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“What do you mean it’s not safe here?” Darcy yelled. Everyone else in the room winced, and she considered lowering her voice for a moment, but then decided against it. If ever a situation called for her loud voice, this was it. “This is Stark fucking Tower! If it’s not safe here, where is it safe?”

“Avenger’s Tower, please,” Tony sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I did the paperwork and everything. But honestly, pretty much anywhere else would be safer at this point. The bad guys know what you look like and they know you’re here. We can probably keep you safe as long as you stay in the private areas, but you don’t seem like the type of person who would enjoy house arrest. All they have to do is get lucky one time when you leave or come back and you’re getting your brain cracked open so they can try and figure out how to make wormholes.”

“You are welcome to join Jane and I in Asgard,” Thor put in. “No villains would menace you there, and I would greatly enjoy showing you my world.”

Darcy patted his arm. “Thanks a lot for that, big guy. Some other time I’ll probably take you up on it. But I would probably like being stuck on a planet where people compare me to goats even less than I’d like being confined here for who knows how long. At least the Tower has wifi.”

“There’s a third option,” Maria said from the other side of the table. “We set you up in an apartment somewhere in the city, witness-protection style. You wouldn’t be able to contact your family or friends in case someone traced it--”

“As far as I know I have no living family, and trailing an astrophysicist around the globe doesn’t exactly lend itself to close friendships,” Darcy interrupted. “Anyone I’d want to contact is pretty much in this room.”

Maria nodded. “That might be your best bet then, although you should know that there’s a small chance they might come after you anyway.”

“Better that than a big chance they come after me here,” Darcy said, shrugging. “Are you guys going to assign me a bodyguard or something?”

“Not exactly,” Steve said from the head of the table, breaking his silence. “I’ll be coming with you.”

The shock of that statement broke Darcy out of her habit of not looking at Steve directly, and she gaped at him for probably a ridiculous amount of time before she remembered to close her mouth. “I, um, I don’t think that’s really necessary.”

“I do,” Steve said firmly, and enough heads nodded around the table that Darcy realized it was a done deal. Either she got kidnapped, spent an undetermined amount of time under what was basically house arrest (albeit the most luxurious house arrest ever), or spent the same amount of time sharing an apartment with one Steven Grant Rogers, aka Captain America.

How the fuck was this her life?

“You really don’t have to do this,” Darcy said to Steve as he steered her politely but firmly down the hall toward the elevator. “I’m sure a rent-a-cop could do the job just fine, or maybe an ex-SHIELD agent, if you happen to have one lying around?”

“First of all, how do you think Dr. Foster and Thor would react if they felt we weren’t protecting you to the best of our abilities?” Steve asked, gesturing her into the elevator ahead of him. “I don’t want to be the one to tell the Prince of Asgard that we let his friend get kidnapped, and I definitely don’t want to tell Dr. Foster that. She’s little, but I bet she could make me really sorry.”

Darcy frowned, but she couldn’t dispute his statement, especially in the face of his completely sincere (and adorable) fear of Jane, who barely came up to the middle of his chest. “Okay, fair enough, I guess.”

“It’s not just about you, either,” he continued as the elevator whirred downward. “We’re pretty sure this particular branch of the Serpent Society has information on what Hydra did to the Winter Soldier, since they worked with them in the past. If they do come after you, I want first crack at ‘em.”

Somehow, looking at his face, Darcy was pretty sure the cracking would involve bones, perhaps a few skulls. Steve was a nice guy, but he could do “righteous fury” better than anyone she’d ever met, and her best friend was shacked up with a literal demigod.

“Okay,” she said again, because what else was there to say? This was clearly happening, so time to stop protesting and get with the program.

Besides, it’s not like it was going to last forever. A few months, tops, and then they’d catch the bad guys and everything would go back to normal.

“Wait, what?” Darcy was starting to wonder if she was just being exceptionally dumb today, but Steve had an equally dumbfounded expression on his face. “We have to pretend to be dating?”

The woman at the desk looked at her like she was a particularly slow toddler. “We need a plausible reason for the two of you to be living together.”

“We can’t just be roommates?” Steve asked, his chin set stubbornly, and Darcy’s stomach sank It shouldn’t matter to her that he clearly didn’t want to have to pretend to be dating her; he was so far out of her league it wasn’t even funny. And if she told herself that, repeatedly, maybe it would stop hurting.

