Dating scares Steve in the same way machine guns or hand grenades scare him— deeply and instinctively. He was scared of dating when he was small and girls overlooked him. He had been scared of dating while he dreamed of Peggy and focused on surviving the Second World War. Now, awake in what everyone claimed was “modern times,” he is scared of leaving his apartment.
It all started when Steve went to the grocery store. He spent a half hour trying to find some oatmeal. He had to ask a cashier with a terrifying sleeve of skull-themed tattoos and dark circles around her eyes what a microwave was. She stared at him like he was crazy (I’m crazy? You have a piece of metal through your eyebrow!) and Steve ended up leaving with some kind of strange oat-based bar that promised an energy boost.
When these proved an inadequate dinner, he went out for pizza. The girl who took his order wore bright pink lipstick and her shirt ended somewhere above her ribcage. Steve tried to focus on his food because it’s rude to stare but he couldn’t help but wonder if she came from the beach.
The whole experience was deeply scarring.
Then there was Natasha.
She took him out for coffee one afternoon (except that her coffee was mostly ice and whipped cream) and while she was friendly, she was also terrifying. Even in civilian clothes, her prominent muscles bulged under her striped t-shirt (which thankfully covered the entirety of her stomach) and she would casually drop comments like “I was keeping an eye on Sarkozy in Paris when I learnt how to shoot while back flipping. It’s a pretty useful skill.”
Steve looked Peggy up, had a nice conversation with her adolescent granddaughter, left a bouquet of peonies at the gravesite and considered his romantic life over.
Even when he was done with the necessary mourning, which mostly involved sketching Peggy as he knew her over and over and over again, he can’t bring himself to date around. Mostly because modern day women terrify him even more than the women of his time (and that is saying something).
So when he met Darcy Lewis and found himself thinking about how pretty she was, he was understandably scared senseless. Just the idea that Steve could lay in bed and night and visualize how a woman would look naked scared him. He found himself ignoring Tony’s many “Avengers Poker Night” invitations because she’d be there and he’d have to acknowledge that there were parts of him he had hoped would freeze off in the ice.
But still, Darcy exists in New York City, having a life that curiously always seems to intersects with his own. He saw her one day at the pharmacy. He needed a new toothbrush and she was getting tampons. She made a joke about it. He blushed. Steve lay in bed and tried very hard not to think about her.
He had paperwork to fill out— he couldn’t exit much longer without an up-to-date passport or social security number. Outside Fury’s office, she was sitting with her brunette friend, giggling. She saw him. They made small talk. Steve ripped the pages of her out of his sketchbook and considered burning them.
“I’m having a Christmas party. You have to come.”
And then, it’s December and Steve realizes he’d been awake for months.
He’d painted the walls in his apartment a soft blue and bought a cactus, forgot to water it ever and threw the remains out guiltily. He has his favorite pizza parlor’s number hanging on the fridge. He gets coffee with Natasha once a month and has developed a liking for the double chocolate chip Frappuccino.
Steve decides to go to the party. He hasn’t seen her, the girl with the bright eyes and large breasts (No, stop it!) in ages and maybe he’s cured. Maybe he will never love again after Peggy and he won’t have to walk through the minefield that is women and emotions and feeling inadequate because he didn’t know who Gloria Steinem was.
Steve enjoys himself. He’s talking with Barton over scotch. He knew Barton’s grandfather in the war. Steve reflects privately that he’s gotten okay with being the same age as everyone’s deceased relatives. It used to hurt him. Now he’s just happy to have common ground with Clint and is enjoying the festive music and watching Tony and Thor destroy Stark Tower in a mead-fueled rampage. In fact, Steve is okay.
He is wearing a suit he bought from a mall and it was crowded but he didn’t have a panic attack (a moment of triumph only his therapist would hear of). They are playing the same songs he grew up on. Joy to the World hasn’t changed at all.
He is not spending Christmas alone in his apartment. He was spending Christmas with his friends, a world he uses tentatively but optimistically.
Then she walks in wearing a slinky green dress and Steve feels something in his chest sink. He knows it's all going to go to hell.
Bruce and Jane hover around each other, throwing about terms like “electron force capacitor” and Steve hides behind Thor’s enormous body because Darcy is outrageously beautiful and he doesn’t want her to ruin his night, what with wanting to put his mouth on her and all.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful is on and is being treated as a slow-dance by a slurring Tony and Pepper. Darcy is dangerously close and Steve wants to throw up and rip her dress off all at once with an animal intensity that scares him.
He swallows a disturbing large gulp of scotch.
“I’m so glad I’m not the only one without a date.” She says and Steve notices how white her teeth are. Darcy Lewis has remarkably white teeth. China white, he thinks and imagines painting them into a masterpiece.
“Far from it.” He says because what else should he say that isn’t “please spend eternity with me?”
“Want to dance?” Darcy asks. Steve wants to be confused that she’s asking him but finds himself being led like a marionette to the center of the dance floor.
He lets something that’s not him put his hands on her waist and somehow, outside of his control, his feet move.
“Looks like someone’s had too much fun.” Darcy giggles, gesturing towards Thor, who is enthusiastically waltzing with a far-less enthusiastic Jane. Steve smiles half-heartedly.
She has periwinkle eyes. He’s barely touched his tube of periwinkle, except to shade the edges of an elephant he painted in a pique of whimsy.
They glide across the dance floor and Steve doesn’t know how he can move so easily. Darcy is even more mesmerizing up-close and he hates himself for wanting her, for wanting to enter the battleground of liking someone in the 21th century.
And then Darcy puts her mouth on Steve’s mouth and things are okay.
Jingle Bell Rock comes on but they’re still slow-dancing.
Things are okay.
He is okay.