Despite all evidence to the contrary -- years of cameras flashing in his line of sight -- Steve’s not used to being asked for a photo. It took ages for directors to get him to not look straight into the camera while filming and now, he’s not sure where to look when someone takes out their phone and asks for a selfie. At least he didn’t need that bit of terminology explained to him, it was pretty obvious by the time the third person stood next to him, raised their camera above them and told him to smile.
He tries to look wherever the other person is looking, but Steve gets caught up looking at himself in the screen of the phone. The angle is foreign to him, a strange and distorted image of himself. Looking at himself straight on, he understands that this is who he is, now. The lines of his face, the broader features, they are still him.
But Steve has a hard time seeing himself in these selfies. There’s something about the angle that makes him angry, that his cheekbones look more delicate and his face thinner, his eyes larger in the socket. There are two Steve Rogers’ in his mind: who he has been, who he has become, now. Both are equally weighed, but in these pictures they mix uncomfortably.
The camera on the phone flashes and the kid — eighteen if a day, his hair dyed an unruly violet, with a curl that threatens his forehead— grins again, “I can’t believe it, Captain America, here! This is my favorite cafe, you know. I only get here when I’m visiting my aunt, but…” he chatters.
Out on the periphery, Steve can see Natasha rolling her eyes benevolently at Steve’s good-natured approach to fans. He’s new to DC. SHIELD brought him in with a new uniform and everything, to work with Natasha and a strike team on missions that need a less delicate touch. His touch.
“Do you mind if I share this on Tumblr?” The kid says, and that is a new word.
“What’s…is that like Twitter?” He’s heard of Twitter. And Facebook. Which replaced something called Myspace, and he really doesn’t know why that piece of information has stuck in his head.
“Not really. Twitter’s for like, celebrities that think they are important and real time news. Tumblr’s just for people to share stuff. Like their art, or just their day and jokes, photos of Benedict Cumberbatch, and, like, cats.” The kid presses something on his phone and turns it back to show Steve. “See? Here, take it, scroll through my dash — most of the people I follow don’t reblog porn.”
Steve scrolls though, a little amused. It should be a jumbled mess — but it is interesting. The kid follows fashion, he thinks. Also, beautiful dresses, women with hair braided like rivers, comic book panels, and, well, pictures of him. And Stark and Thor, photos of minor celebrities with vague claims to fame, and above all, there’s people. He fixates on a few lines of text: a person feeling frustrated about not being able to see who they really are in the mirror; the girl he was, the man he wants to be.
Steve doesn’t think he knows that particular person’s struggle, but he can empathize with it. “Is this all you?”
“No, you find the things you like and you reblog them. Here, this is mine.” The kid presses a few more buttons and runs his fingers through his hair as Steve looks through. His nervousness is understandable, because between the reblogs there is original work. It’s beautiful — he’s got an eye for color even if his technique is still developing.
“What medium do you use?” Steve can’t quite place it. It looks like watercolors, but not quite. It must be something newer, or at least a new method. Something he wasn’t exposed to, which wouldn’t be difficult — after art school, there hadn’t been much money to really develop more than his pencil work.
The kid’s eyes go even larger, “It’s all digital. You like it? I’m Perry, by the way; that’s why my url is gonepershaped .”
“It’s good, I hope you keep it up. I haven’t had much time to draw lately.” Steve scrolls through a bit more, but turns it over after passing through one of the paparazzi photos of himself that he finds rather distasteful. He doesn’t find it strange that he’s the subject of such photos, but this one makes him appear like he’s staring down a young woman’s top. The commentary is heartening, that it’s mostly people discussing the ethics of the practice, but it’s still his image being passed around alongside it.
“Thank you. Do you want to say anything for the caption?”
Steve thinks for a moment, about how he’d want to present himself to the world, given a chance — in his own words.
“Rogers, you ready to order or do I need to send this poor waitress away again?” Natasha says from their table.
But in the end, even a selfie is just another photo of Captain America. He can’t be only Steve Rogers, “Sure, tell them that your dreams are always worth pursuing.” He has to represent the ideal. “Thank you for sharing your work with me, Perry.”
He gives his goodbyes, nods his head, and rejoins Natasha. The waitress does her best not to look impatient while Natasha orders, and he quickly decides on a double cheeseburger with every fixing they can muster.
“That was a long conversation,” Natasha says. “You’ve barely said two sentences to that neighbor down the hall, and you spend how long talking to a teenager?”
“He showed me some of his artwork.” Steve smiles. “I liked it. We took a selfie for his Tumblr.”
“Steve. Do you even know what those words mean?” Natasha teases.
“How could I possibly miss them. I encountered them about an hour after we fought in New York when people wanted to take pictures with me, and the best reporter that talked to me was from something called Buzzfeed.” Steve replies back trying to match her levity.
Natasha’s turned into the best friend he’s got these days, the only person willing to give him a straight answer and not buy into the Captain America facade. Directory Fury sees through the image to the man, but a straight answer is never going to be part of their relationship. Integrity the man has in spades, but it is not the same as honesty. Steve, even when he’s just Steve, is a chess piece foremost. Steve can appreciate that, even admire it at times. It’s just not what he wants in a friend.
Natasha is willing to be that for him, and it’s a relief, and she can shovel out the shit like a soldier. They have their lunch and spend the afternoon flinging it around like they mucked out a stable.
But at the end of the day, he’s back at his apartment and says hello to his neighbor that Natasha so desperately wants him to be friendly with. A nurse, resilient and blonde like his mother and like every nurse of his acquaintance. And she does seem nice enough, just….
It feels like an awfully big step.
He has a laptop, which he uses frequently. But until right now, he thought of it mostly as a way to find out more about the present day, an interactive information machine. The tablets he’d been given at SHIELD functioned that way too, giving him data about the missions he was working as well as any forms and after-action reports he needed to fill out.
Natasha took one look at his laptop and shook her head. “You can’t use that.”
“It seems to work just fine, Nat.”
“I’m sure it’s working just the way SHIELD wants it to work,” Natasha answered, sitting down at the laptop. “Why don’t you grab me a drink and I’ll clean it out for you.”
About a beer and a half later, Natasha hands his computer back to him, “It’s clean, SHIELD won’t see anything you do now.”
Steve didn’t really think about the meaning behind that statement of hers, but he opens his laptop up that night. He thinks about Perry, how he carved out a little space for himself, about new forms of art techniques.
He does two things that night. The first is that he looks up what, exactly, digital art is beyond one teenager’s interpretation. Some looks like Stark-level nonsense, but when he looks at how painting works in the medium, it makes sense. It’s building, it’s layers interacting together. He’d always liked painting, but preferred pencil for it’s practicality and the ability to do it anywhere he was.
He downloads some software and grows frustrated with his limited ability with the mouse during his first attempts, wishing for better pressure control. His searching leads to tutorials, to art tablets, and a hefty order on Amazon. There’s so much online that he wouldn’t need art school these days, at least not to just enjoy himself. Learning this new medium would be a good way to pass the time.
The second happens in the middle of the night, after he wakes up with his heart and head racing and too agitated to fall back asleep. But, as active his head is, his body does not want to translate it to action and work out the frustration that eats at his gut and leaves a sour taste at the base of his throat.
It drives him to the computer, trying to shove every bracing thought out of his mind. He looks up Perry’s tumblr and smiles as he scrolls through and finds the photo from earlier in the day. Steve is wearing his movie-star smile, which only looks natural, but Perry looks radiant. He exudes joy, and it’s nearly blinding.
Then, he sees the post count and compares it to the other posts. 12,546 in just a few hours. “Ridiculous,” Steve mutters to himself. It is ridiculous, that there is so much space in the world for Captain America and so little for Steve Rogers .
He creates some space for himself under the name brooklyndodged , and before he does anything else, he follows Perry.
Given the choice between setting herself up in an apartment and setting herself up in a single room in the dorms, Darcy chooses a meal plan. After a few years of being the stabilizing and mama-bear force behind Jane Foster, genius and occasional recluse, Darcy has a driving need not to have to plan her own meals or clean her own bathroom. And the single person dorm rooms at Culver, while not roomy, are actually larger than some of the closet’s she’d been stuffed in while helping Jane with the lecture circuit. No one seemed to remember that Doctor Foster had an assistant on the tour even when Darcy emailed over the housing requirements, and Darcy had been stuck with the floor more than a couple of times.
But it was during a rare break, where they were spending more than a few days at a university, that Jane had turned to Darcy and dropped her jaw and asked, “Darcy, what are you doing here?”
“Uh, currently, I’m fighting with Stanford for you,” Darcy answered, not looking up from her email. “Am I supposed to somewhere else?”
“Darcy, when did you graduate?”
And Darcy stayed quiet. Darcy stayed quiet because she had not gone back to Culver. She’d taken a couple of online classes the next semester to finish out her general education requirements but, technically speaking, she still had about three semesters left to graduate. It was lucky that her education was funded by her grandparents’ trust or else she’d be freaking out about paying back her student loans. Working with Jane was rewarding, but not in a financial sense.
“I haven’t. It’s totally okay, though. School will always be there for me.”
Jane pursed her lips together and Darcy knew the conversation wasn’t really over.
Not by a long shot. It took a week or so, but Darcy woke up from a nap with Jane towering over her and dropping a course catalog next to her. “You are going back to school at the start of the semester.”
“No, I’m not,” Darcy mumbled.
“You need to have a degree—”
Darcy cuts her off. “I don’t need a degree to work with you.”
“How about a job supporting an Asgardian embassy?"
“Wait, for real?” Darcy pops up, completely awake now. “We’re doing this? You aren’t expecting me to run it, are you? Because I know I’m pretty awesome, but I need about two decades more experience in anything to really handle something like opening an embassy or diplomatic office.”
Because Darcy knows that once people notice that Thor’s got a brain behind the abs and the hair and the biceps, they are going to ask questions. Questions like “Wait, how do we really know you are a good guy?” and “Are there more of you?” and PR alone isn’t going to solve every problem.
“If we can get it up, you have a guaranteed job. If you have a degree. So, you are going back to school next semester,” Jane insists. “And even if it falls through, I can’t be accused of keeping you from finishing.”
So Darcy’s back at Culver. In a dorm room that honestly smells like whoever was here over the summer didn’t make it to the bathroom to vomit as much as they should have. That’s something Darcy’s going to have to air out before it overwhelms the space, and she rolls the window open. It helps in other ways, too: the breeze brings welcome relief to the stifling heat of the room left during the break without the AC running.
“It’s no worse than when the air went out in Pinz,” she mutters, and that had been a delightful couple of weeks, Jane sweating without reserve and without care, and not enough truck stops with showers on the highways to make anyone happy. Darcy lived through that, she can live with waiting for the air to circulate in the late summer heat.
Her classes are settled and she’s walked the campus so she can remember where everything is. After so long on the road, she doesn’t have much anymore, and she had to load herself down at Walmart like a brand new freshman. Everything from a blanket to a wastebasket, and carried back to the dorm in a brand new laundry hamper stuffed to the brim.
Darcy and her old advisor, with Jane’s close supervision, worked out her schedule. Give Jane an idea and she will see it through. A year and maybe a summer course or two will get her graduated and back out in the world. Get her moving with her life, whether it’s with Jane or something new. It’s a rather full schedule, one she wouldn’t have dared before, when she was lazily making her way through her requirements with the bare minimum full-time student schedule.
She’s learned a great deal working with Jane, most of all a clarity of focus and fearless multi-tasking. How to keep track of a singular goal with many moving parts.
How to — fuck it, Darcy can say all the words she wants and try to convince herself. But this is hell. She applied for Jane’s internship because it was a way to get the last of her science credits without being on campus or taking other classes. It was a break from hell. She had been enjoying her break from school and then Jane crashed her world back down. It’s good to go back, and maybe she’ll be better at it this time, but her walls are sparse and empty — with everything that had been dumped online, she can hardly put up photos of her and Thor hanging out, because that’s a little suspicious. Even the photos of her and Foster could be more than enough to bring the wrong sort of attention. She had instructions that came from Maria Hill not to invite trouble.
Freaking Maria Hill had sent her instructions. Maybe later, when things settled down, Darcy could put her photos up, splash her dorm with everything she’d been doing for the past couple of years, but right now, she was just Darcy Lewis, who had taken time off from school for family reasons and was just returning.
Darcy has to rectify her problem attitude by herself. She’s got to be the student she never was before, with drive and willpower and an iron-clad dayplanner. Being with Foster was amazing even when she was five-seconds from death with her heart racing and her throat drying out, but also because everything she learned was so useful and better than the classroom.
The stale vomit smell begins to circulate it’s way out of the room, and Darcy has time to at least try to liven the place up. Christmas lights for mood, her laptop and tablet in places of honor on the desk. The layout of the single dorm is different, everything in a straight line: door, closet, bed and it widens to allow for a full sized desk. Her books, so damn expensive and every one of them new, are stacked up on the other side of the room, sorted by class and paired with a notebook.
Prepare she can do. Her sheets are a little stiff and the bed itself doesn’t have much warmth to it, yet, other than the absorbed, ambient, stuffy heat. Darcy pulls out the old metal chair supplied with the room — something she can replace later if she wants — sits, and looks out the window. She’s ten floors up and watching freshmen run around to their various orientations and the trickle of students with more crap to try and stuff into their cramped dorms.
