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The Safest Place In America (Is In Your Arms)

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The thing that Darcy Lewis had never understood about victim blamers is that they never acknowledged that the victims had already blamed themselves. She lay, day after day, in her ten by ten cell, watching the sun flicker across the ceiling through the small window, listened to the sound of the rain and wind outside, and cursed herself. Stupid. Foolish. Careless. Irresponsible. She hadn’t checked in with anyone, hadn’t had anyone to check in with.

Thor and Jane were off world, doing Asgardy-space things for the next while, Erik was in a two month treatment program for depression, or whatever was left of it… she didn’t quite know how many days she’d been in lock up for. Her parents thought she was with Thor and Jane because she hadn’t wanted to give them an excuse to ask her to go home and visit. She’d just wanted some peace and quiet to herself in her little Brooklyn apartment while she waited for Thor and Jane to get back.

The first week she’d mostly stayed at home, watched Netflix, and a bit of CrunchyRoll because she’d grown up on Pokemon and Dragonball Z. After that she’d shoved her hands into her soft brushed cotton coat, yanked her beanie down low over her head, and gone out, lived a bit, explored New York City. Then she’d seen the cheap flights to Seattle of all places, $99 round trip, a complete steal, and she’d immediately used her pre-paid VISA (no credit card company would give her a card until that student debt was paid back), and booked herself on a little vacay. A weekend in Seattle, a place she’d never been? Her heart had beat hard in her chest as she’d walked right past the luggage carousel, she hadn’t even packed more than a carry-on. She hadn’t thought she’d need to.

One summer when she was 15 she’d stayed up until six every morning, trawling the internet for interesting things, doing nothing productive at all. She’d stumbled across some sort of unidentified body database on a Canadian policing website, and out of morbid curiosity she’d gone through each listing, over 4000 of them. It’d had taken her awhile, most were just descriptions of the body found, sometimes there was a drawing, or a photo of the body’s face, or a mockup rendering of what they looked like in real life. Darcy read their stories, of how they were found, what they were wearing, the small possessions they had on their person, and had been struck by how easy it was for a person to slip away… to disappear and never be seen again, to end up as some poor S.O.B. listed on a website for a country that had fewer people in it than Tokyo.

It had been a lesson that had stuck with her and had probably kept her safe through her college years, until she’d been bitten by the I’m totes invincible bug after surviving two interstellar attacks on earth… and well. One bad decision to go out on a rainy evening in Seattle had lead to waking up, curled up on a single bed in a barren cell staring at the flat inflexible metal mesh walls made up of one inch circular holes, and a barred window set in a solid metal wall, high up in one corner. Apart from her bed, there’d been nothing but a stainless steel metal toilet with no seat, a water fountain in the other, and the glass dome of a 360 camera on the ceiling. The men who attended her kept quiet, did not answer her questions, didn’t say a word. They brought her plain but nutritionally complete food, all things she could eat without utensils or with her hands. Her bedding was sewn to the mattress on two sides, so that she had to work to get into it each night, and couldn’t use it to try to hang herself or hurt herself.

After three days of listening to her cry, call out, scream… she hadn’t been exactly quiet, they finally brought her a book with her meal, Moby Dick, of all things. Desperate for something to keep her mind off of where she was since her impassive captors would answer no questions at all, and feeling hemmed in by the flat metal walls that kept her contained, she’d was grateful for the distraction. On the fourth day they’d let her shower, leading her down a hallway, past a multitude of other, empty cells just like hers into a larger tiled room, with a shower head in the wall and a flat red button to press for water. The guard had taken her there by gunpoint and motioned to the basket on the floor of the bathing room. It held a towel, a sample size bottle of shampoo, and clean clothes, her clothes.

“You shower quietly, and without putting up a fight, and you can do it without me in here,” he’d said. “You fight me? Me and my gun are going to join your next bath time. You got it?” She’d just nodded, wide eyed, and he’d left her with a curt, “you have five minutes.”

That had been eight days ago. Her hair was a dry after her shower earlier that day, and a little crispy from the lack of conditioner, so she’d had to braid it, thankful that it was so thick it kept it’s shape without needing an elastic. They wouldn’t have given her one anyway. The food arrived, three times a day, enough to keep her going, although she’d dropped a few pounds already given the lack of added sugars and junk food. Every so often she’d get a new book, always some classic thing that she’d managed to escape reading in high school. She read aloud, for the company of the noise, to keep her voice from going hoarse. There was never anyone around most of the time, other than the brief walk-by checks they did every few hours. The books were her lifeline, and she dove into them like they were the latest chick lit that she’d normally have swapped with Jane, needing the release of not thinking of her own predicament.

Her fingers were curled around her most recent reading material, The Woman in White, which was ironically apt given her situation, when she heard a noise down the hall. It was scuffling, and then cursing, and someone, a man, was snarling. Her heart skipped a beat and she immediately tucked herself under the platform that served as a base for her mattress, crawling under to the very back of it, folding herself along the perforated wall that she shared with another cell. It was darker under there, as the other cell had a bed pressed against the wall right by hers, and she’d slept underneath there no few times when the panic had gotten… overwhelming.

