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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.

Chapter Text

Darcy was at work, but she couldn’t stop worrying about him. Brock was anxious, Darcy could tell, she just didn’t know why. He’d left this morning for the gym without kissing her goodbye. He’d been going to the gym early and staying late for his afternoon boxing sessions multiple days in a row. They’d had a great time when he was helping her with the 501c(3)  paperwork to set up the foundation the other week, so she didn’t think it was that. Everything was going well on that front: she was getting lots of interest in a private foundation to get girls into STEM, especially girls from lower income backgrounds. Darcy sighed and wondered if it was a money thing? He’d said he wanted to give her funding and he was usually generous, but what if some part of him was balking at letting go of so much money at once? That could be it. He’d transitioned fully to legal work now and Darcy wondered if there was something going on with the business. Everything seemed stable there, though.

At the end of the day, Darcy decided to meet him at the gym, instead of going home and waiting for him. She could see how he was there and that might help clarify for her whether or not whatever was happening in his brain was general or specific to her. She tried not to dwell on even more upsetting possibilities, like the idea that he could be preparing to leave her. People pulled away before they left. Ian had done it to her, so long ago that it seemed like an entire lifetime, but in retrospect, there had been signs. Not talking as much, being distant and standoffish. If Brock wanted to leave her, though, she didn’t want to prolong the awful feeling of dreading it.

 

She parked outside the gym, took a deep breath, and steeled herself to go in. His car was in the parking lot, so he was obviously here. She had almost been afraid it wouldn’t be. Waving to the gym owner making people run sprints outside in the parking lot, she went in. Brock was sparring with a guy she recognized as one of his professional fighter buddies. They must be doing punching drills, because his friend was using pads, trying to dodge Brock’s blows, outstep him. They went back and forth. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Brock was drenched in sweat. Thwack. Thwack. He must be hyper-focused on his hits, because he didn’t notice she was here or stop to joke with any of the guys like she’d seen him do before. She studied the two men as they circled and their shoes squeaked on the gym floor, without calling attention to herself for ten minutes or so. Then the owner came back inside and spotted her. “Hey, Commander, your lady’s here! You ignoring her?” he yelled. Brock looked up. His face did a funny thing when he realized she was actually there and Darcy felt her heart sink and land somewhere in the vicinity of her toes.

 

He didn’t want her there.

 

Brock stopped, said something to the other guy, and began shedding his protective gloves and headgear. His soaking hair clung to his forehead and he brushed it off and frowned as he walked over to her. “I’m a mess,” he said, without preamble.

“That’s okay,” she said, hugging him lightly. She tried not be wounded when he kept his arms away from her body.

“You’re gonna be all sweaty,” he said.

“So?” she said in his mangled ear. He sighed.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Thought I’d check on you, make sure you weren’t slacking off on your fitness,” she said, trying to keep her voice light and teasing-sounding. Normal.

“No,” he said, looking over her shoulder at some middle distance. “Working on my shit, as usual.” His voice was flat.

“Yeah,” Darcy said, kneading down one of his scarred, damp biceps with her fingers. She traced her fingers across the visible vein on his forearm.

“You want to get dinner?” he said suddenly, looking down at her as she thumbed over his wrist, looped her fingers through his. “I’ll grab a shower,” he said, detaching his hand gently.

 

He wanted her to follow him to the restaurant in her car, which set off alarm bells in Darcy’s head. Not just bells, sirens. He usually wanted her to ride with him whenever they met somewhere and went to dinner. So they could talk and, in his words, she “didn’t have to play in traffic.” They always picked up her car later. Since when did he not want to talk to her? Since when did he avoid touching her?

“This is definitely not fucking normal,” Darcy said out loud, eyeing his tail lights suspiciously. What could be making him so distant? There was that cute new woman in IT support at his company. She was so charming that Darcy had noticed the cuteness. What was her name? Lauren. Her name was Lauren. They’d talked about Darcy’s homemade scarf the last time she’d stopped by the office. Was he seeing someone like that? This was exactly how it had gone with Ian, she realized. The distance and then, surprise, the other woman. She spent the next twenty minutes gritting her teeth and thinking about all the sex he could be having with Lauren at work. Jane had always teased her about having a vivid imagination. By the time she followed him into the restaurant parking lot, she was furious.

“Hey,” he said, sunglasses on, as she got out of her car.

“Hey,” she said, sullenly, shutting her car door with force. He couldn’t even look at her?

“You okay?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m just peachy,” Darcy said.

“You don’t sound peachy,” he said, stopping on the line between parking spaces. “You’re mad.”

“I’m mad because you’re taking me to a restaurant for this? We’ve been together for two years and you don’t even have the decency to do this at home?”

“Two years?” he said doubtfully.

“Arizona was in the spring, it’s been basically two years,” Darcy said. He rubbed his forehead.

“Yeah,” he said, raking a hand over his chin. “Shit.” He sighed.

“Well,” Darcy said. “C’mon, tell me.”

“You wanna do this in a parking lot?” he said.

“I’d rather do it here than inside, where I’ve got to sit there like an idiot and be quiet while you tell me sorry, we’re over, because oh, you’re in love with the IT woman now--” Darcy said hotly. He was leaning an arm against her car. She realized he was staring at her.

