Darcy woke with a start, her cheek pressed into a pile of crumpled sheets and a taste like old cotton in her mouth. She immediately regretted the decision. Her stomach was in full revolt, a headache was starting to meander its way methodically through the different quadrants of her brain, and there was a pair of stockinged feet only a couple inches from her head, which... okay, that was weird. One of these things was not like the other.
The socks had subtly tasteful crisscrossing which reeked of expensive men's department stores. They led to a pair of pressed khakis, unzipped at the front with long legs akimbo on the bed next to her torso, which in turn led to a flat and shockingly wide expanse of bare chest, topped off by a slightly pointy nose and a jawline that was probably visible from space.
She gave herself a mental high-five based on the jawline alone.
She was laid out at the opposite end of the bed, her head at his feet. One of his arms was flung over her shin bones, his fingers digging a little into her calf muscle, and his mouth was open as he slept on his back, gaping gently at the ceiling like a fish as he slept. She reached a hand down to pull her blouse together where a draft was raising goosebumps on her chest. Her shirt was unbuttoned down to her bellybutton.
She moved a hand to rub at her forehead, feeling as if she was performing the action underwater, and watched with distant bemusement as her hand drifted toward her face in slow motion. The dim light caught the angles of the diamond ring she wore, sparkling in sharp little bursts like falling stars, and....
What. the. actual. fuck.
She had a quiet panic attack, just to get that out of the way, lying still as a board and staring at the ceiling as the room spun gently underneath her. The word Vegas drifted tauntingly through her brain, waving a red flag at the less functional parts of her thought process.
She cautiously raised her head a bit to peer at the man she was sharing the bed with and tried desperately not to thing of him as her husband as she did this.
And oh God, this was pretty much exactly as bad as she was fearing.
Because Darcy was starting to remember a little of what had happened last night, just the outlines of it, and yeah, that was definitely Captain America stretched out next to her, fighter of Nazis, star of World War II propaganda films she'd had to watch in history class, a recently thawed-out person who moonlighted at saving the world from actual aliens from actual other planets and assorted other supervillainy, of whom she had a vague, slippery memory of meeting for the first time last night at a Tony Stark shindig because that was apparently her life now and just shit.
She looked at the ring again, and it sparkled cheerful murder at her.
She swallowed, her throat dry and swollen, and allowed herself to close her eyes for one blissfully calm and dark moment before beginning to carefully extricate herself. He mumbled distractedly, smacking his lips together as she dragged her feet slowly out of the band of his arm. She froze, but he didn't wake up, rolling his head to the other side instead, blonde hair falling into his eyes like a child's.
She remembered Tony Stark toasting last night, egging him on with some scientific concoction he'd assured everybody present would totally get Captain America wasted because it was a fucking disgrace that he couldn't get drunk like an honest American, like the rest of them.
She breathed out slowly and finally managed to free her feet, sliding off the bed and trying to keep the mattress from bouncing. The hotel room was grey and dim, with only a thin border of light sneaking in at the edges of the floor-to-ceiling curtain, but what she could see of the place was nice, much nicer than her tiny single queen bed with no view - there was a full-on suite back behind the seating area and real artwork on the walls.
She crept over to her purse lying haphazardly at the foot of the bed. She fished out her phone, paused, and then dug out her wallet as well. The two condoms were exactly where she had left them, snuggled back behind the bills, pristine and unwrapped. She buried the evidence back in the depths of her purse and firmly but quietly locked herself in the bathroom. Feeling that extra precautions were still needed, she pulled the shower curtain shut after her, sat down in the tub, and slumped down low.
She dialed Jane's number and pressed her face into the blessedly cool porcelain tiles behind her as she listened to the phone ring. "C'mon," she muttered, "pick up, Jane..."
"You have reached the telephone of Lady Jane Foster, consort of Thor Odinson," Thor's voice boomed into her ear. She groaned and mashed her cheek further into the tiled wall. "Leave a message at the sound of thunder." From the background, she could hear her and Jane's voices yelling out "THUNDER!" together, tinnily happy in some lost, gloriously innocent past.