“You need a reason to spend most of your free time together,” the woman explained patiently. “If you were roommates who did that, it would be out of the ordinary, something people would remember. If you’re dating, you’re just another couple living together in Brooklyn.”

Steve nodded (reluctantly, Darcy noticed, with one of those little stabs of...something). “That makes sense.”

“Excellent,” the woman said briskly, clearly ready to move things along. She pushed two folders across the desk to them. “Here are the details of your cover identities. You have appointments with Ms. Potts’ personal shopper for wardrobe at ten and with the salon on the 34th floor at one.”

Darcy flinched, clutching her cardigan protectively closed, but Steve was nodding again.

“Will they be able to change our appearance enough to keep us safe?” he asked.

The woman smiled for the first time since they’d walked into her office. “You’d be surprised what the right haircut can do.”

“Finished?” Steve said, standing up from the armchair where he’d parked himself in the salon waiting area.

“God, I hope so,” Darcy said, looking back over her shoulder in case the frighteningly perky Alyssa was lurking there, ready to pounce for “just one more thing, it’ll only take a second, I swear.” She hefted the bag of hair products that probably cost more than her phone. “Nice haircut.”

Steve rubbed his hand over the short fuzz that was the only hair left on his head, and Darcy tucked her free hand into her pocket before she reached out to touch it herself, see if it was as soft as it looked.

“It’s different, right? They said I shouldn’t shave for a couple of days, too.”

Darcy bit her lip. On the one hand, it seemed like a shame to cover that all-American jawline with anything. On the other hand, the mental picture of Steve with that buzz cut and a couple of days of scruff was even more dangerous to her composure than he usually was, and that was saying something.

“You definitely won’t look like Captain America.”

“Well, that’s the idea, isn’t it?” he said, his ears turning just a little pink. “You look nice.”

She ran her fingers through her own hair, a little self-conscious about the vibrant rainbow colors threaded through it. “I wasn’t too sure about the color. I mean, the idea is to not get noticed, right? But with hair like this, Alyssa said they’ll be looking at the hair, and not me, and that makes sense, I guess, because whenever I see people with super bright hair, I’m always looking at it--”

She cut off her babbling abruptly when Steve reached out and caught a turquoise curl, letting it wrap around his finger. “It’s pretty,” he said, his eyes on her hair and not her face. “Bright. It suits you.”

They stood there, at arm’s length, for what was probably only a minute but felt like an eternity as Darcy tried to come up with a response that wasn’t completely pathetic. Before the silence could stretch too awkwardly, though, JARVIS made the polite little ping that he used in place of clearing his throat.

“Excuse me, Captain, Miss Lewis, but the disguise department has requested your presence for the final touches to your new identities. Mr. Stark is quite excited to see you.”

“Every part of that statement fills me with dread,” Darcy muttered under her breath, and Steve huffed out a chuckle, pulling his hand slowly back and letting her hair fall away from it.

“We’re on our way, JARVIS,” he said, and offered her his hand. “Shall we?”

Darcy gaped at his hand like an idiot for a few seconds before she remembered that they were supposed to be pretending to be in a relationship. “Sure,” she said, shifting the bag of products to her other hand and trying not to shiver as his fingers laced through hers. “Once more, unto the breach.”

“So the problem--nice ‘dos, kiddos--” Tony said, starting to talk before they were even through the door, “--the problem is that neither of you has any tattoos.”

“Hi, Tony,” Steve said, his tone long-suffering. “Nice to see you too. Me? I’m fine. Great weather we’re having, huh? You wanted to see us?”

Tony waved a hand like a man shooing away a particularly pesky insect. “Yeah, yeah, social niceties, whatever. As I was saying , the problem is that neither of you has any tattoos, or piercings, for that matter, and for people of your age–-apparent age in your case, Mon Capitain–-that’s weird. Now we can supply you with fake piercings, but the tattoos, that's trickier. Temps wash off, and anyone with a half-decent eye can tell them from the real thing.”

Darcy raised an eyebrow, trying to ignore the fact that Steve was still holding her hand. It was just for practice. It didn’t mean anything. “I assume you called us here because you have a solution, not just to bitch about our lack of body mods?”

