedroom, clutching a strange contraption in her hands, sort of like a cell phone, only bigger and with more buttons. Steve initially thinks it’s a burglar and is about to throw his shield when she turns around and starts banging the thing in her hand on Steve’s work table.

“Shit, Jane’s going to freak,” she mutters and Steve watches in surprise as she marches straight towards him and vanishes into thin air halfway.

There is a loud clang as the shield slips from his fingers and crashes to the floor. Steve slumps against the doorjamb, feeling confused and more than a little disoriented. Why does he keep seeing this woman? Is his house haunted? Is she ghost? A tiny voice in his head tells him that she doesn’t really seem like a ghost, not that Steve is an expert in the paranormal but he has this strange feeling that the woman is alive. That still doesn’t explain why he’s seeing her.

He decides to talk to Natasha about it despite knowing that he would have to endure a good amount of ribbing from her but he never gets a chance to tell her. Things with S.H.I.E.L.D. get messier and Steve and Natasha find themselves on the run after learning that the organization has been infiltrated by HYDRA all along.

They are hiding in Sam’s house, forcing breakfast down their throats while trying to figure out their next step when Steve hears a frightened shout and his head snaps up, eyes alert. There she is, his mystery woman, lying on the floor just a few feet away from him. Steve jumps up from his chair and circles the table to go to her. He is going to touch her this time, see what she is made of, where she comes from, how it is that only he can see her. Because when he glances at Natasha, she’s watching him in bemusement and Steve is sure that she’s not seeing what he’s seeing.

The woman is on her feet now and looks scared of something or someone. Steve slowly edges towards her, not really sure why she’s scared or what’s going on with her. He halts when she suddenly turns towards him, her eyes wide and her expression slightly awed.

“You saved my life,” she says and judging by the way she’s looking at him and her slow gait towards him, Steve realizes that she’s going to kiss him. Or whoever it is that she’s talking to.

He remains frozen in place, his fingers tingling with something like electricity, when a loud, pointed cough breaks through his trance. Steve blinks and the woman is gone. Natasha and Sam are looking at him worriedly.

“You okay, man?” Sam asks.

Steve runs a hand through his hair and nods jerkily. “Yes, I’m… fine.”

Natasha’s eyes tell him that she knows he’s lying and that she intends to pursue this conversation at a later date when their lives are not in any immediate danger. Steve gives her a subtle nod as he slumps back down in his chair. They have more important matters to discuss.

 

When he wakes up in the hospital, he is surprised to note that he is alive. He thinks back to everything that has happened in the course of the past week, he thinks about Bucky being alive and not recognizing Steve, he thinks about that hidden S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker holding the AI of Arnim Zola, about the fight on the helicarrier and how his beaten, injured body had plummeted into the Potomac, and Steve comes to the very obvious conclusion that, despite everything, Bucky had saved his life. He may not have remembered his childhood friend and it had been his mission to kill Captain America but Bucky had still not let Steve die.

It gives him hope. He decides to make it his mission to find Bucky and help him remember everything, help him heal.

It’s not easy sometimes, focusing on his mission when he keeps being haunted by that same woman he’s been seeing since he moved to D.C. If it was any other man, anyone with a normal life, he wouldn’t mind these random hallucinations at all but it’s different for Steve, whose main goal at the moment is to find his best bud without allowing himself any distractions. And that’s what she is, a distraction, because Steve’s mystery woman is stunning. She’s so beautiful that there are times when he wishes she was real, so that he could touch her, wrap her up in his arms and kiss her if she allowed him.

The first time he realizes that his wish may have come true, he and Sam have just returned from following another cold trail that they were sure would lead them to Bucky. Steve calls for dibs on the shower and strides into the bathroom. She is sitting on the closed toilet seat looking as lovely as ever. She is not wearing her usual layers and is instead dressed in a simple denim jeans and tank top that says ‘The God of Thunder is my Bro’ with a tiny hammer printed next to the words.

If Steve’s eyes linger a bit more on her chestal area, he tells himself it is because of the words on her t-shirt. He briefly wonders if she would wear Captain America merchandise if he concentrated hard enough, but Steve knows that these dreams or hallucinations—whatever they are—don’t work that way. He watches as she turns her face up and stares at something unblinkingly. It would have completely escaped his notice if he hadn’t been so focused on her but he catches a point of light reflecting in her eyes and her pupils dilate. It seems like someone is shining a flashlight in her face.

“Jane gets worried sometimes,” she speaks. “But I swear I’m okay. Just random headaches, that’s all, Doc.”

She’s talking to a doctor. Huh. That’s new.

“Nope, nothing else, thanks, Doc… yes, I’m sure—um, actually, there is one thing. It’s… um… it’s,” she looks to be fighting for words, “I’ve been seeing this guy… no, no, not like that.” She huffs out a laugh. “He is… well, he’s more of a… guess you can call it a hallucination?”

If Sam could see Steve now, he would definitely be worried about Captain America’s mental health, for Steve stands stock still, his eyes wide and his mouth agape as he stares at the toilet seat in utter disbelief. The woman continues speaking, unaware of the rush of hope that floods Steve’s system at her words.

“Um… I must have seen him a dozen times but I don’t think I’ve ever seen his whole face. He’s always turned away, riding a bike, jogging, drowning… oh yes, I saw him drown but he’s okay now…” her voice trails away and she looks uncomfortable. “You know what, never mind, Doc. It’s just a dream, he’s just a dream.”

She stands up, smiles confidently, marches forward straight through the bathroom wall and disappears.

Steve stares after her in awe. He lays awake that night, replaying her words over and over in his head. Try as he might, he cannot squash the feeling of giddiness in his chest. He’s not crazy after all. He’s not hallucinating strange women. But that’s not even why he’s happy. He’s happy because now he knows that she’s real. She has to be. She’s seeing him, too, isn’t she? That means, she’s real and alive and this isn’t a joke that the universe is playing on him. It’s all flipping real!

