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Hey There, Stranger (Wanna Fall In Love?)

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Darcy didn't want to base her opinion of New York on a few lame assholes, but it felt like ever since she'd arrived, all she'd met were jerks. Now, she could admit that she probably wasn't hanging out in the most savory parts of the big apple; she had a budget and New York living was expensive. But between the subway, the homeless man who made grabby hands at her that morning, the leering business men she passed in the street, and the guy who thought he was so funny calling her hot and asking for her number from his stoop, she was starting to regret ever leaving her hole in the wall apartment.

But this? This was too much.

She was being followed.

She wasn't sure who by, and she had a pretty good imagination so it came up with a number of different possibilities, but she could feel it. Hair on the back of her neck standing up, weight on her shoulders, eyes boring a hole into the back of her head; somebody was following her and it wasn't because she was a generally awesome person.

She had her taser, of course; she'd been gripping it since she first felt the eagle eyes zero in on their target, but somehow having even her most trusted defense against leery, grabby, jackholes didn't put her at ease. She'd put away her iPod, remembering a number of different Tumblr posts and YouTube videos and, of course, her mother's many lectures, about how not being able to hear could put in her danger. She was seriously regretting it, however, as the noise of New York made her feel even more on edge. Blaring horns, construction, walk-signals, people on cell phones, the chit-chat of fellow New Yorkers, and the general hustle and bustle of the city was overwhelming when she was so used to blocking it all out with some much needed musical therapy.

On a bad day, she'd break out her all rock, all the time playlist; soothing frayed nerves with Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Pere Ubu, and the Sex Pistols. Days she needed to get out of her head, it was all about jazz; from Charles Mingus to Nat King Cole, Bud Powell to Bill Evans, and her favorite, Thelonious Monk. And then, of course , there were days when she wanted to be mad, deserved to be, and she'd break out her 90's rage playlists, filled with Green Day, Hole, and Nirvana.

Now, thanks to whoever this douche was, she couldn't bury herself, escaping into her world of music. What she wouldn't give right then for some Jimmy Reed; Bright Lights, Big City.

Every person that walked too close kicked her guard up; Darcy peered at everybody, male and female alike, trying to figure out who it was that thought she was worth stalking. Not that she underestimated her self-worth; she was having an awesome jeans day, her hair chose to bow to her will that morning into something resembling tamed, and, before everything seemed to turn sideways on her, she'd been feeling good about the job interview she'd gone for that morning.

Being out of school sucked; she thought finishing up her poli-sci degree would mean direction. She thought, especially after everything in New Mexico and meeting SHIELD and Thor, that life after that would just be easy. What was supposed to compare to a supposed Norse God coming calling via a rainbow bridge? Or a secret government agency appearing out of thin air to steal her iPod and label Puente Antiguo and all things bi-frost/Thor super classified?

Apparently, getting back to basics was harder than she expected; it meant making her way back to reality, where nobody knew anything about what she'd witnessed and never would, if the phonebook thick folder of gag orders she had to sign meant anything.

One might wonder, in fact her mom did, often, why it was a poli –sci student had taken up residence in New York and not somewhere more politically forward, like Washington. Darcy liked to call it her "Why the fuck did I even take that? Remember that time I wanted to be an artist and I constantly wore paint covered overalls until that stupid Not Another Teen Movie made me look like a dork? Well I suddenly realised I wanna do that again," phase.

And where better to be a struggling artist than New York, right? So she packed up everything she owned, skipped town with her seemingly useless political science degree, and found the smallest, most affordable apartment she could find. Her landlord called it a cozy little bachelor; Darcy called it a closet.

But whatever, there was room for her painting supplies and a window that, after hours of cleaning the grime off of it, gave her a view that was… passable. So far she'd painted the wall of the adjacent building in various stages of light, from what it looked like in the 'holy fuck is it ever early' morning to what it looked like at night (like a black blob, if anybody was interested).

So it wasn't long, try a week, before she realized that starving artist wasn't really her style. And also her overalls didn't fit anymore; especially in the boobs area. Not to mention that uh, yeah, she wasn't actually a very good painter, at least in her opinion. Sure, her mom still had some of her finger-painting projects from elementary school… And that time in high school when she got lazy, spent an hour examining every paint she owned on her fingers, made some prime masterpiece and presented it to her mom with the promise that, "One day this is gonna be something you hang on your wall and not the fridge."

Her mom hung the proof that she'd graduated college with a degree in something more solid instead, but Darcy still thought it was one of her best.

Finding work wasn't easy, just in general; the economy was shit and it didn't really care how much she owed in student loans. So it took all of one more week before she broke down and started applying to anybody with a Hiring sign in their window. At one point, on a late night junk food run, she noticed the barred up corner store whose owned pretty much always had his hand on a gun was hiring; she just barely stopped herself from begging for employment. Good for him for having the balls to run a store while apparently expecting he'd have to shoot somebody at some point, but Darcy couldn't see herself doing much in a robbery situation except possibly snarking somebody off in terror before they killed her just to get her to stop talking. So she bought her Pringles, a Hershey's chocolate bar, and a slurpee (Don't judge! So what if it was like, eleven-thirty at night and she didn't need the sugar buzz!), before forcing herself outside and reminding herself that enforced bars on the windows were a no-no. She needed to reach a little higher, preferably something that wouldn't involve her looking into how much Kevlar bullet proof vests cost.

Darcy was burning on fumes at this point and she was hesitant to head home, more because she didn't want whoever was following her to find out where she lived than anything, but she knew she couldn't keep walking around the city hoping to lose him or her, because one, she was still learning where everything was and two, her feet were starting to hurt. Not to mention constant panic was exhausting!

Turning a corner, she picked up her pace and, spotting a coffee shop with various chairs and tables set up, she started toward it. Maybe she could just snag a seat, take a load off, scope out the area, make sure there wasn't some crazy sniper with her in their scope… At the very least she could get a hot cup of coffee and know that, surrounded with people, there was less chance of being attacked.

Where was the rape whistle her mom sent her anyway?

The closer she got, checking out the various tables, all of which were full, mostly by couples, Darcy considered her options. Her feet were killing her, she was tired, thirsty, hungry, and sick and tired of giving whoever her stalker was the power he currently possessed.

There was one table with just a man sitting at it, heavily intent on the drawing book he was poised over, pencil in hand, brows furrowed. She approached, watching a blonde waitress walking away, looking as sweet as apple pie. Darcy hurried her steps, dragged out the seat across from him and plopped down.

He blinked at her in surprise and she realized belatedly that damn, artsy stranger was handsome.

"Hi, I'm going to need you to go with this…" She leaned forward, saying conspiratorially, "I think I'm being followed and I've been walking around trying to lose them for like…" She checked her watch and frowned. "Holy shit, two hours!" Her eyes widened. "I'm awesome; I'm not that awesome…"

"You're being followed," he said, sitting a little straighter, dropping his book to the table, his eyes darting, concerned.

"Don't give us away!" She reached across and covered his hand on the table. "Look, I'm hoping whoever they are, they'll lose interest and move on… It helps that I apparently sat down across from a guy who visits the gym regularly…" She eyed him. "They're pretty much burnt toast up against you, huh?"

He blinked a few times and Darcy realized she was probably being way too forward.

"Sorry; no brain-to-mouth filter." She shrugged. "I'm Darcy, by the way."

"Oh." He shook his head, appalled at his own manners, and held a hand out. "Steve Rogers, ma'am."

She smiled, chuckling under her breath as she reached across and shook his hand. "Wow, I don't think I've ever been ma'am'd before… Well, no, there was that one time when a security guard called me that but he thought I was gonna steal something and he was trying to be intimidating…" She rolled her eyes. "In his defense, I looked as broke as I was and I was staring desperately at this wicked bright shade of red lipstick and, y'know, morals aside, I probably would've sold my left foot for it."

