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Darcy hates getting up when it's dark. Hates. Darkness is for partying, sleeping, screwing, and occasionally letting off illegal fireworks in the abandoned lot near the 7-Eleven. It is not for waking.

It is especially not for waking when you've got a heavy arm draped around your middle, a nose pressed firmly into the back of your neck, and a body wrapped around you that doubles for a heater. Seriously, it's twenty degrees outside and she doesn't even have the heating on; she's saving so much in electricity bills.

Steve shifts in his sleep, curling into her a little more, his knees bumping into the backs of hers. He's infinitely more manipulative asleep than awake, beckoning her to stay in bed with all his warm, soft skin and the steady rise and fall of his chest against her back. She looks at the clock; it reads 5.28am, and now she's waking up before the fucking thing even goes off? What is happening to her?

She stares at the LED lit numbers through narrowed eyes, as it ticks over to twenty nine, and then thirty. She slaps the off button as soon as the radio switches on, but Steve is already awake with a puff of air against her neck.

“Ugh,” she mutters. His fingers tangle in her t-shirt for moment before he lets go of her and rolls onto his back.

Well, it's definitely morning now. She swings herself up, scoots to the end of the bed – she swears this bedroom gets smaller every goddamn day – and curses as her feet hit the frigid carpet. Gets her every fucking time. She reaches back and grabs the blanket off the bed, wrapping it round her shoulders (aside from heating costs, another good thing about having a boyfriend who's his own personal furnace is that he never complains when she steals all the blankets), and squints at Steve. With only the tiniest bit of light peeking through the drapes, and her without glasses, he's a little fuzzy, but she can still make out how the sheets are tangled around his legs, and his body is all long and lean and stretched out and calling out to her to lie back down on.

“Stop it,” she says.

“Stop what?” he mumbles.

“Just...” She makes some kind of sound, blowing air through her teeth, and Steve laughs, shifting around until he's sitting up beside her. He slings his arm around her waist and kisses her on the temple.

“Come on, you've got to be at work by seven.”

“Nooo,” she says, “Fury gave me the day off because he likes me so much. I'm just up to enjoy the first ice cold shower of the day.”

“Okay,” he says, resting his chin on her shoulder. He looks at her, and even in the dark room she can see how blue his eyes are.

“Fine,” she says, gathering the rest of the blanket up around her and standing, “fine.”

Steve doesn't have any reason to be up this early, and if the positions were reversed, she sure as hell wouldn't be getting up in solidarity with him, but she's already come to terms with the fact that while she's a solid ten, he's on a whole other numbering system altogether.

The bathroom, like every other room in her apartment, is really too small for two people, but Steve's tall enough that he can just stand behind her and use the mirror that way. Unlike her, he's super efficient at his morning routine, does his teeth, shaves, brushes his hair, and takes a piss (they have this unspoken agreement that she kinda sorta averts her eyes because he finds it awkward even though he won't admit it), all in five minutes or under, while she's still messing around putting toothpaste on her toothbrush.

At least morning showers don't slow her down, since the old boilers in this building can't handle the cold and it takes upwards of half an hour for the water to heat. If she's feeling really gross, she'll grab a shower at work, but normally a liberal application of deodorant suffices. It really depends on whether, and how hard, they went at it the night before.

On the weekends, Steve makes pancakes, or eggs, or French toast, but on weekdays it's just yoghurt and fruit, or cereal, because her stomach can't handle anything more this early, unless she's cool with hurling all over someone's newspaper in the subway. When she stumbles back out of the bathroom, with a hairbrush stuck in her hair, her breakfast is waiting for her on the counter, and Steve is half dressed, drinking one of those horrific protein shakes. She squints at the whirring coffee maker – it's a Stark prototype that turned up on her doorstep the day after those pictures got all over the news – and smiles. Her mug, her flask, and her glasses are all laid out next to the brewing coffee.

They go through the rest of their routine in near silence, because she never has anything intelligent to say before at least ten in the morning, which can be a real problem at work. She's not really a 'routine' type of person – if she can find two matching socks and eat a slice of buttered stale bread before work then she considers that a win – but Steve is all about order, and it should bore her, but it doesn't. It's kind of nice to have someone looking out for her physical well being, because she sure as shit isn't.

By five to six, she manages to tame her hair into a loose knot, gets her underwear on, and grabs her jeans and shirt from where they're laid out on the couch.

“Did you iron this?” she asks, eyeing the suspiciously crisp white shirt.

He looks up from putting things into his bag. “Yeah.”

“Hm,” she responds, putting it on. Steve is an ironing fiend. Like, seriously, she can't remember the last time she ironed something, but all his clothes have to be crisp and wrinkle free, and now he's moved onto her stuff. She had to put her foot down when he started sizing up her t-shirts, but she does have to admit that she looks a little more businessy in a clean ironed shirt than a ratty cardigan. Whether she's actually happy about this development in her life is less clear.

“Okay,” she says, once the rest of her coffee is safely in its flask, her feet are in her extra toasty boots, and she's got her dad's old coat on. She jams her knitted hat over her ears. “Let's do this.”

There are never any seats on the train into Manhattan at this time of the morning, and no gentlemen to offer theirs, which is major bugbear for Steve. Like, he'd probably say something if she didn't cringe so hard at the idea of a confrontation in a freaking sardine tin with her regular commuter buddies. The train is also totally discriminating against short people, because she can only just reach the rails along the top, and rude, selfish people monopolise the vertical ones. At least with Steve, he can hold onto the top rail with one hand, and wrap his arm around her to keep her steady.

On the other end, he walks her all the way to the unassuming S.H.I.E.L.D. offices that she's now going to sit in for the next ten hours or so and go through endless typing, spreadsheeting, and meetings.

“Lunch?” he asks, tucking his nose into his scarf as her fellow junior agents start going in, casting brief looks at them as they pass.

“You're on,” she says. “So what're you doing today?”

He shrugs. “Tony wants to test something, so... hopefully I won't lose any of my fingers.”

She closes her gloved hands over his and gives them a rub. “You better still have all these magic fingers tonight.”

He'd probably be blushing now if his cheeks weren't already pink from the cold. “I'll do my best,” he promises, and gives her a quick peck on the lips.

Life got pretty weird after her face, and in short order her name too, got bandied about all over television, magazines, and the internet. For the first week, orders came down on high from Fury, and she got time off. She and Steve did one grocery store run, and then basically stayed in for six days straight. Which, not a problem, really. She taught Steve how to do a lot of things. A lot of things.

They had a lot of sex, is what she's getting at.

Her workmates haven't been too bad about the whole thing; they probably think she gets special favours, but she was on that list already because of her connection to Thor, so she's always been treated with a fair bit of suspicion. She's a big girl, she can take whatever Mean Girls shit they'd like to dole out.

She wasn't able to go home for Thanksgiving, though, that kind of sucked. Once the media got hold of her name, they easily tracked down her family, and then there were reporters fucking up the lawn in the front yard. Her parents thought it was all quite fun, but her Great Aunt Lewis has dementia and she's got belligerent and even a little violent for less, so Darcy decided, in her infinite and newly found maturity, to not lead the entire circus to the west coast, and rather make it extremely clear, like hello, here I am kissing Captain America in the street on Thanksgiving morning in New York what the fuck are you doing in California?, that they were staying in New York.

Steve had, like, all the guilt in the world for making her miss the family get together. His capacity for guilt is basically bottomless, she's discovered, even though it's certainly not the first time she's missed shit like this and her family do not stand on any kind of honour or tradition, except for the usual drunken brawl between Uncle Peter and Auntie Carol. And honestly, taking a nice, quiet Catholic boy to a gathering of her noisy, nosy Jewish relatives? Probably not a good initial 'meet the parents' scenario.

The past three weeks have certainly been a doozy.

Lunch is at a place where they're more likely to get their cheeks pinched than have their photographs taken. It doesn't have the best coffee in the world, but little old ladies who run quaint tea rooms make the most sugary shit ever, and Darcy rivals Steve for most scones eaten in one sitting. Steve is talking about something that happened at Stark Tower this morning, something to do with Black Widow, who Darcy recalls blew back into town a couple of days ago in a cloud of bloodshed and extra paperwork. Steve's talking with hands, smiling and laughing a little, and honestly, Darcy isn't really listening to what he's saying, rather focusing on his happy face. He's chilled out a hell of a lot since they met.

She leans over and kisses him mid-sentence, tasting the sugar still on his lips.

“What was that for?” he asks, pressing his fingers to his mouth for a second. Adorable.

“Look here, if I can't kiss my dreamboat boyfriend in front of God and everyone once TMZ has made damn sure that we can't hide shit from them--” She taps her teaspoon against the chintzy saucer, then points it at him. “Well, that's just not the America that you fought for.”

Steve grins, and returns the favour.

On the walk back to work, they only get photographed three times, which is an improvement on last week. She's clocked up so much overtime because she just couldn't get into work on time for a solid five days.

Going home falls into the usual routine. She's the first out of the office (sorry everyone, but not really), and meets Steve down in the lobby. It's dark by now, so it's easier to make it to the subway without being hassled. On the subway they have the same issues, seat and space wise, and once they're home, Darcy collapses onto the couch with a flumph, and Steve laughs at her as he makes dinner. When it's ready, he brings it over to the coffee table, sets her back the right way up, and puts a fork into her hand. Then he commiserates with her about how horrible it is to have to get up early and do stuff all day.

After dinner she tries to watch TV, but her attention keeps wandering and coming back at random intervals, and she misses, like, half of everything that Abed says.

Steve doesn't get the show at all.

An indeterminate amount of time later, Steve jostles her slightly. “Hey, I'm going to have a shower, do you...?”

The water in this shitty building only stays hot long enough for one shower, though Steve's only last for about two minutes, so it's not actually much of a problem. Still, they're both happy to pretend like there's no other option but to shower together.

“Yeah,” she says, levering herself off the couch. “Come on.”

She had thought, once she'd seen him naked and waiting for her to fuck him, that that was pretty much the peak of the hotness scale for him; she'd brought the mallet down on the high striker and got the puck right to the top, but wet, naked Steve? The high striker just exploded with joy.

The shower isn't really made for this kind of activity, it's much too cramped, but she's short, and he's flexible, so they work it out somehow. She shampoos her hair quickly, squealing a little when Steve turns her round to face him and kisses her, his hands threading through her hair, working up a lather. He's such a multi-tasker.

She uses about half a bottle of conditioner on her hair, attempting to tease out the many knots, which is kind of hard because Steve is distracting the shit out of her with his big hands cupping her breasts, wandering down her waist and closing around her hips, pushing her against the wall and lifting her up.

She sighs, her attention momentarily captured by the way the spray from the shower runs down from his neck, curves around one of his pecs and continues on its journey down his stomach and along one leg. “I'm way too tired to make any effort,” she tells him.

“That's okay,” he says. He slides the glass door open enough to reach the bathroom counter and grab the packet of condoms lying there with one hand, still holding her up with his other. He shakes one out and fumbles with the foil wrapper, the water turning it slippery in his fingers. He can't quite keep hold of her and deal with that too, and after a couple of confused minutes, and a lot of very grown up giggling from both of them, he lets her back down and commits to getting the condom on. She takes the opportunity to turn the shower head towards her and start to rinse the conditioner off. A minute later, Steve is successful and gently crowds her against the shower wall again.

Dude's like the freaking Energizer Bunny sometimes, she swears; he's had just as little sleep as her, but he is totally ready to screw her into this wall. He bends one knee and braces it against the tile beneath her, then settles her there and pushes into her slowly. It's surprisingly comfortable for shower sex; trust Steve to turn something that's awkward and the leading cause of bruised elbows into something safe and romantic.

He curls his hand around one of hers, pinning it above her head loosely, groping at her side with the other. His pace is almost tortuously slow, deep controlled thrusts that make her squirm and pant and try to push back into him. She's more of a hard and fast sort of girl, but this can be nice too, once in a while. Steve has picked all this sex stuff up really well.

Most guys her age that she's been with have a tendency to, well, shoot their load a little early. To be fair to some of them, they were usually totally willing to get her off in other ways, afterwards, but it was a little disappointing, nonetheless. Steve kind of has the opposite problem, depending on how riled up she gets him first; he can keep going until he's a completely incoherent mess. They've been experimenting with that. For science, of course.

“Darcy,” he groans against her ear, his fingers tightening around hers. His thrusts are getting harder, and she can feel her orgasm building fast, until she has to throw one arm around his shoulders and trust that he's not going to drop her. He hasn't so far, and they've... tried out a couple of different positions.

She clings to him as she comes and, yeah, he doesn't drop her, he presses her harder into the wall, the way she likes, her breasts flattening against his chest. This whole strength kink thing she's developed isn't going anywhere any time soon.

Rapidly cooling water drips down between them as she drops her head back against the tiles. Steve fits his face into the hollow of her collarbone and keeps on going, moaning her name softly, and probably sort of drowning, too, but he survived in the ice for seventy years; drowning by sex probably isn't going to be the thing that does him in.

One of the best things about sex with Steve is all the little sounds he makes, all strangled and muffled like it's all he can do to keep himself from turning into a babbling wreck. Sometimes she tries to convince him it's okay to be vocal, that she likes knowing how much she turns him on, but she also likes the other side of it, all the desperate squirming and pleasure-pained moaning. That's pretty hot too.

So, she could listen to him all day, but the water is going cold and she can feel the wet slide of her conditioner covered hair against her back. She pulls her hand gently from his and tips her head forward to scrub at her hair, while Steve keeps doing his thing, his hand flat against the tiles now.

“Oh,” he groans, as she picks long strands of her hair from between her fingers and drops the clumps onto the shower floor. He twitches and shudders against her, dragging his open mouth across her shoulder, and does that breathy gaspy porn star moan thing that means he's about to come.

And come he does, stomach muscles twitching and legs trembling a little; she likes to think that if he wasn't who he is, his knees would be well on their way to buckling. That makes her feel pretty proud of herself. He holds her against the wall for a minute longer, while he rides it out, then pulls out and eases her back down. He cups her face in his hands and presses light kisses all over her cheeks and forehead.

Then the water tank gives up its valiant battle and blasts them with ice cold water.

“Oh, shit!” she squeals, ducking around him and stumbling out of the shower.

“Hey!” he cries, as she slides the door shut again and gives him the thumbs up. He frowns at her through the fogged up glass for a moment, then gets under the spray to wash himself off. She's pretty sure she hears a couple of swear words issue forth from him as he quickly scrubs himself down. Thirty seconds later he's done, and she takes pity on him enough to grab the towel off the heated rail and hand it to him. She only plays keep away with it twice.