Darcy pulls her laptop towards her, opens it, and starts on her social media rounds as a distraction. She’ll walk the town later tonight in search of dinner since, meal plan or not, the cafeteria doesn’t open until Monday.
On a whim, she hits Tumblr, which she hasn’t really paid attention to since the last time she was actually in college. Her dash is currently made up of fandoms she doesn’t care about and dozens of paparazzi photos of the various avengers, including Thor. Including Thor from a week ago, when they were all touring New York together, a last hurrah before Darcy went back to school. Thor is carrying the various bags they’d filled while school shopping, and Darcy is sure she can see the back of her own head. It’s ridiculous.
She tinkers with her little blurb a bit, changes her icon since she doesn’t like the idea of having her own image anywhere, and scrubs her meager posts clean of selfies. Not that they’d ever gotten much traction. But hey, if she can come back to college with a relatively clean slate, she can do the same with her tumblr.
The last thing she does is change her name.
He never meant for this to get so, well, big. All Steve wanted was a little space where he could be relatively anonymous and himself, and now look at him; he’s got a sidebar with policies. No, he will not post selfies or talk about his job outside of art. Not Accepting Commissions. Chat is off. Asks are always on. It says something either about the strength of his work or that his nervousness about the world translates into something relatable.
But from the first time he sketched something with his tablet that he wanted to share, people reached out. Steve learned, after that first hundred followers, what a spam blog was and that there really was no way to stop porn tumblrs from following him, but that for the most part every username had a person behind it. And they each had a story.
His first sketch was a memory: the tenement in Brooklyn that he and Bucky shared, two single beds shoved into opposite corners of the room so that there was enough space for a table between them where Steve could do his illustration work.
The beds are delicately sketched, but the person laying on one of them is in bold, smooth strokes. Bucky’s body turns in towards the wall, clutching his blanket. It was all Steve could think of that day, looking at the expanse of his DC apartment and trying to figure out how to function with all that empty space mocking him. Too big for just one person, and when he had said as much to Natasha, she just gave him another woman’s name and asked if she could hook them up.
Which wasn’t the point. He still has the DC apartment, but now Sam’s over more often and Natasha is in and out, and sometimes he comes home and Barton’s asleep on his couch having chosen to crash there instead of some other bolthole in between recon missions for the Avengers. Sharon’s still in town, too, and though the nascent tension between them had fizzled, he found her another fast friend once he got to know her and not her cover story.
But that sketch had made it’s way to someone on the history side of tumblr, and they had marveled at the complexity and accuracy.From there Steve just gained more and more followers.
Things are going well even though they are hard. Trying to track down Bucky isn’t an everyday thing, even if Steve wants to be relentless in the hunt. He’s gone to ground and they don’t typically find anything on him until after there’s an explosion and a HYDRA team or installation has been destroyed, burned to the ground. The earth practically salted.
“Isn’t that a kids site?” Sharon looks over his shoulder before coming around the table to sit at her usual seat across from him. It’s a standing lunch date with whoever is in town on Thursdays. Sometimes, Steve ends up alone, sometimes they have to pull together extra tables. Today, it’s just him and Sharon.
Steve wasn’t sure anyone would show up and had pulled out his tablet, scrolling through his dash. “I suppose, perhaps. I doubt there are many World War 2 vets, but I could find out.”
“I don’t understand why you’d want to interact with all those children.” Sharon smiles, but Steve’s reminded of why a relationship with her seemed dead on arrival. She’s brilliant, loyal, smart, and fierce; everything he admires in a woman. But, they just keep missing each others’ point of view.
“I’m not interacting with children. Shit, most of them aren’t much younger than the kids I went to war with.”
“They went to war, though,” Sharon answers, and yeah, Steve wishes it would have worked. “Did these teenagers?”
“Everyone’s fighting a war, Carter. Battlefields change. We fought for nations — these kids, they fight for identity. I can respect that. It might be the more honest fight.”
“You’re maudlin today — oh, coffee with two creams, please,” Sharon says to the waitress, only glancing at the menu. “Do you have the french dip today?”
“No, but we have a philly cheese steak,” the waitress answers.
“Hmmm, I’ll think about it, thank you.” Sharon turns her attention back to Steve. “So, what gives?”
“Nothing giving, just…frustrated today.” There are days where he can be content with the slow pace of spy work, but then, there are days where he wants nothing more than to rush through everything: find Bucky, get him whatever help he needs, save the world, try to do something good. “It’ll pass.”
Sharon plays with a packet of sugar from the table. “I think you are trying to convince yourself that it will. You’re like a deep well of frustration, Rogers, and you need some outlet for it that doesn’t involve pandering to teenagers.”
“Well, I also beat the shit out of the heavy ba,.” Steve mumbles, because it is hard to explain that he can’t punch the world back to rights all the time. Hitting things and running, yes, they are good and they clear his head but they aren’t all that makes him up. “It’s a nice pairing with expressing myself through art,” Steve points out.
She colors a little bit, biting her bottom lip, realizing she stepped in the shit she was laying. “You got me there. I’m sorry. Sometimes I forget —”
“I’ve got layers, Carter. Like an onion or an ogre,” Steve says with a smile and Sharon joins in, asking him if he’s finally watched Shrek. He had added it to the list a few weeks prior at her insistence. They spend some time talking about the movie and transition into a long, freewheeling conversation about the change of animation styles.
Steve’s always going to have his heart in traditional animation, but the complexity of the CGI is astounding and beautiful, as well. Art has always been a moving target, and you didn’t stop loving the Masters because the Impressionists existed, too.
Later, alone, he scrolls through responses to a post he made about some minor history from the War. He’s always careful to hide his hand and act as someone who maybe minored in history, an amateur of sorts, and one catches his eyes. There’s always the people that jump on and add less information, try to tear his words to shreds, or are just plain wrong. Steve doesn’t really pay them much mind. If he got upset at someone being wrong he’d never have time for the important things to be upset about.
But, sometimes, other people do call out and the results can be impressive. It doesn’t really matter what the topic was, utterdeelight tore down a person trying to use Steve’s post (a story about Gabe, one fairly well known but it feels so personal to Steve to be able to tell it) to justify an egregious racist and sexist point of view about the military and elite fighting units, pulling events from history and gifs together in a vision of righteous sarcasm and fury.
It starts with his Howling Commandos. It ends with Black Widow and the Falcon as exemplary figures of what is right with the world, that we don’t even question their ability to lead, to fight, to win. Well-trained and disciplined people will work together and change and shift. It shouldn’t even be a question.
It’s a smackdown laced with a good heart about people. Steve reblogs the post and follows her on the spot.
Holy shit. Holy shit. What the hell. Darcy checks her phone again, letting her professor’s lecture just waft over her head, because this is just even more baffling than the class struggling to understand how SHIELD fits into the Global Government. (Darcy can answer that one; it shouldn’t since it was also a trap full of Nazis). Since when does she warrant one of the rising names on tumblr following her?
Darcy spends approximately too much time on the site every day, but it’s about the only thing she does that isn’t school-related. She has enough credit hours to wish for a time-turner, a standing appointment with a professor who is interested in her thoughts on the politics behind the intersection of heroes and science, and is angling for a undergrad TA position when the professor, a curly haired woman in her late 40’s, gets her special topics seminar on the subject approved. Outside of that, she talks with her family and with Jane, occasionally with Ian when they remember each other exists. Bars aren’t that exciting, frat parties are a mistake from her first semester she’ll never repeat again, and the coffeeshops are either filled with pretentious students or stressed out townies.
The internet is always there for her when she needs a break. And now, she’s being followed by someone interesting. Brooklyndodged . Shit, brooklyndodged . He — and his profile clearly states He/His pronouns — is just a quality guy, and an amazing artist. He can draw a sketch of Thor that makes Darcy wonder if the dude met him on subway a few times. There’s never a fucking paparazzi shot of any celebrity, there’s no insipid aesthetic crap, and Darcy never once has thought the guy was irredeemably stupid in his opinions.
He’s just interesting. With real things to say, and beautiful art, and he’s probably a kind person if he’s anything like the way he presents himself online.
Darcy’s got a theory. The way you act online is the real you — you become the person you want to be when there’s less restraints on what you can do. And brooklyndodged seems to both take no shits and believe in finding the good.
She drops her phone back into her bag. Paying attention is hard enough when the professor seems to just be wrong about SHIELD in general, as if the files running rampant online were anything like the real, lived experience. None of them had a phone number to the super secret Nazi agency, now did they? And she can’t really say a damn thing, just studies the massive infodump like everyone else to try to make the pieces all fit together.
Darcy’s going to write a hell of a term paper for this class. It’s already percolating in the back of her mind, and what has living with Jane done to her sensibilities? The last time she was in classes, she didn’t even think of a topic until the week before, and here she is, halfway through the semester and she’s laying out a mental outline until she can get back to the dorm and fire up googledocs. This is clearly Jane’s fault. Ideas flow, now, and they can get corralled into words and outlines, arguments and pages, and it all works. It’s still hard — the work is never easy, and she’s already not sleeping enough — but the drive is there, now.
Her advisor had told her that taking the internship might be the change she needed to get her grades back on track, that Foster was a bit of a kook but all her prior interns had gotten good marks. Her advisor hadn’t said that Jane was a determined spitfire that got under Darcy’s skin and made her understand how to funnel all the noise in her head into signal.
Class ends and Darcy’s already started fleshing out her outline, scrawling notes on a legal pad she uses for the course. Her professor has said a couple of interesting things, but honestly, she’s done for the day and she needs a couple of hours before she switches back into work mode to do some research and some writing.
But first, she has a bit of sleuthing to do about brooklyndodged . He reblogged a reply Darcy had made about the Howling Commandos, something she wrote off the cuff and angry at some racist asshole. And then he’d followed her…. And promptly liked and reblogged more of her archive. Which either makes him a little creepy or just someone who kept hitting next button and never realized he was 15 pages deep. That’s fine, it’s fine.
She’s been following the guy since about two days into the semester, happening upon him while scrolling through her dash right before she remembered that being in the back row of a lecture hall isn’t the best idea. There are studies that show that the people who sit in the front third or some shit like that get higher grades. Darcy didn’t realize that sitting in the first few rows also meant that you caught the best of the sarcastic jokes from both your fellow students and lecturers.
Darcy’s stats steadily creep up for the rest of the day and Darcy can do nothing but stare in horror as her email is flooded with new follower notifications. If it didn’t give her a tiny thrill every single time, she’d turn the damn thing off. Her phone alarm goes off, a cheery, pre-installed tune, and it’s time to get back to work. She switches on a program that blocks certain websites, but not before making a quick text post and tagging brooklyndodged in it.
“We have got to stop meeting like this,” Sam says in between panting breaths, slapping Steve’s back. “Can I put few hundred pounds on your back? Maybe a car?”
“You know, if you stopped trying to keep up, you wouldn’t be so out of breath all the time.” Steve slaps him back, hitting Sam’s chest.
“I am strapping a car to your back next time. And not one of those little kiddie cars, a real one.”
“Okay, but you’ve got to lift it,” Steve says, losing his grip on his face.
“Oh, fuck you, Rogers!” Sam laughs and pops a squat to sit on the ground. “You got an agenda for your day off?”
“Day off? We get days off?”
“There’s a shared calendar, didn’t you know? It’s your day off. No adventures unless the world is actively ending.”
Steve’s not sure how literal Sam is being right now, because, well, it does sound like something Tony would dream up and not tell him directly. But then again, Sam also jokes. “Could be a nice day to do some art. I haven’t painted in a while. The tablet is a distraction."
“Could go museum hop,” Sam says. “What do you want to paint?”
Steve smiles, thinking of landscapes and cityscapes, flower gardens. “Nothing that I remember. It’s a nice day; I want to capture that.”
“You ever think about picking up a camera?” Sam holds out his phone. “Even this one? It’s not just to take snapshots of HYDRA bases. You can do real work with it, and if you like that, you can get the real deal.”
Steve takes out his own phone, opens up the camera and starts looking at the world through its lens. He lines up a shot of the park, snapping a photo. He looks down at it, and …it’s just a picture. There’s nothing special about it. There’s nothing that it’s saying to him, nothing meaningful. A moment that didn’t matter. Swiveling, he snaps a quick photo of Sam before the other man can register that he’s taking it.
The candid, however, is great. Sam is just beginning to register the camera, and his expression is stuck between rest and resignation. The color is a bit off and it’s blurry, but it’s Sam when he’s not trying to share the weight of Steve’s or the other vet’s burdens. Only his own and his strength of purpose is the only focus.
“Well, it’s a medium I haven’t had much opportunity to try before,” Steve says, looking through the filters, registering how the light and color changes with each one. “I’ve never tried to sculpt either, though. This might be a bit easier to manage in the apartment.”
“You’re a funny, funny man.”
“I’ve got photos to take, I guess.”
“If you open an instagram account, I promise you’ll have everyone in the known world following you,” Sam says.
That does not seem interesting at all. That seems like opposite of something Steve would like to do, all PR and promoting himself. They’d flock to the mediocre photos of Captain America and call him dad or son, or, god forbid, grandpa. That’s not the digital life he wants. He’s vaguely aware someone maintains a Facebook for him, but he rarely has input on it. That’s not him, that’s branding.
Fuck branding. Captain America is a job and a responsibility, fodder for interviews. But Steve Rogers? That’s who he is. When he’s leading the team they might call him Cap, but they are banking on the gut of a kid who could never back down. Each of them knows that. But the world doesn’t, and Steve doesn’t want to share that much of himself when he’s Captain America.