He paused, took a good long look at her bright red 'I'm gonna rock this adult decisions shit!' lipstick, and then, rather comically, he leaned over in his chair to check her feet out under the table.

She wiggled both feet at him and laughed. "I got ma'am'd before I could break out the saw."

He raised an eyebrow as he sat upright. "I can't help but appreciate his timing…"

She snorted. "You and me both; peg-leg is so overrated…" She rolled her eyes.

He chuckled, ducking his head, and Darcy was momentarily struck by how his smile made him even more handsome. Broody, sad artist was hot on some people, and sure, he kind of pulled it off, but she thought happy and friendly suited him more.

She eyed his mug of steaming coffee, recently topped up. "Any chance the cute waitress who was hitting on you might come back this way? I'm in need of a serious java-fix… I missed breakfast this morning, too wigged out over a job interview, which I aced—High five!"

He, thankfully, took it in stride and met her held up hand, though he was noticeably quite gentle in his approach while Darcy really wasn't. Unfortunately, because his hands were basically like steel, holy shit. "Wow, okay…" She wrung her hand out. "Remind me not to do that again…"

"Will there be a lot of high-five moments while you wait out who's following you?" he wondered, brows furrowed. "A topic I'd really like to discuss, actually…" He leaned forward, giving her a serious face. "Do you have any idea who it might be or why they might be following you?"

She scoffed. "I'm a struggling artist-wannabe with a poli-sci degree; trust me, there's not much for someone to latch onto…" She briefly thought of her time in Puente Antiguo and chewed her lip; okay, so maybe there was something, but… Seriously? Who went after the intern who mostly just collated stuff and made Pop-tarts? If they wanted info, they'd have a better chance with Jane.

"I'm sure that's not true," Steve told her, actually looking sincere.

"You're a rare breed, Steve," she told him, shaking her head. "Anyway…" She shrugged. "I'm sure whoever it is just thought I looked like somebody else or… I don't know. Maybe they're having a psychotic break and they latched onto me…"

He tipped his head. "Those are on very different ends of the scale…"

"One to sixty, it's a problem of mine. I start out all calm but then my brain gets all fpphkttss…" She motioned her clawed hands around her head for emphasis. "Y'know?"

"Was that… I—I'm not sure that was English…"

She grinned. "It was Darcy Language; don't worry, half the time not even I'm fluent in it…"

"That must be difficult."

She laughed. "You have no idea."

Just then, she spotted blonde hair out of the corner of her eye and she turned, seeing the apple-pie waitress from earlier, casting curious and somewhat disappointed looks over at the table. "Wow, she is gone for you…" she muttered under her breath. "You want me to emphasize the strangers thing so she doesn't think I'm moving in on her territory?"

He stared at her and then glanced at the waitress, his cheeks flushed. "I'm sure that's not necessary."

"Cute," she said, lips curved.

As the waitress came nearer, eyeing the still full mug of coffee that Steve had yet to touch, Darcy read her nametag; Beth. "What up?" Darcy greeted, popping the 'P' at the end. "So, I know I'm late to the party, habit, but d'you think I could get a cup of coffee? Strong as you can possibly make it?" she hoped, smiling brightly.

"And something to eat too, Miss." Steve sat forward, tapping his pencil against his book. "Do you have any sandwiches or soups on the menu?"

"Oh, uh, we have a daily soup…" Beth nodded. "Um, vegetable lentil? It comes with a warm roll."

"It's okay, I really don't need food, I just—"

"You haven't eaten since this morning," Steve reminded, his expression concerned. "You've been walking for awhile, you're fatigued, and you're been dealing with emotional stress… Please, have something to eat."

Darcy stared at him, for the first time since arriving in New York feeling like someone genuinely cared about her. Which, she knew, was just this side of crazy. Steve Rogers barely knew her from a face in the crowd, but he'd apparently taken up in her defense and, one look at him told her, he would do everything in his power to make sure she was safe and taken care of. Huh. Looked like New York wasn't all creeps and assholes after all.

"Soup it is," Darcy said decisively, looking up at Beth. "And that coffee too, please."

"Sure. I'll be right back with that." She shuffled her feet and then looked at Steve, who was turning the page over in his sketch book, obviously not noticing. She left, order in hand.

When she was out of ear-shot, Darcy told him, "You need to work on your women skills, dude."

He raised both eyebrows in surprise. "I'm sorry?"

She offered a wry smile. "I don't know how much clearer I could be, but Beth the sugar-sweet waitress wants your bod… Or maybe just your lips; you've got a pretty killer smile."

He blinked at her.

She felt like she was momentarily fritzing his brain out. "Sorry? Too forward? I get that a lot."

"Uh, no… No, just…" He looked over her shoulder, toward the opening of the café. "She's very nice," he said.

"Yeah, she seems like it."

"But I'm not really…" he trailed off.

"Oh." She paused. Eyes wide, she added, "Oh!" She held up a hand. "I get it. No worries." She shook her head. "Hey man, I totally support equal rights. I mean, if I can marry a boy, you should be able to too."

He blinked at her again. "I… What?"

She frowned. "You're gay, right?"

"I… No…" He shrugged. "Although I agree with you; equal rights are deserved by everybody."

"Okay, then you lost me…" She sat forward. "Beth's nice, she's pretty, she's obviously interested but hey, who can blame her? I've known you like, what, ten, twenty minutes? And your good ol' boy charm is rubbing me right, so I feel her pain."

"She's very nice, but I'm not… available. Or…" He frowned. "It's not that I'm not available because I'm not really seeing anyone, but… I guess, emotionally, I still feel like I am."

"Ahh…" She leaned back in her chair and shot a finger gun at him, with a click of her tongue and a wink too. "Gotcha. Still carrying a torch for some other lucky lady. Wow, know that sucky feel."

"Yeah?" he asked, brows hiked.

She snorted. "Course. You don't think you're the only one who wanted an ex or somebody you couldn't have…? Trust me!" Her eyes widened. "Been there, done that, have the tattoo that now looks like a screwed up flower to prove it…"

He his head cocked and, for a moment, he looked like a cute, curious puppy.

She bit her lip to keep from telling him that; somehow she didn't think he'd quite appreciate the similarity. Even if a small part of her felt like reaching over and scratching him behind his ear. Those wholly innocent thoughts changed however when she let her eyes linger; his blond hair looked soft. His chiseled jaw not so much; that was made for kissing and biting.

She hummed to herself, crossing her legs, and sitting back in her seat, stretching her back out. Focusing on her body reminded her that walking around for the last couple hours had severely stretched out muscles that hadn't been used as much in the last few… years. Between school and sitting around in the lab while Jane did her science-y stuff, Darcy could admit that she wasn't as active as usual. And since arriving in New York, she'd mostly been holed up with her art supplies, sorely wasted on her, a newspaper (because she was old school like that) and a pen, as she looked for job opportunities just short of shoot-'em-up convenience stores. So her legs felt overused and now that her adrenaline was crashing, she felt kind of limp and buzzy.

"You had an ex… beau's name tattooed on you?" he wondered, eyes scanning curiously.

Darcy shrugged. "Not in any place I can publicly show you," she admitted freely.

That interesting blush of his filled his cheeks once more; he coughed, ducking his head into his fist, to try and cover his embarrassment.

She grinned at him. "You're ten shades of cute, Rogers."

Apparently that didn't help his blush, but he did meet her eyes. "Please, call me Steve."

