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Cold Feet

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Darcy was having the same nightmare she’d been having for months, ever since the Snap. She was in the lab, talking animatedly, but she couldn’t hear her own voice, just see her bright, unnatural expression. She looked like a puppet on strings, waving her mug around.

“Darcy?” Jane said. When Darcy looked up from the coffee pot, Jane was already turning to ashes.

“Jane! Jane!” she yelled, but there was nothing she could do. After that, the nightmare turned into a blur of images: car crashes, unrest on the news, not being able to do anything but leave messages for her mother until the system automatically said inbox full. Inbox full. Inbox full.

She woke up sweating again, the nausea washing over her. Jane was gone, her mom was gone. Darcy was alone in the world. She had no other family, besides some distant cousins.

She had no job without Jane and would have no money, once the bit of cash in her bank account from Jane’s grants dried up, and it wasn’t safe to travel alone.

She had been trying to find Erik Selvig when she stumbled across something on the dark web: an offer to hack a government database. A former SHIELD database, missed in the SHIELD info dump after the HYDRA Uprising. That might have contact information for anyone she knew---Thor? Natasha Romanoff, who she’d met once? Darcy thought she could do it. Also, the cops were a little overwhelmed at the moment, so the likelihood of getting arrested seemed slim.

As it turned out, she should have been more worried about what would happen if there were no cops to protect her from people who weren’t cops. Like the men who abducted her outside her apartment on a Tuesday a few days after she finished the job.

Several hours later, the hood was pulled off and she blinked as her vision swam. She was in a strange room. One of the men handed Darcy her glasses. “Are you cops?” she said, coughing a little. There was soft laughter.

“No,” a voice said. “Not in the slightest.” Darcy’s head jerked up. She knew that voice from somewhere...the man standing with his back to her turned around. She knew that face, too. From the news. She and Jane had always joked about how they’d met an infamous criminal boss in New Mexico, years before he’d gone “bad,” when he was just a regular SHIELD agent.

“Crossbones? You kidnapped me?” she said dimly. He smiled, scars twisting.

“You remember me,” he said. “Good, we can get down to business.”

“Excuse me?” she said before she could stop herself.

“Oh,” he said smiling again, “you don’t know? You called attention to yourself when you accepted my ad. I like your work--”

“You like my work?” she said, feeling herself go numb. Ever since he’d escaped that hospital, Crossbones had been known as a mercenary. Steve had hunted for him occasionally, but they’d never managed to catch him. The Snap had been advantageous to him, probably. He was definitely the kind of asshole who thought “chaos is a ladder” was a mission statement. Whenever he was mentioned on the news, it was in comparison to infamous mobsters and crime lords: Al Capone, El Chapo, various New York mafia.

“So, now we’re going to work together. Or you’re going to work for me. Lots of people do,” he said, smiling again. “I have a wide circle of influence.”

“I should kill you where you stand,” Darcy said. For a second, she felt like herself again. That made him laugh.

“Yes, but you won’t. Because you--to be perfectly blunt--can’t,” Rumlow told her casually. He gestured to the men guarding the room. “You’d never make it out of here alive. So, why don’t we work together like adults?”

Darcy realized she didn’t have a choice. Not that she had much left to live for, anyway. But what if she could get to Erik? She’d been hanging her hopes on access to scientists, magic, Thor, to fix this thing, get Jane and her mom back. Her mother would tell her to stay alive and Jane would tell her that an infinite number of outcomes were possible.

“So?” Crossbones said, interrupting her thoughts.

“Fine,” Darcy told him.

“Good,” he said.

 

They moved her into a room in his compound. There were guards along the perimeter fence. It was in the desert, remote enough that she couldn’t see any other buildings or towns on the horizon. Crossbones gave her tasks and she considered failing at them, but decided that Mark or Jamie or one of the other guards would just be assigned to shoot her in the head and bury her out here. So, she did her work and kept her head down. They paired her with another hacker, a former IT guy named Tony, who was one of his long-term employees, apparently. “I used to work for a bank,” he told her. “He uses me to see who to rob next. But as long as you don’t try to draw attention to yourself, cooperate, he won’t actually hurt you.” Darcy had her doubts about that.

But she listened to everything Tony said. Everything. She picked up every hacking trick she didn’t yet know and every bit of information that she could. She learned from eavesdropping that they were in a remote corner of the Arizona desert, mostly known for its small population of Mormon fundamentalists in nearby Short Creek. It was true isolation. Darcy knew the possibility of rescue was slim out here, even before the Snap. She tried not to dwell on the fact that the government had left those fundamentalist guys alone for decades and they were sixty year olds marrying their twelve year old cousins.

The compound was wild and strange. She heard raucous parties sometimes and drunks shooting off guns; other nights were silent and empty. She found it impossible to sleep at any point, but eventually, the exhaustion wore her down. This was her new normal. But they let her have internet access.

