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Taking the Hard Way Home

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            “You sonsabitches. I will come to your house, I will pee on everything you love, I’ll melt gouda on your engine block, I’ll post your reject selfies on facebook-“ Darcy huffs, jumping for the top shelf. One arm across her breasts, one arm out-stretched she jumps for that last damn bag of prissy hummus crisps. She misses by a good 1½ inch, again. She glares up at the bag, all but panting with exertion, and wonders if the shelves would support her weight while she climbed for the top. Every fucking time she craves these ridiculous hipster “crisps” they’re on the top shelf. It’s like the grocery stores get a memo from corporate, Darcy Lewis is coming, y’all better put the hipster crisps on the top shelf because remember what she said about your mother? Fuckers.  

            She casually turns to survey the rest of the isle, and breaks out into a grin when she finds it empty. She rests one foot on the bottom shelf, but when the metal gives after maybe five lbs of her weight, she stands upright with another curse. With another glance around the aisle, she wraps an arm around her boobs to keep the ladies in place and puts everything she has into another leap. She promptly crashes into the shelf, knocks about 30 bags of chip bags to the floor and loses a shoe.

            “It’s punishment for being hotter and smarter than you guys isn’t it? You put them on the top shelf and laugh in your skanky ass security office-“

            “Ma'am? Would you like some help with that?” A male voice interrupts, sounding amused. Darcy whips around to find- Jesus Christ- a faintly smirking wet dream standing a few feet away. Blond-haired, blue eyed, shoulders you could rest the world on, and a body to make Photoshop cry. He’s wearing a beat up motor-cycle jacket and an expression that’s equal parts amused and concerned. Lord in heaven she would tap that so hard the earth would shake. Darcy smiles, rolls her shoulders back the slightest bit, and oh yes watch those eyes dip down.

            “That would be awesome. I swear to you these places move everything I need to the top shelf as soon as I walk in.” Darcy says with a smile she knows for damn sure makes grown men week in the knees. A blush climbs up his face, but he grins back all the same.

            “I’m going to go with no comment on that one.” He says, stepping forward. He stops well into her personal space, so close she can feel a long line of heat down her side, and reaches out to grab the bag of crisps. He leaves his hand on the bag but doesn’t pull it down, his arm boxing her in a little. Darcy grins up a him, leaning back to let him get a good look at her. He coughs and looks down at his shoes, seeming embarrassed by his own behavior, but Darcy’s feeling a little manic, a little bold. She rocks onto her toes and reaches up to grab his arm, using it to pull herself closer.

            “My grocery story hero, look at you-” she murmurs, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. His head pops up like a spring and he stares at her with wide pretty blue eyes. He lowers his arm and flexes his fingers, like he isn’t sure what to do with his hands. Darcy has about 78 things she could do with his hands off the top of her head, but he seems a little skittish so she keeps them to herself.

            He steps back abruptly, but he’s smiling at her, a little desperate, like he’s not quite sure how to proceed. There’s a moment when her brain goes quiet and she thinks this through. She knows that trauma can do strange things to a girl, that a long enough adrenaline rush can change your behavior for ages after. And oh did the last Thor fiasco leave her worse for wear, but damn if she’s going to let that keep her from picking up hot men in grocery stores. The man is staring at her like she’s some sort of wild animal, but his posture is perfect and his eyes flinty, so maybe she’s not the only one who needs to burn off some steam.

            “Hiya handsome. The name’s Darcy.” She says, stepping too close and offering her hand to shake. His internal unease, whatever the hell it was, seems to settle and peers down at her with smile that could be lascivious in the right light.

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you Darcy, I’m Steve.” His voice is lower than it was before and Darcy preemptively congratulates herself on a fuck well deserved. His handshake is firm, and unspeakably careful, like he doesn’t trust himself not to squeeze too hard. Darcy doesn’t know what it says about her that that sends a shiver of heat down her spine, but she doesn’t care either way. 

            “Since you’re so-“ Darcy lets that hang in the air long enough for Steve to work up another blush- “-tall and all, would you mind helping me out with the rest of my shopping?” She asks, cocking her hip and tilting her head in the least innocent way possible. Steven hesitates again, before grinning at her.

            “It would be my pleasure.” Steve says, his earlier disquiet fading like smoke under a wind. Darcy grins and works her arm through his, guiding him back down the aisle, and even though he’s built like Thor, he lets himself be guided with nothing more than bemusement. Darcy started this, admittedly ridiculous, road trip with a plan that only consisted of “get the fuck out of London then get the fuck out of New York.” But she’s a flexible (heh) woman and what better to help her sleep through the nightmares than this blond stranger and his (hopefully) incredible stamina. She leads Steve on a meandering trip through the store, keeping herself plastered to his side all the while. Standing in front of the Gatorade, because hydration is important for sex-marathons, she tilts her head up to look at him.

   “Are you from here? Or just visiting? Because honey your accent is Brooklyn or I’m the queen of England.” Darcy says, showing off her hard earned and functionally useless knowledge of regional syntax. Steve goes stiff beside her, his expression panicked as he tries to think of a response. Well damn, good job Lewis.

            “I mean, I’m moving to New York soon, new job and shit, so maybe you could give me some pointers, the inside scoop on how not to be killed by cab drivers.” Darcy says, reaching out to snag a random six-pack of Gatorade. Steve relaxes, shaking his head.

            “I ah- haven’t lived in New York in a long time. It’s all different now, so I don’t know how much help I’d be.” Steve says with a shrug, plucking the Gatorade out of her hand. He rests it against his hip as Darcy leads them through the next aisle.

            “So you don’t live here?” Darcy pushes, because let’s face it, she’s breathing isn’t she. Steve grins down at her, a sort of ‘aww-shucks’ smile that’s probably gotten him out of trouble his whole life. Darcy grins back.

            “I’m actually from New York, again I mean. I’m moving back when I’m done with my road trip.” Steve says, pushing against her side playfully. She gets distracted by how warm he is, and the feel of his muscles flexing through his jacket.

            “Road trip? Very nice. I’m doing a little of that myself. I mean, I set out like I was going to freaking have a life changing, soundtrack involved adventure, but it’s mostly just been shitty hotel rooms and diner food.” Darcy says, not feeling as put out by that fact as she had been before, before tall blond and fuckable walked into the picture. Steve snorts, then laughs, sounding surprised by the whole affair.

            “Ah yeah, my trip has been a bit like that. You’d think that the food would be at least a little different from state to state, but I think I’ve eaten the same damn burger in every joint I’ve stopped at.” Steve says, grimacing. It’s altogether adorable and Darcy somehow resists the urge to pinch his ass. Instead she settles for getting this show on the road.

            “There’s just one more aisle and then we’re done.” Darcy says, bright and cheerful. He shoots her a glance out of the corner of his eyes that says he knows she’s up to something. Darcy leans more heavily on him, but he holds her weight like she’s nothing more than a feather, and oh my does that get distracting. She feels flushed all over, excited and happy for the first time since she fled London. She leads him out of the food section by leaning shamelessly on him, giggling as he grins and pretends to stagger in the intended direction. They spend a minute or so wandering the hygiene and makeup aisles before Darcy spots what she wants.

            As she leads him to the desired shelf, her heartbeat picks up speed and she feels a flush settle on her face. He looks down at her, eyebrows pinched with concern and confusion, before turning to look at the shelf. His face gets red to fast Darcy fears she may have broken him. The condom and lube boxes are bright and neatly lined up, in staggering variety. Neither of them move, arms still interwoven. Without thinking about it, Darcy holds her breath, because here it is. The million dollar, fuck a stranger in a hotel room, question. Maybe she came on too strong? Maybe he really was just being polite? Maybe there are safer ways to work off steam-

            Steve reaches out, slowly, fingers just shy of a box of plain Trojan condoms. His hands are steady, but tense, as if he’s making them that way by force. Size large, Darcy notices with a sense of wholly justifiable glee. He snatches the box and drops his hand to his side, as if to hide it from view, his face still red. Darcy reaches out with her free hand to tug on the front of his jacket, gently pulling him down to her. He blinks in surprise as Darcy presses a chaste kiss against his lips.

            “What are you doing tonight? And you know, this entire weekend?” Darcy asks, perfectly innocent save for her hand still clutching his jacket. He seems uncertain, so Darcy backs off with an internal sigh. Seeing her retreat, his eyes go wide with panic.

            “I’m not- I mean, I’m free if you wanted. I’ve just never done anything like… this before, I’m sorry if I’m being weird.” He says, his eyes downcast as he shuffles about.

            “Do you want to? I mean, I know I’m amazing and everything, but seriously, if you’re uncomfortable I won’t freak out or get all judgey, okay?” Darcy says, being as serious as she can without alcohol. Steve rubs the back of his neck, seeming sheepish.

            “I’m good, I promise. New situations and all.” He says with a shrug. Darcy gets that, she does. Not everyone is immediately comfortable going home with a stranger, and Steve seems pretty old school anyway. But he leans into her space with a smile and she sees his pupils dilate within seconds. That’s what a girl likes to see.  

            “Where are you staying at? Is it better than a Motel Six?” Darcy asks, reaching out to snag a bottle of warming lube. He blushes again.  

            “It’s called the Drifter Motel.” He admits with a grimace.

            “You’re fucking with me.”

            “Not yet.” He blurts, seeming to startle himself. Darcy grins and punches him in the shoulder.

            “Look at you. Was that just the dirtiest thing you’ve ever said?” Darcy asks, waggling her eyebrows at him. He shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets and shuffling about again.

            “I’m ex-military. The boys talked a lot of shit, so I’m not exactly pure as driven snow here.” He says, with just enough bitterness that Darcy figures he’s had some problems with virgin hunters. She steps back to get a better look at the whole of him, and oh there you go, in his posture, in the way his eyes track the people around them, she probably should have caught that earlier. 

            “Hey, that’s cool. I’ve got friends who are more reserved than I am, I mean, not that it’s hard, but you know what I mean. Not everyone can have my glorious absence of filters.” She says, twining her arm through his again, to lead him to the registers. This is getting a little complicated for a grocery store hookup, but she likes Steve. He’s attractive as fuck, funny in a dry way, and best of all, willing to roll with the punches.

            “Different strokes for different folks.” He says, reaching over the grab the lube from her hand. He rolls it across his palm a few times before settling it in alongside the box of condoms. 

            “So you’re saying you have unplumbed depths?”

            “I have hidden depths.” He says archly, with an exaggeratedly superior expression. Darcy giggles, leaning on him to guide him to an open register. He hands her the Gatorade back and pays for the lube and condoms with nary a blush in sight, giving the smirking cashier another ‘aww-shucks’ smile. Darcy bites through a smirk, as he accepts his receipt with a polite ‘thank you, have a nice day.’ She would bet her best vibrator that he gets away will all sorts of things using his seemingly oblivious demeanor and smiling like that.

            The cashier smirks at her, nodding between Steve and Darcy with a raised eyebrow. Darcy hands him her card with a smug grin and a nod. The cashier promptly high-fives her, and Steve confirms her theory of being artificially oblivious by raising his eyebrows in shock at the two of them. Uh-huh, you sneaky little fuck, Darcy thinks with delight. She takes her bag of sex-fuel from the cashier with another high five and saunters over to Steve. She pokes him in the chest and he raises his eyebrow at her.

            “How much trouble do you get out of by playing your little ‘aww-shucks’ act?” Darcy accuses, not bothering to hide her amusement. He goes still as if in shock, before a low-down dirty grin breaks out over his face.

            “Well you’ll just have to find out.” He says, offering her his arm. Darcy takes it with all due dignity, but the affect is ruined by her full-body laughter. As they’re exiting the store he turns and makes an apologetic face at her.

            “I really am staying at the Drifter Motel.”

            “Seriously? Are you trying to get killed? Do you have enough hobo-stab insurance?” Darcy asks, waving her hand at him for emphasis. He leans back to avoid being smacked in the face, grinning at her in delight.

            “Would you hold it against me if I say I like to live dangerously?”

            “Yes I would you absolute dork!” Darcy says, smacking him in the arm again. Steve unwinds his arm from hers and backs away with his hands up, trying to seem apologetic but failing pretty hard at it.

            “Let me go get my bike and I’ll follow you to the hotel?” Steve asks, pointing towards a gorgeous a motor cycle a few rows down. Darcy gets a little weak in the knees.

            “Yeah, I’m in the red Kia over there, I’ll pull around to meet you.” Darcy says, pointing to her rental car. He nods and takes off at a jog. As soon as he’s out of hearing range, Darcy pulls her cell phone out of her pocket and dials Jane. Thankfully her friend isn’t so deep in a science groove she doesn’t notice the phone ringing.

            “Have you already gotten tired of you Epic Road Trip?” Jane says, sounding hopeful. Darcy sighs. For someone as smart as Jane, the woman is lost without Darcy. She can make huge science rainbow bridge discoveries but is apparently incapable of remembering to eat or hell, even sleep.

            “Not yet. I’m just calling to activate Rule 7.” Darcy says, walking quickly towards her car. Rule 7: When hooking up with a dude, always let someone know. If I don’t call or text you in four hours, call the police and wipe my browser history. That rule was emblazed on a chalkboard in the New Mexico lab and Darcy still wishes she could have seen the face of the agent who stole it. Jane squeals loud in her ear and Darcy unlocks her car with a grin.

            “Oh my god really? What’s he like?” While Jane has been getting regular attention from her god of thunder boyfriend, she still understands the importance of hot guys in Darcy’s life. It’s one of her best qualities as a person, Darcy thinks. She throws her bags into the passenger seat, holding the phone between her shoulder and ear.

            “Remember that American men pinup calendar I have?” Darcy asks, starting the car.

            “Yes!”

            “He’s like a much hotter Mr. July. And he rides a motorcycle, I swear to Thor.”

            “Damn! Get some!”

            “Oh, I intend to.” Darcy says, waving to Steve as she drives by.

###

 

            At the Hotel, Steve parks beside her car and opens the door for her as she gets out. He holds the shopping back with the lube and condoms slightly away from his body, as if they might bite him. He looks nervous, hands jammed into his pockets, faint blush on his cheeks, but his expression is intent, almost hungry. Another spark of heat trills through her as Darcy winds her arm through his. They meander towards the hotel, saying nothing, but there’s an electric sort of awareness between them that leaves her feeling breathless. Steve starts to fidget once they get inside and he keeps grinning down at her at the oddest times.

            Once they get to the elevator bays, Darcy takes a surreptitious glance around before slipping her arm out from under his and giving him a shove. He backs up obligingly, grinning at her. Darcy backs him into the wall, before grabbing his neck and pulling him close for a kiss. He goes still, before cupping her face to pull her closer. Darcy sucks his lower lip, catches his tongue with hers, and he gives a full body shudder. Much more of this and he’ll be falling to the floor, and it’s a lovely thought, but Darcy figures exhibitionism is something to be negotiated beforehand. She pulls back and he follows, holding onto the kiss for another long and slick few seconds, but she finally manages to extract herself. They pant across each others lips and Darcy doesn’t bother hiding her smug grin. He rolls his eyes at her and reaches out to press the “up” button. 

            In the elevator, they manage not to make out like teenagers, but Darcy does lean against him to rest her head on his magnificent pectorals. He’s not weaning any cologne, and it’s lovely, because he smells clean and masculine good enough to eat. He presses a kiss to her hair and smiles at her in the mirrored doors. Her heart does a little stutter at such unexpected sweetness, but she’s saved by the doors opening. She leads him into the hall and to her room with a pounding heart. As she retrieves her keycard out of her pocket, her crowds her from behind, placing a kiss first on her crown, then the side of her neck. It’s more of that unexpected affection, as if she’s more than just a girl who picked him up at the grocery store.

            He draws her hair aside to place another, more lingering kiss to the other side of her neck, and she almost fumbles the card. He chuckles, low and smug. His breath is warm on her neck, and his hands rest on her hips. His fingers run gentle tracks along her hipbones and it takes three tries to get the damn door open. He laughs into her hair, soft and happy, and god what’s wrong with her it’s only been an hour, but it sends a trill of happiness through that that is completely unrelated to sex.

            She pushes the thought away and finally turns the handle to open the door. They stumble through and Steve has her pressed her against the wall within seconds. His hands come up to cup her face, his lips catching hers. She opens to him, titling her head back and pressing her breasts up against his chest. It’s slick and desperate within seconds, Steve’s hands are shaking where they cup her neck, he groans and she answers. He has more energy than skill, but she’s already wet and desperate herself. He pulls back only to kiss her again, shallow and sloppy, a back and forth tide that has her whining and panting, leaning forward to catch his lips. But he laughs, sounding almost surprised, and presses her tighter against the wall to pin her still.

            In retaliation, she runs her hands under his shirt, drags her fingernails lightly over the hard planes of his stomach, and he jerks back with a laugh. He grins at her, lips already bruised and shiny, his eyes blown wide with arousal. Just the sight of him makes her breast ache, her clit feeling so tight it’s almost a burn. He slides his hands slide down from her neck, carefully avoiding her breasts, to settle them prim and proper around her waist. Darcy starts to giggle before she can help herself. Steve jerks back, a guilty expression on his face, and Darcy reaches out to grab his wrist before he can skitter away.

            “Shit sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you. It just took me by surprise. You stick your tongue down my mouth but you’ve got your middle school dance hands on.” Darcy says, bracing against his chest to lever herself up. She kisses him and it’s almost chaste, once, twice. When she leans back, he’s still a little tense, but he rests his hands on back her waist without protest. Her body is humming with need, with energy, but Darcy makes herself take a deep breath. People don’t do things without a reason, and Steve probably has some good reasons.

            “Is this okay? Like, I know I come on strong, but if this is freaking you out, you have to tell me.” Darcy says, slipping into the half lecturing, half threatening voice she’s used so many time on her sisters and friends. Steve flexes his fingers and ducks in for another kiss before answering.

            “I mean, I’m nervous but-“ Steve cuts himself off with a vicious shake of his head and clenched jaw, obviously impatient with himself. Darcy has another moment to consider that she always picks the complicated ones, even for one night stands. She reaches up and runs a finger along his jaw, gives gentle pressure, and he turns his head back towards her.

            “Hey, this isn’t a contest or anything. I want to be here with you. Do you want to be here with me?” Darcy says, running her fingers over his cheekbones. He leans into her touch and watches her with eyes deep and weary. He nods. Darcy’s heart all but flutters and she resists the urge to coo at him as a reward for good behavior.

            “Then that’s all that matters.” She says.

            “I don’t have much experience though. I don’t want to mess up.” Steve says with a casual shrug so fake it could run for president.

“Honey, do you know that the secret to good sex is?” Darcy says, running her hands up and down his stomach, dipping a little closer to his belt buckle each time. He swallows.

“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?” He sounds a little cranky, a little put out, but he’s smiling so Darcy isn’t too worried. She’s cooled off from the mad rush of entering the room, but her arousal is still there, making her skin feel too tight and over-warm.   

“The secret is talking. I’ll tell you what I like, you’ll tell me what you like. And if you don’t know, we’ll experiment and then you’ll tell me what you like.” Darcy leers at him for good measure. Steve’s abdominals jump under her fingers and he gives it his all for a leer, which is so cute she has to jump him. Without warning, she slides her hands up to his shoulders and jumps, trusting him catch her. And he does, his hands sliding possessively under her ass and hoisting her higher so she can wrap her legs around his waist. They end up eye to eye, grinning and panting at each other. His arms don’t even shake and Darcy feels another rush of wet heat.

“This is the part where you take me to bed.” Darcy says, winking at him. Steve laughs, burying his face against her neck, his huge shoulders shaking. Darcy is always up for making an  attractive man laugh, but really, if she doesn’t get fucked soon she might Hulk out or something. So she leans her head against his and tells him so.  

“Honey, I’d really like you to fuck me now. Or least, get your hands somewhere other than the PG13 zone.” She kisses his ear for emphasis. Steve is nothing if not a quick study because he’s crossing the room to the bed and sitting down on the edge, settling her across his lap. Darcy hmmmms in pleasure and rolls her hips against his, trying to get more pressure against her aching clit. Even through two layers of jeans, she can feel that he’s thick and so hard.

 Clothed like this, it should be nothing to write home about, but god the way Steve throws his head back and groans leaves her feeling faint with arousal. His neck is long, all clean lines like debauchery’s thrown glove and Darcy rolls her hips again because she has to, she fucking has to. His breath stutters and his hips jerk, so Darcy rocks harder against him, her own breath a high whine in her ears.

She pulls his head back to hers and slants her lips across his, slick and uncoordinated. His hips never stop their back and forth motion and god oh sweet fuck just a little more pressure and she could come. She pulls back by sheer force of will and it takes a long moment for Steve to get the message, but he stops rocking his hips and his hands clench on her waist. He’s shaking with the exertion of holding himself still, all those coiled muscles tense and expectant as his eyes stare into hers. Her breath leaves like she’s been punched, but she soldiers through it.

“Is there anything in particular you want to do?” Darcy asks, panting. Steve grins, bright and clear.

“You, for one.” He responds, cheeky. Darcy giggles, and rests her head on his shoulder to get herself under control.

“Well yeah, duh. I meant any particular positions or…” Darcy trails off, twining her fingers through the short hairs at the back of his neck. His eyes get a little wide, a little startled and Darcy so totally gets it. When she first started having sex it was overwhelming. Even though she wasn’t nervous about the act itself, her inexperience made her feel at a disadvantage. When Steve continues to open his mouth, close it, repeat, Darcy steps in.

“How about this. I’ll take the reins a little and if you don’t like something, tell me. If you think of something you want to try, tell me. Sound good?” Darcy says, trying to lug her thoughts back from their headlong ‘fuck yes good fucking lets do it oh my god look at his biceps’ sprint. Steve nods, looking a bit like someone’s knocked him in the head with a bat. Darcy is more than familiar with the look.

“I think I can take one for the team.” Steve says seriously. Darcy snorts.

“As long as you’re good to take directions.” Darcy says. There’s another one of those odd pauses, where Steve sorts his thoughts outs. Darcy lets him have it, because everyone’s got their own shit.

“Yeah, I think I can do that.” Steve says. Darcy rewards him with a kiss. It gets deep and dirty, fast. But Darcy manages to extract herself, stumbling to her feet. Steve starts to get up but she waves him back.

“Stay there, I’m just getting the supplies. Actually no, stay there but also be naked while doing it.” Darcy says, looking back at him over her shoulder. He’s leaning back on his hands, hair and shirt rumpled, the thick outline of his cock straining the fabric of his jeans. He grins at her and begins to unbutton his shirt, so Darcy turns away before she gets distracted and does something like sink to her knees and see what kinds of noises she can wring from him. The plastic shopping bag lays discarded by the door and Darcy absolutely makes a show of bending down to retrieve it. The soft rustling sounds of Steve undressing pauses for a moment and Darcy grins as she plucks the condom box and lube out of the bag. She turns around to find Steve standing upright now, stripped all the way down to his blue boxer-briefs. Fuck. God, he’s what Greek gods wish they could be, his skin gleaming with sweat, his briefs distended and damp from his apparently spectacular cock.

“I’d like to thank god and also Jesus.” Darcy says, making herself walk, not sprint, back to the bed. Steve laughs and does this bashful little shuffle that obviously means Darcy has to cup him through his briefs. Steve huffs, like he’s just been hit in the solar-plexus, and his hips tilt towards her hand hard enough to knock her off balance. But that’s okay, because Darcy grabs his bicep and holds on, her hand stroking him through his desperate bucking. He’s just as thick and wonderful as he looked from across the room, and she traces the shape of him with her fingers as he shudders and groans. All those glorious muscles flex against her and she needs to be naked, like yesterday. When she pulls back Steve makes a wordless sound of protest that turns her knees to mush. So she grabs his hands and guides them to the bottom of her shirt. Steve stares at her, panting and shaking, obviously on his last two brain cells. Darcy smiles.

“Wanna undress me?” She asks, trying to make it seductive or hell even playful but her voice is too breathy to pull it off. Steve nods, grinning at her. Seeming more confident now, he pulls at the soft material of her shirt and tugs it up over her head. They have to stop and laugh at each other when it gets a little caught around her head, but soon she’s standing in her pretty lace bra. Steve stares at her breasts he like can find the answers to the universe in her cleavage, and to be fair, who’s to say he won’t.

His hands slide up her stomach, warm and so big he they can stretch all the way across. Her breath comes faster, and all of sudden she starts feeling overwhelmed. Like this moment, right here, will ripple out past tangled sheets and comfort in the dark. But Steve, wearing a look of intense concentration, rubs his thumbs across her nipples and that thought is thankfully swept away under a tide of pleasure. She lets out a shuddery breath and Steve grins like he just figured out the key to differential calculus. Darcy decides to reward his effort by reaching back to un-clasp her bra, and when he figures out what she’s doing his eyes get huge. She lets the moment stretch on, holding the bra up just by the straps before pulling it off to drop on the floor.

Steve’s hands don’t waste time cupping her, but to her complete surprise he doesn’t spend five minutes playing ‘look what I’ve found’ like every other partner she’s had. Instead he sits down again and pulls her to straddle his lap once more. She kneels on the bed and looks down at him, opens her mouth to say something, to tease him, but the words die in her throat at the look on his face. It’s… intense. Neither of them says a word, but they do trade soft kisses back and forth in a silent sort of conversation.

“Have any ideas yet?” Darcy finally asks, settling herself firmly atop Steve’s clothed erection. Steve contemplatively sucks her lower lip into his mouth, running his hands up and down her back. He lets her go with one last slide of his tongue.

“I think I’m still okay with you calling the shots.” He says, his gaze intent and piercing upon hers. Darcy’s heart does a funny sort of flip slop and she hastily stands up. Steve gives her a curious look, but says nothing as she strips out of her jeans and underwear. She takes a moment to be grateful she  neatened her bikini line yesterday and smiles wide at Steve to cover her unease. Not that’s she averse to idea of something past of a one night stand with Steve, because god is the man sweet and funny and gorgeous, but they’re both on road-trips and who knows when they’d be in New York together. But the way he looks at her, Darcy shivers, it’s like he doesn’t understand the concept of a one night stand.

“I don’t usually come from just penetration, so I prefer to get off beforehand.” Darcy says, walking back to the bed. Steve looks a little stricken.

“So you don’t want to- I mean- is it even-“

“Oh honey, sex feels awesome and I want to have lots of it with you. But I don’t usually orgasm from penetration alone.” Darcy says, reaching out for Steve’s hand. He makes an ‘oh I see’ expression and scoots back on the bed. Darcy climbs up and after a few misunderstood hand signals, she ends up leaning back against the headboard with Steve kneeling between her spread legs. He looks nervous again so she pulls him down into a kiss, and by the time they come up for air, she feels one good stroke away from orgasm and he’s relaxed again. She leans back on her elbows and prepared to explain the magical ins and outs of her clitoris. 

“I have an idea now.” Steve says, reaching out to circle her clit with his thumb. Darcy gasps, her hips almost coming off the bed. He all but leers at her and she can’t help but giggle again. He doesn’t seem to mind though, settling down on his stomach and supporting himself with his elbows. With that same look of intense concentration that somehow reminds her of defusing a bomb, he gently eases one finger into her. She clenches down reflexively, so keyed up she tries to fuck herself back on it. But he doesn’t give her anything to work against, because he just circles her sensitive opening, barely thrusting in and out.       

“Steve-“ she gasps “I needed to come like an hour ago so could you please get with the program.” Steve just grins at her, and oh sugar wouldn’t melt in his mouth, the little shit. But he adds a second finger and works his thumb on the underside of her clit. She feels overheated, shifting restlessly about while he works her fast between finger and thumb. She’s making these little catching moans, but what the fuck does she care, because she can feel her orgasm building like a freight strain. But then he backs off, pulling his thumb away and Darcy is going to give him such hell- when he leans down to lick a stripe over her clit. He doesn’t pause before sucking on it, his tongue flicking fast and hard. And that’s it, she’s done. She comes with a wail, her hips bowing up off the bed before Steve slams her back down, still sucking fiercely. He continues past the point where she’s oversensitive, so Darcy bats at his head until he comes up for air. He crosses his arms on her pelvis and rests his head on the, wet-lipped and smug. She pats his cheek.

“Gold star, 10/10 would come again.” She says, still gasping for air. Steve, somehow, manages to seem smugger. While Darcy has normally wants at least two orgasms before the show gets started, she’s ramped up now, her orgasm barely dampening the fire. She forces strength into her wobbly arms and starts to sit up.

“Alright cowboy, underwear off and sit on the edge of the bed.” She says, as she staggers upright and over to the condom box on the floor. Jesus, why didn’t she leave these on the bed? She fumbles a strip of them out before tossing the box aside and turning back to the bed. Steve did as instructed and he’s fucking magnificent. He’s in much the same pose as before, leaning back on his hands and presented like a reward from the universe. His cock is thankfully proportional, uncut, about average length but god is he thick.

As Darcy stares, his hands clench on the bed like it’s taking all he has not to move. He’s taken orders beautifully so far, but his blood must be up now, because his eyes are hungry and demanding in a way they weren’t before. And he does so deserve a reward. Revising her original plan she walks over to him and tugs him into a kiss. He surges forward to pull her tight against him. He’s pushier now, his tongue forceful against hers, angling her face as he wants it. Uh huh, she thinks, he wants the reins. To test the waters she pulls back, and it takes him a short moment to notice but he immediately releases her and buries his fingers back in the sheets again. His sweat shined chest is heaving, and his hands clench in the bedspread to stop himself from touching, but all he does is watch her with hooded eyes.

“Want a position that gives you the controls?” She asks, reaching down to grab his cock, and it’s lovely, hot and silky and probably hard enough to cut diamonds. He shudders against her, pressing a kiss to the side of her breast while he acclimates to the sensation. Finally he leans back to meet her eyes, and she can almost see the cogs in his head whirring as he figures out what he wants. She carefully strokes down his length, rolling his foreskin back so she can get to the sensitive underside of his head. He shudders again, groaning. 

“I think I’d like that, if you’d like that.” He manages, a long moment later. Darcy rewards his correct answer by rubbing her thumb back and forth across his glans.

“I would love that, I’ve been wanting to see what those muscles of yours can do.” She says, grinning at him. He kisses her breasts again and mutters something that might have been ‘you and me both.’ She buries her hands in his hair, before tugging him upright. When he’s upright again, she steps back to open the condom wrapper. She considers showing off and putting it on him with her mouth, but she knows if she gets down there she’ll get distracted and it would be ages before she finally got him in her. She aches with how empty she feels, and so tables the idea for later. Steve’s watching her like he’s a predator now and damn if that’s not something she can get behind. She rolls the condom down him with minimal fanfare, but she does stop to rub her thumb over his head again, to watch him curse and writhe.

“Ready?” She asks. He grins at her, pulling her in for a bruising kiss. He pulls back, kisses her again, before nodding.

“When you are.” He says, his voice low. Darcy reaches down to feel herself, pinching her clit and dipping two fingers inside to see how wet she is, how tight she feels. A moan rips its way out of Steve, as if he has no control over the sound. She pumps her fingers in and out a few times, and thankfully she’s not so tight this will hurt, before pulling them out. She turns around, looking back over her shoulder at him, and steps back into the space between his spread legs. He catches on fast, does Steve, because he lifts her up to straddle his lap, her legs on the outside of his, stretched open, with her back to his chest. She tips her head back to rest on his shoulder, and he kisses his way down her neck. She grins and reaches down to guide him in. At the first press of his cock inside her, Steve’s arms encircle her, and he bites down on her shoulder with a muffled whine. Darcy grins and slowly, oh so slowly, sinks down on him. The stretch, god the breadth of him, is a delicious burn. Behind her Steve is heaving for breath, little moans escaping with every exhale. In this position she might not have leverage, but god is she in control. She angles her head to kiss the side of his face, and he turns to catch her lips with his, his hand coming up to support her neck. The angle is wrong, so it’s more that they breathe each other’s air, but Steve stops shaking and his arms relax.

“How’re you doing?” Darcy whispers, clenching down tight, feeling the burn all the way down her stomach. Steve shudders.

“Fuck. Fucking- hell. Jesus.” He says against her lips and Darcy laughs. The feel of it makes him buck up instinctively, far harder than she would have expected from this position. But it’s good, and she lets’ out a little ‘ahh’ as he slams home. She reaches back with one arm to encircle his head and grab his shoulder, changing the angle inside her.

“I’m good to go when you are handsome.” Darcy says, stretching like a cat. Tentatively he thrusts up, not as hard as before, but with the new angle it works. Again, again, Darcy’s moaning long and loud, Steve’s cursing and snarling. He works up steam, fast and hard she bounces on his lap, spread and open and helpless to do anything but just take it. She throws her head back, already lost under a deluge of heat and pleasure that sweeps her away. She can tell he’s already close, his thrusts start to falter and lose rhythm, and nu huh, not now.