"Only if you promise not to ma'am me again." She pointed at him, "Strictly first name basis. I mean, you kinda saved me from a stalker here, so, it's only fair, right?"

"Darcy is it," he agreed, but his eyes were searching gravely once more, as if he thought he could will her stalker out from wherever he or she was hiding and stop them with sheer good will at its finest.

She watched as his intensity further transformed him; she wondered who he was and how he got that way. There was something in the set of his shoulders, the lines of his face, that made him look purposeful. Like all he needed was something to focus on and he would put his all into it. She imagined he put his absolute and full dedication into anything and everything he did. The idea made her squeeze her thighs a little tighter closed.

Stranger! She reminded herself. For all that he was helping her out and lending a helping hand in keeping her safe from her possibly pervy little follower, she didn't really know him. Except that he was extremely friendly, protective, handsome, and, from the glimpse she got of his sketch book, super talented with a pencil.

Just then, Beth returned, carrying a steaming bowl of soup on a plate with a plastic-wrapped set of salted top crackers tucked on the side. In her other hand was a mug of coffee, and a long-grip carafe of coffee hung off a pocket on her waist-tied apron.

"Here you are," she said, laying it down in front Darcy carefully.

She had to applaud the woman for being professional; if she'd had a crush on Steve and some other chick suddenly showed up, taking all the attention, she thought she might be a little miffed. But Beth was kind, even if she was disappointed, and she dug out a handful of creams and sugar packets.

"Is there anything else I can get you?" she wondered politely.

Darcy shook her head but then cast her eyes at the distractedly searching Steve, who was eyeing the building windows like he thought he might actually be able to see if somebody was ten or so floors up and watching them. "Steve? Ya need anything?"

"Hm?" He turned his head back swiftly and seemed to blink, realizing Beth had returned. "Oh, um, no, thank you."

"It's fine," she offered with an awkward smile. "Uh, just wave me over if you need anything…" she said before backing away.

Darcy watched her go as she slurped her spoonful of soup, licking at her chin as some spilled. "You sure you don't want to stow the baggage and ask her out?"

When she looked back, Steve was staring at her. "The last woman I liked was a soldier; she was strong, beautiful, and very capable…"

"So you have a type…" Darcy raised an eyebrow, watching him.

"Not… I… I wouldn't say that, exactly…" He frowned, letting out a long sigh. "Used to be, I couldn't get a dame to look at me long enough to learn my name…" He shook his head. "Peggy, she saw something in me before…" His eyes dropped. "Just before."

"I get it; you were the awkward, skinny, knobby-kneed kid… And then you grew up, ate your spinach, and earned some impressive pectoral muscles."

His lips twitched, but she wasn't sure if it was with a smile or not. "Something like that…" he mused.

"Hmm." She shrugged. "Well look, whoever this chick was, she obviously had the right idea from the get-go… Whatever went sideways sucks, but… You can't punish someone who didn't even know you back when you were that skinny former self… And besides," She raised an eyebrow at him, "For all you know, Beth likes you because you're nice. I mean, hello, you just saved my bacon, right? Heroics and chivalry, not dead; I'll have to blog it later, get the word out."

"Maybe…" He paused. "I mean, about the Peggy/Beth thing… I'm not sure what a blog is."

"Oh my god…" She reached over and grabbed his wrist, giving it a shake. "Listen, I know we don't know each other well, but if you say things like that, it makes me feel like I need to teach you. I don't have patience like Mr. Miyagi, but seriously, blogs are something you need to know about." She held her free hand up. "I get the love for the newspaper, man. I like to pick one up myself, even if the internet makes it much easier these days, there's just something about ink on your fingers, right?"

He grinned warmly, nodding.

"But we gotta get with the times, handsome. So if you ever need somebody to show you around the blogosphere, I'm your girl!"

His head bobbed slowly, agreeably. "I might take you up on that some time."

"Coolio." She drew her hands back and focused on her soup. "This stuff is awesome; I mean, my mom couldn't get me to eat vegetables for anything, but who knew lentils were so tasty?" She scooped up a spoonful and held it out to him. "Taste?"

He eyed the spoon in surprise.

"I promise I don't have any mouth diseases you need to worry about…" She grinned. "And I'm guessing you're clean?"

"As a whistle," he muttered, before leaning forward and very slowly, as if he expected her to retract the offer, he wrapped his mouth around the end of the spoon. As he sat back, licking his lips, his eyes widened in surprise. "That is good."

"Right!?" She dug in for another bite and let the spoon hang from her lips as she opened the crackers before dropping them to float on top. She tore her bun in half then and popped her spoon free to use it to smear butter on top.

Steve eyed the floating, intact crackers, slowly being soaked in broth. "You don't crunch them up?"

"Hm?" She looked down. "Oh, no. I like it when they just turn to mush." She shrugged, and then handed him half of her bun.

He waved a hand. "You should eat it."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not starving to death, Steve, it's just half a bun." She held it up at him enticingly. "C'mon? Fresh bun, still warm from the oven, melted butter? Can you really pass that up?"

He bit his lip briefly before taking it from her. "Thank you…"

She smiled. "No worries."

As he chewed on a bite of the bun, he picked his pencil up. He waited until he finished chewing before asking her, "Can you tell me when you noticed someone was following you?"

Since his pencil was poised, she assumed he was going to take notes; maybe he'd walk her to the cop shop and help her explain the predicament. She didn't think there was much either of them could really do, especially since they didn't even know who it was that wasted their morning following her. Seriously, she didn't even know why someone would bother. She did her laundry, talked Gary into donating her a newspaper from his magazine stand, weighed the pros and cons of street vendors and the hot dogs they offered, searched for wanted signs in every window she passed, people watched, briefly rolled her eyes as Iron Man flew overhead and showed off for whoever was watching, and then finally gave up on losing her follower, popping a squat with a handsome stranger.

Admittedly, that last part was probably the highlight of her New York experience thus far.

She wondered what that said about her social life.

Nothing good, she was certain.

"Sure…" She stirred her now soggy crackers into her soup. "Woke up late, forgot I ate all the Lucky Charms yesterday, total bummer…" She rolled her eyes. "Uh, left my apartment, argued with my neighbor 'cause I can totally hear them having sex and wow, I don't need that in my life. I mean, I know it sucks, but if I'm not getting any, I feel like nobody else should… Thems the breaks…"

She glanced at him, noticing his furrowed brow, concentration set deeply on the notes he was taking.

"Annnd… Oh, right, so I went down to the laundry mat a couple blocks over…" She frowned. "Remind me I need to pick that up…" She shook her head. "There's a cool dude running the joint; if I shoot him a few bucks, he turns my load over for me and puts it back in the basket, hidden behind his desk for me…" She snorted. "You don't wanna know how many times I had to have my underwear stolen out of one of the dryers before I finally broke down and paid extra…"

He frowned, looking up at her in concern. "People… do that…"

Her head tipped. "More than they should."

"Shouldn't we aim for never?"

"Realistic goals, Steve. We all gotta have 'em…" She slurped up another bite of soup and said through her chewing, "So then I went to my job interview. Again, nailed it." She grinned smugly, but it faded quickly. "And I dunno, I guess it wasn't long after that when I started feeling skeeved out… Picked up a newspaper, walked around awhile…" She frowned, resting her elbows on the table top. "You ever get that feeling on the back of your neck and you just know somebody's watching you?"

He nodded, looking serious.

"Tenfold, dude. Like it just wouldn't go away… Didn't matter where I went, I could feel the eye of Sauron following me all over the joint, like I had the one ring in my pocket or something…"

He paused, grinned, and then told her happily, "I get that reference!"

She smiled. "Tolkien fan? Books or movie?"