It’s time he told someone about her. He needs to speak to an expert, someone who would be able to tell him why he’s seeing her and why she’s seeing him. Bruce comes to mind. Bruce is nice, he wouldn’t make fun of Steve, he would believe him and want to solve this little mystery. That’s how Bruce is; he doesn’t give up. Thor is next. Steve is afraid she’s from another realm—although the clothes she wears look normal and from this planet—but he’s not taking a chance. If she is from Earth, great! But if she isn’t, Thor will help Steve find her.

With that thought in mind, he closes his eyes and, for the first time in a really long time, falls into a deep, dreamless slumber.

 

Thor is on Earth and he’s in London but Steve cannot find a way to contact him, so he calls Bruce first.

Bruce is fascinated by Steve’s story. “So she can see you, too? But that means she’s real!”

Steve nods vigorously. “Exactly! And I’m going to find her but I also need to know why this is happening with us. Have you ever heard of something like this before?”

“This is the first I’m hearing of it. But we’ll figure it out, don’t worry.”

“Thank you, Bruce.”

 

A few days before they’re leaving Germany and heading to Romania, Steve walks into their tiny hotel room bathroom and sees her lounging in the tub with her eyes closed, taking a bath. He can’t see anything. All the important body parts are covered by soap bubbles but a long creamy leg rests lazily on the rim of the tub and Steve cannot help the aroused whisper that escapes him at the sight.

“Shit!”

To his utter surprise, her eyes snap open and fix directly on him. She screams.

“Turn around, you pervert!”

“You can see me?” Steve asks in astonishment.

She screams again, punctuating each word as she orders him to, “Turn the fuck around!”

He’s a little slow but he obliges. He can hear her move behind him, hear the water sloshing around her as she stands up. His heart almost stops beating and he gulps visibly. He shifts a little and she assumes he’s trying to sneak a peek.

“Don’t turn yet. God, how did you… what’s going on? Who are y—?”

Steve turns at the abrupt silence to see that she has vanished again. He immediately calls Bruce.

“She saw me see her.”

“Steve, it’s three in the morning.”

“Oh, time zones. Gosh, I’m sorry, Bruce.”

“It’s fine. Just give me a sec.” Steve waits patiently as Bruce rustles around at the other end. “All right, talk to me, Steve.”

“She saw me see her,” repeats Steve.

“Wait. You mean to tell me you two saw each other at the same time?”

“Yes.” Steve tells him in brief what happened earlier.

Bruce is silent for a moment, then asks, “How do you know she wasn’t screaming at someone else?”

“She looked at me.”

“So?”

“She’s never really looked at me. Whenever she’s looking in my direction, she’s always looking through me, never at me.”

“And this time she was looking at you?”

“Positive.”

Another silence.

“So whatever this is, this connection that you two have, it seems to have evolved. If you can see each other at the same time, you can make conversation. This is good news, isn’t it?”

“I… don’t know.”

“Don’t be silly, Steve.” Steve can imagine Bruce rolling his eyes in the darkness of his room. “This is an interesting development… and certainly very helpful. Next time you see her, you ask her name and you ask where she is. Easy.”

“What if she doesn’t tell me where she is?”

“She will.”

She doesn’t. She only tells him her first name. Darcy. Steve thinks it’s a strange name but he doesn’t tell her that. He thinks the name suits her.

They are sitting on the bed facing each other. Sam is asleep in the other room, so Steve tries not to speak too loudly.

“This is so weird,” Darcy is saying.

It’s dark and if he didn’t have enhanced eye sight, he would not have been able to see her properly. She’s not so lucky. She’s squinting in his direction, even with her glasses on. Judging by the condition of her hair and the clothes she is wearing, it is night time for her, too.

“Why won’t you tell me where you are?” he asks her.

She shoots an incredulous look in his direction. “Why should I? You could be a creep… you did check me out when I was naked.”

“I was just—”

“Save it. All men are the same.”

Steve falls silent, feeling a little insulted. He’s not like all men, is he? He likes to believe that he’s different. He has always been different. Bucky said so and Erskine said so and… aaah, who is he kidding? She’s probably right. He had checked her out the other day and he doesn’t even have anything to say in his defense except that she looked absolutely beautiful in that bathtub and so utterly inviting that he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her.

Steve doesn’t think telling her that would do him any favors.

She’s speaking again. “Look, dude, I don’t know you and it’s strange that I’m even seeing you, that we’re seeing each other like this because—God!—this is not normal. This is so bizarre, I can’t even wrap my head around it.”

“I think…” He thinks he wants to kiss her. “I think you’re right.”

“Right?! I mean, shit, how is this even possible?”

“I don’t know but I’ve got a friend who’s working to figure this out.”

“You’ve told your friends about me?”

“Just one. He’s a nice fella. And it’s not like you didn’t tell anyone about me,” he can’t help but accuse. Although what he is accusing her of isn’t clear to him.

“You eavesdropped on my conversation with Jane?”

“No, I saw you talking to a doctor. And it’s not like I can help it, you know.”

Darcy looks sheepish. “I know. Sorry.”

“So who’s Jane?”

“She’s my friend. She’s an astrophysicist but she has given up science temporarily to find out why I’m hallucinating strange men.”

“I’m not a hallucination. I’m real.”

“I know. I just… I don’t know what to call this.”

They are silent for some time, both lost in their own thoughts. Steve is struggling with what to say next. There are so many things he wants to ask her but doesn’t know where to start. He watches her nervously finger a loose thread on her sleeve. This is the longest duration she has ever appeared to him before. He’s really happy about it. He wants her to never leave.

The moment that thought crosses his mind, she vanishes.

Steve closes his eyes and groans loudly, unmindful of disturbing Sam’s slumber.

 

She recognizes him in Romania.

“You’re Captain America.”

Steve and Sam are sitting in a dingy, local diner, sipping their coffees and eating food that Steve suspects is stale. He looks up when he hears her voice and finds her sitting in the extra chair at their table.