“Slow down, come on sweetie, make it last.” She says, her voice jarred with each thrust. Steve stops altogether, his huge frame shaking with exertion, and she can feel his heart thundering. He whines through his teeth and Darcy shushes him. She releases her hold on his shoulder to move his hands, so that one arm is supporting her under her breasts. They’re both panting, almost sobbing with want, but she knows if they drag  this out she can make him come like he’s never dreamed of. She grabs his other hand and slides it down her stomach, and shows his fingers how to work her clit. Steve curses, and Darcy starts a careful roll of her hips, to show him how. She undulates up and back, Steve’s hips following, circling now, instead of thrusting. She lets her head loll back against his shoulder, and he kisses her neck again instantly, like he can’t help himself.

“Feel that?” She whispers, the frenzied energy from before slowed to something languid, intimate.

“Yeah…” He sounds awed, broken apart and Darcy knows the feeling. His left hands rises to cover her heart and his right splays over his pelvis, taking control of their slow rocking. He works his fingers against her clit, sweat slides over their skin, and Darcy feels like she’s coming apart. He kisses down her neck, and she goes limp, while her orgasm builds in inexorable increments of gasps and strokes of his fingers.

She doesn’t know if it’s not enough anymore, or too much, but the slow drag of him in and out of her is almost perfect. She’s gasping, high in the back of her throat. She tightens her fingers around his and he falters for a moment before continuing, as she leads his right hand down to where they’re joined. He groans, low and dirty in her ear, and Darcy turn to grin against his lips. She traces her stretched entrance with his fingers, and he leans back to keep her immobile as he takes over. It’s perfect now with the added burn of his fingers, and as her orgasm floods through her, she’s crying out, thrashing in his grasp. It goes on for what feels like ever, wave after wave of heat, even as he loses the rhythm and pounds to his own finish.

They lie there, slumped and dazed, Steve slowly going soft while Darcy’s entire body sluggishly reboots. He presses sloppy kisses to her throat, her face, anywhere he can reach, and his hand stays pressed over her heart. Jesus, she thinks, I am so in over my head.   

###

She wakes up feeling overheated, smothered, and smug down to her bones. They’ve migrated to the center of the bed, Darcy on her side with Steve wrapped around her like a smooth skinned blanket. His leg is thrown over hers, and his arm fits over her waist like it’s made to be there, his hand still pressed firmly over her heart. His face is buried in her hair and Darcy has a moment of panic, because everything feels a little too good, too right. But she turns her face into the pillow and takes a few breaths to calm herself. Chill, you have all weekend, it’s just endorphins, she tells herself.

 A faint buzz comes from her pants, one, twice, again, before Darcy realizes it’s her phone. Jane, Rule 7, crap she forgot to check in. With a groan she starts to wiggle out from under Steve, and she feels him go from asleep to alert in seconds. He smiles against the back of her neck as she untangles their limbs. Darcy staggers off the bed, ignoring his snort of amusement, and digs around in her jeans for her phone. She has several unread texts, and two missed calls, all from Jane. They texts are all vaguely hysterical, but Jane doesn’t seemed to have called the cops yet, which is a plus. She fires off a smug text, remembering to include the “this is actually me and not my murderer” password at the last minute. That accomplished she drops the phone and indulges in a long stretch, grinning at the way Steve’s eyes track the movement. The dying sunlight from the window makes him look the cover of some housewife erotica novel, with his miles of gold skin and the sheet barely covering his groin. Just looking at him send a curl of heat through her.

“Ever had shower sex?” Darcy asks, because inquiring minds and all that. Steve stretches and hauls himself upright, the play of muscles under his skin all but mesmerizing.

“No, I have not.”

“Well we can fix that.”

###

Darcy has never bought into the idea what you can actually have sex up against the wall, with a man supporting your whole weight. She doesn’t know about the rest of the world, but Steve apparently can. He held her up around his waist and fucked her through two screaming orgasms, his earlier hair trigger a thing of the past. It was so good she lost her fine motor skills for a while. Later, they only manage to drag themselves out of the shower, into some clothes and out of the room in a truly herculean effort.  

Now they’re wandering through the little tourist trap of a mountain town, arm in arm again, as they try to decide on somewhere to eat. It’s a cool day for summer, since it’s Montana and all, and the town itself reminds her of postcards and the sort of summer vacations her family avoided like the plague. If she had her way, they’d still be fucking like bunnies but Steve’s stomach keeps making a series of really off-putting noises, like a garbage disposal got hung-over and decided to Vine about it. His stomach lets out a particularly loud gurgle and Darcy snorts, reaching over to poke his stomach. Steve shrugs, looking sheepish.

“I have a high metabolism.” He says, poking her back. Darcy eyes him up and down.

“That and maybe a monster living in your stomach.” She says dubiously, as his stomach makes a noise she’s sure she heard before in a sci-fi movie. He laughs, but his shoulders are tight with tension, so she lets the topic drop. They’ve come finally across a restaurant that isn’t a diner so she’s ready to call it quits and eat some food of dubious quality. She nods her at the restaurant and Steve shrugs in agreement. Darcy gets the feeling he’d clean his plate of anything no matter what, but it’s not something she has time to prove. The inside is just as forgettable as the outside, but she didn’t come for the fine dining. Steve is scrupulously polite to the hostess and waiter, something she appreciates after years of waiting tables in college. After they settles and the waiter walks off with their drink orders, Darcy slides down in her seat to stretch her legs out under the table. She settles her toes under his thigh with a grin at his raised eyebrows.

“Tell me something about yourself.” She demands, flipping through the menu with minimal interest. Steve seems equal parts delighted and hesitant, but Darcy’s getting used to that.

“Something like what?”

“Anything. You tell me a fact, I tell you a fact.” She says, against her better judgment. This has already gotten too… feelings already, but fuck if she can stop herself now.

“I’m an artists, I draw.” He says, with another ‘aww-shucks’ smile. Darcy bet’s herself 20 bucks that when asked, he’ll say he’s not that good.

“Are you any good?” She says, grabbing a napkin and unfolding it.

“I’m alright, nothing special,” He shrugs. Darcy resist the urge to fist pump the air.

“Uh huh. Well then you’ll have to draw me something so I can see for myself.” She says, digging in her purse for a pen. Jane, despite now having the funding for as many computers as she could ever want, still writes in pen. Which of course means that Darcy has a pen on her at all times. She slides the napkin and pen over to Steve with a smirk. Before he can reply, the waiter comes back to take their orders. Steve orders two club sandwiches and a side of fries, while Darcy orders the house pasta special which looks half decent and difficult to fuck up.

“You weren’t lying about the fast metabolism thing, huh?” Darcy asks, amused. Steve blushes and busies himself with sketching on the napkin, but the effect is ruined by the thousand-watt grin splitting his face.

“You said you’d tell me something if I told you something.” He says, peeking up from his drawing. Darcy hmmms, trying to think of something that isn’t so personal without sounding like that that’s her intention. She’d like to spare herself some heartache, thanks.  

“I can’t sing worth a damn. I sound like a dying cat.” She says, making Steve snort in laughter. It’s true, a fact her sisters reminded her of at least once a day, which lead to Darcy singing everything she said for a straight week until they pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t dance.” He offers, suddenly shy. Darcy believes it too. Most of the time he moves with a surety of motion that dancers would envy, but every so often, when he’s taken by surprise, he gets a little awkward. Like he’s not quite connected to his body and there’s a lag in the response time.

“Look, I’m going to tell you a secret. No one knows how to dance.” She says waving a straw at him for emphasis. He raises his eyebrow at her in disbelief.

“No seriously. I mean, only white people and rich people use dances with steps anymore. Okay, you might have to waltz, but that’s the easiest dance the world.” Darcy says, remembering desperate dancing lessons with her sisters, only to realize that no one at prom knew how to dance. Steve seems unconvinced, half-caught in his own thoughts.

“You’re probably right about that, but I don’t know how to dance any other way either.” He says, furiously scribbling away his napkin.

“Okay well dance floors are mostly people rubbing up against each other and pretending to know what they’re doing. So I guess that’s the secret to dancing. Just wiggle around and look really serious about it.” Darcy demonstrates the wiggling, much to Steve and other diner’s amusement. 

“I’ll take your word for it.” He says with a laugh. After a pause, Darcy pokes him with her foot.

“Your turn.”

“If you hadn’t… approached me I would have asked you out anyway.” Steve says, his gaze suddenly heavy upon hers. His expression is serious, intense, like it had been in the hotel room. Darcy’s having a hard time breathing, all of a sudden.

“Seriously?” She asks, more surprised that he would take the initiative. She’s feeling a little faint, her thoughts beginning to feel muddled, which is not going to end well, she can already tell. 

“Seriously.” He nods, earnest and handsome enough to bruise. When she doesn’t say anything for a long moment, he reaches out to poke her with the pen.

“Your turn.”

“I want to see you when we get back to New York.” Darcy blurts, the words catching up to her about a second after she says them. Shit fucking fuck- she leans forward in her seat, backpedaling for all she’s worth.

“I mean- that is-“

“You too? I mean, you’d really want to see me after this?” Steve says, dropping the pen in shock. He breaks out into a grin, sudden and blinding like a lightning strike. What. Slowly, she nods.

“That’s swell- I mean that’s awesome. I really want to see you again after this, go out on a date or something. I just didn’t want to come off as, well, creepy.” He says, leaning across the table to grab her hand. For maybe the first time ever, she blushes, causing Steve to laugh.

“Honey we fucked in a hotel room like an hour after we met, creepy is pretty much subjective at this point.” She points out, still mostly in shock. Steve laughs, releasing her hand with one last squeeze.

“Good point. But you know what I mean.” He says, waving his pen at her. She does know what he means, so she shrugs unrepentantly. She’s feeling almost woozy with relief. This man could be… a lot to her. She know it, feels it like kinetic energy under her skin. It’s barely been hours but she thinks they could be something great together, if given half a chance. It’s not love, not by a long shot, and she barely know him, but she wants to. She really, really wants to. And that scares her in a wholly different, worse, way than the potential end of the world did.

 “So. I’ll be back in new New York in like two weeks?” She makes it a question for some damn reason, maybe because she’s so thrown by the turn of events. She hadn’t even finished telling herself to not want more before he gave himself up on a silver platter.

“That would be-“ He’s cut off the sound of a cell phone, one of generic ones that sounds like an old fashion phone ringing. Since her ringtone is “Fuck the pain away” by Peaches, Darcy bet’s it’s his. He looks around in confusion before realizing the sound is coming from him.

“I’m sorry I have to take this, it’s my work number and no one ever calls unless it’s an emergency.” He seems so regretful it almost hurts, and Darcy gets it, life happens. She waves him off with a smile, grateful for a few more seconds to process. He pulls out the latest StarkPhone and answers with a sort of exaggerated precision that makes her think he’s never had a smart phone before.

“Hello? What- are you serious- wait, let me go outside.” Steve says, mouthing “I’m sorry” at her before all but sprinting out the door. She wonders what exactly he does. He’s fit like nothing she’s ever seen, and his mannerisms are still high strung and alert, as if he still sees combat. But then again, he could be paranoid and fit at a desk job, not that she can really see him as an accountant. Leaning her elbow on the table, Darcy rests her head in her hands. This is all happening really fast.

All she wanted was to bang the hot guy from the grocery store and continue on her aimless road trip in a better mood, but fuck if he didn’t throw a wrench right into her plans. It’s barely been hours, but she wants to get to know Steve, like a lot, and damnit to hell Jane is going to laugh her ass off. Before she can get lots in her thoughts, her cell phone starts ringing, the imperial march as opposed to her normal one, which damnit means SHIELD is calling. With a curse she digs her phone out of her pocket and answers the call.

“What now? Did Jane blow up the lab again I swear-“

“Ms. Lewis this is Agent Ramirez from SHIELD. Please state your user confirmation password.” The agent isn’t someone she know, but that’s nothing new. Normally Darcy would spend a few minutes yanking this guys chain, but he sounds almost out of breath, tense.

“Give me my iPod back you fuckers.” Darcy says, reaching over to retrieve her pen. She clicks the end of it rapid fire, in a nervous habit she hasn’t been able to break. There’s a long pause on the other end of the line, as the agent probably double, then triple checks that yes, that is her official ‘all is well, I’m not in danger or a replacement alien clone’ pass code.  

“Thank you Ms. Lewis. A situation has arisen and for your own safety you need to come back to headquarters immediately.” The agent says, sounding distracted. In the background, she can hear the rapid clicking of keys and the mummer of conversation.

“What kind of situation? And why do I need to go back now?” Darcy says, waving the waiter over. She mouths ‘check please’ at him, clicking her pen all the while. She may not be a fancy super assassin, but she gets that she’s worked with Jane long enough to be become a target for the desperate and stupid. It’s like people don’t understand the difference between ‘political science’ and ‘actual science.’ The waiter comes back and she manages not to throw her card at him to rush the process along.

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss that right now. We’re sending a plane for you, and it should be there within the hour. I ask that you be ready to go, and contact no one until you’re back at headquarters.” The agent’s voice varies in volume a few times, as if he’s turning his head and moving around. She hears a muffled exclamation in the background and the sound of running feet. As the waiter comes back with the receipt, she sits up straight, tense and on edge. Whatever is going on, it seems pretty big.

“Okay, but there’s not an airport within like three hours of here.” She says, clenching her fingers tight around the pen.

“There’s a private landing strip on the north side of town, we’ll be sending directions to your phone. Thank you for your cooperation Ms. Lewis.” With that the agent hangs up, leaving Darcy to listen to crackling static with a sinking sensation in her stomach. So, okay, awesome. Her phone beeps to let her know she has a new multimedia message and she opens it with absolutely steady fingers. It’s directions to what’s probably a deer trail and dirt path landing strip, but whatever that’s not her problem. There’s also a picture of the pilot and the pass code he should give her before entering the plane. She shivers, her hair standing on end as she stares down at the screen. For one, what the fuck is she supposed to do if he answers incorrectly? Taze him and run? For another, is this normal? Do scientist wranglers always merit this sort of cloak and dagger treatment?  

She glances outside through the window, to see Steve with his phone pressed to his hear, pacing back and forth. His demeanor is for foreign to her, it’s like his whole body has changed. For one, that jaw of his could probably cut granite it’s clenched so tightly, and his expression is closed off in a way she’s never seen. It’s not inapt on him, but it’s still unnerving to see her funny and sometimes uncertain Steve like that. For two, his movements were always smooth, but now he’s moving with an economy of motion that reminds her of her old ex-boyfriend, the cage fighter.

She has a sneaking, nasty, sort of suspicion that their two emergencies are linked, but she doubts SHIELD agents would take risks like going to hotel rooms with random women. And SHIELD has no reason keep underhanded tabs on her now that she’s under their thumb anyway. She dismisses the thought for now, and stands up. She grabs his napkin drawing to fold it in half, and walks out of the restaurant. She’s surprisingly not freaked out by this secret emergency thing. Steve is still pacing a few yards away, his free hand clenched into a fist.

She thinks that she probably should be scared, that her heart should be beating fast and her thoughts muddled, but mostly she’s just cranky. Steve hangs up and shoves his phone into his pocket, motions sharp. Seeing her, his face lights up, and it’s such an odd picture. He’s still tense, agitated, and while seeing her seems to genuinely make him happy, he doesn’t relax. She wonders what he’ll tell her his job is. And again, maybe it should upset her that he probably can’t, or won’t tell her what’s actually going on. But he’s shared with her so much of himself already, and she thinks, she knows that’s not something that happens often, if at all. It’s not something to be taken lightly. And also, it’s not like she’ll be telling him where’s she’s going, or why. He crosses the distance between them in a few long strides, coming to a halt well within her personal space.

“Problems?” She asks, reaching out to snag his hand. He intertwines their fingers and lets out a long breath. Somehow, he seems bigger, like he’s taking up for space than he was a few minutes ago. He smiles and squeezes her fingers.

“Unfortunately. Can’t leave them alone for five damn minutes, I swear.”

“So?”

“I have to head back early- I’m so sorry.” His expression is equal parts sorrow and anger, which is an interesting combination. Darcy smiles at him, tugging on his hand to pull him closer. He bends down for her, and she presses a kiss to his lips, light and quick. She tucks his napkin doodle into his pocket and grins at his surprised expression.

“It’s okay, life happens, I get that.” She says, winding her arm through his. They start walking back to the hotel, faster than before.

“I just- wanted more time with you.” He says, sounding as bitter and frustrated as she feels, and it’s almost a physical pain to hear. She pulls him to a stop and leans up to kiss him. His hands fly up to cup her face, and he deepens the kiss with a groan. It’s desperate and messy, Steve all but curling around her, his big frame almost vibrating with tension. When she finds it hard to breathe, she pulls back with a gasp, but he follows, making a low distressed sound. She shushes him and buries her fingers in his hair, feeling out of control and too broken up over a man she scarcely knows.

“We’ll see each other again in New York, I promise. This isn’t a big deal.” She whispers, pressing another soft kiss to his lips. He pulls back enough to look her in the eyes, his expression troubled. There’s something she’s missing, something big, but this isn’t the time or place to deal with it. His expression is pinched with worry, like he wants to believe her, but can’t. So Darcy digs her hand into his pocket, ignoring his started expression and fishes his phone out. The StarkPhone looks brand new, as if he doesn’t use it often. She finds his contact lists and adds herself, before holding it up for him to see. He grins, looking a little less tense. And because there’s that feeling, like she’s missing a huge piece of the puzzle, she calls herself from his phone as proof. Once she disconnects the call she puts the phone back in his pocket, flexing her fingers against his hip for good measure. He ducks down to kiss her again, his whole body centered on hers. They probably could stand there for hours and exchange these deep, lush kisses, but then his phones beeps, loud and insistent. Whatever moment they were building shatters as he pulls back, tense and coiled once more. 

“I have to go, I’m sorry.” He says, grabbing her hand and walking fast down the sidewalk. The hotel isn’t far away, and the fact that he’s wants to spend a few more stolen minutes with her before taking off makes her all a flutter.

“S’cool sweetie, life happens. Just call me when you’re back in New York.” She says, bumping her arm against his. He nods, ducking in for one last lingering kiss before taking off at a jog. She watches him go with an anxious, fluttery feeling in her chest. He disappears from sight and Darcy walks after him, pointedly not running, because this is not a rom-com and that shit isn’t romantic. By the time she makes it back to her hotel room, Steve’s motorcycle is gone from the parking lot. She packs as fast as she can, throwing the lube and condoms into her bag with a sense of smug pride. After a hasty checkout, she loads up her car and heads towards the north side of town. As her phone leads her down what is totally a deer trail, she sees a black, unmarked, helicopter zoom overhead. Huh. 

Chapter Text

 

 

By the time she gets to Shield, five-ish hours later, she’s tired, cranky, and kind of freaked out. As the sleek quinjet flew over New York, she could see bright splashes of light illuminating the air over the city. Bright explosions in a riot of neon colors glow like strange substitute suns, clustered together in a pattern she can’t make out. It’s all very pretty, in the worst rave ever sort of way. One inside the helicarrier, she’s hustled through the corridors by a grim faced agent, and after a few moments, Darcy realizes he’s taking her to the labs. She hears someone running in their direction, just before Clint comes sprinting around the corner, quiver on his back, bow firmly in hand. He slows down long enough to offer her a fist-bump.

“I heard you got a Rule 7 today! Damn girl!” He says, leering at her. She laughs, bumping her fist against his before he sprints off again. One of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, and it still runs on gossip. Her escorting agent shifts from foot to foot and frowns in confusion, as if offended, but not entirely sure why. They continue down the hall until they reach the science labs, where the agent all but shoves her through the door. Jane, seated at a table and frowning over a tablet, looks up at her entrance and smiles.

“I’m sorry they cut short your Rule 7 for this, it’s so stupid.” Jane says, absently shoving a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Darcy sighs and digs around in her purse for a hair tie, before making a twirling motion at Jane with her finger. Jane grins and turns to present Darcy her back, well used to this procedure. Darcy sinks her fingers into her friends hair and slaps together a quick French braid, which Jane endures with the long suffering air of someone used to this sort of thing. Darcy has some strong controlling/protecting friends tendencies, so sue her. That accomplished, she steps back to set her bag on a pile of probably important documents. Jane turns around and makes impatient wiggle hands at her.

“So? What was he like? Did you have a good time?” Jane asks, grabbing another tablet and twisting the readout displays. Darcy, well used to her friends multitasking, leans back against the table and smirks.

“It was fucking awesome, pun so intended. He was funny, and sweet, and fantastic in the sack.” Darcy says, grabbing a random pile of papers to sort through. Might as well be useful.

“That sounds like a little more than a Rule 7.” Jane raises her eyebrows in surprise. Darcy shrugs, very casual, as she starts sorting out the papers into ‘Jane sign this fucking thing already’ ‘read this’ ‘send back to Fury with a photocopy of my ass attached’ piles.

“He lives in New York apparently, and hopefully we’ll go on a date or something when he gets back.” Darcy says, peeking up from the paperwork. Jane grins, bouncing excitedly on her toes and fiddling with what is probably expensive and delicate equipment at the same time.

“That’s so exciting! Oh my-“ Jane’s cut off by several machines emitting earsplitting alarms. Jane almost throws down her tablet as she rushes over to the nearest one, fingers frantically tapping out code and flipping through readouts.

“Darcy I need the data from my last particle collection at the Stark tower array, and Selvig’s portal data!” Jane calls, dashing between machines. Darcy rolls her eyes and wades into the fray. She grabs a tablet, and starts sending Jane files at a fast and furious pace. Jane throws her a headset so she can tap into whatever’s going on outside, and when Darcy puts it on she’s bombarded with the sounds of screaming metal and gunfire. Darcy might not have two PhD’s but she has fantastic memory recall and can think on her feet, so she settles into her unofficial datahawk position with without missing a beat.

“-looks like a cross between an alligator and a peacock sir! And they spit acid! Mcarthy, fall back. We need to get these civilians into the subway-“ Darcy pulls the exobiology files up and scrolls through the known list of animals. Finding them under the specific “Thor told us about them” folder, she sends a copy to the field commander.

“-a pack of them going Eastbound on 42nd-“

“-Widow and Hawkeye are en-route, ETA five minutes-“

“We don’t have five minutes, these things have wings-“ Another file, another info drop.

“Can someone in the lab tell me what the hell these readings mean?” Darcy sends the incoming readings to Jane and the other labs.

An hour or so after that, Fury and several other scientists Darcy vaguely recognizes storm into the lab. Darcy drags a chair into the corner, one hand scrolling through data feeds and files all the while. She’s been looking for information on a particular fire breathing bird for like five damn minutes-

“Foster, tell me you have the source of these damn portals. The city’s in a panic and I have better things to be doing with my time than play zoo keeper!” Fury says, pacing back and forth across the room. Darcy snorts and the closest scientist turns to stare at her, affronted and snooty. She sticks her tongue out at him sends the latest file out to the field commanders.

“I’m close! I just need-“ Jane protests.

“Close is not gonna cut it. I want these portals closed an hour ago!”

“I need more data! The readings I’m getting are all over the place, I have the source narrowed down to a twenty block radius, but no one is getting close enough!” Jane shouts, throwing a pencil at the Colonel in a stunning show of self preservation. The SHIELD techs all go stiff, but Jane is already typing on her computer again. Fury gives a low and incensed order into his own headset, and within seconds, Darcy hears the call go out to the squad captains, ‘get closer you damn cowards.’ Snorting, she fishes in her pocket for her cell phone and dials Tony. He picks up within seconds, sounding distracted.

“What’s up buttercup?” She can hear the wind whistling and the faint buzz of machinery, a sure sign that Tony is flying in the suit.

“Jane needs more data on the portals. She has the source narrowed down to a twenty block radius-“ Darcy links him to their data stream- “but none of the SHIELD agents can get close enough. Can you get us some better readings?” Darcy asks in an undertone, trying not to attract the attention of Fury’s high strung lab techs. She sees Fury cock his head, as if listening in, but she figures he’d stop her if her didn’t want her in on this.

“Can I get you some better readings? Pfft, give me two minutes.” Tony says before hanging up the call. Darcy figures why the hell not and does a quick search for the rest of the Avengers locations. The request goes through, and she’s given a nice big map complete with blinking real-time locations. She’s sees that Captain America is finally back from his latest quest to find himself, or whatever, his blinking shield icon not far from Hawkeye’s quiver.   

“Any thoughts Ms. Lewis?” Fury asks, from right beside her. She jumps with a shriek, almost sending the tablet flying across the room. As one, the lab techs shush her. She flips them off on principle and glares at Fury.   

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack? She asks, absently sending off a copy of the fire-breathing bird information to another squad commander. Fury raises an eyebrow, sardonic down to his bones.

“I said, do you have any thoughts?” He nods pointedly to her tablet and Darcy resist the urge to squirm in her seat. Of course she wouldn’t just get access to shit like that, damnit Lewis get your head in the game. She takes a deep breath.  

“At first these animals were all from the same- er- neighboring universes. One of the Nine realms Thor told us about, and they all shared a common ancestry, I think. But then the next wave, the portals that opened up further away had animals that were entirely different, physiologically, from the first portal. And you know, so on and so forth.” Darcy says, her attention caught between her headset, the data stream, the moving map, and lastly Fury. Fury nods, looking grim.

“Inform Foster, and Stark. And tell me the moment they find anything.” Fury says, stalking out of the room. Darcy gives herself a moment, because damn he’s a scary dude, before standing and walking to Jane. She has to physically wrest Jane’s eyes from the computer screen to get her attention, but Darcy’s used to it. Jane blinks, worlds away.

“The portals are opening from different places each cycle. Look-“ Darcy shoves her tablet under Jane’s nose, showing her the map- “I marked the portals that had the same kind of animals in the same color. The portals are opening in concentric circles, each new ring-“

“Is from a different universe!” Jane interrupts, turning back to her computer. At Jane’s exclamation, the lab techs swarm around, and Darcy retreats to her chair before she has to punch someone for breathing room. Feeling smug and accomplished (take that actual science degree) she fishes her phone out again. Tony picks up on the first ring.

“Got anything for me? These portals are fucking with JARVIS’s sensors and I’ve got nothing.” Tony says, sounding out of breath and vaguely furious. She hears the high whine of repulsers firing, the answering scream of something inhuman in pain, and winces before she can stop herself.

“Yeah, the portals are opening in sets, in concentric circles, and each circle is probably from a different universe. Jane has to confirm it-“ she patches Tony into the data stream again, just in case “-but it looks like the animals coming out of different circles are unrelated to each other. Jane seemed to think she could do something with that, but I dunno man.” Darcy says, zooming in on the map. As she watches a new bloom of portals open, further out into the city.

“Shit, wait, a new set just opened, and it’s past the SHIELD perimeter.” Darcy says, sending the new readings out, causing a chorus of cursing and shouting in her headset. Tony curses, disconnecting the call.

“Director Fury, we’ve just received word, a group calling themselves the ‘Universal Freedom of Intelligence Protectorate’ are claiming responsibility for the portals. They’re saying-“ The field commander cuts off with a curse, and in the background Darcy can hear a volley of gunshots, the high pitched roar of something reptilian.

“-they say withholding the wormhole technology is a-“ another agent picks up, sounding as if he’s repeating the information, or reading it from somewhere “-are you fucking kidding me- they’re saying the world deserves to have access to other universes, something about balance and the free exchange of ideas?” The agent continues, sounding pissed off and out of breath. In response, she hears a chorus of angry disbelief, and more than one ‘fucking hippies.’ She starts digging through files and searching the net for info on the hippy people, keeping one eye on the Avengers locations at the same time. SHIELD employs hundreds of people to do what Darcy’s doing, but she plows through information faster than they do, and plus, the Avengers seem to listen to her, which is probably the only reason Fury lets her play tag along. 

“Would someone please get the Captain a comm?” Says an aggrieved sounding woman. Darcy snorts, and dials Tony again.

“Fucking hippies, I swear to god. Can you believe that shit?” Tony says, the high whine of repulsors almost drowning him out.

“I know right? They pulled me from my road trip for a bunch of vegans with a grudge?” Darcy says, finding the small file on the UFIP people. It’s barely a few paragraphs and a handful of names, the entire thing tagged with “minimal threat, disregard at this time.” Oh man, someone’s getting their ass kicked after this mess. She sends it to Tony and the field commanders.

“Dr. Masons? Seriously? That guy couldn’t engineer himself out of a wet paper bag! Darcy, there’s got to be more than these chumps.”

“Sir, it seems that in May of last year, Dr. Masons research funding was cut, as his work on interdimensional gravitational fields provided less than stellar results.” JARVIS says, dry as the desert wind.

“Awesome, another scientist with a grudge. Just what we need.” Darcy says, Tony snorting in agreement. A quick Google shows Darcy a very recent scholarly publication, with only one co-author.

“JARVIS, are you seeing his most recent publication? It came out like two months ago, and he wrote it with someone named-“

“Dr. Richard Ginsburg. Yes, and it seems Dr. Ginsburg has been spending large sums of money in the last few months, primarily at industrial machine shops.” JARVIS continues smoothly. Darcy resist a Sky-net comparison, because damn that was some fast hacking. Tony mutters something incomprehensible.

“It looks like Ginsburg lives in New York, we can have SHIELD check it out-“

“Screw that, give me five minutes and I’ll see if the good Dr. Ginsburg has any theories about the new universal zoo.” Tony interrupts, sounding more than a little manic. Shit. Darcy sends her scant amount of new information and the address to the field agents, with a ‘HURRY THE FUCK UP IRON MAN’S HEADING TO THE GUYS APT AS WE SPEAK’ attached.

“Maybe not the best idea ever-“ She starts.

“Nah, It’ll be fine. I’ve got this.” Tony says, hanging up the call. Damnit. She can hear the sound of several agents grumbling in her headset, as they mobilize to find Dr. Ginsburg. ‘Damnit Stark’ seems to be the unifying theme, but it’s not like she can really blame them. She tries calling Tony back, but the little bastard doesn’t pick up. She watches on the map as all the Avenger icons follow Tony into the wilds of New York.  Several new portals bloom into existence in the financial district. She doesn’t have any files on the creatures spewing from the last two sets of portals, so all she can do is sit and wait, tense and kind of pissed off. She hasn’t heard confirmed casualties yet, but that doesn’t mean anything.

“-has anyone heard from Stark on this scientist? The portals are getting bigger-

“-need backup, I repeat, we need backup. The latest wave is almost impervious to bullets-“

“-copy that, I’ll see if I can lure the Hulk your way, be advised-“ Clint says, sounding too cheerful for a man involved in a battle with various interdimensional beasts. She hears the Hulk roar in the background, and the soft twang of Clint’s bow.

“-that was not what I mean at all Hawkeye, but we’ll take it. We need another team, there’s civilians trapped-“

“-Shit this portal just exploded! I mean, it’s closed, but it also exploded!” Clint yells, still inappropriately cheerful. Damnit Tony, what are you doing? Darcy dials him again, her fingers tapping an impatient rhythm against her tablet screen.

“In my defense I had no idea it was going to do that.” Tony says, not sounding at all sorry. Darcy massages the bridge of her nose and makes a note to tell Pepper about this.

“The portal exploded Tony. Exploded.” She says, hearing in her headset that the has Hulk arrived as backup, but has also managed to destroy an office building in the process.

“Well it shouldn’t have. If Ginsburg wasn’t a complete moron that should have shut down the firing sequence and closed the portals.” He says, sounding defensive.

“Well all it did was blow one of them up, so try again buddy.”

“I resent that tone of voice. I am working with substandard machinery here.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be a genius or something? Do you need me to come down there turn it on and off for you?” Darcy says, taunting. If anything in the world gets Tony Stark to work faster, it’s a jab at his ego.

“I know exactly what you’re doing and it isn’t going to work. On an unrelated note, this should do it.” Tony says, gleeful. There’s a pause and Darcy hears several agents yelling about exploded portals.

“Yeah, that just blew up lots of them. You’re doing fuck tons of damage and maybe even getting people hurt. I’m going to get Clint to see if he can the Hulk to Bruce out okay-“

“I have the situation completely under control, Lewis!” Tony shouts, and in the background she hears something explode. She starts laughing, and the bitchy lab tech turns around to glare at her. She flips him off, still laughing.

“This should do it.”

“That’s what you said last time.” She says, trying to get her laughter under control. He makes a wordless sound of indignation.

“Well it’s going to work this time.” Tony says, the whine of a vast machine firing up almost drowning out his words. She sends a hasty ‘BE ADVISED TONY IS FUCKING SHIT UP’ message to the SHIELD agents approaching his position. He says something else, but she can’t make it out over the roaring of the machine as it gets louder. Darcy huddles in her seat instinctively, trying to figure out if she’ll have to be the one who tell Pepper Tony Stark finally met his end at the hands of bitter hippies. The noise gets so loud she has to hold the phone away from her ear, and she sends a ‘I MEAN HE’S REALLY FUCKING SHIT UP’ message. Then all she can hear Tony breathing heavily through the static. In her headset, she hears a cheer go up as the portals apparently close.

