Actions

Work Header

walls of timber, I will burn you down

Work Text:

---


“Women made such swell friends, awfully swell. In the first place, you have to be in love with a woman to have a basis of friendship.”
- Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

---

There are lines Steve doesn't cross with Darcy.

Thick black lines that call to him like reverse beacons, not unlike the dark brown curls framing her heart-shaped face.

They represent the boundaries between them, barriers that do nothing to hide the sadness that passes her face when she thinks no one is watching.

Maybe others are fooled, but he isn't, never has been. It just took a while for his head to catch up to his heart.

He should have known he'd be doomed the second he passed her in the hallway, muttering something about irresponsible scientists disappearing to God knows where and leaving behind the mere mortals not so lucky to be the object of an Asgardian’s affection.

It hadn’t meant a lot to Steve at the time and really no normal person should have been able to discern that much gibberish muttered under someone’s breath in passing. It took a while for him to figure out that the same dark haired blue-eyed beauty he’d seen earlier that the day was in fact Darcy Lewis.

The same Darcy Lewis who had once taken down Thor with nothing more than a Taser and more recently helped the Asgardian take down an army of stone aliens.

It also didn’t register right away that Darcy had traveled all the way from London to New York to make sure that her “mad as a bat but brilliant” best friend “hadn’t been swallowed by the weird inky thingy-majig again.”

It took Vision about a minute to confirm what Darcy had expected all along. By then, all the pieces had come together and Steve was already entranced by this woman who radiated so much enthusiasm and spirit.

He must have looked pretty foolish, because he remembers distinctly how Sam elbowed him in the ribs.

“Dude, you're staring.”

Natasha snorting under her breath and smirking in his direction didn't help either.

Neither did her sly smile when she turned to Darcy, interrupting her muttering about unemployment seriously sucking, with a suggestion no one, least of all Steve, expected the Black Widow to make.

"I'm sure there are plenty of scientists in need of wrangling in this very building."

Steve will also never forget how Darcy's head snapped up and she looked at Natasha with genuine surprise before her entire face lit up.

Steve doesn't remember what she had said exactly because he was far too distracted by the ruby red of her mouth but he does remember her eyes flickering momentarily to his, eyebrow quirking just slightly in amusement before nodding to Natasha.

“Great," the redhead said, extending her hand as she smirked at Steve from the corner of her eye, "welcome to the Avengers, Ms. Lewis."

That was almost eight months ago.

In that time, Jane and Thor visited the Avengers facility several times. They never stayed long, despite the science department’s attempts to convince Jane to stay.

Anytime one of the scientists caught wind of Jane’s impending arrival, the entire R&D wing would go on lockdown as though a dignitary was arriving. Though he supposed that to the “nerd squad,” as Darcy affectionately dubbed the scientists she “babysat,” Jane Foster was the equivalent of the Dalai Lama.

The way Thor talked about her certainly didn’t dispel that notion.

But to Steve, who had seen both the good and the (very) bad side of science, the real point of interest was Darcy’s behavior after Jane’s visits.

She would get this sadness about her for a little while after. It was nothing really noticeable unless you looked for it, but Steve felt it in his bones. She acted subtly differently around everyone but especially around him.

Still, the boundaries between them prevented him from approaching Darcy about it.

The same that kept him from acting on his affections, never mind the disaster his personal life had turned out to be since he woke up in this new millennium.

His search for Bucky and failed romance with Peggy’s niece didn’t give him much confidence that he wouldn’t mess up a relationship with Darcy.

Besides, he liked their friendship, liked that she didn’t treat him with kiddie gloves, didn’t tiptoe around his past.

Instead of forcing him to assimilate into this new life by letting go of his past, she probed him more about his life before the “deep freeze” than anyone.

With her constant reminder that his life experience was an asset, she reassured him that he was the rightful leader of the Avengers – even if Steve hadn’t felt that way in a long time, not since New York and Sovokia.

Yet for as much as Darcy knows about him, Steve’s learned very quickly that he knows next to nothing about her.

He knows the trivial every-day things – how she takes her coffee (one cream, two sugars), and how much she hates the gym, but ultimately, it’s the deeper things, the individual pieces of Darcy that make up the whole of her that Steve craves.

And yet…he can’t bring himself to go there.

Can’t let himself cross those invisible lines.

Steve’s not sure if Darcy drew those boundaries a long time ago or if it’s a barrier of his own making. He missed the pivotal moment when he might have pinpointed the origin.