“Perspicacious as always,” Tony said, picking something up from the counter in front of him. “Stark Industries has developed semi-permanent skin dyes; they stay on for about 27 days unless you remove them with a very specific solvent.” He tossed the object to Steve, who caught it in his free hand and held up what appeared to be a set of paints. “Go nuts, Picasso.”

For once Steve looked as gobsmacked as Darcy felt. “Why me?” he asked, but his fingers were curled possessively around the paints. “Don’t you have some way of printing out a design and applying it?”

“Yeah, but it’s gonna need to be touched up every four weeks or so, probably faster on you because of the stupid serum, or it’ll be obvious it isn’t a real tattoo,” Tony explained. “If you’re going to be the ones fixing ‘em, you should get to make them in the first place.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Darcy said. “I should not be anywhere near those. Adding filters to Instagram photos is as artistic as I get.”

“You two lovebirds settle that between yourselves,” Tony said, shooing them gently out of the room. “Just make your decisions tonight, because we’re setting you up in your new apartment tomorrow. Have fun.”

They stood outside the door in silence for a minute.

“So,” Darcy said finally. “I guess we should brainstorm some tattoos?”

“I guess so,” Steve agrees. “Maybe we could order some pizza?”

She couldn’t keep herself from smiling up at him. “Sounds great.”

“Any ideas?” Steve asked once they’d managed to annihilate the better part of two large pizzas, curled up on the oversized couch in Steve’s apartment.

“Nothing too cliched,” Darcy said, licking pizza sauce off her fingers. Steve had to force his gaze away. “No clocks or infinity symbols or anything like that. I really like watercolor style tattoos, so maybe something like that?”

“Watercolor tattoos?” Steve asked, momentarily diverted. “How does that work?”

“JARVIS?” she said. “A little help here?”

“My pleasure, Ms. Lewis,” the AI answered. A holographic display shimmered into being, filled with various images.

“Wow,” Steve breathed, flicking through the images. “These are tattoos?”

“Indeed,” JARVIS answered. “I could show you videos of the techniques involved--”

“Maybe another time,” Steve said reluctantly. “We’re kind of on a deadline here. Darcy, where do want your fake tattoo?”

She shrugged, leaning back into the corner of the couch. “Unless you come up with a design that works best in a specific place, probably my arms? The whole point is for them to be visible, right?”

“That makes sense,” he agreed.

“What about you?” she asked. “Are you going to be able to do your own?”

“I can do my left arm with a mirror,” he replied absently, staring off into space. “How do you feel about something space-related?”

“Sounds pretty,” Darcy said with a smile. “Like a galaxy or something?”

Steve nodded. “The thing I’m thinking about would probably cover most of your arm and maybe part of your shoulder, if that’s okay?”

“Sure,” she said easily. “Paint me like one of your French girls.”

Steve choked on his own spit for a minute. “I assume that’s a reference to something?” he asked once he was finally able to breathe again.

“Oh, honey,” Darcy said, patting his cheek. “I’m going to have so much fun catching you up. But first, how do we want to do this?”

Steve frowned. The couch was large, but not really wide enough to work around the way he’d need to. “You’ll probably need to be lying down so you can be as still as I need, but the couch isn’t really big enough to support your arm, too.”

“We could use your bed,” Darcy suggested, laughing a little at the expression on his face. “Did I shock you, Captain?”

“No,” he said stubbornly, even though he was pretty sure they both knew it was a lie. “Anyway, we’re going to pretend to be dating, right? It’s no big deal. And my name is Steve.”

She smiled at him, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “Right. Lead the way, Steve.”

He took her hand, picking up the paints with the other and led her down the short hallway to his bedroom, with its oversized, overly soft bed. He was half-expecting some comment on the state of the room (immaculate, thanks to Stark’s small army of cleaning robots and discreet staff) or the size of the bed, but she just looked around, nodded consideringly, and asked, “How do you want me?”

Steve looked at her, trying to ignore the way her new tank top left so much gorgeous, creamy skin visible and see her only as a canvas. “Probably on your stomach,” he finally decided. “I can move your arm around as needed, and when I need to bring it onto the shoulder blade, that’ll be the best position.”