“I told you so.” Tony says, smug. Darcy rolls her eyes and disconnects the call. Across the lab, Jane’s head pops up, and she looks around the lab in confusion.

“Wait? Who closed the portals? I was getting the most amazing readings!” She sounds put out, a sentiment the lab techs seems to echo if their mass grumbling is anything to go by. Darcy rolls her eyes. Scientists, really.     

 

###

 

When she stumbles home later that night, feeling like she’s been put through the wringer, it’s almost 2am. Fucking hippes. Darcy’s apartment is small and not awful, but it’s mostly filled with cardboard moving boxes at the moment. First from her frantic move into the apartment, and then from a hasty round of re-packing, as she’s nowhere near stupid enough to turn down a spot in Stark tower. Tony, like with all his nicest gestures, had written off his offer as a matter of convenience, the scientists wrangler has to live with the scientists don’t you know anything Lewis? But she knows it was at least half Tony wanting to do a good thing and help her out. The other half is of course Tony’s own strange brand of possessive friendship that makes him want to keep everyone he cares about as close as possible at all times. She stumbles to her bedroom, shedding clothing as she goes. She tries to throw her covers back, but her arms are too clumsy to accomplish it, so she mostly just stares at her bed mournfully and shuffles the comforter around. The sound of her phone ringing from the living room sees her turning her head to stare blankly around. It takes her several long seconds to realize that it’s her cell before she stomps into living room. She digs her phone out of her jeans, grumbling, because seriously the city had better be on fire or she’s going to fucking punch someone.

“Do you know what time it is?” She answers it with a snarl. There’s a long silence on the other end, like the caller is really regretting their life choices.

“Um, I’m sorry I’ll call back later.” Steve says, sounding so tired he’s slurring his words a little. Darcy groans, looks up to the heavens for patience.

“Steve don’t you dare hang up.” She says, trudging back to her room. He huffs out a laugh.

“I’m sorry Darcy I wasn’t thinking straight. Did I wake you up?” Steve says, sounding mournful. She’s too tired to figure out if it’s an affected thing, to get himself out of trouble, or if he’s really sorry. But she lets him have it, because it’s 2am and being annoyed takes energy.

“No, I just got in, I had shit go down at my work too. Congrats Steve, you’re off the hook.” She says, letting herself fall face first onto the bed. Steve snorts.

“I’m glad to hear it.” And he does sound glad to hear it, under the sarcasm.

“You’d better be calling to set up a date.” Darcy warns, trying to kick the covers into an adequate position.

“Well wouldn’t you know it…” Steve says, and she can hear the grin in his voice clear as day.

“Next week okay for you?” Darcy says through a yawn.

“Next week is fine for me.”

“Next Wednesday, 7’ocklock. You’re picking me up, I’ll text you the address.” Darcy says, wriggling down in her covers with a sigh. Her thoughts already feel thick and unyielding with sleep.

“And where are we going, if I may ask?” Steve laughs, not sounding too put out by her taking charge.

“I have no idea, that’s your job. But not a movie and not the park.” Darcy says, yawing again.

“I think I can handle that. Goodnight Darcy, sleep well.” He says, his voice rich and warm with a smile.

“Sweet dreams buddy.” Darcy says, disconnecting the call.

 

###

 

Darcy considers asking Pepper or Natasha to help her get ready for the date. But she roughs it on her own, instead choosing to throw outfits on her bed and twirl around to loud music all by her lonesome. Part of it is a sort of childish excitement, having a secret boyfriend, at least for a while. And some of it, she doesn’t let herself consider how much, is out of self-preservation. She doesn’t want to tell anyone else until she sees Steve again, until she figures out if he could be more than just her Rule 7. She scatters jewelry and shoes and holds her excitement close, telling herself she’s not nervous. She’s been on countless dates before, this is nothing different. Since it’s just dinner, she ends up in her favorite painted on skinny jeans, her tall leather boots, and a gauzy violet blouse that make her breasts look spectacular.

It’s 6:50, and she just knows Steve’s a punctual fucker, so to keep herself occupied she starts a mad scramble to straighten the bedroom. There’s nothing she can do at this point to make it look nice while she’s halfway moved out, but she does at least hide the dirty clothes hamper and put her shoes back in the closet. She doesn’t think it’s too much to hope that they come back here after the date and fuck like rabbits- oh god what if he says some shit like ‘I wanna do this right.’ She’ll have to stop talking to him because that’s fucking stupid, are you trying to imply that sex is wrong? Darcy, stares at her wall, a shoe hanging limply from her hand, because Jesus she can start fights in her own head. There’s a knock on her door, and Darcy drops her shoe with a startled squeal.

 Shit fuck where’s her purse? She manages to collect herself and answer the door without falling on her face, which is a major plus. Steve stands there, dressed in jeans and a dark blue button-down that makes his eyes seem vast and prepossessing as the night sky. He smiles at her, shifting from foot to foot, and Darcy has a rush of affection, of nerves, so strong she almost gets vertigo.

“Hi.” He says, waving awkwardly. Darcy snorts and grabs his shirt to reel him in for a kiss. He secures her to him with arms around her waist and opens to her in an instant, the kiss sending licks of heat down her body. She pulls back, regretful, but damn if she doesn’t stop now they’ll never get out of the apartment. They separate just far enough to see each other’s faces, and if she’s grinning like an idiot, well then that’s okay because he is too. 

“Missed me?” He asks, sounding hopeful. Darcy grins, pressing her lips to his again in a soft, fleeting, kiss.

“Uh huh. Did you miss me?” She doesn’t let herself feel exposed about it, not held so tightly in his arms. He grins, ducking in for a kiss as well, and Jesus they’re going to be that couple aren’t they? The glowy one no one can stand to be around?

“You have no idea.” He says, grinning down at her with an expression that tells her she’s in all sorts of trouble.

“Oh, I think I have some idea.” Darcy raises an eyebrow at him. He laughs, stepping back to release her. She absently closes the door to her apartment before twining their fingers together.

“So where are we going?” She asks, resisting the urge to swing their arms like a kid. Steve leads her out onto the street and up to the beautiful motorcycle she remembers from before. She goes a little weak in the knees, running a covetous glance over it’s fine, fine curves.

“This pizza place I wanted to try. Apparently it’s pretty good.” He says, reaching out to snag the helmet resting on the motorcycle. He tosses it to her with a smug grin, but Darcy’s still too much in awe to be annoyed.

“I’m guessing you don’t have a problem riding on a motorcycle?” Steve says, raising an eyebrow at her in amusement.

“Not at all. But do you have a second helmet?” She asks, narrowing her eyes at him.

“No, but the pizza place isn’t too far from here. I’ll be fine, promise.” He says, grinning unrepentantly, raising his hands in surrender. Darcy rolls her eyes, men have done stupider things to impress her, before settling the helmet over her head. It smells brand new, as though he hasn’t had it that long. After she adjusts the chin strap, Steve throws his leg over the bike and gestures for her to sit behind him. Glad that she chose jeans, Darcy climbs on to settle herself against his back. She wraps her arms around his waist, pressing up tight against his back. He starts the motorcycle and the engine roars to life.

“Ready?” He calls, grinning to her over his shoulder.

“Ready!” She answers, her heart beating fast. He grins, and it’s all canines and sharp edges and Darcy doesn’t think she’s wanted him more. The drive to the restaurant is a short one, and Darcy spends it overheating against Steve’s back in the summer sun, but she’s not too upset by it. With a few minutes to clear her head, she finds herself relieved that Steve’s impact on her hasn’t lessened. She’s been a little afraid that her memories of their hours together had gotten exaggerated in her head, her feelings feeding an unrealistic fantasy. That could still be true, she supposes, but god was it nice to want him the same, to laugh with him again.

Steve pulls to a stop in front of an old brick building, the faded paint proclaiming “Mary Loue’s Pizza Parlor.” It’s the sort of hole-in-the-wall place that gives a person the vague urge to wash their hands, but probably has the best pizza in the city. She’s already sort of charmed. Steve dismounts in one smooth motion, before turning to offer her his hand. She takes it and he helps her stagger off the bike without falling. He unclasps the helmet, his hands warm against the soft skin of her throat, before lifting the it off her. She runs a hand through her hair, ruffles it around to mitigate the helmet hair, and sticks her tongue out at him when he laughs. When they go inside he holds the door open for her, because of course he does, and she’s pleasantly surprised by the interior. It’s simple, plain wood floors and rows of blue booths with checkerboard table cloths. It’s clean and not decorated with “Italian” paraphernalia, which is a definite plus. Once they’re settled into the booth, Darcy cocks her head, considering him. He hasn’t changed much since last week, same grandpa haircut, same ridiculous biceps, but he seems more relaxed.

“How’ve you been? Did your work emergency end up alright? And wait, what do you even do?” Darcy says, twirling a straw over her knuckles. Steve laughs, leaning back in the booth.

“Which one do you want me to answer first?” He says, smirking. Darcy rolls her eyes.

“All of them, obviously.” She says, pointing at him with her straw for emphasis.

“Ah, I’ve been fine. My work emergency didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, but we didn’t know that at the time. And I do security contracting.” He grimaces at his work emergency, sounding annoyed. Yeah, Darcy knows the feeling. A bunch of jumped up hippies and a few bitter scientists dragged her away from what could have probably been a fantastic weekend. Very annoying.

“Security contracting? Like, you tell people how not to get robbed blind?” She says, surprised despite herself. She doesn’t know what exactly she can see him doing, but playing corporate espionage games isn’t it.

“No, thankfully. My company has a lot of military contracts, and I’m ex-army so I liaison between the two.” He says, with a shrug, not sounding all that excited by the prospect.

“That sounds horrible.” She says, opening her menu. Steve chokes on a laugh.

“Tell me how you really feel, please.” He says with a grin, opening his own menu. Darcy shrugs, because not everyone can get paid to lounge around Stark Tower all day.

“What do you do?” Steve asks, sounding for all the world like he really wants to know, as opposed to just asking for something to say.

“I work in a tech lab. I’m essentially a scientist wrangler. All together there’ll be like 11 PhDs in a room, but they couldn’t find their own asses with a map.” Darcy says, remembering the latest ‘Damnit Jane/Tony why the hell is everything on fire?’ incident. Steve chokes on the sip of water he’d been taking, wheezing out laughter.

“I know a few people like that. They’re so smart it’s scary, but they’ll forget to sleep for three days if left to their own devices.” He says, a long moment later. He rolls his eyes, looking exasperated. They grin at each, the atmosphere light and airy, happiness rising in her like golden champagne bubbles. Fuck it’s scary, fitting like this, fast happiness like this. Uncomfortable, a little overwhelmed, she coughs and stares down at her menu. She see’s Steve frown in confusion, but Darcy needs a few moments to get her head on straight. She takes a deep breath, come on Lewis it’s okay to feel this way, just don’t get lost.

“You never actually told me why you were on your epic road trip.” She says, looking up at him. He quirks his lips in a smile, but doesn’t say anything about her little feelings freak out.

“I just… wanted to get away for a while. I’d had an eventful few months, and I’ve always wanted to see the country.” He says with a shrug.

“I get that. Sometimes you just need space, to get away from the things you know for a while.” She says, still missing the freedom of her own road trip, always being a stranger unless she wanted to be known.

“For a long time, I wanted to get away. Be someplace where no one knew me, a fresh start. But lately… it seems that having a home suits me better.” When he speaks, his gaze seems a million miles away, stuck on something only he knows. It’s another one of those moments, where time seems to slip by a little slower and Darcy becomes certain that there’s something she’s missed. But she doesn’t push, for maybe the first time ever. Because his is a sorrow she can’t touch, a loss she can’t comprehend, but she wants to make it better and she wants to take the pain from him and jesus fuck that’s terrifying. So she settles for reaching out across the table to run her fingertips over his knuckles, and he obligingly turns his hand over so she can trace nonsense patterns on his smooth skin. He smiles, she smiles back.

“Ancient history?” She asks.

“Ancient history.” He says, seeming sad, seeming happy.

 

###

 

Afterwards, instead of going out to a movie or something, they end up at her apartment. Curled on her couch, watching Strictly Ballroom, it’s easy and comfortable. She’s sitting with her back pressed against the arm, her legs splayed across Steve’s lap. Their hands are intertwined on her lap, and Darcy’s getting in over her head, she can already tell. They’re not speaking, but it’s relaxed, warm and content in a way she’s never really felt, not even in her longest relationships. Steve looks over at her, eyebrow raised in question. Darcy shrugs, trying not to frown. She doesn’t know what her deal is, only that this is fucking terrifying.

“Is something wrong?” He asks, shifting to angle himself towards her. Darcy shrugs, making a pained twisty expression.

“Steve, I’ve never had a relationship that lasted for more than five months.” She says, wrong footed and completely not what she wanted to say. Steve’s eyes go wide in panic and she forges on.

“Shit, I just mean, I’m not very good at these things. I’m kind of awful at them, actually.” She says, all but squirming in mortification. Steve’s whole face softens, his body relaxing.

            “Darcy, I’m not some paragon of healthy relationships over here.” Steve says, his expression shuttered, as if thinking about something painful.

            “That’s not- damnit I just meant that I have no idea what I’m doing and I don’t want to fuck up and you should be prepared for me to fuck up, because it’s what I do.” She says, waving her free hand for emphasis. Steve quirks his lips in a smile, seeming amused and fond.

            “Everybody fucks up, it’s not just you.” He points out, the reasonable bastard. Darcy frowns at him.

            “That’s not the point!” She says, her voice cracking a little. She’s getting well and truly upset at his non-reaction, her mind already spiraling to worst case scenarios and misunderstandings. Steve’s smile dies and releases her hand to cup her face, his fingers drifting over her cheekbones.

            “Shit, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to belittle this. I just mean- I’m going to mess up too, obviously, but I want us to work.” He says, grimacing as he tries to figure out how to say what he means. She totally gets that.

            “Relationships are work. Like, we need fucking learn to communicate and shit. I want us to work out, to be together, but I don’t want to fuck it up.” Without her permission, her voice goes soft, a little vulnerable. Steve ducks in to kiss her, a quick brush of lips.

            “I don’t want to fuck up either, I want to be with you. So can we just say we’ll both do our best not to hurt each other?” Steve says, his eyebrows pinched together in an expression of intense concern. Darcy nods, shrugs.

            “As long as you remember I’m no good with this stuff.” She says, sounding petulant even to her own ears. Steve laughs, pulling her into a deeper kiss. It breaks several times as they laugh against each other lips, but it’s sweet and languid and makes Darcy shivery all over.

            “As long as you remember I’m no good at this either.” He says, pulling away from the kiss. They’re so close all she can see is his face, anxious, serious.

            “I can do that. We’ll muddle through together, I guess.” She whispers.

            “That’s all I ask.” He responds, pressing his lips to hers.

 

###

 

Darcy’s errands take all morning. First, there’s finally packing up the last of her stuff, then a trip to the teaching supplies store for more gold stars, because god forbid she doesn’t reward the scientists for behaving at snack time. As she walks through into the lobby of Stark Tower, she dodges around sharply dressed men and women and tries not smack any of them with either the cake pan tucked under her arm or the super-soaker she holds with the other. It’s Thursday, which means it’s Reward The Scientist Day, so the security guard knows to press the up button on the elevator for her. She nods at him in thanks and he waves at her with a grin. It’s still thrilling to just waltz into Stark Tower without talking to anyone or asking for permission.

“Good morning Ms. Lewis.” JARVIS says, sounding for all the world like it’s been a tough day. She’s still not sure if he actually feels, or if it’s just Tony being a weirdo, but she gives JARVIS the benefit of the doubt. Darcy smiles up at the ceiling out of habit, shut up Tony I know he doesn’t live up there, and makes a sympathetic face.

“Hey JARVIS. Sounds like it’s been a long morning, huh?” Darcy asks, as the elevator flies up through the tower. It is of course, the fastest elevator on the planet, yet she feels no exerted pressure or vertigo. JARVIS sighs, and the elevator dings open.

“Sir had a meeting with Stark Industries board of investors this morning and is in something of a mood. Good luck Ms. Lewis.” JARVIS says as she exits the elevator. Darcy grimaces, glad she bought her new and improved super soaker. Tony’s behavior, always erratic to begin with, takes on a new level of ‘stop you little fucker’ after Pepper makes him go to investors meetings. And she had so wanted to have a good day. The trek down to the Lair, as Darcy likes to call Tony and Bruce’s shared lab, is fast and quiet, as no extraneous personnel are allowed on this floor. Jane’s lab is adjacent to theirs and only slightly less crazy, but Jane and Thor are off being loud and strangely adorable about the city today, so it’s just the boys. When she reaches the Lair, dubbed thus by a cheeky sign saying ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’, JARVIS politely lets her in.

“-that’s ridiculous. You’re being ridiculous honey bear-

“-the theory itself is sound, Tony. If we could find a way to bypass the-“

“-look jelly bean, we would have to continuously slow down the rate of cellular regeneration at the injection site, and I’m not going to fuck around with your telomeres like that-“

“It’s not going to cause permanent damage to the surrounding tissue, you know that-“

“No permanent damage! This entire thing is permanent damage-“

Ah, the sounds of science. Tony and Bruce are deep in discussion, huddled around a cluttered table, and neither of them look up when she comes in. Tony’s still in one his bespoke suits, while Bruce wears his customary worn button down and slacks. Darcy sets down the pan and the super soaker on a nearby desk, clean and organized since it’s on Bruce’s side of the lab, before walking over to the Reward Chart on the wall. The chart itself is decorated with brightly colored apples and pencils, making it more than fit for a first grade classroom, and is lined with neat rows and columns. It has Jane, Bruce, and Tony’s name written to the side, each followed by a line of gold stars. Tony’s line of stars, unsurprisingly, is much smaller than the other two scientists.

This week, like the most other weeks, Bruce has the most stars by far, thus earning him the homemade dessert Darcy brought with her today. It’s ridiculous that she needs threats, bribery, and a freaking reward chart to handle the scientists, but if nothing else, she’s never bored. Since she spent the morning packing, trying to figure out what she’s going to wear on her next date with Steve, and finishing Bruce’s dessert, she got in a little late today. Meaning it’s almost lunch time and she has to herd the boys to the kitchen first thing, which is awesome. She grabs the sharpie hanging next to the chart and crosses out this week’s line of stars. That accomplished, she picks up her pan and super-soaker before walking over to the huddled scientists. A she approaches, Bruce looks up from the readouts he and Tony are discussing. He blinks at her a few times, Darcy can almost see his brain switching gears, before he smiles at her in greeting. Tony, seeing his friend lose track of their project, swings his head to locate the disturbance. She smiles at them, waving her arm as best she can with her hands full.

“Morning Darcy.” Bruce says, waving awkwardly back. He’s relaxed, and his smile is neither forced nor given through gritted teeth, and the sight of it makes her want to hug him.  In the months since the battle of New York, she’s seen him slowly settle into his new surroundings, unwinding like the exhale of a held breath. Tony waves at her in lieu of greeting, turning to lean back against the table.

“Is that for me?” Bruce asks, smug. Tony rolls his eyes and all but stomps off to another table, muttering all the while. Bruce smirks at his friends retreating back, pulling his glasses off to deposit them in his shirt pocket. Darcy smiles, settling the pan on the table in front of him.

“It is indeed. Cinnamon chocolate sunken soufflé cake with sparkling cranberries.” Darcy says loudly in Tony’s direction. Bruce cracks the lid to peer inside, making a smug noise of delight that’s nigh pornographic. Tony loudly drops a wrench on the table and makes a production of grabbing something from the holographic model in front of him.

“I’m sure it will be as delicious as the last three.” Bruce says, snapping the lid back on the pan. Darcy snorts at the wordless sound of indignation that emanates from Tony’s work station. Bruce Banner everybody, secret asshole. It’s one of Darcy’s favorite things about the mostly mild mannered scientist.

“All right boys, lunch time. The sooner you eat the sooner you can come back and be brilliant.” Darcy says, stepping back to let Bruce past.

“I’m brilliant all the time. All day, every day, all brilliant.” Tony says, spinning around to wave a screwdriver at her, his expression pinched into a frown. She raises an eyebrow at him, smirking.

“It’s still lunch time.” She says, tapping her watch. From behind her, she hears Bruce give a half-assed attempt at containing his laughter.

“This is my tower you know. And I’m not hungry.” Tony crosses his arms, petulant. Darcy hefts her super-soaker meaningfully, raising an eyebrow at him in challenge. The fact that he hasn’t bothered changing out of his unspeakably expensive suit is a point in her favor. He might be a billionaire, but he’s a vain one and takes his clothing very seriously.

“I’m a grown man. I was revolutionizing the tech industry while you were still in diapers.” He says, glaring at her. Bruce laughs again, not bothering to hide it. Darcy pumps the super-soaker a few times, her eyes never leaving Tony’s. He holds the glare for a few more seconds before throwing his hands up with a huff.

“Fine you little tyrant.” He throws the screwdriver down on the table and sweeps out of the room, head held high. Once he’s made his grand exit, she lowers her weapon. Bruce, holding his hard earned bribe, opens the door for her politely. Once they’re out in the hallway proper, Bruce steps up beside her.

“So I heard you activated Rule 7 on your road trip.” Bruce says with a sly grin. Darcy sighs, because really Jane? She’s not ashamed, and Bruce is one of her favorite gossip partners, but at this point Jane’s secret keeping skills are just pathetic. Once they reach the elevators, JARIVS opens the doors for them without prompting, and they step inside.

“Oh did I ever. Bruce you have no idea, this guy- so hot.” Darcy says, fanning herself for emphasis. Since the common floor of the Avengers suites is only a few floors down, the elevator ride lasts about five seconds. As they step out into the floor, Bruce raises his eyebrow at her.

“So? I’m assuming it went well.” He says, leading the way through the expansive living room to the kitchen. Darcy smiles at the sight of Mew-Mew lying propped up against the couch next to a stack of classic sci-fi novels. There are also arrowheads along with beauty and gun magazines scattered on the coffee table. Uh huh, definitely the Avengers common area.

“I came so hard I almost blacked out, I shit you not.” Darcy says as they enter the kitchen. Bruce nods solemnly, raising his hand for a high five. Tony, in the middle of making one of his disgustingly organic and healthy smoothes, turns to leer at her.

“Rule 7?” He asks, waggling his eyebrows. Darcy nods and accepts his fist bump with a grin. Before she can go on about Steve and their ridiculous few hours and dates, Natasha walks in from the living room. Her hair is in a messy bun, she wearing yoga pants and a green tank top, and god Darcy’s a sap because the sight of her friend so relaxed and comfortable makes her want to do a little dance. Natasha elbows Tony out of the way to grab some tea from the cabinet, and he sticks his tongue out at her. Darcy hangs back to let the Avengers get their food first, setting her super soaker on the table and leaning back against the wall to wait.

“Did I hear something about a Rule 7?” Natasha asks as she opens the fridge. Darcy appreciates the assassin pretending she hasn’t heard the entire conversation. She nods, feeling a little exposed.

“Well yeah, but he might… end up as my Rule 14.” Darcy admits with a blush. Rule 14: When going on a date/starting a relationship, tell someone where and when you’re going. Also, leave time for a background check. As one, the occupants of the kitchen go still and turn to stare at Darcy. She makes herself stand still and not fidget by sheer force of will, offering a sheepish smile. Finally, Tony lets out a whistle, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Damn, he must have been incredible in the sack.” Tony says, very casual, before turning and continuing to make his smoothie. Darcy shrugs, not wanting to say too much and jinx it. Natasha raises an eyebrow in question, leaning back against the counter. 

“Well yeah, obviously. But we- really clicked. Like, we were only together a few hours before I had to come back for the universal freedom guys-“

“-fucking idiots-“ Tony mutters.

“-most incompetent eco terrorists ever-“ Bruce says with a snort.

“-bozhe moi-“ Natasha rolls her eyes.

“-but we’ve gone out a few times here, because he lives in New York. And guys, he just- fits me. It’s the weirdest shit ever.” Darcy finishes with a shrug, still not entirely comfortable with the prospect. She meets Bruce’s eyes and he tilts his head, his expression somber. Tony’s turned back to his smoothie, because he doesn’t feelings without booze, but it’s Natasha who makes a soft consider sound.

“What’s different about him?” She asks, gathering her lunch ingredients from the fridge. 

“I wish I knew!” Darcy says, frustrated beyond belief. It’s been eating at her all week, since their last date ended hushed and warm under a streetlight.

“But there must be something.” Bruce says with a frown, opening his bribe dessert.

“That is not what you’re having for lunch. Eat some damn protein! And yeah- I guess.” Darcy waggles her finger at him. Tony and Natasha snort, before sending each other a horrified glance. Bruce grudgingly goes to the fridge and starts to gather sandwich ingredients.

“So, you have thought of something.” Natasha clarifies. Darcy shrugs, crossing her arms.

“He’s funny, and he’s smart, and attentive. But…”

“But?” Natasha prompts with a sympathetic smile.

“But there are tons of guys like that in the world. I think the thing is, he’s got his own issues. We haven’t known each other very long, but I can tell he has had some shit go down in his life. Sometimes he’ll get this look on his face, like he doesn’t trust that the world’s not gonna go to hell.” Darcy finishes, frowning and annoyed because her words aren’t coming our right. Tony raises his eyebrows at her over the rim of his strange green smoothie, and Bruce pauses mid motion to stare at her with a puzzled expression.

“Is this about saving him?” Bruce asks, incredulous. Darcy snorts.

“No, jesus no.” Darcy says, rolling her eyes.

“He’s already broken in.” Natasha guesses, her eyes narrowed in thought.

“I- sort of? It’s just nice knowing he’s actually lived, you know? That he’s already bruised so I can’t accidentally break him.” Darcy admits. Natasha nods in understanding, but Bruce and Tony stare blankly at her.

“Do you even like this guy?” Tony asks, sounding confused. Natasha and Darcy share an amused glance.

“Yes I like him! That’s the point! I like him stupidly a lot, maybe more than I’ve liked anyone ever.” Darcy raises her voice a little, you know, for emphasis.

“He’s your Rule 14 because it’s safe to like him.” Bruce says, hitting the nail on the head.

“Yes, oh my god.” Darcy says, walking over to the fridge. From behind her, Natasha hmmms.

“But he was good in bed?” Natasha knows the important questions. Darcy turns to leer over her shoulder.

“Like I said earlier, I came so hard I almost blacked out. He said he didn’t have a lot of experience, but I’ve literally dated rent-boys who gave me weaker orgasms.” Darcy says, feeling a little overheated just thinking about it. Tony lets out a whoop of laughter and gives her another fist bump, followed shortly by Natasha. Darcy grins, smug, and starts digging around the fridge to see what her lunch options are. Tony, being Tony, usually has caterers send up food during the weekdays, so she’s hoping there’s more of the fancy pasta salad.

            “Hey capcicle, good to see you’re finally back! Stop lurking and come have lunch! No? Alright, whatever.” Tony calls, sounding surprised when the good captain apparently turns down his offer. Damnit! Darcy’s been waiting to meet him for months! She turns and looks out into the living room, just in time to see a man with a strangely familiar build and blond hair make a beeline for the elevators.

            “What’s with Steve?” She hears Tony asks, sounding put out. As Capitan America waits for the elevator to arrive, Darcy studies him. She’s seen someone who moves like that! She’s seen that grandpa haircut! Fucking hell- Darcy turns around to wave goodbye to her startled friends.

            “I’m gonna go meet cap!” She says, hoping she doesn’t sound as nervous as she feels. Not giving herself a chance to wimp out, Darcy jogs across the living room. As she approaches, the Capitan tenses. Oh my god she recognizes that ass. The elevator is taking a suspiciously long time, she makes a note to thank JARVIS, so she has time to walk the last few feet. She steps up beside him, and he turns to face her, his expression sheepish. Well damn, apparently she’s fucked Capitan America. She glares at her boyfriend and punches him in the shoulder.

            “You-“ she hisses “-are in so much trouble.” 

Chapter Text

 The elevator dings open, and she drags him in. Steve raises his hands in surrender, looking panicked.

     “I didn’t know you were Darcy the scientist wrangler! I didn’t know you worked here, or that you know the rest of the team!” He says, his voice high. She clenches her hands and resists the urge to stomp her feet. The elevator dings open, revealing a floor she’s never been to before. It’s obviously someone’s living space, but she doesn’t know whose.

     “JARVIS?” She asks, still glaring at Steve.

     “I took the liberty of directing you to Capitan Rogers floor Ms. Lewis, as I thought you would prefer this conversation to be private.” If ever an AI sounded disapproving, it’s this one. Steve winces, stepping out into his floor. Darcy follows, looking around with unabashed curiosity.

     “Thank you JARVIS, this is fine.” She says, already distracted by the far corner of the room, where an art easel surrounded by painting supplies takes up several square feet.

     “My pleasure Ms. Lewis.” JARIVS replies. She hears Steve shifting around nervously, but she decides to let him hang for a few moments, and makes her way over to the easel. She hears Steve curse under his breath and smiles to herself. There’s a piece in progress on the easel, and it takes her a few moments to realize that it’s her on the canvas. Against her best intentions, her breath catches.

     “Darcy I couldn’t risk telling you. It’s not exactly a state secret that I’m Capitan America, but…” Steve trails off, sounding frustrated. Darcy sighs, and turns to face him. He’s tense and upset and any anger she might have fades, because shit, those are perfectly reasonable explanations. Damnit, she’s old enough to have mature conflict resolution.  

     “I get that you couldn’t just tell me, you barely know me. But dude, running away? If you didn’t know I was the Darcy that works here, whatever, but you listen in on my conversation and then run away? Not cool.” Darcy says, running a hand through her hair. Before Steve can respond, she adds:

“And also I get that you probably didn’t want to have this conversation in front of people, but all you had to do was say ‘nice to meet you Ms. Lewis’ and I would have taken the hint.” She says, exasperated and mostly over the whole thing. Steve searches her face for a long moment, still tense, but whatever he’s looking for he must find, because he relaxes.

“I’m sorry, I just- panicked.” He says, stepping forward hesitation in every line of his body, as if unsure of his welcome. Just the idea of it hurts her a little. She’s said her piece, the explanations make sense even if she doesn’t like it, and damnit she deserves to make out with Captain America. So Darcy meets him halfway and leans up for a kiss. He tugs her up against his chest, twining a hand through her hair to keep her in place as he kisses her, lush and languid. Well that’s one way to end an argument. Finally, they separate, and Darcy takes a step back before she latches on keeps kissing.

“Did- what I say in there upset you?” She asks, keeping her voice neutral. Steve makes a gruesome twisty expression, shrugs.

“No? I’m exactly used to people being so open about sex, but I’m not offended.” Steve says, not quite meeting her eyes.

“Stop avoiding the question.” Darcy says, trying not to sigh. Steve frowns at her, his expression thoughtful.

“I’m glad, for what it’s worth. That you feel that way.” He says, unhelpful on an almost an industrial level. Before she can tell him so, he continues, eyes pointed upward in thought.

“I’m glad you see it that way, me having… history. I think it’s smart, not to just get lost in each other. And I’ve always liked you being your own person, that you’ve already lived and know what you want.” He continues, adding things to his answer as they occur to them. Darcy grins, feeling sharp.

“So you’re glad I’ve been bruised too? So we aren’t in danger of accidentally breaking each other, at least not so easily.” She says, tilting her head. She’s curious to see if he’ll admit to it.

“Yeah, that.” He says, meeting her eyes almost defiantly. Huh, alright. She’s been nervous, almost jittery, but now that it’s all out in the open- she’s feel better now, more relaxed.

“Good, at least we’re on the same page.” She says stepping into his space once more. He quirks a smile at her, his hands coming to settle possessively over her hips.

“I could have done without Tony knowing about my sex life.” Steve says with a frown, as if there’s something sour in his mouth. Darcy huffs, resting her head on his chest with a sigh.

“He probably won’t tease you for too long, just until something else distracts him.” She points out, leaning on him almost entirely, now knowing his fancy super soldier muscles can truly take her weight. Steve sighs, kissing the top of her head.

“You’re probably right. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though. I don’t know how one person can be such an asshole, yet  care so much about people at the same time.” He says, sounding aggrieved. Darcy shrugs, already drugged, drowsy, with Steve’s body heat and the usual slow burn of arousal that accompanies it. She keeps steady eye contact with him as she presses a wet, open kiss to his mouth, plucking at his lower lip. He shudders, his hands clenching on her hips. Her heart speeds fast, and she shifts restlessly as long pulses of tingling heat pool in her groin. This was nowhere near a fight, but she’s in the mood for some makeup sex anyway. She rolls her hips into him, arching within his arms, and she feels him, already a little hard against her stomach. Steve grins down at her, his pupils blown wide. He moves his hands down to cup her ass before picking her up completely. She wraps her legs around him with a squeak and he grins at her, smug. God the strength in him.

