The first time Steve found the amaranth she’d sewn into the lining of his uniform, Darcy almost spit her coffee across the kitchen. He didn’t seem to know what it was; his nose screwed up adorably as he sniffed at it curiously. When he turned to Tony, loudly asking what the plant stuffed in his suit was, she panicked. Her first instinct was to flee the room, but that would be too suspicious, so she stared into her cup of coffee instead.
As she stared into the swirling steam, Darcy’s ears ached with the strain of trying to hear the entire conversation. Their voices rose—Tony was loudly denying that he’d messed with Steve’s suit, saying he would never take a prank so far, would never endanger a teammate—and she closed her eyes in pain. All she’d wanted to do was keep Steve safe out in the field, keep him from getting killed; she’d never wanted to create strife between the two of them.
With an excruciating awareness of the heavy silence now permeating the room, Darcy gulped down her coffee, choking back the scalding liquid. She didn’t dare look up—there was no way she was going to draw attention to herself. Until Steve addressed her directly, and then her eyes rose to his, almost unwillingly. He looked confused, but not suspicious. A little knot eased in her stomach as she realized that her secret was safe.
His eyebrows furrowed, and she realized that he’d been speaking to her. “Sorry, what?” she asked, setting down her coffee cup with a little too much force.
Tony snorted as he passed her on his way to the coffee pot. “You’re worse than I am with the caffeine, Double D.”
Steve ignored him. “I was wondering if you knew what this was,” he said, showing her the grain he had crumbled in his fist. With a pounding heart, Darcy reached out to brush a finger across the amaranth—bulletproof, she reminded herself, the deception was worth it—and tried to ignore the rough warmth of his skin, or the way it felt against hers.
She hummed noncommittally and withdrew her hand. “Maybe Clint would know?” she suggested, throwing the other troublemaker under the bus and trying not to think about all the negative karma she had coming her way. “He has a farm, right?”
Steve’s grin was bright and genuine. “You’re right, Darce. Thanks.” Guilt twisted and churned in her gut, and she poured the coffee out in the sink. Bulletproof, she reminded herself.
“Yeah, no problem,” she said, heading for the door. “I hope you figure it out! Gotta run, sorry. Jane needs me in the lab.” She walked away as sedately as possible, trying not to flee.
Just before she was out of earshot, she heard Tony say, “That’s weird. Darcy always finishes her coffee before she heads to the lab.”
In hindsight, making Jane a flower crown to wear around the lab so soon after the amaranth incident probably wasn’t the best of ideas. But in her defense, no one but Tony and Thor ever came to the astrophysics lab. Tony barely noticed anything—and to be honest, flower crowns weren’t even close to the weird shit he kept in his lab—and after many years of impromptu flower crown ceremonies, Jane hardly noticed that she was wearing one. Thor said nothing about them at all, but his knowing eyes settled on Darcy more often than usual, and she wondered if he knew more about her than he let on.
And then Jane went through a period of rotten luck. She was so clumsy, they’d gotten to the point where they’d run completely out of Band-Aids, the first aid kit was permanently left out on Darcy’s desk, and they’d only narrowly escaped dismemberment by lab equipment. Twice.
So, Jane didn’t protest when Darcy came in the next day armed with a crown overflowing with carnations, clover, honeysuckle, lavender, and violets. “Well, at least the lab will smell good now,” was all she said, pushing her new headwear up her forehead so that she could peer at the data more closely. Darcy’s witchy behavior was one of those things they simply didn’t talk about, but her best friend accommodated her more out-of-the-box requests and demands with grace. Most of the time, anyway.
When Jane stubbed her toe while wearing the crown, Darcy went hunting through her Book of Shadows. She was poring over all the magic she’d used to protect Jane in the past—ignoring her friend’s mocking comments about her overreacting—and completely failed to notice Steve’s arrival.