When it was just about his desire to get to learn more about her, it was fine.

Steve could cope with not pushing, not knowing, convincing himself that he would only ruin it if he broke through the barriers.

But when Darcy continued to pull away from him until their interactions were reduced to perfunctory greetings and the occasional text message, Steve decided he’d had enough.

That’s how he finds himself fiddling with a saltshaker at the one of the tables in the cafeteria, watching as Sam shoves food into his mouth at an alarming rate.

“What’s up, man? What’s on your mind?” Sam asks in between bites of lasagna – the special that day.

Steve can’t help making a face as he watches his normally well-mannered friend act like he’s training for competitive eating.

After a moment of chewing, Sam seems to realize what’s going on and puts his fork down, sheepishly wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“You have my full attention, Cap. Now speak.”

Steve cranes his head, scanning the large room, mostly out of habit but also in part to delay meeting Sam’s eyes.

They’ve known each other for only two years. It’s a drop in the bucket for Steve, but Sam is probably the closest friend and confidant he has, aside from Natasha but there’s no way in hell he’s going to her with this little problem.

He knows where she stands on the topic of his love life.

“Cap, Steve, c’mon either talk or let me get back to Mrs. Dover’s excellent lasagna.”

As though she’s heard him, Mrs. Dover, head chef for the facility sends Sam a smile and a wink from behind the counter of the hot foods section.

Sam points to the lasagna, gives her a smile and winks right back.

What a flirt, Steve watches amusedly until Sam turns his dark eyes back to him.

“Have you, umm, noticed anything odd about Darcy lately?” Steve eventually manages to say and Sam’s expression changes immediately.

His friend no longer looks concerned as he leans back in his chair and crosses his arms.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to bring her up.”

Steve’s confusion must register on his face because before he knows it, Sam is conspiratorially leaning in and smiling widely at him.

“Bout time you admitted you got a thing for Lady Darce. We all know about it and I gotta say I am impressed. You’ve certainly got a thing for the fiery ones.”

Steve has the strongest urge to roll his eyes. The thought to deny it does cross his mind, even if briefly so, but there really is no point in lying here.

Sam will see right through him and it’ll only result in unnecessary teasing.

“That’s beside the point,” he replies assertively instead, still fiddling with the saltshaker.

Sam immediately loses the swagger, ignoring his food completely as he fixes Steve with a concerned look.

“What’s going on, Steve? Anything we need to address as a team?”

It still feels weird to think that there is an actual team behind him, people willing to go to bat for him, people who care. Steve’s uncertainty dissipates a bit, replaced with a confidence that can only come from knowing you’re not alone in this world – confidence that used to stem entirely from Bucky.

Steve pushes thoughts of his best friend aside and focuses on the issue at hand.

“No, at least not yet. I don’t think it’s affecting her work” – which he can’t really prove since he doesn’t interact with R&D unless absolutely necessary – “it’s more of a-“

“Personal matter?” Sam interrupts.

Clearly the cogs in his friend’s brain are moving at a faster pace than Steve’s this afternoon; the latter nods, not really sure what else to say except to be completely honest.

His friendship with Darcy is the one thing that tethers him to normal, reminds him of a simpler time when he was just a gangly, sickly kid always picked last for dodgeball. He thinks she would actually be friends with that kid and no one has ever made him feel so secure except for Bucky so he’ll be damned if he loses her…

“Cap, you with me?”

Steve nods mutely in response, feeling like an idiot for a second before Sam fixes him with an encouraging smile, “Good, then talk to me.”

And he does.

He tells Sam about the changes he’s noticed in Darcy’s behavior, about how she seems to have withdrawn entirely from him.

What he doesn’t mention is the way his chest tightens every time he catches her eye and she guiltily averts her gaze. Every time in the last two weeks that she’s turned him down for a movie night, disrupting a tradition that started months ago when Darcy realized he’d never seen the Godfather Trilogy or any Scorsese movies in general.

How he lingers around the communal kitchen for way too long most mornings, hoping he’ll catch her stumbling in for her second cup of coffee. He knows she drinks her first one in the privacy of her own apartment because “she should not be let loose on innocent and unsuspecting humans before her first dose of caffeine.”

No, he doesn’t tell Sam any of those things because he doesn’t need to. Sam may only know Steve for a short time but he can tell that Steve is invested.

When he’s done talking, Steve feels lighter somehow. He genuinely smiles for the first time in a while, and is ready to thank Sam for listening when the other man catches him off guard.

“You gotta tell her how you feel, man.”