“Bedroom?” She asks, sucking marks onto his neck. Now that she knows he’ll heal, the freedom to mark him up makes her almost light headed. Her marks are dark and lovely, and he shudders against her, groaning. She smiles against his skin and he buries his head against her neck, hips jerking reflexively. He starts walking in the direction of the bedroom, she assumes, and she passes the time trying to distract him as much as possible. By the time he tosses her on the bed, he’s taking great heaving breaths and Darcy’s fast getting sidetracked by the way his muscles move under his shirt.

“So I’ve thought of some things I’d like to do.” Steve says with a grin, already stripping out of his shirt. Darcy’s finding it hard to speak as he continues to take off his close with smooth decisive movements. As he starts to slide his pants down his hips, her brain reboots sluggishly.

“Oh yeah?” She asks, voice hoarse. He grins at her struck dumb expression, shucking his pants and underwear in one motion. He kneels on the bed, crawling toward her. The sight of him on display like that, his eyes fixed on her like North on a compass makes her feel hot all over. Heart pounding, filled with a sudden need to just let go, she lies flat and let’s herself be caught. The world is hazy now, with arousal and the need of touch. He kneels over her, his legs folded by her thighs, bracing himself on his hands to duck down and press his lips to hers. She arches up to meet him, hands clutching at his biceps. He leans down, settling more of his weight on her, and she should feel trapped, she should want to run away, but she finds herself settled under him with something like relief.

He presses a soft constellation of kisses down her neck, and she stretches to give him better access. It’s quiet but for the sound of their breathing, intimate in a way they’d barely touched on in the hotel room. She lets him peel off her shirt, and they laugh at each other as she raises up on her elbows to give him access to her bra clasp. It takes him a minute to figure the clasp out, one that she spends arching against his chest and pressing long, bruising kisses to the soft space behind his ear. He slides the bra off of her and slings it to the side, before he starts to kiss a line down her torso. Her breath catches in her throat as he sucks one nipple into his mouth, tongue flicking over it in slow waves. His eyes are downcast, centered on her skin. The sight of him kneeling over her, the feel of his tongue on her sends a rush of arousal through her so strong it leaves her shaking. She buries her fingers in his hair to ground herself, and he releases her nipple with one last lick to lean into her touch. She feels like she should say something, anything, but he kisses her palm and she has no idea what to do with that. His fingers settle over her pants zipper, and he looks up at her for permission. His earlier teasing and bravado are nowhere in attendance, leaving his expression intent, his movements sure. She nods, unable to speak.

He smiles at her then, bright and stunning. Darcy feels whatever resistance she has to whatever this is evaporate like water on a hot stove. He peels her underwear off with her jeans, tossing them and her flats to the floor, leaving her naked, flushed and wanting. God she’s wet already, twisting about on the bed, rubbing her thighs together in a desperate search for friction. She grabs his shoulder and tugs, needing him back over her. He laughs and resists her weak directions, instead rearing back to settle on his heels, and fuck what a picture he makes in miles of tan skin with his cock hanging hard and heavy. She glares at him and he laughs again.

“Sorry, sorry. This is something I’ve thought of for a while.” Steve says, his eyes direct on her as his fingers skim over her clit. It’s a ghost of sensation, barely anything and nowhere near enough. She bares her teeth at him, and he grins at her in response, smug. He slips one finger into her, in a slow, slick glide, eyes never leaving hers. She gasps, turning her head away, bucks back onto his hand.

“Darcy.” He says, low. She knows what he’s asking and she makes herself turn back to look at him. He rewards her by slipping in another finger, stroking her sensitive rim. She gasps, hips jerking instinctively, but he presses a palm to her stomach and anchors her to the bed.

“Jesus, have you been studying or something?” Darcy says, voice breathy despite her best efforts. He ducks his head, laughing.

“You could say so. I found this great lesbian blogger who gave some very useful tips on pleasing women.” He says, grinning at her as her presses up hard on her clit with his thumb. Darcy laughs, and Steve moves with her, his fingers never halting in their rhythm. Darcy swallows, trying to find air to speak with, her thoughts getting sidetracked by the fast spiral of pleasure running through her.

“What exactly have you been wanting to try?” She asks, meeting his eyes head-on. He blushes, and Darcy laughs.

“You’re two fingers deep in me, I’m naked, you’re naked. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, unless you’re a furry or something and if so I’m sorry I’m just not into that shit.” Darcy rambles, rolling her hips back against his fingers. He laughs, shaking his head, his thumb obligingly flicking against her.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He says with a grin.

“Get used to it sweetie.” She says with a wink. He snorts, but doesn’t bother to hide the pleased expression on his face, as if her term of endearment actually means something to him. Darcy’s breath hitches. She feels like she’s coming apart, hot and hypersensitive all over and if he doesn’t get in her soon she might explode. So Darcy throws her head back, and clenches her vaginal muscles tight around his fingers. His eyes go wide and he stares at her in shock, his mouth dropping open in a moan. She arches, only mostly to show off her breasts and grins at him.

“Now what were you thinking about?” She asks, reaching down to guide his hand. His thumb feels amazing but she’s always been more sensitive on her left side, so she twins their fingers together and demonstrates. His fingers follow nicely, but his gaze stays glued on her face.

“I- nothing fancy. I just want to see your face.” He frowns in thought, obviously trying to figure out how to explain. Darcy finds is hard to breath, all of a sudden.  

“Oh, good idea.” She says, with more bravado than she feels. He slides his fingers out of her, she bites through a whimper of protest, and he leans forward to snag a pillow from the top of the bed. She tilts her head back to follow his progress, feeling calm and indolent with endorphins. He stops to kiss her, open mouthed and sloppy, and she sighs against his lips. He pulls, back, kisses her again, before working one hand gently beneath her head and placing the pillow there. She wiggles until it’s comfortable and nods for him to go on. He stops to kiss her collarbone, before resuming his place kneeling between her legs.

“Would this position be okay? Wait, fuck, condoms.” He says, grimacing. Darcy snorts and he glares halfheartedly at her.

“S’okay. I’m on birth control, and you can’t even get diseases, right?” She says, stretching just to watch his eyes follow the movement.

“Ah yeah, that’s what all the doctors tell me.” He says with a shrug.

“Then I’m okay to do without if you are.” She says, her heart pounding. A condom is such a thin barrier, it’s not like she didn’t have him fully before. But it’s something psychological about no barrier between them that makes her breath catch, makes her feel unbearably exposed. He grins at her, bright and open.

“And you want to come beforehand, right?” He asks, his fingers sinking back into in one glorious motion. She gasps, nodding frantically. He grins before laying down on his stomach and propping himself up on his elbows. Oh she remembers this pose. She shifts about, arching and twisting her legs in anticipation, but he lays an arm across her pelvis and presses her back into the bed. He licks a broad stripe up her center, and Darcy whines. She can feel him grinning against her skin, but she’s already too far gone to care. He seems to understand how desperate she is though, how stupidly close, because he doesn’t play around before pressing his tongue hard against her clit and applying hard suction. She cries out, the only thing keeping her in place is Steve’s easy strength. She can feel her orgasm building, her shaking muscles straining as she tries to shove herself back against his tongue. He circles her opening, sucks on her clit and starts a slow slide of his fingers, keeping most of the stimulation on her clit. Needing an anchor to ground herself Darcy reaches down to twine her fingers in his hair, trying not to pull too hard. Steve hmmms against her and Darcy gasps, trying to buck up against him. But he merely flexes to keep her in place, and everything in her should find that scary, but that nervy, hyped-up feeling fades, leaving her limp and quiescent. Steve sucks on her, one slow undulation before pulling back to look at her face. He smiles at her, slick lipped and strangely endearing for guy who had his face in her lap not five seconds ago. She finds herself smiling back.

“So… my strength does it for you?” He asks, voice low, fingers still moving in and out of her. She blinks, trying to think through the fog of arousal.

“It’s not the only thing about you that does it for me.” She says, the words feeling thick and unyielding in her mouth. He smiles, flicking his thumb up against her clit and increasing the tempo of his fingers. You cheating little bastard, Darcy things, amused.

“I’d figured that much out myself, thanks.” He says with a smug grin, running his free hand down her thigh in an almost proprietary manner. Darcy clenches down on his fingers in retaliation, flexing and rolling as much as she’s able with Steve will effortlessly pinning her down.

“You know what I mean, jackass.” She says flicking his ear. He hisses, grinning, and ducks away from her hand. Eyes on her, her pulls his fingers almost all the way out, and rubs hard against her opening, sending a rough shock of heat through her. Her breath catches in a gasp, and his grin turns smug.

“So you’re not… uncomfortable with me? Being what- who I am?” Steve says, stilling his hands. His expression is earnest, a little afraid and fuck Darcy can’t help it, she starts to giggle. Thankfully Steve’s used to things like that by now, because all he does is snort, ducking his head to kiss her hip.

“Shit, sorry. I just- we should have talked about this before you were already two fingers in me.” Darcy wheezes, trying to get herself back under control. Steve laughs against her skin, his shoulders shaking.

“Yeah, we seem to have a bad case of horrible timing.” Steve says, some of his earlier tension dissipating after their laughter. Because she can’t stand the sight of him worried about this, about her accepting him, Darcy clenches her inner muscles around him and winks. Steve, finally pulling his fingers out, collapses on top of her, his whole body heaving with laughter. Which of course sets off Darcy, and lord there must be something wrong with them. It takes a few minutes, after several bouts of almost getting it together before one of them setting off the other, but they manage to get themselves under control. Steve ends up slinging his arms across her stomach and resting his head atop them, tensed slightly so his weight is supported and not crushing her. She wiggles, relaxing back into the bed with a sigh.

“I’m not uncomfortable with you being Captain America. Shit, all of my friends are in the hero business, so I’m not gonna freak because you put on spangely pants and punch bad guys. And-I trust you not to hurt me. You've been all strong for a while, right?” She pauses as Steve nods, his expression hopeful, his body still with tension. 

“So you’ve had a while to get a handle of the super strength. And Steve, everything I know of you is aware, if not careful. I really don’t think you’re going to slip up and hurt me-“ Steve opens his mouth, probably to protest, but she holds up her hand to forestall him.

“-but I know accidents can happen, even with non-super strong people. But I know you’d never hurt me on purpose, and I’m willing to accept the risk of an accident okay? I need you to trust me to know myself.” Darcy days, hoping she’s not being too harsh. But no, Steve relaxes like a puppet without strings, and his face lights up with bright adoration, like Darcy answered a question bigger than just trusting his control. She smiles, feeling faint. He suddenly rears up to lean over her, placing his hands by her hips, and seals his lips to hers in a feverish kiss. He’s sloppy in a way he hasn’t been for a while, desperate, murmuring sweet sounding nothing words, and she feels him shift, one hand coming up to cup her face and tilt her into him. She opens to him without thought and he makes low, almost wounded sound, his fingertips running over her throat and jaw. She shifts, arches against him, and he pulls back to place a lingering kiss to the side of her neck.

“Do it, please, I want-“ Darcy says, her voice horribly breathy but God the way he shakes at the touch of her voice is worth it. He kisses her neck again, lingers, runs his tongue over her skin as he sucks a red bloom onto her skin. She tilts her head to give him better access, shifting restlessly at the short sharp pain, her endorphins merging the sensation into one bright burn of arousal. Her hands come up to grip his arms, and she wishes with a sudden and blinding fervor that she could mark him back, leave a dark bruise high on his neck for all the world to see and be jealous of, one that wouldn’t heal in hours.

“It would just heal, wouldn’t it?” Darcy asks, as he moves away from his mark with one last drag of his tongue. He kisses down her chest once more, stopping to use his fingers and mouth on her breasts. She gasps as he rolls one nipple gently between his fingers, and fuck she’s never been quite so sensitive there before but her breasts are an answering ache to her clit. He tilts his head up to look her, his face pinched into an expression of regret.

“Yeah, it’d be gone in a few hours. I’ve had bruises that have lasted a few days before, but… it’s not something I’m eager to repeat.” He says, placing an absent minded kiss between her breasts.

 “Honey I can work with that. The things we can do, Jesus. But not right now, I think.” She says, quirking her lips in a smile, unrepentantly lascivious. He grins, nods, and continues kissing his way down her body. There’s an air of deliberation about him, like he’s following a map only he can see. It’s not worshipful, thank god, but it’s reverent, like he can’t help but be aware how fleeting their time could be. But thoughts like these are too deep to had naked and aroused, so she buries her fingers in his hair and lets herself sink into the feeling of his lips on her skin, the trail of heat he leaves behind. She’s cooled off some during their talk, and he runs his fingers up and down her center to check the state of affairs. He ease his two fingers back into her, and she’s not quite worked up enough, it’s a little too much. She makes an uncomfortable sound in her throat, twists away from him a little, and he immediately pulls his fingers out. He makes a worried face at her and she smiles, running her fingers over his lips.

“It’s okay, I’m just not there yet.” She says, gentle. His eyes narrow and he watches her for any sign of further discomfort, but she smiles again, and he settles in between her legs again, stretched out on his stomach. Oh the sight of him sends trills of excitement through her, her body waking back up in sharp pinpricks of heat. Catching her gaze with his, he oh so slowly sucks the tips of his fingertips into his mouth, wetting them. That picture, that obscene fucking gesture hits Darcy hard and she gasps, her whole body shuddering. He releases his fingers, smug, and reaches out to hold her folds open baring her completely to him. She finds herself holding her breath. He uses his wet fingers to trace the shape of her clit with consistent gentle pressure, letting her warm up again. It’s not enough, but if he pushed it would probably burn and send her body into instant overdrive, and there’s another thing for another time, but right now, at this moment, it’s perfect. Steve keeps their eye contact, watching her close for any and all reactions, his fingers still pushing against her. It’s unspeakably, unbearably intimate, but she stares into the blue of his eyes as he works her over. She feels herself getting wet again, and heat rises in her body in slow increments. The frenzy of before seems to have melted away, their attention caught solely on each other. She shifts, trying to get more pressure, and he complies, fingers pressing up hard. She sighs, and he dips down to run his tongue over her, slick and hot and perfect.

Her fingers clench in the sheets, and by sheer force of will she keeps her eyes on his. He reaches out with his free hand to tangle their fingers together, letting her pull against him instead. His eyes finally drop, and she almost gasps in relief, that connection almost as urgent as the burn in her body. He sucks on her in long drags, following the impatient roll of her hips, and she throws her head back to ride it out. Carefully, he runs his fingertips down to circle her opening, and this time she makes a wordless sound of encouragement. She clenches his fingers tight around his, and he responds in kind, settling her. He starts with one finger, slipping in to drag up against the top on the way back. He finds the little rough patch of nerves about halfway in after a few attempts and Darcy’s hips buck before she can stop herself. Fuck, that’s almost too much stimulation, but he seems to get the picture because he gentles the touch of his finger and flicks his tounge hard. Oh, that’s it, that’s perfect. He builds a slow back and forth of sensation, leaving Darcy overheated and panting, the expression on his face intense with concentration. Her orgasm builds in unhurried stages, Steve changing and adjusting as she does and that, his attention and deliberation is what sends her heartbeat into a spiral because Jesus fuck she’s in over her head with him. He adds another finger and now it’s not enough, she needs a stretch, needs to feel the burn. And he gets it, somehow he’s there with her because he adds another finger and scissors out against her opening.

She’s getting close, her breath hitching with each rough swipe of his tongue, each flex of his fingers. He hums against her, fingers picking up speed, and that’s it she’s gone. She arches off the bed with a bitten apart scream, overtaken by waves of pleasure, and fuck it’s seems to stretch on and on, almost too much and she collapses back onto the bed, shaking and broken apart. Her thoughts feel muddled and she floats on a wave of endorphins for a few long minutes, Steve running his hands unhurriedly over her skin. Finally, Steve rears back to kneel above her, and Darcy’s more than a little mesmerized by the sheen on sweat on his skin, his cock thick and straining, the smile on his still slick lips.

“Now, please.” She says, her body still thrumming with energy. She wants him in her, in a million different ways. He nods, reaching out to grasp her around the waist and drag her closer. She giggles, still a little slap-happy, and he laughs with her, hands huge and warm on her skin. He slides his fingers back into her, testing, before pulling them out again. She could have told him that she’s ready, but it’s a good habit to have, and really, why turn down his fantastically skilled fingers? He wraps a hand around himself, eyes on hers, and gives himself a few long decadent pulls. Darcy curses at the sight of him, almost light headed with want. He grins, and anyone who thinks Steve is some sort of boy scout has obviously never seen him like this. He leans down over her, one hand beside her head, one hand slowly feeding himself into her. Darcy bites her lip as she’s filled, groaning, and fuck she’d almost forgotten how thick he is because the perfect burn of him is still a shock.

Once he’s all the way in, his hand comes up to take its place on the other side of her head, bracketing her in, and their eyes meet, inches apart. She wants to say something, anything to break the silence, but the words don’t come. He ducks in for a kiss, his hips starting a slow slide backwards before coming home again. She strains against him, arching and trying to get more friction, but he keeps his pace steady. She glares at him and he grins.

“I wanted to try slow, if that’s okay.” He says, hips rolling in and back.

“We did slow last time!” Darcy says, a little desperate.

“It was very fast and then slow for about two minutes.” He points out, but he picks up the pace a little anyway. Darcy arches against him, clenching around him in an attempt to break his self control.

“We can start slow.” Darcy says, well aware she sounds petulant.

“Thank you.” He doesn’t even sound sarcastic. Darcy wraps her legs around his, wiggles around to find a comfortable position, before letting herself go limp. She likes the idea that he’s spent time thinking about this, and lord knows they’ll have other chances. Steve kisses her again, starting a steady tempo of thrusts. It’s not fast, but it’s not the glacial movements of before that left her more wanting than satisfied. His arms aren’t even straining as he holds himself up, but it’s making her nervous, and she needs to feel as much of him against her skin as she can. She reaches up to tug on his shoulder, and he gives her a questioning glance, but allows himself to be tugged down. She lets out a sigh as his weight settles onto her, their skin sliding against each others as his hips never lose their rhythm. She’s all but pinned, and somehow that’s all she needed for this to work, for this slow place to light fires under her skin.

“S’good.” She mumbles against his neck. She lets her head fall back, eyes slipping closed, savoring the long spools of drowsy pleasure. She finds herself going limp, her legs slipping down his, content now to let him set the pace. She’s aware enough that her lack of participation might throw him off, so she throws an arm over his neck, tangling her hand in his hair as she holds him to her, and he shudders, whispers something she doesn’t cath. She presses absent, open mouthed kisses on whatever patch of skin is closest at the time. He changes the angle, just the tiniest bit, and the tip of his cock drags over that sensitive tangle of nerves again as he thrusts back in. Her breath hitches and she feels him smile. Each thrust after that hits the spot dead on, creating a sensation so thick and heavy it’s all she can do to keep her eyes open. The air is warm, and her whole body tingles in smug contentment as he thrusts in and out, slow and inexorable.

“How about you?” She finds enough brain cells to murmur, keeping her head tucked against his.

“Good- I’m- yeah.” He sounds wrecked, the words barely making it out of his mouth. He presses a kiss to her neck and she hmmms. Another thrust and she can feel her orgasm start to build, but it’s a distant thing, and she simply hangs onto him, feeling sated and fuzzy around the edges. They trade lingering kisses back and forth like a silent conversation and she gets trapped in the blue of his eyes. Pinned and secure like this it doesn’t frighten her. Her orgasms takes her by surprise, in one soft, long wave that has her gasping and clenching down on him. He groans in response, his thrusts starting to speed up, and she clenches down again, gorgeously hypersensitive. She pulls him down for a kiss and his rhythm falters, he groans again, and oh fucking yes she feels a sudden heat inside of her as he finds his own orgasm.

He relaxes on top of her, and before he must have been keeping some of his weight off of her, because now he’s heavier.  But it’s okay, she can still breathe and the feel of him gasping for breath, the fluttering sensation of him slowly going soft inside of her is worth it. She closes her eyes, overheated and so relaxed she half fears she might melt into the bed. They both seem to drift, neither moving as sweat cools and their heartbeats settle. Finally Steve eases up onto his hands and knees, drawing gently out of her. She hisses, being hypersensitive is not as fun after the orgasm, but then waves at him with a smile when he freezes.

“Just a little hypersensitive. I’m okay.” She says through a yawn. He nods in response, after an answering yawn. He seems a little hesitant now, and Darcy makes her thoughts fall in line enough to try and figure out why.

“Sweetie, that was fantastic. I wasn’t buying the whole go slow thing at first, but it totally worked.” She says, and gives herself five points when he smiles in relief.

“I’m glad. Next time, you choose.“ Steve says with another smile, seeming a little smug at the prospect. Darcy starts to ease herself into a sitting position, and he helps pull her the rest of the way upright.

“Damn skippy I will.” She says, bracing herself on his shoulder to lever herself up and off the bed. She stumbles, her legs wobbly, and he’s there in an instant to catch her before she falls. She rewards him with a kiss.

“I’m going to clean up, so you should totally go make me a sandwich while I do.” Darcy says with a wink. Steve snorts, making a show of looking down at himself.

“And I don’t need to clean up?” He asks, raising an eyebrow at her in amusement. She grins, unrepentant.

“You can clean up in the kitchen, because I need to clean up more.” She says, only half joking. She already feels uncomfortably slick down below and call her old fashioned, but she doesn’t want to clean up her lady business in front of her boyfriend. Steve grins again, raising his hands in surrender as he leaves the room. She takes the time to watch his ass as he leaves.

“Hate for you to go, but I love to watch you leave.” She mutters. She hears Steve laugh from the other room, and makes a note of super soldier hearing for the future. The bathroom is huge and spacious, with a sunken bathtub and separate glass enclosed shower. The entire far wall is taken up by one window, and the view, not to put too fine a point on it, is breathtaking. She spends a few stunned seconds looking out over New York, because even after working in the tower off and on for months it’s still an amazing sight. Clean up is fast, just a warm wash cloth and some thankfully unobserved twisty faces. As she’s throwing the wash cloth in the laundry chute,  of course Tony put in a laundry chute, a shadow passes over the room, like the light from outside is being blocked by something. She has just enough time to be really confused, when the window explodes, sending glass flying into the room. Because really, why not?

There's a roar of helicopter blades, and she can hear Steve yelling from the kitchen. She stares down at the ground, her ears ringing from the explosion, trying to find a path to the door without cutting her feet to ribbons. Her head feels woolly with shock. She sees a helicopter hover at window height, a man hanging over the side. Something small is launched into the room, a canister, and gas explodes into the air. She thinks fuck this is ba-

 

###

 

     When Darcy wakes up, her head is pounding, her arms burn like they’re covered in cuts, and there’s a taste in her mouth like something farted and then died. She’s laying down, on a hard unfamiliar bed, the harsh scent of antiseptic stinging her nose. Oh thank god, hospital. Just the hospital, not some crazy super villain- she opens her eyes and stares up at the vast expanse of steel beams above her. Shit. So probably not a hospital. She instinctively jerks her arms and legs to see if she’s bound, and thank Thor, she’s not. She starts shaking in fear, trying not to hyperventilate. Tears sting her eyes, and she clenches her hands tight, fuck that pulled the cuts on her arms. Calm down Lewis, you can do this, it’s okay. It takes a while, God knows how long, but when her heart doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode like a rabbits, she slowly sits up.

     She has no idea where she is, what happened at the tower, or if she’s really a captive. Fuck. The only light in the warehouse(?) comes from the single bulb hanging above her bed, strange hospital looking thing that it is. The light only extends a yard or so in every direction, leaving the rest of the warehouse in terrifying shadow. She takes a deep breath, bites her lip to keep herself from doing something stupid like cry loudly. There’s no one and nothing around, so she makes herself jump off the bed. Her feet, bare, hit the cold concrete and she hisses before she can stop herself. She glances down at herself, dressed in jeans and an overlarge green hoodie that she doesn't recognize. Because Natasha would smack her if she didn’t, she checks in the pockets of her jeans, and finds nothing. She carefully runs her hands over the bed, under the pillow and mattress for anything she could use. She finds nothing except for the fact that the sheets are shit quality. She walks to the edge of the light, hesitates, her heart beating loud in her ears. She’s shaking with nerves, goose-bumps blooming over her body. A voice sounding suspiciously like Natasha speaks in her head, urging her to get a move on, if the enemy makes a mistake, let them do it.

     She walks slowly forward, her feet dragging lightly over the concrete so she doesn’t step on anything. All around her there’s booming silence and each breath, and each scrape of her feet sounds horribly amplified. As she walks, her eyes adjust, making the darkness around her a little less absolute and she can make out the vague shape of a door several yards away. She almost cries out she’s so relieved. Wrapping one arm over her breasts, she jogs towards the door as fast as she dares. Her breath sounds ragged even to her own ears, but she makes herself keep going. Up close, the door is white metal with no visible lock. There’s an alarm going up in the back of her mind, wondering why it’s so easy, but she has to take this chance. She reaches out to grab the knob, but the door swings open before she even makes contact. She screams a little in surprise, staring up at the man looming in the doorway. He’s tall, broad, dressed in black body armor, an automatic rifle slung across his shoulders. She thinks her whole body is frozen in shock, but when he takes a step forward through the door, she flings herself back. She turns to run when a woman’s voice stops her in her tracks.

     “That’s not necessary Ms. Lewis, we’re just here to talk.” The woman’s accent is southern, the delicate type gained from rich parents who kept the low-class twang from entering her accent. She freezes, considers making a break for it anyway, but then she hears the man shift, the scrape of his gun moving around. She turns around slowly, see’s that there’s a blonde woman standing next to the man. She’s dressed like an academic, too big sweater and yoga pants, her hair spilling messy and probably tangled over her shoulders. Blondie cocks her head, smiles. Darcy swallows, unable to speak. Rule 31, keep it together for Rule 31, Darcy thinks, making herself meet the woman’s eyes. Rule 31: If you’re captured, don’t lose hope. Hold on for as long as you can because we’ll find you and we’ll get you back, no matter what. Weeks ago, it had quietly been added to the list by Natasha. The woman walks forward to offer Darcy her hand, like it’s a normal part of being kidnapped. The Natasha voice in her head points at that they’re trying to keep her off balance. Darcy accepts her hands and shakes it with a polite company-manners smile.

     “I’m afraid we haven’t met.” Darcy says, perfectly polite because lord knows momma taught her well.

     “Dr. Lilly Carmichael, but please, call me Lilly.” Blondi- Lilly says with a charming grin. Uh huh, Darcy thinks, someone was a sorority sister.

     “Is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?” Darcy asks, as if they’re speaking in a classroom or hallway, instead of a random warehouse. Lilly’s eyes narrow in speculation and Darcy resists the urge to roll her eyes. Yes, I can play the manners game too, you crazy bitch.  

     “Why don’t we go inside first? I have no idea why they decided to put you here first, but it’s just ridiculous.” Lilly says, placing a solicitous hand on her arm, and it takes everything she has not to shrug it off. The Natasha voice says don’t trust her, bad cop, good cop, and Darcy snarls at it that yes I know that I’m not stupid over here. Jesus, she really can start fights in her own head. Lilly leads Darcy past the man, and out the door. They emerge onto a concrete lot filled with tall gray buildings. It’s night, but because the buildings are lit, Darcy can see more black dressed, armed men jogging in between them. This, she thinks, was not an accident. She can’t see cars or a parking lot, just gray buildings and men with guns.

     No one pays them any attention as they cross the lot, coming up to a smaller building, probably offices or labs. Lilly stops at the door, pulls a card out of her pocket to swipe on through the ID reader, type a code, and have her retina scanned. Yeah, if this wasn’t planned to discourage her escape then she’ll stop cursing for a week. The door unlocks, and Lilly ushers her through, the man bringing up the rear. They’re in a long hallway now, with a few doors spaced several yards apart. Living quarters maybe? Lilly walks to the closest door, repeats the security song and dance before opening it. Lilly ushers Darcy through into a living room, before stopping the man at the door. Points for the poly-sci major, take that actual science.

     “Mark there’s really no need. You’ll know exactly where we are. Give us some time to settle in before we talk to Richard.” Lilly says, holding her hand up with a frown. It’s a perfect, ladylike picture of amusement.

     “Ma’am I’m under orders-“ Mark frowns at her.

     “Hush now, it’s perfectly fine. We’ll be back in an hour or so.” Lilly says, shutting the door with a smile. Darcy raises her eyebrows, impressed despite herself. If she hadn’t spent so much time in and out of SHIELD offices she might have bought that little act. As if an organization with that many guards/hired muscles would have a power structure so flimsy as to be dismissed by one civilian. Natasha voice mutters something about obvious and amateurs, but Darcy ignores it. Lilly faces Darcy with a sheepish smile, absently brushing hair out of her face. The gesture reminds her so much of Jane that tears spring to her eyes. Instantly, Lilly crosses the room to envelop Darcy in a hug. Bile rises in her throat, and Darcy’s stiff as a board.

“Oh honey, this must all be so overwhelming.” Lilly smells intensely of flowers, and the scent is so heavy it makes Darcy a little nauseous. It doesn’t escape her notice that Lilly doesn’t apologize for the overwhelming situation. Darcy makes herself relax and hug Lilly back.

“I- ah, yeah. I’m just so freaked out right now. I have no idea what’s going on.” Darcy says, sniffing for effect.

“I think I can help with that.” Lilly says with a sympathetic smile as she pulls back, ending the hug. She then walks over to the comfortable looking couch and pats the space beside her. Not a fucking dog you bitch, Darcy thinks, before smiling and settling beside her. 

“This is all just really strange, okay.” Darcy says, forcing her hands open and relaxed at her sides.

“I can imagine. Darcy, we brought you here because we need your help.” Lilly smiles, just a quirk of her lips. No mention of kidnapping, or of the attack.

“Ah. My degree is in political science, so I really don’t know how much I can help. Unless you want a really banging analysis of the gear up for the 2016 presidential race, or dude, have you heard of the Great Grain Robbery? I wrote my thesis on it-“ Darcy rambles, trying to be unhelpful without being too obvious about it. Lilly’s smile becomes strained and the Natasha voice hisses at her to dial it back.

“Shit, sorry. I ramble when I’m nervous.” Darcy says, wringing her hands together in her lap.

“No, it’s fine. What I was referring to was your work with Dr. Foster.” Lilly says with a more realistic seeming smile.

“Um, I was an intern. I drove the van and made sure she ate a Pop-Tart every few hours.” Darcy says, her body tense with anxiety. She doesn’t know if she should keep downplaying her involvement, because it was mostly the Pop-Tarts, or pretend to be useful. All roads lead back to being tortured, probably, because she doesn’t have the answers, she doesn’t understand rainbow bridge science.

“You’ve worked with her for over two years now, I’m sure you’ve picked up more than you think.” Lilly says in a gentle tone, reaching out to pat Darcy’s hand. Darcy holds in a snarl, looking down at her lap until she can get herself under control. She wants to ask ‘and what if I can’t help’ but she knows she won’t like the answer and she wants to cling to this façade of civility while it’s still being offered.

“If I- can help you, will I be able to go home?” Darcy whispers, peeking up at Lilly. The woman smiles, a gentle and magnanimous picture that makes Darcy feel sick.

“Of course sweetie, this was only ever intended to be temporary.” Lilly leans back into the couch, her body language open and non-threatening, as if trying to trick Darcy into calming down. And fuck, shit, not good, temporary. These people, whoever they are, are working within a schedule, and there’s no way for Darcy to know when she’s run out of time. It’s suddenly hard to breathe. She all but screams Rule 31 into her head, furious at having to rely on a rescue, but hoping with every fiber of her body that she gets one anyway. She might not be a super assassin, but she’s competent in her own way and damnit she hates being dependant on other people like this. Darcy makes herself smile at Lilly and settle back into the couch, mimicking the other womans relaxed posture.

“What did- what do need from me?” Darcy asks. Lilly tilts her head, considering. Lilly is obviously not a stupid woman. Blonide must know that Darcy is playing along, but the question is does she know how much. Can she tell that Darcy is not buying anything she’s selling, or did she look at Darcy’s less than stellar college transcript and assume Darcy’s just another empty headed intern?

“We understand that Dr. Foster developed and built all the equipment she used to create the Einstein-Rosen bridge.” Lilly says, conversational. Darcy swallows. Shit, the bad guys have bad information because Jane’s never created a bridge, she just studied the damn thing. Should she tell them? Fuck, how much would they punish her when they found out she lied?

“Pardon me, let me rephrase. We understand that she accessed the bridge in London, directed the fission between universes.” Lilly hastens to add. Darcy smiles reflexively, nods. Was that an act to make her feel more at ease?

“I guess? I mean I’m not really sure what went down. Jane just told me to plant the- fancy science sticks in the ground. She said it would help?” Darcy says, not playing up her lack of incomprehension. Giver her news and data streams and she’ll sort and summarize with the best of them, but science was never her strong suit. Lilly laughs, and it sounds real. A little haughty, like oh you adorable soft science major, how cute. Darcy makes herself laugh along with a sheepish expression.