His eyes widened. "There are movies too?" He shook his head slowly. "I read The Hobbit when it first…" He looked away and then cleared his throat. "Uh, I read The Hobbit and later… Much later, I found the Lord of the Rings trilogy in an old book store I go to sometimes…"

"The movies are epic!" she told him, brows hiked. "Add watch the trilogy with teach you about blogs to my repayment list for helping me out." She scooped up her coffee as he frowned, shaking his head.

"You don't owe me anything, ma'am. I'm just glad that you're okay and I hope we can find a way to make sure you get home safe."

"Darcy," she corrected. "And seriously, it's not every day I offer up my services… Like I said, patience is not one of my virtues…" She shook her head. "Besides, I think it'd be cool, seeing how you like the movies in comparison."

He ducked his head a little and smiled. "I think that'd be swell."

She smiled. The way he talked was adorable. "How is it you're single, Steve?" She shook her head. "I mean, I get that you're still hung up on Peggy the super-awesome soldier lady, but… How has nobody snatched you up yet?"

He shifted in his seat. "I'm not sure dating is made for my current lifestyle… Plus, I was just never very good at it."

She raised an eyebrow. "Somehow I doubt it." She dunked her bun in her soup and stirred it around. "Nice guys are a dying breed. Hell, half of Facebook is women complaining that men are jerks." She snorted. "Seriously, I think if I told them about you, they'd call you a figment of my imagination or they'd track you down and battle it out to the death for your hand in courting!" She winked.

"Sounds bloody."

She smirked. "Don't tell me your squeamish."

"Not especially."

"Awesome. The First Annual Humble, Good Guy Games, to be announced!"

He blinked at her.

"Add these to the list: The Hunger Games, book trilogy and movie. Actually it comes out soon, so score!" She waved her spoon at him. "Me and you are gonna spend a lot of time together."

He smiled slightly. "I can't say that's a disappointing idea, ma—"He paused, and then corrected himself, "Darcy."

She winked at him. "Now you're getting it."

He watched her a moment, looking almost flustered, and then he dropped his gaze to his book once more. "Um, so was there anything else that stood out? Maybe a face in the crowd? Or, have you noticed anybody familiar in the weeks leading up to today?"

She shrugged. "Not really… Street's are always crowded; makes it hard to tell one person from another. There were some jerks on the subway the other day and some smug a-hole who likes to cat-call at me when I walk by… I mean, in general, I haven't had the best experience around here, but this just takes the cake, y'know?"

Steve frowned, looking genuinely disheartened. "It wasn't always like that, you know? I grew up in Brooklyn and people were more courteous; they treated others with respect."

She watched him. "You sure you're not just thinking of yourself?" she wondered. "I mean, I don't think the world's ever been 100% perfect, y'know? We've always had assholes… Some of them just hid it better…"

His eyes turned off as he seemed to remember something and then he told her, "I was bullied a lot growing up."

"Which unfortunately proves my point." With a sigh, she reached for him, covering his hand over the table-top. "I guess you were picked on for the scrawny thing?"

"Partly…" He shrugged. "I didn't like it when people tried to intimidate others… I might not have been the strongest physically, but I always spoke up when I thought something was wrong."

She smiled. "Sometimes all it takes is a voice."

"Yeah, well… Their fists did most of the talking after…"

Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "I'm gonna take a wild guess and say you aren't the run away and duck for cover type…?"

"I was always taught to face my problems, stand up for what I believe in, and I didn't think what those people were doing was right…" He shook his head. "So I did my best to fight back, whatever way I could."

Darcy dropped her chin to her upturned fist, elbow balanced on the table. "Virtuous," she said.

He shrugged, playing with his pencil. "You didn't grow up here?"

"Nah." She shook her head. "Idaho, actually. Potato country. Grew up in a tiny house with just my mom; dad kicked it when I was kind of young." She shrugged. "Went away to Culver University and spent some time in New Mexico for an internship, but… I don't know. Graduated and had to become a real adult. Instead of taking the smart route and putting my degree to work, I picked up a paint brush and decided it was about time to let my inner-painter out to play."

"You paint?" he asked, looking excited.

"I try to paint," she corrected. "Trust me, where I am on the scale of artist and where you and your insanely good drawings are? Totally different ballpark."

His lips pursed. "Art is subjective. If it's beautiful to you, it's beautiful."

"That sounds good in theory, but… Doesn't pay the bills." She sighed, pushing her soup away. "Whatever, it was a dream, right? I chased it, it laughed in my face, and now I'm pursuing more legitimate forms of work…" She turned her eyes to the side. "Hey, ya think Beth would put in a good word for me or…?"

"For someone so confident, I think you might be hard on yourself…" he told her. "If you don't mind me saying."

"Nah. My self-esteem is a roller-coaster. I go from cool to loser in the same breath." She shrugged, picking apart her now cold bun. "Anyway…" She took a look around. "I should probably head home…" She checked her wrist watch. "I've still gotta pick up my laundry before Pauly closes up."

She stood from the table and dug into her bag, searching for her wallet.

"I can get it," he offered.

"It's cool," she assured, digging out the cash and dropping it on the table along with a tip. "So, it was nice meeting you, Steve Rogers." She held a hand out for him to shake.

But he stood up, digging out his own wallet to cover his coffee. "I'd like to walk you home," he said. "I know that you're a strong and fully capable woman, but the fact that this person was following you for so long and we don't know where they are bothers me…" He stared at her searchingly. "Would you mind?"

She shrugged. "Hey, I don't want to take up any more of your time… I mean, I already kind of interrupted your coffee thing and the cute waitress thing and you were drawing, so…"

He shook his head. "You weren't a bother." He stared at her earnestly. "Please?"

She blinked at him. "Wow. I think you just gave me puppy dog eyes and my heart turned inside out."

"Um… Is that a good thing?" he wondered, eyes darting away.

"For you? Totally." She crossed her arms loosely, low on her waist. "Well, c'mon… We've got a bit of a trek back… Like, a subway ride…" She looked up at him, eyebrow arched. "Still sure?"

"I wouldn't feel right if I didn't."

"Fine, but, it's totally not gonna be a habit… Like after we meet back up for movies and blogs 101, I'm totally walking myself home, all right?"

He smiled at her. "You really plan on meeting with me again?"

"Sure." She bumped his shoulder with hers. "I need all the friends I can get."

He stared down at her, his face widening. "I… I don't really have any friends left…" he murmured, his voice echoing with loss.

She peered up at him. "Well, you've got me now," she said, before hooking her arm with his, elbows knotted together.

He smiled down at her, nodding slowly. "I'm honored."

"Mutual, dude. Totally mutual."

Steve kept his word; he stayed with her as they climbed on the subway, intimidating enough just in his naturally large frame that they were basically left alone. He stuck with her as they just made it to Pauly's laundromat in time and even carried her basket for her, while she cradled his sketchbook against her chest, listening to him tell her about architecture, about what was and wasn't around back in the early-ish 1900's, an expert apparently on all things New York between the 1920's and 1940's. He was so knowledgeable, so vivid in his descriptions, that she was able to create a mental image.

When they reached her apartment, Darcy felt like she had a whole new understanding of New York. There was something so spirited about how he talked about Brooklyn that it made her wish she actually lived in that era; though her inner-feminist reminded her that it wasn't exactly the best period. Even outside of the Hitler thing, women's rights weren't nearly as awesome as they were now.

"You wanna come up?" she asked him as she climbed the stairs. "I'm not gonna lie, carrying my laundry up to the third floor is playing a bit into this. You got all those muscles and I break out in a sweat just thinking about stairs…"

"You look fit to me," he said, before biting his lip. "Sorry."

