Like A Prayer
“Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone,” Darcy sings along with the music coming out of the speakers. She’s swinging her hips back and forth, occasionally lifting her hands from the mixing bowl to raise them above her head for emphasis. “I hear you call my name, and it feels like home.”
The tempo picks up and she uses the wooden spoon as a drumstick in one hand, miming its twin in the other for a raucous drum solo.
Steve laughs and (somehow) she hears him over the music. She doesn’t blush, or even pause, instead pointing her spoon at him and continuing to sing. She brings it back up and now it’s a microphone, and Steve nearly doubles over laughing as she dances around the communal kitchen in her sweats. When she grabs his hand, still singing and dancing, to get him to join her he shakes his head and pulls back.
He spends the rest of the week wishing he’d danced with her.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Steve likes to spend time in the labs with Darcy. He won’t admit it to anyone, but she’s one of his favorite people. She makes things easier -- simpler. She doesn’t remind him of anything or anyone. She’s just Darcy. She laughs at his stupid jokes and she doesn’t act like he’s an ancient artifact that needs to be handled with kid gloves. She spends enough time calling him a dork that he’s pretty sure she doesn’t care that he’s (ugh) famous, even if she makes a star-spangled man with a plan joke every once in a while.
He likes Darcy. She’s the one simple thing in his ridiculously overly complicated life.
Which is the only reason he can come up with for walking away when he sees her crying. He comes in after his early morning run and she’s sitting cross-legged on the counter, a mug cupped in her hands. She has those little earbuds in, but thanks to the serum he can hear the tinny sound even across the room. She doesn’t see him and he stays in the doorway, watching her as tears roll down her face. His heart clenches in a way that he hasn’t felt since he had a heart murmur. He hears her let out a sob and he turns away, feeling like a heel.
Folsom Prison Blues/20th Century Boy
“Okay so, even if you can’t get drunk, I can, and we’ll be in a bar full of drunk people, so really it’s like herd immunity or something.”
“Well the whole point of karaoke is that everyone’s too drunk to care about their lack of talent, right? So if everyone but you is drunk, then basically it’s the same thing,” Darcy says with a triumphant look. “No one will care about anyone’s talent, or lack thereof. Except you I guess.” She looks worried for a second. “Maybe this is a bad idea.”
Steve lets out a sigh. He has trouble enough keeping up with Darcy’s fast-paced chatter, but this is a bit much. Darcy has been trying to convince him to go to a karaoke bar with her to, in her words, help her forget the shittiest day in the history of the world. It isn’t an easy sell, but now that she looks ready to give up, he finds himself almost disappointed. “Why is it a bad idea now?”
“Well I hadn’t really considered that, you know, herd immunity drunkenness doesn’t exactly keep you from judging other people.” She coughs and then plasters on a smile. “How about we play Mario Kart instead?”
He frowns. “You’re worried I’m gonna judge you?” He’s never seen Darcy worried about what other people think of her. It’s kind of disconcerting, if he’s honest with himself.
“I guess? I don’t think I’ve ever sang in front of sober people.” Her smile dimmed. “That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Yeah, that sounds awful. Okay, decision made.”
Steve raises his eyebrows. “Okay?”
“Karaoke,” she says with a firm nod.
They didn’t have karaoke when Steve was growing up. He thinks it’s probably just as well; it’s one thing to be bad at singing, it’s another entirely to be bad at singing in addition to being an asthmatic weakling who could barely reach the microphone.
He tries telling Darcy that he doesn’t know any of the songs, but she insists that he can figure it out based on the screen showing the words. She points in the binder at a song called “Born in the USA,” waggling her eyebrows with a grin, and he shakes his head emphatically. He’ll be lucky if they can make it out of here without this showing up online, and there’s no way he’s giving Tony more ammunition. As it is, he’s not sure if the baseball cap and very un-Steve wardrobe of threadbare jeans and a graphic tee will be a good enough deterrent. She finally chooses a blessedly short song for him that she knows he’s heard before -- primarily because she’s had it playing on the speakers in the lab. She says the crowd will sing along for most of it, and it takes a second, but he realizes she chose the perfect song for him. The singer’s country twang is an easy affect so he can pretend he’s just playing another role in one of those ridiculous film spots. He barely gets out, “I hear the train a-comin’” before everyone in the bar is singing along, nearly drowning out his shaky voice. He laughs as he sings, ducking his head down, but he still sees Darcy in the crowd, holding up her lighter and grinning. People actually cheer once the song ends. He makes his way back to Darcy and says loudly in her ear, “I think they’re just happy it’s over.” He’s laughing as he says it, though, and she shoves his shoulder, laughing with him.