“Yes, we’re interested in Dr. Fosters equipment, like the ‘fancy science sticks.’ And if you remembered anything about her data, anything at all, then that would be wonderful.” Lilly says, her words so heavy with condescension Darcy’s surprised they don’t leave a crater.  

“Um. May I ask- who you guys are?” Darcy says, sounding as timid as she’s able.

“We’re Advanced Idea Mechanics, AIM. We’re working towards a brighter future here, and you’ll help us with that.” Lilly says, thankfully not sounding as ‘drink the koolaid’ as Darcy had feared. And okay, as evil villains go it could be worse. Tony managed to beat these guys once all on his own, and from what she remembers they’re a big collector of scientists. If she can make herself seem useful for a long as possible, then hopefully Rule 31 will prove true.

“Are you guys- were you guys involved those portals in New York a few weeks ago?” Darcy blurts, on a hunch. Lilly nods, grinning excitedly.  

“Yes, we were very very close to creating a sustainable portal. Our partners were useful in that regard, but we’re hoping with Dr. Fosters research we can go farther.” Lilly says archly, cat that ate the canary smug. Darcy lets herself grin back. Good, evil, and every shade in between, scientists have the same ego. The Natasha voice whispers that Darcy could probably kill Lilly before she had time to scream, before the guard noticed. Grab her quick enough, bash her head against the corner of the coffee table… and then what? She might be able to overpower Lilly, and Darcy knows looks can be deceiving, but the guard is armed and she has no idea where she is or how to get to help. Gather as much information as she can, be useful, lay low. Lilly opens her mouth to speak, but is interrupted by the door to the suite banging open. Darcy’s up and putting the couch between herself and the door before she’s realize it, her heart pounding hard enough she feels bruised on the inside. A man, dressed in black combat gear, military haircut, face like a old crag, armed. Even though he’s at least fifty, he’s built like a brick shithouse, and his demeanor is so overly aggressive that Darcy takes another step back without conscious thought. And here’s the bag cop, Darcy thinks, her earlier terror back in full force.

“What exactly is going on here? Carmichael you did not have authority to move the prisoner.” The man says, each word precise and clipped in anger. Yeah, definitely the bad cop. Lilly steps forward, a frown marring her pretty face.

“It’s Dr. Carmichael, Mr. Morris. And since I’m heading the portal project I have control over any new information and while we’re on the subject-“

“In what fresh hell do you think you have the right to move my prisoner around without permission? I don’t care if you’re head of all the damn projects, and furthermore, what the fuck kind of stunt are you trying to pull? You didn’t have clearance to be alone with her, who the fuck knows what you let slip.” Morris continues in a low and furious tone. He doesn’t even look at Darcy, his entire speech and vitriol addressed to Lilly. Lilly rears back as if slapped, her expression sullen, a little surprised. There's a sick sensation in her stomach, because looking at him, whoever he is, she just knows he’s not the type to play Lilly's mind games with a prisoner. So it must all be Lilly, setting herself up as the friend and the mans anger is real and Darcy has no way to defend herself. Two more men step through the door, the guard from before and someone new. Their eyes lock on Darcy and they start walking towards her. Biting through a scream, Darcy backs up, she knows it’s stupid, she knows she can’t escape but god she can’t make herself just stand there and take it either.

“What are you doing? How dare you-“ Lilly says, all but stomping her feet. Morris cuts her off with a wave of his hand.

“I can do whatever the fuck I like. Until Langley puts you in charge here, you’re under my command and you better damn well remember that.” Morris sneers, his face twisted in contempt. The two men back Darcy into a wall, their faces impassive, as if it’s just another day at the office. Darcy stands there, shaking, as the first guard pulls out a pair of handcuffs and approaches her. Rule 31 Rule 31 Rule 31 Rule 31, Darcy lets out a small sound of fear when he grabs her hand to yank her forward. She doesn’t mean to, she really doesn’t, but she fights against him, pulling back. There’s a second pause, just long enough for Darcy to think nononononpleaseIdidn’tmean into the silence of her head. He backhands her in one powerful motion, sending her flying to the floor. She lands in a heap, her vision hazy, her face one deep, nauseating, ache. She can hear someone taking deep, gasping breaths, and figures it’s probably her. She’s immobilized with pain but she tries to push herself into a sitting position, each movement making it worse. She’s not given the time to right herself before rough hands catch her arm and she’s hauled to feet. She gasps, her vision still mostly blurry with tears and lingering hurt, as the men shove her hands behind her back and click the handcuffs into place. They drag her to the door with enough force to leave bruises, and Darcy might not be a genius or a super assassin, but she’s thought of several ways she’d like to dispose of these assholes. She vaguely hears another snide exchange between Lilly and Morris, but it’s lost under the thundering sound of her blood in her ears. They frog-march her out into the hall, going the opposite direction from where she’d entered. She makes her thoughts come back online, ignoring the pain, ignoring the fear for now, and she brings her head up to stare around the hall. Any information could be useful to the Avengers, when they come, and by God she’s going to keep herself together as long as she can.

“Ms. Lewis, you might have gotten the wrong impression from Ms. Carmichael. You’re going to give us everything you know about Dr. Fosters work, or it’s going to go very badly for you.” Morris says from behind her, conversational. She lifts her chin and stares straight ahead, saying nothing. She doesn’t know why they keep dancing around it, torture, hurting her, maybe it’s another mind game. Maybe it’s to scare her, maybe it’s to give her hope so they can dash it against the rocks. She doesn’t know, but the Natasha voice whispers Rule 31 so she clenches her fists, the metal of the handcuffs biting into her skin, and tells herself she’ll last however long it takes. It’s a hollow comfort, but fuck at least it’s something. The men march her through a warren of hallways, twists and turns and check points of ID and retina scans. Through it all Darcy just wants to scream that she fucking gets it already, she’s trapped with no way out.

Her left eye is already swelling from the backhand, and she can barely see out of it. Her whole face throbs in sullen time to her heartbeat as they walk, each step making her feel sick and shaky. After what seems like hours to her adrenaline soaked system, but what’s probably only a few minutes, they stop at the end of a mostly empty hallway. There’s only one door, situated at the end of the corridor and Jesus all they need is a guy in a leather apron named Sasha to complete the picture. Morris walks up to the door, completes the security check before turning to grip Darcy on the arm and drag her through the door. The room is dark, the only light coming the hall, and it seems very small, like a broom closet. It’s so cold she can see her breath on the air, and she starts shivering so hard her teeth almost clack. Morris shoves her forward, making her slam hard against the wall, and with her hands bound she can’t catch herself so she ends up falling to the floor. She scrambles back against the wall and stares up at Morris’s impassive face. Now that she’s in the room proper, she can feel a faint buzz, like there’s a large machine close by. He stares down at her for a long minute, a faint sneer on his lips, and Darcy meets his eyes by sheer force of will. She’s probably a pathetic sight, huddled and bruised and shivering. She glares at him before she can stop herself, and Morris snorts. He turns on his heel and leaves the room, shutting it behind him.

The darkness is absolute. She closes her eyes, pretends there’ll be light when she opens them, and slides along the wall until she finds a corner to wedge herself in. With her hands bound behind her back, her shoulders ache and trying to find a comfortable position proves a futile effort. The silence swallows her whole, the only sound her thudding heart and her fast panicked breathing. The buzzing from before must be some sort of mechanical sound proofing because there’s nothing, no sign that the world exists outside of this room. Her thoughts are drowned out by fear, tears sting her eyes, all she can feel is the pain in her face and the all over ache of biting cold. What if the Avengers don’t find her? What if it’s already too late? What if they hurt her, rape her, what if she’s broken by the time they find her? She’s alone, no one knows where she is, she’s helpless against these people and she doesn’t have the information they want. They’ll just put a bullet through her brain when they figure it out- no, no, keep it together Lewis, they’re trying to soften you up, don’t let it happen.

She takes a long, deep breath, holds it, releases it as slow as she can. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Finally, after who knows how long, she has enough headspace clear to think in. She knows what they’re doing. She minored in psychology, and she knows the tactics are sensory deprivation, isolation, fear and confusion. It may seem small and silly printed in black and white on a textbook page, but this can and does break people. She knows this. She knows that torture is notoriously unreliable, but the slow breaking of spirit is not. She starts to cry, huge heaving sobs that leave her shaking. She turns her face into the wall as if to hide herself, trying to stop the tears. She bites her lips hard enough to bleed as she tries to stifle her tears, the sound of her high whining breaths echoes loud and obscene in the enclosed space. She doesn’t want to die here. She doesn’t want to be broken by these assholes. She’s making herself sick, her face aching even worse now as she heaves with repressed tears and tries to disappear into the corner. She can do this, she knows. But god it’s hard.     

Chapter Text

She’s not asleep, but she’s not awake either. She lays, slumped and shivering in the corner, in a pained sort of trance. Sometimes she can keep herself from thinking, sometimes she can’t and sometimes, without warning, she starts to cry. She clings to the memory of Steve, warm and sweet in her arms, she tries to remember super-soaker fights with Tony, shopping with Pepper and Natasha, and always, she tells herself Rule 31. But she’s alone, so cold most of her body feels numb, she knows it’s only going to get worse, so all her thoughts do is run in screaming circles. She thinks about all those gory movies she laughed through, about the beatings and broken bones and she’s hurting herself more than they have already, which is probably the point. She makes herself sit upright, slows her breathing. Come on Lewis, you can do this, keep it together. She spent most of senior year of college writing A+ papers the night before they were due, she can think up a story. She pulls her knees up to her chest, takes a deep breath.

They want the fancy science sticks that can bend the universe, and don’t they know that Selvig created those things? Let’s go with that, maybe they need Selvig for this to work, but no, she needs to be useful. Okay, so Jane talked about three dimensional points as opposed to two, no that’s not enough. And the hippies from before, the protectorate idiots, surely they weren’t under the command of these people, whoever they are. SHIELD said the hippies were just that, intellectuals with too much time on their hands and not enough common sense. Can she feed them the information about those portals, would they already know? Darcy takes a few shuddering breaths, holds them, releases them slowly when her thoughts start to tumble together. She might have no idea what Jane’s equipment does, but she was in the heart of the SHIELD lab when the portal shit went down. Surely that’s something she can barter? Fuck but what if she tells them something that compromises SHIELD? Darcy flexes against the handcuffs, the pain keeps her focused. No, all she knows is what they know about the hippies. It might be problematic for the bad guys to know that, but it won’t cut her friends off at the knees. She can work with that. Stay alive, the Natasha voice says, do everything you can to stay alive and worry about the details later.  

Before she can do much more than try to figure out her story for the lab, she hears the click of the door handle being turned. She sits up with a jerk, her system flooded with adrenaline so fast it leaves her woozy. The door opens and the light feels like it’s driving ice picks through her temples, even through her closed lids. The person at the door says nothing, the silence stretching on unbearably, so Darcy opens her eyes, hissing as the light floods in with an instant headache. It’s Morris, because of course. He stares down at her with kind of disdain people have for bugs squashed on their new shoes. Without her consent Darcy’s body shivers in fear. He smirks and reaches down to grab her arm. She freezes, forcing herself not to fight and make it worse, letting herself be hauled upright, the bruises on her arm protesting with a dull ache. Her legs start to buckle, but she locks her knees and keeps her head upright. Morris doesn’t give her time to adjust, simply dragging her down the hallway, and if he’s the one supporting most of her weight then the fucker deserves it. The light is making her sick, a reactionary migraine roaring to life as the rest of her body chimes in with pain. There’s no one else in the hallway, and she considers being offended that he doesn’t even think she deserves an escort, but the Natasha voices pipes up again, repeating that if the enemy wants to make a mistake let them. Not that Darcy is much of a threat, but Morris has no real way of knowing that. He takes her down more twisting hallways, and maybe someone else could have memorized it, but Darcy only gets as far as a few turns before her memory craps out.

Morris says nothing, so she tries to give herself an action plan. No matter what, don’t give in right away. She has to bite her lip to stop from crying at the thought, because maybe they’ll torture her, maybe they’ll hurt her. She can survive it, she knows, but she doesn’t know who she’ll be on the other side of it. Stick with the whole political science, not actual science, Pop-Tart fetching, reward charts. Being in the labs for the portal universal zoo fiasco is the information she’ll hold back, because they’ll know she’s holding something back. The plan, sketchy as it is, gives her some structure, some mooring in the midst of all this fucking uncertainty. Morris stops in front of another nondescript door, in a hallway full of identical nondescript doors. He releases her arm, and she sways, staggers, before righting herself, her legs shaking something terrible. She glares at his back as he goes through the security check, biting her lip to keep herself quiet. She might not be a genius, but aggravating her captors sounds like a horrible idea. She tells herself that the satisfaction of a bitchy comment would only be worth it for about two seconds, before they backhand her into a wall again. She almost believes it, but tables the idea for later, when she’ll need any scrap of courage and energy she can find. The door opens and Morris turns to grab her arm, right on a bruise, and sling her into the room. It’s a bare, metal walled room, with a small table with chairs on opposite sides. An interrogation room thank God, not a torture chamber with a man in a leather apron.

“Sit down Ms. Lewis.” Morris says, gesturing to the chair closest to the door. She swallows, reminds herself that he can hurt her plenty without a man named Sasha and some pliers, and sits in the chair. It’s horribly uncomfortable with her arms still secured behind her back, but she bites down another snarky comment before it can see the light of day. Her back’s to the door, and it’s making the hair on her arms stand on end. Morris settles across from her, his expression unreadable. Darcy stares down at the table, because no don’t get in a staring contest with the bad guys, and tries to formulate her responses.

“We brought you here because you worked closely with Dr’s Foster and Selvig.” Morris says, but there isn’t a question in there and Darcy isn’t stupid. She shifts around in the chair, her shoulders so sore it’s making her whole body tense. She can feel him staring at her, but she keeps her head down and says nothing.

“Tell us about the devices used in London.” He says, his voice completely without inflection. Darcy looks up at him, making herself show how scared she is. He doesn’t react, but she swallows, trying to corral her suddenly panicked thoughts. Distantly, she feels herself start to shake a little.

“I was just an intern, okay. My major was political science, I don’t know anything about magic rainbow bridges or wormholes! I brought people Pop-Tarts and made Jane take showers.” Darcy says, her voice high with tension. Morris narrows his eyes at her, leaning in across the table.

“You’ve worked with Foster for over two years. You can’t tell me you didn’t pick up some of what she was working on.” He says through gritted teeth, his voice a low threat. Darcy resists the urge to scream and stomp her feet.

“Dude my GPA was 2.8. I’m not a super genius like Jane! All I know is that she’s studied the Einstein-flower thing and that Asgard has a machine that makes the bridges.” Darcy says, intentionally flubbing the name. She images the look of exasperation on Jane’s face if she called the bridge an Enstein-flower thing, and it’s enough to keep her screaming when Morris slams his hands on the table. She flinches though, almost out of the chair, and she stares up at his furious face as he looms over her. She leans back in her chair, shaking.

“If you expect me to believe that you know nothing about her work, then you’re sorely mistaken.” He hisses. Darcy stares up at him, frozen in indecision.

 “We know you were in New Mexico when Thor came to earth, and you were in ground zero in London. For your own sake, you’d better start talking.” He continues, before she has a chance to speak.

“I- Selvig made the universe distorting sticks, wait okay-“ Darcy hurries on when Morris opens his mouth to interrupt- “He said that they would distort where the universes met? I mean, London was part of this whole alignment of the worlds thing, like it only happens every five thousand years.” Darcy blurts, trying to remember scientific terms that meant nothing to her in the first place. He sits back down, slow. Darcy has no idea how Natasha manages to do this, because she can barely put one thought before the other, much less manipulate people into giving up information. 

“And Jane had found this distorted gravity field-“ or rather the evil thing found Jane, but whatever- “-a few days before the evil aliens showed up. She said it was like small, localized gravitational distortion.” Darcy says, eyes pointed upwards in thought. As she speaks, it snaps back to her, the science sticks were made to detect and Jane recalibrated them to redirected the anomalies. Morris watches her, his eyes narrowed, and Darcy feels almost faint with relief because she has something of value to trade that isn’t the lab. She can save it for later, she has something now. Morris must see something in her face, because he leans across the table.

“What was that?” He asks, fingers tapping an impatient rhythm against the table.

“What?” Darcy blinks, confused.

“Don’t play coy, you just thought of something. Something about the gravitational fields.” He says, matter of fact. Darcy doesn’t flinch, but not by much, and she sees him see it. She tells herself it’s a good thing, setting the stage for giving up the lab information.

“I’m giving you one chance to tell me what you thought of.” In keeping with tradition, he doesn’t say what will happen if she doesn’t take this chance, but Darcy’s always been creative. She opens her mouth, hesitates, her heart pounding, her system flooded with adrenaline, because she’s stepping into the unknown now.

“I know Jane had to mess with the science sticks for a while before she gave them to us.” Darcy says, hesitant. Morris stares her down in silence, and she shifts in her seat a few times before she can stop herself. Don’t give in too easy, she tells herself. Morris abruptly pushes back from the table. He’s around to her side in seconds, raising his arm to slam his fist into her face. She’s flung out of the chair and onto the floor, her head cracking against the tile without her hands to stop her fall. Tears spring to her eyes and she gags, the pain in her face is so strong she almost blacks out. Her left eye and cheekbone pulse in time to her heartbeat, pain making her thoughts foggy. She gasps, choking down sobs, and Morris isn’t moving, she has to tilt her head to see him because her eye is swollen shut and every instinct she has is screaming in fear. He stares down at her, impassive, and she’s so angry she’s shaking. God is she afraid, more so than she’s even been, but the idea that this piece of shit gets to make her powerless, that he gets to hurt her and control her and she can’t do a damn thing about it makes her want to scream worse than the pain does. She turns her face away before her expression gives her away and awkwardly tries to stand. It takes a while, Morris never moving, but she totters to her feet and stares at the floor. She can see specs of blood on the floor, and Darcy clenches her jaw, more tears spilling down her face. Morris snorts, and it takes everything she has not to scream and throw herself at him, little good it would do.

The Natasha voice points out that men take tears as a sign of surrender and Darcy feels better about her hiccupping sobs. Morris grabs her arm and she flinches. He doesn’t say a word as he drags her out of the room and into the hallway. Darcy lets herself be manhandled, eyes on the floor, as her crying gets worse, equal parts pain, humiliation, exhaustion, and the ever present fear. I’m not weak, crying isn’t weakness, this is not surrender, Darcy tells herself. Morris drags her back through the hallway, and she zones out for most of it, her thoughts muffled with shock, until they reach her broom cupboard/cell. Once the door is open, cool air rolling out of the room like a miasma, Morris grabs her chin with bruising strength. He forces her head upright, making her look at him. She doesn’t have to keep her expression blank.

“I’m going to give you a chance to think, and you’d better have more information for us later.” He says, squeezing cruelly when she doesn’t answer.

“Yes.” She whispers. He holds his grip, sending sharp pain through her cheekbone and eye, before releasing her face and shoving her into the room. She falls to the floor, again, and the tears on her face are the warmest thing in the room. She doesn’t know how long she lays there, collapsed and so tried each breath feels like a marathon. Distantly, she knows that’s the point. Keep her off balance, incite a fear response, give no food or water, and her body will run itself ragged without so much as a lifted finger on the part of AIM. No one told Morris that, she thinks angrily. And that’s good, anger is good, she can hold on to it and it doesn’t fatigue her like fear and pain do. She eases herself into a sitting position, props herself against the wall, and tries to catch her breath. It wasn’t all that bad of a start. Bruises heal, Morris knows she knows more about the fancy science sticks. She takes deep breaths, her body still shaking with cold and adrenaline. It takes long, agonizing minutes for her thoughts to clear, and even when they do it’s a constant fight to keep them that way. They’ll be doing lots of these drive by interrogations, getting her too afraid and too wrung out to shield her thoughts. So don’t fight all of it, the Natasha voice says, they’ll wear you down and you aren’t trained to withstand it. Just direct the flow, make being in the lab your secret, give them everything but that, and since you held it back they’ll think it’s worth more than just calling Tony Stark an idiot over the phone. Darcy knows sleep deprivation is on the menu, so she huddles in the corner and tries to force her thoughts back down.

 

###

 

This time there’s no warning when Morris opens the door. One moment Dacy’s in a fitful doze, the next she’s being hauled upright by the hair. She screams, twisting and fighting against the hands on her, fear overtaking her common sense. She opens her eyes, still feebly trying to get away, and Morris disgusted expression is illuminated by the hall lights for all of two seconds before he slams her back against the wall. Her vision goes fuzzy around the edges, and fuck- she wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire. She goes limp, mostly because her body’s reeling from the blow. It feels like it couldn’t have been than an hour since she was thrown back into her cell, and as Morris drags her through the halls, she tries to muster the energy for more questions. She still has some, barely, but her thoughts and body feel weak, like the signals are coming from miles away. She’s so tired that each new input, each new emotion is almost enough to bring her to tears. She makes a note to be horrified at how easily they’ve worn her down, later. She doesn’t realize they’re at the interrogation room until he’s shoving her back into the chair. Morris doesn’t waste time before settling in across from her. She blinks in confusion, only half faked.

“Tell me about the gravitational anomalies.” He says, picking up as if they’re in the middle of the interrogation as opposed to re-starting it.

“Selvig made the science sticks to detect the anomalies, to detect when the world were lining up. He used formulas too.” She says, her voice hoarse.

“And?” Morris prompts.

“And Jane recalibrated them to distort and- manipulate the fields. She had us place them on both sides of the ship, er- the anomaly and she used a little handheld thing to control them?” Darcy says, her voice raised as if in the question. Is that good enough? Are you going to hit me again?

“Ms. Lewis we know that already.” He says, voice low. She swallows, nods jerkily.

“I mean, they weren’t just a set thing. She could control them enough to mess with people who were running at us.” Darcy offers, unsure if that’s something he wants. She not sure if she still wants to be unhelpful, if she still wants to hold out. She feels like one strong word, one strong wind, could topple her. Morris leans forward, interest on his face, and she almost cries with relief.

“She could control the anomalies beyond a set field?” Morris asks, smoothing the curiosity off his face.

“Yea- yeah. She could do it with just one, like she didn’t have to wait for all of them to be planted.” She says, slurring. Morris shoves back from the table abruptly and Darcy’s up and backed herself into the corner before her mind catches up. She stares, heart beating loud in her ears, and really hopes he doesn’t hit her again. He doesn’t move for long seconds, and she goes still, as if somehow he’ll forget about her if she doesn’t move. Finally he crosses the room, grabs her shoulder, and manhandles her back into the hall. No routine, keeping her off balance, it’s all according to plan Darcy tells herself.

 

###

 

It goes like that for what feels like days. They must be monitoring her cell, because she’s never allowed to complete a REM cycle. She doesn’t know what’s worse, the sick, heavy feeling of waking up during the deepest part of her sleep, or when they bust inside only minutes after she’s dropped off into an exhausted doze. They don’t feed her, and calling up thoughts feels like pulling water from a fathomlessly deep well. It’s an advantage maybe, that she doesn’t remember her plan to withhold her involvement in the labs, because she doesn’t remember much at all.

“Tell me about New Mexico.”

“Tell me about Thor.”

“Tell me about London.”

“Tell me about Selvig.”

“Tell me-“ Morris remains unmoved by her slurring words and shaking body, his questions are a constant barrage in between the cold moments of her cell. This time on the return trip, the fourth time (the fifth time?) she stumbles in the hall, legs shaking too much to hold her weight. She falls to her knees with a bone deep thud. Morris shoves his boot into her side, forcing her over into her stomach and grabs her still-handcuffed wrists, wrenching her arms up painfully. She cries out, tears springing to her eyes, and she starts to struggle weakly, but he ignores her and starts walking down the hall again, dragging her by the wrists. The metal bites into her skin, her arms burn with pain, and it takes all her strength to hold her head up off the floor. She hadn’t considered that humiliation could hurt like pain and fatigue, but there you have it. She concentrates on tying to take deep breaths, a mostly useless errand, but it’s better than drowning in pain and fear. She barely notices when he throws her back into the cell.

 

###

 

When the door opens, Darcy twitches. The sound is different from the other times, slow, almost hesitant. It could easily be another fun game from Morris, so she just yawns and sinks further down the wall. Light enters the room, centimeter by careful centimeter of illumination creeping across the floor. Darcy rolls her head to the side, peering at the slow influx of light with a crankiness that she takes the time to treasure. She realizes that it feels like much longer has passed between interrogations, and something bright like hope blooms in her chest. It lasts until Dr. Lilly Carmichael kneels beside her with a gasp of ladylike shock. Lilly’s dressed in a different outfit than before, her eyes are wide with horror, and one slim hand is held up in front of her mouth. Darcy would glare if she didn’t feel like death warmed over in a microwave, because seriously, hasn’t the good doctor seen a captive before? It seems unlikely in the evil scientist line of business. Darcy blinks at her, thoughts startled into a reboot.

“Hi.” Darcy whispers, for lack of anything better to say. Please let it be good cop time, Darcy can handle good cop time. Lilly reaches out to touch her face, and Darcy flinches away. Lilly withdraws her hand as if stung, tears appearing the corner of her pretty eyes. Darcy’s whole face feels like one big bruise, she’s literally cried herself sick more times than she can count, and Lilly’s crying over the sight of her.

“Look what they’ve done to you!” Lilly whispers, with unexpected vehemence. Darcy struggles into an upright position, blinking owlishly at the other woman. Now that the imminent threat of Morris and interrogation have been pushed back by whatever this is, she has the breathing room to analyze the situation. Lilly’s face is twisted with anger, her delicate hands now clasped tight in her lap. Huh, maybe she hadn’t realized the nature of her associates? But the look on Lilly’s face isn’t just anger, it a mulish indignation, and it’s not directed at Darcy. More like Carmichael’s pissed she didn’t get her way, whatever it was. Darcy sighs, closing her eyes. She hears Lilly shuffle around, before gentle hands ease around Darcy’s shoulder. Darcy flinches, the pain from her bruises and strained shoulders flaring up like banked embers.

“Shhh, it’s okay. We’re going to go somewhere else, it’s okay.” Lilly says, tugging on Darcy. She lets herself be pulled to her feet, sways vindictively into Lilly, and wonders how much worse this is going to make it. But it’s not much of a choice, really, not when Lilly leads her out of cold storage and down an unfamiliar hallway, not when each step feels like a weight off her shoulders. She needs a respite, something to help re-charge and prepare her for more of Morris’ increasingly aggressive questions. The relief of being out of the cell, maybe out of Morris’ tender mercies even temporarily is enough to make her almost giddy, and damn Lilly is good. The doctor eventually leads Darcy back to her rooms, settling Darcy back on that same couch before bustling off to another room. Darcy stares down at the floor, trying to prepare herself for Lilly’s interrogation, whatever form it ends up taking. The warm air of the suite is such a contrast to her cold skin that it leaves behind painful pinpricks, like her whole body is waking up from sleep. When Lilly walks back into the room, Darcy’s head pops up to track her moment across the room. She comes to a stop in front of Darcy, settling opposite her on the coffee table. She flashes a distract smile, pulling a bobby pin out of her hair. Darcy blinks, confused. Surely this idiot is not going to-

“Here, turn around, we’ll get you out of those handcuffs.” Lilly says, with a conspiratorial grin. It is not that she doesn’t want to be free of the damn things, but she also doesn’t want to be backhanded into the wall again because Lilly’s playing a dangerous game of keep-away with Morris. Darcy opens her mouth, hesitates, but Lilly must take her silence as confusion because she reaches out to pat Darcy’s knee with a smile.

“Don’t worry, Morris is away on other business. It’s just us for now.” Lilly says sweetly, but Darcy hears the for now loud and clear. With maybe the weakest grin of her career, Darcy turns and presents her back to the other woman. Yeah, it’s definitely good cop time. She feels Lilly reach out to grab the cuffs, hears the jingle of metal. Okay, she needs to hint about the lab, give Lilly an incentive to protect Darcy/keep up the good cop act for when Morris gets back. She tries not to think about what’s going to happen when Morris comes back to find her missing again. Maybe she’ll get to eat something before then, that would be spectacular. Darcy would punch a child for a burger right about now. Her shoulders burn like they’re the site of the worst influx of lactic acid ever known to man. Lilly works surprisingly fast, and within a few minutes Darcy hears the beautiful click of the cuffs releasing. As soon as she feels the metal slide off her skin Darcy brings them out in front of her, flexes her fingers. There are deep nasty bruises around her wrists, splotches of dark purple/black and sickly yellow, a little blood too. Her arms are shaking so bad she has to settle them in her lap. She curls in over herself and takes deep breaths. Lilly moves off into another room, and Darcy can hear the faint sounds of her moving around. But she ignores it, choosing to press back into the corner of the couch, draw her knees to her chest and wrap her arms around her legs. It’s defensive and a dead giveaway, but she wouldn’t fool anyone anyway, so she buries her head against her knees and pretends she’s shaking because she angry. She hears Lilly walk back into the room but doesn’t look up, letting the other woman start the first round.

“Would you like to take a bath while I make dinner?” Lilly says, her voice soft. Darcy clenches her hands into fists, her whole body tensing. She raises her head, looks at Lilly’s smiling face. She doesn’t know how long Morris is going to be gone, and the idea of being ripped from the shower naked and ever more vulnerable than before makes her sick.

“I- I’d rather not be put back in my- in that room naked and wet, you know?” Darcy says, her words slow and deliberate. Lilly cocks her head, frowns.

“He won’t be back for several hours, I promise. If it makes you feel better my bathroom locks from the inside, and I’ll give you clothes to take in with you.” Lilly offers, smiling. Darcy hesitates, flexes her fingers. But the idea of hot water, of even a few minutes to herself is such a beautiful temptation that she finds herself nodding, slow.

“Wonderful. Here, the bathroom is just down the hall to the left-“ Lilly point, helpfully “-and I’ll grab some clothes for you.” She finishes, standing up. Darcy waits until she’s out of the room before unwinding from her perch and walking down the hall. This is good, whatever’s going on. Even a few hours not locked up and awaiting interrogation will help charge her batteries, prepare her for whatever’s to come. Darcy walks quickly down the hall, stopping at each proceeding door to peer inside. The layout of Lilly’s apartment is probably useless information, but it’s enough to give her some semblance of control. The bathroom itself is small, the countertop cluttered with the essential hair and makeup products required to make a baseline “effort.” It’s a surprise actually, Darcy figured this would be the guest bathroom, empty of any and all things Darcy could use or take with her. She sees a pile of bobby pins on the counter and her heart speeds in excitement. Darcy may never have picked a lock before, but she’s picked up enough from Natasha that she thinks she can do it, given this entire situation is a fantastic motivator. She steps back and tries to memorize the layout of the counter, and thankfully, Lilly seems more organized than Jane so there’s a system to it that Darcy can keep in mind if she moves anything. She hears Lilly’s footsteps from the hall and turns to face the door, dredging up the energy to plaster a hesitant, hopeful, smile on her face.

“Here you go, I had to dig around and find you some warmer clothing, that room is freezing!” Lilly says cheerfully, smiling in greeting. She’s carrying a towel on top of a small pile of clothing, the whole picture so normal and innocuous as to be surreal. Darcy smiles again, shuffles her feet. Lilly sets her burdens on the counter before stepping back out of the room.

“I’ll just be in the kitchen, it’s on the other side of the living room. When you’re done go ahead and come there, and I’ll have something for you to eat.” Lilly says, every inch the well-bred host. At the mention of food, Darcy’s stomach lets out a rumble loud enough to rival Steve’s alien noises. Lilly laughs, and there’s that edge of condescension, like it’s funny that after being kidnapped, starved and interrogated for days that Darcy is hungry. It’s enough to snap her out of the lull of the last few minutes, remind her that Lilly is not a host and Darcy is nowhere near a guest. Darcy smiles, strained, and says nothing as Lilly closes the door behind her. Once the door is closed she lunges across the room to scrabble at the lock, her breath coming fast. The lock clicking home is enough to bring tears to her eyes, and Darcy chokes down a sob, her fingers still clenched on the knob. Even this illusion of safety is enough to set her shaking, but she doesn’t let herself sit still. She has no idea how long Morris is going to be gone and this bathroom is a whole plethora of potentially useful things. She strips off her clothes and kicks them into the corner. She doesn’t look at herself in the mirror, doesn’t want to see the bruises and stress on written on her body. She reaches out and separates the clothes from the towel, laying out a thick blue sweater and black yoga pants on the counter, in case she has to get dressed in a hurry.