He cleared his throat awkwardly, drawing their attention abruptly. Darcy’s head shot up and she slammed her book closed on instinct. His eyes flickered down to it and back up to her face, and she was barely able to keep herself from wincing. Way to keep it cool, Darce. Graciously, he ignored her weird reaction and gestured toward Jane’s floral accessory instead. “Is it a special occasion?” Looking between them, he checked, “I didn’t miss a birthday, did I?”
Jane stared at him uncomprehending for a long moment. Then she laughed and stroked one of the violets. “No, Darcy just brought me a flower crown today.”
His sharp eyes turned on her, and Darcy felt them like a knife to the gut. Shivers raced down her spine, and she couldn’t decide if it was the fear of discovery or the way seemed so…interested. “Is that right?” His voice was quietly curious, and he didn’t break eye contact.
“Mhmm,” Jane confirmed, already distracted by her next task. “She does it to protect me.” Darcy couldn’t help it; she closed her eyes in frustration. Of all the times for Jane to be observant.
When she opened them, Steve was still staring at her. Assessing. She was afraid to find out what his conclusion was, and she hurriedly made an excuse to get him out of the lab.
Meeting Wanda was terrifying. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. In the beginning, Darcy had been really curious to meet the Scarlet Witch. She’d had all these little fantasies of watching and learning from afar—after months living with the Avengers, she was running out of new ways to protect them—and then Jane casually mentioned that the female Maximoff had the ability to read minds.
In a blind panic, Darcy began to avoid all the common areas. She didn’t make her coffee in the common room kitchen anymore, and got all her and Jane’s food delivered directly to their lab or the apartment. She worked crazy hours, slinking to and from her apartment when she was positive no one would be around. She couldn’t explain her own actions, even when Jane confronted her about it.
All she knew was that she loved it here, loved the crazy superheroes and their insane antics. In all honesty, she didn’t know how she’d handle it if they cast her out, couldn’t accept her for who she was. And so she kept sneaking around. It wasn’t a long-term solution, and Darcy knew that she’d have to face the Scarlet Witch sooner or later.
Sooner. It was sooner, rather than later. One morning, right at the crack of dawn, Darcy opened her door and froze. Wanda Maximoff was leaning against the wall directly across from her, a cold and suspicious look painted over her face. “Why are you avoiding me?” she asked, cutting straight to the point.
Darcy closed her eyes, waiting for pain or recriminations—or something—but nothing happened. Until there was a cool, gentle touch on her elbow, coaxing her to open her eyes. Wanda’s eyes were warm and sympathetic, a direct contrast to their previous expression. “I see,” she murmured, setting her hand in the crook of Darcy’s elbow and guiding her down the hall. “We have stories to compare, don’t we?”
No one said anything when Wanda began wearing new jewelry—blue stones on a red string—but they were curious to see that she and Darcy became close friends, after all.
The wonder that was her friendship with Wanda—they sewed protective charms into the team’s uniforms together, wove flower crowns for Jane’s hair, and even made a wreath for Bucky’s door, to help him have peaceful dreams—lulled Darcy into a warm sense of security and safety.
That lovely sensation, the feeling of home, was shattered when she walked into the lab to find Steve idly sorting her paperwork. She had no idea what he was looking for, but she could tell the exact moment he found her Book of Shadows. He only had time to flip the first page before she was there, drawing his attention with an overly excited greeting.
Steve dropped the page and looked up at her, taking her in. Praying that he interpreted her sudden flush to their close proximity, not fear, she chirped, “What brings you to the lab today?”
He stood up, bringing their bodies even closer together. As he opened his mouth to speak, her eyes dropped to his lips. She couldn’t help it; they’d never stood this close, and he smelled so good. The warmth of his body radiated in the space between them, and all she wanted to do was reach out and touch him. The extended silence drew her eyes up to his, and what she saw there had her biting her lip.