Darcy made a face but didn’t comment, just kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the bed, piling pillows up to support her head and turning it so she could watch him work. “Like this?”

“Yes,” he said automatically, then stopped to think. “Actually, your, uh, shirt is covering part of where the design is going to go.”

She arched an eyebrow at him as she sat up and reached for the hem of her shirt. “Trying to get me out of my clothes already, Steve? On our first date?”

He flushed as he turned his back, hearing the rustle of clothing behind him. “Do you want me to leave the room?” he asked, trying not to dwell on the flash of skin he’d seen out of the corner of his eye.

“Nah,” Darcy said, her voice muffled for a moment. “We’re gonna be sharing an apartment. You’ll probably end up seeing a lot more of me than you bargained for.”

Steve closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. She was right. He was going to be seeing her first thing in the morning, warm and rumpled from sleep. All those little intimacies he hadn’t had with anyone since he woke up, he was going to have with Darcy. Bright, happy, pretty Darcy. Gorgeous, sexy Darcy, who made him want things he couldn’t have.

“Okay, you can turn around now,” she said from behind him, interrupting his train of thought, and thank God for that.

He turned around and nearly snapped the paint set he was holding in half. Darcy’s shirt was folded neatly beside her on the bed, a lacy red bra stacked carefully on top. She was on her stomach again, naked to the waist, her arm stretched out across the bed, all that lovely pale skin practically glowing against the navy blue of his sheets and comforter. Steve wanted , a fierce, hungry ache in his chest, but if there’s one thing life has taught him, it’s that you don’t always, or even usually, get what you want.

“Better?” Darcy asked, and he forced his might back to the present.

“Yeah,” he said absently, doing his best to push all the lust and wanting to the side and think about the task at hand. “I kind of want to go all the way down your back now, though.”

She shrugged. “Knock yourself out. I’ve got no plans tonight.”

“Okay,” Steve said, going over to the drafting table that Tony had stocked with every kind of art supplies known to man and some he’d probably made up. “I’m probably going to sketch out what I have in mind first and then use the paints over it. I think--ha!” he pulled out a package of markers that were marked as skin-safe. “Here we go.”

“Awesome,” Darcy said, snuggling a little deeper into the pillows and reaching back with her left hand to pull her hair to the side.

Steve perched on the side of the bed and uncapped a dark blue marker, hesitating for a minute before touching it to her skin. He sketched tentatively at first, then more confidently as he saw how the ink interacted with her skin, laying out a sprawling design down her back to just above the waistband of her jeans and then returning to the top to spread it down her arms.

When the marker neared her armpit, she started to squirm. Steve lifted the marker off quickly so the line wasn’t ruined and pressed his free hand gently down between her shoulderblades to hold her still.

“Sorry,” she apologized. “Ticklish.”

“Oh, really?” Steve said in what he hoped was an ominous tone and not one that was preoccupied with the softness of her skin, the feel of her breath and her heartbeat under his hand.

“Just try it, Rogers,” she threatened, her lips curving up at the corners. “Better men than you have failed to make use of that information.”

“Not a chance,” he said, keeping his hand on her back until he finished sketching in the ticklish area. “Thor told me about the taser. That sounds like it hurt.”

“It doesn’t tickle,” she agreed. “Unlike you. Are you almost done with the sketching? I need to pee.”

Of course Darcy wouldn’t bother with any of the little euphemisms that some women used. He rotated her arm a few inches to reveal unmarked skin. “Give me a couple of minutes and we can take a break. Sorry it’s taking so long.”

“No worries,” she assured him. “It’s still faster than a real tattoo.”

He still rushed through the rest of the outline, sketching it in with quick, sprawling strokes. “There,” he said, sitting back from where he’d been leaning over her. “Go ahead and use the bathroom and we’ll get started with the paints when you get back.”

She shifted on the bed, but didn’t sit up. “Can I put my shirt back on, or is it gonna smear the ink?”

“Oh,” Steve said inanely, feeling himself flush. “It’s probably fine; the marker should be dry by now.”

“Cool,” she said, reaching for her tank top and pulling it over her head. Her back was to him, so it didn’t occur to him to turn around until she’d already pulled the shirt on and hopped down to the floor. “Bathroom through here?”

He nodded dumbly, trying not to stare at the bounce of her breasts under the low v-neck of her tank top as she walked across the room and disappeared through the bathroom doorway.