“Yeah, no. Maybe not that.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’ve managed to pick up the worst of all teenagers’ patterns of speech.”
“I can’t even with that statement,” Steve easily responds, with a trolling grin just meant to get Sam’s eyes to roll.
“I am going to go shower and go to work. With adults. Because you, obviously, are enjoying the concept of being a teenager.”
In a way, it’s true. Steve didn’t have much of an adolescence, and while he came out of it knowing who he was and where he stood, he never really had the freedom to do so after his second puberty. Sorting out his identity in his new body (so big, so coordinated, his, but not his) was an afterthought. Something to think about as a change of pace from planning (or not planning) ways to get himself killed.
He spends the day snapping photos: buildings, landscapes, crowds and crowds of people. He doesn’t go for any particular theme, just takes pictures, trying to learn by feel what is well-balanced, adjusting color and lighting as best he can.
He ends up posting exactly one of the days photos to brooklyndodged , a golden retriever, bathed in light, tongue lolling and bright eyed, waiting impatiently for a ball to be thrown. He captioned it with, “I had a good day off today” and wanders off to make dinner.
The apartment is quiet. Which is something he appreciates more and more these days, just being able to choose for his surroundings to be quiet. Cities don’t sound the same, he had to adjust, he had to figure out the new rhythms and beats of the wild urban world around him. First, back in New York, now in DC. It’s easier in DC — no expectations of the way it should be from his memories. And now he doesn’t live in a tenement or a war zone, he lives in an expensive apartment with a ridiculous amount of soundproofing and it can be quiet when he wants it to be.
He settles back down with his laptop and a sandwich, fully intending on just checking his email from the day, making sure there are no logistical problems that need sorting. If anything was truly an emergency, he’d be called in, no matter what Sam had said about a rotation. But he clicks refresh on his dash instead and see’s his own photo first thing.
“What a sweet dog! Yours?” utterdeelight replied.
He doesn’t want to clog up everything with a conversation in a photo reblog, and checks to see if utterdeelight has a no messaging policy. If they answer, they answer. If not, well, it’s not the end of the world.
brooklyndodged : No! I was trying my hand at taking photos on my phone. Haven’t done much of that before.
utterdeelight : That’s your first attempt? Shit, man, I’ve been taking photos for years and they still look like they were taken with baby’s first camera.
brooklyndodged : It feels like baby’s first camera.
He turns off tumblr so he doesn’t get sucked in for an entire night and there isn’t much in his email that has to be done, now. It’s been a good day, and even that last little conversation leaves a smile on his face. No demands on him, insistence to make small talk, or get a selfie at a dinner party.
It’s been a good day.
It’s been a shitty day. Darcy couldn’t argue her way out of a group project, a skill she thought she still possessed and which had failed her, and had to meet them in the library. But no one thought to reserve a room, and the only space left was a sunken half circle of chairs on the bottom level, surrounded by Elementary Education majors picking out the best picture books to dissect. Darcy has nothing against that, in theory, but it’s loud. Like a sorority opened inside the library. But that was only the beginning of the annoyances. She’d thought she’d lucked out, her group was a little bit older and she thought that meant she wouldn’t be the only responsible one.
That didn’t happen. They are older not because they are returning students or have majors that require five year plans, they are older because they are still what the old Darcy would be if she hadn’t done Foster’s internship. Unmotivated, uninspired, and, worst of all, unprepared. Darcy came prepared with an outline for the project’s paper. She offered to do the writing, but the visual aids, the actual presentation? That’s not supposed to be her responsibility. And yet, here she is, settling in for an evening with Prezi.
Maybe if she can just get the barebones down, one of the others can gussy it up, make it pretty. Someone else can do the talking, she’s sure of it. It could happen. It won’t, but it could. And someday, Jane is going to remember to bring the grocery list to the store.
But honestly, what had pulled her away the most was the side conversations. The parties being discussed, who had what hookup for something to take on the weekend — Darcy remembered those, and rolled her eyes at them. She has good memories of those Friday nights, trying to forget the panic of the week. The other students don’t seem to be anything like addicts of anything much more than pot. And it’s not like she’s going to be sanctimonious about that, but there is something that itches at her from their conversation.
It’s not even one of her major classes. It’s a one of those ancillary classes that are technically for the political science degree, but are in an entirely different department, and she had to fight to get in, because the sociology department major blocked it. It had taken a few phone calls, and not all of them were made by Darcy. Jane may have made a phone call that put the fear of Jesus in the department head.
That woman. She misses Jane so much.
And she feels that whenever they are having discussion time in the sociology class. Ostensibly, it’s a class aimed at Politics in American Society, but it’s not very well organized and the students run their mouths more than there is an actual lecture. But that part is okay.
The problem is that Darcy is too old for their shit. Things used to be a little clearer in her head when she was younger, a sophomore maybe, some things were dead wrong, other things were right, and sure, there’s nuance, but that was something you could explore later. It was more important to have a position than to be thorough.
There are still things that are wrong. There are still things that are right. But damn if there isn’t a lot of ways that the two interconnect and feed each other. You can do the ethical thing, the moral thing, even just the legal thing perfectly, navigate the terrible waters of uncertainty, and muck things up even more.
Maybe it’s the subject matter, when current events are so inundated with the discovery of and destruction of SHIELD. There’s people data mining what the Black Widow dumped online, and it’s increasingly difficult to obfuscate that she’s got a file in there. That she’s seen more than most people and been involved. And the yelling about regulating the weirdos or letting them run their own way leaves very little room for nuance or that right actions have unintended consequences.
“And when you make this list, what about the people who would be hurt by having their identities revealed?” Darcy asked. “And if you allow superheroes to go unchecked, how do you hold them responsible for their actions?"
And she’d been yelled at, because she obviously doesn’t understand either side. Darcy doesn’t ask where Thor fits in with all this. It’s not like she can really hide him in a Donald Blake shaped box whenever he’s on Earth. The man is fundamentally Thor no matter what he’s wearing. Somehow, he just seems to be forgotten in these discussions, and that’s fine by Darcy.
At least until the quiet kid, the one that Darcy had felt a kinship with because he rolled his eyes at the same things she did asked, “And how do you legislate aliens? You going to deport Thor for unauthorized lightning?”
“Maybe a construction permit for Mjolnir?” Darcy muttered, trying hard not to be heard, but it doesn’t work.
“You always talk a big game Darcy, but you never seem to have answers. You don’t like what anyone has to say but you don’t have anything to contribute,” complained another student, a young woman with her hair pulled back and a prim, knee-length skirt.
“Hulk rampages through the quad here, and he is to be feared. He helps in New York, and they make action figures of him. Tony Stark was a rich jackass who made money profiteering off the military industrial complex but now he’s a beloved hero who threw his lot in with green energy. How do we anticipate how a powered individual will change? How do we give them space to be a private individual?” Darcy said, leveling her gaze above the whiteboard, not wanting to make eye contact. “How do we protect them or their loved ones from being targets themselves? Transparency is good, but not everyone has the means of Tony Stark. And that didn’t even help him in the end.”
“But then again,” Darcy continued, “we have watch lists for a reason. There are already lists and dossiers. The SHIELD files proved that. They are needed for security — but this is on an intergalactic scale. We already don’t do well sharing information with our allies — how the hell are we going to coordinate something like a powered registry?”
“Those are still big words. I’m from New York, I know what damage can be done even when it’s right thing. I want to know who has the ability to set this shit in motion to destroy entire blocks or more.” The primness slips from the other student’s demeanor, and what’s left is fear.
“Okay, that’s enough for today,” the professor said like he had been sleeping the whole damn time and just now realized that the atmosphere of the room was a powder keg. “I’ll see you all Friday.”
“What sets this all in motion,” Darcy said as everyone else was packing up, “is largely chance, luck, or completely out of our control.”
“Scientific progress goes boink.” Quiet kid half-smiled at her. “And the school could get leveled again.”
Which is true enough, but the whole exchange leaves a bad taste in Darcy’s mouth. She’s never met the Avengers, other than Thor, and while she thinks the rest of them are good people who mean well, the rest of her dealings have been with SHIELD. Who had their own agenda, had several of their own agendas, and the remnants have entire day planners filled with agendas.
She likes Hill. But she doesn’t trust her to have Darcy’s best interest at heart.
SHIELD had left them high and dry in London. They didn’t take her calls, they didn’t come to their aid. They ignored Darcy’s attempts to communicate a problem, and while, yeah, she could blame that on their HYDRA dna, you’d think they’d at least answer the phone.
Fuck it, it’s a shitty day; tonight she’s going to curl on on her bed with her laptop.
Right and Wrong are all jumbled together. You can’t just pick out the right actions and hope that the rest don’t slip through.
She doesn’t expect anyone to care about her vagueblogging. Her text posts don’t get more than a handful of likes, rarely any reblogs, and, even with replies, she’s not exactly blowing up her inbox with notifications.
When you have to do what’s right, you have to be prepared for the consequences. Brooklyndodged reblogs and tags it with #troublemen #it’s easy to be brave #harder to have conviction
Darcy reblogs back but what about when your right decisions have terrible consequences for people other than you. Do you have the right to make that choice? #What the hell is a greater good?
Things usually drop there — most people don’t want a huge back and forth on their blogs and that’s cool. She’s made her point, and she doesn’t think his is that far off from it. But then, as she’s scrolling through pinterest, searching for ways to organize her stupid closet, Tumblr’s godawful notification for messages pings.
Brooklyndodged : Sometimes you have to make calls and there isn’t always time to consider every possible ramification.
While he doesn’t have a no messaging policy, brooklyndodged has made it fairly clear that he doesn’t often respond. But here he is, messaging her twice in one week
utterdeelight : Most people have never been in those types of situations where they can’t stop and think for five minutes beyond themselves.
Brooklyndodged : Have you?
utterdeelight : …on the edges, yeah. I can’t really talk about it, though.
This is safe enough. It’s skirting her non-disclosures, fat good they really do her. Her information and involvement with Thor and Jane and, just, damn, everything is public if people cared to look for her. But under the anonymity of Tumblr, and without any real detail, she can vent.
Brooklyndodged : Same here, but more involved than the edges. Did you trust the people that were making the hard choices?
utterdeelight : Yes. Absolutely.
Brooklyndodged : Sometimes that’s all the right I’ve got to make those decisions. People trust me and my judgement. I have to have faith in myself that it’s rooted in principles.
utterdeelight : ok. But like. Sure, I trust you. But the rest of the people who have to make that call — can we trust that, like, congress has my actual best interests at heart? CEO’s?
utterdeelight: ugh sorry this is such a vent. This is just people in my class expecting everyone to understand every issue the same way — and even with people wanting the best for the world, it’s like, even eating quinoa has unintended consequences you know?
Brooklyndodged : What’s a quinoa?
And somehow Darcy goes on with an epic rant about food industry, and staple foods, and brooklyndodged is just so nice to listen to her vent about it that it’s an hour before he has to log off for the night.
Brooklyndodged : I liked talking to you, can I message you more?
utterdeelight : yeah, sure. I liked talking to you too.
Steve starts having more good days. They are still hard days in between, though. Days filled with a fruitless search, meetings and training, schedules and dead spaces. But something about the days just feels better. Focused, assured. And then there are nights like these, where nothing stops moving. Not his fingers, his feet, his mind. He’s boxed himself out of a heavy bag and as much as he’s physically tired — the rest of him just isn’t.
He looks through his recent photos that he’s taken during one of the dead spaces in the day, the time between a training session with Sam and a conference call with all of the Avengers to coordinate where they are on on the recon for an upcoming mission. There’s one he took of Sam, standing like a majestic shadow against a sunset. Sam isn’t identifiable in it, so he shoots off a quick note to utterdeelight to show it off, writing in an email to her that “my days are getting longer, but I’m at least in good company.”
Moving from Tumblr’s clunky messenger system to email had been an easy transition with her. Dee had suggested it after the first few days of their constant back and forth. He’d started calling her Dee. She called him Brooklyn, and every email is a bright spot in his day.
“I am so done with these frat boys.” Dee replies back with a photo of a burning couch. “My days are getting longer and I am just so done.” Which is quickly followed up by a link to an article about a UN committee to discuss enhanced individuals and a comment of, “Surely this will end well. I don’t think any government gets powered people right — they forget to treat them as people first and their abilities as an extension of themselves.”
Dee, even when they disagree, seems to understand the world he lives in. Sometimes he gets an itch to have someone look into her, find out who she is, but then his cooler head prevails. Dee is a college student, he trusts in that, rather than her being some elaborate identity to draw him out into public or discredit him. He’s pretty sure she’s not one of Natasha’s highly technical and precise pranks either.
He’s mostly sure of that.
This is one area though, that they are in agreement. “For a political science student, you don’t seem to like government very much.” It’s a bit of a non-response, but the article hits a little too close to home for him. It’s just the beginnings of an overture. An orchestra tuning, but Steve’s had enough of oversight councils, and no one is including him or anyone else enhanced so far.
“I love the mess that is politics. But I don’t think we’ve figured out the way to balance our national concerns with our global ones, yet. No one wants to give up power, everyone wants to minimize everyone else’s. This committee? It sees a powerful force and just wants to control it. I don’t trust it. You can’t look at people and only see weapons.”