“I told you that my feelings are beside the point, Sam.”

Steve can’t help his reaction – something about Sam’s persistence irks him.

“I think they’re exactly the point, Cap. I don’t know what’s going on with Darcy, maybe she misses her friend, maybe she’s not happy here-“

Steve must not do a good job of hiding his displeasure at the thought because Sam pauses and lays a hand on Steve’s forearm reassuringly.

“It could be anything, Steve but you’ll never know unless you ask, unless you show you care. It could be as simple as Darcy not adjusting so well to being here in the middle of nowhere in a training facility with all sorts of weird supernatural mumbo jumbo happening around her.”

Sam adds the last bit with a smirk, which Steve can’t help returning. There is a whole lot of oddity around them and while Darcy is nowhere near average, she seems so blasé about everything that it’s easy to forget that she’s the rarity around here – she’s the human.

He’d never looked at it from anything other than a vulnerability standpoint – damn his battle trained mind.

It never occurred him to that she might not be adjusting well and that Jane’s visits were just a bitter reminder of whatever she had left behind in London.

“Look, I’m not saying you profess your undying love for her-“

At this, Steve cocks an eyebrow but a part of him can’t ignore the thrill that notion brings.

“But it wouldn’t hurt to let her know you’re there for her and that her happiness is important to you.”

Sam’s words stay with him until he gets up for his run the next morning.

Although Steve’s a city boy at heart, having the opportunity to start his day amidst nature rather than stone monuments is quite a nice change of pace. The forest surrounding the facility feels like a shield, like nothing can touch him as long as he stays within the tranquil greenery.

This time of day, as dawn breaks, is when Steve can truly relax; let the fresh, clean air and the beauty distract him as he concentrates on physical rather than mental exertion.

On this particular morning, Steve is so lost in his thoughts as he loops back to headquarters, he almost misses the figure fiddling with the key card at the back entrance.

As he slows his pace and gets closer, his sharp intake of breath has nothing to do with his run, and everything to do with the woman mumbling to herself as she struggles with the door.

She hasn’t noticed him there and he takes a moment, just one, to admire the sight in front of him.

Darcy is wearing a red dress that clings to her like a second skin, strapless and stopping somewhere above her knee. Steve barely chances a glance down, because he’s pretty sure exposure of this much skin is illegal.

He does admire her ability to balance on the completely impractical heels she’s wearing. And that’s the extent of the ogling he allows himself before he can no longer control his body’s reaction to seeing Darcy so early in the morning and so much of her at that.

She flips her long dark curls over her shoulder and the action snaps Steve out of his stupor – he steps forward, reaching for the key card clipped to the inside of his shorts.

“Need some help?”

He doesn’t mean to startle her but of course he does. Thankfully, his reflexes are honed so he manages to catch her by the elbow, steadying her while she regains her balance.

“Jesus Christ, Steve.” Darcy exclaims, clutching her chest and completely ignoring the fact that he saved her from falling in favor of chiding him for scaring “the living crap out of her.”

He can’t help his grin– it’s just the reaction she brings out of him – a certain lightness that makes him feel like there is hope for him in this new time, that he can be normal.

It’s probably why it takes him a moment to notice that her mascara is slightly smudged and that the flush on her cheeks is unnatural. His smile drops immediately as he realizes she’s been crying.

That, paired with her outfit and the sudden realization that it’s nearly sunrise and she’s just getting in, ignites his protective streak and he steps closer to her, maybe squeezes her elbow a little.

“Are you okay? Did someone hurt you?”

Steve doesn’t realize he’s crowding her until Darcy backs away, looking at him with some mixture of shock and embarrassment.

“What? No, Cap.” She deflects easily and uses his concentration against him to swipe the keycard from his other hand and open the door, wriggling out of his hold and slipping through the entrance.

“Just because I’ve dragged my sorry ass home at five in the morning after one hell of a commute from the city does not immediately spell danger. Just remind me never to make plans in Manhattan ever again unless I’m willing to spend an hour and a half on a train full of drunk people and then a thirty-minute Uber ride that had to end at a gas station half a mile back because I can’t give away the location of this super top secret and ostentatiously designed – because hello Stark – building I call home.”

She says this all as she walks down the hall, glancing over her shoulder only once to see if he is following.

Normally, Steve can keep up with her rants and half the time they do succeed in distracting him, but not now when she’s so obviously covering up that she is upset.

“Darcy.” He says sternly but quietly. It’s enough to stop her in her tracks even though she’s half way down the hall from him.