"Call me," she said shortly, and hung up to send a text message with the same plea before crawling out the tub. She had just made it out over the lip of the bathtub when a wave of nausea swept over her. She vomited into the toilet, threw up a second time for good luck, and pulled herself over to the sink to rinse her mouth out. She swished and spit a couple times before splashing a handful of cold water on her face and rubbing her eyes. She straightened up to look at herself in the mirror, and: O-kay. That was not what she was expecting.
She looked down at herself and registered what she'd been too hazily hungover to notice until now - she wasn't wearing the jeans she'd been wearing last night anymore, but had apparently upgraded at some point during the night to a pleated blue mini-skirt and a thin white belt. It all went rather conspicuously well with her low-cut red blouse, if you happened to have Captain America in your bed and enjoyed being as patriotically slutty as possible for the occasion.
"Winning at life," she muttered, and tried once more to pull the damn ring off.
Right. Ring: still attached to her finger. Skirt: barely pulling its weight in the clothing department. Captain America: potentially her husband, which Darcy really thought was a situation to be blamed equally on a) Jane's insistence that she celebrate her graduation with a trip to Las Vegas, a trip which just so happened to coincide with this year's Stark Expo, b) Tony Stark's ability to set aside R&D dollars for pet projects that boil down to 'How to get Captain America wasted', because apparently that's the sort of guy he is, and c) the fact that Captain America is genetically engineered to basically be the perfect man, so nobody can really blame her, right? Right?
Her phone started to vibrate, the screen lighting up on the ground next to the toilet where she'd dropped it, and Darcy snapped it up. "Jane?" she asked in a low, urgent whisper.
"Darcy! Where are you?"
Darcy closed her eyes. "I... I'm in a bathroom right now. Captain America's bathroom, actually?"
"Really?" Jane sounded cautiously pleased on the other end of the line. "I thought you two hit it off last night."
"Yeah. It's just that, well. It's not like that, exactly. Except maybe it is; I don't know? Anyway, the thing is..." she took a deep breath, "I-might-have-accidentally-Vegas-married-Captain-America-last-night."
There was a short silence on the other end of the line. "...what?" Jane asked flatly.
"You married Steve last night?"
She pinched her eyes shut even more. "Unless there's another explanation for waking up in a bed with Captain America in Vegas with a diamond ring on my finger? Because I'd be all over that."
"You have a ring?" Jane's voice was rising in pitch now.
"Shhh," Darcy said unnecessarily. "And yeah. I can't get the stupid thing off."
"Pepper," said Jane abruptly.
"Pepper, we need Pepper."
"Like, Pepper-Potts Pepper? CEO-of-Stark-Enterprises Pepper Potts needs to be involved in this?"
"You might have just married Captain America, Darce. So, yes, we need Pepper Potts. You hold tight. I'll call you back." And with that, the line went dead.
Darcy looked up at herself in the mirror again and took a deep breath. "Right," she said softly. "You can do this." She flattened her hair out with her hands, flushed the toilet, and pulled down the back of her mini-skirt decisively.
She opened the door as quietly as she could, but the sound from flushing the toilet or her frantically whispered conversation with Jane must have woken him up, because she caught him - Captain America, how was this even her life? - in the process of swinging his feet out of the bed. He froze when he saw her, the bare soles of his feet still six inches off the floor. His pants were unzipped, baring a wedge of dark blue underwear underneath, his torso naked, and his hair was stuck up in the back like a commercial for really, really manly hair gel.
"Heey," she said awkwardly, and waved at him. Ten points for smoothness, folks.
"Miss Lewis?" he asked, and his eyes darted wildly about the room, like he expected several other people he knew to spontaneously burst in as well.
"That's me. So, um, I think we need to talk." She sat down next to him on the bed, trying not to let the mattress tip her too much in his direction. He was sitting up ramrod-straight, like he was in the middle of a dress inspection instead of shirtless and perched on the edge of an unmade bed. She glanced down at his left hand and sure enough, there was a thick gold ring there, gleaming dully in the thin light from the windows.
He caught her gaze and glanced down at his hand as well. He paled, and quickly looked at her own. She held her hand up in a mute apology, confirming his unspoken question.
"I can't get it off," she explained sheepishly, feeling embarassed to still be wearing the gleaming thing.
"Oh, God," he said, and she knew just enough about Captain America to find this a pretty strongly worded statement on the situation.
"Tell me about it," she muttered.