One afternoon, he called her into the office. “You’ve been doing well,” he said.

“Thank you?” she said. Darcy mostly felt numb. It was difficult to know how to respond to verbal back and forth when you felt a kind of drained fatigue all the time.

“But you could have done the last one differently,” he said. She listened, confused, as he described a more efficient way of obtaining the information than the one she’d used.

“You know how to do that?” she said, then immediately regretted her words.

“Sure,” he said, in a surprisingly calm voice.

“What do you need me for?” she asked. It took her a second to realize that sound was him laughing quietly.

“I can’t be everywhere,” he said dryly. “I’m in a managerial role now. I’d still like to rob the banks myself sometimes. Miss that. Adrenaline is...problematic for me.” She stared at him for a second.

He stood up. “C’mon,” he said. She followed him out of the room, wondering if he was this amused because he was going to shoot her or something? Instead, he asked her to eat with him. Darcy tried to bat back his questions with care while she figured out what he really wanted. She was hesitating when he spoke again. “I’d like you on the team permanently,” he told her suddenly.

“Oh,” she said. When she met his battered eyes, the subtext became clearer. She nodded and returned to eating. He told her an anecdote about jumping out of a plane and fracturing several bones on the landing.

They repeated this routine for a few days. At the end of the week, she decided to go to bed with him. He hadn’t asked, but she wanted to get it over with. Wanted it to feel like a choice, even if it wasn’t. That gave her an illusion of control, a feeling of some agency. She didn’t know if it would buy her anything--more freedom, a greater possibility of getting out--but it seemed worth the risk. And she had nothing left to lose. She’d quietly used the internet access to email Erik. All her emails were returned as undeliverable. She couldn’t find his name on the lists of the missing, but that meant nothing. His son was on the list of those lost. Who would list Erik as missing too if his son was gone?

 

Rumlow was describing a problem to her the next night when she leaned over and pressed her mouth against the corner of his.

He stopped talking then. He wasn’t a terrible kisser.

And probably he’ll lose interest faster if he assumes I want him, she thought, as she followed him into a bedroom, their fingers intertwined. He took her clothes off slowly, eyes raking her body. She found his scars strangely fascinating, her attention on the criss-cross patterns of his arms, the scars that snaked down his neck. He looked at her, pupils wide. “Hey, you with me?” he said, touching her shoulders.

“Mmmm-hmm,” Darcy said.  He was warm and strong, she realized, as he pulled her into his lap.

“I want you,” he said, hands on her thighs. He kissed her slowly, sucking at her top lip. She might not feel much emotionally, but she was surprised to find herself responding to him physically. Darcy stabilized herself by curling her fingers around those shoulders. His muscles were firm under her touch. She ran her hands over his chest, feeling the way the scars changed the texture of his skin: slick, not slick, slick. “You scared of me?” he said quietly, eyes on her face. She shook her head.

“I want you to fuck me,” she told him, half-believing it herself. Darcy watched--half-present, half observing in what Jane would have called “a clinical fashion”--as he eased her on the bed and began kissing her again. His weight felt solid and real against her skin and that seemed to jostle a memory of what sex was like--had been like--from the recesses of her walled-off mind. When you were really excited and eager to be with someone, you got that butterflies feeling of physical nervousness blended with desire. This wasn’t that, not exactly. She wasn't nervous. But it wasn’t a bad feeling, she realized, wrapping her legs around his hips. “Don’t hold back,” she told him.

“I won’t,” he said. She muffled her moans by pressing her face against his scarred shoulder.

 

 

“What do you want?” he asked quietly in the morning.

“Hmmm?” Darcy said, opening her eyes. She had been resting. Not really sleeping, just letting herself not move.

“You slept with me without my asking, you must want something,” he said.

“I want my mom and Jane back,” she said, cheek against the scarred skin of his arm. He was silent. She knew he couldn’t give her that. No one could give her that. She’d said it because she wanted him to know she couldn’t be bought, not really. She was still as he stroked her hair, twirling a strand around his finger.

 

Rumlow gave her other things instead: clothes, a new room nearer his, money. Material things. He still saw other women, the women who frequented the occasional parties, most prettier and younger than her. A lot of them were actually cocktail waitresses from Vegas, gambling having survived the Snap. It didn’t bother Darcy to see them around, stumbling out of his room and to breakfast. She had hardly any feelings left at all. Jealousy wasn’t an emotion she could access anymore. Most of her emotions felt walled off. She’d been briefly curious about the parties, but discovered they had the manic, scary energy of the nineteen-twenties or of people who chased highs because they had nothing left, Darcy thought. She was too numb to even care about the people screaming and doing drugs all around her.

 

So, during her first party, she went back to her room.

 

But he cared. Bizarrely, he stomped up to find out who she was with after she left the scene downstairs. “Who the fuck--?” he began, opening her bedroom door. She looked up at him from where she was putting on her pajamas. He still had his hand on the door handle. “You’re alone,” he said.