He can see her back straighten, shoulder blades tensing before she turns to face him, shadows falling across her face since they both stand just out of the sun’s reach.

“What?”

A part of him feels dwarfed by her defiance but it also thrills him. Sam is right - he’s always liked strong women.

Peggy.

Sharon.

Darcy is no exception, especially not now as she stands in front of him, a vision in red and lethal to his senses.

“Are you sure you are okay?”

He tries to level the playing field but somehow his voice comes out more hoarse than anything.

Darcy heaves an exasperated sigh, “yes, for god’s sake. I’m fine, Steve.”

“But-…”

“Drop it.” She interrupts him.

Her gaze flickers down and it’s enough for him to know she’s lying. When she looks back up at him, she doesn’t hide the extent of her discomfort.

A hot wave of guilt washes over him as he wonders if he’s doing more harm than good – pushing her like this.

The last thing he wants is to upset her more so instead of probing further, he retreats.

Closing the space between them, Steve offers her an olive branch in the form of an arm around her shoulder and a nudge towards the communal kitchen.

“Okay. C’mon then, I’ll make you a grilled cheese and you can tell me about the drunkest person on the train.”

“Why a grilled cheese?” Darcy tucks herself under his arm without hesitation, which immediately puts Steve at ease.

It feels so good to have her in his arms again.

“Best hangover cure I know.” He looks down at her and winks. Darcy’s face instantly brightens and she returns his smile tenfold, before resting her head against his shoulder.

“Okay, but after that you’re going to take a shower because you seriously stink.”

Steve actually laughs out loud at that and purposefully tightens his hold on her before leading them to the kitchen.

“Alright, bourbon breath.”

The nudge she gives him in return is really nothing but it means everything to him.

xxx

A couple days later, Steve finds himself at the facility gym, taking out his frustrations on a punching bag.

He hasn’t seen or heard from Darcy since their impromptu breakfast, partly because of a last minute extraction mission and partly because she hasn’t reached out at all.

He’d thought they made progress that morning but apparently she’s back to avoiding him.

It didn’t help that a couple of thugs got a one up on Wanda while she was trying to locate their asset and the telepath ended up with a sprained wrist and a concussion. He doesn’t like when one of his own is injured, which only exacerbates his bad mood.

Steve contemplated reaching out first but held out hope that Darcy would make the move this time.

As the day ticked by and he sat in briefing after briefing with no messages from her, that hope diminished and Steve grew borderline resentful, finding refugee at the gym.

The punching bag is now bearing the brunt of all his frustration. He isn’t sure how long he’s been going at it – losing all sense of time, which is the point after all, but when his muscles start screaming at him to stop, he gives up, stepping back to catch a breather and wipe the sweat off his forehead.

He starts to carefully unravel the tape on his hands, noticing spots of blood where he was a little too rough. It’s at this moment that he hears movement and then a familiar whistle,
“Whoa, what did the bag ever do to you?”

Nat walks around to face him, nudging the swaying bag with her hip as she fixes him with a narrowed stare.

Steve doesn’t react, instead flexing his left hand to make sure he hasn’t done extensive damage to his fingers. It never ceases to amaze him what the serum has done for his body but a distant part of him wishes for the simplicity of being the sickly Steve no one had expectations for.

Maybe it would have been easier if he’d just lived out his short life quietly and not tried to play the hero.

“Steve?” Natasha calls to him and when he meets her eye, he can tell she’s now concerned rather than amused.

“What’s up, Romanoff?” He exhales, trying to affect an air of annoyance and nonchalance.

Natasha quirks an eyebrow at him, clearly not buying it, “was looking for you to let you know that Maximoff has settled in one of the infirmary rooms.”

“Oh good,” he mumbles, unwrapping his other hand and not doing much to fill the silence.

“Would be good for you to stop by and see her. She seemed a little disappointed in herself and maybe a few words of encouragement from her Captain could help with that.”

“Oh yeah, I can do that.” He agrees, turning around to gather his gym stuff and take a sip from his water bottle.

A bead of silence passes and just as he thinks he has his emotions under control –

“You may want to grab a shower first.”

It’s meant to be teasing but all he can remember is Darcy saying that to him and suddenly he is tense all over again. A simple phrase is all it takes to unravel the progress he’s made at the gym and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Natasha is now by his side, in his face, eyes boring into him with more worry than he can handle.

This is why he didn’t want to have this conversation with her. She sees right through him.