He twisted the plain golden band around his finger, staring at it blankly. "Is that... is this real?"
"Like, did we for real get married, or is the ring real?"
"The marriage part. Is this legal? Did we really...?"
"Uh. Maybe? I'm not really well versed on the intricacies of Vegas nuptial law, but my knowledge of romantic comedies and Katy Perry songs suggests that, yeah, we're potentially married for real."
He eyes flew up to her face, and a faint redness crept into his expression as he regarded her.
"Did..." He swallowed. "Did we..."
"...Seal the deal? I... I don't know," she said, reevaluating her instinctive no and considering the evidence. "I'm not sure. You don't remember?"
He hesitated, then shook his head no.
"So our clothing and the condoms still in my purse point to no. And, I guess I don't feel like I had sex last night. Like, lady-parts-wise. But we were both drunk. We might have started something we were too wasted to finish."
He went even paler, but he cleared his throat and managed a respectable, "Okay."
An awkward silence fell between them at that. Steve rubbed the stocking-clad toe of his right food along the opposite calf muscle and, with a casualness that Darcy deeply admired, buttoned and zipped up his pants with what looked like a finely orchestrated shrugging motion. She fiddled with the ring on her finger, picking at it like an itch.
Apparently not actually having sex during your one night stand (marriage night?) was not exactly a conversational starter.
"What do I call you?"
He looked up at her from his examination of the hotel's stunningly subtle carpeting choices, startled. "What?"
"I mean... Steve, right? I'm guessing we've passed the Rogers part of the relationship, and Captain America just makes me think of fifth grade history class. I could call you Cap, though. I'd be into that."
"Steve," he muttered, a strange note in his voice. "Please call me Steve."
She smiled, and stuck out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Steve. Again."
He smiled back at her tentatively, a little wane, but it was the first positive sign of life in his expression since they had started talking. He took her hand in his own and shook it gently. His fingers were large and dry wrapped around her own, the callouses on the tips of his fingers rubbing against the moist skin of her palm.
"Nice to meet you, ma'am."
"If you don't call me Darcy at this point, I will, like, for real punch you."
The hint of a real grin poked out at the edges of his small smile, and she suddenly remembered, in a weird, unsettling flush of memory, exactly how badly she had wanted to jump his bones last night. It had been the hint of something boyish hidden beneath the burnished surface of the way too perfect all-American exterior that she wanted to figure out, had wanted to chip away at his perfect jawline and weirdly robotic 1950s boy soldier manners to find something she sensed was more awkward and sharply human underneath.
She had wanted to go at him like an archeologist.
Like an honest to god sex archeologist.
She closed her eyes, squeezing them shut hard, and felt a hand land on her shoulder like a bear paw. "Mm... Darcy? Are you okay?"
She opened her eyes back up and tugged her skirt back down, shaking her head. "No, I'm fine. I'm just... I'm fine. And you? How are you feeling?"
He rubbed a hand through his hair, leaving bits of corn-blonde sticking up in spikes here and there, and seemed to take honest stock of himself before answering. "Not too bad, I guess. Whatever it was that Tony engineered to get me drunk doesn't seem to leave much in the hangover department, at least."
"Lucky you. I've already thrown up twice in the bathroom, like a champ."
"Sorry." He apologized with the vague shame of somebody whose position in life was vastly superior to her own and uncomfortable with drawing attention to the fact.
"Really, it's not too bad. My friend Amanda - she was my roommate in college - she used to say that it's better to get that one out of the way early."
"I had a friend who used to say something like that too," he said softly, avoiding her eyes all of a sudden, and if that wasn't an invitation to therapy city, Darcy didn't know what was.
She settled for a carefully neutral tone. "Smart guy."
"He was. You'd like him." He shrugged, the muscles in his shoulders shifting under his skin. "Everybody liked him."
"No, really. He got all the girls." He actually sounded wistful when he said that, which was a pretty strong indicator that the dude was either part of the sepia-toned Captain America past or Steve was an indecently good friend and human being (because Darcy thought the whole deal sounded like a shit division of ladies, really). She wasn't going to bet against either option. Unless...
"Uh, you're not talking about Tony Stark, are you?"
Steve barked a short, surprised laugh. "Tony is not universally loved."