“Yes,” he says. He’s not really bothered that she has figured out his identity. He hadn’t planned on keeping it a secret from her. He trusts her. She doesn’t trust him.

Sam looks at him. “Yes what?”

Steve fumbles. “Just trying out the word. Yes is a nice word.”

“Uh… if you say so, man.”

“Where are you?” Darcy asks.

Steve shakes his head. Not now.

“Are you with someone?”

When he determinedly stares at his coffee cup and refuses to answer, she asks, “Is it a woman?”

He looks at her and can’t help the defiant “No!” that escapes him.

Sam’s gaze is on him again.

“Just trying out the word,” says Steve lamely.

Sam shoots him a strange look but doesn’t press further. Steve glares at Darcy, who’s smirking.

“Oops,” she says. “But you deserve it, Cap. For not telling me who you are.”

Now that she knows who he is, Steve wants to ask her if she trusts him enough to tell him where she is. But he doesn’t know how to do that without drawing Sam’s attention again.

Darcy is muttering to herself. “Why the hell am I seeing Captain America?” She looks at him with wide eyes. “You’re a national icon. The man with a plan. Stars and stripes. A bloody Avenger!”

He shoots her an unimpressed ‘So what?’ look.

“And I’m just an unpaid—,” she pauses uncertainly. “I’m just a normal person. It doesn’t make sense.”

Steve’s first instinct is to tell her that he’s a normal person, too, but he knows it’s a lie. His second and more accurate instinct is to tell her that she’s not normal either. To him, she’s extraordinary.

He doesn’t act on his instincts. All he really wants is to know where she is, so that he can go to her and meet her for real. Find out if her skin is as smooth as it looks or if her lips are as soft.

“Where are you?” he asks before he can stop himself. Sam looks up sharply and Steve promptly says, “I mean, where are you, Bucky. My friend Bucky,” his eyes flicker to Darcy, “who I’m searching for in Romania. So where are you… uh, Bucky.”

Darcy bursts into laughter. “Smooth. Really smooth,” she says between giggles. “Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m in—”

“Damn it!” Steve groans. That’s the worst possible time for her to disappear on him.

Sam chuckles. “Let me guess, trying out the word?”

Steve nods and curses some more. “Damn it all to hell!”

 

He doesn’t see her for almost a week after that day. He’s growing restless, not only for that reason but also because he has made no progress on the Bucky front so far. Every time Steve thinks they have got him, the sneaky son of a bitch slips through their fingers again. He’s beginning to think that Bucky doesn’t want to be found but Steve cannot help himself. Bucky is his best friend, his brother and Steve wants to be there for him, just like Bucky was there for him all those years ago.

His suspicions about Bucky are confirmed when a note slides in beneath their hotel room door one morning. Their hotel in Bucharest is better than the one where they stayed in Germany. This one is at least clean and it has a bathroom which can accommodate the giant that is Steve. Not that he cares; he has honestly crawled into tighter spaces. But he was smaller then and times were different.

Steve and Sam are getting ready to head out for their daily search when Sam notices the note on the carpet. He picks it up and opens it.

“Steve, you gotta see this, man.”

“What is it?” Steve asks, taking the note from Sam’s fingers.

It’s clearly from Bucky. It reads – I do not want to see you. Stop following me or I’ll be forced to break some legs.

“Break whose legs exactly?” worries Sam.

Steve rolls his eyes. “We must be getting close. I think he’s just trying to scare us away.”

“It’s working. I’m scared.”

“Why? It’s just Bucky.”

“No, Steve, it’s not just Bucky. It’s the Winter Soldier. For almost 70 years! And this,” Sam points at the note in Steve’s hand, “is a threat. Maybe you should consider giving him some time and let him come to you instead.”

He turns around and marches out of the room. The door clicks shut behind him and Steve wants to go after him but he knows he shouldn’t. He’s been dragging Sam along on a wild goose chase all these weeks and they have been living in a close proximity for so long that Steve sometimes forgets that Sam needs some time alone as well.

He sighs and falls backwards onto the bed. Darcy’s there, lying on her stomach propped up by her elbows and reading a book. She jumps a little when she sees him.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” she jokes.

“I wish you were here.” He sounds depressed and he knows it.

She grasps onto his emotions fairly quickly and doesn’t hesitate to ask what’s wrong.

“It’s my friend, Bucky.”

“Is he okay?”

Steve nods. “He says he doesn’t want to see me. Wants me to stop looking for him.”

She doesn’t say anything. Merely closes her book, using her index finger as a bookmark, and waits for him to continue.

“Sam says I should give me him time and let him come to me.”

“Sam sounds like a wise person.”

“You think I should listen to him?”

She looks mildly surprised. “Why are you asking me?”

Steve shrugs. “I want to know what you think.”

Darcy considers it and then shakes her head. “It’s your decision, Steve. You know Bucky the best. Do what you think is best for the both of you.”

Steve throws an arm over his eyes and grumbles under his breath. He doesn’t want to make this decision. He just wants to find Bucky. And he wants Bucky to want to be with him as much as Steve wants to be with Bucky.

He hears Darcy giggle. “You’re adorable.”

Well, he can’t really ignore that kind of invitation, can he? He peeks at her from under his arm. She chuckles and goes back to reading her book. Steve moves his arm under his head and lets himself admire her. She looks different today. Her normally messy waves are tied up in a loose knot at the nape of her neck and she’s not wearing her usual dark lipstick. She looks completely comfortable in her skin in her forest green tank top and her incredibly short shorts where his eyes linger a bit more than they should.

“You’re checking me out again.”

Steve’s eyes snap to hers. She hasn’t looked up from her book. “I can’t help it,” says Steve sincerely. “You’re beautiful.”

She snorts. “So are you. But you don’t see me ogling you.”

“You’re welcome to. Do you want me to take my shirt off?”