That done she turns on the shower, as hot as it goes, and pulls the curtain across the tub. On the counter, she can’t see much beside the bobby pins that she might be able to take back with her. Carefully, she eases the drawers open, searching for anything else that might be of use. She considers a prescription bottle of pain medicine, but passes on it, as the idea of being a captive and having even less control of her thoughts makes her want to scream. Plus, Lilly would definitely notice. So she  opens the ibuprofen bottle instead, and takes four of them with a handful of water from the sink. Hopefully that will help some of the pain in her face and shoulders, let her think more clearly. Unfortunately, there’s neither a tazer or a sharp knife, and she is not the Black Widow to be able to take out armed guards with a hair tie and nail clippers. She closes the drawers and grabs a few of the bobby-pins. She rolls up the bottom edge of the yoga pants to access the protruding inseam, before sliding the bobby pins horizontal along the seam. Rolling the pants back down, she checks to see that they aren’t visible through the cloth and hopes they don’t do a thorough check later on. It’s all she can do for now, so she grabs a hair-tie off the counter and slips it onto her wrist before stepping into the shower. Hissing as the hot water hits her skin, she pulls her hair into a ponytail to keep it from getting wet. Her hair is greasy and smells, but if she’s put back into cold storage before her hair dries she could get sick, at best. Lilly’s body wash is, of course, something pink that smells strongly of artificial flowers, but she pours out a huge handful anyway. Tears pool at the corners of her eyes and the furiously scrubs at her skin, as if she can wash away the bruises and fear of the last few days. Holding her breath to make her heartbeat even out, she runs gentle hands over the marks on her torso. They’re the newest set, courtesy of Morris after she’d hesitated too long on an answer. She doesn’t think they’re cracked, but it’s not like she has a lot of experience with this sort of shit anyway. She wants to linger in the temporary calm of the hot water and steam, but just the idea of being naked in front of Morris is enough to see her scrubbing as fast as possible. She pools a little water in her hand, runs it over her hair to give the illusion of being washed, because the less Lilly see’s her thinking and planning the better. She’s only in the water for a few minutes, each second making her jumpier, before she steps out and grabs the towel. She dries herself off with jerky, clumsy movements, making sure to get as much water off her as possible before stuffing herself into the borrowed clothes.

     Checking that the bobby-pins are securely in place she makes herself unlock the door and step back into the hall. As much as she would like to linger behind this illusion of control and privacy, she needs to let her involvement in the SHIELD labs slip before Morris gets back. Once inside the hall, she can smell something cooking, and it’s enough to get her moving. She doesn’t lift her nose the follow the scent like a dog by clinging to the last shreds of her pride, but it’s a close thing. Darcy takes slow steps into the living room, her eyes checking the door and the room at large as if Morris is going to jump out from behind the couch. She tells herself that’s it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay if she walks across the room like the floor is lava, it has been a fucking awful few days. When neither he nor an armed guard appear out of thin air she continues on her way to the kitchen. She find Lilly poking what appears to be grilled cheese with a disgusted expression on her face, as if she hasn’t made anything other than cereal for years. Darcy snorts before she stop herself and Lilly looks up with an instant smile.

     “Fell better?” Lilly asks, flipping the grilled cheese. A grilled cheese never smelled so good and she can’t tear her eyes off it. Lilly laughs, still a little mocking, and grabs a plate off the counter. Darcy shrugs, embarrassed. Rule 36, she thinks, as Lilly places the sandwich on the plate and hands it to her with a smirk. Rule 36: Don’t be afraid to let us fight your battles or help you take revenge. We take care of our own, and that includes making sure no one fucks with you. She accepts the plate with as grateful a smile as she can manage, making a note to tell Natasha about the mind games and how Lilly put Darcy’s life at risk to set herself up as a friend. Lilly walks past her to the living room and Darcy follows, not wasting time before picking up the sandwich and taking a bite. It’s kind of terrible, not even up to college student standards, but God it’s the first thing she’s had in days and half of its gone even before they’ve reached the couch. Lilly settles herself on the coffee table again, her smile still not quite nice. Darcy chews sullenly, glad that her mouth is otherwise occupied or else she’d point out that that Lilly is not as good an actress as she likes to think. To be fair, someone who didn’t grow up with three sisters might not catch the undertones in Lilly’s behavior, but Darcy is nowhere near being fair right now. Darcy finishes the sandwich with a few more bites, and her stomach points out that it is not full, but she’d rather get punched in the face again then ask for more.

     “Thank you.” Darcy says, setting the now empty plate on the table.

     “It’s not a big deal, I’m just sorry I didn’t get to you sooner.” Lilly says, sounding sincere. Darcy figures the scientist probably is sorry, although more out of wanting to get one over on Morris than out of concern for her well being.

     “Well I appreciate it.” Darcy says, smiling. Lilly reaches out as if to brush her fingers over the bruise on Darcy’s face. She jerks back, her heart pounding hard in her ears. She can mostly see out of her left eye now, not that she doesn’t have lots of other fun bruises, but no way does she want this woman touching her. Lilly withdraws her hand, her eyes calculating. Darcy clenches her hands in her lap and her shoulder hunch.

     “I’m sorry, I just wanted to see how that was healing.” Lilly says with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Darcy wonders if she’s doing it on purpose, showing that she’s only willing to play nice to a point. Maybe Darcy’s wrong to think that Lilly’s a bad actress. She figures it’s probably that, and for some reason it makes her almost like the woman. If she had played the friend ting to the fullest Darcy would have been straight Hulk-pissed, but she appreciates the relative lack of bullshit. Well, relative for being kidnapped and being the bargaining chip between two assholes in the heart of an evil compound. 

     “Ah, I feel like I would heal alright if Morris stopped adding to the overall bruise collection.” Darcy says, giving Lilly a ‘friend’ starting point.

     “That man is a bully and an idiot.” Lilly says, sneering.

     “I mean, I’m not going to argue.” Darcy says with a shrug.

     “He barely passed high school physical science, he has absolutely no understanding of the project or the materials at all.” Lilly says, sounding like it’s a rant she’s given off and on for probably years.

     “Ah- well-“ Darcy starts.

     “He’s an armed monkey, stomping around like he’s king of the hill and-“

     “I really do appreciate this-“ Darcy interrupts, trying to get this back on track before they run out of time. Lilly glares for half a second, before smiling self-consciously.

     “He’s caused problems for you too, huh?” Darcy says, already losing patience, because Jesus does she have to do this all by herself?

     “He’s been getting in the way of my research for years.” Lilly says, sounding strained.

     “It seemed like he knew what he wanted but like, no idea how to get there.” Darcy offers. Lilly nods, smiling.

     “He has done absolutely nothing to further the project!” Lilly says through gritted teeth. Darcy tenses, her hands clenching in her lap. Shit, okay, lets get this back on track.

     “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help.” Darcy whispers, starting down at her lap. Lilly goes still, head cocked.

     “It’s alright, I know you’ve been trying your best.” She says, reaching out to pat Darcy’s knee in an empty gesture of comfort. Darcy nods, tears stinging her eyes. She wants this all to stop, she wants Morris to get hit by a truck, she wants to be safe and unafraid again. In a deep childish way, she wants to give them what they want so they’ll set her free. As if they’d set her free. She wants to believe in happy endings and Rule 31.

     “I really don’t know about Jane’s research. I was a lab jockey and I made sure she was fed and watered, okay, I’m not a scientist.” Darcy says, her voice wavering. She’s so tried. Countless hours of pain and fear and being captive makes her feel like each heartbeat is running on borrowed energy.

     “Don’t be so hard on yourself, this is all very complicated technology.” Lilly says, her voice soft. Darcy sniffles, brushes tears from her eyes, and tries to plan her next move. Lilly is giving no quarter on Jane’s tech, still acting as if the secrets to portals between worlds are buried in Darcy’s brain. As if all they have to do is dig deep enough to find them. 

     “I barely spent time in the lab with Jane. I mostly did homework and checked on her every few hours.” Darcy says, trying to lead the conversation to a useable point. She sees Lilly grimace, her fingers tapping impatiently on her leg. Almost, Darcy thinks, almost.

     “You’re a bright girl, I’m sure you’ve picked up more than you think. The portals are endlessly complex, and any details you remember could be useful.” Lilly says, leading.

     “I don’t know, I mean, I’m not a scientist or an artist or anything. The portals were just Tony being stupid and weird animals to me.” Darcy looks up, shrugs. She hopes that wasn’t too blatant, and keeps her expression hopeful. Lilly frowns in confusion.

     “Why would you need to be an artist?” Lilly asks, her eyes narrowed in thought.

     “Ah- the circles? I had a picture of the map too but it was some lab tech who noticed it first.” Darcy nods, sounding bitter. Lilly’s eyes go wide, her fingers halting their tapping rhythm. Gotcha, Darcy thinks.

     “What do circles have to do with the portals?” Lilly asks, her voice suitably confused.

     “Well- they opened in rings, in concentric circles, right? I mean I didn’t see the pattern until that tech pointed it out.” Darcy says, her voice soft, hesitant. She hunches her shoulders for good measure, presenting a desperately hopeful face for Lilly. Please let this work, she thinks, letting it show on her face. It might be too much, but Lilly is already leaning forward with interest. 

     “How do you know about the patterns? That wasn’t released in the news.” Lilly asks, not skipping straight to the punch line yet. What’s that saying about enough rope to hang with?

     “I was in the SHIELD lab when the protectorate people opened all the portals. I was talking to Jane when the alarm sounded, and then it was too late to move me somewhere else, so I just sort of sat in the corner.” Darcy says, wringing her hands together. The Natasha voices whispers to tone it down, so she let her hands relax and offer a tentative smile. Lilly’s eyes are bright with interest and it’s all she can do not to smile in victory.

     “You were in the SHIELD lab during the portal openings? The entire time?” Lilly asks, careful.

     “Yes? Is that- is that important?” Darcy asks, hunching further down, letting some of the ever-present uncertainty shine through her expression. Lilly reaches out to absently pat her hand, her eyes a million miles away.

     “Tell me about what you saw in the lab.” Lilly says, forgetting her “friend” manners for a moment. She softens the order, belatedly, with a smile. Darcy swallows, nods.

     “Um, SHIELD had no idea what the animals were or where they were from. Like, people were flipping out.” Darcy says, stretching the truth a bit. They had no idea at the very end, but as a political science major, she knows a thing or two about telling people what they want to hear. Lilly smiles, a real one, and leans forward again. When Darcy just stares at her with big confused eyes, Lilly motions for her to go on.

     “And Jane kept getting these really weird readings from the portals, but none of the agents could get close enough to the origin point to get very good readings.” Darcy says, trying to ease some humor into her tone. Nothing about this situation is funny, but she wants Lilly thinking as little of her character as possible. Lilly snorts in amusement, because SHIELD failing to close life-threatening portals to other universes is apparently funny.

     “So they had the portal origin point narrowed down, but they couldn’t get very close?” Lilly asks, her fingers starting up their agitated drumming once more.

     “Yeah, Jane said she had it narrowed down to a 25 block radius.” Darcy says, nodding earnestly. She adds five blocks to the area, because why tell the bad guys the truth?

     “A 25 block radius? Really? That’s not very specific.” Lilly says with a smirk. Darcy bites through a nasty remark and takes a deep breath.

     “I know, right?” Darcy says, shrugging.

     “But they shut the portals down eventually.” Lilly says, almost to herself.

     “Uh yeah, Fury was so pissed.” Darcy says, smiling almost for real this time. Lilly looks at her askance, one eyebrow raised in question.

     “Why would Director Fury be angry that the portals were closed?” Lilly asks, her tone conspiratorial, as if they’re sharing gossip around a water cooler.

     “Oh well, Tony went off on his own and disobeyed orders.” Darcy says, keeping her answer short. She needs Lilly to feel like the one in control, like the one leading the conversation. Better to keep her answers short and let Lilly ask the questions, as opposed to Darcy giving up the information she thinks they want.

     “So it was Stark who closed the portals?” Lilly asks, crossing one leg over the other, casual and relaxed.  

     “Yeah, he said he couldn’t get close enough to the portals to get better readings, so he hacked some website or something? He kept freaking out about how Dr. Masons couldn’t engineer himself out of a wet paper bag, so he went looking for the cause of the portals on his own.” Darcy says, trying to simultaneously edit the information she gives Lilly and keep track of all the little half-truths and misdirections she uses. Lilly gins again, seeming very pleased. Darcy’s heart pounds with anxiety, with relief, that maybe something will go her way.

     “I was always knew keeping Dr. Masons around was a good idea, the man’s reputation is almost as well known as Starks.” Lilly boasts with a smile, smug all over. Scientist egos, ever dependable, Darcy thinks.

     “Yeah, Tony was seriously pissed.” Darcy offers, unsure where Lilly’s going to take the conversation next. Lilly snorts, bobbing her foot as in time to silent music.

     “Stark was probably just upset to be dragged away from some cocktail hour.” Lilly says, scornful. To keep herself from responding, Darcy bites the inside of her cheek almost hard enough to bleed. This piece of shit evil scientist doesn’t get to look down on Tony. Tony is worth a thousand of her, and Lilly’s due for a punch in face courtesy of Darcy when this thing is over.  

     “I don’t know, I mean, he said he’d stopped drinking.” Darcy offers, forcing her voice light, not invested at all. Tony had told her he made the choice to stop drinking before it killed him instead of a supervillain. He’d been bloody, bruised and hollow-eyed in the aftermath of a particularly horrible solo-mission, in the dark hours of the night while Pepper slept floors above. Darcy had made him hot chocolate and sat with him until the sun rose, not saying a word. Lilly snorts, rolling her eyes.

     “That man says all sorts of things.” She says, waving a lazy hand in Darcy’s direction. Darcy shrugs, not saying anything. A chime comes from Lilly’s direction, like a text alert. Lilly jolts upright, digging in her jeans pocket for her cell phone. She unlocks it and stares down at the screen with a vicious frown, clenching her jaw. Uh huh, hours before Morris comes back my great ass, Darcy thinks. Lilly types out a quick reply before stuffing the phone back in her pocket. She stands up, offering Darcy her hand. Darcy takes it, her body already ramping up in fear.

     “Well Morris is back a little sooner than I thought, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of him.” Lilly says, smug. Darcy can’t make herself smile, but she nods. She wraps her arms around herself and takes deep breaths. Lilly, noticing her anxiety, reaches out to pat Darcy’s cheek.

     “Why don’t you use the bathroom? The next few hours should be pretty busy so who knows when the next break will be. I’ll talk to Morris.” Lilly says, already walking to the door. She leans by the door with a nasty sort of grin, obviously waiting for Morris to barge in. Darcy doesn’t argue, and turns to walk down the hall. When she gets to the bathroom she all but slams the door behind her, turning the lock in an empty, but comforting gesture. She takes Lilly’s advice and does her business, as she has no desire to pee with an armed guard only inches away again. After she’s washed her hands she closes the toilet lid and sits down on it, covering her face with her hands. Please let this work, please let her friends be coming soon. She doesn’t know how much longer she has, how much longer they’re going to give her before she’s deemed useless. She doesn’t know how much she can hold on without falling apart. She hears the door slam open in the other room, and the sound of Morris shouting at the top of his lungs. She gasps, tears falling in steady streams. She starts shaking, her breath coming fast and panicked. She doesn’t hear footsteps, but the fear is coming back strong and thick enough to choke on. Abruptly, the shouting cuts off, and Darcy freezes, her hands falling to her laps. She sits still, staring straight ahead at the wall, her heart pounding hart enough to hurt. You can do it Lewis, she tells herself, you can absolutely do this. It’s hollow, but she takes comfort in the fact she still has enough energy to lie to herself with. She strains her ears, but all she can hear is silence from the other room. Not wanting to waste more time, she draws her foot up and to check the bobby pins in the seam. She runs her fingers obsessively over each one, checking that they’re as secure as they can be. The sound of soft footfalls in the hall sees her shooting to her feet, facing the door. Her heart pounds awful and heavy, but she keeps her head high and waits for the axe to drop. When the footsteps reach the door, the person on the other side says nothing for a long minute, and Darcy makes use of the time to hold her breath, release it, repeat until her heartbeat has slowed some. Finally there’s a soft knock on the door, and she absolutely does not jump in shock.  

     “Darcy? Would you please come out, we just want to talk.” Lilly says, and even muffled through the door she can hear the excitement in her voice. Uh huh, finally getting to show up Morris.

     “Um, okay?” Darcy says, hesitant. She reaches for the door knob, hesitates, flexes her fingers, and turns the lock. Before she can open the door herself though, Lilly all but throws it open. Her face is bright with excitement, and her grin is catching enough that Darcy almost mimics it without thinking. As is, her lips twitch and she raises her hand to wave awkwardly.

     “Did you need me?” Darcy asks, unnecessarily. Lilly’s apparently too excited about showing up Morris to be annoyed, because she just nods.

     “Yes! I just need you to tell him what you told me, okay?” Lilly says, smiling again.

     “If I- if I talk to them do I have to go back to that room with Morris? Can I just talk here?” Darcy asks, the dread in her voice not all faked. Lilly nods, sympathetic.

     “Of course, that’s what I told them. I knew you’d be more comfortable here.” Lilly says, all but bouncing on her toes.

     “O-okay then.” Darcy says, shuffling about. Lilly wastes no time in grabbing her arm, not rough, but not gentle on her bruises, and towing her back to the living room. Morris is  standing by the door with his arms crosses, a vicious scowl on his face. Darcy jumps at the sight of him, and it’s stupid, she knew he was going to be here, but she can’t take her eyes off him for fear of what he’ll do. She sees him grind his teeth at the sight of her, and fuck you too buddy, the feeling is very much mutual. She tries to keep the sentiment off her face. Lilly steers her to the couch, but when she pushes on Darcy’s shoulder she doesn’t sit. Darcy takes a step back, keeping the couch between her and Morris, and it’s a pointless acts of defiance, but she’ll take what she can get. Lilly seems unperturbed, and stands by Darcy’s side, smirking at Morris.

     “Can you tell him what you told me?” Lilly asks, rubbing her hand up and down Darcy’s arm in a move that’s probably meant to be comforting. Darcy swallows, looks over at Lilly, stares at the ground.

     “Ah- I was in a SHIELD lab when the protectorate people opened all those portals.” Darcy says, staring at the carpet between her bare feet. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep her lying face on in front of Morris, what with her body associating him with fear. She hears him snort.

     “Bullshit.” He says, the sneer evident in his voice. Lilly, still petting her arm, makes a smug little ‘hmmf’ noise.

     “Tell him about the circles.” Lilly says, the smirk loud and clear in her tone.

     “The portals opened in concentric circles. Each set of portals opened on the same circle, and each circle from a different universe.” Darcy says, her voice small. She tells herself that if they already knew about the circles then giving them this won’t cause a lot of harm. She hears Morris shift around and her head snaps up to watch his movements. His face is red with suppressed anger, a tick starting up in his jaw as he grinds his teeth even harder. Neither Lilly nor Morris spare a look at Darcy, engaging in a staring contest, a battle of wills and silent conversation. Finally Morris nods jerkily, his arms flexing in anger.

     “Go on.” He bites out. Darcy lets out a shuddery breath.

     “It was Stark who closed the portals, not SHIELD.” Lilly cuts in before Darcy can continue, not that she’s complaining. Morris shoots a glare at Lilly, the expression on his face making it evident that he wouldn’t toss her a lifejacket in a rapid, even if he had an extra. It’s a sentiment Darcy shares about the both of them. Lilly smiles, sharp, her hands continuing their almost possessive path along Darcy’s arm. The repetitive motion is starting to sting the skin under the sweater, but she knows better than to say anything.

     “He- he was the one who said it couldn’t just be Dr. Masons. That there had to be someone else involved. And he like, hacked something? To find that other doctor, the one whose apartment the machine or whatever was at.” Darcy offers, voice quiet. She needs to be useful, but she’s nowhere near stupid enough to tell them she’s had regular access to SHIELD files for months.

     “They only had the origin point narrowed down to a 25 block radius.” Lilly says, raising her chin in challenge. Morris says nothing, the tick in his jaw jumping visibly. Darcy feels another surge of fear go through her at the sight of it, because shit, this could go really bad for her, really fast. 

     “Jane said no one was giving her any usable readings.” Darcy says, stretching the truth again. No one had any readings they could use, not that the data itself was useless. The more these guys underestimate SHIELD, the better off everyone she cares about will be.

     “Their sensors weren’t working?” Lilly says, finally stilling her hand on Darcy’s arm. She’s obviously excited, all but vibrating with energy. Morris snorts, his eyes narrowed on Darcy.

     “You expect me to believe that SHIELD’s equipment was so bad they couldn’t get any useable readings?” He says, disbelief heavy in his voice. Darcy lets her eyes go wide.

     “No? They got lots of readings, but Jane said they were wrong, like the equipment wasn’t calibrated correctly.” Darcy says, shifting in place. Morris makes an impatient ‘go on’ gesture with his hands.

     “So she threw a pen at Director Fury when he came to check on her progress, because he hadn’t let her calibrate whatever equipment they were using.” Darcy says, letting some fondness slip into her voice. Morris snorts again, but he seems appeased. Apparently even AIM knows of Jane Foster’s lack of self-preservation. 

     “But they needed Stark to shut down the machine?” Morris asks, his expression thoughtful, as if comparing her story to his. She hopes she hasn’t stretched the truth too much. She has no idea what they know, or if they have someone inside SHIELD. She fucking hopes not.

     “Yeah, he told them about the other Dr.-“ Darcy starts.

     “Dr. Ginsburg?” Lilly interjects.

     “Yeah, him. Tony was the one who told them about Ginsburg, but he didn’t wait for SHIELD to take the guy out, he just flew over himself.” Darcy says, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice.

     “Was he responsible for those portals blowing up?” Morris asks.

     “Uh, yeah. Apparently it took him a few tries to get it right.” Darcy says, silently apologizing to Tony. Morris says nothing for long moments, eyes boring into hers. She drops her eyes to the floor again, not wanting him to see her thinking face. She hears his footsteps, then the sound of the door opening. He doesn’t close it, and Darcy looks up to see him lead two guards into the room. She takes a step back before she can help herself, her hands clenching into fists. Lilly steps forward, a snarl on her lips.

     “We had a deal!” Lilly snaps, one arm flung out in front of Darcy. Morris rolls his eyes.

     “And I’m upholding my end. When she’s questioned, she’ll be questioned here, with you. But she’s going back to her cell for now. I have other projects to attend to than your portals, more important projects.” Morris says, sneering. Darcy has to hand it to him, the man knows how to play the power game. The Natasha voices says nothing is better than strife within the enemy, it’s almost like Christmas. As the two guards approach, Darcy holds still, keeping her head high and staring at the wall. They aren’t anyone she recognizes, different than the two that usually accompany Morris. They approach her slowly, half their attention on the now loud argument between Lilly and Morris, half on her. Seeing an opportunity, Darcy holds her hands out in front of her, holding them helpfully still. Morris shouts something intelligible at Lilly, who responds in kind. The closest guard flinches, his eyes on his boss as he draws handcuffs out of his pocket. She smiles at him, tentative, and he smiles back, his eyes wide. Quickly, he snaps the cuffs on her offered wrists and she gives herself five points for quick thinking. Natasha could probably pick cuffs with her hands behind her back while fighting in high heels, but Darcy could definitely use the advantage of having her hands cuffed in front. The guards take their places on either side of her and lead her to the door, Lilly’s high angry screams ushering them out of the room. On the way back to her cell, Darcy has to fight back a smile and keep her face blank. These are small victories in the grand scheme of things, but it’s better than nothing. And her friends must know where she is by now. If Tony hadn’t been able to track the helicopter out of the city, then it still wouldn’t take him long to pinpoint the base. She tells herself they’ve just been biding their time, planning, and she almost believes it. 

Chapter Text

When they reach the cell, the jumpy guard starts the security check. He fumbles, swiping the card incorrectly, typing in the wrong code. He nervously glances back at them, his face pinched. He tries again, and the pin pad flashes yellow with a cranky beep. The second guard mutters under his breath, stepping past her to shoulder the first out of the way. The first guard stumbles, knocking into her before righting himself. She feels something thin slip between her fingertips, like a card, and her heartbeat goes crazy. She makes herself keep staring straight ahead, not reacting. The second guard finishes the security check and grabs her arm to sling her into the cell.

     Darcy stumbles into the wall, holding whatever it is tight. The door closes with a soft click, a thin sliver of light falling across the floor, as if not latched. Darcy grins, full and true for the first time since this whole thing started. She kneels, carefully pulls the card out from between her fingertips. She slides it across the floor, holding it under the thin slip of light. It takes her eyes a few minutes to adjust, but when she does, she see’s that it’s an ID card, like the guards carry. On the back is a thin piece of cellophane with a small dark circle in the middle. She’d bet a week without cursing that it’s some sort of contact lens. A rush of euphoria runs through her, and she starts to giggle. She has to close her eyes and take deep breaths before she can get herself under control. Already she feels the weight of her days here start to lift, feels brave and almost like herself again. She opens her eyes and carefully inspects the card. Under the cellophane she can see numbers written in sharpie, which is probably the pass code she’s supposed to use. On the other side there’s a terse ‘hurry’ written in sharpie as well. Scrambling to her feet, she reaches out for the doorknob. Turning it slowly, she pulls the door open an inch or so to peer out. She can’t see anyone in the hall, so she opens the door the rest of the way. Once the door is open she can see a bundle of clothes sitting off to the side of the door, with a glint of silver and a piece of paper on top.

     Reaching down she grabs the paper and piece of metal. Up close she can see that it’s a key, small and oddly shaped, like it could fit into handcuffs. The paper has a long string of words written on it, left, left, right, straight on, left, right- a path. Grinning, she reaches down to grab the clothes. She steps back into her cell, pulling the door almost closed. She drops the paper and cloth, holding her hands in the strip of light. She has to bend her wrist at a painful angle to hold the key in place, the metal scraping against her already raw skin. She doesn’t know what exercises she would have to do to strengthen her fingers, but she figures she needs them. It takes several tries for her to turn the lock, cursing and desperately aware of the passing seconds. But she finally opens the cuffs, tearing them off her wrists and throwing them to the floor. She doesn’t waste time in picking up the new clothes for inspection. Once unfolded she can see that it’s a lab coat, blouse, sports bra, and thin flats. If she pets the bra reverently, then no one has to know, because god her breasts and back miss the support. Hurry, she thinks, god hurry, don’t fuck up your own rescue. Stripping Lilly’s sweater off she kicks it and the cuffs into a corner before dressing in the new clothes. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to change her appearance further, she takes her hair out of ponytail, wincing at the greasy feel, and braids it into a long plait down her back. She’s tense with nerves now, but damn it’s better than fear. She keeps picturing Morris bursting into the room, shouting and furious. With hands that are steady by sheer force of will, she peels the cellophane off the card to reveal a blue contact, almost a perfect match for her. She transfers it to her finger and carefully slips it over her right eye.

      Placing the card in the coat pocket, she raises her head high and walks out of the cell. The hall is still empty, but her heart is beating a fast tempo as she closes the door behind her. She glances down at the paper clutched in her hand, memorizing the first few directions, left, left, right, before sliding it into her pocket. She uses the walk down the hall to settle her posture, dropping her shoulders and relaxing her back, hopefully making her look less like an escaping prisoner and more like a bored scientist. She calls up memories of walking with Jane and Tony and Bruce and plans an excuse and a destination if someone asks her. When she reaches the first checkpoint, there’s a moment when she freezes, her mind blank with panic. But she forces it back, pulling the card out of her pocket, surreptitiously checking the numbers written on it. When the red laser of the retina scan hits her face, she keeps her body relaxed, as if it’s just another in a long line of security checks. When the door clicks open, she makes a note to tell Natasha how much of an awesome super spy she is.

     “Fuck yes, suck it.” She mutters, shoving the card back into her pocket. The next hallway is empty, and she feels more tension fade from her posture with this first small victory. She drops her hands into her pockets and makes herself walk at a normal pace, no matter that the fear of capture still lies dark in the back of her mind. Her friends are here, she’s getting out, she controls her fear. The next two check points are much the same, empty hallways and flawless security checks.

     She’s pulling the paper out to memorize the next turns when she hears footsteps coming from her left. She turns her head, a bored expression on her face, to see an unfamiliar man in a lab-coat approaching from the adjoining hallway. He’s reading from a clipboard as he walks, not paying attention to his surroundings. It’s suddenly hard to breathe, but she makes herself keep walking, ignoring the man for now. He falls instep beside her, still engrossed in his clipboard. She bites the inside of her cheek to keep silent, running through her cover story, planning small, solidifying details. When he doesn’t split off at the next intersection, that feeling of fear (no no I can’t go back what if Morris-) gets louder. When they reach the next check point, the man’s head pops up and he blinks at her as if just now realizing she’s there. She smiles, not entirely faked, and that fear quiets, because scientists, she can handle scientists. He nods in return, absently running his card and typing in his pass-code. She lets him go through the door and close it, because even if Morris didn’t follow the rules, she knows each person should go through separately and far be it for her to draw attention to herself. And well, she hopes that the man will be gone by the time she’s through. But when she passes through to the other hallway, the man is waiting. She jumps at the sight of him, stupid stupid stupid, and he winces, looking abashed.

     “Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He says in a heavy Boston accent. She smiles back, already walking down the hall. He falls in step beside her, his expression earnest.

     “It’s okay, it’s just been a long few days.” She says, sounding tired even to her own ears. He snorts, nodding.

     “It looks like it. Did you get caught in the lab 4 explosion?” He asks, nodding at her face. Darcy freezes, smiles. She can see out of her left eye, so the swelling must have gone down, but her face is probably a sunset of damage.  

     “Yeah. I got thrown into a wall and Carmichael still yelled at me, as if it was my fault the experiment failed.” She says, derisive.

     “Tell me about it. That woman has never had a failure she didn’t blame on somebody else.” Lab-coat says, sneering.

“I feel like she mostly blames Morris.” Darcy says, casual.

“Oh shit, yes. Carmichael and Morris fight like teenage girls, I swear to God.” The man says, rolling his eyes. Darcy bites back a retort about the teenage girl comment and makes herself shrug, smile. This hall is a long one and she can hear people talking as they pass by an intersection. She swallows, keeps walking.

     “Tell me about it. They both act like spoiled kids, stomping around and trying to get one over on the other like they’ll get out of washing dishes or something.” Darcy says, sounding aggrieved. She only has the next two directions memorized and if he keeps walking with her-

     “I know, right? And Carmichael is such a bitch. Did you know she convinced Richard to cut give her the funding from the dirty bomb project? For her stupid portals?” The man says with a grimace. Darcy is not sure what to say to that. Yeah, I’m so sorry you can’t build weapons to kill and maim lots of people, tough break buddy. She smiles again though, nodding along with him. They have to divert their path as a woman comes out of a door, heading the opposite direction. Darcy keeps her eyes on his face, expression attentive. 

     “If I have to sit through another one of her departmental gloating sessions, I might throw up.” Darcy says, taking a calculated risk. Gloating loudly seems like the sort of thing Lilly would do, and nothing brings people together better than bitching about their bosses. He laughs, bumping his elbow against hers in a friendly manner. She doesn’t flinch, smiles. They’re coming up on the next check point, but Darcy doesn’t remember where to go afterwards. She clenches her hands in her pockets, raises her eyebrows in interest as he makes an annoyed expression.  

     “God I thought nothing could be worse than her holding the Stark fiasco over the Miami groups head.” He says, stopping a few feet away from the door. She realizes he’s trying to let her go first and she freezes, her expression a little strained. His eyes go wide, startled, and she can see thoughts buzzing behind his eyes. Shit, fuck, she smiles and makes a grand gesture in his direction, waving him on. He snorts, shaking his head and steps up to the door. She doesn’t let out a sigh of relief.

     “I mean, it was sort of hilarious.” Darcy offers to his back. He turns to flash a smile at her before stepping through the door. After a quick glance around, no one is looking her way, she pulls her paper out to read the next, last, directions. When she opens the door, lab-tech guy is standing awkwardly to the side, his expression pinched and uncomfortable. She freezes, letting the door swing close behind her. The reason for his discomfort is probably the armed guard standing a few feet away. The guard’s posture is relaxed, but his hand rests above his gun, ready to draw it if need be. She makes herself meet his eyes- and fucking hell it’s Clint. Rule 50, she thinks giddy. Rule 50: Always Trust the assassins. (Alternatively, never trust the assassins). His expression doesn’t change at the sight of her, his whole demeanor unrecognizable. She startles a little, fuck, but hopefully lab-coat writes it off as perfectly natural fear of strange men with guns. She smiles, waving awkwardly.

     “Hi? Did you need something?” She asks, voice small. Clint nods, his face impassive.

     “Ms. Anderson, Carmichael requested your assistance in lab 3.” Clint says, sounding bored all to hell. She sees lab-tech wince, and they share a commiserating smile.

     “Right now? I mean, she said she had it under control earlier.” Darcy says, cocking a her hip. Clint shrugs.

     “She said she needed you.” Clint says, every inch the guard who straight does not give a fuck. Lab-tech winces again, already walking down the hall. He waves at her in farewell and she copies the gesture.