Steve agrees but it almost hurts not to respond in-depth, tell her the truth for just a moment. As much as being Captain America doesn’t define him, it is part of him; he has perspective on this that no one else has. Until Dee sent him the link, he’d never even heard a rumble of this, total blackout. But he should have guessed, the moment you want to discuss a specific group, what you really want to do is control them.
He’s more than a fucking weapon to be fired.
“Anyways, ugh, I swear, my former boss/bff/platonic soulmate (if you saw her boyfriend you’d understand) is going to drag me out of my comfy dorm-cave and take me to some fancy shindig in a couple of months. First, she pushes me to finish my degree and now she’s trying to push me into taking time off. Make up your mind, lady.”
Steve smiles, responds, “Sounds like she’s a good friend, then.”
Steve’s struck by an immediate need to call Sam, with just a pang of guilt, hurt that Buck’s — he’s alive, alive, alive, but not here, not with him and by his side. There’s guilt in that, but also in his friendship with Sam. Sam keeps giving, his time, his steadiness, his ears, and it’s like Steve doesn’t do anything in return except more. Step up. Help me. Follow me.
He doesn’t call Sam, not wanting for it only to be a bitch session or worse, because Sam takes so much of the brunt of the support Steve needs. But he can hear Sam’s voice in his head, telling him exactly what to make of his self-doubt. He knows what Peggy would tell him. What Sharon has told him. Know your fucking worth, Steve.
“I’ve got friends like that, too,” he types back, then goes to find his sketchbook.
He ends up drawing nothing in particular. No person comes to mind, and he’s a little landscaped out. The abstract shapes and patterns seem as restless as his mind, nothing coming to completion, nothing settling. But he takes comfort in the creation and, while the formless thoughts never articulate, he navigates them and lets them pass.
And they do pass. It’s not going to be a good night, but he can save it from being a bad one. He wants to reach out to someone, tell them about today, without it being A Thing. He looks at his computer, at his open email, and considers it. What would Dee think of him? He doesn’t want to stop this conversation between them, a long unbroken chain of emails.
But he needs to say something to someone. And Dee’s response was a picture of some television show he doesn’t know or something about #squadgoals. So he writes, clear as he can, “Sorry, had to go clear my head for a little bit. I’ve had a hard night. The world keeps spinning around in my brain. I tried to draw it out, but I’m not sure how successful I was.”
“You want to show me?” Dee replies. Nothing else. No sarcasm, no pictures. But a second email comes just as quickly as his thoughts had moved, “Or, I can show you cat pictures. I don’t like you sad.”
He doesn’t like him sad, either. He’ll take her up on both and quickly snaps a photo of his sketchbook to send her. It’s not a great photo, it doesn’t need to be just to show Dee.
“Wow. I think our brains short circuit in the same way.”
Somehow, that singular sentence opens up the world and the rest of the night starts making it’s way back up to pleasant. He even sleeps like a normal person, almost straight through and without staring at the ceiling and chasing down leads in his head. He’s not not thinking about Bucky, about where he might be and the state he might be in. He just has something else to think about, someone else, entirely.
Dee : It’s a simple question. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
brooklyn : Ice cream? I don’t actually eat much ice cream.
Dee : Oh come on, everyone has a favorite, even if it’s not on the diet plan.
brooklyn: I just haven’t had much opportunity. Vanilla, maybe?
Dee : Oh honey.
Dee : Honey. Hun.
Dee : You need to broaden your horizons. Vanilla. At least tell me it’s vanilla bean and not the really artificial stuff.
brooklyn : Artificial flavors taste like shit.
Dee : If we ever meet up, I’m taking your ass to froyo, so you try all the flavors and toppings.
Dee : ….you there?
Dee : Shit, sorry if I made you uncomfortable with the meeting thing. I’m just…anxious. I haven’t heard from my friend in a few days. I’m really worried.
Brooklyn doesn’t respond back, and Darcy groans and tries to throw herself into her research for a quick paper she really needs to start writing, but the words keep escaping her. Jane has missed two of their last Skype dates, Thor is being tight-lipped, and, once again, no one is answering her calls. She’s beginning to think she’s being blocked. Or maybe that someone just doesn’t like her, or thinks her unimportant.
But she’s important to Jane. And Jane is important to her. That should be enough.
brooklyn : Sorry, had a meeting. I’m going to be sparse for the next few days, Dee. I’m setting my queue up now while I have a few minutes.
Darcy shouldn’t be trying to depend on some guy from the internet for her emotional support. But there’s no one she can really talk to — how do you explain to someone who hasn’t feared for their life on multiple occasions and still gone into the thick of it, that you worry that your best friend is doing it again without you. If Jane was fine, if she were just busy and in the middle of her work, someone would get back to her.
Dee : It’s ok.
brooklyn : What are you worried about?
Dee : That she’s in trouble and I’m not there to be in trouble with her.
brooklyn : You know, I have a friend who would say the same thing about me.
Dee : There are two types of people in the world. Those getting into trouble and those digging them out.
He doesn’t respond for awhile and Darcy moves herself along, busying herself with an outline. Sometimes, she can’t believe that she began writing papers as a kid by rearranging notecards, and now she can drag and drop citations and quotes and her notes without her fingers leaving the touchpad. Time marches onward and technology keeps growing with her. She spares a thought for poor Captain America, how Steve Rogers must feel, skipping the steps in between. But then, maybe he’d throw himself into the world and embrace it — how easy it is to communicate across the world, bring food to more people, more clean water. Nothing’s been solved of course, but some things are easier and better.
brooklyn : I hope to find more people willing to get into trouble with me.
brooklyn : I have to go. I may be awhile — don’t worry about me.
Dee : I probably will anyways.
It’s just as easy to worry about two people instead of just the one. Darcy can wait. If Jane’s in trouble, it’s likely to either work itself out or become a world-shattering mess. There’s no in between. Jane’s troubles are EVENTS, not bumps in the road. She’ll keep her phone on vibrate through classes, check it as she walks the campus. Look for obscure hashtags and unexplained events on twitter for hours.
Find Jane. Find Jane. Find Jane. Spare a few minutes for brooklyndodged because he’s the kind of guy Darcy wishes she knew more of. Find Jane. Find Jane. Find Jane.
Go to class and repeat. Then just…not go to class by day three. Darcy doesn’t mean to skip, but she’s fallen down a hole that seems to indicate that something’s going down in Tennessee. Jane wasn’t scheduled to be anywhere near the south, but electrical storms? Freak thunderstorms and freaked out twitter posts about strange shit flying about? That’s Thor. And where Thor is, that’s probably a lead on Jane.
So Darcy just misses class and, since she’s spent the past three days not writing her paper or doing her homework, she hides and rationalizes. It’s not worth that much of her grade, anyways, and her scores are high enough, she can miss one assignment. One paper. Maybe a few days worth of bullshit assignments. And maybe her professors will take “My former boss/your former coworker went off the grid for a few days and I was so frantic about it,” as an excuse. Because that is a thing that will totally happen.
Darcy gets the text at about 3:30 in the morning. It’s not from Jane, but from — fuck, it’s just from Hill, just letting her know that they’ve located Jane Foster and that’s she’s safe and unharmed and apparently “will talk to you when you have your normal Skype date, Lewis.” There’s also a small crater in Appalachia, now. Jane’s okay; Darcy can sleep and hit her Friday class.
It’s funny though, when she and Jane finally talk, Jane can’t really tell her what went down. It’s classified. If Darcy had been there, she and Jane could share whatever burden is on her friend’s shoulders — Jane looks so tired — but, physical separation also means emotional separation, too. But Jane tells her that no, really, not hurt or anything. Just sleep deprived and, really, what else is new.
brooklyn : Home. Sorry I was gone so long.
brooklyn : I need to shower and sleep, possibly even in that order.
brooklyn : But I wanted to make sure you knew first.
Dee : <3
Dee : Thank you.
Dee : My friend got home safe, too. It’s been a day of relief. Go. Sleep. Tell me if you have weird dreams. I collect weird dreams.
“Whoever it is, the answer is no ,” Steve says, because Natasha has that look in her eyes. He’s grown to hate that meddling look. Natasha occupies the strangest space in his life, not quite the sister he never had, but maybe a rough and tumble, tomboy, older cousin. He could have used that. He could have used more family to love, period. He’d loved his Ma, and all the Barnes’s were as dear as kin, but an extended family? Well, that’s a longing he’s had most his life.
“She’s a physical therapist. A real one. Just transferred in. Currently, she’s making Clint’s life miserable.” Natasha quirks an eyebrow and a cheerful, little smile.
“I do enjoy people making Clint’s life miserable,” Steve replies. “No, Natasha.”
“Yes, Natasha. Look, I’m going to wear you down someday, and she’s actually an interesting person. They all are and they meet my highly exacting standards. Why not get coffee? If it’s terrible, fake a phone call. Send me a text and I’ll create an international incident for you.”
Steve looks down at his fingers, itching to draw away his discomfort. None of the women (and a couple of men, because Natasha had rightly sussed that out about him, too) had, in Nat’s two-sentence blurbs, seemed to be anything other than good or interesting people. But there was something about the assumption that rankled. He wants to make his own choice and meet his own people. Not that he does all that great a job of it, but he doesn’t need Nat, or Sam, or anyone else, picking out likely candidates.
They do have a point, though. There’s nothing stopping him from meeting new people. No one other than himself, that is.
“Fine. Set something up. Nothing embarrassing — just, coffee?”
Natasha hides just how overjoyed she is by the unimpressed tilt of her head. “I can schedule that for you, yes,” and then adds, “Is that all, Mr Rogers?” in a way that makes Steve think it must be a private joke. She has many of those and shares them rarely. Natasha jokes to amuse herself, not others, and that’s something he respects. She’s another person who was created, her mind twisted within the shell of her body, and now, she chooses to amuse only herself.
Good for her.
Dee : ugh the kids on the floor are organizing this night out and demand that I go with them.
Dee : I think they want me to chaperone. Or buy them drinks.
Dee : ugh.
brooklyn : My friend is setting me up on a blind date.
Dee : I think you win the terrible day olympics. Blind dates are the worst.
Dee : granted I set my BFF up on one and it turned into hilarity when I joined them.
Dee : it wasn’t even a really blind date. They knew each other from some conference.
Dee : but she was so awkward.
brooklyn : Wait, you joined their date?
Dee : I had important news for her!
Dee : If you need an out, just let me know - I’ll totes send an email that looks super important.
brooklyn: I might take you up on that.
Her name is Annette, and she’s feisty. Steve knows this because she’s mentioned it herself about five times during the date. She is however, tall — nearly as tall as Steve, and could never be described as willowy. But, Annette seems to have imagined herself feisty as a defense against expectations of her height.
She’s not, though. She’s tough, and takes her coffee simply, and within five minutes Steve can understand how she can deal with Barton so well. They’ve had a conversation that’s ranged from the weather to novels, and Steve’s written down a few suggestions. But, Annette seems to have mistaken feisty for being off-puttingly aggressive, reaching into Steve’s personal space a few times to grab his notepad and add to his list.
Steve likes aggressive. He likes women who hold their own and don’t back down. He doesn’t like this, doesn’t like the presumption that his personal space is for sharing. He holds the notebook back away from her the next time she reaches for it.
“I thought I saw some doodles in there; I want to see!” She smiles. “Come on, the world’s seen your sketches in museum displays, but no one knows what Captain America draws now.”
The date might as well be over; Steve shuts down inside, plastering a thin and tight false smile on his face. “Captain America doesn’t draw. Steve Rogers does.”
Annette looks incredulous. “There’s a difference? Is Captain America only the guy that throws around a shield and poses for pictures?”
“I don’t get much of a say about Captain America. I do get a say about Steve Rogers.”
“You know, I thought you’d be a different kind of celebrity, Steve,” she continues. “You see them on tv and on the internet, and you know that everything they do is crafted, they don’t even seem real. But Captain America, he’s larger than life, sure, but he’s a hell of a lot more real.”
Steve Rogers was born from an Irish immigrant’s womb, bloody and wet and struggling to thrive. Captain America was born out of machines and brains and audacity. He’s always been manufactured; and they wanted more of him, countless more. Enough to defeat the Nazi’s and beyond. People have died, or worse, trying to become like him. Used and spit out, with the humanity driven out of them. Look at Bruce, constantly struggling with himself. Look at Bucky and what he was forced to become.
All to be real, just like Captain America.
Steve points to his chest. “This has never been real. I’m still not used to this body. It’s useful, yeah, it can do amazing things. But I had to relearn how to draw, I ran before I could really walk, and it’s good that I was already always up for a fight because once the army learned who Steve Rogers really was, they put me into the ring.” He stands roughly, nearly pushing the table into Annette’s lap, and he doesn’t need anyone else to help him get out of a bad time. He can do it himself.
This is the beauty of getting coffee instead of dinner. Steve can leave right away rather than stiffing Annette with the check or waiting to take care of it himself. He does stuff a second, exceedingly large tip in the jar because making a scene is rude.
Darcy has embraced her new life. Her grades have never been better. Her friendships? Fantastic. She’s on a first name basis with a god and a few Avengers know her name. She’s not sure if she’s terrified of Maria Hill or just wants to be her. She has not only lived through two major alien incidents but participated in them. She’s a quiet badass in her own way.
In short, she should be able to navigate a simple night out with her floor mates. It’s just a bar; drinking and dancing, flashing lights, loud music, and the smell of stale sweat and beer. After all, she did it countless times when she did her first go around at school. It’s not that she’s lost her taste for it, either; the music is thrumming, alive within her, she can almost feel it vibrating in her blood. It’s awesome. She could spend days just listening and living through the music.