“Yeah,” Darcy told him. It was true. She was very alone. He looked at her. There was a strange pause as she watched him process the gap between his projecting that she was fucking someone and the reality of her sitting there, with fuzzy socks in her lap because her feet still got cold, even with all that had happened. That bothered her most of all, sometimes. The fact that her feet were naggingly cold all the damn time. She had nobody and still needed socks to sleep.

 

He sat down next to her. “I know what this is like,” he said. “Being alone. Feeling alone.”

“I didn’t choose this,” she said. The you did went unspoken.

“No,” he said. “I chose for you. You wanna go? I’ll let you go.”

“To where? To who?” Darcy said.

“Then fucking stay,” he said. “Be miserable with me.”

 

***

Darcy stayed. They silently worked out an arrangement where they ate together every night and she slept in his bed a few nights a week. He fucked her, she thought, remembering a friend from college’s joke, “like a man who had a feeling once and didn’t like it much.” She thought it would fade, whatever it was.

 

To her surprise, he didn’t lose interest in screwing her or talking to her. But the first tipping point came when he brought back a model. Rumlow texted her, asking if she wanted to spend the night, and she found them in bed together. “This is Darcy,” he explained to the other woman. She was willowy and tanned in her lingerie. She nodded at him. He looked at Darcy.

“This is Gina,” he said. “Come to bed with us, sweetheart?” He patted the mattress on his other side.

“Nope, looks like you’ve got your hands full,” Darcy said dryly. She expected Gina to look upset, but the other woman smiled.

“I don’t mind,” she told Darcy, with a startling kind of acceptance.

“You should, you’re beautiful,” Darcy said honestly.

“Gina, give us a minute, go get a drink or something, please,” Rumlow said. Once Gina had put on a robe and shuffled off, he looked at Darcy. “I thought you’d like this? You told me you dated girls in college,” he said. She snorted.

“Not the way you’re imagining,” she said. They talked about all kinds of things at dinner and she’d mentioned a girlfriend in passing.

“Don’t be jealous,” he said.

“I’m not jealous, I just don’t like surprise threesomes,” Darcy said.

“So, I should what, contact your social secretary, make an appointment?” he asked, sighing.

“I’m going to bed, Brock,” she said. He wanted to her to call him by his actual name.

“You’re unhappy. You never laugh anymore,” he said as she turned.

“Anymore?” she said, puzzled. As far as she knew, her mood had been flat but even throughout her stay.

“You laughed a lot in Puente Antiguo,” he told her.

“Oh,” Darcy said.

“Also, you stole sugar packets from the diner,” he said.

“Why do you remember that?” she asked, turning back. He shrugged.

“Sometimes I remember the most fucked up things,” he said. “Come to bed, I’ll send Gina to another room.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, thinking about how Jane had always liked two Equals in her coffee, so Darcy had a habit of picking up a few packets wherever she went. Sometimes, her memories were pretty fucked up, too.

“I wouldn’t make you have sex with somebody,” he said. “I just thought you’d be into it.” She got in bed with him, but they didn’t have sex that night. In the morning, he announced they needed a change of scenery.

“Okay,” she said.

 

Parts of California were dangerous, but the wealthier areas had hired fill-in security services to make up for the police losses and lurching infrastructure. Darcy thought it was all slightly horrifying--the neighborhood was walled off now and served by generators to make up for the occasional power loss--but refrained from mentioning that to Brock, since she’d found out that he’d invested early in post-Snap security. Now half of his business was basically guarding and monitoring the properties of the paranoid and super wealthy and personal bodyguards for clients. The Snap had made him a more socially legitimate figure, ironically. What he’d gotten her to do in Arizona was a narrowing part of his empire. He was buying banks now, not robbing them. After the last election, he’d bribed--in his words, “given extensively to the reelection campaign”--of the current president, who’d given him a pardon. In all the chaos of the Snap, it had basically gone unnoticed.

 

They had long discussions about his goals. Mostly, he talked and she asked questions occasionally. She could go where she pleased with bodyguards, but he seemed to like having her around as a feedback machine. They were together all the time, sharing a bedroom now, and he wanted her to sit in on his meetings, be present during his day. He took her to restaurants a lot, too, since it was warm and pleasant at night in southern California. They were sitting on a restaurant patio when he asked her a question. “You need anything while we’re here?”

“No,” she said, shrugging.

“Nothing? Something nice? Clothes? Jewelry?” he offered. Then he shook his head at her lack of interest. “What did you think of Gregson?” They’d met with a potential client earlier in the day, a tech billionaire who wanted protection.

“A weasel,” Darcy said. “Possibly robot weasel,” she added. “He didn’t blink like a real human.” He laughed.

“Can’t believe he’s a goddamn billionaire and he was wearing sweatpants,” Brock said.

“Don’t knock comfortable pants,” she said lightly.