“You think I’m cheating?” he said.

“You’re distant, you’re staying at the gym longer, you’ve got a cute coworker,” she said, counting it off on her fingers.

“Who?” he said.

“Lauren. Lauren! Don’t you give me that look, she’s totally--are you laughing right now?” Darcy said. His face had split into a grin.

“That is not why I brought you here,” he said, shaking his head. He stepped closer to her. “You think I wanna leave you?” he asked, cupping her face.

“You don’t?” Darcy said. He shook his head.

“No,” he said, expression intense.

“You didn’t hug me back there,” she told him.

“I was all sweaty,” he grumbled. “But we do need to talk about some things,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. “Let’s go in, okay?”

“Okay,” she said. They held each other in the parking lot for a second, though.

“Lauren?” he teasingly said as they walked in.

“Don’t pretend like you haven’t noticed she’s cute and has those boobs,” Darcy said.

“Somebody noticed,” he said.

“Women flirt with you everywhere, it’s constant,” Darcy said.

“Does this happen mostly in your imagination?” Brock said wryly.

“It happens,” she grumbled. “That woman flirted with you at the movies last week.”

“People are nice to me because the burn scars make them uncomfortable, sweetheart,” he said.

“She told me you were such a sweetie, that’s not uncomfortable talking, she was into you,” Darcy insisted. He smirked.  

He turned serious again once they were seated. “Will you just tell me what’s going on, if it’s not someone else?” Darcy asked, when she could see he was rolling ideas around in his head, trying to start sentences.

“It’s not someone else,” he said.

“Well, then, what is it?” Darcy asked, watching him. He seemed to be trying to pull himself together. He ran his tongue over his lips.

“Arizona,” he said, sighing.

“What?” Darcy said.

“You count Arizona as the beginning of our relationship,” he said quietly. “And I can’t stop thinking about that, feeling guilty about that.”

“You’re feeling bad about that?” Darcy said, genuinely puzzled. “That’s what’s bothering you?” She stared at him. He was avoiding her eyes.

“The best relationship of my life happened because I physically forced you to work for me--and, oh, yeah, you slept with me and you lived with me, but you were alone in a disaster scenario and clinically depressed,” he said in a low voice. “So, that’s on me, taking advantage of you.”

“I don’t really think about it like that,” she said honestly. “We’re both so different now. Everything’s different. Mostly because you kept insisting we could find the doctor I felt comfortable with,” she added.

“You should probably hate me,” he said, tense. “I shouldn’t have this life.” He shook his head.

“What brought this on?” Darcy asked carefully. “You were fine a few weeks ago.”

“I’ve been thinking about the future,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Where we’re going. Did I take the future you could have had?” he asked. “With somebody better?”

“Who?” Darcy said, baffled. “There’s nobody else I want to be with.”

“Baby, you never even looked,” he said. “Did you even date anybody when we weren’t together?”

“I went out,” Darcy said defensively.

 

They were still debating it when they got home that night. Darcy put her bag down with a plop as he went into the kitchen for water. She could hear him muttering. He was actually verbally reprimanding himself, Darcy thought. Finally, she got a little irritated. “Shut up,” she yelled. “Shut up and let me talk, okay?” She sat down on the couch.

“Okay,” he said, blinking in surprise at her tone.

“You do not get to erase my agency like that,” she said firmly. “I’m choosing to be with you now. Every day, I choose to be with you. I could leave at any time. I did leave you. And I came back because this is where I want to be.” She crossed her arms and looked at him expectantly.

“But what if I hadn’t bought you that place, huh? What if you’d moved to Florida or some shit--” he began, fiddling with his water bottle lid.

“You think I would have moved to Florida? Like a grandma?” Darcy said, incredulous.

“You like warm weather,” he said, looking over her shoulders, expression tense. The house had floor-to-ceiling windows, so you could see the city’s lights in the distance, but she knew he wasn’t really looking at the view.

“Well, then I definitely would have come back,” Darcy said, snorting. Then she turned serious again. “I’m not passively going along with this relationship because you’re all big and bad and I’m helpless, okay? I want to be here. ”

“But there’s how we met and the money, too,” he said, swallowing.

“Yeah, well, guess what? In real life, people don’t perfectly match. Today, you’ve got more money than me. One day, you’re going to be really freaking old and I’m still going to be comparatively young and cute and probably flirting with your home healthcare worker,” Darcy said.

“What?” he said.

“Also, I’m much better educated than you,” Darcy mused. “I had two minors at Culver, with all my major changes. That ought to count in my favor.”

“My home healthcare worker?” he said.

“Did you want a male nurse or a female one?” she asked. “I could probably get both and pay extra for cute ones who are aspiring actors from USC.” She giggled at his slightly-offended expression.

“That--that shit is not funny,” he said. He was frowning. He turned back to the fridge, then paused, half-looked over his shoulder. “You really want to be with me when I’m old?” he said.

“Yes,” Darcy said. “I’m very happy.”

“You, uh, would you want to ever, uh, marry me?” he said. “Because that’s what I’ve been thinking about.” He looked at her with a hopeful expression. “Whether I deserved to even ask you,” he said quietly.