But the people. Darcy tries to dance, but her partners keep taking liberties and moving their hands too far down her back, inch her shirt up to find bare skin. They flash their teeth when they smile and say sorry, offer her drinks which she refuses.
“Did you like, turn twenty five and forget how to have fun?” the girl from across the hall — Penny? Pearl? Something a little old fashioned and little like something she might name a dog asks. “You’ve been sitting at the bar, like, half the night. With the same drink. Come on, at least have another shot and loosen up.” Penny waves to get the bartender’s attention. “Get this girl a fireball, okay? Me, too!”
At least Darcy can see this getting poured, and Peppy Penny is three letters short of a sorority, and buying a drink is how she shows affection, so Darcy takes the shot. The slight burn, the flush of warmth, it is good. And Penny shoots hers back at the same time and drags her down to the dance floor.
“See, you don’t have to be a spoil-sport.” Dancing with the girls is a better experience. Nothing unwanted or untoward.
“I’m not being a spoilsport,” Darcy insists. “It’s just hard to get out here when I have so much more going on.”
“It’s one night, come on. Hey, come with us after, I know a cool party going on tonight.” Penny or Patty or Pearl — shit, it’s the girl with the bright pink whiteboard on her door. Someone drew a dick on it with permanent marker. Darcy can see that loving detail but not the name above it. But she’s so fucking earnest about Darcy having a good time that Darcy can’t help going along with it.
Only a few people from the floor ditch with them, and they stumble together from the main street drag down to the frat house row. They walk past the named houses to the large houses with the unofficial societies. Drinking and supper clubs, the sort of thing that secret societies are born out of. Darcy’s had enough of secret societies, but really, these are just frats with a fancy name.
There’s nothing on fire, nothing more than a few individuals littering the yard. But inside is a mass of people, and it takes a moment for Darcy to recognize what the hell people are wearing. Or not wearing, because it’s a college party, and clothes appear to be optional at times. But it’s a mess of capes and patriotism, red and gold sequined hot pants, fucking catsuits everywhere, and the fresh stench of stale beer.
It’s a fucking Avengers party. Darcy can barely contain her eyes rolling back. “Oh, my god, do you seriously have something against superheroes, Darcy?” Patty or Pearl or hell, Pinkie Pie demands. “Lighten up.”
“There is a man over there in a red cape and a thong with a hammer on it,” Darcy says. And, okay, Darcy thinks that Thor might find part of that hilarious, and if she can look the kid in the eye later, might ask where he got it.
“Yeah, isn’t it great. It’s two jokes in on,.” her dorm mate says as she’s bumped closer to Darcy by a girl painted green. “Like, the hammer is his penis! Oh god, you need to watch Dr Horrible if you haven’t, already. We can make it a movie night.”
“I’ve seen it,” Darcy says quickly, tearing her eyes away from stripper Thor. “They know that the Avengers are like, real people, right?”
“So? People dress up as, like, presidents at Halloween.”
“Not typically by wearing swimsuits.” Darcy points at one rather creative Iron Man.
Pinkie rolls her eyes, as well, “Whatever. It’s fun. It just sucks that there aren’t that many women, you know? There’s only so many times you can see a Black Widow costume. Like, yay, black leather. Whatever.”
That, they can at least agree on. But her new Best Friend Forever moves on, leaving Darcy alone and trying to navigate the weirdness by herself. She knows she’s being kind of a fuddy-duddy about this, most people only experience Thor and the rest on television. Maybe they were in New York and were scared, but, still, the Avengers were just the guys that saved the day. Or tried to, Darcy’s been reading some of the vitriol that has stemmed from some of the smaller operations that the Avengers take on. Not everyone is pleased about the disruption, the damage, the destruction that can occur.
But still, she’s friends with Thor. She’s going to a party with him and Jane soon, where she’s bound to meet some of the rest. They won’t be wearing costumes. They just are who they are. Darcy grabs a solo cup and fills it with water from the kitchen sink. She suddenly incredibly thirsty, her throat parched and only getting drier.
And no one cares about Darcy. Or Jane. Or any of the other fucking supporting characters in the big damn heroes lives. No one in this room knows how close Darcy came to dying several times over. How much Jane has done in the service of Earth. They know Thor. They know Iron Man. They know a Hulk and they know Captain fucking America. They acknowledge Black Widow and Hawkeye, but only just.
She can’t seem to drink enough water, and it almost feels like she’s not really trying. Darcy understands that she is bringing the cup to her lips, that water is going into a mouth and down a throat, but it doesn’t feel like it’s hers. It’s just there. A thing that is happening. There are three haphazard Captain Americas between her and the door and her legs help her barrel through them to get outside before the room starts collapsing in on her. Before she can be transported somewhere else. Before a giant robot can smash her into oblivion.
The night air is a shock and it smells too much like nicotine and ozone, but she can hardly breathe anyways. Darcy fumbles through her pockets to grab her phone and stares at it. What can she do. Call Jane? No. Jane has enough, she doesn’t need Darcy’s bullshit. She doesn’t really have anyone else.
She sends brooklyndodged a message. I’m freaking out and I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t expect a response. But she gets one:
brooklyndodged : What’s going on? What can I do?
Dee : Those things I can’t talk about. I’m at this party and …I can’t stop thinking about them. I feel like I’m going to die. Or puke. Or just not be me anymore.
brooklyndodged : Can you get someplace quiet?
Darcy looks around and settles on sitting at the curb a house down.
Dee : Yes. I’m sitting outside.
brooklyn : Good. Put your hand down on the grass. Type with one hand, I’m sure you can.
Dee : That was dirty.
brooklyn : Not like that.
brooklyn : Just, feel the grass. Notice it and just it; How it feels against your hand.
This feels stupid, but Darcy settles her phone into her lap, and puts both hands to the ground. At first, she’s still detached that the sensation doesn’t even reach her. But then, it itches. The grass is slightly wet and it prickles against her skin until she moves her fingers through it. It’s soft, pliable, her fingers touch the blades and move them around.
brooklyn : I know it seems silly. But it’s something a therapist taught me when I first got back.
Darcy doesn’t respond back for a few minutes, instead lying back in the grass, her feet in the street, taking deep breaths. Filling her lungs, holding, and letting go. Letting all that cycle through her. She’s not calm, and she’s not okay, but it’s a better place than she had been.
Dee : No, it helped. A lot. Thank you. I didn’t know who else to talk to.
brooklyndodged : I’m glad it could be me.
Dee : This hasn’t happened to me before. Does it always feel like you are watching yourself die?
brooklyndodged : No. Sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it happens so slowly, that it builds into something sudden. But you did great. It’s over, it’s done with.
Dee : I’m going to call an uber or wait for the bus and go home.
Dee : Thank you.
Dee : I …hope this doesn’t happen to you often.
brooklyndodged : It doesn’t. But it has before and it might again.
Darcy doesn’t know what to say. So she just gets back to her dorm, strips, and climbs into bed, and hopes he understands. She’s warm and she can feel the fabric of her blankets around her, holding her tight and it’s as close to content as she’s going to get tonight.
Dee : Twenty Questions?
brooklyn : That’s a lot of questions.
Dee : We don’t have to do twenty.
Dee : Come on I’m bored.
brooklyn : Fine. I’ll start — Where do you go to school?
Dee : BORING. Culver. Private school in Virginia. Where did you?
brooklyn : Never did.
Dee : Shocking! If you did, what would you study?
brooklyn : Can I be boring and say art? I should study international conflict or something, but if I were to go to school, I want to be selfish and do something just for me.
Dee : Okay, you should do that. You really should. You probably could do a class at a time. Or just lessons somewhere.
brooklyn : Maybe. When I’m not in and out of town all the time.
brooklyn : What about you? You get to be selfish and do one thing just for you, what do you do?
Dee : ….I’ll get back to you on that.
Steve puts down his phone. He’s in Berlin because that’s where Sharon is, and Sharon is his secret weapon in his search for Bucky. And she thinks she has something but when he finally meets with her at a tiny cafe, with the sun pouring down on them, Sharon’s lips thin after she lays out her thought process and evidence. Eastern Europe. It makes sense — Buck speaks Russian and, presumably, a few other languages according to his file. It probably is a bit more familiar to him than trying to go elsewhere in Europe. He’d be recognized in the US almost immediately.
“But Steve,” Sharon touches his hand. “The patterns I’m seeing? I think it might be better to back off for a little bit. I can get some eyes in a few areas. He’s hiding, but he’s not —” She struggles for the right words. “He’s not hiding because he’s planning anything. I think Barnes is just living. With some rightful paranoia, but living.”
“Are you telling me to give Bucky some space?” Steve didn’t realize that you could actually feel your jaw drop. But here’s his jaw, dropping. All this work, all this time, and so close — everything seems so credible and logical — and she wants him to do what? Just, stop?
“I have learned, Steve Rogers, that I cannot tell you to do anything.” Sharon fidgets with the papers she’s stacked in front of him. “I’m just letting you know — he’s not a danger to others, we can keep an eye on the general situation to keep him out of danger, and he can continue doing what he’s doing.”
“Running, you mean.”
“I mean rebuilding. You find him, what are you going to do with him?” Sharon asks.
“Bring him home, of course. Help him —”
“How? Home is a lot more dangerous than you think,” Sharon points out. “We brought a lot into the light, Steve, and, unfortunately, there are groups at home that have decided that being open is just as good as staying secret. Now, they get overt support if they just say the same things in new ways. It doesn’t take much to disguise HYDRA’s message in the darker parts of the internet, it spreads like fire through memes and hate speech. You want terrifying? Watch politics — we can say they are bad, but there will always be people who find comfort in letting others take control in the guise of security, of returning their lives to something that makes sense again.”
Sharon has so much of her aunt in her. The forthright ruthlessness of their words and actions, all in the service of making the world better by dragging it towards progress. By the throat if needed, but always with the painful conviction of their morals. He loved it in Peggy, he loves it in Sharon. He hates hearing it, sometimes. Because what is moral and just and good can’t always be what is right for the situation.
“It just isn’t safe for him right now, not here. Not when HYDRA and its allies, not to mention the normal, everyday people, are looking for a scapegoat,” Sharon says, strong and earnest.
Steve fidgets with his glass, his fingers slipping over the condensation from the heat of the day. He’s quiet for a long time, suddenly feeling small and helpless all over again. What good is all this body, his strength and speed and agility if he can’t use it to help Bucky. Keep him safe and sound and get him whatever he needs?
He picks back up his phone, his question to Dee still unanswered. What would be his real one selfish thing? Bring Bucky back, park him in an apartment and keep him holed up? An expensive prison until the climate changed for him.
No, he can’t do that. Not to his best friend. It would be the worst thing for him, and Steve can’t be that selfish. It’s good that Dee didn’t throw the question right back at him, because he can’t answer it, either.
“If you could do one selfish thing, what would it be?” he asks Sharon.
Sharon leans back, her expression still and blank. She reaches into her purse and puts her phone on the table with a thud. “That the next time this rings, I don’t answer it. That I just fuck off to someplace warm and with clear beaches and let someone else take care of one, single problem for me. Just one.” Sharon softens, “Steve —”
Steve can never do the selfish things he wants.
“You’ll keep an eye on him?” He asks, closing his eyes so he doesn’t have to look at Sharon, doesn’t have to see her concern and care. “You’ll let him rebuild a life in peace?”
“Yes,” Sharon answers.
“Then do it.”
His phone chimes and he opens his eyes to look down at the message.
Dee : If I got to do my one selfish thing? I don’t know if I could live with myself, afterwards.
Steve sighs and types quickly, not wanting to be rude to Sharon, but this is important, too.
brooklyn : Yeah, me too.
“Oh god, Jane,you said that this was going to be just a small get together for us and friends, with, like, some sandwiches and a lot of wine.”
“It is!” Jane insists, throwing dresses at Darcy as if Jane’s nice get-ups are actually going to fit on her. They may be similar heights, but they are entirely different frames and tastes. “There’s sandwiches and wine.”
“Yeah, from a caterer. A fancy one. Not a few footlongs from a deli. And I don’t actually think canapés are sandwiches.” Something yellow and flimsy hits her face. “That is not a thing that is going on my body, Jane. And when the hell did you get all these lady-clothes?”
“They aren’t all mine,” Jane says. “I do know other women. So, maybe something will fit.”
Darcy raises her eyebrows because well, there’s not actually a lot of women that Jane deals with on a daily basis. It’s not an anti-woman thing for Jane, but a stunning lack of social skills, even for a scientist. “What other women are you spending time with… ait, do you mean, like, Pepper Potts and the Black Widow?”
“So this belongs to...?” Darcy holds up the offensive dress.
“I have no idea. It’s not mine. Maybe Natasha’s for an alias?” Jane sorts through the pile. “You might need to go shopping.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you had told me this turned into something fancy.” Darcy is going to go crazy. Right here. Right now. Because she is sorting through the most expensive clothing she has ever seen, they all belong to extremely important and, quite frankly, terrifying women, in the hopes that maybe something will fit over her chest.
“I made the mistake of letting it be at the tower and it just sort of …stopped being my party to plan? I got caught up in some background reading, and, oh, there was this really interesting article I need you to read. There is a logic issue and I need help dissecting all the ways that the author is wrong, wrong, wrong, except for the ways in which he’s brilliant.” Jane’s hands are spread out, outreached like she’s holding an imaginary ball and her eyes are starting to drift away to wherever she goes when the limits to her attention span have been reached.