Steve’s eyes were dilated, and his gaze raked across her face with undisguised hunger. When he caught sight of her lip caught between her teeth, his breath visibly stuttered in his chest and he swayed forward. She met him in the middle, rising to her tiptoes and bringing his face down to hers.
It’s a good distraction, she told herself. That’s all it is. Her reasoning sounded weak even in the silence of her own mind. And then his tongue was sliding against her lower lip, soothing and teasing the spot that had been captured by her teeth, and she didn’t have anymore thoughts. He pulled her closer and she went gladly, with hands in his hair and scraping across his scalp. His arms reached around her, hiking her up his body.
She had no idea how long they stayed that way, curved around each other. It wasn’t long enough, would never be long enough. And then FRIDAY’s voice came over the speakers. “Captain Rogers, my apologies, but there’s a situation that requires your immediate attention.”
They broke apart, staring into each other’s eyes. His hand came up to stroke her cheek, and then he stepped away. “I’ll find you later?” he asked, and she nodded.
As he walked away, her eyes were drawn to the Book of Shadows, making sure it sat undisturbed. She glanced toward the door, and there he was, watching her. His eyes darted to the book, then to her mouth. She watched as his face fell in disappointment, falling into a series of harsh lines. And then he walked away, fading into the darkness of the hallway without a backward glance.
Darcy sank into her chair and tried not to cry.
She didn’t see Steve for a week. Her insides were all mixed together, writhing in guilt over her deception. And yet she could still feel the faint impression of his lips on hers, and she savored and cherished the memory. Darcy waited every day for him to come confront her—she was sure he’d known exactly what she was doing—but he never showed.
Convincing herself that she needed to get her shit together and move on, she dragged herself down to the lab to work on some paperwork while Jane was sleeping off a science bender. To her dismayed surprise, there were two people waiting outside the lab doors. Without preamble, Wanda shoved Steve in her direction and ordered, “Talk to him, Darcy.”
Then she was gone, and they were alone. Without meeting his eyes, Darcy sighed and asked, “Want to come in?” He didn’t give a verbal answer, but followed her through the open door.
After a moment of tense silence, Steve whispered her name. When she looked up, he seemed caught by surprise. His mouth worked for a second, then he finally said, “So. You’re a—”
Darcy nodded quickly, not wanting to hear him say the word. If it was spoken with disdain or disgust, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to take it. Not from him. She wrung her hands together and began to pace back and forth.
Spotting the fear that ran riot across her expression, Steve reached out to gently untangle her hands. Holding them between his, he said, “Darcy. You don’t need to be afraid.” Her eyes darted up to his, and the sweet expression on his face made her want to cry.
Watching the way her eyes welled with tears, his face softened. “I just want to know more,” he said, stroking his thumb across her knuckles. Reassuring her, telling her something important. “I want to understand you—to know you.”
“Okay.” Her voice broke slightly on the second syllable. It was scary, allowing someone to truly see her. All of her.
His whole body shifted and relaxed, as if he’d been afraid she would say no. “Okay,” he echoed quietly. “Would you like to get some coffee and talk about it?”
“I would love that,” she said, “but maybe we could drink it in the apartment? This conversation isn’t really conducive for—” she waved a hand through the air vaguely, “public spaces?”
“Alright.” His easy grin slid away, the corners of his mouth drawing down to a serious expression. Her breath caught in her throat, and anxiety stirred in her gut. “Darcy?”
“The next time you kiss me, don’t do it because you’re trying to distract me. Please.” His words were stern and his face could’ve been carved from granite. She swallowed past a heavy lump in her throat. But then the light shifted across his face, revealing the hurt swimming in his eyes, and her heart beat for a different reason.
“Oh, Steve,” she said, reaching for him. Their conversation could wait; right now, she needed to show him exactly how real that kiss had been for her. There was no doubt in her kiss, no worry. With her lips on his, she fell into the feeling of him, showing him exactly how she felt. He didn’t let her fall alone.