That causes her to look up from her book and blink at him in surprise. Steve gives her a shit eating grin and she laughs. “Never knew Captain America was such an ass.”

“The history books failed to mention a lot of things about me.”

“It would seem so.”

A piece of hair hangs on her cheek that he is really tempted to tuck behind her ear. He reaches an experimental hand towards her, wanting to see what would happen if he got near enough. She holds still, her eyes following his advance, and Steve is thrilled that she’s not moving away. His heart races and his mouth goes dry as his fingers slowly near her face.

“May I?” he asks softly.

Her eyes flicker to him and then back to his hand poised in midair between them. She nods. Steve gulps and pushes his fingers forward only to see his hand pass right through her face, as if she’s air, as if she’s not there at all. He can’t say he’s surprised but the sting of disappointment in his gut is almost painful. He hadn’t known just how much he wanted to feel her until that very moment when he realized for sure that he couldn’t. Being able to see her but not being allowed to touch her is the worst form of torture.

Darcy lets out a shaky breath and whispers sadly, “This sucks.”

Steve forces a smile onto his face and finds consolation in the fact that she feels the same way about him. When she’s gone again, he realizes he forgot to ask her where she lives.

 

He gets a dozen messages from Bruce when he’s heading back to New York two weeks later. Deciding that Sam is right, that Steve needs to give Bucky more time considering that he has been a brutal HYDRA assassin all these years and perhaps isn’t ready to face his former best friend yet, Steve and Sam give up on their mission and plan to head back home. Sam goes back to D.C. while Steve, having no place to go after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., decides he will take Tony Stark up on his offer to move into his tower in New York. Apparently, Clint and Natasha have also moved in with Stark and Bruce is already there, so the idea of moving in with his team sounds appealing.

“I don’t know how to thank you for all your help,” Steve tells Sam before they separate.

Sam grins and claps a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Don’t bother. What are friends for, right?” They shake hands heartily and Steve realizes he will miss Sam. “Come by my place whenever you’re in D.C., Cap.”

“I will.”

Steve spends a week wandering aimlessly in Bucharest, hoping against hope that Bucky will contact him again but when he doesn’t, Steve’s resolve to let him be strengthens and he calls Tony.

“Got a place for me in your big, ugly tower?”

“Offer still stands, Capsicle. Although, if you call my tower ugly one more time, I will be forced to put on my suit and do some damage to your person.”

“All right. I won’t call it ugly. How about unsightly, obnoxious, hideous…?”

“That’s it. I’m burning the suite I made for you and assigning you a cupboard under the stairs Harry Potter style.”

Steve grins. “Be there tomorrow. Keep my cupboard ready.”

He sees Bruce’s messages when he’s boarding the flight to New York the next day. The messages are excited and bordering on frantic as Steve scrolls through them one by one, his own excitement growing. Bruce has figured it out! He knows what’s happening with Steve and Darcy, and it’s apparently something very rare and unique because Bruce cannot stop gushing about it. He won’t tell Steve about it on the phone because Steve’s headed his way as it is and Bruce prefers telling him the news face to face. As for Steve, the flight cannot go any slower for him. He can’t wait to land in New York and talk to Bruce. And he can’t wait to see Darcy again so that he can share his findings with her.

He hasn’t seen her in a few days. Last he saw her, she had been sleeping and looked so peaceful and tired that Steve didn’t have it in himself to wake her up. It strikes him as peculiar that she is sleeping in the middle of the day. She is wearing pajamas and the shadows playing over her body tell Steve that maybe it is night where she is, which is weird because he is fairly certain they are in the same time zone. Nevertheless, he spends the entire time she’s visible staring at her sleeping form and imagining her voice in his head saying ‘dude, you’re such a creep.’

The flight touches down late at night and Bruce and Tony are waiting for him when Steve reaches the tower. Bruce, clad in a clean white lab coat, is practically bouncing on his feet and Tony, sporting comparatively dirty clothes full of grease spots, is giving Bruce the side-eye.

“Welcome, dear Capsicle, to the wonders of the new world,” Tony greets majestically, waving his hands around at his tower with pride. “You’re gonna love it here.”

Steve’s heart flutters as his eyes sweep over the sleek reception area and lobby. The place is empty and dimly lit but he can see a couple of guards making rounds and a night receptionist who’s ogling him from behind her desk. Steve may tease Tony about his tower being ugly, but he cannot deny the fact that the moment he caught sight of Stark Tower in the distance, he had felt an inexplicable connection towards it, a certain pull that surprises him and makes him think immediately of Darcy.

“Where’s my cupboard under the stairs?” he asks, turning back to both men with a tired smile.

Tony pouts. “You’re no fun. I was going to give you a private tour and everything.”

A private tour sounds good but at the moment, all Steve wants is a hot bath and a soft bed under him. He’s been staying in roadside inns and dingy hotels for too long during his search for Bucky. He thinks he deserves a little comfort. And Stark Tower feels like home somehow, so Steve thinks that perhaps it can give him the ease and comfort that he craves.

He tells the same to Tony and the billionaire seems to understand. He leads the way and Steve falls into step beside Bruce. “Your excitement is killing me,” he tells Bruce. “What do you know?”

Bruce grins and shakes his head. “Let’s get you settled in first, Capsicle.”

The use of Tony’s nickname for him earns Bruce a head shake and sad sigh. “Tony is a bad influence on you.”

Once Tony has showed him to his room, chattering the entire time about state-of-the-art this and modern tech that, Steve rolls his travel bag into a corner and slumps down on the plush brown couch in the middle of the room. His suite is spacious, completely furnished—adorned in shades of red and beige—and it is absolutely amazing. Steve raises his eyebrows at Tony.

“Thought you were going to burn this.”

Tony waves off-handedly. “I decided I like you too much.”

“Right.” Steve is grateful but he really needs Tony to leave so that he can speak to Bruce in private. He doesn’t know how to say it without sounding rude, so he turns a questioning gaze to the scientist, who clears his throat and speaks.