“That was a mean trick,” he mutters, securing the towel around his waist and pouting at her.

“It wasn't a trick, you just took too long,” she says. He's still pouting at her, though, so she puts her hands on his arms and gives them a vigorous rub. “I'll warm you up, baby.”

“Baby?”

She shrugs. “I'm taking it for a spin.”

They collapse into bed just after ten. Darcy drapes herself all over him, and uses his bicep for a pillow.

“Ugh,” she mutters as Steve tucks the blanket around her. “Four more days til the weekend.”

-

This is the second time she's been in Stark Tower. The first time was with a S.H.I.E.L.D. clean up crew, as part of her 'on the job' training, picking through the debris caused by the latest tantrum of one of Tony's enemies. For that she wore her S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform, all black, shit-kicker boots. It's actually pretty hot for a government drone get up.

Tonight, though, she's in a red knitted dress, one that her mom practically forced on her because 'it's so cute' when Darcy was going through her 'wear all the baggy t-shirts and gross ripped jeans' phase. Darcy hates when her mom is right.

She's still wearing her shit-kicker boots though, those things go with everything.

“Okay,” Steve says when they're in the elevator, being taken up roughly one billion floors to Tony's private residence at the top of the building. “Don't touch anything that looks... well, maybe just don't touch anything. And, uh, if Tony says anything inappropriate to you, feel free to, you know. Slap him.”

“Don't worry, I won't accept any candy from him.”

“Probably best.”

The elevator dings, and that smooth as fuck English accent announces, “Floor ninety, residence of Anthony Edward Stark and his owner, Virginia Potts.”

They step out into a large room, with a bar in the corner and some seriously awesome floor to ceiling windows lining one wall. And neither of their not-so gracious hosts.

“Did they forget they invited us?”

Steve glances up carefully. “I feel like something's going to descend on us,” he mutters.

“I wonder what kind of booze Stark's got in that bar.”

“I think he's got all of it,” Steve says, and takes another step into the room. He turns in a circle, looking around, then sighs and crosses his arms over his chest. “I knew this was a bad idea.”

“Not necessarily.” She steps up to him, puts her thumbs through his belt loops, and tucks her fingers under his waistband. “Think of what we could do unsupervised with all of Tony Stark's toys.”

Steve points up. “We aren't unsupervised.”

“I would not tell a soul, sir,” Jarvis says.

“See, GLaDOS has our backs.”

Steve looks both confused and resigned to being confused, as per usual.

Jarvis says, “That is not a very nice comparison, Agent Lewis.”

“Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean any harm,” she says, directed somewhere in the direction of the right hand corner of the room.

“Sadly, I have been called worse,” Jarvis replies.

God, now she feels really bad for a computer program. This hasn't happened since her Sim 'Darlene' got cheated on by her husband, lost her job, and set fire to the oven, all in the space of one Sim day.

“We should probably call them,” Steve says, shifting slightly from side to side.

“Probably. Can we have at least one illicit kiss in Tony Stark's love den?”

He twists his mouth and glances around, as if making sure that Stark isn't hiding behind a door, or something. “Okay,” he says after a moment, and leans down, putting his hands around her waist. It really does feel a little more illicit, standing in this plush living room/bar/workshop.

The elevator dings again, and she turns around in time to see Tony Stark waving his hands about as he talks, and Pepper Potts laughing at him. They get one step out of the elevator before they notice Steve and Darcy.

“Intruder alert!” Tony cries. “Jarvis, all hands!”

“Yes, sir,” Jarvis says. It's more of a mutter, really, if computers can mutter.

“You're late,” Steve says, and glances apologetically at Pepper. “Sorry, Ms. Potts.”

She checks her watch. “Tony said seven thirty.”

“I said seven thirty,” Tony agrees, then points at Steve. “You said seven thirty.”

“You said eleven at a club in Soho. I said seven, here.”

Tony scowls then sticks out his chin. “Jarvis! Play the call log between me and Captain Incorrect here for December 2nd 2012.”

“Is that his official designation, sir?” Jarvis asks dryly.

Steve mutters something about invasion of privacy and being recorded without his knowledge. Darcy grimaces.

“Oh man, you do not want to get into an argument with Steve about remembering stuff. He has, like, perfect recall for dates and times and shit.”

Tony makes a dismissive sound, still bickering with Jarvis, and Pepper rolls her eyes. “It's very nice to meet you, Agent Lewis. Can't say I've heard anything concrete about you, but Tony has a lot of theories. I think Captain Rogers having drawn you and then somehow brought you to life was at the top of the list.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Darcy says, turning to shake Pepper's hand. “Steve hasn't told me a lot about you either, but then he's not allowed to talk about other women in my presence, or indeed talk to them. So tonight's going to be interesting.”

Pepper laughs. “That was already a given.”

“Play the damn call!” Tony snaps.

“Yes, sir. Call log for December 2nd 2012, 15:36,” Jarvis says, and then Tony's voice takes over.

Hey, Captain Tightpants!” There's a long pause. “Hello? Are you holding your phone the right way up? Have you fallen and can't get up? I told you to get Life Alert.

Tony.

It speaks!

What do you want?

Rude. I was just going to invite you and your girl out to dinner with me and Pepper, but now I'm not going to.

Okay.

Aw, don't be that way, Cap. All right, all right, I wouldn't want to make our glorious leader sad. You can come with us.

Steve's response is a sigh.

Excellent. There's this great club in Soho. Say, eleven next Saturday evening?

Why do I think that this is going to be a place of ill repute? How about we do something a little less... you. Maybe dinner at your place?

Are you inviting yourself over to my tower, Cap?

Yeah.

Cool. Okay, how about ten on Saturday?

How about seven? Some of us have to get up in the morning.

Sucks to be you. Okay, so seven thirty?

Seven.

Right. Seven thirty.

Tony. Say it with me: seven o'clock. Nineteen hundred hours.

Nineteen hundred hours, master,” Tony drones.

“Shall I continue the recording, sir?” Jarvis asks.

“No, that's okay,” Tony mumbles. He waves his hand at them. “Come on then, stop making out and come through to the kitchen.”

Tony's kitchen is a kitchen in the same way that IMAX is a television screen.

“Jesus, this place is bigger than my entire apartment,” she mutters.

“Everywhere's bigger than your apartment,” Steve replies, “but this place is pretty nice.”

Tony smirks. “You like things big, darling?”

“Do you want me to slap him now?” Darcy asks, tilting her head up towards Steve.

Steve smiles, and Tony rolls his eyes, wandering over to the fridge.

“I'm afraid Tony only mentioned that you two were coming around a couple of hours ago-” Pepper casts a look at Tony, who waves at her with the bottle of beer in his hand. “-so we're going to be ordering in.”

“Let's get shawarma,” Tony says.

“Let's not,” Steve says.

Pepper shows them to a couch. Yeah, there's a couch in the kitchen. “What do you like?”

“Everything but shawarma.”

Darcy slips her boots off and tucks her feet underneath herself. “He's not lying. Everything, and in lots of weird combinations. It's gross.”

“Then let's get everything,” Tony calls. “Hey, what does everyone want to drink?”

Darcy twists to look at Tony. “Beer's good for me. Steve'll have whatever's sweetest.”

“She always speak for you, Cap?”

Steve settles back against the cushions. “Most of the time.”

Tony grins, joining them with three bottles of beer held to his chest with one arm, a bottle of cider and a bottle opener in his other hand. He flicks off all four caps in a dizzying display of skill; she bets he can do that thing bartenders on TV do with a martini shaker. He hands them out and sits down next to her, regarding her through narrowed eyes.

“So, when do you graduate high school?” he asks.

“Negative six years.”

Tony tilts his head. “What year were you born?”

“1988.”

“And you're legal to drink?” he asks, knocking his beer bottle into hers.

“Yeah.”

“Ugh, I'm so old. I'm not supposed to feel old with Steve in the room!”

Pepper leans over from where she's sitting next to Steve (this couch is bigger than Darcy's bed) and kicks Tony in the shin. “Stop harassing her and order the food.”

“Ow,” Tony complains, leaning down to rub his leg. “I already did that, dear,” he says, and gets his cell phone tablet thingy out of his pocket as if that's proof.

When Tony said 'everything', he meant like every-fucking-thing available in the state of New York. Darcy didn't know that fancy gourmet restaurants deliver. It's like an all you can buffet, but the entry fee is a grand instead of five dollars.

They move back into the lounge and set up on one of the wrap around couches; out of the hundreds and hundreds of rooms, apparently it never occurred to Tony to include a dining room. It doesn't take long for Tony to get irritated by having to lean over all the time to get something off the coffee table, so he just sits on the floor instead. Darcy joins him a couple of minutes later, and after a while they're all sitting on the floor, picking at the array of food.

“Man, this is like university all over again, except with a much more expensive food and a lot less pot.”

“That can be corrected,” Tony says, and winks.

Steve wraps his arm around her shoulders and pulls her in a little, mock-glaring at Tony. Well, she thinks it's mock. She pats him on the chest.

“That's okay, Steve can't get high, wouldn't want him to feel left out.”

“Is that right?” Tony says, stares at Steve for a moment, then pulls his tablet out of his pocket and starts tapping quickly on it. When he doesn't rejoin the conversation after a couple of minutes, Pepper sighs and shoves him in the shoulder. He just grins.

“So, where did you go to college, Darcy?” she asks.

“Culver.”

“Isn't that where Bruce went?”

“Yep, Dr Banner, the scientist that went crazy from 'the stress'. Everyone was pretty sure that he was on PCP, though. There were some research students working in the next building over, and they said he tore up the entire place. There were mandatory first year seminars on drug use for, like, five years after that.”

Pepper smiles and turns to Tony, who's still on his tablet. “Didn't Ross's daughter go to Culver, as well?”

“Betty Ross, class of 1999,” he says, as he lays the tablet flat on the coffee and a hologram springs up from it. Steve isn't quite quick enough to hide his delight. There's a holographic file suspended in the air in front of them, with a picture of a dark-haired young woman smiling awkwardly for the camera. Darcy immediately identifies it as the god awful ID photograph that plagues every Culver student.

“Is this General Ross's daughter?” Darcy asks.

“Yeah,” Pepper says, “do you know him?”

“No, but I've heard things. He is not well liked in the office.”

“He's not well liked anywhere. She and Bruce dated, you know,” Tony cuts in, pinching the air where the corners of the picture are to expand it. One side of Steve's mouth creases in a half smile. “They met while she was doing cancer research as graduate student and he, the dog, was a post-doctoral research assistant.”

“How do you know all this?” Steve asks, fighting the valiant battle to not stare at the semi transparent file.

“Hacked his file,” Tony says breezily. “Oh, wait, you have to see this. This is the most awkward picture of two human beings that has ever been taken.”

“Tony, that's not nice-- wow,” Steve says, and they all look at the picture Tony has up of Bruce and Betty. Betty's wearing a pair of ripped jeans and a sweater that hits mid thigh, her hands twisted together in front of her, deer in the headlights expression on her face, which works for her because she has like the biggest, most doe-like eyes that Darcy's ever seen. Bruce seems to be wearing roughly a dozen layers of clothing, holding a red cup in a grip that suggests that it had just recently been forced upon him, his ridiculously curly hair framing the grimace-smile on his face. His right hand hovers somewhere near Betty's shoulder.

“Aw,” Darcy says, “look at his little face!”

“He's thirty years old in that picture,” Tony says with a sneer.

“Why don't we look at some pictures of you when you were at MIT?” Pepper says, and sits up a little straighter. “Jarvis?”

“Yes, Ms. Potts,” Jarvis says, and Bruce and Betty dissolve in favour of Tony wearing a loose AC/DC t-shirt that she's pretty sure she's seen him in recently, and... oh.

“Parachute pants,” she says, almost under her breath.

“What are parachute pants?” Steve asks.

“Those are,” she replies, reaching out to touch the image. Her hand goes right through it.

“They're horrible,” he says, looking slightly confused. She rests her head against his shoulder and laughs.

Tony pouts. “Hey, I was fifteen and it was the eighties, okay? I have an excuse.”

“You went to university at fifteen?” Steve asks. There's an undertone that quells the good humour a little.

“Yeah,” Tony says, looking at him funny, and shrugs a shoulder. He puffs his chest out a bit and grins again. “How about we see what the girls looked like, then, since they're such harsh critics.”

He spends another minute or so tapping, a minute in which Darcy reflects on what the hell kind of photos there are of her online. Like, she hasn't always been very careful with her privacy settings, and although after joining S.H.I.E.L.D. her Facebook is long gone, the internet never, actually, forgets.

A couple of pictures pop up and Tony deflates it a bit.

“You look hot,” Darcy says to Pepper. She's all fresh faced and smiling for the camera, in a white button down shirt with her hair pulled back from her face loosely, not a hint of make up. The bitch.

“You too,” Pepper says, nodding to her picture. Darcy looks drunk, is what she looks, but it's the sultry, 'I don't give a crap' drunk, not the sweaty, 'I'm about to vomit' drunk.

Tony sprawls out against the front of the couch. “Foiled again.” He stays like that for a few moments before lifting his head and pointing at Steve. “What about you? I hacked everything, but there's nothing pre-rebirth about you anywhere.”

Steve shrugs, jostling Darcy a little. “I didn't go to college. Barely scraped by at high school. I'm not... book smart,” he mutters, and grabs a handful of chips to shove in his mouth.

“That's a lie,” she says, and pokes him in the stomach. “Steve reads, like, half a dozen books a week.”

“Yeah, but I'm not... I don't test well. I could never get the hang of geometry or any of that stuff.”

“So, basically you'd be an Arts student,” Tony says. “There's not... too much shame in that.”

“Hey, fuck you, I was an Arts student,” she says, and Steve drapes his arm across her chest protectively. She grabs his hand and anchors him there, smiling smugly.

“Why are you hacking everyone's files?” Steve asks.

“Well, yours were for fun,” Tony says. “Clint and Natasha's was in case I ever need any blackmail material, and Thor was a history lesson.” He gets rid of the pictures of Darcy and Pepper, and starts tapping away again, humming to himself. Pepper elbows him. “What?” he says, glancing at her, then looking at her more solidly before rolling his eyes. “God, fine. And I'm trying to find Bruce, okay?” he says, directing it vaguely at Steve.

“Didn't Bruce want to leave?”

“Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.” Tony's mouth flattens to a straight line. “Maybe he felt like he had to leave because that's how it's always been for him. I don't know, but I'd like to know where he is, at least.” He bends back over the tablet, as if there's no one else in the room with him. Darcy tilts her head up to look at Steve, and then they both of them look at Pepper, who shrugs.