“Steve, what’s wrong?” Her tone is softer now, but it still irks him. He shuts his eyes, taking a deep breath and flexing the muscles of his right hand, just so he has something to focus on.

“I wish everyone would stop asking me that.” He mutters, recalling the way Sam looked at him in the cafeteria just the few days ago. Its borderline embarrassing to have your friends worry so much about you because you’re not man enough to tell the woman you like how you really feel…

“You know when you asked me to help lead the new team, I had my reservations. I mean Clint was gone, Fury was gone, god even Tony had moved on and here I was, stuck wondering if I was doing this for the right reasons.”

The redhead is now perched on the workout bench, glancing at the floor so that all Steve can see is the top of her head. He’s pretty sure he knows what her expression looks like though and he immediately shoves the bag away and sits down beside her.

“For what it’s worth, I promised myself to watch your back as much as possible – not because I didn’t trust you but because I knew that…well you were a little distracted at that point and I know how that can interfere with work.”

They both skirt around the actual words, neither willing to say out loud what she was exactly distracted by in those first few months. Suffice it to say whenever they had any intel on suspicious activity near where Bruce was last heard from, Steve made it a point to keep an eye on her.

Eventually, she was herself again.

He hopes she won’t feel put off by his admission now.

“That’s exactly the point, Steve.” Natasha argues, turning to look at him, “you’re the rock of this team, you hold all of us together and watch all our backs but sometimes I wonder if you forget yourself in all of this.”

He can’t help smirking at that. If only she knew how preoccupied with himself he has been lately; even as far as forgetting to pay Wanda a visit when he normally would be the one spending all his free time in the infirmary.

He runs a frustrated hand through his hair then braces his knuckles on the bench, expelling a sigh.

“I honestly think the problem is I’ve been stuck in my own head too much lately.”

Natasha opens her mouth to say something then hesitates. It’s only for a moment – her determination to help him wins out.

It’s part of the reason Steve admires the former assassin so much.

She doesn’t take anyone’s shit, doesn’t care how uncomfortable certain words are to hear.

“Is this about Bucky?”

It’s true that most of their leads lately have turned out to be dead ends. The trail has gone cold.

A distant part of Steve feels guilty for having pushed his best friend to the recesses of his mind lately, but a bigger part is exhausted; tired of feeling weighed down when he’s doing everything he can.

“It’s not about Bucky.”

He pauses for just a moment, just to gather himself because he’s about to say something out loud he isn’t sure he’s admitted to himself.

Natasha looks at him with expectant eyes, but a part of him doesn’t even see her. All he sees is dark curls, ruby lips and smirking blue eyes – an image that pulls at his heart strings with intensity he’s never experienced before.

“I’m pretty sure I’m falling for Darcy and I haven’t a clue how to deal with it.”

Steve has to give Natasha credit for controlling her reaction to just a raise of her perfectly arched eyebrows and a knowing gaze.

“More than that, I know something is going on with her and every time I try to bring it up, something stops me and it never gets anywhere. I feel like she’s pulling away from me for some reason and well frankly it’s driving me crazy.”

Through his rant, he doesn’t notice Natasha’s smile turn into a full-fledged grin but he braces himself for the teasing that will inevitably come.

Except it doesn’t.

Instead, Nat surprises him by pursing her lips and silently appraising him in thought for a few minutes.

“I’m going to tell you something but you have to promise not to overreact.”

A cold rush of fear skitters down his spine but Steve nods nonetheless.

Natasha visibly hesitates and it seems out of place on her usually composed face.

“I may have overheard Darcy tell Wanda that her ex-boyfriend Ian was in town and that she had planned to see him.”

The unfamiliar burst of jealousy is undeniable and Steve instantly has trouble stopping his hands from curling into fists.

Natasha makes a point to look down at his clenched hands, indicated that she’s annoyed by his distinctly male reaction but Steve ignores it.

Something else occurs to him – a flash of Darcy with smudged mascara and puffy cheeks – her unwillingness to talk about where she was that night…

“When was this?”

Natasha looks a little surprised but after a moment, says, “sometime last week, why?”

“No reason,” Steve answers maybe a little too quickly but Natasha doesn’t probe. She does, however, offer her own sliver of advice.

“Look, I obviously don’t think this is the reason why Darcy has been off lately, because who knows, but I will say that – and don’t take this the wrong way – for a guy who got a second chance and who risks his life on an almost biweekly basis, you sure do take a long time to tell a girl how you feel.”

“Hey, that’s not fair or –“

“True?”