“I have always believed that hugging is the best form of gratitude.”

His unexpected comment is met with odd looks and Steve has no idea what he is talking about until he sees Bruce jerk his head meaningfully towards Tony. Steve’s eyes widen as comprehension dawns and he bites back a snigger as he walks towards Tony with his arms wide open.

Tony’s jaw drops and he backs away almost instantly. “Woah, woah, Cap, what are you doing?”

“Thanking you.”

“No, no, you don’t need to do that. I wanted to… really… Cap, don’t come any closer.”

“What? I just want to hug you.” Steve can’t help the bark of suppressed laughter that shoots out of him at the sight of Tony fleeing from the room. He wipes his eyes and turns to Bruce, who’s chuckling lowly. “Does he hate hugs or something?”

“He’s weird when it comes to physical contact. Intent always works if you want to effectively shoo him away. Case in point.”

Steve grins. “So what did you find?”

Bruce doesn’t waste time extracting a bunch of folded papers from the inside of his lab coat. He hands them to Steve and tells him to sit down. First glance at the papers tells him that a couple of them are photocopies from an old book, one of them is a website printout and the last one is a printout of a black and white sketch of a man and woman facing each other, their hands up in the air and palms touching. Steve sits down on the couch and feels Bruce do the same.

In his hurry to read all three sheets of papers, Steve’s eyes skim over the pages with rushed urgency. The words don’t make a lick of sense to him and he initially doesn’t understand anything, so he takes a calming breath and exercises a bit of restraint on his sweeping eyes, attempting to go slow. Words start to jump out to him and Steve’s jaw drops in amazement as he reads more and more.

Ancient gift… truly rare… mates for life… almost like an apparition… random appearances… out of one’s control… everlasting love… soul mates…

Steve looks up at Bruce, his heart racing. “Soul mates?”

Bruce smiles. “Seems like it.”

Steve turns back to the page, his eyes reading the words ‘soul mates’ over and over again. “What does it mean?”

“It means you’re made for each other. Bound before you were even born in this world.”

“How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know. As you can see, soul mates are rare occurrences. The last documented occurrence was two centuries ago.” Bruce shakes his head in awe. “Some people say soul mates share a soul, that it gives them certain power over each other, like they can sense when the other person is nearby… pretty amazing, eh?”

Steve absently stares at the black and white sketch of the man and woman and it is then that he realizes that their palms aren’t touching. They are one with each other, as if their hands went right through their skin, just like what had happened with Steve and Darcy in Romania.

“I have a soul mate,” Steve utters in mingled wonder and disbelief. “Christ, I have a soul mate!”

Bruce laughs. He seems genuinely happy for Steve. “Yeah, you do.”

“I can’t wait to tell her. Although I don’t really know how she will take it but I have to find her now. Find her and bring her here so we can be together. You will like her, Bruce. She’s funny and bold and utterly gorgeous. And when she…” Steve blushes and trails away at the amused look on Bruce’s face. He knows he’s rambling but he can’t help it. Feelings of giddiness and nervousness swirl in his stomach, because from what he can tell, having a soul mate is a big deal and he’s been lucky enough to get a soul mate like Darcy, who turns him on in the best possible ways, not just physically but emotionally as well.

He has one last question before he lets Bruce go. “Why now? Why not after I woke up?”

Bruce shrugs. “No clue. Maybe the apparitions are triggered when you reach a certain age or perhaps soul mates start to appear to each other when they need each other the most. Could be anybody’s guess.” He pauses to raise his eyebrows at Steve. “Does it matter?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Good. Now rest.”

Steve dreams of Darcy that night. They are in his old D.C. apartment doing mundane things—watching television, cooking breakfast, folding freshly laundered clothes, restocking the kitchen—and it’s all so cozy, so domestic that Steve’s sleeping form lets out a contented sigh. In his dream, he can hold her, embrace her and she lets him touch her, lets him comb his fingers through her hair and stroke his knuckles over the smooth skin of her cheek; she lets him lower his lips to hers and explore her mouth for as long as he pleases, for she is his and he is hers and nothing makes more sense in the world than this realization.

 

Clint and Natasha are arguing in the communal kitchen when Steve ambles in next morning.

“You cannot just take a legendary character from a piece of classic literature and twist his entire nature around to fit your own pornographic fantasies.”

“Nat, you’re taking this a little too seriously. It’s just a book.”

“It’s not just a book. It’s the result of the author’s weird hidden kink. It’s an insult to vampires everywhere!”

“Vampires aren’t real!”

Steve coughs to make his presence known. Both assassins look up from their perch.

Clint grins and greets him loudly. “Hey, glad to have you back, Cap! Now the whole team’s here.”

Natasha isn’t so inviting. Her greeting consists of, “Steve, have you ever heard of a glittering fairy vampire?”

“Uh.” Steve rubs the back of his neck and glances at Clint, who gives him a pitying look but does nothing to help him. Natasha looks a bit too dangerous in that moment to not risk replying to her question. So he settles with, “No?”

It’s more of a question but Natasha doesn’t mind. She smirks triumphantly at Clint. “See? No one’s heard of a vampire who glitters. You know why? Because vampires don’t glitter or sparkle or whatever. Vampires are dark creatures of the night that prey on your blood and leave you for dead.”

Clint rolls his eyes at Steve, who silently pours himself some coffee, having no clue what they are talking about. “Ignore her,” Clint advises him. “Nat takes offense to anyone defaming Dracula.”

“Damn right,” says Natasha heatedly. “Clint, you burn your copy right now! That’s a book no one should ever read. It scarred me for life.”

“Aww come on, Nat, I’ve heard the sex in it is really good.”

“And where exactly did you hear that from?”

Clint looks sheepish. “A thirteen year old girl,” he replies, before adding quickly, “But she was very mature for her age.”

Natasha’s expression is thunderous and Steve is almost glad when Bruce walks in, followed by a disheveled and hungry looking Thor.