“Yes,” she told him, getting up to join him in the kitchen. “Yes to everything,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around his body and tucking her cheek against his chest.

“You’re sure?” he said. “You don’t have any doubts?”

“Nope,” she said.

“I’m still Crossbones,” he said quietly. “I’ll never work like somebody else, not exactly. I’m not good like you are---I don’t have that in me, that natural goodness.” He swallowed. “I’ve always been the guy who saw things to exploit, weaknesses to go after.”

“Hey,” she said, “Look at me, Brock Rumlow.”

“Yeah?” Brock said.

“You work harder than anybody I know when you’re invested in protecting something. You have more determination than anyone else I know. You’re like Jane that way,” she told him.

“I’m like Jane?” he said, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah,” she said. “Both of you are fighters. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” she said, pulling him towards the couch gently. “Sit with me?” she said, guiding him. She curled herself against him as she talked. “I think the only reason I can be as good as I am is because Jane protected me and then you protected me,” she said, rubbing his arm.

“I protected you?” he said.

“You’re still protecting me. From the world,” Darcy said, touching him. ”You keep saying I’m good, but the only reason I’m like this”--she shook her head at his doubtful expression---“the only reason I get to be happy and kind and soft is that I was shielded, first by Jane, and then by you, from all these things that can make you cold and hard and ruthless, if you have to start cutting away at the soft parts of yourself to survive. You ever think about that? I do. A lot. I wouldn’t actually have made it without both of you. Jane gave me a job where I wasn’t exploited or underpaid or told I was stupid and useless, and every time I expressed doubt about my purpose, she told me I just hadn’t found my thing quite yet, you know?” Darcy said, blinking. “Jane could be abrasive, yeah, but she got that way because she didn’t have what she gave to me, not when she was trying to make it in science. She helped me stay soft---and you, you rescued me when I lost my place. Because both of you got tough to survive, you valued my softness and helped me keep it. You especially. You could have used me and abandoned me and instead, you brought me back. Yes--yes, you did,” she said, catching his skepticism. “Do you know how many abandoned people there are? How often people slip through the cracks? More than ever. All those people just fading away into nothing or self-medicating themselves to death. I was so close to that, Brock. Don’t forget how far gone I was,” she whispered to him.

“Honey, you weren’t--” he began, but she put a hand over his mouth.

“I think Arizona should count,” she told him. “It should always count, because back then, you were the only person who remembered that I used to laugh. I didn’t.”

 

 

“You really want to marry me?” Brock said. They were curled up in bed together that night. He felt the need to ask again.

“Yes,” she said.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“Can you say anything other than yes?” he asked.

“I love you,” Darcy said. “And I want to get married. Soon.”

“Nothing you want to change?” Brock said.

“Hmmm,” Darcy said.  She must’ve felt him tense and rubbed him comfortingly. “It’s nothing big. I just think this house is all wrong for you.”

“What?” he said.

“It’s too open and exposed, I think you’d be happier in a different environment,” she said.

“Huh,” he said. “How different?”

“Different,” she said. “Maybe we can go look at something?”

“Sure,” he said.

They went looking at houses the week after she brought it up. At first, he was alarmed by how little she wanted to spend, compared to his own budget ideas. “This is one I really like,” Darcy told him, as they followed the real estate agent down the street. “That’s the front of the house,” she said, pointing to a vine-covered wall with a wooden door.

“You can’t see anything,” he said.

“That’s the idea,” she told him. “It’s got a multiple car garage in the back, but you have to take the road that runs behind the houses.”

“Oh,” he said.

“It was built in the twenties,” she explained. “Original tile and ironwork, stuff like that.”

 

They went with the real estate agent through the back. “It’s like no one can see you,” he said, when he’d checked the front door. The sightline went directly to the front gate they’d seen, but the front of the house was totally sheltered. He turned back to look at her.

“Yup,” Darcy said. “I love this place,” she said. She was running her fingers over the wrought iron bannister.

“If this is what you want,” he said. A house felt celebratory, he thought.

“What do you want?” she said.

“I don’t know, I usually buy what the real estate agents tell me will resale the best,” he said.

“They must love you,” the agent said. “Have you seen the kitchen yet?”

“Oooh, I want to see that, the green tiles look so good online,” she said. She reached for his hand and he took it. She was smiling at the tile when he looked around.

“How long have you been married?” the agent asked.

“About twenty four hours,” she said.

“We eloped,” he said. They’d talked about a big wedding, but the prospect of one without both their mothers and Jane was still painful.

“It was a quickie courthouse wedding,” Darcy joked, looking in the cabinets. “I wanted to get married in sandals.”

“A house is an excellent wedding present,” the agent said.

 

Darcy was reading STEM grant applications one night when Brock came home. “Hey,” she said, looking up. She had a pen tucked behind one ear, her glasses on, and was surrounded by paperwork on the couch.

“How are you feeling?” he asked carefully. The official Supreme Court ruling had come in the day before, declaring all the Snap victims legally dead, so that the courts wouldn’t be bogged down with requests and families didn’t have to wait the traditional seven years. He sat down next to her and pressed his thumbs into her shoulders. He was worried that she might struggle with this, that it might bring up old wounds, upset her.