“You can’t stash a gun in ‘em, baby,” he told her, pointing with his fork. “You want more wine? I can tell you’re in a good mood, you made a joke.”  

“Reasonably good mood,” Darcy said.

“You really don’t want anything?” he asked. Darcy scrutinized his expression across the table. She thought about the absence of other women in California. It had begun to dawn on her that she was actually his current favorite of the transitory women in his life. He had a favorite everything: guns (a customized Sig Sauer P226 handgun), cars (a Ferrari F8 Tributo, shipped from Europe), food (grass-fed beef), even sunglasses (Ray-Ban aviators) and boxing gloves. All his favorite things went with him. He got out-of-sorts if they weren’t around, even if he barely drove the Ferrari and she’d yet to see him shoot anyone. It reminded her of something she’d learned with Jane in Europe, when they’d been briefly in France and done a chateau tour. The pamphlets had explained that the furniture was literally called “moveables” in French because the kings had gone from chateau to chateau carrying their things, their mistresses of the moment, and their courtiers with them. Brock was like that, in an odd way.

“Why am I here?” she asked. He looked at her from across the table.

“What, you want me to tell you I’m in love with you or something?” he asked. “That what you want?”  He smirked around a mouthful of steak and raised a scarred eyebrow.

“No,” she said. “I’m just not sure what it is I do for you that any of these women couldn’t do equally well.” The restaurant was full of expensively-turned out blondes in casual dresses that were probably a thousand dollars a piece. It seemed surreal to Darcy that there was still a market for leggy, California beauty, post-Snap, but there was. Things were beginning to slowly stabilize at the current equilibrium. “Maybe even better than I do,” she added, looking around with a flicker of curiosity. She spent most of her days people-watching for him now. Vetting clients by feeling and observation.

“Don’t talk yourself out of a job, I like the work you do just fine,” he said, grinning. They ate quietly for a minute. She listened to the sound of clinking silverware and other people talking. He gestured to the waiter and got her more wine. “You should adjust to this,” he said suddenly.

“What?” Darcy said.

“Everything’s going to stay like this. There’s no magic cure, Darcy. They aren’t coming back--not your mother and Jane, not mine,” he said. “So, we’ve just got to fucking move on, keep going forward. You think Jane goddamn Foster would want you to sit around staring at the walls?” he asked. His voice was blunt.

“Probably not, but she certainly wouldn’t approve of you,” Darcy said. She said it with some of her old sarcasm and his frown turned into a sly grin.

“No,” he said. “Move your chair closer to mine.” He had her sit so he could touch her knee as they ate. “You could enjoy your life with me,” he said.

“But if I start asking you for things, how will you know that I’m indifferent your gangster money?” she said dryly. She thought that was a large part of her appeal to him, anyway. He laughed, but then his expression grew serious.

“I know who you are,” he said, tension evident in his jaw. He inhaled a little roughly.

 

They had sex that night. He was gripping her hips and pounding into her when she felt overwhelmed by a wave of emotion. She’d been enjoying herself as much as she could, physically, then suddenly she started to cry. It was lucky he couldn’t see her face. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand, hoping her hair acted as a curtain. When he came, he slumped against her, kissing the back of her neck. She could feel the shaking of his muscles against hers. “Oh, baby,” he murmured, “that was so good. You feel good?”

“Yeah,” she said, hoping he mistook the quiver in her voice for passion instead of whatever this weird weepy feeling was. She hadn’t cried in months. She thought she’d lost the ability to cry. He shifted them both over onto their sides, sliding out of her. Darcy felt his mouth, dotting kisses across her shoulders and back, warm and soft.

“I want you to feel good,” he said. His arm was heavy across her body.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. She did feel oddly better after she cried.

 

***

“You need to see somebody,” Brock  said to her one morning as she did her makeup. He could tell Darcy was on autopilot, lining her lower lashes with pencil. What he’d said didn’t seem to register at first.

“What?” she said, looking over her shoulder at him. Brock was getting dressed.

“You need to see a doctor. I’ve made you an appointment for this afternoon and you’re going,” he said in a blunt tone. He didn’t normally use that voice with her, but he thought this might call for bluntness. He’d tried to engage her every way he knew: gifts, sex, entertainment. It had been several months and she was still listless. And he was concerned about her safety. At first, he’d wanted her around him purely for his own purposes, but now he’d started to worry that something would happen to her if he let her out of his sight. He’d caught her dozing in the bathtub once and had more security cameras installed all over the house. He had low-grade anxiety whenever she wanted to go somewhere without him, like a hum in his ears.  

“All right,” she said. He came up behind her and started rubbing her shoulders.

“You’re too sad,” he said. “I can’t let you go on like this--”

“Or?” Darcy said.

“You think I don’t see it when you cry? You cry during sex sometimes, baby,” he said, fingers kneading circles in her shoulder blades. She wouldn’t meet his eyes in the mirror of her vanity. Was that a tremble in her hands?