“I think that's a really good idea, Tony,” Steve says after a minute. “Let me know if you need any help. I can't do any of this stuff...” he says, waving at the unfathomable code Tony's currently got up. “But I have a little influence, at least. May as well use it for good.”

Tony grins. “Been watching Star Wars?”

“He loves Han,” she says. They spent two straight days marathoning all six movies, and various days after that watching the cartoon. Steve likes cartoons, which she'd be more judgy about if she didn't watch The Flintstones whenever she has a Saturday morning off and sing along with the theme tune. Dating Captain America is surprisingly like dating Logan, her boyfriend all through tenth grade, popular media wise, at least. Of course, Logan had never seen the inside of a gym – his uncle was a doctor and he had a coverall doctor's note that got him out of all physical activity. He preferred to sit under the bleachers, smoking pot and insulting the track team under his breath. Which, coincidentally, was what brought them together in the first place.

“I should be surprised, but I'm not. There's a bit of 'fuck the system' in you, Rogers,” Tony says.

Darcy thinks of about five different replies to that, starting with 'that's what she said', but Steve says, “Maybe there is,” in his most innocent voice, and that's even better.

Pepper sends them home with, like, five boxes of leftovers, and Darcy puts up token resistance to it, but not only is it free food, it's free gourmet food.

“I'm sorry Tony's such a terrible host,” Pepper says at the elevator doors.

“I am not,” Tony mutters, nose in his cellphone.

“I only came to snoop, it's all good,” Darcy replies.

“Well, you're free to snoop any time,” Pepper says, then hugs both of them in turn.

Tony peers at them over his phone. He narrows his eyes, then abruptly crosses the room, grabs something from a shelf, and comes back. “This is for you,” he says, and shoves it at Steve.

“What--” Steve turns it over in his hands. “This is one of your tablets.”

“Think of it as an early Christmas present, or a really late birthday present, or a really early birthday present, whatever. It's got art apps on it and stuff.”

“These must be incredibly expensive.” He says it with a faint note of reproach, but she knows when he wants something, and he really wants to accept this.

“It's priceless.”

Steve sighs and tries to hand it back, but Tony steps out of reach. “I can't accept this, it's too much.”

“No, I mean it's literally without price. It's not on the market yet.”

“But it'd be expensive, if it could be purchased,” he argues, but his arm is dropping a little.

Tony throws his hands up. “Take the fucking thing, Steve! God, you try to do a nice thing for someone!”

“Okay, don't freak out,” Steve says, and holds it to his chest. “I'll take it. Thank you, Tony.”

“Oh my God, whatever, get out,” Tony says, making shooing gestures at them. The elevator doors open behind them as if by magic.

“He means it was very nice having you,” Pepper says as they step into the elevator. “Next time he'll be wearing shoes.”

The doors close and Steve looks down at the tablet, smiling to himself.

“How long are you going to be playing with that, then?” Darcy asks. “And when can I?”

He hugs it back to his chest and turns his upper body away for second. “You can't,” he says, then grins.

And that's how they made out in Tony Stark's elevator for two minutes.

-

Steve does let her use the tablet, but only occasionally, and his eyes say, 'oh God, don't break it', when she's only broken one cellphone in the last six months, so shut up, Steve, Jesus.

It's pretty fucking cool, and it's mysteriously loaded up with a bunch of historical information, videos of key events and speeches; Tony actually put some thought into this thing, and it's freaking Steve out a bit, she can tell. The art application is his favourite though. It's like MS Paint on crack, and it doesn't take him long to learn how to 'draw' 3D shapes. It's a completely alien concept, and it challenges him in a way that things rarely do these days.

He's fiddling with it on the couch, her feet in his lap while she's working on her laptop collating data from the various news sources and eye witness accounts on a guy who's calling himself 'Deadpool'. It's actually kind of fun, for once, because this guy is getting up to some serious Scooby Doo villain hijinks. When the phone rings, she grabs it without looking at the call display, and says, “Darcy Lewis's phone. Who may I say is calling?” She doesn't do it just to annoy people, though obviously that's fun; in the first week after the papers went nuts over them, some plucky reporter managed to get hold of her phone number and it threw them off a little. Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. have put her on some kind of extreme blacklist, so now she's just being a bitch.

“Her mother,” Darcy's mother says.

“Let me see if she's in,” Darcy says, “please hold.”

Steve laughs a little, immersed in his 3D image of... whatever the hell that is.

She lifts the phone back to her mouth. “This is Darcy.”

“Mmhm,” her mother hums. “Christmas is in ten days, you know.”

“Really? So that's why there's a tree in my living room. I thought Steve was trying to plant a garden.”

“Which brings me neatly into my next question: when are we going to meet your boy?”

“My boy,” she repeats, and Steve looks up at her, frowning. “Will Lorraine be there?”

“Strictly immediate family this year,” her mother says.

“Okay, because she will terrify him.” Steve's looking faintly alarmed now, so she covers the phone with her hand and says, “Mom wants us to come for Christmas.”

“Oh,” he says, stricken. There's something about meeting her parents that just throws him for a loop. Maybe he's worried that they won't accept him as a suitor without the requisite goat to pay her father with. Because that's a thing. “Okay,” he mumbles.

She uncovers the phone, and says, “Steve is incredibly excited about the prospect eating Chinese takeout while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“Oh, I think Dad's going to kill and cook a bird, or something else that's old-fashioned, for our honoured guest.”

“Well, great, we'll be there on the 23rd, then.”

“I'll get the gym equipment out of your room.”

When she hangs up, Steve is still looking at her like he wants to say something, but doesn't think he should. His 3D image has collapsed in on itself sadly.

“My parents are going to love you.”

“Okay.”

“My father's not going to threaten you with a shotgun because we're living in sin.”

“I know that.”

“So, what's up?”

He shrugs. “I don't know. I've never met a girl's parents before.”

“You've never had a girlfriend before,” she points out, and he tips his head in agreement. “So, Loki's not a problem, but Sam Lewis, that's just too much?”

“I just want them to approve of me,” he says.

“Who the hell wouldn't approve of you? Steve, my only concern is that they're going to prefer you over me.”

He laughs softly. “Plenty of people don't approve of me, of... us. Don't you read gossip magazines?”

“You know I don't.” And it's a fucking tragedy, because she loves those awful things, but she's discovered that she loves them less when the awful things are about her and her boyfriend.

“Neither do I, but someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. does, and people have been saying things about... appropriateness and age differences.” He sets the tablet on the coffee table and turns to her. “I don't want them to worry about you.”

Sometimes she wonders how Steve functions, being so fucking earnest and kind hearted all day long. She scoots over, shifts into his lap, and his hands come up immediately to cradle her, just above her ass. “Look, you're lovely and brave and irritatingly kind, but you aren't much more mature than any other twenty seven year old guy I know.”

“Really?” he asks, perking up a little. Only Steve would find that comforting.

“Yeah, you're a total child.” She grinds down against him and he groans, pressing his open mouth to her collarbone. “See,” she says, digging her hand into his hair. His hands tighten around her hips and he starts rocking against her. “A mature man wouldn't get all hot and bothered from a little heavy petting.”

“I'm not-- ahhh,” he moans, dropping his head back against the couch when she slides her hand into his boxers. “I'm not sure that I'm-- ah, mm convinced yet,” he grinds out, and rolls his hips. That shit shouldn't even be legal.

“Oh,” she says, and pauses for a moment to listen to his stuttered breathing, “I'm gonna convince you thoroughly.”

-

S.H.I.E.L.D. fly them out to California in a private jet. It's awesome, like that plane on Criminal Minds, but Steve has trouble enjoying it fully, still stuck in the 'why can't we do things like normal people?' mindset. If being harassed by the media means that sometimes they get to travel in this plush flying living room, maybe she's a little bit cool with it.

Steve shakes her awake as they touch down; she's curled up against his side, her hand tucked into his awful flannel shirt that he loves so much. She can sort of see why he likes it, it's soft and warm and... absorbs drool pretty well. Ew. She wipes her mouth and sits up.

“Ugh, sorry, you should have woken me.”

“It's okay.” He points to the window. “We're landing.”

“Awesome.” She curls her fists to her chest and stretches, repositioning herself in a less pretzel-like shape.

“Yeah...”

The plan is for her dad to meet them on the airfield and then drive them to the house, hidden in the back of his four by four. Steve is still uncertain about the whole venture.

The plane touches down, glides a few hundred feet, and she sees the blue four by four in the distance. It's flanked by five black cars with tinted windows.

“Okay,” she says briskly as the plane rolls to a stop. Steve responds well to 'brisk'. “Bags,” she says. Well, bag, singular: Steve only packed a 'nice' pair of slacks, a button down shirt, a t-shirt, a pair of pyjamas, and a book in the suitcase. More room for Christmas presents.

An agent comes out of the cockpit and pulls the hatch open. She salutes him and he stares at her dispassionately. “As you were,” she mutters, walking down the steps, Steve behind her.

It's drizzling slightly outside, turning the steps slippery but she's got her S.H.I.E.L.D. boots on, so she's cool (seriously the best reason to join S.H.I.E.L.D., for real). At least it's not also sub zero temperatures – she'd almost forgotten what reasonable weather they get out here, it always put a dent in her cardigan-wearing tendencies.

“Daddy!” she calls, throwing her arms wide as they near him. He gets out of the car, bumps into one unmoving agent, throws his hands up defensively, and edges around him.

“Child!” he exclaims once he's free and clear. They hug quickly, a kiss on the forehead for her, a kiss on the cheek for him. “It's good to see you,” he says.

“It is good to see me,” she agrees, then throws a thumb over her shoulder. “So, this is Steve.”

Steve's got a good three, four inches on him vertically, and even more in the chest area, but somehow he manages to make himself look smaller, hunching his shoulders a little, ducking his head.

It doesn't stop her dad from saying the extremely tactful, “Jesus, you're like a fucking tank.”

“It's good to meet you, Mr Lewis,” Steve says, valiantly ignoring the embarrassing situation her dad has brought to the party. He holds his hand out, and her dad shakes it slowly.

“Yeah... it's, it's something to meet you too,” he says, staring at Steve sort of blankly.

“Yo, Dad,” she says, poking him in the side, “how about let's not stand out in the rain, and you can let go him now, yeah?”

“Right, sorry, yeah, your friends were talking about people 'breaking perimeter', so we should probably get going.”

The ride home is just a couple of steps away from insufferably awkward. Her dad alternately chats aimlessly and fiddles with the radio, blasting them with various mindless pop songs. Steve looks increasingly pained as time passes, dwindling down to one word answers.

“Okay, kids,” her father says, twenty excruciatingly long minutes in. She's starting to recognise the houses passing by them, the run down bungalow on the corner with all the cats, the house with the twenty year old Christmas decorations that stay up all year round. “Time to hide. There are a couple of blankets back there. One of you is gonna have to be go in the well, I'm afraid.”

Steve looks at Darcy and she sighs. “No, let me,” she says, sliding down behind the driver's seat, and pulls one of the blankets over her head.

“This is ridiculous,” Steve mutters, as she hears him shifting around.

“The price of fame, my boy! It's a damn good thing we didn't get that smart car we were thinking about,” her father says. She feels the car turn and slow down, and there's a hum of activity outside. “Guys!” he says, “I got a couple of extra bags of Doritos, anyone hungry? I have dip, too.”

Darcy peeks out from under the blanket as the car rolls into garage, the garage door squeaking and whirring as it comes back down.

“Okay, all clear,” he says. Darcy clambers up and smiles at Steve, who's sitting up, pulling the blanket from off his head, his hair all fluffed up at the front.

“They're starting to feel like part of the family,” her father comments. “I might bring them out some goose on Christmas Day.”

“I'll get the bag,” Steve says, bailing from the car.

She leans forward and bangs her hand against the driver's seat. “Hey, Dad, try not to freak Steve out, okay?”

“I love that you think I'd be able to freak out Captain America.”

“Daddy, you can do anything you put your mind to. But seriously, Steve's kind of... a closet neurotic, just lay off a little, yeah? I know it might be hard, with your great and terrible wit, but.”

“My girl's all grown up,” he says wistfully. “I'll be good.”

Her mother is upstairs when they come in through the kitchen.

“Such a nice welcome,” Darcy mutters, looking around the cluttered kitchen. The house has never been, like, tidy or anything, but the clutter seems to have doubled. Shit, her parents like knick knacks. Steve looks even bigger than normal, standing awkwardly in their poky little house.

Steve makes a sound next to her, looking over at the fridge. Artfully centred in the middle of a collage of baby photos and school pictures (oh man, she'd almost forgotten her side ponytail phase) is a torn out picture from a newspaper, Steve turning his face from the photographer's camera, his body turned protectively towards her, while she's ducking her head and grinning. It's very rock star.

“Darcy is that you?” her mother yells from upstairs. “Come upstairs, I'm still tidying.”

“Prepare yourself,” Darcy murmurs to Steve, and takes him by the hand to lead him upstairs.

There's a pile of sheets on the floor outside Darcy's childhood bedroom, and the tunelessly humming of her mother coming from within the room.

“Mom?” she calls, peering around the door frame, still holding Steve's hand loosely. Her mother looks up from straightening the cover, blowing unruly hair from her face, and smiles.

“Oh, my baby girl,” she says, dropping the collection of towels held in one arm to the bed. She kisses Darcy on both cheeks and gives her a one armed hug, before fixing her steely gaze on Steve. “Now, let me look at you,” she says, half crowding him against the wall. God, both her parents are so embarrassing.

“Mom, this is Steve. Steve, this is my mom, Elaine.”

“Mrs Lewis,” Steve says, offering his hand, like clinging to his upright values will bring order to this household. (Hint: it won't.)

“I thought you'd be taller,” is her mom's judgement, shaking his hand briefly.

Mom.”

“What, they make him out to be seven foot or something in the papers. It's not a criticism, just an observation.”

“I'm not offended,” Steve says quietly, smiling a little.

Darcy tuts. “You wouldn't be offended if someone came up to you and punched you in the face.”

Steve tips his head to one side. “I wasn't when you did.”

“Okay, okay.” Her mother holds up her hands and steps around them. “I'll leave you two to get settled in. Darcy, I changed your sheets and got you some towels. Your room is disgusting.”

Her room is kind of disgusting, she notes when she has a closer look. And basically exactly how she left it when she moved out for college at eighteen. Except for the rectangular depressions in the carpet. “Hey!” she shouts, as her mother retreats down the stairs, “You really did have gym equipment in here!”

“I said I did, didn't I?” her mother's answer drifts back.