“This is actually great,” she told him. “This kid invented a really cheap water purifier, she’s on my shortlist, along with those.” She gestured towards a stack of applications in a chair nearby.

“Good,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “You want a drink?”

“I’d love one,” she said, underlining something. “You see the news about the life insurance companies trying to delay payments today?”  she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “They’re assholes who don’t want to pay out on all the policies. Stocks are cratering all over the place.”

“Uh-huh,” Darcy said. “How much did you buy?” Her voice was teasing.

“Who says I bought stock?” he said, wincing slightly behind her back.

“I know you,” she said dryly. “You see opportunity everywhere.”

“I might have bought some,” he admitted. He was purely a legitimate businessman now, but sometimes, he wondered if bank robbery had been his most honest career.

“I’ll be redistributing that future wealth to a twelve year old girl who made this water purifier, and a seventeen year old from Chicago who wants to be a geneticist and go to Stanford,” Darcy said. “It’s not like we need more money, anyway.”

“I gave you too much power when I married you without a prenup, didn’t I?” he said, sighing with mock-grievance as he sat down with wine.

“Haha, fooled you, now you can’t be a criminal or own totally unnecessary houses,” she said, turning a page. “You have to settle for me and this place. How will you live with a lumpy, near-sighted wife and a house worth only two million dollars, you poor sad man?” Darcy said in a voice laced with sarcasm. She’d talked him into downsizing their lifestyle. Extensively. He’d sold the big modernist house, most of his cars, and all the properties connected with crime and used the money for various causes. Which wasn’t a bad thing. He felt calm and stable, living in one place. And he’d made sure the house she wanted had excellent security. She wasn’t wrong about an older house feeling better, either. Going home was like being somewhere hidden and safe.  

“Very happily,” he said, leaning over to kiss her neck.

“Mmmmm,” Darcy said, wiggling with pleasure. He continued kissing her.

“I just want one boat,” he whispered. “Just one?”

“I think I gave your boat money to a bunch of aspiring female engineers,” Darcy said. “And the raises.”

“The cost of living raises,” he repeated, grinning against her neck. She wanted to make sure his security company employees could afford to live. They could afford to live; he wasn’t stupid enough to underpay people who he also gave guns to, but he’d agreed to it because he thought her principles were sound. He had maybe two or three principles of his own, so he depended on hers for reinforcement.

“We could get a smallish boat,” Darcy mused. “But you’d want to dock it at a marina where they cleaned it for you. Everyone I’ve ever met who had a boat ended up hating boat maintenance.”

“You got an application in there for curing the scourge of boat maintenance?” he said wryly. Darcy rolled her eyes.

“You pretend to be a cynic, but who cried at that Coding for Change event?” she said archly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I had something in my eye,” he said.

“And they say I’m the family wiseass,” she said. He started kissing her neck more intently, sliding his hands across her belly. She was pretending to read, but he felt her shiver of delight.

“I just have one question,” he said.

“Mmm, yeah?” she said, making a soft sound.

“How much is a boat in sexual favors, sweetheart?” Brock said. “Because I can start now.”

 

***

Jane woke up. She was on the floor of a grocery store? “Darcy?” she said out loud. All around her, people were stumbling, yelling, there was general chaos. What was happening? All she could remember was looking at Darcy in their lab as she’d started to fade. She walked towards the store exit, feeling for her phone. Gone. She’d last left it on her lab counter. “Damn,” she muttered. That was when she caught sight of the calendar pinned to the wall near the exit. “What the fuck?” she said. Had she been aethered, Jane wondered, and lost a huge chunk of time. Years?  On the street, people were streaming around, talking and crying. She realized they were standing at the location of her old lab in California. Her lab was a Trader Joe’s? “Can I borrow your phone?” she asked someone. That was when she realized she didn’t have Darcy’s number memorized. They’d just switched phone plans before….whatever the hell that was. “Shit,” Jane muttered. She called her mother. Her mother was ecstatic. “Has it really been this many years?” Jane said, feeling numb and strange. She felt as if she’d just woken from a nap.

“Yes, honey,” her mother said. “I can’t believe you’re alive. I--I really thought you were gone forever. I love you.”

“I love you, mom,” Jane said. Her mother broke down crying.

“Oh, God, it’s been so long,” her mother sobbed. They stayed on the phone until Jane had to give the phone to another person, so they could call their family.   

 

She was standing in a coffee shop trying to decide what to do next when someone said her name. “Aren’t you Jane Foster?” the woman next to her said. “Thor’s girlfriend? With the foundation for girls in STEM?”

“The foundation?” Jane said. The woman showed her something on her phone. A website for a foundation--named after her--in Los Angeles. Under the “About Us” section, she saw Darcy’s name under the Board of Directors. “She’s alive!” Jane said joyfully, hugging the stranger next to her. Then, Jane dialed the number with shaking hands.

“The Jane Foster foundation,” a cheerful voice said.

“This is Jane Foster,” Jane said. “I’m looking for Darcy?”

 

Within hours, someone had picked Jane up. “Where are we going?” Jane asked the driver.

“Los Angeles,” he said. “It’ll be heavy traffic. Darcy’s on the phone.” He handed her a phone.