Natasha stands up and crosses her arms.

“It took you six months just to ask Sharon out for coffee.”

“Not Sharon, ‘Kate,’ and if you recall, she was assigned by Hydra to spy on me, so maybe it was a good idea that it took me so long.”

Natasha looks on the verge of rolling her eyes and even Steve has to admit his defense is a little weak, considering he and Sharon ended up dating for a good year.

A staring contest ensues but eventually Steve’s resolve weakens. Some part of him knows there’s no point in arguing with Natasha. She is right. He has been extremely conservative in his approach to women in the past, but is it his fault really?

He doesn’t mean to pity himself, but Natasha knows better than anyone how difficult it is to outgrow your past.

Still, that doesn’t negate the truth and the fact of the matter is he needs to stop being such a damn coward and tucking away his feelings, just because he’s terrified of what happens after.

Natasha opens her mouth to say something but he beats her to it.

“Okay, you’re right.”

He revels only momentarily in the surprise on her face, before asking her something he already knows the answer to.

“So what do I do?”

xxx

Steve doesn’t have to wait long to talk to Darcy.

Two nights after his conversation with Natasha, he arrives at the infirmary with a chessboard and a bag of clementine oranges only to find that Wanda already has a visitor.

Darcy’s back is to him where she sits cross legged on the bed, so she doesn’t see him right away but Wanda’s face instantly lights up when she spots him lingering awkwardly in the doorway.

He hadn’t counted on seeing Darcy so soon and when she turns around, his greeting to Wanda catches in his throat.

He doesn’t even think about the fact that there is a telepath in the room when he silently appraises the brunette, unable to conceal his attraction.

Darcy’s eyes widen ever so slightly and she bites the side of her lip, at which point Steve has to physically avert his eyes so he doesn’t embarrass himself.

“Captain Rogers!” Wanda smiles brightly, abandoning her cards and motioning him in. Steve manages to snap out of his reverie long enough to address her properly.

“Hope I’m not interrupting. I brought sustenance and entertainment but I see that you have both covered already.”

He steps into the room and motions to the deck of cards in Darcy’s hands and the assortment of snacks scattered on the bed.

“You’re not interrupting at all.” Wanda says somewhat hesitantly, eyes flickering between Steve and Darcy, who still hasn’t said anything, “right, Darce?”

Steve realizes then that he didn’t know the two women were even close enough to be on a nickname basis. Then again, Darcy can befriend a telephone pole, so no surprise that even the most reclusive member of their team would warm up to her.

“No, no, he’s not.” Darcy clears her throat, cards still clutched like a vice in her fist while she looks away from Steve, hiding behind her damn curls.

“Good then,” Wanda confirms even though she sounds more uncertain than ever. It occurs to Steve then that this must be incredibly awkward and overwhelming for the telepath.

Wanda once told him that she has learned to control her gift to the point that she could block out anyone’s thoughts – which was great for maintaining privacy on the team – but it took a lot of concentration.

The current tension between him and Darcy couldn’t be good for her concussion. So when she asks if he would like to join them, Steve surprises them both by setting down the chessboard and clementines and clearing his throat.

“Umm, actually, do you mind if I steal Darcy for a moment?”

The one who actually looks like she minds is the brunette in question but Steve ignores the sudden discomfort on Darcy’s face, smiling ruefully at Wanda instead.

“Of course,” she returns his smile, “I could actually use a nap if we’re going to tackle chess next.” She adds jokingly, gesturing to the chessboard.

“Great, then I’ll be back soon.” Steve leans over, squeezing the younger woman on her shoulder, before turning to Darcy.

“Shall we?” He asks, but he almost stumbles on his words, as though suddenly realizing the gravity of what he’s asking.

Darcy watches him for only a moment, before uncrossing her legs and getting off the bed.

She looks to Wanda as she sets her cards down, “I know you can read minds and all but no peeking, okay?”

The telepath borderline giggles, looking very relaxed for someone with a sprained wrist and a concussion.

“I would swear on my country but you know.”

Darcy laughs but also shakes her head as she brushes the front of her jeans off.

Steve doesn’t think he’s ever seen this side of Wanda before. He definitely didn’t think she would ever make a joke like that but one look at Darcy and it’s not that surprising.

Natasha was totally wrong about who holds the team together.

He allows his hand to drop to the small of Darcy’s back and stay there as he escorts her into the infirmary hall.

xxx

It’s only when Darcy turns around and stares at him expectantly that Steve realizes he has no game plan.