Darcy sighs and lifts the suitcase on to the bed to open it up. She's feeling so much love right now.

“So,” Steve says, and stops. He's carefully checking out the room, her bookcase stuffed full of old textbooks and doorstop fantasy novels, her collection of My Little Pony on the windowsill, her Evanescence and Linkin Park posters. She's pretty sure her notebook full of emo poetry is around here somewhere. “So,” he tries again, “we're... sharing?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Oh, okay, because...” He shoves his hands in his pockets. “It's just, we're under your parents' roof and we're not married, so I thought maybe... Is that too old-fashioned?”

Steve looks so ridiculously out of place, surrounded by her childhood. She grabs his arms, like she can anchor him down. “No, lots of people are like that, I think. My parents just don't give a shit.”

“Okay.”

“I mean, unless you want to sleep somewhere else. I think Dad has a cot in his study.”

“No, I-- I don't think I'd much like sleeping alone, any more,” he says, doing that coy act that he's actually starting to get a little good at. Man, he could be such a heart breaker if he put some effort in. She wraps a hand around his waist, pulling him in. “I heard what you said to your father, you know.”

“Ew,” she says, screwing up her face. “Sorry about that.”

“It's okay. Better neurotic than angry and grumpy, I guess.”

She'd tell him how lovely he is, but she's pretty sure he's just about reached his limit for embarrassment today. “Dinner's soon. Just, you know, ignore everything Dad says.”

The photo album of doom is on the dining room table when they go back downstairs. Darcy looks at it in horror as Steve asks if he can help with anything, and ends up laden down with plates and bowls of food to bring to the table.

“He's not a packhorse!” she shouts around the door.

“I don't mind.”

“You don't mind anything,” she says, and picks the album up, carrying it across the room to hide it in a drawer. “They'll have you mowing the lawn and clearing the gutters if you aren't careful.”

“Put that down, young lady,” her mother says behind her and Darcy drops her head in defeat. So close.

“What is that?” Steve asks, forced down into a seat by her mother as she starts serving the chicken and risotto.

“After dinner entertainment,” her mother says. “Darcy, sit down.”

She takes a seat next to Steve at their little dining room table set up in the corner of the living room. There are several piles of books on floor, hastily moved from the tabletop. The table hasn't been used for its intended purpose in years. “Jeez, Mom, are you feeding the five thousand?”

She shrugs. “You said Steve eats a lot and your father's inner old Jewish woman got excited. Sam, get in here before your food gets cold!”

They eat in uncomfortable silence for a while, interspersed with comments from her mom about her work teaching English Lit at the local university, and Steve thanking them, like, four times for the food. Darcy has to kick him under the table to get him to shut up.

“So, how did you two kids meet, then?” her mother asks Steve. Darcy resists the urge to bang her head on the table. She's already told them this story, and they're just grilling Steve about it now to be dicks.

“It was at the Independence Day celebrations at Central Park. S.H.I.E.L.D. had her keeping an eye on the kids.” He smiles at her crookedly. She'd almost called in sick that day, because what the fuck, she had to run around after a bunch of kids because she was a chick and it was Captain America's birthday? That day had indeed been a suckfest right up until the moment she looked up and found Captain America watching her quizzically. No photograph or lust-fuelled description could have done him justice.

“Darcy, what did I tell you about picking up strays in the park?” her father says, and she sends a kick his way, but Steve laughs.

“I'm glad she did, sir.” Oh, that earns him a squeeze to the knee and a little further exploration until he takes her hand and gently pushes it away, face betraying none of what's going on under the table.

“Okay, enough of the 'sir',” her father's saying. “I read your comics when I was kid. I used pretend I
was you when we played make-believe in the playground.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and fiddles with cutting his chicken for a second before adding, “I don't know what to say to that.”

Her dad laughs. “You're okay, Steve.” He drums his fingers on the table for a moment before adding, “At the risk of sounding like a cliché, what is it that you do, when you aren't... being a superhero?”

“I'm... between jobs,” Steve says, smiling. “Sometimes Tony tests things out on me.”

“This is Tony Stark, right?” her mother cuts in, and Steve nods. “Just making sure that we understand that our only daughter's boyfriend hangs out with Tony Stark, the biggest womaniser since Hugh Hefner.”

“Uh,” Steve says, “I don't really hang out with him that much...”

“She's joking,” Darcy says, patting him on the shoulder. “And Tony's not that bad. He's kind of a nice guy, even.”

Her mother holds out her hand. “Continue.”

“Um, so, when Tony wants his inventions hit really hard he calls me.” Steve shrugs. “Except for that... I'm thinking about going back to school.”

This is the first Darcy's heard of it. She knows that Steve got a little embarrassed with Tony and Pepper, but she's heard a rumour that Stark has, like, seven PhDs, which can't possibly be true, but in a comparison of education pretty much everyone who isn't Tony Stark is going to lose. “You are?”

He looks at her. “Yeah, the last couple of weeks, I thought maybe...”

She drops her hand to his back. “I think that's great.”

He smiles at her before turning back to her parents. “I didn't get to go to college, before.”

“What do you want to study?” her father asks.

“I was thinking about graphic design. Tony gave me this tablet for Christmas and you can design 3D images on it. I'd like to learn more about that.”

“Again, this is Tony Stark,” her mother comments.

Darcy glares at her. “Steve's a really great artist.”

“I'm okay,” he mutters.

“Oh, shut up, Steve,” she says, pushing at his shoulder a little. “He could totally be professional, no doubt.”

“I don't know about that,” Steve mutters, focusing on his plate for a couple of seconds before raising his head again. “I don't know if it's even going to be possible, though. Can't imagine that Captain America attending afternoon classes isn't going to raise a few eyebrows.”

“There are online courses,” her father says. “Guy at work got his entire law degree online.”

“Maybe, yeah. I'd have to see what Fury says about it, probably.”

“Fury?” her mother asks.

“Classified,” Darcy says.

“Honestly, I'm impressed if Darcy's boyfriends have any goals in life at all,” her father says. “Her last one played video games in his underwear twenty hours a day.”

“To be fair,” Darcy says, “he was a professional video game player.”

“No. I consider myself an open minded guy, but that is not a job. Don't you agree, Steve?”

Steve's eyes widen a little bit. “I don't... know anything about video games, really...”

“I'm just messing with you, but you are the only boy that she's brought home that isn't a complete idiot.”

“Don't be so quick to judgement, sir,” Steve says seriously, and goes back to his food. There's a beat before both her parents laugh, and Steve ducks his head a little, looking pleased with himself.

Desert is ice cream with apple pie (“Very funny,” Darcy dead pans, eyeing her dad.) on the couch with the photo album spread out on the coffee table.

“She was a colicky baby. She just cried and cried and cried,” her mother says, turning to yet another page of grumpy baby pictures. Apparently they whipped the camera out every time Darcy cried or had a tantrum, just so that one day they could show Captain America her fat, blotchy face.

“And who was the one who stayed up with her every night?” her dad says. “Oh yeah, that was me.”

“I was financially supporting you through school, mister,” she says breezily, and coos at a studio shot of Darcy in a yellow dress with a floppy sunflower on her head. God, the nineties.

“Dad was at law school when I was baby,” Darcy explains to Steve. “They were very forward thinking, very early nineties power suit feminism.”

“Oh,” Steve says, because obviously he has no idea what 'early nineties power suit feminism' really means. He looks back at the album and cracks up at Darcy's first grade head shot. It's not like it's her fault that her front teeth grew in last and her dad's hair styling skills started and finished with pigtails sticking straight out from either side of her head. She plants her elbow in his ribcage, but that just makes him laugh harder. He has a nice laugh, it's kind of dumb and giggly sounding, and far too rarely heard. She wraps an arm around his waist, and he lays his arm along her shoulders, surprisingly relaxed in the presence of her parents. Her mother looks at them out of the corner of her eye, but doesn't comment.

“Ah,” her father says, “the boyfriends.” He sweeps his hand across a two page spread of every boyfriend Darcy's had, starting with Glen, the boy who dumped her because initiating a dry, close mouthed kiss made her 'easy'. Twelve year olds, man, they're the worst.

Steve points at her prom photo. Black Hot Topic dress and shit loads of black eyeliner – she thought she was going to be so counterculture, but half her class turned up in that year's range. “Is that Drew?”

“She told you about Drew?” her mother asks.

Steve frowns. “Yeah?”

“And you aren't shocked by her wild youth?” Her tone is light, but Darcy can tell there's a strong vein of 'don't you dare judge my baby girl, I will fight you' to it.

Steve shrugs. “I had kinda a wild youth myself. Lots of... getting into fights and uh, there was a period where I basically lived on the streets.”

That pretty effectively shuts down that line of questioning; Steve sure does know how to kill a conversation.

Darcy clears her throat and taps the image of skinny, greasy-haired Drew. “Yeah, that's Drew.”

She already knew that Steve was kind of a departure for her, dating-wise, but seeing all her boyfriends laid out for her on the page, she realises just how different Steve is to them, physically. It's a cliché, but they were boys, and Steve is definitely a man. She guesses she just never really felt confident enough to talk to the really good-looking guys at high school and university, or maybe she wrote them off as stupid meatheads. It never really occurred to her that Steve might be like that, though. Maybe once you've seen a guy fending off an alien attack with five other stupidly dressed self-appointed superheroes, it's easier to believe that he isn't going to be of the party all night frat boy mentality.

Her dad looks up from the album. “You know what this needs? A new photograph. Let me go get my camera.”

“Sam likes taking pictures,” her mother says as he leaves the room.

“I guessed,” Steve says, flipping through a couple more pages until he settles on Darcy's graduation photos. She wouldn't have gone, but Dad wanted the picture, and an excuse to take a trip to the east coast.

“What was left of Sam's family fled from Germany during the war, so it's a bit of family tradition to record every little thing that happens,” her mother says.

“Oh,” Steve says softly, “I understand.”

And he does: Steve's got at least five door stop sized books about all the things he missed in the war. Darcy gets depressed just looking at them, especially since she can tell how much it upsets him, to know that all these terrible things were happening right under his nose, and he didn't do anything to stop them. She rubs his back, and he smiles a little.

Her father comes back a couple of minutes later, and fiddles with the camera for an inordinate length of time.

“Okay,” he says eventually, “big smiles! And don't worry, it's digital; no awkward conversations about who the blond guy is from the people at the developing place.”

Steve leans his head against hers and her dad snaps the picture, tells her off for blinking, fiddles around deleting it, and takes it again. And twice more for good measure.

He hands the camera over to her. “I'm going to print out the best one, so pick carefully.”

Her choice is between awkward, awkwarder, and awkwardest, while Steve has a perfect easy smile in each picture; she doesn't know how he manages to be such a beautiful human being all of the time. It must be exhausting.

“Eh, I look awful in all of them so the first one, I guess.”

“No, you don't,” Steve says into her hair, and her dad smiles approvingly.

-

“I see where you get it from,” he says later, once they've escaped the clutches of the photo album and made it to her bedroom.

“Get what?” she asks, tugging her t-shirt over her head. Steve's eyes drop for a moment, then snap back up.

“Everything,” he says. “You act like your dad and look like your mom.”

“Don't get any ideas,” she says, letting her jeans pool around her ankles.

“What?” he says, sounding a little flustered.

She steps out of her jeans and starts working on the buttons of his shirt. “You're mine,” she says, mostly joking, but Steve leans into her, looks at her in a way, and she finishes quietly, “don't you forget it.”

“I won't,” he breathes, and moves with her when she walks him backwards to the bed. He drops down onto the mattress, and she climbs on top, working his shirt off his shoulders and sliding her hands up under his undershirt. She traces her fingers around his abs as she kisses him lazily, catching his nipples a couple of times. He moans into her mouth, pushing himself up onto his elbows, and she clutches at his sides, stroking his shoulder blades.

He drops his head back, and she takes the opportunity to get at his neck, biting and sucking. Sometimes she's wishes that he didn't heal so well: she likes the idea of leaving marks on him.

“Wait,” he pants. “We can't have sex in, ahh, in your parents' house.”

“Really, 'cause we seem to be doing a pretty good job of it right now.”

Darcy, c'mon.”

She pushes herself up. “You're serious?”

His answer is more of a groan of despair, but she gets the idea. “Okay, okay,” she says, and rolls to the side. Steve squirms and pants some more, glances over at her with flushed cheeks.

“Hey,” she says, “if you're hurting, that's not my problem.”

He drops down onto bed and sighs.

-

Her childhood bed is a twin, so Steve just barely fits in it, and Darcy has to slot herself in around him. Which isn't a hardship, really, because he's very cuddly and she's never really been into that before, but she's learning to like it.

She wakes up with her cheek pressed against his chest, and one of her legs tangled between his. He's shifting a bit, which at first doesn't strike her as unusual while she's drifting in and out of sleep, except that his heart is beating kind of fast, and he's making unhappy little noises in his sleep.

She knows he has nightmares sometimes. She doesn't know exactly what they're about, because it's not his favourite topic of conversation, but she can hazard a good guess. They tend to leave him confused and disoriented afterwards, like he's sleepwalking except he really is awake, and she knows not to wake him up while he's in the midst of one, but she hates watching him go through it. She raises her head carefully (she did some research into PTSD nightmares – read: she typed 'waking someone up from a nightmare' into Google – and there were a bunch of stories about people hitting their partners in their sleep; she's pretty certain that Steve would never ever ever ever ever forgive himself if he lashed out at her) and looks at him. His cheeks are flushed, which is different, he normally goes pale, and the sounds he's making are verging on keening.

Well, maybe that isn't an insistently poky part of his leg under her thigh.

“Steve,” she murmurs, giving into her urge to press her fingers just below his mouth. He groans, one hand sliding up the curve of her waist. “Are you having a sex dream?”

He groans some more in response, and she pulls herself up to get a better look at his face. His mouth is slightly open, eyes moving back and forth behind his eyelids, and he arches into her when she moves, trying to rut against her thigh.

Well, shit. Now she's going to have to watch him get all hot and bothered and not participate in the bothering. Although, she imagines that waking someone up from a sex dream wouldn't result in getting hit. Maybe hit on. She crosses her arms over his chest and sighs; there's never anyone around to hear her best jokes.

Steve bites his lip and clutches hard at her waist. His head rolls to one side and he mumbles something softly, too soft for her to catch. She lets it go the first time, but he keeps mumbling stuff, squirming and whining in between, and she only leans in close enough to hear him, she swears, but the syllables are all slurred together and she can't make out a thing. She presses in as close as she can, without actually touching him any more than she already is.

Her nose is right by his cheek when he snuffles, his eyelashes fluttering for a moment before he opens his eyes. This close, she can see all the different shades of blue in the flecks of his irises.