“Jane?” Darcy said. Jane could tell she’d been crying. “Are you okay?” Darcy asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Jane said, starting to cry in the back of the sedan. “It feels like I just saw you thirty minutes ago, really.”

“Good,” Darcy said. “I’m so sorry that I’m not there with you, but we were out of town--”

“We?” Jane said.

“Oh God, this is so complicated to explain over the phone. I’m married,” Darcy said. “Just take a deep breath--”

“You married Ian, didn’t you? Oh God, Darcy, no, he’s all wrong for you!” Jane said. The driver started to laugh.

“Her husband ain’t nobody named Ian,” he said.

“No, calm down,” Darcy said in a bossy tone. “It’s not Ian. Why would you think that?”

“As long as it isn’t Thor, I’m okay,” Jane said, relieved.

“No, but I can see if someone can get him in Norway--if he’s in Norway--so he can get to you sooner with Stormbreaker?” Darcy offered.

“Did he get married?” Jane whispered. “Who is Stormbreaker?”

“No,” Darcy said. “That’s just his new axe. But I think it would be good for him to see you, he’s had a bad time. And we’ve got to pick up my mom and find Brock’s mom--” Darcy said, before she spoke to someone else on the other end of the call.  “Oh, you got her? Yes! We have moms, Jane,” Darcy said. Suddenly, Jane realized she was crying a little. “Have you talked to your mom yet?” Darcy said, sounding teary,

“Yes,” Jane said.

“Okay, good, we have moms, here’s our plan,” Darcy repeated, seeming to reel in her emotions with a deep breath, “Bob”--that was Jane’s driver--”will take you to the house, we’re meeting the moms, everyone will end up in LA in less than twelve hours,” Darcy began, before someone said something to her. “Yeah,” Darcy said. “It might be slightly longer if they suspend flights or delay them, Brock just reminded me. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jane repeated. “Twelve to twenty-four hours.”

“She’ll be fine, boss!” Bob yelled.

“Bob says I’ll be fine,” Jane said. “Are you his boss?”

“Sorta. Half?” Darcy said.

“Yes,” Bob said, nodding. “She is 100% the boss.”

After they hung up, Jane looked at the traffic all around them. “Brock,” she said. “I know that name, why do I know that name?” she asked.

“Well, uh,” Bob said, “it’s complicated.”

“Why does everybody keep saying that?” Jane wondered.

“Mr. Rumlow isn’t a criminal now,” Bob said. “His businesses are all legit. He has a pardon. You know, you can get them at the state-level too, so you’re legally in the clear all-around? State and federal?” Jane’s mouth fell open and she stared ahead.

“Brock Rumlow is married to Darcy?” Jane said. “She’s married to Crossbones?”

“Yup,” Bob said.

“What does he do now?” Jane wondered out loud.

“He does security for rich people,” Bob said.

“The bank robber does security,” Jane said, incredulous. “And Darcy runs a foundation in my name?”

“They have a really sweet science camp for little girls,” Bob explained. “I helped out with that last year. All girls from schools in lower income communities. And they donate, like, equipment and give out scholarships.”

“Oh my God,” Jane said, sitting back in the seat. She needed time to absorb all of this. What the hell had happened in five years?

 

Bob drove her to Darcy’s house and let her in. “I think there’s food and everything,” he explained, giving her the passcodes to the security system. “Just don’t let the cat out, he’s mostly indoor, she worries about him being hit by a car.” Jane nodded. That sounded like Darcy.

She wandered around after Bob left, looking at everything: the colorful green tiles in the kitchen, the worn-in couch, the grey cat sleeping in a sunspot on the floor. Everything looked like Darcy. It was slightly cluttered and the furniture was comfortable and nothing was beige. In the living room, she found an album with a handful of wedding photos outside Pasadena City Hall. Jane had to sit down and catch her breath. Darcy had married Brock Rumlow. A still-scarred, very scary-looking Rumlow. He was beaming at her in all the photographs. Presumably, he lived here, too. There were men’s boots by the door and sunglasses on the coffee table. It was real, not some elaborate and strange cosmic prank. The cat strolled by, swishing its tail. That was Crossbones’s cat, Jane thought, dazed. Just how changed was Darcy? Had she been brainwashed? Jane looked at her surroundings with suspicious eyes. She got up and started searching through the house, beginning with the medicine cabinet. Wasn’t that where people kept their secrets? But Darcy’s cabinet contained only band-aids, ibuprofen, and cinnamon toothpaste.

 

Still, Jane checked all the rooms for HYDRA paraphernalia, anxiously aware that she might only have a day to plan if Darcy needed rescuing. There was nothing visible, no sign of strange cultish behavior, not even any dodgy books. She looked under the beds and saw only dust bunnies and evidence of Darcy’s tendency to forget to sweep under things, as usual. The bedside table had a book on Krav Maga, a brochure for boat sales, a guide to Rome, a tablet, and a tiny speaker that she probably used for music, Jane thought. The closet was full of what were obviously Darcy’s clothes,plus a lot of gym t-shirts, men’s  jeans, and a row of dark, neat-looking suits. She was circling anxiously in the kitchen when she saw her own face. Darcy had a photo display with multiple photos of them and her mom on the adjoining wall. “I’m here,” Jane said out loud. “I’m here, too.”