It’s so fucking comforting. This she knows how to deal with.
“Doc, breathe. I’ll look at the paper if I have time. But, right now, dresses. Look for a draped one or something that fits a bit looser,” Darcy says, laying the hangers back down on the bed. “I’ll go through and take out all of the ones that are too small.” She does not have time, nor the money, to go out and buy anything. Or, really, the inclination. By the time she had a need to wear something cocktail-fancy again, it would likely be out of style.
Darcy eventually settles on a cowl-necked, gunmetal, a-line dress that mostly fits. It’s tight in the waist, so she’s going to have to be careful not to overeat. But she looks, well, classy. Subtle, without being underdressed. If she just breathes deeply, she can get through this. Maybe not breathing too deeply, though.
She’s getting ready before she and Jane head up to the penthouse. The penthouse in Stark Tower, because her life hasn’t gone completely pear-shaped. “Lipstick is your best accessory,” Darcy says, picking out a berry. “Which is good because I’ve got nothing else with me, today.”
Her phone buzzes, a text from a classmate asking for the weekend’s assignment, and she answers quickly. She has the syllabus memorized, and she’s already done the reading on the train ride up. Darcy’s getting smarter about these things -- she’d ditched her Friday classes to give herself a long weekend, but prepared everything in advance. Texting back gives her an excuse to message brooklyndodged and vent.
Dee : My friend’s get-together has become a much bigger deal than planned. I’m wearing a dress borrowed from someone I barely know and I’m not going to be able to really eat in it, and omg, brooklyn, I kind of don’t want to go, except I get to see my friend and her boyfriend for the first time in forever.
brooklyndodged : I think the kids say “I understand that feel” and I understand that feel. I just flew back from a trip and my friends are demanding my appearance at dinner and I just would rather go home and sleep.
Well, it’s good that someone can understand her pain.
The party is, well, it’s nice. Someone that is not Jane has a rocking playlist on — mostly classics, but some shit from the last five years, too. “I put Barton in charge of it,” Jane admits after a second beer with a pretentious and/or punny name. “He said some girl named Kate sends him random songs with an urgent byline, and before he realizes that it’s not a call to arms, he’s listening to some teenager’s playlist.”
“Kate is a terror and a menace,” the aforementioned Barton says, sneaking up on them. Darcy’s met him after the second whole space aliens thing. He’d been the one to round Jane and Darcy up from Tromso, when the shit was over, his face too white and his manner all shook, just grateful for something productive to do. “And she doesn’t understand the complexities of —”
“What, dad rock?” Darcy scoffs, still holding her first glass of wine. “Newsflash, not that complex. The music still comes down to sex.”
“You keep talking like that and you won’t be moving into the Barton Tower when you graduate,” Barton teases, probably. What he’s doing calling that building he owns in Bed-Stuy a tower is beyond Darcy.
“Whatever, that place is so beat up it’s practically gravel.”
And so it goes. Darcy enjoys herself, in spite of being slightly uncomfortable in the dress. Turns out, she’s wearing Natasha’s dress, and Natasha enjoys seeing her in it. That it’s good to see some of what she calls her other wardrobes out for a spin. Dinner is catered, delicious, and a little too plentiful.
And then she meets Captain America.
“You are going to the party.” Sam doesn’t just insist, he throws clothes from Steve’s closet onto his bed. “You are going to the party, and you are not going to be glum. You will eat a thousand calories, drink more than anyone else should even comprehend, and meet the science nerds.”
“Sam…” Steve sighs. “I know you think this is good, but I’d really rather have a quiet night.”
“No, you want to stay here and brood. Brooding is not a good look on you; you might crease."
Steve drops his hands and huffs before he realizes that he’s being nothing less than a petulant child about spending time with his friends. But, then again, new people. Doctor Foster organized this party and some of her friends will be there.
Steve’s just not sure he can deal with being Captain America tonight. He doesn’t want to play that part. He can let his guard drop when it’s the other Avengers, but, well, new people. They want to see Captain America, and small talk doesn’t allow for much of Steve Rogers to come through..
“You don’t have to stay the whole time,” Sam says like it’s a gift, which, of course, it is. “But you should make an appearance. Let Stark offer to buy you more things. Let him offer to buy me more things; I’m not opposed to it on some moral high ground.”
Sam walks the few steps from the closet to the bed and sorts through the clothes he’s laid down for Steve. “Your pasty ass needs brightening up. The blue.” He holds one shirt up to Steve. “It makes your eyes pop.”
It’s going to be a long night.
He’s debating a shave when his phone buzzes and he looks over to see a message from Dee.
Dee : My friend’s get-together has become a much bigger deal than planned. I’m wearing a dress borrowed from someone I barely know and I’m not going to be able to really eat in it, and omg, bd, I kind of don’t want to go, except I get to see my friend and her boyfriend for the first time in forever.
She’s not alone in that. Steve’s fighting against himself, the part that says you don’t ever let Bucky go. You don’t leave a man behind. He’s constantly reminding himself that Sharon is right about this — saving Bucky right now means letting him be. Letting him get a feel for himself.
Steve just — what if Bucky forgets Steve?
brooklyn : I think the kids say “I understand that feel” and I understand that feel. I just flew back from a trip and my friends are demanding my appearance at dinner and I just would rather go home and sleep.
Truer words have never been typed. Sam does his best, and the party isn’t a total waste of time. The guests aren’t socialites and other billionaires, but the strange mix of people that Jane and Thor have befriended. Scientists, philanthropists, people from the charities that Thor is always helping with — not their public faces, but the volunteers he’s befriended. For them, this isn’t just a random party, but a truly special night. Steve doesn’t want to ruin that, so he plays his part for them.
It’s exhausting, though, and the last thing he wants to do while his head is so hung up on the notion that he is somehow failing Bucky is to be Captain America for the night. He tells Sam as much after a couple of hours of being paraded around, taking every selfie with a smile. Sam looks him over and shrugs. “You put your time in and I’m glad you came. There’s a pretty girl here from a charity that organizes group housing for homeless vets and I need to pick her brain before I ask her to dinner.”
He’s so close to the door when Natasha takes him by the arm. “Steve, there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to…” and he’s led away from freedom, sweet freedom.
“Steve, this is Darcy Lewis,” Natasha says, a smug little grin on her face, like she wants him to think she’s giving something away. A freebie. It’s another girl for him to meet. She’s got a good eye, at least. She’s cute, in an ill-fitting dress, but this is not what he wants to deal with tonight.
“Maybe some other time, Nat,” he mutters while Darcy’s looking away, something catching on the skirt of her dress.
“Be nice, she’s Jane’s assistant,” she says. “Darcy, this is the Steve Rogers."
Darcy can’t seem to catch a break. Natasha had managed to corner her, insisting she stay put so Natasha can have her meet someone, and, okay, she knows who Steve Rogers is. They don’t really need to be introduced, and really not when the zipper is starting to burst on this damn dress. She can’t take more than a tiny breath without worrying. She’s going to ruin something that probably costs as much as her tuition and Natasha wants her to meet fucking Captain America instead of letting her slip out quietly.
“A pleasure,” she says, sticking a fake grin on her face and praying the seams hold.
“Steve here is —”
“Yeah, Captain America, I know,” Darcy interrupts.
Steve tightens his smile. Just like the rest. He just needs to smile and nod, sign a napkin and take a selfie and then he can go to bed.
“I was going to say, he’s an artist. And Darcy is currently finishing her political science degree at Culver.” He doesn’t need her life story. Darcy doesn’t need his. Why should this girl, as cute as she is, get to know about his artwork?
“Oh that’s great,” Steve strains to say with fake interest. “I went to art school for awhile, but you know, the war.”
“Of course,” Darcy replies, and really, this is the most awkward of conversations she’s had the entire night. Dude isn’t even interested in meeting her and can’t be bothered to be nice about it. “I got delayed because, well, Jane.”
“Of course,” Steve says and looks towards Natasha, hoping she can figure out that he wants a way out of this. Darcy isn’t following the standard interaction progression. But Natasha stands there, frustrating him with a pleasant smile. He takes a step back, preparing to give his goodbyes and say it was nice to meet her, just to get this over with.
Darcy suddenly breathes in, her hands suddenly going to the side of her dress. “I’m sorry. I have —”
“Is everything okay?” Steve asks, as if he could even stand to be in the same space as her. She’s heard a lot about Steve, how he’s a nice guy, very proud and passionate. But whoever it is that she’s meeting now, she doesn’t care, anymore. Her dress split, straining too much at her chest. She breathed too hard and her dress burst at a seam.
“You know, this isn’t exactly a problem that Captain America could handle,” Darcy bites out, shaking just a little bit, embarrassed enough that she can just keep layering it on. The fabric rips more, and soon she won’t be able to stop herself from spilling out. This is not that sort of party. “Excuse me.”
Darcy pushes past Steve, her shoulder making contact with his with a surprising amount of force. He feels the need to turn and walk with her, but stops himself as Natasha glares at him. What the hell just happened?
Natasha grabs Steve by the arm. “Well, that was interesting.”
“Natasha…just..” He sighs out, shaking his head. “Never mind.” Natasha is going to do whatever Natasha wants. There’s no fighting that. “I’m just going to go.”
“And you just know that what J really wanted was, like, a few boxes of wine and maybe some upscale pizza amongst friends. I really don’t know. How even. This happened. It was like the Titanic threw up first class in this venue. I had been looking forward to meeting her and her bf’s new friends and instead I’m stuffed into this dress that isn’t even mine and I can’t eat anything or even make any big movements.
And crap, the dress just busted. It BUSTED while I was being introduced to this guy who was just so fake sincere. And he’d been built up to be this really great guy and I finally get to meet him and he’s just rude. I’m so done. So done.
Anyways, I really liked that photo you posted yesterday. I mean, you make the New York skyline look new and interesting. How do you even get that view?”
“I didn’t even want to go to the party I went to. One of my friends is going through a rough time, but as much as I want to go and spend time with him, what he needs is space. He’ll come to me when he’s ready; he knows where I am. But it’s still hard to know what he’s going through and just sit on my hands about it.
And then I come home and am more or less dragged to this party. It, too, was overly fancy, but I’m getting used to that with this group of friends. I was just tired and not into it — and there were so many people there that I couldn’t let my guard down. I think I might have been the rude one. You’d probably hate me. I kind of hate myself for it.”
Darcy’s fingers pause over her phone, over her reply. Would she even know the difference between someone having a bad day and being rude and someone who is just naturally an ass. Does it really matter? Truthfully, Darcy is a bit of a natural asshole herself.
Oh, but her first thought to reply Brooklyn’s email was so simple is scared her. She’d written, “I’d never hate you.” And her heart flipped. It fucking flipped. Like, right there in her chest, it flipped. And that’s okay. It’s okay. She deletes it. And types it again and sends it before she can delete it again.
And, okay, she’s a little on edge. Her professor promised that he’d have their only paper, a monster that spanned almost the entire semester, that’s worth more than the actual final exam, graded and handed back this week. It’s a Tuesday/Thursday class and, well, it’s Thursday. Darcy’s a little on edge here.
She spent weeks on it. She did it right. Research. Outline. She set time aside every day to write. She had a daily goal of how much to write and she mostly kept to it. It was amazing. Darcy deserves an A just for avoiding procrastination. It’s a fucking masterpiece. And now it’s Thursday and she’s going to get her grade back.
The professor is set in his ways and believes in tree-killing or something and when he starts handing them back to the small class, she can see the joy he took in his red pen. And faces either grinning or falling based on the amount of red on that first page. Darcy’s paper lands on her desk and she closes her eyes in a quick, silent prayer to the gods of academia.
The first page is bereft of any red. And so’s the second. And it keeps going. There are some minor corrections, and even a hastily scrawled “good argument” and a couple of “you could have thought this through more. EXPAND EXPAND EXPAND” but that’s all. That’s it. And she gets to the last page to read through his general thoughts and comments but really, her eyes go straight to the attached rubric and an encircled red A.
There is a feeling here. It bubbles up within her, all gleeful and bright. She’s so proud of herself. Holy crap, she’s changed. Darcy’s a success; she gets college, now. She’s going to end up with straight A’s this semester even if she’s socially isolated and her peers don’t feel like her peers anymore. But she’s got this.
After class lets out, she ducks into a hallway mostly used by grad students and adjuncts and takes a picture of the last page. She needs proof that she’s good at this, now, she’s focused and attentive and smart. All things she wanted to be but couldn’t seem to figure out how to do it.
She could send it to Jane, but excelling always was easy to her. She appreciates hard work, but one A isn’t, well, see, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. They’ll celebrate a successful semester together during the break.
So she sends it to brooklyndodged instead. With a message of, “I’m finally getting the hang of this place.” It’s so stupid, but he’s the next person she can think of that’s important enough to send it to. Hopefully, he understands. It’s nothing, she tries to reassure herself, that he’s becoming one of her closest friends and she doesn’t even know how that happened.
Or how to feel about it. Or him. Feelings are complicated things.
Her phone dings with a new message from Brooklyn. “That’s fantastic. Smart women are the best kind.”
Oh no. This feeling? This anxious warmth blossoming in her cheeks? Oh, shit.