“You were great!” she shouts over the noise of the next song starting.
He raises his eyebrows, jerking his chin at the microphone stand. She raises her half-full glass and he laughs again.
After two more drinks (and two renditions of "Don’t Stop Believing" that have both of them rolling their eyes) Darcy gets up, insisting that she’s fine, and Steve’s almost ready to lend her an arm to steady her when she straightens, brushing her hair back and putting on a serious face.
“This is serious,” she says for emphasis. “I’m very serious about this.”
He grins into his beer as she walks away, her arms held out slightly for balance.
There are two opening chords, and the entire bar erupts in cheers and applause. Darcy throws her head back, laughing as she grips the microphone. She leans in to start to sing, striking dramatic poses and laughing at herself the entire time. She’s surprisingly good, but he knows the loud backing track and the crowd hide a multitude of sins. She gets to the chorus and Steve can’t hold back his grin. “I’m your toy, your twentieth-century boy,” isn’t the most subtle of reference he’s heard, but it has the entire bar singing along (more like yelling, he thinks). She shakes her hair back and forth during the guitar solos and he’s reminded of how she looked dancing all alone in the kitchen that day. Just like that day, even the most goofy of movements look adorable on her, like she knows she’s not the most graceful, but she makes up for it with enthusiasm and joy. She doesn’t need the screen like he did - she doesn’t so much as glance at it the entire time she’s up there, and he wonders if this is one of her favorites or if she chose it for him. Like a joke, he thinks to himself. Nothing more.
He catches her eye at one point and she looks down, a broad grin on her face. For once he’s glad for the noise and the crowd, so no one notices him blushing.
Steve does not talk to anyone about the time he saw Natasha dancing with Darcy. Natasha thanks him by not killing him in his sleep.
Ain’t That a Kick in the Head
It’s two weeks after he saw Darcy crying in the kitchen and Tony’s throwing some kind of fundraiser. He’s spectacularly drunk, weaving back and forth between cutting insults and self-disparaging remarks that are a little too grim to be funny. He gestures with his tumbler, sloshing whiskey over the side, and then squeezes his eyes shut.
“God damnit,” he says, sounding more sober than he has all night. Pepper hasn’t been able to get him to go to bed, but she’s at least sequestered him off to the side, so the only people who see him stumbling are (ostensibly) his friends. His teammates at least. He looks over and Darcy is pressed to the wall at the other side of the room, looking stricken. The orchestra is still playing an instrumental version of an old Dean Martin song and most of the guests are dancing and eating. The few paying attention to them have bored expressions, as if they’ve seen this before. Steve thinks they probably have, but it's been a while since Tony's performed this particular crowd-pleaser.
He hunches over, speaking slowly and quietly. “Tony, you and I are leaving right now.”
Tony looks ready to argue, but he glances over to where Darcy is and frowns. “I should leave,” he says, like he’d thought of the idea first.
“Yeah, okay.” Steve puts his hand on his back and Clint steps aside so they can make their way out.
Tony starts babbling in the elevator, saying things that only make marginal sense, and Steve stops paying attention until he hears him say Darcy’s name.
“Such a colossal fucking screw up,” Tony says, staring at the ceiling. Steve frowns, ready to defend her, until Tony starts talking again. “Should never have given her up. Should’ve manned up and taken care of her.”
Shock rolls over Steve. “What?”
Tony doesn’t hear him, or maybe he does, but either way he keeps talking like Steve hadn’t said a word.
“You know she didn’t even know?” he asks. “Grew up in Virginia of all places. Started working at a fast food place when she was fifteen.” He shakes his head. “Should’ve been different. She’s so smart.”