Somehow, that made her feel emotional. She had to sit down again. After she was done crying, she pulled herself together. She needed more information, more data, to make sure Darcy was okay. What could she look at? Jane remembered the tablet in the bedroom. She was nosily thumbing through the tablet when she found the videos of them together. Jane pressed play with a deep breath. She was confronted by the less-burned side of Brock Rumlow’s face as he narrated a video filmed on his phone. “So, we’re in Rome and now we’re going to dinner--honey, what’s the name of the place again?” he asked. Jane heard Darcy scoff.

“He totally knows the name of the place, he just enjoys watching me struggle to pronounce Salumeria Roscioli,” she was saying, as the camera refocused on her. Jane was intensely relieved to find that she looked exactly the same: dark glasses, a scarf wrapped around her neck, expression bright.  

“Roscioli,” he repeated teasingly.

“Stop being all superior in your Italian-ness,” Darcy said, making a face that Jane knew meant she actually thought he was cute.  

“You think you find a thing that a woman likes about you,” he said to the camera. “And then they tell you to stop doing it.” His faded, pale scars twisted as he grinned.

“Shut up, I love you,” Darcy said, squeezing his waist and almost tripping as they walked. He caught her. Jane realized she’d never heard Darcy tell a guy she loved him before. Certainly not Ian or anyone she dated afterwards.

“That’s my wife,” he said to the screen, wrapping an arm around Darcy.

“Wait, what’s me, the tripping?” Darcy said.

“I was thinking the whole shut up I love you , but the falls work, too,” he said, laughing.

“Not fair!” Darcy said. “How do you say shut up in Italian?”

“Ti amo,” he said.

“Phhhffft, an obvious trick,” she said.

 

The video ended. Jane looked up. Across the room, the cat blinked at her. “What do you know?” Jane asked.

Chapter Text

Jane slept fitfully. She was awake at dawn when she heard the noise. She got up and looked out one of the windows at the back of the house. Darcy and her mom were holding hands as they walked up driveway between the houses in the blue light. Behind them, Brock Rumlow followed, with a petite woman that Jane assumed was his mother. She had her head tucked under his arm and he was smiling. Jane sprinted for the stairs in her sock feet. “Darcy!” she yelled. “Liz!”

“Janey!” they both yelled in unison. Darcy looked like her mother, sounded like her mother, Jane remembered, as she barreled into the them and was immediately wrapped in hugs.

“I missed you so much,” Darcy said. Jane realized she was crying again. “I missed everybody so much.” Jane tried to squeeze her as much as she could.

“I missed you, too,” Jane whispered. She hadn’t realized how much until she’d seen Darcy’s strange new life. When Jane looked up, Rumlow was watching her with a cryptic expression. It made Jane alarmed.

They went inside. “My God,” Rumlow’s mother was saying. “This is where you live?”

“Ma,” Jane heard him say, “don’t upset Darcy--”

“What? It’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, I don’t know how you ended up here,” she said.

“Me neither,” he said. There was an odd note in his voice.  

 

Jane grabbed a moment alone in one of the bedrooms with Liz. The Rumlows--it was strange to think that was what Darcy was now, a Rumlow--were already outside in the garden. “It’s so good to see you,” Liz said. “I’m still processing this whole five years, my kid is married thing.”

“You, too, huh?” Jane said. “I don’t know what to do exactly.”

“Listen, you’re the woman who built a BiFrost out of toaster parts, I’m not worried about you, I’m worried about my new son-in-law,” Liz said. She was a lawyer.

“Are you going to put someone on it?” Jane whispered, thinking of private investigators. Liz frowned.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have to think about it.”

“Keep me posted,” Jane said. They went outside. Darcy was practically bubbling with joy, Jane realized. She kept hugging them and telling Rumlow’s mother she was so happy to meet her. Occasionally, she would break down and cry and each of them would hug her. Rumlow seemed more stoic, but Jane noticed that his eyes followed Darcy with concern.

“Okay, okay,” Darcy said. “I have to get my freaking self together so we can have brunch, I have to stop crying.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t have to,” Liz said.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” Jane said. Mrs. Rumlow was nodding vigorously.

“Don’t stress yourself, honey,” she said gently.

“No, I want to,” Darcy said. She started to weep again. “I want to. Do you know how long it’s been since we had girls’ brunch?”

“Okay,” Jane said, realizing Darcy needed help. “We’ll do it together,” she said firmly. She led Darcy inside and they started pulling out things.

“We’ll do the French toast, sweetie,” Liz announced.

“Great,” Darcy said tearfully. “Mrs. Rumlow--”

“You’ve got to start calling me Angela,” the older woman said, giving Darcy a squeeze.

“Thank you,” Rumlow said to Jane, when they were alone together for a second as the women bustled around the kitchen. She nodded.

 

They were eating around the dining room table when the TV in the living room had a breaking news chyron about the dead and missing Avengers. Everyone got up and moved to watch, leaving the French toast on their plates. “Oh my God,” Mrs. Rumlow said. “Tony Stark’s dead and Captain America is missing?”

“Did they say anything about Thor?” Jane asked. Liz shook her head. Instead, the news played a clip of him that left Jane dumbfounded.