She chuckled. "Hey, compliment's a compliment." She unlocked the door of her building and held it open for him to follow her in. She made him go first; partly because she didn't want him to see her panting as she climbed the stairs and partly because he had an awesome ass and she wasn't above taking a nice long look.

Steve wasn't even out of breath when they reached her floor, simply looking back at her for direction. "Three-oh-two," she told him, pointing.

He nodded, walking down the hall, reading numbers off as he went.

"It's kind of closet-sized and you're kind of… King sized," she warned, but pushed the door open and walked inside.

He had to duck through the door and his broad shoulders seemed to take up a lot of space, not that she was complaining. He put her laundry down on her dresser top, a couple feet from her messy bed; tidy wasn't generally in her make-up and she wasn't expecting company.

"Thirsty?" she asked him, tugging her fridge door open. "I got beer, a box of really cheap wine, and water."

"Water's fine," he said, taking a seat at her table, wiping his palms on his pants. "You have a nice apartment," he told her.

She snorted. "No I don't, but thanks for lying." She passed him a bottle and took the seat across from him, crossing her legs underneath her. "I don't know; it's small but it works, right? Bathroom's gotta door, there's space for my easel, and a window, even if looks out on the most wall to ever wall."

He turned his head, peering across to her window and then admitted, "Your view is a little… lacking."

She laughed. "Yeah, that's one way to put it."

"You have an easel?"

"Mm-hmm." She nodded before gulping down half her bottle of water, pointing to a corner where it was folded up, a few canvas paintings leaning nearby to dry. Just because she was looking for work elsewhere didn't mean she stopped trying to flex her paintbrush.

"Do you mind…?" he wondered, pointing curiously.

She shrugged, even as her stomach fell out with nerves. "Uh, no, sure… They're crap though."

"I'm sure they're not." He stood, moving across to kneel down. His head turned as he reached for one, eyes examining it from top to bottom. The one he was looking at was done by memory; her mom had taken her to Florida once to visit her cranky grandmother. She spent most of the week sitting on a beach, watching as the tide came and went. She'd tried to capture the different blues she'd seen in the waves, but she was never sure she got it right.

Steve hummed before moving on to the next, which happened to be a portrait of her mom. Darcy had tried to paint her mid-laugh; with the wrinkles fanning out from her eyes and around her mouth. With the light of humor in her blue eyes and the way her hair always came loose, curls springing out from all angles. She tried to capture the stiff set of her mom's shoulders, always hunched up high, the stubborn tilt of her chin, and the tilted way her head always sat, like she was asking a question. Finally, what she spent the most time on was capturing the floral print of her favorite blouse and the faint line of gold chain, her thin necklace glinting just barely.

He spent awhile staring at that, telling her, "You have her eyes."

"And she had my grandma's, and so on and so forth," she answered, nodding.

Finally, he moved on to her work in progress, still in the easel even as it leaned against the wall, legs folded together.

She shifted in her seat. "There were some kids playing out front…"

"Stickball," he said, lips twitching up in a smile.

"Yeah… It's hard to get it all right, they're moving, so… But… I wanted to try." She shrugged. "I've been working off my memory since…"

He nodded, before finally he stood back and told her, "You're amazing."

Her eyes widened. "Um, you don't have to be nice, Steve. Really—"

He looked over at her and said with completely sincerity, "Really, Darcy… You're amazing."

Her heart hammered in her chest. "Oh…"

For the time since, well, possibly her early teens, she blushed.

"Okay."

He grinned, ducking his head slightly, and then he walked back over to sit with her. "I especially like the one with your mother… She's very pretty."

"Yeah, she's kinda hot… Her milkshake would bring all the boys to the yard, but she's been rocking celibacy since my dad died, so…" She shrugged.

"My dad died when I was a child…" Something dark passed over his face. "He was a little too attached to the bottle…"

"I'm sorry."

He looked over at her. "It's fine. It was… a long time ago."

"Couldn't be that long; you're not much older than me…" She stared searchingly at him. "And besides, you could be like, ninety, a dad's a dad, alcoholic or not."

Apparently something about that statement made a faint smile appear, but it faded as he admitted, "I don't remember him much… Mostly, I remember my mom."

"Is she…?"

He shook his head. "She died of pneumonia."

Darcy reached over and squeezed his hand. "Life wasn't too good to you, huh?"

He shrugged. "It had its moments. I had a friend, Bucky…" He nodded. "He made up for a lot of it."

Darcy heard the past tense there too and felt empathy well up inside her; she imagined what it would be like to have lost her mother on top of her father and then too, for her best friend to die on her. She'd only had one when she was a kid, but her and Jenna had lost touch over the years. Still, they were inseparable growing up, and the idea of her death even choked Darcy up now.

"We, uh…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "We joined the ARMY together…" he said. "Or, well," he amended, "Bucky joined and I… had a harder time getting in."

"I'm guessing this was back when you were still scrawny-Steve?"

He nodded. "They have a lot of rules for signing people up to go to war…" Something faraway entered his eyes.

"But you made it…"

He smiled faintly. "Someone saw something in me… Thought I was special."

"Hate to break it to you…" She tapped his hand, "but whoever they were, they weren't wrong." When he still looked sad, she let her finger stroke over his knuckles. "So you got in and they beefed you up?"

"That's a pretty apt description," he agreed, nodding.

"But something went wrong on a mission and… Bucky…"

His jaw ticked. "It was my…" his voice trailed off, shaking. He blinked quickly.

Darcy's hand gripped his and she leaned forward. "Steve, I don't wanna overstep my boundaries, even if I'm really good at it, but…" She stared up at him. "Look, I didn't know this guy, but if he was your best friend, then I don't think there's anything you would've done that would intentionally have hurt him… and I think he'd know that."

He nodded, swallowing thickly. "I still… I remember his face…" He shook his head. "And I miss him."

Darcy had always been a tactile person and somehow, faster than ever before, she'd bonded with Steve, so it didn't really surprise her when she stood from her chair and hugged him. She subscribed to the idea that if people needed a hug, they should be hugged. So she gathered him in close, which was no small job considering he was quite a bit larger than her in pretty much every area. Plus, since he was sitting, he got a face full of cleavage before she adapted her height to better suit it.

It was inappropriate, but she couldn't help noticing that he smelled really good. And his old man clothes of a tucked in plaid shirt and khaki pants did little justice to the very solid man underneath. In her mind, she likened him to Clark Kent and just barely kept from laughing. She stroked a hand down his hair, pleasantly noting that it was, in fact, very soft, and let her other hand wander down to rub his back the way her mother always did, in circling, soothing motions.

He was hesitant to hug her back, but slowly, his arms wound around her, large hands splayed on her hips and then higher, spread over her back.

It was only when he began to relax that she started to disentangle from him; she smiled as she met a little resistance; obviously, he'd been enjoying himself.

She retook her seat, but carried one of his hands with her. "Hey, if you don't have to head back in right away, maybe we can start our education early?" she suggested. "I can show you my blog, if you want. The Lord of the Rings movies are a little long and I don't think you want to sleepover just yet…" She grinned, winking at him.

He shifted, blushing. "Or… Maybe instead of staying in for a picture, I… could take you out to one?" he suggested slowly.

"Why, Steve, are you asking me on a date?"

"I… If you…" He inhaled deeply. "Yes." He nodded. "I am."

She grinned at his show of courage. "Awesome. I'm in."

His brows hiked. "Really?"

She laughed. "Totally."

"Oh, well… That'd be really swell!" he said, smiling now.

"It'll be something," she agreed. She looked over at her laptop, folded up on the table. "Are you free Friday?" she wondered. "I can look up what's on, let you know?"