The elevator door opens and Tony stumbles out, but Steve stays rooted in place for a moment, his mouth hanging open. He helps Tony into Happy’s car, silent while Tony keeps talking about Darcy’s mom giving her up for adoption and never telling him. The information just keeps coming and it takes Happy moving to close the door before Tony seems to remember that Steve is there.
“Tell her I’m sorry, okay?”
Steve nods, looking anywhere but at Tony.
Darcy doesn’t sing a lot after that night. She isn’t around much at all, in fact. When he goes to the labs, Jane tells him that she’s taking some time off, and no one else seems to have talked to her beyond a quick hello and goodbye. She’s still living at the Tower, but she mostly stays in her apartment or leaves before anyone else is awake. Then, one day, she just comes back and stays. She starts eating breakfast in the common rooms, going to work and watching movies with everyone.
Tony doesn’t leave his lab for more than a few hours at a time until she has Jarvis override the security code and throws a wrench a few feet to the left of his head, yelling at him to quit being “such a baby” and “get over it already”.
Things get better after that. Steve suspects that it has something to do with Tony sobering up for the first time in weeks, but they start talking and Tony stops leaving the room every time she walks in.
Darcy starts playing music again in the lab, and Steve hangs out at one of the back tables, idly sketching while she works. They don’t talk about Tony or the night of the party, but she smiles more, even when she’s complaining about Jane screwing up her filing system or hiding coffee mugs behind equipment.
Every once in a while she stops working and gets Steve’s attention, telling him that whatever song is playing is her favorite (she has a lot of favorites) and they both sit and listen. There are some songs that give her this look on her face like his ma used to have when she was in church. She tilts her head back and smiles, closing her eyes at the crescendos like it’s too much for her senses. Sometimes she tells him stories about them, where she first heard a song or something important from her life that’s somehow connected to it. A song called “Fast Car” gets him a long story about her first boyfriend. She smiles the entire time she tells it, talking about how they dated for two weeks and she listened to it on repeat for months after they broke up. She was thirteen and her mom ended up confiscating the CD, telling her she was too young to mope this much over a boy.
Darcy tells him in a confidential tone, “I think I liked the song more than I liked him.” She laughs a little at herself and he imagines her as a teenager, holed up in her room, listening to music and telling her mom that she just didn’t understand. He laughs with her when she tells him that she stole back the CD and just switched to a discman.
She doesn’t seem at all bothered talking about her parents. He tries to understand how she separates it all, but according to her, Tony’s Tony, and her parents are her parents. It reminds him of why he liked her so much in the beginning: Darcy makes things simple. She responds to the Tony thing the same way she responded to Thor falling from the sky and dating her boss. It’s like life just rolls over her and she rolls with it.
Even after the Tony thing, which she still brushes off, it takes Steve a while to figure out that Darcy isn’t as carefree as he thought she was. He starts to notice that when things bother her, she tends to keep it inside until she’s alone, and if she can’t keep it inside that long, she just leaves. The labs are generally sound proof, but if he can feel the vibrations of a heavy bass line against the door, he knows to come back later. He didn’t know better at first -- he opened the door, and he knows not all modern music is just noise, but he couldn’t really characterize the woman’s yelling voice as music. She barely glanced up from her notes to see him motion with an apologetic frown that he was leaving. He has no idea how she got any work done with all the sound pouring from the speakers, but she came into the common room a few hours later, looking considerably happier and saying that she was finished for the day. She smiled at him and they watched whatever TV was on and he thought that he (maybe) had it figured out. He ruins punching bags, she listens to ear-splitting music. He doesn’t mention that she shares that characteristic with her biological father.
Hurt / Bridge Over Troubled Water, redux
For his birthday, Darcy gives him an iPod loaded with songs, and it’s probably the best gift he’s ever gotten. She organized them into different playlists, labeled things like “Workout Music” and “Stuff to Listen to When You’re Sad About the Current State of Baseball” and “Darcy’s Faves.”