He strangely proud of Dee. He’s used to feeling proud for the people in his life. He would sing Bucky’s praises to anyone that would listen. And, shit, he’s surrounded himself with people who excel for his entire life. People he looked up to and that he still patterns himself by. He’s never going to have the strength and conviction of his mother, the fearlessness of Peggy Carter, or Bucky’s will to survive.
He’s a poor copy of all of them. A mimeograph running low on ink, if he’s honest with himself. He’s proud of himself, within reason. No use getting a big head about things, after all. That doesn’t help anyone, not even himself. It just often seems that the things he’s proud of and what he’s told he should be proud of are so very different.
His body always seems to be capable of what he wants it to accomplish when fighting, but he’s more proud when he gets a complicated skyline just right.
Dee’s paper isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Good grades are an accomplishment, but it’s a mundane one. Yet, it’s Dee’s accomplishment. It’s hers. And that makes it an amazing one. He sends back a quick message and doesn’t even register just how dopey of a smile he has on his face until he looks up in the mirror and sees the fond expression.
There is a time and place for a reasoned examination of his feelings, but Steve’s never really been one for that when reckless is still an option.
He snaps a photo of the sketch he’s working on, nothing special, a floral arrangement in the tower that caught his eye. Pepper has beautiful taste.
brooklyn : Something like that deserves flowers. Since I can’t give them to you in person, this will have to do.
Dee : That is totally hokey and I love it. Thank you.
Dee : If I keep this up, can I get more flowers from you?
brooklyn : I’ll fill my sketchbook just for you.
Life happens. He takes photos of landscapes and flowers wherever he goes, and just keeps sending them to Dee. He can’t seem to help it, anymore. Life should be good for her, life should be amazing for her. Steve’s just been so thrilled to have her to talk to, to care about and now he doesn’t know how to proceed except to send her flowers.
There’s complications, oh, so many of them, least of which is that he can’t just say one day, “I like you, I want to meet you, I think I could fall in love with you, and by the fucking way, my day job is being Captain America.” Steve’s been so wrapped up in finding a place where he isn’t in uniform that he’s forgotten that it is an inescapable part of his being. If he wants to bring Dee into his entire life, something that suddenly feels like necessity, he’s got to figure out how.
If she even feels the same way, if she’d even want to meet him, know him outside the comfort of the keyboard.
brooklyn : How about a challenge?
Dee : What sort of challenge?
brooklyn : Show me something you love about where you live?
brooklyn : I’ll do the same.
He doesn’t hear from her, but a half hour later, there’s a flurry of messages.
Dee : I can’t get this right.
Dee : You could do so much better
Dee : I’m just not artistic at all
But then the photo loads, and it must be Dee’s dorm room, a warm looking, slept-in bed with the blanket rumpled just so. Little white lights snake the wall in three lines — rays of light leading to the window. The curtains are open and the setting sun bathes the room in violet-orange. Outside the window are grown, mature trees, the branches glowing.
brooklyn : You are a liar. A total liar. That’s beautiful Dee.
brooklyn : You must be so comfortable there.
Dee : I waited until the light was right. Sorry it took so long.
Dee : I showed you mine, you show me yours.
Is that flirting? Is Dee flirting with him? He thinks that’s flirting, and he has to resist the urge to check with Natasha. Or Sharon. They’d know, but they’d mock him mercilessly and he would deserve it.
“Well, what should I show her?” Steve asks himself, resting his hands on his hips. What does he love about where he lives. He’s shown her skylines time after time; he needs something new and honest. He may not be able to reveal everything but he can be authentic about the things he can.
He looks over his apartment with a critical eye. Does he really live here or just sleep here? He thought he lived but when Steve looks now, it seems sterile and bland. He’s comfortable…he’s comfortable in a lot of places, he’s comfortable here, but would other people know that?
But then, he sees it, his laptop on the coffee table, surrounded by his drawing pencils, the coptic markers he hadn’t put away, yet. His sketchpad is open, a half finished and half thought out attempt to capture just how crowded that last party felt. The brightness of the dresses, a kaleidoscope that blends into a blur of color that’s no color at all.
Steve takes a picture and only fiddles with filters a little bit. Just a little color balance, a little cropping. He can’t help himself.
brooklyn : I think I need a new apartment, because this was the only part I really loved.
Dee : I really only love my laptop, too. It’s okay. It loves me back.
brooklyn : I’m fairly positive that your laptop has company in loving you.
Steve looks down at what he wrote, what he wrote without thinking, and tosses his phone on the couch. Oh, shit. There’s no turning back now.
She has to talk this out with someone. Darcy has to. So she finds herself spilling the entire story, that she’s got this friend on the internet that might be more than a friend, but how can you fall in love with someone that you’ve never seen?
“I don’t post selfies and neither does he, but I’ve seen his apartment. He’s seen my dorm. Isn’t that, like, even more intimate?” Darcy groans and spews words into the phone.
“Darcy, I think the more pressing thing is that you don’t even know his name,” Jane answers. “I mean, how do you even refer to each other. You write to each other, you have to call him something.”
“Brooklyn. I call him Brooklyn. He calls me Dee.”
“Well, at least that’s somewhat accurate,” Jane sighs with fucking exaggeration. For being Darcy’s best friend, she’s really being a pain in the ass about this.
“Jane. Focus. What do I do, here?”
“Do you really want to take relationship advice from me? You know how I met my boyfriend,” Jane says.
“I know. You are like the queen of unusual meet and greets. That’s why I’m asking you.” Darcy paces up and down the length of her dorm room. “What do I do?”
“Is he flirting?” Jane asks.
Darcy reads off their last few messages back and forth to each other. Yeah, it’s flirting. It’s so totally flirting.
“Well then, make a decision. Go all in or back off now. Who cares about looks?” says the woman dating Thor and an obvious liar. “You aren’t shallow. And you might never meet, but if you don’t speak up, you’ll never get to that point.”
“Jane, when did you get so wise in the ways of love?”
“Yeah, whatever, moving on. Did you get that article I sent you? Larson is so incredibly wrong that I don’t even know where to begin.”
This is a more comfortable conversation for Jane. Darcy read the article. She didn’t understand the article, because merely living and breathing the same air as an astrophysicist doesn’t give you super science understanding powers. That’s okay, she can guess. “Start with their to inability grasp basic math. That’s usually where you start.”
It’s a happy call, one that Darcy can keep on autopilot as she takes out her planner and sets up her week. Jane is never happier than when she’s eviscerating someone with her well-honed intellect. Darcy loves hearing it, loves getting the intense reaction before Jane tones it down into academic language. It’s beautiful.
“Are you staying for the summer semester?” Jane asks abruptly, shaking Darcy out of her planner stupor.
“Yeah, I think so. I have to switch dorms since they shut this one down for the summer. I think some music camp takes it over for a month. But I think I pulled some weight with housing and I’ll stay there for next year, too,” Darcy says.
“Great! I’m teaching a couple classes over the summer. It’ll be so good to see you.”
“Need a lab assistant? A bitching TA?” Darcy laughs. “Because I know where you can get one dirt cheap.”
They make plans and everything is okay for the moment. She’s going to have her Jane back for the summer, and she can revel in the rightness of the world for a couple of months.
“I’m going to go for it. It’s freeing; she’s really going to do this. She’s going to woo a man over the internet. There will be wooing. She doesn’t know his name or what he looks like or what he really does for a living, but, hey, life is an adventure. Darcy can’t expect more suitable men to just fall from the sky.
Although, given the state of the universe, it is still a non-zero possibility. Ain’t that a kick in the head.
Dee : Oh yeah? I guess I spend enough time with them that my textbooks probably think I’m pretty sexy.
brooklyn : The twinkle lights totally have a crush on you too.
Dee : And you, do your pencils know you cheat on them with your watercolors?
It’s time. Darcy has sent Brooklyn all her worst pickup lines. He gives back just as good. Darcy gives more, blushing all the while, and Brooklyn awkwardly tries to send back just as good. He doesn’t, and they give sexting the old heave-ho after what was supposed to be great little speculative missive about what Darcy can do to a penis, turns into an hour long discussion on the merits of Dick vs Cock vs Flowery Nonsense.
But still. It’s time.
Darcy types out her message with all the attention it deserves. If this is going to go anywhere serious, it needs a little more commitment. This isn’t out of line. Not one bit. Darcy has inquired about the state of his dick more than once but she’s never seen more than his shadow.
Darcy thinks she’d like to see a lot more. And it’s a little, uh, tit for tat, she’ll bare a little for him, too. But it’s a big step. It’s blurring the lines between what’s been kept online and what’s in her actual flesh and bone life.
Dee : Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to show me what you got. You can choose what to show me. You show me, I’ll show you. Choose wisely.
There, it’s sent. Brooklyn’s been off and on lately, a busy time at work, he’s said. But he’s been around enough that Darcy’s confident that he’ll see it within the day. He doesn’t go offline without telling her anymore. Which is reassuring to their relationship, whatever it turns out to be.
“Careful, Darcy, don’t go falling in love with the guy,” she singsongs to herself, but it’s probably too late for that.
He’s supposed to be busy, so it surprises Darcy when just a few minutes later, her notifications go off like crazy. Just one ding after another.
brooklyn : Like how up close and personal are you wanting to get?
brooklyn : Because I won’t be home for awhile.
brooklyn : But I’ve never been able to say no to a challenge.
Darcy considers for a moment before responding.
Dee : Whatever you are comfortable doing right now
Dee : Unless you are like in a public place, because I want to see some skin if at all possible.
Darcy isn’t sure what to expect. Okay, she knew what she was expecting knowing Brooklyn. Some artsy shot of like, his foot or something. Maybe a middle finger. If he really took the challenge, she thought, she’d see a bit of him framed in shadows. A silhouette.
The image she receives is not artistic. Well, it is, in that an artist took the selfie, but aside from a seriously great angle to catch the best light that an airplane bathroom has ever had, it’s…he’s….wow. Darcy gulps. The photo is taken angled down on Brooklyn’s shirtless body, the waistband of his boxer briefs peeking out from dark blue uniform pants slung low.
And Brooklyn is, he’s just, beyond belief. Darcy thought for sure, she was dealing with, well, skinny-ass hipster artist, even with the security job. So she was expecting skinny-ass hipster body, too, but that is not what she’s dealing with here. This is. Is. Wow. She could do laundry on those abs. And that happy trail, well, that’s just leading down to something she really wants to learn more about when she has the chance.
She’s never been so pleased by the prospect of a dick pic in her life.
brooklyn : Best I could do under the circumstances.
Dee : Very Nice. Impressive.
Dee : Someone ate their Wheaties growing up.
brooklyn : Not really. I had a very late growth spurt.
brooklyn : I believe the challenge was I’ll show you mine if you you show me yours?
Oh, shit. Yes. Her turn. Darcy is, thankfully, at home. Shit, is she even wearing anything respectable in the way of underwear? What is this appropriate level of nudity. Tits out? Bra? Should she find something that matches?
Dee : Well, first I need to find an airplane. How did you fit all that amazing into that tiny little space?
Dee : Yeah yeah yeah, give me a minute.
Okay. Bra. The equivalent of a man shirtless is a bra. She doesn’t have abs like that; for god’s sake, does he have to have the v-cut thing? Darcy doesn’t have the equivalent of the v-cut thing. Prettier bra, lacy bra, that’s what she needs. Does she even have one in the dorms? That’s dumb, of course she does. Girl’s got needs, and looking damn hot is one of them. Maybe. Occasionally. Darcy quickly changes and arranges her cleavage to her best advantage, and stages the same sort of shot — a downwards angle of her body, carefully positioned so that it’s not entirely her chest — and only applying a little, tiny bit of filter. Just to change the lighting.
Dorm lighting is terrible. Always terrible. She doesn’t shake - much - when she attaches the photo and presses send. She goes back and sits on her bed, phone in hand and her heart in her throat.
Natasha looks Steve over as he returns to his seat. “Your shirt is askew.”
“It’s going to be a long flight, I can fix it later,” Steve replies. He’s thankful to not fly commercial. He’s done it a few times and prefers the bench in a cargo plane to the cattle car, even in first class. The charter is nice enough, despite Tony trying to insist that his private planes are the only ones worth flying in.
It’s not the plane’s fault that it’s a long flight, and there’s a rain delay, and Steve’s on edge with curiosity. Dee doesn’t have to respond. And certainly not in kind, but he hopes she does. He doesn’t strictly have a type. If he has a type, it’s more in personality than looks, and Dee has personality for days. But does she have legs to match? Is she tall and able to match his stride, short so he’ll have to keep her pace? Curvy or straight and flat? Something between? What Dee looks like is less important than having something concrete and physical about her to know, so that when he sees her name on his dash, he has a glimpse that this is real.
There was a thrill when she sent that first message: show me yours, I’ll show you mine. Knowing that they were on the same wavelength helps. The flirting, the little thrill of joy whenever he gets a message from Dee, it’s all been so much. Natasha can try to set him up on a thousand dates but they can’t compare to even an emoji from this girl. He knows her, even if he doesn’t really know her at all. Now there’s one less barrier. He’s got that bigger wall that he’s going to have to address soon, but this is a first step.
He’s set his phone on vibrate for the plane and it buzzes in his pocket. And the message preview is. Well. Not something he can take in his seat that’s for sure.
“Never mind, I’ll fix it now,” He tells Natasha, and tries to look casual as he goes back to the bathroom.
“Okay,” Natasha says without looking up. She exaggerates the first syllable and goes back to her magazine.
