Darcy walked through the door of the old gym on the lower west side with trepidation. Her dad had told her this was the place to go, but the whole place looked a little run down; smelled like it too, that musty layer of old leather and years of sweat in the ring hanging in the air.
The gym was almost deserted. There was an enormously tall blonde at the speed bag in the corner and a man who must have been in his 70s, but still looked street tough, lifting free weights by a mirror spotted with age. The atmosphere was quiet; there was a level of focus hanging around the place that you didn’t often find in the shiny, high-end fitness clubs that were everywhere these days.
She supposed, when she thought about it, that it did remind her a bit of the gym that her father and brother had trained in back home.
And just like that gym, it didn’t take more than thirty seconds before she was noticed. A small, wiry, grey haired man stuck his head out of the office, a bushy eyebrow raised high.
“You lost ma’am?” the harsh Brooklyn accent cut across the room. Neither of the other two men in the room so much as looked up.
“Not unless the sign out front is lying to me,” she said wryly, used to people thinking she didn’t belong in places like this. “You Sal?”
“Who’s asking?” the older man looked intrigued now, coming to lean against the doorframe.
“Darcy Lewis,” she approached and held out a hand, “My pop sent me.”
He looked at her a moment longer, then realisation dawned. “Well I’ll be God damned,” he said pumping her arm like it was his job, “Major Lewis’ little girl all grown up!”
“Yes sir,” she said with a grin. She liked to see the enthusiasm that her father’s name conjured up in his friends. “He told me this was the only place to go in New York.”
“Damned right,” he said cheerfully. “You looking to train?”
“Pop’d kill me if I ever fell off the wagon,” she said with a smirk, “Thought I’d at least stay fighting trim. Not looking to compete or anything. I just can’t stand all that girly boxercise shit.”
Sal laughed, “That’s about right, family like yours.” He sobered for a moment, “I was real sorry to hear about Jim.” He said solemnly.
“Thanks,” she said quietly, “It was a real blow to the family,” she took a breath and managed a smile, “but we’re real proud of him. Not the first hero in the Lewis family, but certainly one of the best.”
“Always was a mean fighter in the ring and the nicest guy in the gym outside of it.” Said Sal fondly, “I bet you’re not so bad yourself.” He shot an elbow at her, clearly changing the subject.
She brought her arms up to guard against the blow with a grin, “Not so bad,” she agreed. “Always room for improvement though.”
“Well put your kit on girl; let’s see what you got and then we’ll start you on a program.”
It was a relief, pulling on her head guard, sticking in her mouthpiece, and lacing up her gloves. There was comfort in this. Outside of the ring, she might be awkward and flighty and a bit off centre, but here between the ropes she was balanced and focused and sure of herself.
She dropped her sweats leaving her in lycra shorts before shoving on her other glove. She heard the rhythm of the blonde on the speed bag stutter and rolled her eyes. There was one in every gym. He’d figure out pretty quick that she was far more likely to knock him to the mats than make eyes at him.
Steve didn’t look up when the door of the gym jingled. He came here to be alone, to pound out his frustration into sand bags and occasionally a sparring partner.
The Avengers made it better, being part of a team helped. But there were some things that he just had to work through on his own.
His eyebrow may have gone up as he heard a light female voice respond to Sal’s questioning. But Sal seemed to know the girl, and the conversation quickly faded into the background as his focus centred back on his rhythm.
As Sal stepped into the ring with her, he could see them out of the corner of his eye. Her back was to him, but he could see that she was petite. Short and curvy, not the kind of girl he’d expected to see in this gym. Although to be fair, he never really expected to see any kind of girl in this gym.
Sometimes when he was at Sal’s he could forget the year and imagine himself back in his own time. It was a boy’s club, free of pop music and elliptical machines and women who were more interested in how they looked than working up a sweat. He liked it that way. The spandex crowd made him uncomfortable.
However, he mused to himself as the girl pulled her loose pants off, leaning over and giving him an eyeful of toned, spandex clad ass that made his mouth go dry, sometimes uncomfortable was okay. He narrowly avoided getting struck in the head by the speed bag as his rhythm faltered.
“Get a grip Rogers,” he muttered to himself. It had been a while now, since that last day in his own time. The last time he had had his hands on a woman.
He was adjusting; he was finding a place for himself. But he found himself thinking about Peggy more and more often. About her lips against his and her voice over the com being the last thing he heard before the cold and the ice. Other things were starting to fade, but the memory of her was electric.
It wasn’t helping with the whole frustration thing.
He gave up on the speed bag and began slamming his fists into a sand bag.
Unfortunately, moving to the hanging bag meant that the new girl and Sal were directly in his line of sight. He couldn’t help watching. She had good form, well balanced and quick. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Sal to see it and stop pulling his punches.
He stopped and stilled the bag under his hands as she threw a strong right cross that knocked Sal to the rails. Gus had set down his weights and strolled over to watch the show, leaning against the ring. Steve couldn’t blame him. It was quite something to see this girl, her brown curls escaping behind her head guard, harrying Sal into a corner.
Finally with a lightning fast combo, Sal was on the mat and the girl was dancing around with her gloves in the air for a moment before helping Sal to his feet.
“Damn girl!” Gus shouted to her as she stripped off her gloves and guard and spat out her mouth guard. “I ain’t seen a new kid take Sal to the mat that quick in years.”
“She’s hardly a new kid, Gus.” Sal grumbled good naturedly, “comes from one of the finest boxing pedigrees in the U.S. military.”
Steve’s eyebrows shot up into his head. He would eat his hat if that girl was military.
“Rogers,” Sal hollered at him, “get your ass over here and be sociable.”