"I don't know. The ladies seem to dig him. And he does have that whole mustache-slash-goatee thing going on."
"...also I was talking in the past tense."
"First clue, sure, but sometimes you need to make sure all your bases are covered."
"I'm not really sure what people see in mustaches anyway," he muttered.
"Pirate-y," she said. "A little bit Clark Gable, a little bit that sleazy European guy you pick up in some club who turns out to be an amazing kisser. You know. Or really, uh, maybe you don't. Tony would probably know. Or... well, um." She cut things off and rounded back in on the strongest part of her argument. "Rhett Butler, man."
His stupid crooked grin started up again at the corner of his mouth, and seriously, why the fuck had she not slept with him last night instead of ending up with some joke of a ring on her finger and a morning chock full of awkwardness? Because she wanted to lick that smile clean off his face. It wasn't fair. She very firmly put aside the fact that if they'd managed to have a proper one-night stand like normal people, the chances were high that right now she'd be tucked up under the blanket with this man, blissfully sacked out and sleeping the good sleep of the well and properly sexed.
"You're a different sort of dame," he said, in a tone of voice that Darcy decided to think of as maybe just a little bit admiring.
"What a coincidence, that's what I was voted in my high school yearbook. Most likely to be a different sort of dame."
Steve raised an eyebrow. "Sarcasm."
"Do these points earn me anything?" Steve asked, and holy shit, maybe they could save this one after all, because right now she was pretty sure what was happening was that Steve was maybe trying to flirt with her, matched set of wedding rings and all.
"Only if you're good," she said, and leaned toward him, tipping her body closer to his, the mattress shifting under her weight. She nudged him with her shoulder. "Hey. So I have a question for you."
"It's an important question."
"...Do you remember what happened to my pants?" She bit back a grin at Steve's expression, enjoying herself for the first time since spotting the whole ring-on-the-finger fiasco, and gestured downward in an overly tragic look-at-what-God-hath-wrought gesture.
He blinked, owlishly, and his gaze slipped down to the line of her upper thigh where the blue mini-skirt was inexorably inching its way upward again. He cleared his throat, staring vacantly at her bare legs. "Ah. I think I remember you saying at one point that we should maybe, uh, match."
"You needed to be more festive?" he tried again, rubbing at his forehead now, one hand dipping down to tug at an earlobe. "I remember something about sparklers."
"Sparklers," she repeated.
"So I, what? Traded up?"
He gestured in a way that said you are now working with the same knowledge I have and since you are here in a patriotically themed scrap of fabric masquerading as an article of clothing we both know the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
She pursed her lips together. "Fab," she said finally, nodding to herself.
"...I lost my shirt," he offered gallantly.
It was slim consolation considering that America probably wrote him a giant thank you card whenever that fortuitous event happened, coupled with her knowledge that it was merely crumpled up on the floor on the opposite side of the bed. She considered playing the long game and keeping that key piece of intel in reserve, but her basic sense of decency won out. She might need to rethink a career in SHIELD if she couldn't harden her heart when faced with A+ abs and pecs.
"It's on the floor, over there," she said, nodding to the far side of the bed.
For a moment she thought his sense of fair play (and solidarity with her lost-in-action pants) was going to keep him seated where he was and gloriously shirtless, but he seemed to realize the futility of the gesture as she did and executed a barrel-roll across the sheets, coming up clutching a plain white t-shirt. The thick muscles of his back corded and stretched as he pulled the shirt on in a single, economical motion.
He stared at her from across the bed, and any trace of the hard-earned ease that they'd created faded from his expression as he considered her. His eyes were a clear blue-gray, his lashes a thick sooty black, strikingly dark in his California-boy golden complexion. She licked her lips, and she saw his eyes flicker uncertainly to her mouth, just for a second.
Her phone beeped, and she dove for it on the rumpled bedspread.
It was a text from Jane:
pepper found the certificate, def. married last night
will call soon
Her heart thumped in her chest, skipping beats. Damn. "It's from Jane," she said, trying for casual, and tossed him the phone. He caught it one-handed, snapping his hand out freakily fast, like if a venus fly trap was a person too.
Steve frowned down at the screen, then his gaze flew back up to hers. She swallowed hard.