“I just--that’s when I-I feel things,” she said, stammering.

“You feel things?” he said, confused.

“Most of the time, I don’t--my feelings are all blocked,” she said. “Like, behind a paywall? I know they’re there, I can see them, I just can’t get to them, but sometimes, during sex I just get emotional. I don’t understand it, I don’t know why.” He saw she was tearing up, so he patted her hair.

“I’m going to a meeting, but I want you to rest before your appointment at three,” he said, voice firm. “You understand? I’ll be back to pick you up, but I think you should stay in bed.” He kissed her cheek gently. “Don’t cry, okay?” he asked.

“Okay,” she said.

 

He turned the security app on when he left the house. “Shit,” he said, when the feed cut on and he could see her crying despondently. “Fuck.” He called and she answered.

“Hello?” she said, sniffling.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he said.

“Are--are you leaving me?” she said quietly.

“No, honey,” he said. “I’ll be back at two, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”

 

The therapist was visibly frightened of him. It wasn’t the burns, Brock knew, because of the way  the man said his name with such careful respect. He obviously googled his clients. “Mr. Rumlow, what would you like me to do? A sedative?” he asked, after Darcy had stammered out a few sentences about Jane and her mother and the fog that had settled on her after the Snap.

“Excuse me?” Brock said.

“Would you like me to prescribe her a sedative?” he repeated.

“For fuck’s sake, I don’t want you to tranquilize my girlfriend like we live in Stepford,” Brock said to him. The therapist flinched.

“You think I’m your girlfriend?” Darcy said, wide-eyed and staring. He didn’t understand why she was looking at him like that.

“We live together,” Brock said to her, squeezing her hand. They might as well be married, he thought. He turned on the therapist. “Look, she doesn’t need to be more numb, okay? I’m already worried she’ll drown in the goddamn bathtub. She’s got PTSD from the Snap. I’ve seen this in the field, she needs someone she can talk to about her feelings and reasonable antidepressants.”

“Yes,” the therapist said nervously. “I think I understand.”

“Do you want to talk to him?” Brock asked her bluntly. “Or has he just destroyed his fucking credibility here?”

“No, no, I’ll talk to him,” Darcy said. He rubbed her back as she talked about being there during the Snap and how mad she was with herself that she’d missed a call from her mother the day before. “I--I thought I’d always be able to call her back, you know?” Darcy said, voice quaking.

 

When they were finished with the session, he helped her out. “We can find somebody else if you don’t like that guy,” he said, tucking her under his arm. “Maybe a woman would be nicer, huh? I think you need food.” She’d sobbed for the last ten minutes or so. Darcy nodded, expression blank. They went to lunch.

 

“Why are you doing this?” she asked him suddenly, after they’d ordered. He’d been watching her as her red, glassy eyes trailed around the restaurant.

“You don’t have to keep struggling like this, they’ve got medication now, cognitive therapy,” he said, trying to connect with her. “You think I didn’t go see somebody when I woke up like this?” he said, gesturing to his face.

“I thought you went on a crime spree,” she said with a little of her old personality. He grinned, scars twisting.

“I couldn’t do that forever,” he said. “There’s only so many banks. Everybody’s a conglomerate. Eventually, I had to talk to somebody.” She gave him a brief smile.

“You don’t see anybody now?” she said.

“No,” he said, “I’ve accepted that this is my face. Most of the time.” He reached across and pushed a strand of her hair off her face. Brock didn’t tell her that she was the person he confided in now. “You wanna go for a drive soon? They’ve reopened this part of the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s supposed to be nice. We can take my car.”

“Sure,” Darcy said.

 

He made her drive the Ferrari, even though she balked. “This is your car!” Darcy said, looking between him and the car.

“So?” he said, handing her the fob.

“What if I scratch it?” she said.

“You can handle it,” he said. “Let’s go.” On the highway, they get a view of the ocean on one side. Darcy seemed nervous at first, but relaxed as they breathed more of the sea air. “You can go faster,” he told her. She pressed the accelerator.

“Oh my God!” she said as the car sped up, “this is kinda fun.”

“You’re a natural,” he told her.

“I’m not going to tell you how many car accidents I’ve had over the years,” she said. He sat up a fraction, hearing the change in her voice, the shift into a more interested tone.

“Just don’t plunge us into the ocean,” he said. “I can buy another Ferrari.”

“They really don’t put enough cup holders in this, though,” Darcy said. “That seems like a flaw.”

“You’re a philistine,” he told her, secretly amused. He hadn’t heard her venture an opinion without prompting before. He let her drive around for another twenty minutes, then told her to turn around. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked, frowning, as they got off the highway and stopped at a stoplight.

“No,” he said, smirking. “I just want to go home and fuck you. That okay?”

“Oh,” she said. “Yeah.”