"Sure, my— My Friday's free."

"Awesomesauce." She nodded. "I can meet you at the coffee shop if you want. Tomorrow even." She shrugged. "Unless I get a call back for my job interview."

"I'm sure you will," he encouraged.

"You're a serious ego-booster, Steve." She shook her head. "You're gonna spoil me."

He shrugged. "I'm only honest."

"Heartbreaker," she sighed.

"Not hardly," he argued.

"Maybe not on purpose…" Her eyes narrowed. "But I bet there're been a few women who fell in love with that smile and never forgot it." She pointed at him. "Like Beth!"

He frowned. "She really is nice," he said on a sigh. "I hope I didn't lead her on; I didn't mean to send any mixed signals."

Darcy shrugged. "She looked like a tough cookie; I'm sure she'll bounce back." She winked. "Can't say I didn't get the better end of the stick though, so I'm not really rooting for her at this point."

He half-smiled before slowly standing from her table. "So you'll meet me tomorrow, if you can, and we'll make plans for that movie?" He looked a little hesitant, like he was half-expecting her to back out.

"I'll be there," she promised, standing with him.

She walked him to her door, a short trek really, and held it open for him.

She caught another whiff of him as he passed and bit her lip; God, but she wanted to sink her teeth into him.

When he turned back around, he was giving her that grin that just about melted her. "Thank you," he told her.

Her brows furrowed. "You saved me, remember? If anybody should be thanking anybody…"

He shook his head. "Maybe it sounds silly, but… Since I… returned to New York, I've been going through the motions, not quite living…" He shrugged. "There's something about regrets, they just kind of swallow you whole…" He stared at her thoughtfully. "I created a routine and I wasn't letting anybody or anything in… Until you." He laughed under his breath. "Well, mostly you forced yourself in." He tipped his head, smiling. "But I guess that's what I needed."

Darcy grinned. "Happy I could help."

He nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said, looking excited.

She took a step through the door and reached up onto her tip toes. She braced a hand on his cheek and drew him down so she could kiss the other.

He stared, a little dazed. "What was that for?"

"Just being you," she said. "I think we were in the same boat…" She peered up at him. "I moved to New York expecting one thing and when it didn't work out, I just kinda let it go, wallowed, and convinced myself I'd be riding the dead-end job circuit for a while… I expected the worst of people and I got it. I guess you weren't the only one not living up to their potential." She pointed a thumb behind her. "I like painting. I like political science too…" She shrugged. "I don't know which one I'll get a job with, but it's gonna be one of them, eventually. I can stand the crappy job search for now, bide my time, and figure it out on the way…" She poked his chest. "And I guess meeting a handsome, kind-hearted stranger doesn't hurt."

"It made my day," he agreed.

She shook her head. "Your cuteness factor is off the chain," she muttered.

His brows furrowed, perplexed.

With a light laugh, she gave him a shove. "I'll see you tomorrow…"

He walked backwards, smiling at her. With a nod farewell, he finally turned at the stairs to walk away.

Darcy chewed her lip, let out a wistful sigh, rolled her eyes at herself, and walked back inside her apartment, letting herself hope.

She didn't get a call back for her job the next day, but she did meet Steve at the coffee shop to agree on a movie. She brought one of her smaller paintings along with her; she wasn't as convinced she was good, but he seemed pretty genuine.

He stood from the table when she approached, leaning down to kiss her cheek in greeting, warm lips lingering, his hand falling to her elbow and squeezing lightly. She felt a little giddy; he was even more handsome than she remembered; which was silly, it'd been less than 24 hours. Beth wasn't on that day, which Darcy appreciated since she kind of felt bad. She ordered a latte and then dug the painting out of her purse, handing it over to him. "Here… It's not really… anything, but…"

He took it from her, smiling as he looked over a painting she'd made of a potato field from back home; it wasn't much more than rows of bright green, mountains set in the back, and a cool blue sky above. "I figured, since you shared so much of your home, maybe I'd share some of mine…"

He looked touched by the gesture. "I'll hang it up in my apartment," he declared.

"You don't have to," she assured, waving a dismissive hand.

"I want to."

The bubbling awareness, anticipation, and desire welled inside her once more. "You're gonna be trouble," she decided on a sigh.

"Funny, I've been thinking the same about you," he told her, mouth curved up in a half-smile.

"Well, at least it'll be fun." She reached for his hand and he turned his fingers up, weaving them with hers.

He didn't let go for the rest of their coffee date.

After they discussed which movie they wanted to see, they talked about her work search, where all she'd applied, and what he did when he wasn't sketching or saving stalking victims. He didn't talk much about his work, tending to avoid the subject altogether, and she decided, given his history in the ARMY, that it might be of the hush, hush variety. She took it in stride and instead asked him if he wanted to take a walk through Central Park, partly because she hadn't been and she felt like it was one of those New York experiences she couldn't pass up on.

They bought ice creams as they walked and she thought it was something right out of a movie when he got a little on the end of his nose; she swiped it away, licked her finger clean, and felt her heart thump when he stared at her lips a good long while. When it got windy, he shrugged off his brown leather jacket and tucked it around her; she surreptitiously breathed in his scent and smiled as the too long sleeves covered her hands. She rolled up one just enough for her to tangle her fingers with his.

When night fell, she let him walk her to the subway but she put her foot down on the damsel routine.

"I promise, I'll call you when I get home," she assured, waiting for her train.

He frowned. "I just want you to be safe."

"And I appreciate it." She chucked his chin playfully. "One of many reasons you're cute." She passed him his jacket back, watching appreciatively as his shoulders flexed when he drew it on. "But I'm a modern woman, Steve. I got my taser and a mean right hook…" She bumped his hip with hers. "Besides, I haven't felt that weird, prickly, stalker feeling since yesterday." She winked up at him. "Maybe you scared him off after all."

He sighed, but acquiesced to her judgment. "If you're sure…"

"I am."

When she heard the squeal of the train approaching, she leaned up to kiss his cheek in the same moment he bent down, resulting in their mouths slanting together. Not one to pass up on an opportunity, Darcy buried a hand behind his neck, fingers threaded in his hair, and pressed a little deeper. His lips parted under hers and her tongue reached across, flicking at his teeth, stroking his lips. He hummed, his arm looping around her waist, squeezing, pulling her in tight. She gripped the leather of his jacket in her free hand like a lifeline, keeping him from moving away, not that he was even trying to.

Steve was an amazing kisser; tentative at first, probing, seeing what she liked, what she wanted, and then he met it full force. He sipped at her lips like he wasn't sure he ever would again. He met each stroke of her tongue with one of his and his fingers flexed against her as she bit his lip, like he was pleasantly surprised by how he liked it. It was almost like he was a novice to kissing, though she couldn't imagine a man who looked like him and had lips like his, hadn't been kissed within an inch of their life.

She remembered, however, that he hadn't always been the classically handsome man he was now, telling her he was a scrawny, asthmatic kid with every health problem one could have. He still carried that image of himself, she thought, because he seemed completely confused by the attention people gave him. More than once while they'd been walking through the park, she'd seen men and women alike do a double-take. But he was oblivious to it. Whether he was humble or he still considered himself that so-called, lacking boy he'd once been, he didn't seem to notice the effect he had.

His teeth scraped over her bottom lip and her breath stuttered; if they didn't stop soon, they would be slapped with a public indecency charge.

Breaking away from his mouth, panting, feeling the throb of her lips, she stared up at him. "Wow," she murmured, and then rolled her eyes at her own lack of wit.

He swallowed, licking his lips. "Wow," he agreed, his voice thick, husky.