"Married," he said softly, a king-size landscape of twisted sheets and rucked-up blankets between them. "We're really married."
"Apparently." She looked down, and caught sight of her ring again. It was a pretty thing, with graceful gold curlicues wrapped around a solitaire diamond. There were two small pinpoints of red to either side of the diamond - rubies, maybe? - that were distinctively different for a wedding ring, sparkling a deep red, with gold filigree curled around them.
"We need an annulment," she said. She managed by sheer force of will to keep the statement from turning into a question, because the alternative was ridiculous.
"I..." he started to say, then broke off. "Yes. We do. It's not that... " He stopped himself again, biting his lip.
"Preaching to the choir on this one, dude."
"Right," he said, and huffed an odd, strained laugh. He flipped her cell phone idly in his hand, the large, blunt-tipped fingers curled around the edges, and tipped his chin toward it. "So Jane is...?"
"...Yeah. I called her from the bathroom earlier. I hope that's okay. She said we needed help on this one, so she was going to call Pepper. Pepper Potts," she clarified stupidly, like he's not going to be sure which of the many Peppers of the world she means. "I don't really know much more about it than that right now. Except for, um, what you know too."
He nodded, still staring at the shiny black screen clutched in his fist. "I guess we wait, then."
Several minutes later, each more silently awkward than the last, her phone finally rang. Steve, who had resumed what was probably a grad-level study of the hotel room carpeting at this point, looked up she answered.
"Darcy. Is Steve still there?" Jane asked.
Darcy glanced over at Steve, who was watching her from across the bed with a blank expression, the soldier mask down hard again. "Yeah, the Cap and I have been bonding. I think we're almost to the part where he braids my hair and I paint his toenails. You know, married-people stuff."
"Very funny. Listen, can you put me on speaker phone? I have Pepper on the other line. She wants to fill you both in on what's happening."
"Sure." She set the phone down in speaker mode between them, mouthing the word "Pepper" and raising her eyebrows. He swung his long legs back around on the bed to move a little closer to her.
"Steve? Are you there?" asked Jane's voice, distorted by the tiny speakers.
"Dr. Foster," Steve said. She remembered Jane kissing Steve's cheek when they'd arrived at the bar the previous night, smiling up at the height of him, as Thor slapped a congenial hand down on Steve's shoulder with a force that would have leveled a lesser man.
"Just give me a... hold on..." There was a silence, then a short series of dissonant electronic beeps culminating in a piercing, unearthly screech. "Pepper?" said Jane on the phone once the noise had cleared. "Are you there? Hello?"
"Here," a woman's voice said. "Thank you, Jane. Is Steve there?"
"Miss Potts," said Steve, and Darcy could hear the nascent warmth in the way he said her name, title and all. Darcy had seen pictures of Pepper Potts in magazines, nearly always paired with Tony Stark in some way, and her sole impression of the woman was that of black suits, stylishly disciplined red hair, and a piercingly calm expression. It was tough to imagine the Tony Stark she had met last night, jittery like a child and shockingly intelligent, paired with such a woman, and hearing Steve's voice deepen when he said Pepper's name made her feel that she had wandered into a web of relationships she had only the faintest grasp on.
"Does Tony know?" Steve asked with no preamble, and there was a short pause on the line before Pepper answered.
"Not right now."
"...So that's going to be a yes."
"Sorry, Steve," and Darcy swore she heard a thin line of amusement streaking through Pepper's voice.
"Swell," Steve muttered, rubbing a hand over his face. "I am never going to hear the end of this."
"Probably not," Pepper agreed easily. "You know Tony."
Steve frowned mightily at the phone, and Darcy bit back the urge the narrate the gesture for the benefit of their listening audience.
Pepper cleared her throat. "...Miss Lewis? Are you there?"
"...Present," she said, feeling like an eight year old kid.
"Miss Lewis, it's a pleasure. I'm sorry we're not meeting under different circumstances."
"Call me Darcy," she said. "Seriously, Steve and I already arm-wrestled over this, and I'm pretty sure I won, so, Darcy." She reevaluated the sentence and decided it sounded a little pushy. "Please."