Nerves get the better of him and he stands uncertain, scratching the back of his head and regretting his spontaneity.

Eventually, Darcy takes pity on him and gestures towards what looks like an empty supply room at the other end of the hall.

“Whatever you want to say,” she explains with the hint of uncertainty, “I assume you don’t want to do it here.”

He nods immediately, sending her a rueful smile that he hopes will put her at ease. He’s not sure if it works but when he gestures for her to lead the way, she does readily, a wave of billowy curls following in her wake.

As soon as he shuts the door behind him, it becomes apparent that neither of them is at ease.

“Soooo what’s so important that you pulled me away from a game of Go Fish I was actually winning.”

A strip of late afternoon sun bathes Darcy in a warm light, leaving Steve momentarily stupefied – a pretty common reaction for him now that he’s accepted how he feels about her.

She must misconstrue his expression for concern though, because her mouth twists into some version of a frown and she narrows her eyes at him.

“If this is a continuation of your interrogation from a couple days ago, I’m going to save you the trouble and-…”

“I know you saw Ian that night.”

Steve isn’t sure what prompts him to lead with that. Even without a plan, he didn’t think he’d be so foolish. Darcy’s face goes stone cold.

“Steve.”

He knows the iciness in her tone is meant to deter him – he’s heard her use it on other people before – but somehow it does the opposite.

“I also know that you’d been crying that night.”

He takes a step towards her and though Darcy doesn’t back away, he can see her retreating into herself. It’s so reminiscent of the behavior that made him worry for her in the first place that the urge to touch her is almost too great.

He stops himself only because her body language tells him to.

“I don’t want to talk about that night and it’s really none of your business who I spend my time with.”

Steve tries not to recoil at that but it’s impossible.

“I just want to know that you’re okay.”

“I’m fine.” Darcy expels a breath, looking anywhere but his face and Steve can’t help the smile that tugs at his lips.

At least this is the Darcy he knows, the one who can’t lie to save her life – a terrible analogy but no less true.

Steve follows his instinct this time and walks towards her until they’re almost breathing the same air. His breath skirts her temple and he’s only a little bit surprised when Darcy shivers.

“Why don’t I believe you?”

When Darcy looks up at him with an odd mix of defiance and desperation, it takes everything in his power not to wrap his arms around her.

“Why do you care so much?” She murmurs quietly, catching him completely off guard.

There are so many ways he can answer this. He can say it’s because he’s her friend, because she’s the only person who’s given him even a measure of normalcy since he’s woken up. He can pull the professional card on her – say he’s obligated, as the leader of the Avengers, to know if one of his team members isn’t doing okay.

But none of it would be the truth and if there is one thing Steve has always prided himself on, it’s honesty.

“I care,” he starts, then surprises them both by reaching up and tucking a wayward curl behind Darcy’s ear, “because I like you, as more than a friend. I-…”

But Darcy doesn’t give him a chance to finish. She swats his hand away from where it landed on her shoulder and slips out from underneath him with a very noticeable eye roll and a crossing of her arms.

“So what? Is all of this because you’re jealous that I hung out with an ex-boyfriend, who by the way is still the absolute sweetheart that he was when we dated and is now in a relationship with an equally sweet and nice woman named Penny, whom I also met?”

She pauses then, catching a breath, “Jesus, Steve. I thought better of you.”

His first thought is that he’s going to kill Natasha. Not sure why yet but he is committed.

His second thought, however, is the one that lingers. He tilts his head a little, appraising Darcy for just a moment to confirm that he can say what he wants to next without risking bodily harm.

“So why had you been crying then?”

It’s clear that he catches her off guard with his question and a tiny, indulgent part of him revels in the way he gets one over her.

The other, more dominant one, gets distracted by the way Darcy pulls her plumb bottom lip between her teeth.

“I can’t tell you.” She says, looking sheepishly at the floor.

“Why not?” He asks, unable to maintain his stoic expression as he takes in the familiar stubborn set of her jaw.

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“Because!” Darcy exclaims, and then adds almost inaudibly, “it’s stupid.”

He’s not sure he’s ever seen Darcy this side of vulnerable before. It reminds him so much of the school girls who used to blush and turn away from him when he greeted them on his USO tours.

And then it clicks. One faraway memory, sparking unbidden in his mind’s eye, and everything suddenly makes sense now.

Maybe Darcy hasn’t been avoiding him because she wants nothing to do with him…maybe it’s the exact opposite.

Feeling emboldened, Steve steps forward.