     “Fine, sure. Whatever.” Darcy says, walking up beside Clint. He says nothing, leading her off in a different direction than her instructions. Keeping the smile off her face is so difficult it almost hurts, and there’s such a swelling of emotion, happiness, anxiety and- she doesn’t even know what she feels, only that it’s overwhelming. Clint says nothing as he leads her through the winding hallways, through throngs of lab-jockeys and guards. Super spy Darcy Lewis, she thinks, a little hysterical.

     Finally, Clint opens a door and it leads them outside. It’s night, warm and muggy, the shadows of the buildings seeming vast and full of enemies in wait to her frazzled nerves. Darcy chokes down a gasp, and Clint turns to look at her, his mask fading. He looks heartsick, sad and furious, and he takes a step towards her, as if to offer a hug, but he stops himself just in time. He stops a few feet away, his whole body tense. Darcy feels tears form at the corner of her eyes, she takes a gasping breath. But she rolls her shoulder back, brushes the tears away, and nods at him. Her eyes are still a little misty, but hopefully she caught herself before they became noticeable. He hesitates for another second, his eyes searching hers, but then he nods in return. He turns on his heel and starts walking again. They’re in a section of the compound almost identical to the part Darcy saw on that first night, big grey buildings and men with guns walking in careful circuits. Clint leads her between two buildings, more warehouse looking affairs. She takes a deep, shuddery breath and Clint glances over at her, his expression pinched with concern. She shrugs, trying to smile reassuringly. It’s probably a failure, because be winces.

     “We’re almost there, okay?” He says, quiet. She nods, quirking her lips.

     “I can handle it, promise.” She says, lifting her chin. Clint doesn’t insult her by asking ‘are you sure’ or hesitating before he continues down the thin alley between buildings. She knows he, the Avengers, know what they’re doing, but every time she hears someone walk past the alley, she has to stop herself from flinching. If Clint notices, and he does, he doesn’t comment on it. He leads her through several more alleys until they come to a parking lot, illumined by tall lamps, half full of cars. Darcy stops, blinks, sways in place. The parking lot could have been taken from any office building in the country, so normal and innocuous it throws her for a loop. Clint stops a few feet away, frowns at her, then the parking lot, then her again.

     “Sorry- it’s just so- after all of this…” Darcy says, trying to find the right way to say it. He shrugs, not quite smiling.

     “Coming back is always hard.” He offers, his tone perfectly, falsely, light. Darcy nods, appreciating more than she could ever say that he didn’t offer platitudes or tell her it was going to be okay, when that could never be guaranteed. All of the Avengers would understand the shock of coming back to the world in some shape or form, but Clint’s the closest thing to normal, even if his experiences were anything but. If anyone could grasp how surreal this whole thing is, it’s going to be Clint, she thinks.

     “How long has it been?” She asks, blinking. Clint pauses, and she can see the whir of his thoughts as he figures out what to tell her.

     “This is day four.” He says, watching her intently. She feels her eyes go wide with trepidation.

     “Oh, well that’s not so bad then.” She says with a shrug, voice airy. Clint responds with a poor showing of a smile, but he doesn’t call her on it.

     “So we’re going to just drive out?” Darcy asks changing the subject with all the subtlety of a freight train, or Tony. She can see a large wall at the far end of the parking lot, at least fifteen feet tall and topped with razor-wire, so brightly illuminated there are no shadows anywhere near it. Clint grins, his familiar I’m-about-to-cause-headaches-and-paperwork-avalanches grin that Darcy has no choice but to answer.

     “We’re going to just drive out, right under the bastards noses.” He says, leading her to a black SUV parked several yards away.

     “And the others?” She asks, climbing into the passenger seat. Clint pauses in the act of sliding into the drivers seat, grimaces. His mouth pinched unhappily, he closes the door and starts the car.  

     “The others are in place, along with SHIELD agents. Once we’re clear of the gates, they’ll make their move.” Clint says, sounding dubious. Darcy raises an eyebrow, buckling herself in.

     “You trust them not to just blow stuff up?” She asks, 100% sure she does not trust them not to blow stuff up. Especially Tony.

     “Tasha and I may have hinted that if they moved too early it would adversely affect you.” Clint says, unrepentant. Darcy snorts, covering her face with her hands. Clint pulls out of the parking spot at an uncharacteristically sedate pace. Darcy peeks through her fingers at him.

     “Hinted?” She asks, feeling something like happiness. Clint snorts, steering the SUV out of the parking lot.

     “We straight told them you would die.” Clint admits with a shrug. Darcy giggles, closing her fingers again. She hears Clint laugh. She lets her hands fall and rests her head against the window, watching the parking lot and warehouses go by with a sense of tentative smugness. Clint is just turning the car towards the high wall from before, towards the now visible gate, when there’s a loud boom from behind them. Clint slams on the breaks and they both spin in their seats to see a huge column of flame and ash explode into the air from the direction of the main compound. Darcy starts to giggle. Clint curses, shoving the gearlever roughly into the reverse position. Darcy laughs as another explosion rocks the compound. She’s laughing so hard it’s hurting her stomach, and Clint rests his head against the steering wheel, muttering in badly accented Russian. She laughs so hard tears spring to her eyes and she doubles over in her seat as there’s yet another explosion from the compound. Clint makes a fast u-turn, driving back to the parking lot. Even before the car has squealed to a stop, Clint’s pulling a comm from his pocket and stuffing it in his ear. She takes a deep breath, forcing her laughter down.

     “What the hell? We were 50 feet from the gate!” Clint snarls, banging his head against the steering wheel. She doesn’t hear the response, but from the way he grits his teeth and clenches his fists it’s probably not what he wanted to hear. She sighs, sliding down in her seat so that her head’s below the window, just in case.

     “But where the hell does that leave us? The compound is locked down now, Darcy’s injured and a civilian. Do you want us to fight our way out?” Clint grits out through his teeth. Darcy closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.

     “You let him see the tapes? Tasha, what-“ Clint cuts off, squeezing his eyes shut. Darcy frowns at him, not liking the implications here. Tapes. What tapes? Why would that make them-

     “Are you kidding me?” Darcy shouts, slapping Clint on the leg. He flinches, staring at her with big eyes.

     “Give me the comm!’ She orders, making grabby hands at him. He opens his mouth to speak but she smacks him again.

     “Give it here Clint!” She snarls, furious. He does, slowly. She puts the comm in her ear, hands steady.

     “-show them to him. Tony hacked their systems, and Steve was in the room-“ It’s Natasha, not bothering to mitigate the anger in her voice.

     “He saw Morris interrogating me? Is that why Tony jumped the gun?” Darcy interrupts, voice small. She hears Natasha curse in Russian, and the loud exhale of her breath.

     “Yeah. I told him not to, but he got it in his head that he needed to see.” Natasha says, sounding tired.

     “Steve saw too?” Darcy asks, just the idea of them seeing the videos making her so tired she could cry. She hadn’t let herself think past rescue good, AIM bad, but damnit she should have been expecting something like this. Steve has already lost so much and so many, and Tony, fragile, dysfunctional Tony would take her being kidnapped from his tower like a blow to the head. Of course they did something rash like this.

     “Steve saw too.” Natasha confirms. Clint unbuckles himself to crawl into the backseat, and Darcy hears the click of cases opening. Probably retrieving his bow.

     “And they lost their shit.” Darcy says, closing her eyes.

     “They went ballistic. Steve nearly punched the Director in the face when Fury told us to hang back.” Natasha says, gunshots loud in the background.

     “Dude. What?” Darcy asks, her eyes wide. Natasha snorts in amusement, and Darcy can hear the sound of her running feet over the comm. It’s not that she hadn’t figured Steve, Captain America, was capable of violence. But there wasn’t much time to assimilate that into her idea of his character, and maybe she should be afraid of him, but she’s not. She’s not impressed either, because he and Tony should have known better than to fly off the handle. But still, damn.

     “Tasha…” Darcy starts, trying to figure out how to ask. Did she do okay? Did she hold it together enough? How could she have been better?

     “You did so well, sweetheart. You were never trained for this and I’m so proud of you.” Natasha says, only the faintest waver in her voice to betray the depth of her emotion. Darcy sniffles, her whole body going lax. She hadn’t realized that’s what she needed to hear, hadn’t realized how much hearing Natasha say that would help.

     “Really?” Darcy whispers.

     “Really. You held it together and you turned their game to your advantage, and we’re going to destroy everyone who had a hand in this, I swear to you.” Natasha says, her voice turning vicious at the end. Darcy smiles, feeling like it might actually be okay.

     “If I wanted to yell at Tony and Steve, would it get them killed?” Darcy asks, a long moment later. From the back seat she hears Clint, snort, then laugh. Natasha huffs out a laugh over the clang of metal.

     “Probably not. But we do actually have a mission to complete, so make it short. I’ll patch you to the main comm.” Natasha says, approval clear in her voice. Clint clambers over the center console to settle back in his seat, laying his bow and quiver over his lap. She hears the static over the comm change tone, as if the input has changed. Clint mouths ‘you did good’ at her and she smiles in return. He taps his wrist in the universal ‘tick tock’ gesture and she nods her understanding.

     “You two are in so much trouble.” Darcy says, figuring Natasha already switched the feed. She hears Tony and Steve shout at the same time, and a crash of metal like someone ran into the side of a building. She hears Bruce chuckle in the background.

     “Darcy! Are you okay?” Steve asks, his voice hoarse.

     “Darcy oh my god am I glad to hear you.” Tony says, breathless.

     “What the fuck is wrong with you two! Clint and I were 50 feet from the gate and you jokers start blowing shit up! Now we’re trapped inside the compound, so thanks for that by the way!” She snaps, anger building in her. She get’s that seeing her hurt must have been awful, God knows what she would do in their shoes, but she was the one who lived it. She was the one who survived it and they blow the plan because they were pissed. Neither on them say anything for a long moment, the sounds of gunfire and men shouting fill the comms.

     “We were just-“ Steve starts, not sounding sorry at all.

     “Look Lewis, we saw an opportunity, we took it-“ Tony says, sounding angry.   

     “It’s not about you! I’m the civilian trapped in an evil compound! You two don’t get to just fuck up my only non-violent escape route because you lost your tempers!” She yells, sounding angry and panicked even to her own ears. Clint reaches over to offer her his hand and she takes it, squeezing hard. He smiles at her, supportive, and thank the lord, she doesn’t know what she’d do if he disagreed with her chewing them out. When neither of them speak, she rolls her eyes.

     “Try not to make my escape any harder than it already is. I’ll see you later.” Darcy snaps, pulling the comm out of her ear. Clint takes it with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. Once it’s back in his ear he winces, shooting her an amused glance.

     “Sorry guys, it’s just me. Tasha, any ideas for getting out of here?” Clint says, fingers running over the bow in his traditional obsessive pre-mission routine. Darcy closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Later, she tells herself, later you can yell at them, and cry and scream and make-out with Steve, but now you need to hold it together. Just a little longer, she tells herself, you can do this for now. She hears Clint make an affirmative noise, his fingers tapping restlessly against the quiver.

     “You’ll need to send me the specs, my map isn’t complete.” Clint says, checking the rearview mirror absently. Darcy does too, thanks Clint, and settles back in her seat when she only sees an empty parking lot.

     “Uh, I don’t know. Maybe because the plan was to drive out and rendezvous with SHIELD outside the compound.” Clint says, rolling his eyes. Darcy offers him a fist bump which he solemnly accepts.

     “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Send me the damn map and tell SHEILD to get in place.” Clint says, his voice flat. There’s a pause where he frowns, glances at Darcy, opens his mouth to speak, closes it. Finally he turns to Darcy and says:

     “They want to talk to you again.” He says, careful. She narrows her eyes.

     “Who is they?” She asks, already sure it’s the boys.

     “Steve and Tony.” Clint says, shrugging. She thinks about it. She’s really and truly furious. Their little stunt put her in added danger. On the other hand, she understands the impulse, she really does. But those are complicated and attention consuming conversations for another time. She doesn’t have the emotional energy to deal with them, and frankly, she doesn’t want to risk distract them from their ass-kicking duties. Maybe they’d be fine talking to her, maybe they wouldn’t, but she would not be fine talking them. She shakes her head, and Clint raises his eyebrow at her in question. She shakes her head again, mouthing ‘fuck no’ at him. He quirks his lips in a smile.

     “No dice. She doesn’t want to talk to you. Just- keep your head in the game.” Clint says. Whatever their response is, he ignores it, turning in his seat to face Darcy. She mirrors him, clenching her fists in preparation for whatever the new plan is.

     “We’re going to have to go through the compound, rendezvous with SHIELD. It’s not that far off, but AIM is definitely aware that there are enemy agents in the compound, and we might have to run for it. Once we get there, SHIELD will air-lift you out and you’ll be taken to the helicarrier.” He says, watching her expression closely. She nods, clenching her jaw.

     “Okay. Lets do this.” She says, lifting her chin. Her heartbeat is fast, there’s a bitter taste in her mouth, but mercifully she seems to be in shock, her emotions muffled, numb. She’s not afraid, not even angry anymore, her thoughts slow and careful. It’s going to come back to bite her in the ass later, but she revels in it now.

     “You stay behind me the entire time. Do what I tell you, when I tell you, no questions. If we get separated-“ the ‘if I get killed’ hangs clear in the air- “-you take my comm and side-arm and you do what the SHIELD agents tell you. We can do this, you can do this, but you have to stay alert okay? I need you to stay with me and not zone out.” Clint says, expression grim. She nods, fingers curling into fists.

     “I’ll do my best.” She says, not wanting to promise things she can’t keep. His lips curve, and it’s almost a smile.

     “You tazed the God of Thunder. This is nothing.” He says. She huffs out a laugh, feeling a little steadier.

     “I’m ready.” She says, not ready at all. Clint nods, before climbing out of the car. By the time she scrambles out, he’s already rounded the car and waiting for her. His quiver is slung over his shoulder, bow out with an arrow already knocked. They trade one last glance before Clint takes off at a jog, slow enough for her to follow. One arm over her breasts, because this sports bra was not made for ladies her size, she follows him. He slows down so that she’s right at his heels, leading her back towards the warehouse looking buildings. It’s dark enough she can barely see where they’re going, not to mention her eyesight being blurry and awful without her glasses, but she can make out his blond hair in the darkness, and it’s enough.

 As they wind back through the alleys, closer to the main compound, she can hear the roar of fire, screaming, gunshots. Clint stops at an intersection between two buildings, waves her back a few feet, peers around the corner. It’s not more than a few seconds pause before they take off again, Clint’s head swiveling back and forth and up and down. With a jolt of guilt, she darts her eyes around as well, little good it does compared to him, but it’s enough to keep her thinking, keep her reacting. As they’re coming up on another building, he suddenly turns and shoves her back, all but manhandling her into the shadows between the building lights. She makes herself stay quiet, letting him shove her into a crouch. She stares at the back of his head as he draws his bow tight, ready to fire. Long seconds pass, where she thinks, awesome my rescue’s gone crazy, before she hears the faint scrape of boots on gravel, someone traveling at a fast pace. She freezes, holding her breath as the footsteps grow louder. Thankfully, it’s only a few seconds before a guard sprints passed the alley, not even glancing in their direction. She slowly lets out her breath, keeping it silent.

 Clint doesn’t move for a long minute, body as tense as his bow-string, before standing upright again. He motions for her to stay put while he walks to the edge of the alley. He slips around the corner and Darcy makes herself stay still, not panic. After only a few moments he ducks back in sight, motioning for her. She jogs over to him, getting real tired of holding her boobs in place.

“Play it cool and follow my lead.” He says, jerking his head in the direction of the compound. She nods, rolling her shoulder back. Clint watches her, his eyes narrowed in thought, before walking around the corner. Darcy keeps up with him, her hands shoved into her pockets. There’s no one in sight as they emerge back into the vast lot between the warehouses and labs. The night is lit bright and eerie with the red and orange light of fire. It’s coming from the lab side of the lot, a few buildings back from them. She can hear people shouting and the sound of running feet approaching the labs at a fast clip, as if rushing to check the damage and report in like good evil goons. As they draw closer to the office/lab building, she doesn’t realize she’s made a sound of distress until Clint glances over at her.

“Sorry.” She whispers. He shakes his head, his eyes wide with what’s probably panic. Clint Barton is many things, emotionally competent is not one of them. He stares straight ahead again, his guard persona settling back in and Darcy mimics him, affecting an expression that’s half boredom, half panic. It’s a patented lab-jockey expression, and it makes her feel a little more like herself.  

“It’s okay, we’re almost there. The evac team is just waiting for a suitable-“ Clint’s words are cut off by another explosion from further into the compound, bigger than the others. Black smoke and ash clog the air, people scream, and she swears she can hear the high whine of a repulsors firing. Clint rolls his eyes so hard she fears they might fall right out of his head.

     “-a suitable distraction. Thank you very much Tony.” He continues, pressing two fingers to his comm. He motions for Darcy to follow as he changes directions and leads them up to the nearest lab building. They slip around the corner of the building, hiding in the now darker shadows as smoke blots out light. She leans back against the side of building as Clint speaks furiously into his comm, his bow still taut and ready to fire. She stares up as thick plumes of smoke occludes moon, the sound of gunshots boom loud in the night. She hears the soft twang of Clint’s bow firing and her head snaps up, her heart beating hard enough to bruise. She see’s Clint standing at the mouth of the alley, his frame completely relaxed as he fires several more arrows in quick succession. She has to press a hand over her mouth to keep from letting out a noise of distress, let’s not alert all the bad guys shall we, but she manages to force herself into something like calm. He pauses, his bow drawn tight, but doesn’t fire for long seconds, his position adjusting minutely, as if tracking a moving target. Clint is a goddman fucking Avenger, she tells herself, forcing her arms to relax and hang by her side. He can handle this shit. You can- you will handle this shit, she thinks. Finally, after maybe two minutes, Clint fires, the soft hiss and twang almost drowned out by the roaring flames. Clint knocks about arrow, draws it, but after another minute, he slowly relaxes. He looks back over his shoulder at her, and she raises her chin, tells herself her eyes are wets from the smoke. He smiles, she smiles back. He presses two fingers to his comm, tilts his head as if straining to hear. She takes a few steps towards him, pauses when his eyes flick to her, but continues on when he doesn’t shake his head. 

     “-our position isn’t safe, I just took out a group of eight guards, when they don’t check in-“ Clint says, turning to face the mouth of the alley. Darcy stands a few feet back from him, out of sight.

     “We don’t have that kind of time!” Clint says, furious. Darcy leans back against the building again and finds herself thankful for the over-stuffed, cottony feel of her head. She’s still afraid, but it’s distant like everything else now, and part of her acknowledges that there’s a screaming, crying, breakdown in her future. She longs for it really, a chance to purge it all from her system like drawing poison from a wound. It’s going to be awful, it’s going to wring her out, but it’ll still be better than this woozy feeling, better than feeling like a passenger in her own skin.

     “-you have our position?” Clint asks, releasing two more arrows with perfect precision. He tilts his head, listening to the response, and Darcy lets out a long sigh.

     “Copy that, let me know when you’re a minute out.” Clint says, his bow tracking something- someone in the smoke. He doesn’t fire, but he keeps the arrow knocked.

“Are we finally getting the fuck out of dodge?” She asks, soft. Clint turns his head in slightly her direction, still facing foreword.

     “You are, I’ll go rendezvous with the team, once you’re safe. In three minutes, a SHIELD helicopter will land and I’ll get you on it.” He says, sounding justifiably distracted. Darcy clenches her fists, grits her teeth to keep from saying something foolish. The three minutes pass like thick black tar, each second feeling as long as three days in her cold storage cell. Clint fires several more times, not saying a word, for which she finds herself grateful. Finally Clint tilts his head, listening, before turning to motion her foreword. He walks out into the yard with slow measured steps, each one marked by his head glancing in all directions before the next begins. She follows in his wake, her head following a beat behind his. Once they make the open area, it becomes a little easier to see thanks to the bright building lights. Her steps don’t falter when she sees the scattered bodies of downed AIM agents, each with an arrow lodged deep in their throat, eye, or for one, in their femoral artery. She picks up the faint tang of copper on the air, but it’s too dark to make out more than vague dark patches on the ground, a welcome relief. You become friends with predators, you have to deal with the prey, she tells herself, staring straight ahead. 

She hears the helicopter before she sees it, and she gasps. Clint leads them across the yard, carefully sidestepping the bodies, and Darcy can’t hear much over the roaring in her ears. He paces around her, bow still drawn taught, his face tense enough to shatter. She figures she’s not the only one antsy about her rescue. She resists the urge to ask what else could go wrong, because let’s be real, Tony Stark is not far away and it’s best not to tempt fate. She can see Clint in her periphery vision, stalking back and forth, covering their six. The sound of the helicopter is getting louder, wind picking up as it approaches their position. She sees it, finally, come into view over the roof of the warehouse.

 It’s a relief, a reassurance she didn’t know she was looking for, because as the helicopter slows to a landing several yards away, it hits her that this rescue is actually happening. Unless Tony and Steve mange to fuck shit up even further, she’s going home. It gets harder to breathe, only a little do to the fast wind from the helicopter blades. Clint steps up beside her, his hand gripping her wrist gently. She smiles at him and he smiles back, looking as relieved as she feels. He tugs on her, nodding toward the helicopter, and she nods her ascent. They take off at a jog, Clint’s attention on the surrounding area, and all Darcy has is white noise in her head. She sees four figures in the familiar SHIELD field uniform spill out of the helicopter, jogging out to meet them. She only recognizes one of them, Agent Sitwell, and his normal bored façade breaks long enough to offer her a sympathetic smile. Clint and the other agents are in deep conversation, ducked close together so the wind doesn’t carry their words away. Sitwell nods towards the helicopter, and she takes a tentative step forward. She looks at Clint again, separation anxiety rising like a tide, because shit he’s the only thing she really knows here. As if aware of her scrutiny, he breaks from his conversation and jogs over to her. He pulls her into a hug, and she hugs back, desperately glad for any measure of comfort. It’s only a few seconds before he pulls back, kisses her forehead.

“We have some asses to kick first, but we’ll meet you at the helicarrier. You’ll go to medical first, and then debrief with Fury and Hill after.” He yells, the roar of the helicopter almost drowning him out. She nods, rolling her shoulders back. Now that she knows what’s going to happen next, she can do this.

“Punch Morris in the face for me.” She yells back, allowing Sitwell to tow her to the helicopter. Clint salutes, sarcastically, before turning to sprint towards the compound, towards the fight. Sitwell helps her up into the helicopter, and directs her to a seat in the rear, as the other agents fan out to cover them with guns drawn. He helps her strap in as the other agents jump into the cabin, their focus still on the surrounding compound. Sitwell doesn’t bother strapping himself in before he tells the pilot to take off. As the helicopter lifts into the air, she closes her eyes and lets her head fall back, the roar of the engine drowning out all sound, thought. She sighs.

 

###

 

     She doesn’t remember much of the ride to the hellicarrier, just bites and pieces. The hum of the engine, the comfort of the inside of her eyelids, and a sense of exhaustion so deep her bones feel weighed down by iron. When agent Sitwell finally calls her name, she doesn’t know how much time has passed, but it feels like a few hours. She opens her eyes to see the helicarrier looming up to their right, and she straightens in her seat, her body pumping out one last pathetic rush of nerves. She’s so close to being able to go home, to sleep and dream and forget that it almost brings her to tears. Admittedly, there’s the whole medical and debriefing thing, but compared to the last few days, it’ll be a cake walk.

     As soon as they’re docked into the helicarrier, Sitwell helps her unbuckle and jump out of the helicopter. She sways on her feet, but he helps stabilize her as the other agents disappear into the bowels of the hanger. She nods at him and he leads the way out of the hanger, towards a section of the helicarrier she’s never been in before. Agents in the non-combat uniform of dark, forgettable suits walk past them in packs of two or three, interspersed with the usual stern, armed, working agents she’s used to seeing. The walk is a short one, and soon enough they end up at what has to be the medical ward. Sitwell politely holds the door open for her as they enter the white, sterile, clinic. This first room alone is obviously made to hold at least twenty people, beds lined up neatly along both walls, with a nurses station in the middle. It’s completely empty, except for a woman in a lab-coat standing a few feet from the entrance. She’s tall and slim with dark brown skin, pretty in a severe sort of way, and possessing an almost physical aura of ‘don’t even think of fucking with me’ like some woman wear jewelry. Darcy is instantly set at ease. The woman smiles, stepping forward to meet them halfway.

     “Sitwell, Ms. Lewis.” She says in a British accent, nodding in greeting. She reaches out to shake both their hands in turn. Darcy is surprised by her own non-reaction at the physical contact with a stranger.

     “Dr. Harrison it’s a pleasure, as always. Ms. Lewis needs a complete check up, the works.” Sitwell says, nodding to Darcy. Darcy smiles, waving awkwardly. Harrison smiles, amusement clear on her face.

     “I can do that. I’ll send the results-“ Harrison starts.

     “To Director Fury, no one else.” Sitwell interjects, his robo-cob impression giving nothing away. Harrison barely hesitates, a fraction of a second, before nodding her assent.

     “I can do that. I’m assuming you’ll guard the door?” She says, an obvious dismissal. Sitwell nods, and if he’s offended by Harrison’s sharp manners, then he doesn’t show it. Once Sitwell has exited the ward, Harrison seems to relax, her posture easing out of parade rest, her smile less strained. Darcy lets out a long breath, the silence of the ward pressing in on her.

     “Here, we’ll use an exam room.” Harrison says, her voice soft. She waits for Darcy before turning to walk towards the back of the ward. Darcy doesn’t see a door, but sure enough, there’s one hidden behind the curtain of the last bed. Harrison opens the door, stands well to the side, and lets Darcy walk in first. The exam room could have been taken from any doctors office in the country; dark tile floor, tall paper covered table, rolling doctors stool. Harrison takes a seat on the stool and Darcy hops up onto the exam table. Without saying a word, Harrison rolls backwards, into the furthest corner from Darcy. Darcy appreciates it, appreciates having a clear path to the door, and having Harrison as far away as possible. Harrison says nothing, crossing one leg over the other, seeming content to stay in silence if need be.

     “I don’t think my ribs are cracked.” Darcy offers, fiddling with a stray thread on her sleeve. Harrison nods, looking attentive.

     “It’s mostly just dehydration, probably. They didn’t let me eat either. But the bruises aren’t as bad as they look.” She says, trying to smile. Harrison snorts, a smile twitching the corner of her lips.

     “I’ve heard that before. You sit-“ Harrison points at the table- “-exactly where Director Fury did as he swore black and blue that it was only a graze, about ten seconds before he passed out from blood loss. I’ll decide whether or not your bruises are anything to worry about.” Harrison says, rolling her eyes. Darcy giggles, imaging stern Director Fury falling over mid-rant. Harrison stands up and walks over to the table, stopping politely out of arms reach. Darcy swallows, nods her assent, and Harrison takes the final step to the table.

     “I’m going to take your vitals first, and then I’m going to need you to undress for the physical.” Harrison says, reaching for the blood pressure cuff hanging on the wall. Darcy nods, feeling like she can handle that. Harrison takes her blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and checks her eyes and ears with the same brisk professionalism she does everything else. When she’s done, Darcy pushes back the sleeves of her shirt, letting Harrison inspect her wrists first. Harrison’s expression never changes at the sight of Darcy’s bruised and slightly bloody wrists. She checks first to see that Darcy’s wrists aren’t sprained or hurt beyond the bruising, before cleaning the thin cuts. Darcy doesn’t hiss in pain. Before she can wimp out, Darcy grabs the hem of her blouse and pulls it over her head. Harrison steps back to let Darcy disrobe, her expression smooth and unchanging. Once Darcy stands naked defiant, Harrison meets her eyes with a smile.

     “Lets see what the damage is.” Harrison says, cocking her head. 

Chapter Text

Darcy sits in a rolling lounge chair, with a nifty IV stand attached to the side. The IV itself is attached to her arm, pumping a steady stream of cold saline into her veins. After blood work, peeing in a cup, x-ray and being swaddled in bandages, all she wants is to curl up in a dark corner and not exist for a while. Instead, Harrison is rolling her down the hallway, through more corridors that Darcy doesn’t recognize, with Sitwell bringing up the rear. As they walk, the halls become less and less crowded, until finally they’re the only ones around. They come up to an unmarked door, and Sitwell steps forward to wrap his knuckles against it. A seconds later the door opens to reveal Maria Hill, dressed for combat and expressionless. She steps aside to let them enter. The room looks like an office, a mans office, with dark wood bookshelves, a monster of a carved desk and no visitors chairs. Fury sits at the desk, engrossed in his tablet. Once Harrison has pushed her into the room, she and Sitwell leave without a word. Darcy takes a deep breath.

     “You did good Lewis.” Fury says, looking up from his tablet. Hill takes a seat behind the desk, at Fury’s right, and her expressions softens. Darcy blinks.

     “Thank you.” She whispers, keeping her head up. Fury sets the tablet down, and leans forward, his expression hard.

     “I’m not going to lie to you, this was our fuck up. We had bad information and it came back to bite you in the ass.” Fury says, his voice low and well, furious. Hill rolls her eyes, snagging the Directors abandoned tablet.  

     “I appreciate you admitting that.” Darcy offers with a shrug. Fury snorts, tapping his fingers on the desk. Hill looks up from the tablet, smirking.

     “Darcy, you should never have had to go through that, but you did well. You held it together.” Hill says, her voice leaving no room for argument. Feeling her eyes get a little misty, Darcy nods.

     “Did I give away too much?” She asks, playing with the IV tube.

     “That’s what we’re here to find out.” Fury says, leaning back in his chair.

     “I told them that I was in the lab when the hippies opened all those portals up. I told them the equipment wasn’t calibrated correctly, so SHIELD could only narrow the origin point down to 25 blocks. And that Tony hacked his way to the information about Ginsburg and then just flew off on his own.” Darcy says, meeting Fury’s eyes dead on. He nods, stealing his tablet back from Hill before scrolling quickly.

     “That’s what we heard.” Hill says, her face still relaxed.

     “Tell me about Carmichael.” Fury says, something like a smile on his face. Darcy leans forward, baring her teeth.

     “I’ll tell you every damn thing you want.” Darcy says.

 

###

 

     It’s hours later and Darcy feels like she’s been put through a meat-grinder. Fury and Hill had been almost gentle, for them, but even so the hours of questions had left her shaky and fuzzy headed. Harrison comes to fetch her, after the details of Lilly’s mind games have been turned over for the hundredth time. Fury and Hill are already engrossed in something on the tablet, and they barely look up when the doctor enters. Harrison’s expression is the normal medical professional mixture of bored and exasperated, but she spares a smile for Darcy. She figures she must look like death’s leftovers if Harrison bothers with comfort. Darcy drifts in and out as Harrison wheels her back down the hallways. They end up in what’s probably some petty officers quarters, a cramped studio apartment affair that’s barely more than a bed and a kitchenette. Harrison gently pulls the IV out presses a band-aid to the little red circle. Darcy settles onto the edge of the bed with a herculean effort, blinking up at Harrison. Harrison sits down next to her, reaching out to grab Darcy’s chin and tilt it in her direction. Harrison snaps a few times in front of Darcy’s face, and she blinks, her head jerking back in startlement.

     “Darcy I need you to listen to me, okay?” Harrison says, her face a mask of concern. Darcy blinks, nods, her thoughts clear, if slow.

     “Okay.” Darcy says.

     “All your labs came back clean, your x-ray is clear. You’re a little dehydrated, but you’re otherwise fine.” Harrison says, her words careful. Darcy nods again.

     “But when we tested your urine, your pregnancy test came back positive.” Harrison says, voice neutral. Darcy gasps, bringing her hands up to cover her face. Fucking sonofabtich she does not need this right now. One time without protection, one time- Steve and his super-swimmers are in so much trouble.

     “I didn’t know you could detect it that early.” Darcy says, letting her hands drop to her lap.

     “Most people can’t, but we have a test here. You had unprotected sex what, three days ago, four?” Harrison says, voice completely without judgment. Darcy nods. The other woman pauses, her expression calculating.

     “The longer you wait, the less effective it’s going to be. But we have a- pill on the helicarrier, and I can prescribe it for you if you want, later on.” Harrison offers. Darcy closes her eyes, her thoughts racing. God she’s not ready to have kids, she’s almost positive she doesn’t want kids, and fuck she’s dating Captain America, adding a kid would paint an even bigger target on her back for every villain in the world. She’s 99.9% sure she cannot handle a kid, but she’s so tired and this is such horrible timing.

     “I’m sorry to just surprise you like this, but you needed to know your options. I know the timing is awful, but I wanted you to know as soon as possible, to think through your options. The pill can’t be prescribed until the six week mark, but I can do that for you. Come to me in medical if you want and I’ll prescribe it.” Harrison says, standing up. Darcy nods, taking a deep breath.

     “Thank you, I appreciate it. I’ll- let you know.” Darcy says, her voice soft. Harrison nods, backing up to the door.