“You were having a sex dream,” she tells him.

He licks his lips. “Yeah. Yeah. You were teasing me.”

“I'm sorry.”

“That's okay.”

She slides over to straddle his hips, wasting no time in pushing her tongue into his mouth, revelling in how he opens up to her, his hands sliding down to her ass, letting her fuck his mouth and pull at his hair. When she pulls away, he makes the most amazing, toe-curling noise of frustration.

“Wait a minute, wait,” she says, and presses her fingers to his lips. “We can't have sex in my parents' house.”

He groans, squeezing her ass, and looks at the clock. It's not even seven yet, her parents won't be up for another couple of hours.

“Oh, that's how it is, is it? Can't go twenty four hours without doing the dirty?”

“Thirty six hours,” he says, as she leans over to her night stand drawer to grab a condom. “Do you have condoms squirrelled away everywhere?”

“Are you complaining?”

“Nooo,” he says, stretching out the word as she wriggles down to get at his pants and free his erection. She considers it for a moment before ducking down and licking away the pre-come. He practically yelps, arching into her grip. “Dar-- ahhh,” he moans, his hand closing around her shoulder. “Darcy, Darcy.”

“I got you,” she murmurs, and makes quick work of the condom, while he does his best to keep still, though he can't quite stop all the little shudders. She sinks down onto him slowly and he rocks up into her with an impatient groan, tipping his head back against the pillows.

She spreads her hands out over his chest and looks at him, spanning his abs with room to spare. It's kind of crazy to think that six months ago he was a guy who, to her, was basically just a character in the comics that her Granddad shared with her father as child – and he compounded that by looking like he'd been drawn by someone who had a very definite idea of American masculinity. Five months ago she was wondering if she wasn't just bullying this poor guy into spending time with her because she was hot for him, and six weeks ago she took his virginity.

Now he just looks like he might cry if she doesn't start moving. She rolls her hips once, slow and hard, and his mouth drops open. He reaches up and pulls at her shirt, awkwardly trying to get it off before he just drags her down and kisses her, pawing at her breasts through the material. It's kind of awesome how he gets all clumsy when he's really turned on, and she grins into the kiss as she tugs the shirt up and over her head easily. She grinds down again and he moans, stretching his throat and clenching his jaw, inviting her to her worst.

“Wait,” he moans, and she doesn't even register it at first, because it sounds exactly like every other thing he's moaning, but he runs his fingers through her hair and tugs. “Darcy, wait.”

She pulls back and looks at him. He's pink all over, hair mussed, mouth swollen – he looks like they've already gone a couple of rounds, and they haven't even got started yet. “You don't seriously want to stop now, do you? Even you aren't that much of a masochist.”

“No, I just-- ah-- I can't, I don't want to... wake anyone.”

“You better keep quiet then,” she says, ducking down for another kiss.

“I don't think I, I can,” he manages.

Oh. Well, that's sort of very flattering. “Okay, how about this then?” she whispers into his ear, and presses her hand over his mouth. She takes his muffled moan as ascent and goes back to what she was doing. They settle into a rhythm, Steve meeting her every time she rocks into him, pressing his thumbs against her nipples, rolling his head back into the pillows every time. The harder she presses down on his mouth, the more he writhes and tries to groan; she'd already suspected that he had a bit of a domination kink, and this is ample proof of that.

There's not much he can do, with her holding him down like this, but he pays lots of attention to her breasts, squeezing and kneading them with his fingertips. He always tries to make sure not to leave any of her unloved, but she knows that guys are drawn to her tits like magpies are to shiny things, and Steve's no different in that regard, although he's pretty good about not making it obvious. At least until he gets his mouth on them. Then it's not much of a puzzle.

For once it seems like Steve might come first, the way he's moving, his stomach muscles clenching and relaxing over and over again, and that's just not acceptable. She takes one of his hands from her breasts and guides it down, arranging his fingers where she wants them against her. It took him a little getting used to, when she first introduced him to the concept of fingering; apparently he'd always thought that it sounded painful for the girl, but he took to it like he does everything: like a boss.

His big fingers – two, she's quite insistent on this – rub against her clit, stretching her until she very well may not be able to keep quiet herself, and God, she wishes his body was on top of her, pressing her down into the mattress, sliding her up the sheets with every thrust until she has to lay her hands flat against the wall to stop from bumping her head. She rides his dick and his hand as hard as she can without her legs actually seizing up, almost forgetting that he's even there and that this isn't just a really excellent dildo, and she is so close...

There's a tapping at the door. “Darcy? Your father wants to know if Steve likes anything in particular for breakfast.”

Darcy's head snaps up, to Steve with his eyes as wide as saucers, then to the door, which thank fucking God she remembered to lock last night.

“No!” she barks. “He'll eat anything! Go away!”

“Well, there's no need to be rude,” her mother says, and then Darcy hears the creaking of departing footsteps.

She doesn't even want to look back at Steve; if there was ever a boner killer, this would be it, and she'll be lucky if he ever looks either of her parents in the face ever again.

Then a high-pitched whine escapes from between her fingers and Steve rolls his hips, presses his fingers in harder, and generally ruts into her like a randy dog, his cheeks staining red around her hand. Well. Well, okay, she thinks, and redoubles her efforts. Steve crooks his fingers just right and brings her to orgasm like a pro, watching her face the entire time, his body getting tenser and tenser underneath her, until she's pretty sure it's just cruel to make him wait any longer. The noises coming from the back of his throat are so incredible, she wants to hear them properly, and she doesn't know when she's going to be able to indulge this apparent kink of his again. One day, one day she's going to get him somewhere soundproofed and just draw the loudest sounds out of him that she possibly can, until he's hoarse from it.

Until then, she settles for leaning over and slapping her clock radio on, twiddling the volume control up on whatever dance music is playing, and removing her hand from his mouth. There's actually a freaking imprint of her hand there, although it starts to fade away immediately. He presses his head back into the pillow, and moans for all he's worth while she digs her fingers into his hair and thrusts as hard as she can, through the burn of her muscles and the sweat she can feel running down her back.

Steve comes with one hand still on her breast, the other twisting in the sheet, his Adam's apple bobbing as he says something that's drowned out by the music. His body goes rigid for a moment, then just totally relaxes, the closest to boneless that she's got him so far. She turns the radio off again and slides off him as she feels his dick start to soften inside her, then strips him of the condom, knots it, and wraps it in a tissue to throw away later.

“Wow,” she says, running her hands up his chest, getting a smile in return. “I didn't know you had a thing about almost getting caught in the act.”

“Neither did I,” he says, with a lazy quality to it that makes her lean down and kiss his chapped lips. “But you don't think your parents heard us, do you? 'Cause that, that wouldn't be good.”

She drops down next to him. “I doubt they could hear anything over Kei$ha brushing her teeth with a bottle of jack.”

“Okay. Mm,” he murmurs, licking his lips. “We don't have to get up yet, do we?”

“Not if you don't want to,” she says, and he hums happily, rolling onto his side to bury his face in her shoulder. She kisses his forehead and twines their legs together. He's already on his way back to sleep, she can tell, all warm and loose-limbed against her.

“I love you,” she says softly.

“Mm. Love you too,” he mumbles.

-

Christmas at the Lewis household normally consists of getting up late and eating fast food in front of whatever reruns are on the television. They do the fun parts, like presents and decorations, because who doesn't like shiny things and getting stuff, but the rest of it is a bit of a mystery to Darcy. The closest she's ever got to the 'true meaning' of Christmas was playing a sheep in her kindergarten nativity.

Steve, though, he used to do all this Christmassy stuff. His mom took him to see the Santa Claus at Macy's, the displays in all the big department stores, which were even bigger treats than for most, because he rarely got further than the two block walk to school. When he was fifteen, the nuns took him, along with a group of kids from the orphanage, to see the first official tree at Rockefeller Center get lit up. And, of course, he went to midnight mass every year.

“Do you want to go do that tonight?” she asks while they're peeling and chopping all sorts of vegetables, most of which she has never eaten in her life (sprouts, Dad, really? He's being a total show-off for Steve). “There's a church around here somewhere.”

“You don't want to do that,” he says, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

“I don't mind. Would you like to?”

He shrugs. “Haven't been in five years. Seventy five years.”

“But do you want to?” she presses, leaning forward and poking him in the side with the handle of the knife she's holding.

“I guess...” he says, but there's a little smile on his face. “How would we get out of the house without being seen?”

He raises a good point: not one blind or curtain has been opened since they arrived, and neither of them have even been into the backyard. Never let it be said that Darcy doesn't put at least a couple of minutes thought into her plans, though.

“Well, you know how you said I look like my mom?” she says, and he nods. “As long as I don't look directly at any cameras, I think I'll be able to trick them. You'll be under a blanket again.”

Of course, because it's one of her plans, it goes perfectly. The remaining reporters hanging around in the front yard at freaking ten thirty pm on Christmas Eve don't even care when she pulls out of the garage, totally unaware of who's being harboured in the house.

They sit in the back of the church, and Darcy just follows what Steve does, stands up and sits down when he does, reads off the little booklet someone handed to her when he points her to the right page, mouths along to the hymns that she doesn't know (Steve's singing voice is nice, though, she doesn't want to drown it out with her own), repeats the prayers, some of which are vaguely familiar. At one point everyone starts, like, kneeling down, except some people don't, and that's a little confusing, so she just sits on the very edge of her seat, in case the priest tells her off for doing it wrong. Which he doesn't, because he's a priest; dude's not going to come over and bitchslap her.

It's kind of hard not to drift off, with all the toneless speeches from the priest, and the scarily in sync repetition of the worshippers. She makes it to the Communion, and most of the room start lining up to receive the bread and wine. She's pretty sure you have to be, like, Catholic and baptised and have done that thing where you dress up like a bride before you're allowed to go up there, so she stays where she is. But so does Steve, and she'd bet money on the fact that he was baptised. Maybe he didn't dress up like a bride, but she's willing to accept that her understanding of this whole thing isn't 100%.

“Don't you want to go up there?” she whispers to him.

He shakes his head, looking at her little sadly. “I don't think that's probably a good idea.”

The whole thing's over pretty soon after that, and Steve makes a quick exit while other people group together to wish each other a merry Christmas. He waits for her by the door and they walk back to the car without talking. He has to get in the back, which is unfortunate, because she's getting some serious sad vibes off him, and she'd like to be able to look him in the eye when she talks to him.

“Hey,” she says as she pulls out of the parking lot, “you okay?”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, and she looks at him in the rear view mirror. He sighs. “No.”

“What's wrong? Do you wish we hadn't come?”

“No, it's not that. I just... I feel like a fraud for being comforted by mass when I don't even believe half of it any more.”

“I think it's okay not to believe all of it. I mean, if you can't have a crisis of faith after what you went through, then no one will ever be able to have one ever again,” she says carefully. Man, theology; she took one course in it in her sophomore year at Culver, and dropped it after two lectures. “I mean,” she barrels when he doesn't reply, “the last time I went to temple was like, shit, fifteen years ago, and I didn't even have a bat mitzvah, but I still consider myself Jewish.”

Probably not the best example, since she's basically an atheist, but she doesn't need to point that out to Steve right now.

“Isn't it called a bar mitzvah?” he asks after a few more seconds silence.

“Bat mitzvah for girls.”

“Oh.”

She glances at the rear view mirror again. He's sitting with his hands in lap, looking out the window. “Steve, you're, like, the epitome of a good Christian. Don't be too hard on yourself.”

He smiles a little. “Have you met me?” he asks.

“Thankfully, I have,” she says, and his smile widens.

-

She's pretty sure that Steve doesn't sleep at all that night; his stillness is almost oppressive, like he's trying so, so hard not to disturb her that he's just broadcasting his anxiety like a fucking loudspeaker.

“Steve,” she mutters just after four in the morning.

“You're awake?”

“No,” she says irritably, shifting around until her back is against the wall and her chest is squashed against his side, “I'm still asleep, you're hallucinating.”

“Sorry, stupid question.”

She looks out the outline of his face in the dark and imagines him ducking his head, looking at her ruefully. Shit, now she feels bad.

“Come here,” she says, tugging at his arm until he rolls over. She pushes his head down so that his cheek is resting against her stomach – she's noticed that he likes that, being all curled up, even if he's a little big for it. Something to do with being little most of his life, she guesses, although he doesn't like talking about it.

Still, she's pretty sure he doesn't get any sleep and in the end she gets up at seven anyway. On her holiday, it's a tragedy.

Her parents are already awake when they get downstairs, her dad messing around in the kitchen making stuffing for the ridiculously large goose, and her mom on her laptop, frowning at the screen, a pair of glasses balanced on the end of her nose. She's never really free of her students. When Darcy stomps in to get coffee, though, her dad drops everything and hauls them both out to open presents.

From her grandmother she gets a knitted cardigan, dark brown and vomit orange with mismatched buttons. She must be the only granddaughter ever that actually likes her grandmother's strange creations. Her parents give her a hundred dollar gift card for Amazon with a note says, 'our laziness is made up for by how much this is worth'. From other assorted relatives she nets fifty dollars and ten cents.

“This is from me and Steve,” she says, handing them a hastily wrapped gift. Her dad gives it a shake, despite it being flat and solid, then hands it to her mom to open. Steve shifts a little as she opens it and reveals the old signed USO picture of him that Darcy found in a storage room – needless to say, it wasn't Steve's idea.

“That shit would be worth a lot on ebay,” Darcy says, as her dad takes it and turns it over in his hands. “But don't sell it; technically you're not even meant to have it.”

“Stealing's wrong,” her dad says vaguely, not even looking up. “But I don't want to be right.”

Steve's starting to blush, so she grabs his present from under the tree and shoves it into his hands.

“This is for you,” she says. His eyebrows jump up, like he thought she wasn't going to get him something or some shit, and he rips through the much less hasty wrapping paper, smiling.

“It's a book,” he says, then, “oh, it's...” He smooths his hand over the leather cover, mouth slightly open.

“It's a sketchbook,” she says. “That shitty one you have is falling to pieces. I did a lot of research about this thing. Did you know there are, like, lots of different kinds of paper for sketching and stuff?” She doesn't add that it cost her a good hundred dollars.

“Yeah,” he says, flipping through the pages, rubbing the paper between his fingers carefully. “This is beautiful, thank you.”

“That's okay,” she says, and he grins, kissing her on the cheek, then reaching under the tree to pull something out to give her. It's a rectangular box, very neatly wrapped with a bow – a real one, not one stuck down with double sided tape. She tears through it with her usual grace, pulling out a plain cardboard box.