"It's good to meet you, Darcy. Call me Pepper," she said, dry humor laced through her voice again before shifting, taking on a decidedly business-like twang. "I'm sure you're wondering what's going on. Here's what I know so far - there's a signed marriage certificate at the chapel; I think Jane already told you that. It's valid. We're still trying to figure out how far into the system the paperwork made it from there, though, so as of right now we're dealing with anything from a public annulment to, ideally, being able to make it seem as if the marriage never happened."
"Really? You might be able to just make everything go... poof?" Darcy asked.
"We are talking about Stark Industries and SHIELD," Jane said, a little sourly.
"Running a company headed by Tony Stark means that we have some... unique resources at our disposal," Pepper continued, tactfully ignoring Jane's righteously sarcastic commentary. "We can lock down all physical evidence of the marriage, and we are working on having everybody involved in the wedding sign generous non-disclosure agreements. Assuming we're able to keep containment, which at this time we believe is possible, and assuming that we get lucky with some of the government bureaucracy above that, yes, we have a decent chance of completely keeping this away from the public." She paused, delicately. "If that's what you two want, of course."
"Yes," said Steve, with a grimly determined expression that Darcy figured was probably his I'm-gonna-fight-the-Nazis look. "It is."
"...Darcy?" asked Jane.
"Of course," she said, trying not to snap. "What Steve said."
She heard a rustling over the phone, like papers being shuffled. "Right. The second thing you should know is that the rest of the Vegas... well, that's a different story. The area is too large for containment - there's too much flux over too large of an area. Anybody with a cell phone or a camera, whatever you did after leaving the bar, any of it could be sold to the media, and unfortunately it looks like, from our early monitoring of the situation, some of it already has. Even assuming we're able to keep the wedding itself under wraps, you two should brace yourselves."
"What does that mean?" Jane asked.
"It means that Captain America is a very public figure, one who has lived in our world for the past year without any hint of rumors linking him romantically to anybody except perhaps Tony," Pepper's voice was wry, "and the sight of him out with an unknown woman in Vegas is going to be a major news story."
"There are pictures of us?" asked Steve. "Of the two of us?"
"At the very least," Pepper said. "Do you remember what you did before going to the chapel?"
"Not really," said Darcy. "I remembering walking on the strip, and... and maybe going into another bar or two."
Steve frowned, looming over the phone between them like an overly aggressive pair of shoulders. "I don't remember much more than Darcy. Walking around. I remember shopping for a while, or looking at souvenirs, something like that. We might have... we might have been kissing at some point. It might have been in public. I can't remember." Darcy looked up at him, but he studiously avoided her eyes.
"Right. Well, we'll monitor the situation and let you know how things develop. In the meantime, though, I recommend you two lay low for a while. Stick to your rooms, or the non-public areas of the hotel, and we'll know a lot more about what we're facing by the end of the day."
"Will do," Steve said crisply, and for one surreal moment Darcy was sure he was actually going to salute the phone.
"Sure," she said. "I can do that. Being paparazzied doesn't sound like the awesomest day anyway."
"Tony loves it, which is all us sane people need to know," said Pepper. "I'll have JARVIS update everybody in a couple hours, assuming nobody has anything to add right now."
"Pepper," Steve said, "you're a life saver."
Darcy could hear the smile in her voice. "Just doing my job, Captain."
"Darce, I'll call you again soon, okay?" Jane said. "I'm just going to--" There was a loud beeping again, and a muffled thump on the line. "Damn it! Sorry guys, I think we just lost Pepper. Next time, JARVIS runs the call, not ye olde cellphone. Look, I'll talk to you soon too, Steve."
"Thanks, Jane. For everything."
Jane snorted, eloquently and with no little amusement. "Oh, trust me. Anytime."
Darcy shook her head, her finger hovering over the end button. "Shut it, Lady J."
"You like me," Jane said smugly, and the line went dead.
Darcy collected her purse, Steve awkwardly mirroring her motion and standing at parade attention next to the bed. She was wondering how Emily Post would suggest handling the whole goodbye situation with your one-night stand husband (hug? high five? run for it?) and ended up sticking out her hand to shake his for lack of a better inspiration. He stared at her for a moment before enveloping her hand in his own, the pads of his fingertips touching easily around the bone of her wrist.
"Um, so I'll talk to you later?"
"Yes," he said softly, watching her.
"Okay," she said, and the hotel door closed quietly behind her.