“Fuck- get his- get his legs!” The hall was filling with shouting men, at least five, but it sounded like more, and she curled up in the shadows, hands pressed on the floor so she could lean into the wall and remain invisible. There was a loud clang and then a grunt. The sound of one of the cell doors opening, and something heavy hit the floor, in the room next to hers. She stopped breathing.

“Nice try, Cap,” someone snarled, one of the guards, and the door slammed shut with a flat dull sound. It was quiet, except for a soft shifting, beyond the wall. Without taking a breath she turned her head, and pressed her face to one of the small holes, to peer next door. Sprawled on the floor was a blonde man, dressed in a plain white shirt and a pair of fitted gray cargo pants. His back was to her. She couldn’t quite stifle the gasp from her mouth, and he turned, twisting his torso to look where the noise had come from.

Darcy had know idea who he was, or where he’d come from, but she had some small hope… of at least she might not be alone. She’d have someone to talk to.

“Who’s there?” he asked, getting to his knees, fully upright, his shoulders pressed down and to the sides. He looked strong, strong enough to maybe escape? No, the guards overpowered him. She stayed still and didn’t answer, pulled her face away from the wall and rolled onto her back underneath the bed, breathing slowly and silently.

There was a scraping sound, and then what… had to be bare feet, walking along the plain white lino flooring. His bed creaked as he sat down on it, and she heard him sigh.

“What’s your name?” she finally asked, drawing out the courage to speak. She heard his breathing catch.

“You don’t know?” There was a hint of anger in his voice, directed at her, like she might be part of his problem, his incarceration. It stung a little, and she recoiled internally, a little of the sass boiling back to the surface after being buried for more than a week.

“I’m stuck in here too, buddy, so don’t get salty with me,” she snapped, crawling out from under her bed and getting on top of it, sitting on her knees. His back was to her, but she could see him, pieces of him, through those one inch holes.

“Steve Rogers,” he said after a long moment. She inched forward a little on the mattress until she was only a foot away from the wall. “Have you been here long?”

“About a week, little more. My name’s Darcy,” she replied. “You got any idea where we are?” She winced when she heard her voice break, the pathetic whine tucked away in the back of it, desperate for some answers, any answers. He gave a long sigh and turned, and she could see one of his eyes, bright blue, looking at her through the wall.

“Point Roberts, Washington. Safest community in America,” he drawled, and through another hole she could see the corner of his mouth, lifting up.

“That’s… ah… ironic. Or… something. I never did understand that song.”

“What?”

“Nevermind.” She shifted around and sat down, pulling her book up from her pillow, and then leaned against the solid wall behind her, watching the bits of him that she could and staying at least a finger length’s away so he couldn’t touch… just in case he’d try. She didn’t think he’d try.

“A week huh? Are you an agent?” He was watching her right back, and she wondered if it was as weird to him as it was to her, seeing bits of a person but not their whole self.

“Agent? Uh… like a travel agent?” She opened her book and looked down at the page, not sure where she’d left off before… he’d been dragged in.

“Like, FBI. CIA. SHIELD?”

Her head jerked up and she stared at him, or the wall, and him through the wall.

“No. No I am… how do you know about- nevermind.” She fell quiet and curled up, pulling her knees to her chest and her oversized shirt down over them to her toes, hiding inside of it.

“Darcy?” She shook her head and didn’t look up, but could hear him getting closer to the wall between them, hear his breath. “Why are you here?” She refused to look up. SHIELD. Was SHIELD involved with this? They seemed more along the lines of equipment thieves and less people-disappearing, but- the sound of booted footsteps, three pairs, stopped her thoughts and she pressed hard against the wall, watching her door.

“Dinner,” snapped out a guard, and the small metal flap flipped up at the bottom of her door, her tray sliding in. She could hear the same in Steve’s cell. The footsteps walked away.

“You should eat,” she said after Steve was quiet for a minute. “They only feed me, well, us, three times a day, and they’ll be back soon for the tray.” She got up and walked over to her tray, sat down on the floor, and pulled it into her lap. An orange, peeled, and broken into sections was the first thing she reached for. She didn’t hear him moving. After swallowing one section of orange, she paused. “Are you from SHIELD?” It took a long moment before he replied.

“What do you know about SHIELD?” There was… some curiosity in his voice, but mostly command, like he was used to giving an order and being answered, immediately.

“They stole my iPod. I kinda think they’re assholes,” she answered pertly, and then regretted it her tone for a moment until she heard a low, lost sort of chuckle.

“That... sounds about right,” his voice was hushed, amused, and she finally heard him get up and pad over to his tray.