“I need sustenance,” he announces and makes a beeline for the refrigerator.

Steve looks at him in surprise. “You’re here, too?”

Thor’s head pokes out from inside the fridge and his eyes settle on Steve. “Steven,” he greets with an imperious smile, straightening up and closing the fridge to walk up and grasp Steve’s shoulder affectionately. “What a delight to find you amongst us again.”

Steve smiles politely. “I thought you were in London.”

“I came back. Stark has been most gracious in accommodating me and mine in his castle.”

“Jesus, Thor, how many times do I have to tell you,” a new voice enters the fray and Tony walks in, eyes on the tablet in his hands. “It’s a tower, not a castle.”

Thor laughs. “Of course, of course. My apologies.”

Tony waves a hand as if he doesn’t care for Thor’s apologies and asks, “Slept all right?” His eyes are still on his tablet but it is rather obvious he is talking to Steve.

Steve placidly sips his coffee and asks out loud, “Who’s he talking to?”

“Who knows,” replies Bruce, rummaging in the cabinets and pulling out a box of breakfast cereal. “Probably his tablet.”

“Probably Thor,” says Clint. “Stark has been most gracious with him.”

“You dare mock me, Barton?”

“I’m just saying there’s a lot of favoritism going on in this castle and I don’t like it.”

Natasha sniggers and Tony finally looks up from his tablet, ignoring a pleased looking Thor and setting his gaze on Clint.

“Ho ho,” he says in a bored voice. “You’re funny.”

“Thanks, Tony. How gracious of you.”

Steve settles himself on a kitchen stool and listens to the banter of his team mates—no, his friends. It’s a pleasant surprise to see everyone so comfortable and in tune with each other. Steve has no idea when this change came about but he likes it. He likes Clint and Bruce pulling Tony’s leg, and Natasha busying herself at the stove with a dozen eggs looking as if she owns the kitchen, and Thor snagging a piece of leftover pizza from a box clearly marked ‘Clint’s junk, do not touch’ as revenge for mocking him earlier. It almost feels like a family. An abnormal, slightly dysfunctional family but a family nonetheless. They have all made Tony’s home their home and Steve decides he will do the same. It’s about time they all stuck together and had each other’s backs.

A fitting quote from a movie he saw months ago in D.C. comes to mind. That’s what you do in a herd. You look out for each other.

 

It’s been more than a week since Darcy’s last appearance and Steve’s getting worried. They normally haven’t gone longer than four to five days in each seeing other, so Steve wonders if something’s wrong. A thought that she’s dead also crosses his mind but he quickly chucks that horrible thought out of his mind. He tells himself that Darcy cannot die. She’s too young, too full of life to die so soon. Besides, Steve doesn’t know what he will do if something happens to her. They haven’t even met each other yet and the thought of something untoward happening to her before he can get a chance to kiss her, know her, love her, it makes his gut twist painfully.

He gathers the courage to talk to Natasha about it. The Widow is good at tracking people down. Steve doesn’t know Darcy’s last name but maybe if he drew her a picture, Natasha could successfully run a facial recognition on her or something.

“I need your help in finding someone,” he tells her over a late lunch one day.

Natasha looks up from her pasta and raises an eyebrow at him. “Still stuck on Barnes?”

Steve shakes his head. “I’m looking for a woman.”

Natasha’s face lights up. “As in any woman or a particular woman?”

“A particular woman. I don’t have her full name and I don’t have her photograph and I don’t know where she’s from but she’s someone important to me and I want you to find her.”

The light fades from Natasha’s eyes and she looks at Steve like he’s gone insane. “If you don’t know anything about her, then how do you expect me to look for her?”

“I can draw you a sketch of how she looks,” Steve says uncertainly. “Would that help?”

Before she can reply, they hear footsteps outside the kitchen and a second later, Bruce and Tony walk in. Tony is grumbling under his breath and Bruce looks amused by his antics.

“What’s got his boxers in a twist?” Natasha asks Bruce.

“Lewis kicked us out of the lab,” gripes Tony. “Again!”

“She said we need to feed ourselves at least one sandwich each,” explains Bruce. “Or she won’t let us back in.”

“Foster’s got fifteen minutes before she gets the boot as well.” Tony turns to Steve and widens his eyes for impact as he says, “Be glad you haven’t been down to the labs, Steve. Never go to the labs.”

He sounds so comically ominous that Steve has to ask, “Why?”

“Because there be dragons.”

Bruce rolls his eyes. “Tony, stop comparing Darcy to dragons.”

Steve’s ears perk up at the name. “Darcy?”

Natasha nods. “Dr. Foster’s intern. She moved here with Foster a little more than a week ago. She’s a bright little thing. Keeps Tony on his toes.”

“She’s a menace,” says Tony, unevenly spreading butter on his bread and continuously muttering under his breath, his soft curses just barely audible in the silence of the kitchen. “Not even been here a month and already behaves like she rules the effing place… I’m going to burn her room and give her the cupboard under the stairs… I’m going to cut a hole in her sweaters and…”

“Don’t pretend like you don’t enjoy her bossing you around,” intones Natasha shrewdly.

Tony sputters comically. “I do not!”

“Who’s Dr. Foster?” Steve asks, trying to get the conversation back on track.

“Thor’s girl Friday.”

“I don’t get that reference, Tony.”

“He means she’s Thor’s girlfriend,” states Bruce. He walks up with a plastic wrapped coleslaw sandwich from the fridge and takes the stool beside Natasha. “When Thor visited about a month ago, Tony pestered him to move in until he invited Jane over from London. She brought Darcy with her, says she cannot survive without Darcy.”

Steve’s breath shutters and the fork in hand clatters on the table. He can feel his heart in his throat as he slowly asks, “Is Jane an astrophysicist?”

Bruce nods. “Yeah, she—”

Steve stands up so quickly that the stool he’s sitting on crashes to the floor. “Shit, Bruce, it’s her!”