The swoosh of the subway doors opening grabbed her attention. "I, uh… have to…"

"Right, yeah… Tomorrow?" he asked, brows quirked.

As if after kissing him she'd let a chance to do it again pass her by. "Same time, same place," she told him.

He waved at her as she walked onto the subway, and waited, meeting her eyes until the train moved far enough away that she was out of sight.

Falling back in a seat, she sighed.

Oh, she was in way over her head…

And she wasn't even going to try and stop it.

If this was living, she wanted more of it.

As expected, Darcy made it home in one piece; she wasn't hindered by stalkers or leery neighbors or anything. She kept her taser in hand, all the same.

When she got home, she broke out her paints and tried to capture him; the wheat blond of his perfectly parted hair, the blue of his eyes, the outer ring almost cerulean, ducked with modesty, the line of his serious eyebrows with the contrasting tilt of his warm smile and full lips. She painted his wide shoulders under the heavy cloak of his dark brown leather jacket, a plaid shirt underneath.

She leaned it back against her wall to dry and just stared at it awhile, her hands and forearms splotched with different colors of pain in various stages of drying. After a shower, she crawled into bed, and smiled to herself as she fell asleep, looking forward to their movie date.

Unfortunately, when she arrived the next day at the coffee shop, he wasn't there.

Nor the next or the day after that.

Friday passed and she received no word; no phone calls, emails, or even a damn smoke signal.

Darcy tried to stamp out her disappointment, but when she got a call back about her job interview, yay employment, she was further upset by the fact that she wanted to share her good news with him but couldn't. She told herself it wasn't a big deal; he was just one man, they'd had fun, she'd gotten a kiss out of it and, regardless of whatever happened, he'd still stepped in at the right time and maybe opened her eyes to what she needed to see, the broader scope of her life, not just in New York but in general.

When the alien invasion hit, she was kind of regretting that, however.

Her job was pretty much ground zero for whatever the hell that hole in the sky was and the insane things flying out of it. So while everybody else was going squirrely, trampling each other to get out of the line of fire, Darcy mostly just stared up at it. "Huh…"

Don't get her wrong, she totally started following the crowd away from the killer aliens on their modern, flying chariots of destruction, but she wasn't quite as freaked out as the rest. And when she saw Thor and his awesome hammer, she was actually kind of giddy.

For the first time since Mr. Perfect had come into her life and left without so much as 'sorry I have to miss our date and have ruined you for all other men', she was feeling good. Her old Norse God of a friend, tasing aside, had rolled back into town, or, well, rainbow'd his way back to Earth, she really wasn't sure, and he was kicking serious alien ass.

Life was funny though, because as soon as she started feeling good (and really, this was a theme in her life nowadays), everything hit a giant speed bump.

She felt the blast from whatever the hell their guns shot speed past her, singing her hair. On the bright side, she'd been meaning to get a trip; not so bright, the alien knew he missed and meant to correct that.

But just as it aimed and she let out an, "Eep," (and seriously, as last words go, she thought she could do better), a legit red, white and blue shield came flying out of nowhere and knocked the alien asshole off his feet, leaving her very much alive. She stared down at it and then, finding her courage, shouted, "And my faith in America was restored!"

Her relief was short-lived when a series of blasts started littering the ground, getting closer, and while she had her taser out, she really didn't think it was going to do much in the face of that. But it seemed her shield wielding hero, who was wearing a skin-tight red, white, and blue head-to-toe suit that highlighted every muscled inch to perfection, thought she deserved a second swoop-in and save, because he raced across the pavement, grabbed her up by the waist, and pulled her out of the line of fire like she weighed nothing.

He pulled her a few feet into an alleyway and she fell back against the wall, panting more out of fear than exertion.

"Are you okay? Were you hurt?" he demanded, hands moving over her body with probably more familiarity than strictly friendly.

Darcy was just about to slap his hands away and tell him not to touch the goods when she realized… She knew that voice!

Eyes wide, she glared up at him. "Steve?"

He paused. "Uh…"

"What the hell?!" She slapped his chest, hard, but she didn't think it mattered much in the grand scheme; in fact, it probably hurt her hand more than it hurt his chest. "Ow!" she cried, waving her hand as pain shot through it.

"Sorry! I'm sorry!" He caught her hand and clasped it in both of his gloved ones, but she pulled it back, hugging it to her chest.

"Oh, no you don't, you get to cute your way out of this buddy!" She poked his shoulder. "You flaked on me!"

He winced, which, might've been less comical if he didn't have a helmet on that hugged around his eyes and left his nose and mouth uncovered, a giant silver A on his forehead. "I know and I… I didn't mean to, but…" He waved a hand back and she suddenly remembered that, oh yeah, the city was being blown the hell up by aliens.

"Oh."

"Yeah…" He swallowed and shuffled his feet back. "I… I have to help," he told her. "And I know I owe you answers—"

She waved at his suit. "Gee, ya think?"

He gave her a sheepish smile. "I'll explain everything… After!"

Darcy sighed; damn it, he was still cute and, really, if there was ever a legitimate excuse for standing someone up? Yeah, saving the world was probably it. "Fine. Sure." She waved him off. "We'll talk after."

He grinned. "If the coffee shop is still there…" He stared at her meaningfully. "Same time."

She pursed her lips. "You're lucky I like you."

He chuckled. "I am," he agreed, and then he was off.

To save the world.

In his American flag of a suit.

Wow, and she didn't think his ass could get any better…

So, it turned out, the coffee shop was not still there, but Steve didn't actually wait for the 'same time' to come around anyway.

Instead, later that night, standing in her, thankfully, spared apartment, she opened her door to find Steve Rogers, or, as she'd come to realize, Captain America, standing in front of her, offering an apologetic smile and a bouquet of daisies. "I was going to bring you syringa, but they're not that easy to find."

Her brows hiked. He was going to find her a bouquet of her state's flower...? Could he get any cuter?

"Darcy, I'm really sorry…"

Oh, right, yeah, she was still pissed at him. "Yeah, well… You should be," she muttered, but held her door open and took his flowers.

He walked in, ducking his head, and turned to look at her plaintively. "We had a crisis."

She snorted, finding a vase and filling it with water. "I noticed."

He played with his hands awkwardly. "There's a lot you don't know about me… A lot that I should tell you but I just… wasn't sure how."

"Start with the basics."

"I was born in 1920… What I told you about being an asthmatic, scrawny kid was true…" His jaw ticked. "And when I was brought into the ARMY, I still was… There was a scientist, Dr. Abraham Erksine, and he had a serum…"

And then he told her everything; from repeatedly trying to enlist and getting rejected, to the man who saw something in him that he thought the perfect soldier needed. He told her about selling war bonds and becoming a propaganda mascot (which, she remembered learning about, actually) before finally finding his place as a real soldier, fighting the battles behind the scenes. He told her about Bucky; about who he was as a child up until who he'd been when he died. And Peggy; the woman he'd still been pining for when Darcy sat down at his table. He explained what happened, how he'd been frozen for years, and woke up to a completely different world (which, really, explained a lot about his social media confusion), and then he explained SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative and how lost and lonely he'd been until…

"And then you were there and… It was like waking up again, only this time… I felt alive."

Darcy's brain was on overdrive, trying to take it all in, slightly boggled.

"You've led an… interesting life, Steve."

He let out a light scoff. "That's one way to put it…" He sat back in the chair and watched her uncertainly. "It's a lot to take in…"

"If I hadn't seen you fighting aliens today, I'm not sure I'd be able to take it in," she admitted.

"I don't do that every day…" He shrugged. "I mean, before, it was HYDRA… Now, the Chitauri, Loki, I guess."