“They’re chasing him around a parking lot, asking about me?” she said. He had a long beard and sweatpants. The camera seemed focused on a spill on his clothes.

“Those assholes,” Mrs. Rumlow said. “He’s a hero! How dare they treat him like that!”

 

Several hours later, Darcy and the moms had crashed from exhaustion and jet-lag. Jane was still watching the news, wondering about Thor. She didn’t know who to call. She’d tried Happy Hogan, but he was unavailable. Her number for Bruce Banner was out of service. Rumlow sat down next to her. “If there is something I can do for you?” he offered.

“I don’t trust you,” Jane said coolly.

“I don’t blame you,” he said. “But I love Darcy. She’s my wife. I know it’s difficult--”

“Difficult?” Jane said. “It feels like I fainted and woke up and now my best friend is married to a terrorist, my ex-boyfriend is missing in action, and my family hasn’t seen me in five years. Don’t use the word difficult with me, Crossbones,” she said sharply. He rubbed his jaw.

“Just remember that she lived through all of that, okay?” he said. “She was by herself and she’d lost you and her mom and her job.”

“I don’t need reminders to be nice to Darcy,” Jane said. She looked at him astutely. “How did you meet her again?” She’d noticed that he’d dodged the question when his mother asked with something non-committal about Darcy doing some technology work for him. That had made Jane suspicious. The only tech work Darcy did was hacking. He rubbed his hands over his face.

“She responded to a dark web ad of mine and I--I had my guys pick her up,” he said. He swallowed. “I kidnapped her, Jane.” His expression was pained. “That’s how we met.” Jane stared at him in horror. She felt the edges of her vision go hot and red. For a second, she wasn’t in control of herself. That was when she started screaming and slapping him. He didn’t even raise his arms to shield his face.

“Honey, where--Jane!” Darcy yelled from somewhere else in the room. “Stop!” She’d grabbed a screaming Jane from behind and pulled her off of him. “Stop!” Darcy shrieked, shaking Jane. “Why are you hurting him?” she demanded.

“He kidnapped you!” Jane said. Through her anger, she saw that Liz and Angela were standing a few feet away, looking horrified.

“No, Jane,” Darcy said.

“Sweetheart, I did,” he said. “I did.”

“But then he let me go and I chose to come back,” Darcy said. “Jane, breathe. Breathe. This is my husband.”

“No,” Jane said. “A kidnapper is not a husband, Darcy. A terrorist is not a husband. We need to leave. We need to take your mom and leave right now.”

 

“I’m not leaving,” Darcy said. “Jane, don’t do this. Don’t ask me to do this. I love him. But I love you, too,” she said, starting to cry. She felt almost dizzy and sick, pressing her hand to her mouth  to quell the wave of nausea.

“Go with Jane if you need to, sweetheart,” Brock said. “Okay? Take the time.” His voice was a whisper. Darcy looked at him. He suddenly looked haggard and old. She’d never seen him look old.

“No!” she yelled. “I am not fucking leaving anybody. I just got everyone back and nobody is making me choose--” she said, glaring at Jane, “and nobody is playing the martyr right now, all right?” she said, looking at Brock. “Everybody sit down and shut up.” She sat down next to Brock and rubbed his arm. He smiled at her weakly. “I love you,” she whispered. She rested her head on his shoulder. Then she gave Jane a pointed look. Jane sighed.

“Well, all right,” Angela said calmly, when Jane sank down in a chair.

“When my daughter says fuck, she means business,” Liz said.

“I do,” Darcy said shakily. “You’re all my family and we’re going to figure this out.”

Chapter Text

“How can you expect me to be okay with this?” Jane said, horrified, as they sat around the living room. Darcy’s mother was petting the cat, but Jane could tell Liz was listening carefully.

“We could see my therapist, the three of us?” Darcy said. “Why don’t I call? Mom, do you want in on this?”

“I’ll do whatever you want me, too, honey,” Liz said briskly. “But I’m going to help Angela with the dishes.”

“I can do it--” Brock said. She waved him off. He sank back into the couch. Darcy threaded her hand through his and smiled at him. “I don’t mind helping,” he said, looking beleaguered.

“You can help them later,” Darcy said.

“You have a therapist? You never believed in therapy,” Jane said to Darcy.

“Guess who sent me when he realized I was severely depressed?” Darcy said. Her fingers were wound around Brock’s hand. She squeezed.

“Anybody would’ve done it,” he said. Brock looked away for a moment.

“He saved my life,” she said. ”Hey, don’t do that.” Darcy touched his face gently. Then she looked back at Jane. “So, don’t you start. You know how you are,” she said.

“How I am?” Jane said.

“You think you know best for everybody and if we don’t comply, you pitch fits and slap people,” Darcy said. 

“I do not!” 

“Yes, you do!”

“I can’t believe you’re saying this to me right now--”

“Do you not remember that time in Berlin--” Darcy began, when Brock cleared his throat. 

“Can someone explain what’s going on?” he said. Liz leaned out of the kitchen.

“Oh, honey,” she said. “Just wait, they fight like sisters, this is the warm up.”

“Oh,” Brock said.

“Don’t you make me do it,” Darcy said. 

“Do what?” Jane said.

“Call Thor.” 