All three Avengers are looking at him in shock. Then something shifts in Bruce’s expression and he asks hesitantly, “Jane’s her?” Because Steve never told Bruce her name, did he?

“God no! Darcy! She has an astrophysicist friend called Jane.” He cannot believe that Darcy has been in the tower since before he arrived and he had no idea whatsoever. “Where are the labs? Take me to the labs now!”

He knows he’s shouting but he feels frantic and he’s already out of the kitchen before Bruce can even move a muscle. When the scientist finally catches up with him, Tony and Natasha are with him, both whispering to each other and asking Bruce what’s going on. A little down the corridor, Clint walks past them.

“Hey guys, what’s up?”

Natasha grabs onto his arm before he has even finished saying his greeting and drags him along. “Come on,” she growls.

Clint looks around at them all and Steve can only imagine how the sight looks to him.

“Where are we hurrying to? Was there a call to assemble?” Clint asks. He, too, straightens his posture and walks determinedly like the rest of them.

“Something’s about to go down,” says Tony excitedly, “and I’m totally videotaping it.”

They all file into the elevator and await their destination in tensed silence. Steve is restless. He can barely stand straight without fidgeting. He drums his fingers against his thighs, taps his foot impatiently on the elevator floor and practically bursts out when the doors slide open. The pull he has been experiencing since he stepped foot in the tower increases exponentially.

“Darcy,” he calls, looking around.

Bruce touches his forearm. “Not yet, Steve. Follow me.”

He nods and follows Bruce obediently. Something like an epiphany dawns on him as they are striding past a cluttered lab space which can only be Tony’s. He realizes that maybe Darcy hasn’t appeared to him in the past week because she’s been right here in the tower. Fate did its job bringing them together in one place and now it’s up to them to find each other.

He is so pumped to finally meet Darcy for real that he can barely breathe. He can feel his pulse racing, can feel the dampness on his forehead and the slight wobble in his knees and he realizes that he isn’t just excited to see her but he’s also nervous as hell. Nervous because he doesn’t know how she will take seeing him like this, all of a sudden without any sort of warning. They haven’t appeared to each other in some time, so maybe she has forgotten all about him. Baseless and silly reasons, really, but the negative part of his brain is having fun conjuring up more such reasons for his nervousness, all of which disappear the moment he lays eyes on her.

Bruce moves out of the way and points to her through the open lab door, although he doesn’t need to. Steve can recognize her anywhere. “That’s her. That’s my Darcy.”

She has her back to him as she flutters around another woman who could only be Dr. Foster given that she’s sitting extremely close to Thor while she works on a computer. Darcy skips about picking up roughly strewn papers and stuffing them in a file marked ‘Foster’s bible’. Steve moves towards her slowly, not wanting to scare her.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., are you recording this?” He hears Tony whisper behind him and feels like he should do something about it but he really can’t seem to care. His entire focus is on the tiny brunette who’s supposedly his soul mate.

“Darcy?” he calls her name gently.

She jumps slightly and spins to face him. Her mouth opens and shuts, lips silently forming Steve’s name even as a big smile threatens to split her face in half. Steve can only stare… she looks as breathtaking as ever, dressed in a simple gray blouse and knee length blue jeans, dark hair framing her face in messy waves and her lips painted in the juicy red that Steve likes so much.

She looks back at Jane and Thor who Steve gathers are a little too absorbed in work and in each other to notice Steve’s appearance. Darcy turns back to look at him and jerks her head towards the couple sitting just a few feet behind her.

“I’m with people,” she mouths to him.

She evidently thinks he’s an apparition and that he cannot see Jane and Thor and they cannot see him.

“Wait,” she whispers, turning back and prodding Jane on the shoulder. “Jane, your time’s up. Go have lunch in the cafeteria with Thor.”

Jane moans and continues typing on the keyboard but Thor looks up obediently.

“Now, Jane!” snaps Darcy.

Thor sees him standing there. “Steve,” he greets. “How did you find your way to the labs today?”

Steve can see the exact moment that Darcy realizes what’s going on. Foster’s bible slips from her fingers and falls open on the tiles with a snap, the papers she had painstakingly stuffed in happily billowing out and spreading themselves across the floor haphazardly. She gapes at Thor with wide eyes, then at Steve and back at Thor.

“You can see him?”

Thor looks confused by her question, immediately sensing the friction in the air when Jane stands up and stares at Steve and Darcy in astonishment.

“Am I missing something?” the Asgardian asks both Jane and Darcy.

The other Avengers peeking in eagerly through the open doorway is another sign that a moment of great consequence is about to unfold before them, but Darcy only has eyes for Steve.

“You’re real?” she whispers.

Steve holds out a hand, palm facing up, and says, “Check and see.”

She walks towards him slowly, hesitantly. Behind her, Jane has shaken herself out of her trance and is admonishing Thor in a low, hissy voice.

“Why didn’t you tell us Captain America was in the tower?”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Thor, when we moved in, I specifically told you…”

Steve tunes them out. Darcy has reached him and is looking dubiously at his raised hand. He smiles and crooks his fingers invitingly. He’s not nervous anymore. Sure, his stomach is filled with wildly fluttering butterflies and his heart is pounding with anticipation but Darcy’s wide smile at seeing him earlier eased all his concerns away and he watches confidently as she lightly places her hand over his.

She gasps at the contact and her eyes fly to his. “Oh.”

Steve curls his fingers around her small hand, enjoying the tiny sparks of electricity short circuiting throughout his entire body at her simple touch. Her skin is as soft as he has always imagined it would be and he can see a blush creeping up her cheeks as she stares back at him, her gaze unwavering and slightly dazed.

“Do you feel it?” she whispers in awe.

Steve nods. “I feel… complete.”

“H-how?”

He understands what she’s asking and explains, “Bruce says we’re soul mates, that we share a soul.”

Her eyes are wide as she asks, “Is that a thing?”