Steve didn’t talk much over the next hour or so. He paced around his cell, tried to rattle the walls, the door, anything. She would have told him that it was no use, if he’d asked, but he didn’t. Instead, Darcy just curled up on her bed and read, flicking her eyes up through the mesh to watch him every few minutes. She didn’t make it through more than a chapter when he sighed with frustration and sat with a heavy thud on his mattress. It bumped up against the adjoining wall with a flat thunk.

“So you don’t know who they are?” he asked without preamble.

“Nope,” she answered, flipping a page, studiously looking at her book.

“And they haven’t said anything to you?” his tone was bordering on irritated, which she didn’t fault him for, but also didn’t appreciate. She closed her book with a sigh.

“The longest conversation I’ve had with any of them was when one guard offered not to fucking ogle me in the shower if I was a good girl and didn’t mess around. So no, they haven’t said much to me, I have no idea who they are. They’re not exactly wearing their scout troop number on their sleeve, or anything. No one has come on down dressed in a robe and a funny hat to tell me their nefarious plan for me and all my inner organs. So I’m assuming they’re just a bunch of kinksters who get off on watching a fully dressed girl read classic english literature. Other than that, I got nothing. So, you know, go on grilling your only neighbour and conversation companion. It’s going to get you real far.” She shot him a glare, as best she could anyway, through the wall, and he shifted to look at her and at least looked somewhat chagrined. Good. Ass. It felt good to sharpen her tongue on somebody after days of quiet isolation.

“Darcy, I apologize. I’m obviously… this is at best a frustrating situation.”

“No shit. That’s like, understatement of the century. Millenia even. Hey did you notice no one talks about the new millennium anymore? It’s like the clock switched over and we all realized we’re still murdering each other in inventive and terrible ways, so it’s best to pretend that it’s not the dawning of Aquarius or something.”

He was quiet after that, and she flicked a page of her book over without really reading the words.

“Where are you from, Darcy? Washington?” She sighed and looked over at him. It still weirded her out to only see bits and pieces of him, a shock of his blonde hair, a corner of one eye, the edge of his shoulder.

“No, I live in New York. I was in Seattle on holiday when they uh, decided I needed an extended stay at their day spa.”

“So they just… grabbed you off the street then?”

“Lights out in fifteen minutes,” came a slight garbled message over an intercom system that Darcy had never heard.

“That’s new,” she muttered, looking up at the ceiling. They normally turned the lights in her cell off at night, but left the hall lights on… although they’d never announced it. The first time she’d thought she was going blind because the lights had slowly dimmed. “Must be you,” she looked at him and put her book down. “I gotta take care of business, so if you could kindly?”

She could see the downturn of his mouth, and that his head was tilted a little to one side.

“Kindly?” He didn’t get it.

“I’ve got to do my nighttime beauty rituals, Steve. That means the toilet. You see yours? Nice metal shiny thing, no lid or seat so you can’t slam your head in it and give yourself a concussion? Yeah. I’m gonna be using that, and so if you would turn away so I can pee in privacy that’d be fantastic.” She got off the bed with a grumble and started to strip off her pants, folding them up and tucking them underneath the bed. He cleared his throat and she heard him moving. Thank god. As nice as it was to have someone to talk to, he was a little, clueless? At best, clueless. She wriggled her arm up her back under her shirt, unhooked her bra and pulled the straps down over her arms so she could yank it off without stripping her shirt off. Then she looked up at the camera in the middle of her ceiling at gave it the middle finger. Creepy fuckers.

As she finally got into bed, wriggling around until she was comfortable, she heard Steve do the same, a few inches of mattress and a paper-thin metal wall separating them. He sighed, low and quiet. He was on his back, arms behind his head acting as a pillow, and he stared at the ceiling. The lights were dimming, but it felt… safe. Having someone else suffering along with her, someone to talk to. Her eyes prickled a little and she blinked hard to clear the tears that threatened to spill over her cheeks. She hadn’t cried since her first shower. She wasn’t going to cry again.

“Hey,” Steve whispered as he turned on his side of the wall, rolling over. She could see him, one of his eyes, looking at her even in the growing darkness. He pressed his hand against the mesh. He must’ve heard her sniff. Darcy burrowed down into her blankets until they were up to her nose. “I’m going to get you out of here,” he said, voice soft, calming. She reached her hand out, and pressed it back against the wall over where he held his, and she swore she could almost feel the warmth of his palm, even if their skin wasn’t touching.

“You don’t know me,” she said slowly, voice quiet as well. This moment was for them, not their captors. He moved his finger, and she bit back a gasp when he brushed it against her hand through the wall. Her eyes closed but she didn’t pull away, needing human contact after over a week of partial sensory deprivation.

“I promise you, Darcy? I promise. I’m going to get you out of here. Go to sleep, I’m right here, and I won’t leave until you’re safe.” She dropped her hand to the mattress and pulled it under the sheets.

“Mmkay. But I’m going to hold you to it. And I’m pretty creative about enacting revenge when people break their promises to me.” Her eyes fluttered shut and she thought she heard him chuckle, a low tickling sound at the edge of her senses, as she drifted into sleep.