The baseball playlist turns out to be not at all about baseball, and Steve ends up tearing up listening to a song by Johnny Cash that he’d never heard before. It sounds entirely different from the one he sang at the bar - it’s a song about losing everything and everyone and wishing things were different. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on the song, but he starts thinking about his ma, and Bucky, and Peggy. He can’t help thinking that Darcy was being cruel or unthinking or something, putting that kind of song on a list for him to listen to. Like she knew it would hit him hard. He lets it go on to the next song and it takes him a minute to realize that he recognizes it. The last time he heard it it was muffled and distant, coming through Darcy’s headphones when she was crying that morning. It’s nearly two minutes into the song before he understands. These are the songs she listens to. She wasn’t being cruel. This was like a diary. Like her diary. He turns the sound up, letting the sound wash over him.
Love and Happiness
Like with all other things, Steve doesn’t figure out that he loves Darcy for way too long. The team jokes about the gift she gave him (apparently mixtapes are code) and he laughs and blushes, but mostly he ignores it. Darcy’s his friend. Maybe even his best friend. They do stuff together, but she’s not interested in him. Not like that. Whenever he says this, Natasha gets this irritated look on her face, like he’s annoying her with his idiocy. He thinks they’re being overly dramatic due to boredom. It’s been weeks since any major catastrophe hit the tri-state area, and they all get restless without something to do.
When one of the other lab assistants asks Darcy out right in front of him, he attributes the sinking feeling in his stomach to bad cafeteria food. Never mind that the cafeteria in the Tower is staffed by the best chefs Tony could harass into employment at Stark Industries. Darcy glances at him before she answers, and he looks down.
Natasha tells him later that he’s an idiot. She tells him that Darcy’s only going out with the assistant because he didn’t say anything. She tells him again that he’s an idiot, but this time she smacks the side of his head.
Steve knows he’s an idiot. Steve knew it from the second he looked down instead of suggesting that Darcy might be busy that night not dating anyone who wasn’t Steve.
Steve finds it slightly ironic that the guy who asked for his autograph the first time they met is now taking Darcy out because he’s braver than he is.
And, because Steve is an idiot, he does nothing about it.
Darcy comes back from her date early and the lab assistant doesn’t take her out again, but she’s more distant with Steve. She doesn’t invite him out to karaoke, and she doesn’t force him to listen to the songs she likes. She still updates his iPod when he tells her he’s listened to everything, but the songs are less personal. She adds music from South Africa, music from the fifties, stuff he knows she only listens to in the background when she isn’t really paying attention. She doesn’t punch his shoulder or sit close to him so she can share an earbud with him.
He tries to pretend he doesn’t notice and fails spectacularly.
He finally breaks when she apologizes and tells him she doesn’t have anything new for him. It hits him that she always had something for him -- some playlist that she was working on, a new song from a singer she loved -- but he’d never really thought of it as something special she did just for him. It was just something she did.
He frowns down at the device in his hands, the earphones wrapped around it, nearly covering the cover she’d gotten for him with van Gogh’s Sunflowers on the back.
“Darcy?” he says hesitantly.
“I’m --” He stops himself, breathing in sharply. “I love you,” he says quickly, like ripping a band-aid off. “And it’s probably too late, because I’m an idiot, but I love you, and --” He stops again, faltering now that he’d gone beyond the point of no return. “Do you want to get coffee with me?”
“Coffee?” she asks, her eyes a little wide.
“Because you love me.”
He winces. “Yes.”
She stands up, keeping her eyes on him. “Okay. Okay. So, I love you, too,” she says with a slow smile. “So maybe dinner?”
“You -- ? Yeah, okay. Yeah. Dinner,” he says in a rush. “I’d like that.”
“Because you love me,” she replies.
He shakes his head and, with a burst of bravery he attributes to the mischief in her eyes, hunches over to kiss her. Her hands go immediately to his cheeks and she kisses back. She really kisses back.
They don’t actually get to the dinner part, but when he’s lying in her bed that night she reaches over and fiddles with her speakers until a song comes out. He smiles and she rolls back over until she’s resting her head on his chest, telling him this song will change his life.
1. Madonna : Like a Prayer
2. Aretha Franklin : Bridge Over Troubled Water
3. Johnny Cash : Folsom Prison Blues
4. T Rex : 20th Century Boy
5. Outkast : Hey Ya
6. Dean Martin : Ain’t That a Kick in the Head
7. Hole : Violet
8. Johnny Cash : Hurt
9. Al Green : Love and Happiness