He closes the door behind him, locking it, and opens the message and wow. Dee is, Dee’s got, Dee’s…spectacular. She’s all creamy skin and a lace bra, pitch black, with lines that criss-cross over her breasts. Like a little cage.
Steve understands angles. He understands them from both a tactical and artistic viewpoint. And selfie angles may tend to exaggerate, but he understands them. If he were cruder. Shit, if he were Bucky, he’d call her stacked. And Dee is, no doubt about it, but he’s also drawn to the rise of her belly, and how tight her jeans are around her thighs.
The bottom of her chin and a lock of long dark hair are visible in the frame, and he keeps coming back to it, trying to extrapolate the rest of her face. Jesus and all the saints, she’s beautiful, matching her personality in spades.
brooklyn : Damn.
brooklyn : I’m a pretty lucky guy here.
Dee : I don’t show and tell to just anyone.
Fuck. All that skin is overwhelming, and he’s fucking hard from her photo.
brooklyn : I’d sing praises, but my flight is going to take off at some point and they’ll want me to turn my phone off.
Dee : You wouldn’t want to blow up the plane by staring at me too long.
brooklyn: I don’t think I could. Stare at you too long that is.
Dee : Flatterer. Go fly the friendly skies. I’ll talk to you later.
And that’s it. Steve can’t ignore the rising heat low in his body. It hadn’t stopped raining yet, there’s only a few others on the flight. It can’t possibly take long to just — think on things a little more hands on. His zipper’s not a problem, it’s a relief to remove his dick from the restriction.
The flight isn’t going to take off with him still in the lavatory, and there’s no way he’d be able to make the hours without doing something to just take the edge off. There’s no way that Dee isn’t an absolute stunner, and he wants to run his hands all the way down her body, but right now, he’ll settle for a few quick strokes of his dick.
He can just feel her, yielding under his hands, soft and sweet and perfect, as he reaches around her to take that little bit of lace off of her. He doesn’t want to imagine her face, doesn’t want to make a presumption, but he can think about nipping into her chin until it lifts up and he can nuzzle into her neck.
His breath has begun to run as ragged and intense as his need, his dick slick with sweat from his palm. He chokes off a moan, keeping himself quiet and as still as possible and his mental image turns to the thought of exploring those beautiful, round breasts.
Fuck, he’s going to blush whenever Dee messages him next. He’s going to have to change the ringtone. And his dick just keeps getting harder and hard, and he’s past the point of no return.
Steve spills over his hand, closing his eyes to bite against the need to cry out. He can’t, but he really wants to, he wants to know what Dee’s voice sounds like, would she be loud or breathy, and this is such a slippery slope. Days ago, he’d wanted to know what she looked like and now he can’t stop just wondering. More and more. He wants to know as much about her as she’ll give.
He wants to give as much, too. Steve washes his hands as the pilot comes over the intercom to inform them to return to their seats, as they should be taking off shortly.
He walks back, passing Natasha, who notes, “Your shirt is still askew.”
“I decided I liked it better this way.”
“Jane! Jane, I can’t help you move that weekend. No, I can’t!” Darcy has to talk louder just to be heard over Jane’s insisting tone.
“Sure you can. I have plenty of help here, I just need you to help me unpack.”
“Jane, that’s also the weekend I have to move. Everything. And yes, it’s a dorm room and not an apartment, but I have to cross campus. On my own, because they’ve closed the only good road between the my current dorm and my new dorm for a fun run. With inflatables.”
“Running is not fun.” Jane says. “The only acceptable time to run is when it’s, like, a death situation. Which happens far too often. And I always hurt for days after.”
“Huh, me too. Maybe we should take up running,” Darcy ponders, “Anyways, seeing as I need to start bodybuilding in order to move rooms, I can’t help you. Except maybe to order the pizza.”
Jane sighs. “Fine. I’ll dupe someone here into helping out.”
Darcy finishes the semester with an efficiency that frightens her and spends dead week probably actually dead except for the random messages she sends Brooklyn. A three line diatribe on the horrors of Memorial Hall’s 103 lecture hall. A paragraph consisting of swearing about modern economic theory that makes Brooklyn send a blushing, scandalized cartoon version of himself.
brooklyn : Hey, you are at Culver, right?
Dee :Yeah, why?
brooklyn : I might be by that way in a week or two.
brooklyn : If you want to meet.
brooklyn : No pressure.
Darcy freezes. Yes. Yes. She wants to meet this wonderful man. She wants to see him in person and do at least half of the dirty things that they’ve exchanged back and forth to each other. Or you know, lunch. Lunch would be good too.
Dee : I’d love that. Let me know the details when you have them and I will make it work.
Steve hadn’t intended on answering Jane’s request for help, though he was pleased that she was leaving the labs for a little while. People aren’t meant to live within the same block for extended periods of time and Jane was prone to being insular. Particularly if Thor was not available. But when Jane sent out a group text asking for help moving her and a little equipment, Steve hadn’t responded. His schedule was too erratic to commit.
Then, Jane had said she was moving out to Culver for a semester and Steve responded immediately: yes, he would help. It was self-serving, an excuse, but it was the perfect one. He’ll be there, and leave the choice to meet in Dee’s court. If she says no, well, he has something to do anyways. And if she says yes...
Well, then he can explain about himself in person. Dee would take it well. Dee knows him , not his persona. And if she rejects having something more than an online fling because of his day job, then that’s what it is. At least she got to know him first. Beyond the uniform.
When she says yes, Steve has to stop himself from saying something out loud, in the middle of Jane’s lab, helping her pack up the equipment she’s taking with her.
“I wish I had you guys around before New Mexico,” Jane says. “My stuff was even heavier then and moving it all around was horrible. The first time Darce and I had to rearrange? She tore up her shins so bad she limped for three days.”
He keeps hearing about Darcy from Jane, and he wishes he’d been in a better mood that night at the party. Not that she was any better, but from the stories Jane tells, Darcy is a steadfast friend and world-class instigator. But, he’s blown that potential friendship. Boat sailed.
“But she did it,” Jane continues. “And now I have the funding for better materials so everything is lighter and more portable.”
“And yet, you still asked me to help you move.”
“I’m not turning down free help that doesn’t need a dolly,” Jane says, taping a drawer shut.
“I might disappear for a little bit. I might be meeting someone.”
“You? Who do you know on campus?”
Steve stops, realizing that he hasn’t really told anyone about Dee. And, especially, not about how serious it is between them. “I …uh…a pen pal?”
Jane snorts. “Did you and your abs go on tinder?”
“No! But, uh, something like that. I met someone online and she’s at Culver,” Steve replies and yes, it feels so good to say something about this, about her. “I’m, uh, really looking forward to it. I really like her.”
Jane smiles, sweet and content. A contentedness that’s for him, not mocking, not even smirking. It’s a pleased look and he returns it with a sudden bashfulness. “That’s good, Steve, that’s really good. I hope she’s as special as you are.”
“More than me. By yards and yards.”
When he and Jane finalize their plans, he sends them to Dee. And she confirms, telling him that she will make time for him that day. She’s moving, herself, from one dorm to another and there’s so much stupid bullshit about that she will explain when they meet but trust her, it’s ridiculous bullshit.
Steve starts counting down the days.
“The first time I moved my father gifted me his station wagon. It was a surprise for me, for my freshman year of college at Culver,” Darcy writes in an email to Brooklyn, the night before they are supposed to meet up. “He was so proud of me. A prestigious private school that he saved for and I would end up wasting, but he was so proud that he just gave me the car to use. I could fit everything I owned in that car. And here I am, years later. And everything I own doesn’t even fill the station wagon anymore. If I could even use the station wagon, anymore. I’ve become a minimalist. Dear god in heaven, I didn’t mean to. Stop me if I decide to limit myself to 100 things or start a blog, okay?”
“I promise. No minimalism for you, Dee. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t wait to see your face. Honest. Is that weird? We’re weird. It’s like this screwball weirdness; I want to kiss you the first time I see your face.”
“Well, I want to play with your hair. Leave it down, okay? I’ve got to get my friend loaded in the truck. I’m going to message you my number. And Dee? So it’s not too weird, my name’s Steve. Calling my Brooklyn in the middle of campus would be a little too awkward for me.”
“I’m kinda partial to you calling me Dee. You can investigate my license for my real name tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Darcy has to book it across campus at least six times to get her stuff schlepped over. Unless she can scam one of the campus facility workers into letting her throw her stuff into their golf carts while they pick up the recycling. They owe her after nearly running her off the sidewalks so many times during the year.
And then she can meet Brooklyn. Steve, his name is Steve, and she knows he’s gorgeous, smart, and into her, and she’s going to see him tomorrow. Tomorrow. If their connection from online has that same spark in person… Darcy’s going to have a lot to think about. Maybe not think about, because all she wants is to do something about that spark.
She doesn’t sleep much, her whole body is restless and she paces her packed up dorm nearly every hour until she passes out from sheer exhaustion. Tomorrow becomes Later Today. Jane texts her in the morning to let her know that she’s arrived and unloading. Darcy promises her that they’ll spend the next day together and get things organized.
“No, don’t worry about getting everything perfect, Steve. That’s tomorrow. Darcy knows where everything goes. She came up with my system, she knows it better than anyone,” Jane says, answering a text. “How much is left in the truck?”
Together, they’ve unloaded Jane’s lab and most of her rental house. It’s a beautiful Victorian that the college maintains for visiting professors of note. Foster is filled with pride at being able to use the house. “We just have a few things left to unload at the house.”
They finish, and Foster treats Steve to lunch at a local hole in the wall place. At least, Jane had said it was a hole in the wall; it’s packed when they get there. Jane is flabbergasted until she sees that the menu had changed to an all-organic, farm to table format rather than piled high sandwiches and hand cut kettle chips.
Jane’s engrossed in her phone for a few minutes, texting furiously while they wait for the check to come back. “Steve, can I steal you for a little while longer? You don’t have to meet your person for a little while, right? Darcy’s moving across campus and at least one of her boxes broke on the quad.”
Steve checks his own phone. He’s got time, and it’s better to keep busy. “Let’s go."
It’s a beautiful day to walk across Culver’s campus. There’s some sort of sporting event going on that makes it easier to walk than to drive anywhere, but it seems to involve oversized versions of those children’s inflatable houses. And women in tutus and leggings. It might be some sort of overactive birthday party.
“Darcy says you’ll be able to tell it’s her because she’s lying in her comforter on the sidewalk. And has a lamp,” Jane says, directing Steve towards the walking paths that cross the campus quad.
The lamp is what Steve sees first, and then the girl, sitting upright and attempting to prop up the blanket on a few sticks.
“I’m making a blanket fort! Want to join?”
“I leave you alone for three months, Dee, and this is what happens to you?” Jane yells back to…Dee?
“Dee?” Steve asks, strangled in voice and in his head. “I thought you said her name was Darcy?”
“It is. I told her once she was a fucking utter delight, and then, you know how nicknames — where are you going?”
Steve takes off at a run. It can’t be; it really can’t be. Dee and Darcy, of all people, cannot be the same same person. But the woman looks up, and it’s her jawline, and how her hair falls, he knows, it’s her, and it her, and it’s…
Darcy Lewis, who totally blew him off, whom he didn’t care to meet, was Dee. She had to be; it made sense. Her nonchalance at his “security” job, the way he could be himself, even old-fashioned, and she didn’t see it as odd. If she was used to Thor and Foster — then obviously he wouldn’t seem strange at all. They can put that disastrous first meeting behind them, he knows they can.
He stops a few yards short of her and asks, trying to keep his voice from trembling with the fear that maybe he’s already ruined a good thing. “Dee?”
Darcy’s head shoots up and looks in his direction. “Steve? Holy shit, we aren’t supposed to —” Darcy starts picking at her little blanket fort, which falls down in her excitement. “How did you even —” and then she sees him. “Steve Rogers?” she says, flailing a little. But he hates her? Why is he here? “Is this a joke?”
“No. I’m brooklyndodged, and if you’re utterdeelight, then…” He trails off and, wow.
Darcy starts laughing. She can’t help it. “You mean, all this time,” she can’t stop laughing and she holds up her hand to reassure Steve that she isn’t laughing at him. She can’t take that long face he’s giving her. “I complained about you TO YOU. I should be mortified.”
“To be fair, I think I did the same to you.” Steve’s face, oh, goodness, his face. He smiles and it’s more than what Darcy could have dreamed of. “I, uh, guess I don’t have to explain about the — you know.”
“It’s better that way, I think. Imagine having to introduce an outsider to your BFF and her boyfriend, the god of Thunder.” Darcy holds her hand out so Steve can help her up from her collapsing, makeshift blanket fort. “Oh god, we wasted so much time.”
He reels her in, smooth and strong, wrapping his arms around her. “Is this okay?” and Darcy. Could. Just. Die. Right now.
Darcy answers by kissing him. Oh sure, she meant for something…well, something meaningful, a surprise first kiss. Just to get the awkward out of the way, but still good. Short, sweet. Maybe she’d linger on his lips. But yesterday’s overactive imagination jumps out of the way for the roaring heat of want between them. There’s no confusion of where this is headed, it was always heading here, with their bodies close and their lips together, standing in the middle of the quad with Jane yelling at them.
Jane yells, “What the hell!” and Darcy can give no shits about it. That may be a problem in the future, but right here, right now, she’s laughing as she kisses Steve Rogers.