She frowned. And wasn't that the kicker. "So, uh, confession time…"

He stared at her, curious.

"Thor? Norse God of Thunder?"

He nodded slowly.

"I totally tased him once…"

His head tipped. "I'm sorry?"

She sighed. "Okay, so… New Mexico? Not as boring as I made it sound… Or, at least, not at the end."

And so Darcy filled him in on her own adventure and her knowledge of SHIELD.

In the end, he sat back, and nodded. "Huh…" He half-smiled. "Maybe our paths were meant to cross…"

"I know it's not your fault and I totally get the whole 'save the world' thing, but… I'm still a little pissed… I sat at the coffee shop for like… hours." She flushed, embarrassed.

He winced. "I'm really sorry. I…" He shook his head. "I can't promise I'll never be called away for something like this again, but… I'll find a way to tell you next time." He stared at her searchingly. "If you'll give me a next time."

Darcy watched him, looking very little like the Captain America she'd been watching news footage of all day since she made it out of the war zone. He just looked like Steve; sweet, warm, friendly, walk her home because he was worried, carry her laundry for her, vanilla ice cream on his nose, artsy Steve.

"I can do next time," she decided. "But we're gonna need to find a new meet-up spot since our last one was blown to hell…"

A blinding grin broke out on his face and Darcy felt that familiar thump in her chest.

"Crap… I'm so gone for you…" she sighed.

He ducked his eyes and reached for her hand. "It's mutual," he assured.

She turned her hand over and pressed her fingertips to his for a moment before she let their fingers twine together. "So…? How do you feel about sleeping over?" She raised an eyebrow. "I've got Lord of the Rings lying around here somewhere…"

He nodded. "I'd like that."

While she searched for it, he took his shoes and jacket off before making himself comfortable on the couch. Darcy took the extra time to turn the portrait she'd made of him over; all the while thinking about a companion piece of him in full Captain America gear.

When she joined him on the couch, his arm wrapped around her shoulders and she leaned into his side, breathing him in.

Life was by no means normal, not really.

Her new boyfriend was a superhero from the 1920's.

On the bright side, while her workplace was blown up, she was offered a new job at SHIELD, working in PR for none other than the Avengers.

And too, she found out her stalker was just a SHIELD agent, assigned to find out what she was doing in New York and whether she was keeping quiet on the New Mexico incident. Apparently, he'd been following her for a while, and she'd only picked up on him when he got too close.

So while life wasn't normal, it was definitely looking up.

New city.

New job.

New boyfriend…

Amazing boyfriend.

Best boyfriend.

"So what are you going to say when they ask you about any significant others in your life?" Darcy asked, reaching up to adjust his cowl, waving off one of the network minions.

"Tell 'em you've got a hot piece and you wanna put a ring on it," Tony suggested from where he was getting his make-up done.

"One more word and I'm having them cut your mic, Stark," she warned, rolling her eyes.

He pouted at her. "You're a cruel woman, Lewis."

"And you're narcisstic."

"Highlight my cheekbones more," he told the make-up artist.

Steve rolled his eyes before focusing back on her. "I'll keep it vague," he assured.

"Right," she said, smoothing her hands over his shoulders. "I know you don't like doing that, but it's all about image right now… And having every woman in America swoon over you and plan their Mrs. America weddings is a good thing… It helps balance things out whenever Stark talks."

"Appreciate it," Tony chimed in again.

"I know," Steve told her, before frowning. "But Darcy, we've been together a year… Don't you think it's time we came out into the open?"

"I don't need the world to know we're together," she told him, half-grinning. "Trust me, I'm not insecure about our relationship."

"The whole tower knows that," Tony said. "You're loud. And I'm not talking about your snoring…" He raised an eyebrow at them through the mirror. "JARVIS has suggested sound proof walls… repeatedly."

Steve blushed a bright red, which Darcy knew was Tony's intention all along, only proven further by his smug smirk.

"Jealous much?" she returned easily.

Tony stuck his tongue out at her good-naturedly.

Darcy returned her attention to her boyfriend, who was looking sheepish and awkward. "I hate doing interviews," he sighed.

"I know… They remind you of the chorus girls and having to put on a show." She rubbed her hands down his chest. "It'll be short, I promise. And this is the last one for a while…" She grinned up at him. "And then it's vacation time and potato fields galore." She winked. "Mom is going to love you!"

He blanched.

Tony cackled.

"You're on!" somebody called.

Darcy shoved Steve out toward the stage and then waved at Tony to hurry up. "Stop being a diva and get out there!" she ordered.

He winked at her before, of course, making a grand entrance.

Darcy moved out to stand behind one of the cameras, watching as the crowd cheered as two of the most famous Avengers joined the hosts on stage. Tony was, of course, pandering to the crowd, waving and blowing kisses. Steve, in his Captain America uniform, politely shook hands with the hosts and took his seat, waving warmly at the crowd and smiling genuinely.

It was the same old questions, a few jokes, and a lot of Tony talking about how awesome he was.

And then, the usual, "What's the love life like?"

"Wonderful," Tony said. "Last I checked, I was engaged…" He frowned, turned his head and called out, "Hey I'm still engaged, right?"

Darcy rolled her eyes. "Unfortunately for her, yes," she replied.

Tony grinned at her. "That's Lewis; she's scrappy."

Darcy waved at the cameraman threateningly when he tried to capture her image.

He made the right choice by not.

"And you, Captain? I imagine much of the female population are dying to know…" the female host said, grinning at him excitedly.

"Yeah, Cap." Tony turned toward him, smirking. "Share with America!"

Steve shifted in his seat, looking from Tony to the host, and finally said, "Uh, well… I'm very busy and… very dedicated to my work…"

"Tell us more…" Tony perched his chin on his fist and gave him a faux-interested look. "Elaborate on the lonely bachelor life…"

Steve glared at him.

"You are a bachelor, aren't you?" He raised an eyebrow. "Now be specific…"

Darcy slapped her forehead and knew things were about to go South.

She considered for a moment cutting Tony's mic.

But then he smirked at her, winked, and she knew there was really no going back at this point.

Last time, she decided. He was never allowed near a camera again.

"I'm sensing something here," the male host said with a laugh. "Is there a special lady in your life, Captain?"

He shifted in his seat, glanced over at her, and finally she just nodded.

She couldn't make him lie.

He hated lying.

He breathed a sigh of relief before finally saying, "I've been in a committed relationship for a year…" He nodded. "I love her very much and… She makes me happy every day that I'm alive, and here."

Darcy's heart thumped just as it always did when it came to him.

The crowd awww'd, somewhere in between disappointment that he was taken and sappy appreciation.

Tony clapped, looking proud of himself. "Great, now tell them about the engagement ring you bought her."

And that would be when Darcy not only cut his mic, but chased him right off the stage and promised him he would be meeting her taser.

She'd never seen a man run that fast in her life.

Later, when they returned home to the Avengers building, Steve played it off as a Stark thing.

But on the last day of their visit in Idaho, in front of her mother, he bent down one knee and brought out an engagement ring.

Her mom said yes for her, but she followed it up with a yes of her own.

They were married in an art gallery; where portraits she'd painted hung on the walls; headshots of Steve Rogers and Captain America sitting side by side, completely alike and entirely different at the same time. When she repainted their wedding portrait, it stayed with them, and she thought the man she was smiling up at was the perfect mix of both versions of him, all of which she loved equally.

Her hands were blotchy with paint when he slid up behind her, his arms circling her waist, hands settling on the curve of her rounded belly, and she leaned back into him, appreciating a much better view of the city. She breathed his familiar scent in, her heart thumping, and she thought that this, here, with him, was really living at its finest.

[End.]