 

Over the next few weeks, they tried new meds, more appointments. More than once, he caught her walking through a CBT technique, talking to herself. One night, he came home late unexpectedly and found her in the kitchen. “Where have you been?” she said sharply. This was a voice he’d never heard before.

“Meeting,” he said, looking at her with his head tilted. “Ran long.” She crossed her arms and looked at him.

“You could have called me,” she said.

“My mistake,” he told her, grinning. She was cooking. That was new, too. She turned back to the cutting board, chopping angrily. He leaned against the counter, watching her.

“Were you with someone else?” she said, looking at him fleetingly. Brock straightened up. He moved so he was standing behind her.

“You worried about me running around on you now?” he said, whispering in her ear. He put his arms around her waist.

“No,” she said stubbornly. “Fuck you, you’re an asshole.”

“I am?” he said, failing to hide his amusement.

“You kidnapped me, you know that?” she said. “Somebody put a hood over my head, like, five months ago, and now we’re like this weird fucking couple and it is not normal.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m happy, though. You happy?”

“I’m pissed at you right now,” she said.

“Wonderful,” he said, pushing her hair aside to kiss her neck. He heard her chopping slow down and grinned.

 

***

 

Seven months into their relationship and several months into her therapy, Darcy left him. She ditched her security team at a mall, bought a burner phone, called an Uber, and checked into a cheap hotel. She’d lined the bottom of her purse with cash; he was always very generous with her allowance. “You can do this, you can do this,” she repeated to herself, trying not to panic. She and her therapist had practiced not panicking over other stressors as her emotions returned, why should this be any different? She stared at the painting of fruit on the hotel wall, did her breathing exercises. Ran through all the reasons she shouldn’t want to go home, shouldn’t want to see him, touch him. She owed it to herself to try to live normally now that she had escaped the emotional numbing of the Snap. She had no idea how Brock would respond, but she had to try. Jane would tell her that, she thought. She wished she could talk to Jane or her mom so much. She missed her mom’s laughing over the funny postcards she used to send or the weird knick-knacks when they were in Europe: a roll of purple toilet paper from France, little plastic hopping penises, tiny replicas of landmarks that most Americans didn’t know. Now that she was having real feelings, she thought about them constantly. Then she got mad at the universe.


Fifteen minutes later, someone knocked. Darcy jumped. With shaking hands, she checked the peephole. “Fuck,” Darcy said out loud. It was one of the guys from the B-security team, a guy named Jamie. She had forgotten that Brock sometimes sent a second guard as a backup, because he was paranoid about mass shootings and her first set of guards not being enough to evacuate her. He could dream up an alarming variety of disaster scenarios. She opened the door and the man handed her a phone. “Boss wants to talk to you,” he said. Darcy nodded, took the phone, and shut the door.

“I shouldn’t—I mean I don’t want to be with you anymore,” she told him.

“Sure,” Brock said calmly, “but that’s no fucking reason to stay somewhere that probably has bedbugs. Get Jamie to take you to the LA condo.”

“The LA condo?” Darcy said.

“Did you think I didn’t anticipate this?” he told her in a wry voice. “Bought it when you started acting like yourself. Sale closed two days ago.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. They’d been arguing lately. Or she’d been arguing. Not that he seemed bothered by it, Darcy thought. She was the one who felt raw, shaking, screaming rage constantly. He seemed to enjoy watching her smash things: plates, wine bottles, cell phones. She’d asked her therapist if there were some people who considered being around a screaming woman a form of foreplay and her therapist had looked astounded.  “What do you mean?” she’d asked during their last session.

“I mean, I scream and yell about how unfair everything is. I threw a plate into the sink the other day, it broke into three pieces, and he just looked at me. Then later he wanted to have sex,” she’d explained.

“That’s an unusual reaction,” the therapist had said. “Does he engage in arguments with you?”

“No,” Darcy had told her. “He just fucking smiles at me and tells me I’m pretty and asks if I want to go to dinner.”  She refrained from getting into too much graphic detail about how she seemed to veer between being irrationally, wildly angry at everything and the need to curl up in his arms and either have sex or cry. Sometimes, she did all three in an evening.

 

Jamie took her to the condo. There was also a car and a bank account in her name.

 

Darcy attempted to live a normal life, aware that he was likely monitoring her movements, at least a little. She found a job in a company run by a legitimate client of his, because that seemed easier than cloak-and-dagger job hunting. Ironically, it was in PR. She wrote company press releases and tried to spend as little money as possible. Which was easy, because he covered the condo, the car, and the assorted house bills--lights, car insurance, her internet access. Brock even threw in a few streaming services. But that was fine because she didn’t intend to stay in limbo forever. She would leave him and disappear for real, as soon as she got on her feet and felt stable enough, she thought sometimes. She ought to want to leave him more than she did, not to run back to him whenever she had a bad workday, felt lonely, or just wanted to talk about something from the past. She ought to want a whole different life, she thought, not some weird comfort in the fact that he was the person who could remember who she really was, who she had been, before the Snap.