“Open it,” Steve says, nudging her. She rolls her eyes and pops open the top, then empties out all the tissue paper and slides out whatever's inside.

“What is... is this a taser?” she asks, pointing the sleek silver thing at him. He pushes her hand down.

“I asked Tony what the best taser on the market is, and he said whatever one he made. So this is one of a kind. Tony tried to insist that since he made it it's his gift to you, but I was the one who told him, so... he can shut up.”

She laughs and pulls him in for a kiss.

Her mom claps her hands together. “Okay, food's not going to cook itself,” she says, and grabs her dad's hand to pull him up.

Darcy smiles against Steve's mouth. “I think we made them uncomfortable. But I feel gross, I need to have a shower.”

She draws her feet underneath herself and starts to stand up, but Steve grabs her hand and gives it a tug.

“I've got another present for you,” he says softly, urging her back down.

“Okay? Don't think this means I'm buying you something else though,” she says flippantly, but Steve looks super nervous. She sits back down next to him and frowns as he pulls something else out from under the tree. A little something. A little... jewellery box.

Shit, she thinks. Shit shit shit. She kind of thought that if Steve proposed to her, it'd be a big romantic affair, like dinner and dancing and all that stuff, but then, he never does like to make a fuss, so...

He shoves the box at her awkwardly, and she thinks: well, maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing ever, to get married. Maybe she even likes the idea. Maybe she likes the idea when it's Steve doing the asking. Maybe. She takes a breath and holds it, then opens the box.

Huh.

“It's a locket?” The box was obviously too big to be a ring box, she thinks, duh, Darcy. She definitely isn't upset about that, but she isn't relieved either. That's a feeling to file away for later.

“Yeah, it's...” He takes the box from her and pulls the chain out, holding it up to her. “It was my mother's. Uh, most of her things are gone, she had to pawn her rings when I was a kid, but this was the... the first gift my father ever gave her, for her sixteenth birthday.”

Darcy catches the locket as it swings between them. It's oval-shaped, with a swirly pattern engraved on the front and on the back the words: To my love on her birthday, Joe.

“I'm sorry it's already personalised,” he says, “I, uh--” He trails off as she flicks it open. There are a couple of browned pictures inside. On the left there's a man that resembles Steve, though he's younger and his face is more drawn, and on the right there's a toddler wearing something with a frilly collar.

“Is that you?”

“Yeah, and my father. You don't have to keep them in there. I just, I didn't know what... uh...”

She flips the locket shut again and cradles it carefully in her hand. “Is this the only thing of your mother's that you have?”

“Yeah,” he says quietly.

“And you're giving it to me?”

He nods, pressing his lips together.

“Oh, Steve,” she says, dragging him in for another kiss. “You're unbearably sweet.”

He blinks at her, glances at her closed hand for moment. “I thought maybe you'd find it a bit weird, but it should be worn, and, and I want you to wear it. If you want to.”

She fists her other hand in his t-shirt. “I want to.”

“Okay,” he says, grinning.

“Okay,” she replies, and closes the gap between them again.

-

Steve gets roped into doing a load of the cooking, because her dad looks at the mess he's got himself into, wails about how disgusting doing the stuffing is, and Steve makes the mistake of offering his help. He doesn't seem to mind that much, though.

“Darcy likes it when I do the cooking,” Steve says, then cringes a little, like he's revealed this huge secret about them, gasp, spending enough time together to be cooking for each other (though it really is a one way street). Maybe even cohabiting, the horror of it.

Her dad just laughs. “Got that off her mother.”

“Damn straight,” her mom says, taking a sip of her wine.

After a truly ridiculous amount of food, most of eaten by Steve, her dad pulls out another photo album, an overstuffed one with a cracked and peeling cover and thick black pages with sheets of semi-transparent paper over the top. Darcy hasn't seen it in years.

“What are you doing with Pop's album?”

“He brought it over at Thanksgiving, told me to hang on to it in case 'the Captain' ever visits.”

Steve glances at her. “What's this?”

“My grandfather's photo album. It's got everything from, like, 1941 onwards.”

Steve's eyebrows jump up and he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Her dad grins like a kid and flips it open. “My father really wanted you to see this.” He slides the album over to Steve and taps one of the pictures. It's one Darcy has seen a lot, of her Pop dressed up in a crudely made Cap helmet, brandishing a trash can lid for a shield. Steve touches the crinkly transparent paper carefully.

“They came over in '42, when my dad was six,” her father says. “He learnt how to speak English reading your comics.”

“Oh, that's... probably not such a good idea,” Steve says, smiling slightly. “I read some of them, when the girls showed them to me, they were pretty bad.”

“Oma did say that he went through a phase of using comic book sound effects as if they were words, but he also learnt the proper use of the words 'gosh' and 'swell'.”

“I didn't even used to say that!” Steve says, laughing.

As they dig into the album a little more, her mom taps her on the shoulder. “Do you want to go attack the leftover dessert before they get at it?” she asks, nodding at Steve and her dad. Darcy senses that she has some ulterior motives going on, other than cake, but seriously, there's cake.

She pats Steve on the shoulder. “I'll be in the kitchen.”

“Okay,” he says, distracted by a picture of her grandfather's collection of Captain America memorabilia circa 1950.

When she gets into the kitchen, her mother hands her a fork and pushes the chocolate log over to her.

“I feel like you're lulling me into a false sense of security,” she says, picking off the marzipan holly leaf and setting it aside.

“Don't be so suspicious.” She points her fork at Darcy. “That's a nice necklace.”

Darcy closes her fingers around the locket protectively. “Yeah.” Her mother stares at her, and Darcy rolls her eyes. “Steve gave it to me, it was his mom's.”

“I see.”

“You disapprove.”

“No, not really. I'll admit that I was a little... surprised when I found out from Twitter that my only child was dating a World War II superhero, but he seems like a very nice young man.”

“He is,” Darcy can't help but say. Her mother smiles knowingly.

“He's also from a different era. Women got the right to vote, what, a couple of years after he was born?”

Mom.”

She shrugs. “I'm only pointing out that he was raised with very different values to you and even to mine and your father's parents. I don't want you to feel judged by him, is all.”

“He doesn't. Seriously, he was disappointed that I didn't have a tattoo.”

Her mother holds up her hands. “Okay, I don't need to know about that,” she says, and pulls the plate away from Darcy, who follows it with her fork in distress. “As long as you know that we're here for you whenever and for whatever. Come on, there's a Die Hard marathon on soon.”

When Steve's phone rings a few hours later, Darcy is well and truly ensconced on his lap, admiring Bruce Willis's aversion to upper body clothing.

“Oh, damn,” he mutters, “Sorry, I should have turned it off.”

“That's okay, we've seen this movie, like, fifteen times.”

Steve pulls the phone out and looks at it, then looks at her.

“Who is it?”

“Tony. Are you gonna...?” He motions to his lap.

She shifts a little. “No.”

He sighs, then answers it. “Hey, Tony. What do you... no, I'm not being unfriendly, I'm just wondering why you're calling me on Christmas day... Well, yeah, merry Christmas to you too.” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head at Darcy, mouthing 'I think he's drunk' to her. “What's that? Wait, what?” He sits up, slinging an arm around Darcy to stop her from sliding off his lap. “When are you leaving? Do you need any help? Yeah, yeah, okay, just let me know how everything's going. Tony, Tony, does Fury know-- He hung up.”

“What's happening?”

“He, uh.” Steve glances at her parents, who are doing really terrible impressions of people who aren't desperately listening in. “He found Bruce.”

“Where?”

“Uhhh, I'm sorry, I can't...” He glances at her parents again.

“Oh, pretend like we're not here,” her mom says, cuddling up against her dad.

“We're trying really hard to, don't worry,” Darcy says.

-

On the 27th, her parents drive them back to the airfield, to the plane waiting to take them home to New York. There are lots of hugs and handshakes and demands to get more regular phonecalls, from both of them, her dad says with a significant look at Steve, who shuffles behind Darcy, she thinks, jokingly.

She throws herself onto one of the couches once they're in the plane. Man, she could totally live there, if it weren't for, like, the environmental damage that would cause and stuff.

“So, did you enjoy yourself?”

Steve's looking at her, biting his lip, and she stretches out more, pointing her toes towards him. “I did, yeah,” he says, “it was the best Christmas I've had in a long while.”

“Good.”

He smiles at her. “I especially liked my present. Can I... test it out on you?”

“You want to draw me again?”

“Yeah. Don't make a Titanic joke.”

She pouts. “I wasn't going to.” She was totally going to. “Sure, go on then.”

He gets the sketchbook and a box of pencils out of his bag and sits on the floor in front of her, trying to arrange his limbs sensibly. Because they're so long, Steve can never manage to look prim when on the floor, and instead just looks all messy and sprawled out. It's a sight that Darcy enjoys to the extreme.

“Do I need to stay still?”

“No.”

“Can I have a magazine?”

He digs around in his bag and pulls out a book to give her. “Here you go.”

Catcher in the Rye? Seriously, Steve? They made us read this in high school; didn't really get what all the fuss was about.” She flips it open to the first couple of pages, and frowns at the faded pencilled in notes. “Hey... this is my copy!”

He glances up over the edge of the sketchbook. “I sort of... stole it from your bookcase? I started reading it last night when I couldn't sleep, I'm sorry.”

“Ah, you're just a phony like everyone else,” she says, and he laughs softly, bowing his head over the sketchbook again.

Steve doesn't say much while he's sketching, although he does look up every time she shifts around. She tries to stay still, but inevitably something itches or her clothes tug or her back starts hurting, and she has to move again. After close to an hour, she's reached the peak of her boredom threshold and laces her fingers together, stretching her arms over her head, arching her back.

“How much longer?” she whines.

“Mm, not much longer,” he mumbles, eyes fixed somewhere around her torso. He's looking a little squirrelly.

“Hey, are you drawing nudie pictures of me?”

His eyebrows jump up. “What? No! Of course not, I'd never do that without asking you first.”

“But you're thinking about it, right?”

He twists his mouth. “Well, yeah.”

She rolls over onto her side, resting her cheek in her hand. “If you were going to draw me naked, what would you focus on? My breasts? It's okay, you can say my breasts, I won't think you're too much of a perv.”

“No. I mean, yeah, but-” He points his pencil at her legs. “Your legs, especially your calf muscles. Is that weird?”

She sticks her leg out and considers it. “I have very nice calf muscles.”

“You do,” he says softly. He's looking at her in a way that makes her want to shift around for a completely different reason.

“So, tell me about this naked picture of me, then.”

“Life drawing,” he corrects and clears his throat. “It'd be... your hair would be down, and it'd be--” His eyes flicker over her, his pencil held loosely in his hand. “it'd be all around you, your shoulders and arms, but not your breasts. You'd be on your back, one of your arms hanging off the couch, and one of your legs bent, your toes pressed in between the couch cushions...” He trails off, staring at her with unfocused eyes.

“Steve,” she says.

His gaze jumps to her face. “Yeah?”

“Get over here.”

“Yeah,” he says, the sketchbook sliding off his lap as he scrambles across the floor to her. She tugs her hair from its ponytail, and he digs his fingers into it, pressing their mouths together. He has this way of kissing, pouring everything into it until he's pretty much unaware of whatever else is going on. She has his t-shirt halfway up his chest before he notices and breaks the kiss long enough to tug it over his head, before returning to trail kisses along her jaw, his hand sliding down her side to run his fingers along her hip bone.

“Darcy,” he groans.

“Yeah?” she says, dropping her hand to his crotch, palming his erection through his jeans. He grunts and pushes against her, nosing against her cheek.

“I don't think... I don't think we should do this out, ahh, out here,” he stammers out.

“Didn't we just go over this?” she says into his ear, and he shivers. “You like almost getting caught.”

“I don't want to--” He breaks off to kiss her neck. “To actually get caught, not by, by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent,” he says, and forces himself back to look at her.

She could talk him into it, she's pretty sure, with the way his eyes are half-lidded and his mouth is half open, but he's kind of right about how getting caught in the act by one of her superiors would be a little bit soul-destroying. And anyway, she trying to keep her bullying of him to a minimum.

“I guess it's not really the mile high club if it's not the bathroom.”

He rubs his face. “Mile high club?”

“Think about the context clues, Steve.”

His eyebrows pull together for a moment before it clicks into place and he sweeps her up into her arms and heads for the bathroom as she squeals with laughter.

It's disappointingly large in the QuinJet bathroom; there's enough room to turn around and stretch and everything. Steve has her up against a sink, her bra straps falling loose to her elbows, his hands almost totally covering her breasts as he kneads them with his fingers.

“Why would you want it to be smaller?” he asks against her stomach, seemingly trying to feel out each one of her ribs with his tongue. She doesn't mind at all.

“Because, mm, bathroom sex is meant to be all cramped and sweaty and stuck together.” She runs her fingers around his shoulder blades and up into his hair, to his appreciative hums.

“That does sound nice,” he agrees.

She sinks her other hand in his hair and tugs his head up. “Enough foreplay, you tease, come on up here.”

It's not as cramped as she would like, but QuinJet bathroom sex turns out to still be pretty awkward and uncomfortable. Steve does most of the work, alternately pushing her against the sink and holding her up against himself. The rhythm's kind of uneven, but it's a good uneven, all jerky and making Steve groan with every thrust that in turn brings her closer and closer to the edge until she's clinging to him as he presses his fingers against her, rubbing at her clit, his breath coming out in short gasps.

Fuck,” she groans, tightening her legs around his waist and clenching around him as she comes. He shudders and puts both of his hands on her hips, trapping her against the edge of the sink and slamming into her. She knows he's about to come when he tucks his face into her shoulder; she hasn't quite broken him of that habit yet, but it is pretty adorable.

“Come on,” she says, stroking his back for a minute before she scratches her nails across the short hair on his neck. His fingers dig into her skin at that, his movements turning even more jerky. “Come on, Steve,” she encourages, scratching her nails higher and kissing his hair. He gasps, pushing her harder into the cold edge of the sink, shaking through his orgasm.

“Good?” she asks, carding her fingers through his hair. He mumbles something into her neck before lifting his head.

“Yeah,” he says, and leans in to kiss her. “I wish we didn't have to go home.”

She gives him another peck on the lips. “Why?”

He lifts her up higher on the sink so that she's sitting on top, then presses a kiss to her jaw and sighs. “There's just always someone who... wants a piece of me; S.H.I.E.L.D. or the media or... Tony. It's nice to just spend time with you, without all that stress.” His eyes flick over her face, slightly nervously, she thinks.

She pats his side. “I know how you feel.”