“You wouldn’t!” Jane said.

“Can--can we not fight?” Brock said. He looked baffled.

 

It took awhile, but Darcy finally dragged Jane to their therapist. Jane insisted Brock stay home. Brock, ever eager to comply, agreed over Darcy’s protests. They were arguing in Darcy’s therapist’s office waiting room. “You’re just going to stay married to a criminal?” Jane said.

“He’s been pardoned,” Darcy said. “That part of his life is over. He’s legitimate.”

“And you’ll just have kids with him?” Jane said sharply. 

“No,” Darcy said.

“No?” Jane said, tone shifting between vindication and confusion. Darcy looked away, blinking.

“Probably not. We’ve tried. It’s a complication from his burns--” she said, voice wavering. 

“Oh, honey,” Jane said. She reached out and touched Darcy gently.

“In vitro is awful. We’ve done a few rounds. You get your hopes up. He’s happy to adopt, but I wanted time to decide if I wanted to do more IVF. I needed to think about it. I’m not sure what it would do to him if we got rejected by an adoption agency.” Darcy swallowed. “He would blame himself if I missed this. Because he’s a criminal, you remember.”

“What if we got Thor to take you to Asgard--” Jane began. Darcy looked at her a little sadly. 

“I don’t know how many healers there are left,” she said. Jane stopped talking and put the hands that had rested on Darcy’s arm back in her lap. There was a print of an ocean scene on the opposite wall. They sat quietly for a while, then Darcy realized Jane was silently crying.

“Everything’s changed,” she said.

“It has,” Darcy admitted. “But we’re still the same, I think. Or we can be.”

“Do you really think so?” Jane wondered.

“We have to try,” Darcy said. “Brock said this thing to me once, when I was in a bad state----that you wouldn’t want me to give up and stare at the walls. You’d want me to keep going.”

“Yeah?” Jane said. “What’d you say?”

“That Jane Foster certainly wouldn’t approve of him,” Darcy said, with a tiny grin. Jane nodded through her tears. This time, it was Darcy holding a weeping Jane during the therapy session. While Jane was in the bathroom afterwards, she called someone at the office. “I need the nearest Avengers-adjacent number that can get me Thor,” she said in a low voice. If she failed, she didn’t want Jane to know.

 

They were quietly cleaning up after dinner the next night--Jane had been mollified enough to pass dishes to Brock and kept giving him puzzled glances as he scrubbed forks--when Darcy heard it first. A roll of thunder. The cat hid under the sofa. “Jane--” Darcy said.

“Yeah?” Jane said. 

“I was just telling Jane about some lab space,” Brock said. He gave Darcy a look that telegraphed: trying to make some headway here, babe.

“I think there’s someone in the garden,” Darcy said slowly. She gestured. Jane turned. She would have dropped a glass, but Brock caught it. 

“I’ll---I’ll go,” Jane said. Darcy took her place next to Brock. He looked back towards the French doors.

“Thor?” he said in a low voice.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. 

“What do you think--?”

“No idea,” Darcy said. “But I have hopes.”

“That right?” he said. “What else you hoping for?”

“Who knows?” Darcy said, shrugging. “Anything’s possible.”

“Not everything,” he said quietly. She gave him a soft look. 

“You don’t know. The cat might want a dog,” she said. “That’s sort of where my head’s at.” He laughed.

“Sounds good,” he said. "A dog for the cat."

“And if my mother stays with us?” she said, grinning.

“Ma has already decided she wants to, too.”

“House of the Moms?” Darcy wondered out loud. "Casa de las Madres?" They'd discussed putting a joking plaque up to name the house, but could never pick a name. Darcy had always voted for "House of the Bastard Cat," but Brock had wanted something sweeter. 

“Sounds like we've finally hit it,” he said. His expression was comically torn. Darcy looked at him and burst into laughter. “What?” he said.

“We’re gonna be outnumbered,” she said. “My mom is already cultivating the cat.” She’d caught Liz with cat treats earlier. The cat was on a diet. It was amenable to bribery.

“We’ll get that dog, it’ll side with us,” Brock said.

"I hope so, it would be depressing to be everyone's least favorite pet parents," she said. "Spoon?"

"Thanks, sweetheart."

 

 

Out in the garden, Jane gazed at Thor. “I--I never thought I’d see you again,” he said slowly. “You are unchanged,” he whispered, sounding awestruck. For a moment, Thor beamed at her, then his expression fell. He looked at his hands. “I’m not the same.” She looked at him. At the sad lines around his eyes and his weary expression. He looked tired, but his eyes were soft with delight. Jane stumbled forward and wrapped her arms around him.

“Yes, you are,” she said. “In every way that matters, you are the exact same person I met in New Mexico.” Her voice was insistent. Through the French doors--the glass was blurry with tears--she could see Darcy standing with Brock. She looked like she was laughing and smiling. Jane was seized by the wild thought that as much as her loved ones had changed, they were somehow more themselves than they’d been before. She squeezed Thor until he huffed out a laugh and kissed the top of her head.

“Do you think,” he said slowly, “you’d like to see space with me sometime? Not all of space, obviously, that would be a lot of space...”

“Yeah,” Jane said, smiling widely. “I would.”

 

-The End-