 

She was used to being with him all the time, too. It was difficult being alone again. Sleeping alone. Not having sex. Not having anyone to send funny memes to or to tell stories to over dinner. No one to hold her hand or rub her shoulders. But she tried socializing at work. It went okay, but Darcy longed for the closeness she’d had with Jane. Making friends as an adult was harder than she realized. Especially when people talked about boring things like gardening or asked about Brock. Whenever she talked about him, she missed him more. A casual question could send her cycling into a days-long funk that blended yearning to talk to him, horniness, and a sense of recrimination about the intensity of her own feelings. A normal person just doesn’t go around catching feelings for Brock Rumlow, she scolded herself.

 

One night, she was at a birthday dinner for one of her coworkers and spotted a couple having a romantic meal. The woman, facing her, laughed at something the man said. She recognized the set of his shoulders, his hair. It was Brock, she realized. “Excuse me,” Darcy said to her table. “I think I see someone I know.” Livid, she marched over, intending to make a scene. How dare he bring a fucking date here, just to bait her. Obviously, he’d done it on purpose. “I cannot believe your shit--” Darcy began, wheeling on him furiously.

“Do we, uh, know each other?” the stranger looking at her asked, eyebrows raised.

 

It was just a guy who looked like Brock from behind.

 

Darcy went into the ladies room and cried. She called him from inside a stall. He answered on the second ring. “Hey, sweetheart, something wrong with the condo?” he asked.

“I just almost screamed at somebody I thought was you on a date,” she told him in a shaking voice.

“Yeah?” he said. There was a pause. “I’ll bet he still looked less terrified than the woman I thought was you at a coffee shop the other day,” he said quietly. “Did he run? She practically ran.”

“No, but he did look nervous,” Darcy said. One of the more unusual aspects of coming out of her fog was realizing how new people responded to Brock sometimes. Usually, they’d cringe or seem awkward, but occasionally, there was real, visible repulsion. She was so acclimated to his scars that she hardly noticed them, but other people did.

“Were you going to throw something at him?” he teased, as she breathed quietly.

“Shut up, I’ve never thrown anything at you. Not directly,” she said. He chuckled.

“My sink is lonely,” he said. “It’s too quiet here.”

“I thought you’d be busier than me. Maybe catch up with Gina,” she said.

“Who?” he said.

“You cannot tell me you don’t actually remember the woman you wanted me to have a threesome with, you walking cliché of a male person,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, well, I remember her now that you say that,” he said.

“Typical,” she said.

“I was mostly focused on you at the time,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” Darcy said.

“I was,” he insisted. “I thought you might secretly want to be with someone like that instead of me.”

“Really?” Darcy said.

“Yeah,” Brock said. “I did.”

“No,” Darcy whispered into the phone. There was a long pause.

“You okay to drive home or should I send somebody to pick you up? Where are you?” he asked, before she hung up.

“I think I’m okay,” Darcy said. “I’ve got to go back to Sheila’s birthday party. I'm at Mozza on Highland,” she explained, surprised he didn't know.

“Okay, sweetheart,” he said. "Have some of those polenta fritti you like for me."

“Brock?” she said.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Can I come see you tonight? Just to talk?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’d like that.”

 

He was waiting at the front door when she pulled into the driveway. “Hi,” Darcy said. 

“Hey,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. There was a moment of tension as his eyes lingered on her face. “You look beautiful,” he said.

“Thanks,” Darcy said, feeling her heart race oddly.

“You, uh, want some wine? I’ve got a case of riesling I ordered a while ago,” he told her. She knew he meant before she’d moved out. He mostly drank red wine. It was her favorite.

“I’d love some, but I probably shouldn’t, since I’ve got to drive home,” she said.

“You can stay here,” he said carefully. “If you want to drink?”

“You don’t mind if I crash here?” Darcy said. He shook his head.

“You’re not interrupting anything,” he said. She followed him into the kitchen. The house was mostly dark. She saw the light was on in his home office. He’d been working on a Saturday night. Paperwork from the looks of it. She watched as he opened the bottle from the wine fridge, poured her a glass. She took it.

“It’s very good,” she told him. He nodded.

“So,” he said. “Everything going okay other than guys who look like me in restaurants?”

“More or less,” Darcy said carefully. She shrugged.

“Anything I can do?” He asked. Darcy put down her wine glass.

“You could have sex with me,” she said.

 

She was on top of him, trailing kisses across his body, when his calm demeanor broke. “Fuck,” he muttered. “I miss you so goddamn much. I’ve been trying to give you space, but I miss you,” he repeated. “I’ve been having anxiety attacks, worried something could happen to you and I wouldn’t even fucking know, much less be able to do anything to stop it.” She looked at him.

“I miss you, too,” she whispered. “I can stop wanting to call you or text you or show up here.”

“Well, fucking come back to me,” he said. “I love you.”