His eyelids drop a little as he smiles, and he wraps his arms around her in a hug. It's strange; she's pretty sure in the past she would have found all this sincerity cloying, but God, she's feeling especially mushy and sappy about Steve right now.

“Please return to your seats, we are about to descend into New York,” comes a voice over the speaker. Steve groans and drops his forehead to her shoulder.

“They're doing this on purpose,” he mutters.

“It's all a big conspiracy against you,” she agrees.

“It is,” he insists.

When they land at the private airfield, there are a hell of a lot more agents on the ground than there had been when they left. Shit, she thinks, and casts a look at Steve. He looks pretty pissed.

“Captain!” someone calls as they come down the steps. Darcy looks toward the sound, and shit, that's Black Widow.

“That's Black Widow,” Darcy says. Damn, but she is hot.

“Yeah,” Steve mutters. “Agent Romanoff,” he calls back as he gets back onto the ground. “What's wrong?”

“Stark's got himself into trouble. Fury wants us suited up and out there by this evening.” She nods at Darcy. “Sorry to ruin your Christmas holiday.”

Darcy shrugs. “It's cool. Now I can cross 'meet Black Widow' off my bucket list.”

“Where're we going?” Steve asks.

The smile that Darcy put on Widow's face (another strike for the bucket list) fades away at the question. “It's classified, I'm afraid. We should be going.”

Steve sighs. “Okay. C'mon,” he says with a glance to Darcy. It almost looks like he wants to roll his eyes.

“Captain, I'm sorry,” Widow says, and she actually does look kind of sorry. “Agent Lewis doesn't have a high enough clearance level for where we're going.”

“She knows about the helicarrier,” he says.

“Well, I'll pretend I didn't hear that,” Widow replies. She makes a hand gesture at the rather less attractive agents and they fan out towards the two cars. “She'll get a ride home.”

“Agent Romanoff,” he begins, with his 'I can politely argue about this all day' face on. Darcy pats him on the arm.

“Hey, it's okay. I've gotta get home and unpack and drink my own coffee and sleep in my own bed. It's okay.”

Steve sighs again. “If you're sure...”

“Sure, I'm sure. Just bring me back a souvenir.”

“I'll pick up a smouldering piece of wreckage for you,” he promises.

“I'm holding you to that,” she says, and pushes herself up on her tiptoes to kiss him. His hand comes down on the small of her back, holding her steady. It's a fairly chaste kiss, with minimal tongue action, but it's still very relationshippy in front of all these work colleagues of theirs.

“Captain,” Widow says, her tone amused. “We really have to go.”

Steve breaks away from Darcy and quickly tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear, before looking over his shoulder at Widow. “Okay. I'm going to give Tony hell for this.”

“I hope so,” Widow says.

-

She does pretty well until it's time for bed. She has to be up early the next morning for work, but she still delays going to bed for an extra hour, sort of thinking Steve might come home in time. But he doesn't, and eventually she gets into her surprisingly large bed at midnight. It feels weird not to have him tucked in next to her, keeping her warm. She even has to turn the heat on and wrap herself up in her blankets just to keep warm.

The next day, he's still not back, and there's nothing on TV about daring Avengers escapades, which means she can't obsess over about what's happening in real time, but also means she's completely in the fucking dark, and no one's talking in the office, either because they know jackshit, or because they're constitutionally more discreet than she will ever be.

Probably a mixture of the two, she decides.

Jane calls her just as she getting back home in the evening (and she'd almost forgotten how awful the commute is without a human shield that all the assholes of New York bounce off of), chirping happily down the phone.

“So, how was Christmas?” Jane asks after a long monologue that Darcy labels in her head as 'science' and tunes out.

“Oh, you know,” Darcy says. She flicks through Steve's new sketchbook, through couple of pages of dumb cartoons, most of which seem to be parodies of war propaganda and Captain America, and then the sketch of her on the couch. Man, she looks beautiful. “My parents loved him, he was adorable, then Black Widow swooped in and spirited him away on some secret mission. Haven't heard from him in over twenty four hours.”

After a pause, Jane says, “I'm coming over.”

“No, it's... Okay, sure, come over.”

Jane brings with her a truly staggering amount of alcohol, and a cake that Darcy immediately decides she will eat in its entirety.

“Tell me about Christmas,” Jane directs, cracking open the first beer and handing it to Darcy.

“We had sex in my childhood bed,” she says, then takes a sip. Jane has terrible taste in beer. “But he probably wouldn't want me discussing our sex life – which is extremely healthy, by the way – so we also, like, went to church and stuff.”

“You didn't burst into flames?”

“I felt a little warm. He gave me this.” She holds the locket up and Jane shuffles in to look at it.

“This is really nice,” she says.

“It was his mother's. It has a...” She fumbles to thumb it open for a moment. “It has pictures of him and his father in it.”

Jane cups it in her hand, bringing it up to her face to scrutinise. “Wow,” she says after a long moment. “He really loves you.”

“Yeah, apparently he does.” She flips the locket shut again. “Fuck knows why.”

Jane tips her head to one side and shrugs.

“That is not the appropriate response,” she says, and Jane just smiles at her. She sighs. “Ugh, gimme that cake.”

-

One hangover and a couple of days later, she gets a phone call on her cell. The number's withheld and for a moment she wonders if it's Steve, or news of Steve, at least. Four days and zip. Jane tried to find out where they'd gone, in her 'professional capacity', making something up about needing to consult with Tony, but Agent Hill just told her they'd get back to her.

She grabs her still ringing cell from her desk and goes out into the hallway to answer it, away from her fellow junior agents, who are all looking very disapproving about taking personal calls in work hours.

“Hello?” she says, crossing her fingers behind her back.

“Darcy, it's Pepper.”

“Oh.” She uncrosses her fingers. “Uh, hi, Pepper.”

“Hoping for someone else?” she says gently.

Darcy sighs. “Yeah, sorry. Hey, isn't my number unlisted?”

“It is,” Pepper says breezily. “I was just thinking: we're both short a boyfriend right now, and Stark Industries is having a New Year's Eve party tonight. Would you like to be my date?”

“Oh.” She'd kind of forgot that Pepper was missing someone too, someone who Steve went out to rescue five days ago. “Well, can I bring a friend?”

“I don't see why not.”

“Okay, then I'm a lesbian for the night.”

“Excellent,” Pepper replies.

-

Stark Tower looks pretty different when it's been all glitzed up for a party. For one thing, there are black-suited, jack-booted security guards everywhere, and photographers everywhere else. Darcy and Jane are ushered in around the back to save all the headlines about Captain America's girlfriend doing something without him. They spend a good forty minutes huddled together, watching all the famous people and whispering to each other about who's as good-looking as they seem on TV, who isn't, who's acting like a dick, and who's shorter in real life, before Pepper sweeps over in a floor length green dress.

“Jesus,” Jane mutters, glancing down at what Darcy knows are her nicest pair of black jeans and a white button down shirt. Darcy isn't much better, in a grey skirt and boobtacular tight sweater.

“Yeah,” she agrees as Pepper reaches them.

“Darcy, Dr Foster,” she says,

“Ms. Potts,” Jane says. “We were just discussing how under dressed we are.”

“Oh, this old thing?” Pepper sweeps a hand down her dress and smiles mischievously. “It's terrible how I invited you here then left you all on your own. Come on, let's go somewhere quieter.”

She takes them into one of the many, many living rooms, and crosses over to the bar. “Drink?”

“Lots of them,” Darcy says.

They settle on the couch with extremely expensive wine, and Pepper toes her shoes off with a sigh. “Everyone keeps asking me where Tony is,” she confides. “I'm bracing myself for all the articles about how he's cheating on me bright and early in the morning.”

“It must suck, having a relationship out in the open like that,” Jane says.

“It's not great,” Pepper says, “but living out in the open is a prerequisite for life with Tony.”

Jane nods. “It must be crazy living with him. Er, no offence.”

“None taken, it is. Although, surprisingly less crazy since he became a superhero. You know, he has quite the crush on you.”

It's fascinating how Jane almost immediately goes bright red. “Oh, I-- We've never met...”

Pepper laughs and pats her on the shoulder. “Don't worry, Dr Foster, Tony develops crushes on everyone he respects; they're mostly harmless. Surprisingly, he does know how to keep it in his pants.”

“Oh, well...” Jane stammers. Totally tomato red, and Darcy can't help the cackle the escapes her mouth. Jane glares at her. “Well, in that case, call me Jane.”

-

Pepper takes them up to a private balcony to wait for midnight and watch the fireworks. One of the floor to ceiling window converts to a giant television to watch the ball drop in Times Square, which in the scheme of things is one of the least impressive things Darcy has seen in this place, but she's fascinated with it nonetheless. Possibly being a little drunk helps with that.

“I've always enjoyed the phallic imagery of this thing,” she says, sitting on a lounger. “You know: 'ball drop'.”

“That's nice,” Jane says vaguely and pats her on the head.

“Oh, it's starting!” Darcy cries as they start to count down on the screen, and almost gets tangled in all her limbs as she jumps up. “Who's going to kiss me?”

Happy, the only other person granted the honour of this balcony (and yeah, Darcy did ask him if he's friends with Grumpy; he said that Grumpy normally goes by the name 'Colonel Rhodes') shakes his head. “I don't need that sort of trouble.”

Darcy shrugs. “Are we going to be able to see the fireworks from here?”

“Just look up,” Pepper says, pointing at the top of the building “You'll see something.”

“But who's going to kiss me?” she wails. Ryan Seacrest is at four, for God's sake! “This is important, someone has to kiss me!”

“Oh, shut up,” Jane says and tugs her in for a quick peck on the lips as the countdown reaches 'one'.

“Well, I never,” Darcy begins, but gets startled by what sounds like several high-pitched bombs going off. She looks up at the top of the tower, above which the sky is almost completely lit up by fireworks.

“Holy fuck!” she yells over the noise.

Pepper glances back at her and smiles. “Tony's been planning this for months!” she shouts back, and Darcy's pretty sure she's not imagining the sad look that crosses Pepper's face.

“Well, it's really great!” she shouts, and Jane nods enthusiastically.

-

There's no point going home once the party starts to wind down, since she has to be at work at seven, and she's glad for it, because her apartment loses its cramped charm without Steve and goes back to just being depressing. Pepper gives both her and Jane rooms to crash in, and the beds are the softest fuckers she's ever slept on. It makes it doubly hard to get up and drag herself to work, although Pepper's ultra-super-strength-probably-illegal-in-North-America painkillers certainly give her a little boost.

She makes it through the day with only one emergency trip to the restroom to be sick, which she's pretty sure marks an extreme upturn in her maturity levels, although it's clear from the looks she gets that she's a party of one in that regard.

She's halfway home on the subway when her phone rings. She's pretty sure that she shouldn't be getting any reception down here, but when she sees that it's another withheld number, she guesses that StarkPhones respect no rules of cell reception.

“Hey,” she answers.

“Darcy, you should get to the S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital as soon as possible,” Pepper says, no preamble. Darcy's stomach drops a little.

“What's happened, is everyone okay?” she asks as she elbows her way through the crush of people to get off the train.

“I'm not sure yet, I just got the call to get over there myself, but it occurred to me that they might not rush to call you.”

“Yeah, yeah...” Darcy mutters, getting caught up in the rush of people at the station. She looks around in a vague panic, trying to find her way to the other platform. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“Call me if you need anything,” Pepper says. How the hell does she sound so fucking calm? Darcy's having images of Steve's mangled corpse right now – which might have something to do with all the violent movies she's watched, because the image is really detailed - but she's still pretty sure that there's a panic discrepancy between the two of them.

“It'll be okay,” Pepper adds softly.

-

The infirmary is in chaos when she makes it in. She had to pull the 'do you know who I am?' card a couple of times to get through security, and now she's pushing through a sea of medics and agents. She sees Tony first, sitting on a bed in dented armour. He raises his hand in a wave, then points across the room, to where Steve is being treated. There's a medic mostly obscuring him, but she'd recognise those boots anywhere.

She takes a deep breath, quelling her panic; he's alive, Tony doesn't look worried, everything's okay. “Have fun?” she asks as she gets closer to him, but the rest of her sarcasm dies when she catches sight of his face. He's leaning against the wall, butterfly stitches being applied to a cut that stretches from his temple to his jaw.

“Jesus fucking Christ, did Hulk use you as a chew toy?”

He smiles wanly, and squeezes his eyes shut for a second.

“Wait, did he?” she says, coming up beside the medic. Along with the gash that would be awesome if it wasn't currently marring Steve's pretty face, there are fading bruises reaching into his hairline. Her heart clenches a little.

He manages a faint laugh and shakes his head. “Would you mind...?” he says to the medic, gesturing at Darcy, and the woman nods, shuffling to one side.

“What the hell happened?” she asks, drawing him into a hug. He flinches and gasps, and she jumps back; she's heard a lot of his sounds, but not that one, and she doesn't care to hear it again.

“No, no,” he mumbles, gripping her arm and reeling her back in. “It's good.” He rests his forehead against her shoulder and breathes for a moment. She pats his hair gently, noting how in places it's hardened into clumps with blood.

“Okay,” he says, sitting back. He rubs one hand over the less messed up part of his face and smiles a little more brightly. “Let's go home.”

“Home?” She takes hold of his chin and narrows her eyes. “You look like you were just fed through a meat grinder.”

“Good thing I'm built for that kind of thing.” He tucks his head down and kisses her palm. It's such an un-Steve-like thing to do, with all these people around, she doesn't know what to say.

“The doctor would prefer that you stay here for the night, Captain Rogers,” the medic says.

Steve rolls his head to one side. “And I'd prefer not to,” he says, not unkindly, but there's a snap to it.

Darcy drops her hand to his neck, curving her palm there, and turns to the medic. “Am I going to get him home and he'll seem fine, and then drop dead of a brain aneurysm? Because that happens a lot on TV.”

“No,” the medic says, frowning at her like she's an idiot. Well, fuck you too, lady. “He didn't sustain any serious injuries, but he's going to be in a lot of pain and the doctor would like--”

“Pretty obvious that he doesn't give a fuck what the doctor likes.” She looks back at Steve and he just looks happy that someone other than him is dealing with it. “No offence or anything,” she adds, glancing back at the medic, then sets about helping Steve get up, and isn't that just weird as fuck.

Tony waves at her again on the way out, now joined by Pepper, embroiled in an argument which seems to alternate between bickering and kissing.

It occurs to her as they get down to the lobby of the S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital that she has no idea how to get him home. She doesn't think the subway would be a good idea for anyone, not with him covered in blood and looking like he's about to keel over. She pulls her cellphone out of her pocket, debating whether to ring for a taxi, when someone clears their throat.