He was so used to following orders from Sal that he was halfway across the gym before he noticed it.
Oh well, it was the polite thing to do anyways.
“Darcy Lewis,” Sal tugged her over to the wires where he stood next to Gus, “this is Gus Flexman and Steve Rogers, two of the most regular regulars around here.”
“Miss Lewis,” Steve nodded politely at her. He wondered somewhat sourly, if this was the first step in the deterioration of this gym. Next thing Sal would put in new mirrors that actually reflected things accurately, get mats that didn’t smell like 1945 and everyone would be in spandex.
Darcy raised an eyebrow at him, “Mister Rogers,” he could have sworn she was mocking him by the curve of her lip.
“Anyone who can knock down Sal is okay in my books,” Gus shook her hand heartily, “Welcome to the gym, Lewis.”
“Pleasure’s all mine Gus,” said Darcy with an easy smile. And now Steve knew she had been teasing him.
Well excuse him for having manners around a lady. He felt oddly put out by the whole thing.
The blonde on the speed bag, well … Steve, she supposed, was glaring at her. She didn’t think he was aware of the way his face showed exactly what he was thinking. She could practically hear him railing at Sal to get this spandex clad hussy out of his testosterone zone.
She didn’t begrudge him the sentiment, especially because despite his obvious discomfort (probably stemming from his not-as-subtle-as-he-thought glances at her legs) he was polite, even overly so, and he wasn’t staring at her tits. He’d figure out she was here to train just like the rest of them soon enough.
“Rogers,” Sal said, “you’ve got the best form around here, take Lewis through a standard circuit?”
Sal, on the other hand, looked like he was running an angle. She sent a sharp look his way, and he gazed back at her guilelessly.
“Just the tallest Sal,” Steve answered easily, as if it were a rote response, “How could you possibly see my form from way down there.”
Darcy laughed, half in surprise. He was funny. Yeah, tall blonde and angry would get over his fear of girls in the gym pretty quick, if she had anything to do with it. He seemed like the kind of guy it would be worth having as a friend. And as a small town girl brand new to the big city, Darcy could use all the friends she could get.
“Stop mouthing off and do as you’re told, Rogers,” Sal flipped back at him.
Steve saluted him with a grin that quickly fell off his face as he turned to Darcy, watching her slip under the wires and onto the floor. “You up for it now Miss Lewis?” he said politely.
Well, no time like the present, “What was that? Sorry didn’t hear you from all the way down here Rogers.”
Steve rolled his eyes at her, but there was a hint of a grin there, so she counted it as progress.
He had to admit, as he took her around the gym, setting a series of basic exercises and showing her the equipment, that the girl was good. She was clearly here to box. He appreciated the way she never stopped to fix her hair and just wiped at her forehead absently when she started sweating.
He was studiously avoiding appreciating the way her body moved under her shorts and t-shirt.
“Good, but you’re dropping your shoulder a bit on your cross, try it again,” he said as they stood in front of a punching bag.
She did it again, and her shoulder still dropped visibly.
“Think about keeping yourself level,” he suggested, “maybe a wider stance would help, because you’re really dipping on the right.”
She adjusted herself a bit, and tried again, and her shoulder dropped again.
“Maybe if you watch me?” he suggested, he wasn’t good at this, he could shout orders and he could obey them, but coaching? He had a hard time believing that anyone wanted his advice.
“Dammit Rogers stop being a pansy and just show me if I’m not getting it,” she huffed at him in frustration.
That little twinge of annoyance that had been hovering around him ever since she came in, threatening the dynamic of his favorite place in New York, snapped.
“Fine Lewis, I will,” he said tersely, roughly pressing a hand to her thigh to force her stance wider, pressing her into a lower crouch with his hands on her hips, and planting a hand right under her right armpit, “now punch.”
Her strike was clean and balanced without a hint of a wobble. Steve felt a momentary rush of success until he saw her wide, teasing grin. Realising that his fingers were still wrapped around her ribs in a way that wasn’t entirely appropriate, he immediately took a step back.
“You did that on purpose,” he said accusingly.
“Well you were acting more skittish around me than a maiden aunt, so I had to do something,” she quipped back.
Steve had to admit, she had a point.
“Sorry,” he ran a hand through his hair sheepishly, his annoyance falling away in the face of her comfortable grin. “I’m not exactly good at talking to girls.”
“I’m not a girl,” she responded firmly, “I’m some dude who works out at your gym.”
Steve raised an eyebrow at her. There was no way anyone could mistake her for anything other than a woman.
“Okay, so not actually a dude,” she conceded, “But I’m here to box, just like you, not to look pretty on a treadmill or cause problems in the gym, got it?”
Being the focus of her stare was a little bit frightening, but Steve understood exactly what she was saying with a sense of relief.
“Your uppercuts are sloppy and lack power Lewis,” he said finally, “you need to be doing more squats.”
“Are you saying my ass needs work, Rogers?”
Her tone was challenging, but she was clearly teasing him, and he wasn’t used to being teased by girls. The only girls he really knew were Natasha, Maria Hill, and Jane Foster. Women, he mentally amended, as he wouldn’t put it past Tasha to be able to read minds. And none of them were the teasing type.
Still, he was starting to get the feeling that Darcy Lewis was going to be around here a lot, and he was finding that maybe he wasn’t going to mind it so much, so he screwed up his courage and tried to think what Tony would say.
“Your ass looks fine to me, Lewis.” He didn’t think he pulled it off quite right, and he was sure he was blushing up to his ears, but she laughed out loud, a bright and rich laugh right from the gut, swatted him on the arm and pulled him along to the next station.