“It’s rare, but yeah. That’s why we’ve been seeing each other and dreaming about each other…”

“You dream about us?”

“Don’t you?”

Her blush deepens but she does not look away. “Maybe.” She’s smiling her impish smile and Steve feels his heart skip several beats.

He raises a hand to trail his fingers down her cheek and whispers huskily, “I’m going to kiss you now.”

Darcy’s eyes flicker towards the doorway where Jane is half-heartedly trying to shoo everyone away but her efforts are in vain because no one, not even Bruce, moves from their place, their gazes fixed firmly on Steve and Darcy as if they are watching a particularly interesting show. Tony and Natasha especially look as if Christmas has come early for them.

“We have an audience,” Darcy tells Steve.

“I don’t care.”

“Okay,” she gulps, taking a step closer to him and lifting her face up.

That’s all the invitation Steve needs to lower his mouth to hers in a gentle brush of lips that’s enough to reorient his whole world. A powerful bolt of electricity shoots up his spine, the tingles zipping right up to his fingertips and down to his very toes. Darcy shivers against him and he drops all pretenses of restraint, releasing her hand to wrap both his arms around her frame and pulling her into his warmth as he eagerly maps her mouth with his. Darcy fists her hands on his collar and kisses him back with equal fervor, her teasing lips pulling a low groan from the back of his throat.

He would have kept going, kept kissing her until he couldn’t feel his lips anymore but a chorus of wolf whistles and catcalls reaches his ears and Steve ends the kiss, pulling back slightly to grin sheepishly at their enthusiastic audience.

“Way to go, Rogers,” yells Natasha.

“Yep, looks like Cap’s all thawed out now,” teases Clint.

“I call dibs on the wedding preparations,” declares Tony.

“I’m so emotional right now,” sniffs Jane.

“I need sustenance,” declares Thor.

“You’re always hungry, Thor,” says Bruce.

“I am not!”

“Jesus, Tony, just build him a food cupboard or something that follows him around wherever he goes.”

“We have a fully stocked private kitchen, Clint.”

And an employee cafeteria that serves reasonably good food.”

“Can we focus on Steve and Darcy right now?”

“We’ve got soul mates in my tower, people. My tower!”

“Don’t you mean castle?”

“This calls for a celebration!”

“Yes, let’s throw a party! Who wants a party? I’m throwing a party.”

“Wow, that’s so gracious of you.”

Steve looks back at Darcy to see her laughing silently into his chest, her face a brilliant shade of red. He huffs out a laugh at the sight of her and feels his own cheeks burn with embarrassment. Taking advantage of the fact that the others’ attention is diverted, he sneaks in another kiss on Darcy’s lips. She giggles.

“I can’t believe you’re really here.”

“I’ve been here for a week but I had no idea you were here. I didn’t even know your last name so that I could find you.”

“I’m sorry. I was planning to tell you but we didn’t see each other for… two weeks, I think.”

“I saw you. You were asleep. I think it was after you moved here.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“I couldn’t.”

“You watched me sleep, didn’t you?”

“Depends. Does that make me a creep?”

“Not anymore.”

There’s a twinkle in her eyes but she looks sincere as she looks up at him, her eyes warm and trusting and her jaw set. He wants to close his eyes and melt into her again but he has a question for her first. He can’t help but feel a little hurt that she didn’t make any efforts to contact him or find him despite knowing his identity. Wasn’t she even a little bit curious?

Darcy sighs. “You were looking for your friend and I didn’t want to distract you from your mission. If I had only known you had returned…” She trails away guiltily and Steve feels like an idiot for doubting her. “I got worried when you didn’t appear to me for so long. I was going to ask Thor to track you down, find out what happened to you.”

“I’m okay,” Steve says softly. “And I’m here now.”

“You are.”

Her eyes flicker to the gaggle of Avengers creating a ruckus in the doorway, talking about parties and alcohol and whatnot, and she surges up to press a kiss to his lips, her nails scraping pleasantly across the nape of his neck and her mouth slanting over his briefly before she pulls back to smile contently at him.

“You know,” Steve murmurs, taking her hand and tugging her towards the others. “I could get used to this.”

Darcy laughs and Tony turns to look at them. “Are you done with your public displays of affection?” he grumbles.

“If you were so uncomfortable, you should have left. Why did you stick around?”

Because, my little dragon, we were making sure you two didn’t end up doing unspeakable things on the floor of my lab.”

“You mean my lab,” Jane points out. “Yours is next door.”

“Technically, this is my tower. So everything that’s yours is also mine, including your soul mate.”

Darcy punches Tony on the arm and Steve rolls his eyes.

“Steve, we need to have words,” says Thor gravely.

“But first, sustenance,” shouts Jane, pulling on Thor’s hand and shooting Steve an apologetic look. “Food first, big brother talk later.”

Thor looks torn. “Very well,” he says, letting Jane drag him down the corridor.

“Ten bucks says they’ll forget about food and break a bed right now,” says Clint.

“Make it twenty,” says Natasha.

“How about a hundred?”

You’re the billionaire, Tony. Not us.”

Bruce shakes his head and mumbles, “I can’t believe I’m friends with such inappropriate people.”

Steve feels his hand being squeezed and looks down at Darcy. “Can we go somewhere private?” she asks, making a face at Tony and the others.

Tony hears her. “Not so fast, missy,” he says. “We have important things to discuss. But first, here,” he holds up his tablet, “take a look at this wedding gown.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?”

“You don’t like it? How about this one with a long veil—”

Steve can’t help but laugh out loud as he watches Darcy chase Tony down the hallway, the sound of her curses and Tony’s indignant squawks echoing back to him as he follows after them at a more leisurely pace. Natasha falls into step beside him. She is smiling a genuine smile, a happy smile. Steve doesn’t think he has ever seen her look like that before.

“You’re okay,” she says.

We’re okay,” corrects Steve.

And for a long time, they are.