“Agent Lewis,” Happy says, “Mr Stark called down for you.”

By the time they're home, the cut on Steve's face has healed, and he starts picking off the butterfly stitches while she freaks out slightly about what to do with him.

“What do you want? Pills? Food? Your coat and slippers?”

“Wouldn't mind a shower,” he says, and makes his limping way to the bathroom. She follows him in and watches him pull uselessly at his skin tight clothes for a couple of minutes before he drops his hands to his sides and sighs.

“Hey, come here,” she says, pulling him over to the toilet. She puts the seat down and climbs on top, giving herself a good five or six inches on him, and starts working on getting the blue undershirt over his head. As she rolls it up, this long purple bruise peeks out and she can't help the 'fuck' that slips out of her mouth.

Steve glances down, then up at her. “It's not that bad.”

“It is that bad,” she says, running her fingers down it lightly. “I've been looking for jeans this exact shade of purple for weeks. Come on, seriously, Steve.”

“Yeah,” he mutters.

The bruise is all along his left arm, too, she discovers when she gets the undershirt off. “And what am I going to find when I get these off?” she asks, plucking at the material of his pants.

It takes a couple of seconds for him to reply softly, “I'm trying to think of something funny to say.”

“Ha ha,” she says, steps down from the toilet, and starts on all the hidden zips and buttons of the pants. She literally has to peel them off him, they're so tight, and sure enough, there's that bruise all down his left leg. “How do you even get these things on?”

“With a lot of difficulty,” he says.

When she gets the pants down to his boots, he tries to bend his leg with a hiss of pain. “Don't,” she says, and does her best to twist his boot off without jostling his leg too much, before pulling the other one off and then rolling his pants down to his ankles and tugging them off his feet.

“Thank you,” he says quietly. “I'm so sorry you have to do this.”

She stands back up and kisses him on the cheek. “Girlfriend's prerogative. Okay, in the shower.”

Normally, helping Steve wash is the best part of her day, miles of skin and muscles that shift and flex underneath her fingers. She can poke and slap and bite, and it all stays perfect while he moans and gasps and rolls his head back against the tiled wall. But tonight, it's probably the worst thing she's had to do in a while, watching the water turn rust coloured as she runs the sponge over his bruised side as gently as she can, so she's barely touching him at all.

“So, what happened?”

“It's...” For a moment she can almost see him thinking 'classified', and then he sighs, licking water from his lips. “General Ross got to Bruce first. It was, um... there was this soldier. Former soldier. He was a monster. I mean, Hulk is Hulk, but this was a monster. He did this,” he says waving at his side. “Apparently a couple of years ago they tried to revive Project Rebirth again, and they made this... thing out of some godforsaken mixture of my blood and God knows what else.”

She reaches up and sponges off soap from between his shoulder blades, totally lost on what to say. This is all a little above her pay grade – literally, even – but then Steve doesn't like being comforted, not really, so it works out most of the time.

“Everyone except me who was given the serum turned into... to something else,” he says, turning his head to her as she wipes the sponge over his jaw.

“Well, that just makes you extra special then, doesn't it?” she says, and he almost manages a smile. “Hey, if the monsters in my closet had been like you, then I wouldn't have slept at the end of my parents' bed till I was seven.”

He breathes out heavily, almost a laugh. “I just wonder what it did to me, sometimes.”

“Well, sure.” She shuts the shower off, grabs a towel off the rail, and climbs back onto the toilet to dry his hair. “That was some scary ass shit that happened to you, and you were nuts to ever say yes to it.”

He makes a soft noise of agreement.

“But...” She smooths his hair down, then rakes her fingers through it so that it all stands up in tufts. Better. “I think it's like false equivalency, right? Banner got Hulkified because they mixed a dusty old vial of your blood with radioactive material, and it sounds like they did it even worse with this monster soldier guy, and General Ross is a butt, everyone says so. And Schmidt was a fucking Nazi, so yeah, he went a little crazy. But you aren't a Nazi, and your project was led by a nice old man, not a butt, so you turned out like this.”

“Never looked at it quite like that,” he murmurs, watching her out of the corner of his eye as she gets down and starts drying the rest of him off.

“Of course you didn't. Would you prefer me to go on about how inner beauty leads to outer beauty? Because that's gonna get kind of awkward for both of us, dude.”

He full on laughs this time, and shakes his head. “That's okay.”

She gets him dressed in his most comfortable clothes, a shirt and the drawstring pants he wears to work out, and leads him back into the living room.

“You should probably get some sleep.”

“'m too keyed up to sleep,” he says, lifting his good arm to scratch at the back of his head. He frowns as he feels how his hair is sticking up all over the place, then glares at her as he combs it back down with his fingers.

“How about some food, then?” She goes to check the kitchen; there's a box of Hamburger Helper and an old loaf of bread. She really is reliant on Steve to buy food these days.

“Don't think my stomach could handle anything right now,” he replies. Steve not hungry? That's surely the first sign of the apocalypse.

“Well, what do you want?” she asks, turning around in time to see him collapse sideways onto the couch.

“Glass of water?” he says in a strained voice.

Glass of water. Jesus, if he got his arm cut off, he'd ask for a fucking band aid.

“Okay, here you go,” she says, bringing it over to him. He's lying on the couch, his legs hooked over one armrest, and when he shifts onto one shoulder to take the glass, he winces.

“Thank you,” he says.

“So, you won't go to bed, but you'll veg out on the couch?”

He grimaces around the glass, his eyebrows drawing together, staring at her like he hasn't got the energy to have this conversation. She sighs, runs her fingers through his hair, and says, “I'll get you a pillow.”

She gets him settled as well as she can; she thinks of the few stories that he's told her about growing up – he doesn't really like talking about back then, doesn't like thinking about being weak, or maybe doesn't like remembering all the people he loved – and how Bucky tended to him when he was laid up on the couch, with the flu or a fever or really bad heart palpitations. He hates being looked after.

She sits down on the coffee table and looks at him. He smiles, then frowns, then smiles again.

“Darcy,” he says, and grabs her hand, tugging her towards him.

“What-- wait, you want me to lie down with you?”

“Yeah.”

“You're like one giant bruise, and you want me to sit on you?”

“Half a giant bruise,” he mumbles, and keeps tugging. “It's just... it's just really difficult not to focus on the pain. Please.”

Well, shit, who could say no to such a polite request? She braces her hands on the edge of the couch and lifts herself over him, trying to settle as gently as she can between his good side and the back of the couch. It still gets a groan out of him, but she's pretty sure that there's some pleasure mixed in with the pain.

She switches the TV on as he breathes, too slow and controlled to be normal, his face tight. She presses the pad of her finger to the fine lines around his eyes – it's so weird to see, she's so used to his face being almost inhumanly smooth – and massages it a little. His eyelids flutter shut for a second before he looks up at her.

“Like that?” she asks, running a finger along his nose.

“It's nice,” he says.

“You're nice,” she counters, grinning at her own stupid joke, and kisses him lightly. “Watch the shitty movie.” Christmas may be over, but Christmas movies aren't. Steve wrinkles his nose at The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.

She keeps rubbing every line and tense muscle, running her fingers over his eyebrows and into his hair, as he dozes, eyelids drooping, then opening every ten minutes or so. It's weird – what isn't tonight – because Steve never falls asleep on the couch. She wonders if he's slept at all since she last saw him. Too keyed up, her ass.

Every now and then, when he's dozing off, his legs twitch, kicking the wall. They're so cramped on the couch, he's practically spilling off it.

She drums her fingers on his cheek as his eyes open again. “You know,” she says, “we should move into your apartment.”

“Mm... what?” His bottom lip catches between his teeth for a moment, before he looks up at her. “What?”

“You own an apartment, like mortgage free, and we're living in this shoe box. I mean, I'm paying eight hundred dollars a month to live in a cold, mouldy shithole for no reason, and there's not even enough space in here for me, let alone you, and...” She forces her mouth to close. She shouldn't have to justify why they should live together, especially when they already do.

“That'd be nice,” he says, leaning into her hand. “But we'll need your bed, 'cause mine's barely wider than I am.”

“Captain,” she says, tucking her head against his shoulder, “you have a one track mind.”

-

They don't waste any time getting her moved out. The next morning, all Steve's injuries have healed, and once they get back from eating breakfast at a local diner because food doesn't magically appear in the kitchen when Steve's incapacitated, she calls and arranges to pick up a U-Haul moving van at midday, then calls her slum/landlord and gives her thirty days' notice. When she gets off the phone, Steve's staring at her with a weird smile on his face. She's pretty sure she has a correspondingly weird smile on her face; he's riding on the 'almost got killed' wave and she's got a contact high.

“It's like we're real adults,” she says.

“Yeah,” he says, staring at her with big eyes.

“I've got to pick up the van in two hours,” she says. “That's enough time for at least a couple of rounds of 'farewell crappy apartment' sex.

Steve grins and darts into the bedroom.

The hardest part of moving is getting the mattress out. Carrying it isn't a problem for Steve, but manoeuvring it blind is, so it's up to Darcy to guide him and she just has the worst hand/eye coordination, so Steve gets squashed under it a couple of times, with indignant yelps as he topples over. It's like the funniest thing ever. Steve doesn't agree.

He gets his own back when she admits that she's a little worried about driving on New York roads. He teases her very, very gently about it as they load up the back; he's still not quite got the hang of teasing girls, he doesn't think it proper.

“Well, they only had a manual left,” she says, pulling herself up to sit on the back as Steve slides another box in.

“You can't drive stick?” he asks, glancing up at her.

“I can, I just choose not to,” she says, turning her nose up. “I got it here, didn't I?”

She got it there, barely, but he doesn't need to know that.

“I'll drive us then,” he says.

“Can you drive?”

“Yes, I can drive! I was driving before you were even a twinkle in your grandfather's eye!” he says as he tackles her to the floor of the van, circling her wrists lightly with his fingers.

“I don't know, man, I don't mean horse and carriage.”

“Horse and--!” he says, cutting himself off as he kisses her, pushing her arms up until they're over her head.

“Out in public like this?” she mutters against the corner of his mouth.

“We're almost inside,” he says, pressing his open mouth against her cheek.

She strokes the back of his head. His hair is so ridiculously soft, how does he even do that? He uses freaking bar soap unless she stops him.

“Hey, how many rooms has your apartment got?”

“Mm?” he mumbles, nuzzling her neck. “...five?”

“Five rooms to christen, then,” she says.

He lifts his head and frowns at her.

“With sex,” she clarifies, and his eyes go round. He scrambles up and pulls her out of the van.

“Let's get this packing done!” he says, dragging her back inside.

She'd thought that Steve would drive like her grandma, minus needing a cushion to see over the steering wheel and bottle end glasses to make out the road in front, but she probably should have realised that a self-confessed 'adrenaline junkie' isn't going to crawl along at the minimum speed limit.

“Idiot,” he mutters as someone swerves in front of the van. Darcy smiles behind her hand as Steve mutters something else that she doesn't catch.

A couple of minutes later someone makes an illegal turn, merging with the oncoming traffic. Steve narrows his eyes and honks the horn, and the offending driver makes a very offensive hand gesture as he passes.

“Well, fuck you too, buddy,” Steve says under his breath.

“Steve!” she cries.

He looks at her as she dissolves into laughter, his cheeks a little pink. “People can't drive any more! What the hell happened?”

“Dude, whatever, you've got total road rage!”

His nose wrinkles up as he chuckles in embarrassment. “I am from Brooklyn...”

“It's kind of hot,” she confides.

He steps on the gas.

-

She forgot how crappy his apartment is. The paint's peeling in the bathroom, the walls are crumbling at the bottom, and someone's smoked up a storm in the bedroom, judging by the yellowing ceiling. Plus Steve doesn't own anything. At least there's lots of room in the closet.

“We can redecorate,” he says, “I was thinking about repainting the kitchen.”

“Let's do the ceilings black,” she says, pushing herself up onto an elbow to look at him. They've christened one and a half rooms so far (starting the living room and ending up in the bedroom at point of orgasm). He 'hmms', arms loosely crossed over his chest. His old bed, a single cot with a hunk of foam mattress, is turned on its side against a wall to make enough room for Darcy's. “I'm joking,” she adds. “But we should go to Ikea, maybe go crazy and buy you an improbably named lamp.”

“Buy us,” Steve corrects, turning his cheek into the pillow to look at her.

“Yeah,” she says, smoothing her hand out across his bare shoulders, curving her palm around the top of his arm. He has that dopey look on his face, the one he gets when he's thinking lots of romantic shit. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Being so dopey.”

He pouts. “I'm not dopey.”

“You're a little bit dopey. You've got that golden retriever hair and those big blue eyes like a baby. It gives off a certain dopey quality, but don't worry, you can be totally Chuck Norris badass, too.”

“You know, sometimes you just stop making sense altogether. For really long stretches of time.”

She runs her fingers through his hair, and he hums happily, eyelids drooping for a moment, “So you're a dope and I don't make any sense. Match made in heaven.”

“Mm,” he says, as she scratches her fingernails over his scalp, “could you... yeah,” he murmurs as she gives his hair a light tug.

“You aren't exactly disproving my golden retriever hair theory, considering how much you clearly enjoy being petted.”

“Uh huh,” he says, blinking slowly. God, he's just getting dopier by the minute, and her chest is starting to feel a little tight. Seriously, her last boyfriend played video games in his underwear and had his mom come by every two days to collect his laundry, wash it, fold it, and bring it back in time to judge Darcy's fitness as a future daughter in law when she got home from university or work. He also acted like having sex was a chore, unless it was pixelated cyber sex with a pink-haired troll in Argentina. Last she heard, the troll had left him for an elf; she didn't even feel a little bad for laughing at his angry Facebook update on the matter – she even as far as to 'like' it. She was swiftly defriended.

Steve, on the other hand, never acts like sex is a chore. Sex is a reward and workout and fun as hell judging by how much he smiles and laughs. There's a little bit of tension, sometimes, because Steve prefers her to be on top, and she really just wants him to fuck her into the mattress, but these are problems that she likes having. She's still not entirely clear on how she managed to stumble into an adultish relationship with America's golden boy, and defile him so thoroughly, without a word of protest from him.

Just when she thinks that he's about to fall asleep (and Jesus, his face is even prettier when it's relaxing into sleep), he sucks in a deep breath. “Hey,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“I'm... I'm really glad that we did this,” he says softly. “Maybe this place will finally feel like a home.”

She kisses him on the forehead. “I think it already does.”

Steve pinks just a little, smiling sleepily. “Good.”