“I thought you didn’t?” she said archly, remembering their conversation in that restaurant months ago, when he’d asked if that was what she wanted. He groaned.

“I’ve been a little bit in love with you since the first time we slept together,” he said.

“Hmm,” Darcy said. “I’m that good at sex?”

“I’m trying to have a real moment here,” he complained. “But yes, you are.” His fingers ran over her body gently. He looked oddly mesmerized, she thought.

“The pussy is that good?” she teased.

“Wiseass, that is not the correct response to I love you,” he said.

“Please fuck me into the—okay, okay, I love you, too,” Darcy said, when he he rolled his eyes at her. “I love you,” she repeated, kissing his scars. She felt him relax as she pressed her mouth into the battered skin around his eyes.

"It's good to have you back," he said.

Darcy spent the night, but didn’t move back in with him immediately. Instead, they dated for a while. She kept her PR job and the condo, and went back and forth between houses. Sometimes, he spent the night with her, sometimes she spent the night with him. They were at her place when one of the networks aired a special about notable people lost in the Snap and mentioned Jane. “People don’t even know,” Darcy said. “She was working on five different theorems, you know? She wasn’t just Thor’s smart girlfriend. Sometimes, I wish--” she said, then sighed.

“Wish what, baby?” Brock said, rubbing her shoulder.

“That people wouldn’t forget her,” Darcy said, thinking about Jane’s determination, the way she was a blend of complicated traits: an intelligent, sometimes abrasive, but deeply loyal person. A slob who would walk right into traffic because she was keen on an idea that only five people in the world understood. A PhD who couldn’t figure out how Darcy changed her ringtone as a prank. Darcy had known she loved her mother, but it was only when Jane was gone that she realized they’d become as close as sisters.

“You should do an interview,” Brock told her.

“What?” Darcy said.

“Do an interview, talk about her,” he said. “You were the person closest to her.”

 

She used her PR contacts and did a sit down interview with a journalist whose work Jane always liked. It was difficult. They had to stop several times for her to stop crying and she was sure that the makeup person wasn’t a fan, but in the end, she thought she’d done something for Jane. The night that the interview was going to air, she and Brock went to dinner. “I have some, uh, news I think you’ll like,” he said. “Or, I hope so.”

“What news?” she said.

“It’s mostly selfish,” he admitted. “But I need to do some things for tax deduction this year and I thought that could be your project?”

“My project?” Darcy said.

“You could give to an organization you like, maybe even start something in Jane’s name?” he said.

“Oh,” Darcy said.

“Like I said, my tax guy says it would be advantageous to me to up my donations, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t do some actual good with it,” he said.

“I think I’d like that,” she told him. They went back to her place to watch the interview. Darcy was sitting next to him on the couch when the report aired a segment that she hadn’t known about: they’d tracked Thor down in New Asgard. Only, it wasn’t the interview she expected, a polished sit-down like hers, but unflattering footage of him running errands in ratty clothes and dodging the cameras. At one point, he covered the cameraman’s lens and swore vividly when they asked about Jane. They bleeped him out. Darcy hadn’t seen him in several years, so it was shocking to see him treated in such a brutal way. The media had always fawned over Thor and tended to critique Jane in subtly mean ways about how she dressed or behaved.  “Holy shit,” she said out loud, still processing it, as they went to her interview. The segment opened with footage of her and Jane at an awards ceremony in 2013. “What the hell was that?” Darcy repeated, stunned. Brock looked puzzled.

“Is that why he’s never called you or anything?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Darcy said. She hadn’t thought much about Thor’s absence from her life. A part of her had assumed he was off rescuing more important people or something? Darcy sat, thinking. Had he really been in hiding, like they said? This whole time? She’d never been able to get in touch with him. She was still thinking when Brock spoke.

“I think you did really good, sweetheart,” Brock told her, after it was all over. “You told interesting stories, they showed good clips of Jane.” They’d closed the special with footage of Jane answering a question about how she wanted to change the world.

“No one will pay attention to me, not when they can talk about Thor cussing on camera and having a scruffy ZZ Top beard now,” she said, sighing. “My interview was totally fucked by their desire for a salacious story. This is exactly the kind of shit that would’ve really sent Jane off on a rant. Damn it.”

“Yeah?” Brock said encouragingly.

“Well, I mean, it’s fucking bullshit to ambush him, obviously. He’s suffering. But what’s worse for Jane’s legacy is that--no matter what else is in the special--that’s going to be the story tomorrow. It won’t be about Jane at all. It’ll be about him. He’s overshadowed her life again. Not even him, it’ll be those goddamn sweatpants, all stained with Mountain Dew or whatever,” she grumbled.

“All the more reason for you to donate some money in her name. Re-center the narrative,” Brock said.

They did that, with some success. Then Brock asked if she’d go on a trip with him. She said yes. They went on vacation in Mexico. He asked if she’d move back in on the trip. She said yes then, too.