“If it made you cry, sweetheart,” he says, reaching out to stroke his thumb along her cheek, “then it’s most definitely not stupid.”

The skin beneath his flushes as brush rises on Darcy’s cheek and travels down to her chest. It’s so distracting, Steve doesn’t actually hear what Darcy mutters under her breath but he’s just so damn relieved that she hasn’t fled or worse, punched him, he doesn’t care.

“It was, or is stupid. Especially now,” she says louder this time, with something that would pass for amusement if she didn’t sound so damn defeated.

“Just tell me what’s wrong.” He entreats in the same tone of voice he’s used in the past to convince her that eating a whole box of mac & cheese is okay because it’s organic.

“I’m just worried.”

“I know,” she sighs, with a hint of a smirk, “that’s what makes it so epically stupid.”

Steve doesn’t try to downplay his confusion and Darcy must find it all the more amusing, because she smiles genuinely for the first time.

“You’re gonna have to give me more than that, sweetheart.”

At his words, the brunette shakes her head, peering at him from beneath thick dark lashes.

The surge of warmth he gets around her blooms into something else entirely as he catches the shift of emotions on her face.

He almost doesn’t need to hear what she has to say.

What she feels is right there in her expression, in the curve of her lips and in the glimmer in her eye and Steve honestly can’t believe it took him so long to see it.

This time, Darcy is the one who closes the space between them, grabbing the ends of his jacket and pulling him closer.

“I cried because I got a little sad after meeting Ian’s new girlfriend. They seemed so happy together even in the little time I spent with them. I was struck with this stupid realization that I never felt that way about Ian or anyone for that matter and it was right there staring me in the face. I mean I could handle Jane and Thor’s epic love or whatever, because hello, heir to the throne of another galaxy and Jane effing Foster, ruler of the science world, but seeing Ian, perfectly normal and ordinary Ian find that kind of thing with someone. Well it made me sad, Steve.”

Her eyes flicker down to his lips momentarily and anticipation settles low in his belly.

“Especially, because I stupidly convinced myself that there was just no way the guy I was interested in felt the same way about me.”

It takes Steve a moment to process what she says, but when he does, the boundaries seem to evaporate completely.

It might be the least planned thing he’s ever done when he bands his arm around her waist, buries the other wrist deep in her hair and covers her mouth with his.

The kiss is soft, exploratory but there’s an undercurrent of something more in every movement they make together. When he brushes the seam of her bottom lip with his tongue and Darcy retaliates by gently nipping the corner of his mouth – that’s when Steve knows.

This is different from any other kiss he’s ever had and the gravity of that electrifies him to his very core. He doesn’t open his eyes right away when they separate, wanting to stay like this, with her, indefinitely.

“We were pretty stupid, huh.” Darcy whispers against his lips.

“Epically stupid.” he agrees, now resting his forehead against hers and gently threading his fingers through her hair.

They stand like this for quite a while – both just savoring the moment and Darcy doesn’t seem to mind that his eyes are closed. Come to think of it, he doesn’t either. He’s simply content existing here with her and maybe that’s the whole point of all this – finding someone that you don’t mind standing in silence with.

The thought sparks some urgency and Steve finally opens his eyes, detangling his fingers from Darcy’s hair to cradle her face.

“I don’t want to be stupid anymore.”

“Me neither.” Darcy shakes her head enthusiastically but something in her expression betrays her hesitation and Steve tries not to panic.

He knows from experience that Darcy thinks a mile a minute. It’s highly likely that she’s already considered all the possible repercussions the shift in their relationship could have and Steve desperately wants to shield her from those thoughts, at least for a little while.

Tilting her chin up, he kisses her a little more boldly, successfully sliding past her lips as he pulls her flush against him. He desperately wants to reassure her that he’s not going to walk away from this. This could be something great, if only she’d give him the chance to prove that.

He must succeed at least temporarily because this time, it’s Darcy who has trouble pulling away from their kiss.

“Want to come watch me try to beat a telepath at chess?” He asks when she finally flutters her eyes open.

Darcy’s lips curve up into a cheeky smile and she nods, “absolutely.”

“Perfect,” he says, brushing a kiss against her forehead then across her cheek and finally on her mouth. He can already tell self-control is going to be a problem.

“Just don’t tell Nat or she’ll never let me live it down.”

Darcy actually laughs as she presses a kiss to his chin.

“Dream on, grandpa.”

Natasha makes fun of him for a week. Just not about chess.

xxx