     “You’ll go back to the tower tomorrow, but you can stay here for the night.” Harrison says, opening the door. Darcy waves the other woman out. Once the door is closed she stares at it, feeling hollow and brittle and maybe a thousand years old. She makes herself stand, kicking off her flats and shrugging out of her blouse. She pulls back the scratchy blanket, stares down at the mattress. She’s so tired it almost makes her sick, so tired she probably won’t be able to sleep for hours, if at all. But she dutifully climbs in anyway, rests her head on the pillow and stares up at the ceiling. She closes her eyes and tries to think nothing at all.

###

 

     She’s woken from a light doze by the sound of the door opening. She’s scrambling back into the corner, she has no idea where she is, god why is it so dark, fuck, she can hear her breath coming in huge heaves-

     “Darcy! Darcy it’s okay, I’m sorry, it’s just me, it’s Steve.” A man says- Steve says from a few feet away. Darcy freezes, her heartbeat loud in her ears. She can see him silhouetted against the door, his posture tense.

     “Turn on the light.” She whispers. After a short pause, he does and Darcy blinks up at her boyfriend, her thoughts fuzzy and slow from being woken up. Steve’s staring at her like someone’s walked over his grave, his expression something between hopeful and terrified. He’s wearing one of his checkered grandpa shirts, hair tousled, and looks so much the same she could cry. She makes grabby hands at him and he crosses the room in a rush. He pauses at the edge of the bed, uncertain, so she walks to him on her knees. She grabs him around the waist, and his arms encircle her in an instant. She buries her face against his stomach, and god he’s warm, and familiar and perfect. He curls around her, his body on the knife-edge of tension, like he’s making himself stay relaxed. She lets out a choked sob and he jolts like he’s been slapped. He pulls back and she makes a wordless noise of protest. But it’s a temporary separation, because he’s bending at the knee to scoop her up into his arms, held across his body bridal style. She rests her head on his pecs, hmmmm she’s missed those, as he crawls up onto the bed. He sits with his back to the wall and she wiggles around so that she’s settles comfortably over this legs, and hides her face against his neck. His arms stay wrapped tightly around her, and she shudders, takes a deep breath, relaxes. She doesn’t say anything for a long few minutes, letting herself calm down again, trying to figure out what she wants to say, if she wants to speak at all. Steve holds her close, takes deep breaths. The heat of his body weighs down her thoughts, makes her sleepy in a way she hadn’t been before. She yawns, stretches, and feels Steve smile against her neck. She turns so that she’s facing him, leans back a little so she can see his face. Neither of them speak, yet, and it’s nothing but their wide eyes and warm breath. His jaw is clenched with the effort of keeping quiet, and his expression is nothing short of agonized. She sighs, presses a soft kiss to his lips.   

     “I’m okay now. You guys found me.” She says, watching him closely. He squeezes his eyes shut, grimaces. She runs a careful fingertip over the shape of his brows, cheekbones.

     “I’m not saying it wasn’t awful, because it really fucking was. But I survived and I’m mostly intact.” She continues, not sure if it’s helping or not. She’s too tired to deal with this, but she can only imagine how much this is hurting him. He opens his eyes, looking furious and broken apart in equal measure.

     “It shouldn’t have happened at all.” He says, voice perfectly level. She nods her agreement, which seems to settle him some.

     “Well duh. But this had better damn well be a learning experience. Like, we need to do our best to make sure something like this never happens again.” Darcy says, stern. He cracks a smile, faint, but true.

     “Darcy…” Steve starts, sounding regretful. Damnit, She knows that tone. She reaches up to grab his face, holds him still as she glares into his eyes.

     “Don’t you fucking dare.” She snarls. His eyes widen in panic, but she barrels on before he can speak.

     “If you were trying to pull a ‘if you weren’t close to the Avengers, this wouldn’t have happened’ manpain savoir complex thing, keep it to yourself.”

     “Darcy- it’s true, it’s our fault you were even targeted in the first place.” He says, and damn she should have recognized that immovable tone, that’s the sound Captain I Made Up My Mind America. She rolls her eyes.

     “No, it was AIM’s fault for thinking I could give them information on Jane’s work. I’ve been working with and being friends with Jane and Thor for years before I even met everyone else. It’s too fucking late to go back to just being a regular person, that bird has flown.” She says, squishing his face for emphasis. He shakes his head as if to dislodge her hands, and she narrows her eyes at him. With one last face squish, she lets her hands drop.

     “It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. You’d be safer off if you weren’t- if you weren’t around us anymore.” He says, his arms tightening around her.

     “Look, I’m not going to argue that it shouldn’t have happened. But fuck you for trying to take my friends and my awesome life away from me because you think I’d be better off without.” She says, sounding tired even to her own ears.

     “That’s not what it is at all, I’m just trying to keep you safe.” Steve says, his face shutdown. She grits her teeth, closes her eyes and counts to ten.

     “It’s not your job to keep me safe! It’s your job to be with me, and support me. And I like you a lot, scarily a lot okay, but Jane is my best friend in the world, and Bruce and Tony and Thor and Clint and Natasha are my friends and I want to be with them, it’s my choice.” Darcy hisses, her eyes narrowing. Steve freezes, blinks, his eyes going distant as he thinks over what she’s said. She lets out a long breath. Minutes pass, and she appreciates more than she can name that he’s taking the time to actually think about this, rather than flex off into the sunset in some assbackwards attempt at protecting her.

     “Fury said something like that, when we were- planning your rescue.” Steve finally says, a small self-deprecating smile on his lips. She snorts, rolling her eyes.

     “He said the moment Thor touched down in New Mexico, you and Jane became targets. He said there’s no going back now, and I could either act like a toddler throwing a tantrum over things I can’t change, or I could do my damn job.” He continues, his voice thoughtful.

     “Fury makes a good point.” She says, not able to resist teasing him entirely. 

     “I just- it ripped me open.” He says, closing his eyes. She gently cups the back of his head and pulls him against her. He takes a deep breath, and she presses a kiss to his temple.

     “You said you trusted me to make my own choice about your strength.” She murmurs. After a pause, he nods.

     “If you and the others want to rip SHIELD a new one for having bad information, go for it. If you and Tony want to turn the tower into a death fortress, do it. But I’m already a target, and you can’t change that. Maybe Fury could find some underground compound in the North Pole where no one could find me, but it’d be like slowly being chewed to death by ants.” She says, well aware that SHIELD probably does have an underground compound in the North Pole. Steve laughs a little, his breath warm against her skin.

     “So yeah, technically I could be safe somewhere. But I want to be with the people I love-“ she manages not to flinch at the slip up- “-and I want to stay where I am, because here is where I feel at home and where I’m happy. If I’m going to be in danger, I’d rather it be worth it.” She says, kissing his temple. He lets out a long sigh, before leaning upright again. He smiles, before catching her lips in a kiss. She opens to him, and it’s slow, unhurried, a little terrifying. He pulls back, right on the edge of her needing air, and they gasp, shake a little. She feels… grounded again, and it’s so strange.

     “I’m sorry.” He whispers, his face pinched with regret. She smiles, shrugs.

     “Don’t ever try to make my decisions for me again. You have every right to feel your feelings, but I’m my own person. If something affects one of us, it affects both of us, and we need to make choices together, not you handing down judgment from on high.” She says, making herself lay down the rules before she gets distracted. He flinches, starts to speak, but she presses her palm over his mouth.

     “That’s vise versa, in case you were wondering. I’m pissed, but Steve, the point is that you listened. You had this idea but you listened to what I said and you thought about it. That’s what I needed.” She says, letting her hand fall. His eyes are watchful, and he says nothing for a long moment.

     “I can’t promise that I won’t do something similar again. I can’t- the idea of losing you hurt so much- I’ll probably panic and act like an asshole. But I’ll try not to, and I’ll do my damndest to listen when you speak.” He says, careful, as if picking his words out of a crowd. She grins, pulls him down for a fast kiss as a reward.

     “That’s all I ask. I wouldn’t have accepted a promise.” She says, feeling hopeful, like maybe, somehow, this could work out. That they’ll work out. He studies her face for a few seconds, before an answering grin splits his face.

     “We’re quite the pair, huh?” He says, snorting. She nods, rolling her eyes. He leans his forehead against hers, making a small sound of contentment, and Darcy closes her eyes, feeling her body relax. She’s warm, she’s safe, and Steve’s here with her. It’s more than she could have hoped for, curled up in Morris’s deep freeze. She tilts her head, brushes her lips across his.

     “Come on-“ she says “-bed time.” Steve nods, stretching long and luxurious in a way that would normally offer all sorts of things she could take advantage of. But instead, he balances on his knees, holding her close, and she just rests her head on his chest, feeling more tired than human. He lays her gently on the bed, her back to the wall, and he takes the outside edge, his back to the door. She snorts in amusement but doesn’t say a word, wiggling around so that she’s settled pressed up against his chest, her hands curled between them. He pulls the blanket up over them, slings a possessive arm and leg over her, she snorts again and feels him grin against her temple. Drowsy warmth is dragging her down into the darkness of sleep, and she buries her face in the crook of his neck.

     “Goodnight.” She whispers, blinking slowly. He shifts, presses a kiss to her hair.

     “Goodnight.” He says, sounding wide awake. He’s probably going to stay up all night, she thinks, but doesn’t say a word. That idea, having someone she trusts keep guard, is what finally sends her into sleep.

 

### 

 

     She wakes up tangled with Steve, feeling as if several hours has passed. Her eyes and head still feel gritty though, like she’d stayed up every night for a week studying for a vicious midterm. She knows she can handle that, so she stretches, yawning, and feels him shift around in response. She’s sprawled out half on top of him, his arm draped across her waist. She props her chin up on his chest, blinks at his smiling face, yawns. He runs a careful hand through her hair, not seeming to mind how gross it is. She lets her thoughts come back online, slow like sand sliding through an hourglass. His tension from yesterday seems nowhere in attendance, his expression soft and relaxed, his body loose limbed under hers. It looks, she thinks, like he spent a great deal of time in thought, and liked what he found. For herself, the screaming press of emotions that had boiled right under her skin for days has faded, leaving her feeling steady and as even-keeled as she gets. She still feels… bruised, but at least she knows she isn’t going to burst into tears or run screaming down the hall at the first uncomfortable conversation.

     “Did you sleep at all?” She murmurs, turning to press a kiss to the inside of his wrist. He makes a chagrined seeming twisty expression, shakes his head.

     “Not a wink.” He admits, low. She searches his face, and he lets her, not bothering to guard his expression. He doesn’t look tired, probably a super soldier thing, and the panicked, forceful energy from last night seems to be gone. She reaches out to brush her fingertips over his face and he turns to press his lips to each of them in turn.

     “I assume you spent most of the night alternatively brooding and thinking?” She says, letting her hand fall to the side. He quirks a self-deprecating smile, shrugs.

     “Mostly the brooding.” He admits with one of his aww-shucks grins. She raises and eyebrow at him, grinning.

     “But I did- it was easier to think with you safe and here with me.” He says, catching her gaze with his. His expression is serious, and his eyes search hers like there’s answers hidden there.

     “I’m- glad?” She offers, still feeling slow and a little behind. He huffs out a small laugh, flicking her hair with his fingers.

     “I thought about what you said last night. About living with us, and me trying to run your life.” He says, soft, tone apologetic. She tenses, he freezes in panic, but she makes herself relax and take a deep breath.

     “And?” She asks, keeping her voice neutral. She figures he’s come down on her side of things, or else he’d be tense, maybe even angry, but this is still nerve-wracking.

     “I went straight to wanting to send you away like a damn princess in a tower. I was freaked out, angry, and you being hurt- hurt me. But it was stupid, and you’re right.” Steve says, lips pinched like there’s something sour in his mouth. She’s not sure she’s ever met someone who hates being wrong like Steve does. She smothers a laugh into his chest, hears him sigh in exasperation. When she’s gotten herself back under control, she lifts her head to grin at his disgruntled expression.

     “I- thank you for listening.” She says, forcing her expression smooth again. He smiles, still a little uncomfortable.

     “I won’t lie, it was difficult. But you- we’re worth more than my pride.” He says, voice unsteady. She feels her face flush, her heartbeat goes fast, because yeah, it’s like that.

     “We are. And when it’s my turn to eat crow, I’ll try not to be a raging bitch about it.” She says, offhand. He grins, bright and everything like home.

     “I know, right? Look at us being all adult and shit.” She continues, much to his amusement.

     “Remember when we talked about fucking up?” Steve asks, still smiling. She scowls at him and he laughs, almost shaking her off. His arm tighten to hold her in place and she reaches out to flick his ear. He hisses, ducking away.

     “I remember. I feel like this is exactly what we were talking about, you’re right, okay.” She says, sounding sulky even to herself. He grins, both his hands coming to settle at her waist. He starts to sit up, Darcy makes a disgruntled sound, but he holds her still as he sits upright, leaving her draped across his lap. She glares up at him, sticks her tongue out, and he chuckles again. Before she can find something snarky to say, he’s lifting her, turning her to settle her back against chest. Considering their first time was in a position much like this, it should be lascivious, should send heat along her skin. But instead it just feels relaxed, her legs leaning against his bracketed knees like a supremely comfortable lounge chair. She leans her head back on his shoulder, closes her eyes, lets out a sigh when he places a kiss on her neck.

     “I think we can do this.” Steve says, quiet. She nods, saying nothing around the knot in her throat. But he doesn’t seem to mind, his hands tracing formless patterns over her arms and neck.

     “I think we can too.” She says finally, the thought of it frightening. They sit there, in soft silence, neither of them speaking or moving for long seconds. Finally, Steve’s stomach lets out some of its loud hungry monster noises, breaking the silence. Darcy giggles, and Steve lets out a groan of embarrassment.

     “Hungry?” She asks, sly. Steve snorts, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

     “I could eat.” He says, the grin clear in his voice. Darcy thinks a moment, considers that her stomach feels gnawingly, black-hole empty, and figures she could eat as well.       

     “Do you think you can wait until we get back to the tower? Because the food here tastes like shit.” Darcy asks, craning her head around to look at his face. He laughs again, smiling crookedly at her.

     “It’s not that bad.” He says, rolling his eyes. Darcy makes a wordless sound of indignation.

     “Not that bad? It tastes like velociraptor shit. Shit that it ate, threw up, and then shat again.” She says, turning all the way around to better glare at him. By this point, Steve is laughing too hard to even speak, wheezing and all but falling off the bed. Darcy grins at him, waggling her eyebrows. While he tries to collect himself she clambers off the bed, not even tripping over herself. She grabs the discarded blouse from last night and slips it on, grimacing at the idea of how gross she and it are. She feels… restless here on the hellicarrier. Okay, yes, she was kidnapped from the tower, but she’d bet her good vibrator that Tony didn’t sleep or eat until every inch of his security protocols were reviewed and fixed. It’s more home than anything else right now. Steve finally manages to stop laughing, and he slides off the bed, standing beside her. She smiles up at him.

     “I think I can wait to eat until we get back if you can.” He says, shrugging.

     “I want to get off this damn thing as soon as possible.” She says through gritted teeth. She doesn’t have many bad memories here, per say, but she doesn’t have any good ones either.

     “We have to stop by medical and check in with Harrison, but after that we should be able to leave.” Steve says, running a hand through his hair, settling it back into his grandpa style with ease. And shit, Harrison, pregnancy test, fuck. The thought hits her like a train and she has to sit back down before her legs give out. Steve’s expression goes panicked and he kneels in front of her.

     “Darcy? What’s the matter?” He says, his face pinched in concern. Darcy closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and asks herself if she wants to have a baby. The answer is a resounding, loud, oh fuck no. She’s nowhere near ready. Her life is in no way conducive to babies and she the thought of being a mother makes her want to panic and hide in a hole. She opens her eyes and smiles at him, feeling strained.

     “I’m pregnant, it’s yours.” She blurts. His face goes blank with shock, his eyes frozen wide. He opens his mouth to speak, but she raises her hand.

     “Before you- I just need to say this first.” She waits for him to nod before continuing. “I’m not ready to be mom. Fuck, I’ve never been maternal and I don’t know if I’ll ever want to be a mother. But right now, with my life- with our lives what they are- I would never want to bring a child into this world unless I was 100% sure I wanted them.” She says, making herself meet his eyes. She’s scared. Steve’s proven himself willing to listen and adapt, but he was raised in the 40’s how does that even translate-

     “I agree.” Steve says, slow and deliberate, as if her panic reads clear on her face. Her thoughts stagger to a halt and she blinks in surprise. Seeing her struck dumb expression, he smiles, soft.

     “I- for one it’s your choice. But, for what it’s worth, I agree. I don’t think either of us are ready to be parents, and frankly, I don’t want to be a father, at least not yet. I’ve had so much change in the last few years- I need more time before something like this.” He says, his eyes watchful on hers. She smiles, feeling tears of relief gather at the corners of her eyes.

     “Oh thank god.” She says, shaky. Steve snorts, running his hands over her thighs, back and forth, soothing.

     “How do you- do we-“ Steve makes a frustrated expression as he tries to figure out the wording, but Darcy knows what he means.

     “There’s a pill. You can’t take it until the pregnancy is six weeks along, and Harrison said she’d prescribe it to me, if I wanted. But since I don’t want SHIELD to know that much about our sex lives, I figure Natasha might be able to find a place off their radar. And remind me to ask her for birth control recommendations, because mine is obviously shit.” Darcy says, narrowing her eyes in annoyance.

     “And that’s it?” He asks, voice soft.

     “That’s it. We- we can talk about kids and shit later, but I think we need more time, you know?” Darcy says, her voice sounding tentative against her best efforts. He nods, his expression solemn. There’s silence for a long, aching moment. She lets out a long, shuddering, sigh, feeling like a million lbs have been lifted from her shoulders. The choice is made, and that’s it, she has a plan now.

     “Ready?” Steve asks, quiet. She nods, smiling.

 

###

 

     By the time they get back to the tower, it’s night, another day slipped between her fingers. After the medical check, one last debrief, and Steve spending the day osculating between looming over protective and pointedly not overprotective, she’s so tried she could cry. The tower is deserted and as she and Steve walk across the shadowed lobby, Darcy finds it easier to breathe, finds herself relaxing for the first time all day. Home, she thinks, I’m fucking home. As they step into the elevator, Steve crowding close to her side, she feels herself tear up a little, overwhelmed.

     “Good evening Ms. Lewis. It’s a pleasure to have you back. We were- worried for your safe return.” JARVIS says, his voice subdued. Darcy looks up at the ceiling, brushes tears from her eyes.

     “Hey JARVIS, it’s good to be back.” She says, managing to smile. Steve gently, slowly, twines his fingers through hers, and she squeezes reflexively, flashing a smile at him too. The elevator doors open soundlessly onto the Avengers main floor and Darcy all but leaps out, filled with a sudden and fierce need to see her friends. She tugs Steve out into the living room, and into the kitchen. Her friends, Tony, Bruce, Natasha, Clint, Thor and Jane, all sit around the kitchen table, their heads swiveling to face her as one.

     She feels more tears leak from her eyes, feels Steve gently drop her fingers and step away as Jane launches herself across the room. Jane hits her with a shriek and a hug so strong it rocks her back on her heels. Darcy holds her friend tight, buries her face in Jane’s hair and tries to take deep breaths. She hears someone come up on her side, feels another set of arms around her. She smells gun oil and expensive perfume, Natasha. She hears the murmur of male voice and lets herself have the hug for another long moment. Finally, regretfully, she pulls away. Natasha and Jane step back, giving her room and Darcy swipes tears off her eyes with extreme prejudice. The others have all stood, their faces matching masks of concern and relief. Tony and Clint stand closest to her, and she nods to them with a smile.

     “Bad guys beaten?” Darcy asks, her voice still watery with tears. As one, their faces go dark and smug, and Darcy considers that maybe it should scare her.

     “I… interrogated Morris and Carmichael.” Natasha says as she tilts her head with a grin that’s sly and altogether terrifying. Bruce ducks his head to partially hide his own nasty smirk as Thor and Clint and Jane smile unrepentantly. Tony, for his part, doesn’t smile so much as tilt his head and look like he’s plotting the downfall of man.

     “Hell yeah-” Darcy says, fist pumping in victory- “-rule 55 motherfuckers.” Rule 55: Revenge is not a dish best served cold. Revenge is a dish best served like a Vegas buffet, never ending and with style. It had been Tony’s rule, added just after the Mandarin fiasco, and at the time no one had had the heart to erase it. Darcy thinks, looking at the grim faces of her friends, that Rule 55 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The thought buoys her and she turns to wiggle her hands at Steve,  inviting him back into her space. He doesn’t hesitate, as if he’d been waiting for her to ask, and steps up to press himself along her side, their hands tangling together once more. Darcy raises her eyebrow at the room at large, daring them to say a word. No one does, although the leering almost gets out of hand.

     “What the fuck happened with the rescue?” Darcy says, stepping forward to claim a chair at the end of the table. Steve comes along with her, tense at the mention of the rescue, but sits close enough they can keep holding hands. The rest settle themselves back into their chairs, their faces varying shades of malcontent. Natasha ends up on her right, followed by Clint and Bruce, while Jane sits directly across, followed by Thor and Tony. Tony taps unhappy fingers on the table, averts his eyes. Darcy tugs at Steve’s hand and he glares at her. She sticks her tongue out and his face softens into a sheepish smile.

     “I lost my shit.” Steve admits, leaning back in his chair. Natasha and Darcy snort in amusement, while the rest grin at their now blushing fearless leader

     “That’s one way to put it.” Natasha drawls, leaning forward to meet Steve’s eyes. He grimaces, grits his teeth, shrugs. Tony laughs, his fingers still tapping an agitated rhythm on the table.

     “You have no room to talk.” Natasha says, narrowing her eyes at Tony. Tony raises his hands in surrender with a smile too strained to meet his eyes.

     “Oh, I admit I lost my shit. I just like hearing boy scout say it.” Tony says, deflecting so hard he could be a solar array. Steve leans forward in his chair, expression tight, but Darcy slaps her hand down on the table in anger, cutting him off.

     “No! You fuckers are going to act your age and you’re going to tell me what happened!” Darcy snaps, letting go of Steve’s hand to smack him on the shoulder. Steve and Tony freeze, their eyes wide, before settling back into their chairs.

     “We all got a little- high strung after you were taken. It was chaotic for a while.” Bruce says with a shrug. She hears Clint snort in amusement, but the archer says nothing. 

     “I mean when Steve and Tony jumped the gun and I had to be air-lifted out.” Darcy says, pulling her hand free of Steve’s and crossing her arms over her chest. Steve lets out a long breath, looks down at the table, and Tony looks away, seeming ashamed.

     “Guys-“ Darcy starts, annoyed despite her best intentions.

     “I saw the tapes and I-“ Steve starts, looking up at her.

     “-went completely apeshit. We both did- we all did really.” Tony finishes, looking up at her with a ghost of a smile. Darcy nods, trying to figure out what she wants to say.

     “You guys are the fucking Avengers.” Darcy says, voice strained. Her thoughts are almost sluggish, and the idea that she could cause so much upset and disarray among the Avengers leaves her feeling lightheaded.

     “And you are precious to us, Darcy Lewis.” Thor says, leaning forward for emphasis. His expression is so open, so earnest that Darcy almost has to look away. 

     “I’m the civilian, I’m vulnerable.” Darcy says with a shrug and a quirk of her lips. Natasha makes a dismissive sound and reaches out to flick Darcy’s ear. Darcy hisses and ducks away, glaring at the assassin.

     “You’re our friend. We weren’t prepared for you to be taken.” Natasha says, rolling her eyes.

     “Is anyone every ready for a kidnapping?” Darcy asks, raising her eyebrow. In response, Natasha levels an unimpressed glare at her, as if she knows what Darcy’s up to.

     “And the- loophole, by the way, that allowed them to penetrate the tower’s defenses has been taken care of. I promise you that.” Tony says, his hands still and eyes intent upon hers. Darcy swallows, nods. 

     “Why didn’t they go after Jane? I mean, I was just the intern.” Darcy asks, looking back and forth between Natasha and Tony. Steve trails his hand down her arm and tangles their fingers together again, posture tense, as if he needs her touch to steady himself. Darcy traces nonsense patterns into his palm and his whole frame relaxes.  

     “They tried.” Thor snarls, slamming his hand on the table. As one, the room freezes, remembering that Thor is a god, baptized in blood and battle and has lifetimes of violence and war behind him. Jane settles her hand in the crook of Thor’s arm, leans up to murmur something in his ear, and the god relaxes, his threatening posture melting away. She feels Steve and Natasha relax, almost as one.

     “Well that was stupid of them.” Darcy manages, cutting through the tension like a knife. Thor leans back in his chair, crossing his arms proudly in front of his chest.

     “Yes. They came to regret their choice.” Thor says, smug.

     “Here here.” Bruce mutters, raising an imaginary glass in salute. The rest of team salutes him back, smug and still strung tight with suppressed violence.

     “You guys can’t lose your shit though, every time one of us gets in danger.” Darcy says, motioning back and forth between herself and Jane. Jane nods in agreement, her eyes narrowed at Thor.

     “I think you’ll find we can.” Tony drawls, his heart not really in it. Jane smacks him on the arm and he hisses, glaring at her.

     “Pepper, Darcy and I made the choice to be here with you-“ Jane says, eyes scanning the table- “-and we came the conclusion, all on our own, that the risk is worth it. We’re going to be in danger again, and we need to know you guys can handle it.” Jane’s voice is soft, her expression pinched with worry. No one says anything, the world’s mightiest heroes sit quietly, shamefaced and tense.

     “Where is Pepper, by the way?” Darcy says, to give her friends some breathing room. Tony’s head pops up like a spring and he grins at her, eyes wide and smile mean.

     “At SHIELD. Threatening to pull all of SI’s contracts if they fuck up like this again.” Tony says, leaning back in his chair, smugness radiating off him like heat from a fire. At his words, various noises and expressions of victory and delight ripple over the team. Darcy snorts, leaning her head against Steve’s shoulder with a sigh. He shifts slightly to give her a more comfortable perch, and his fingers tighten around hers.

     “Jane’s right guys.” Darcy says into the silence, regretful and tired in equal measure.

     “I’m not saying she’s wrong.” Clint says mulishly, speaking up for the first time since they entered the kitchen.

     “I do not disagree with Jane either.” Thor says, careful.

     “But I won’t promise not to be upset when my friends are threatened.” Bruce says, picking up where the god left off. He ducks his head, adjusts his glasses, clearly uncomfortable with even talking about friendship. Darcy wants to hug him, she really does.

     “We can do better though. We can- drill, and have plans in place for situations like this.” Steve says, pressing a soft kiss to Darcy’s hair. Natasha nods in agreement, her expression troubled.

     “SHIELD has some procedures that I think we can cannibalize for our purposes.” Natasha says, already scrolling through her StarkPhone. Clint makes a considering sound.

     “ALPHA785?” Clint asks, reaching for his phone as well. Natasha nods at him, already distracted.

     “The point is I’m still here. You guys got me back.” Darcy says, laying her words out like the losing hand in a poker game. Steve tenses, tightens his fingers around hers, relaxes, lets out a long breath.

     “I suppose that’s good enough for now.” Bruce responds, speaking for the team at large. His expression is mostly blank, but the thick lines of tension around his mouth and eyes belie any thought of serenity. Darcy closes her eyes, suddenly so tired the thought of walking to her rooms feels like a marathon.

     “Darcy?” She hears Jane ask, hesitant. Darcy opens her eyes, yawns. Bruce and Clint have already pushed back from the table, and Natasha helps Darcy to her feet, Steve steadying her on the other side. Tony stands and saunters to the end of the table, as Thor and Jane bring up the rear. Darcy sways in place, looks at her friends as they cluster at the kitchen entrance and feels, for the first time since she woke up in the AIM warehouse, that everything will be okay. She tears up, swipes them away, and smiles at them.

     “Group hug, you lousy fuckers.” Darcy mutters, shuffling her feet. There’s a pause, before Tony lets out a whoop of laughter and darts across the room. They converge upon her like a wave upon rocks, smiling, yelling, wrapping her in warm arms and the sensation of home. Tony and Bruce give her careful hugs, their expressions as sorrowful as they are happy, but she knows it’s just the shadows in their heads. Jane throws her arms around Darcy’s neck as Thor lifts them both in the air with his exuberance, booming something about Ravens, probably. Natasha and Clint converge upon her from either side, pressing a kiss to her cheek and a gripping her arm tight, respectively, before they move away. Steve stands behind her, his hand touching some part of her at all times, laughingly adjusting as the tide of aggressive comforting passes. Finally, they’ve all said their peace and Darcy leans back into the circle of Steve’s arms, feeling at once more energized and as if she wants to hibernate for a month. She leans her head back to look up at Steve, and he grins down at her, the shadows in his eyes seeming lighter than before.

     “I’m so fucking tired.” She confides, hearing her voice fade under the weight of exhaustion. He nods, solemn, as the others quietly slip out of the kitchen.

     “I’ll keep watch.” Steve says, wrapping her arms about her waist for a brief hug. She frowns, opens her mouth, closes it at the look of almost desperation that passes over his face.

     “You sleep whenever I wake up next.” She comprises, the sternness of her order somewhat comprised by the yawn that splits her face. He nods, stepping back so he stands at her side, slipping his arm through hers.

     “I can live with that. And Tony finished your suite while you were- gone. I figured you might not want to sleep in mine.” Steve says with a grimace, as if he doesn’t even want to sleep in his suite. Darcy understands the sentiment. Darcy starts walking at a slow trudge, Steve politely keeping pace. By the time they make it to the living room, it’s dark, lit only the splashes of city lights, and there’s no sign of her friends. If she leans some, most, of her weight on Steve’s arm he doesn’t say a word and his steps don’t falter. The elevator doors are already open and waiting by the time they make it there.

“Thanks JARVIS.” Darcy mutters, another yawn breaking through her words. Her thoughts feel muggy and slow, like a wind-up toy on its last twist of power.

“My pleasure Ms. Lewis.” JARVIS says, and it might be her imagination, but his voice is softer than usual, almost like a whisper. Once inside the elevator, Steve carefully leans her against the wall, hovering close in case she totters over. Another time she would resent the implication that she can’t be trusted not to fall over in a perfectly stable elevator, except that, no yeah, she might fall over at any moment. Thankfully, it’s only a few seconds between when the elevator doors close and when they open again, revealing a darkened living room she doesn’t recognize. As she and Steve make their careful way out onto her floor, she distantly registers that those are her bookshelves, and books, up against the far wall.

 Steve steers her though the living room, past chairs that she knows aren’t hers, and into a darkened bedroom. The far wall is taken up by a huge window, and there’s a twinge of unease, but she ignores it in favor of shuffling over to the large and gorgeous bed, before flinging herself down on it. She ends up sprawled diagonal with her feet hanging off the side like a child. She hears Steve walk around to the other side, before he lays himself down by her, mirroring her pose. His face is barely a breath away from hers, so she brushes a kiss over his lips, soft as a sigh. His eyes flutter close, almost involuntarily, and he kisses back, gentle and open. They trade kisses back and forth in a slow tide, the city lights casting bright lines of color across their faces. There’s nothing sexual about it really, just a warm intimacy that settles her, makes her smile gently into his kisses. Steve reaches out to run his fingers through her hair and she opens her eyes to meet his, feeling slow and sweet like molasses.

“Comfortable?” Steve asks, teasing, as he twirls a stand of her hair around his fingers. She stretches, takes stock of her position, and figures she can sleep like this for a few hours. All the better to make Steve sleep, she thinks, self-satisfied.  

“Yeah, I’m good.” Darcy says, stretching once more for verisimilitude. Steve quirks his lips as if he knows exactly what she’s doing, but says nothing. He stretches too, shifting his arm down from her head to settle across her back. The feel of him through her shirt is a warm comfort.

“We’re okay.” She whispers, running her fingers across his face, tracing the shape of his eyebrows. He smiles and it almost reaches his eyes.

“I know, Darce, I know.” He says, shifting around to find a more comfortable position. She sighs, feels herself go languid and boneless on this ridiculously comfortable bed.

“I don’t know where to go from here.” She whispers, finding courage in the hushed darkness. He shifts close, their noses bumping, and she’s unspeakably grateful. Not just for the closeness, for the heat of him, but because at this distance she can’t see his expression and he can’t see hers.

“Neither do I. But it’s… okay. We survived this and we’ll figure it out.” Steve say, conviction strong in his voice.

“I- I’m so glad I found you. I'm glad that it's you and I'm glad you're here with me for the ridiculous hero stuff, even if you dress like my grandpa.” Darcy whispers, her voice brittle. She feels Steve grin against her lips, before he brings his hand up to cup her face.

“I’m glad I found you too. With all this ridiculous hero stuff, I wouldn't want to do it alone. We- I think we’re better together.” Steve says, pressing another soft kiss to her mouth.

“Yeah-“ Darcy says- “-that.”