The red bra still sat on his bed.

Darcy dried her hands on the plush towel hanging by the sink and stared at her reflection. “You’re stalling, Lewis,” she muttered. She still didn’t move.

Maybe it was time to rethink the merits of Asgard. Sure, everyone there would consider her a lower life form, but at least Asgard didn’t have blond, muscular supersoldiers that put their surprisingly artistic hands all over her.

She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t imagined being half-naked (or completely naked) in Steve Rogers’ bed before, but not under these circumstances. Having Steve’s hands moving over her, having him creating art on her, was almost frighteningly erotic. She’d been embarrassingly wet just from the touch of the marker on her skin; when he’d pressed her down into the bed it would’ve taken very little to just make her come on the spot.

She shook her head at her reflection. Flushed cheeks, dilated pupils, hair frizzing wildly everywhere because of course it was. She took a minute to pull it into a loose braid, the better to keep it out of the way of the paint, and forced herself to take deep, calming breaths.

“You can do this,” she told herself (quietly, because Steve probably had super hearing, too). “Suck it up.”

Her reflection looked unconvinced, but there was only so much time that she could take in the bathroom. With one last deep breath, she pushed back through the door into the bedroom.

Steve was still sitting on the side of the bed where she’d left him. As she came in, he jumped a little, looking up at her.

“Ready for round two?” she asked cheerfully. “Or do you need a break, too?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m good. Are you getting bored? Do you want some music or something? Something to drink?”

“Music might be nice,” Darcy said, grabbing at the chance for a distraction. “JARVIS, can you play us something mellow?”

“Of course, Ms. Lewis,” the AI answered, and a moment later the room filled with the soft sound of strings and a piano.  

“Okay, then,” Darcy said awkwardly, climbing back onto the bed and reaching for the hem of her shirt. Steve’s eyes followed her hands, a flush painting his cheekbones before he turned around again to give her privacy. She couldn’t tell if she was glad or disappointed when he did turn, giving her space to pull her shirt off again and settle back onto her stomach, tucking her breasts to the side enough that it didn’t feel like they were being squished.

“We’re good,” she said finally, letting her gaze linger on him as he turned around. His face was still flushed and she really wanted to pretend the reason his eyes were tracing over her skin was attraction, but whatever her other faults, Darcy Lewis tried not to lie to herself.

“Okay,” Steve said, picking up the paints and opening them, setting them out on the bed. “Ready?”

“Do it,” she answered, even though she wasn’t at all sure she was ready. Was there really a way to be ready for this?

He nodded, picking up the paintbrush and swirling it through a dark blue. She braced herself, but the touch of the brush on her skin was simultaneously soothing and arousing, sending electricity dancing down her nerve endings and zinging down her spine. It swirled across her back and down her arms before he stopped, cleaning it off, dipping into a rich purple and bringing it back to her skin, and again with a blue-green color.

Darcy sank into the sensations: the brush sliding over her skin, the smooth texture of the sheets underneath her warmed by the heat of her body, the rustle of fabric as Steve moved, the slightly spicy smell of his cologne. She floated on it until he made a frustrated noise, pulling her out of her reverie.

“What’s up?” she asked, trying not to let her voice slur.

“It doesn’t look right with the brush,” he said, catching his lower lip between his teeth as he set the offending item aside. “I’m going to have to use my hands before it dries.”

That was all the warning she got before his hands were on her skin, big and warm, moving in circles through the cooling paints. It took every ounce of willpower Darcy possessed not to purr like a cat, arching up into his touch and begging for more. He hadn’t even touched her anywhere she would consider an erogenous zone, nowhere on her neck or her breasts, nowhere below the waist, but this was already a better experience than her last three dates, none of whom could’ve found her clit with a road map and a flashlight.

All too soon, though, it was over. He lifted his hands slowly away (she ruthlessly squashed the idea that it was reluctance) and swept an assessing eye over her, reaching out with his right hand to smudge something on her shoulder blade, another spot on her spine. “That’s better,” he said finally.

Darcy gasped a little when she got a good look at his hands, smeared dark with blue and purple. “Your hands…” she said.

He looked at them with a rueful expression. “I guess I get to find out if that solvent works. Be right back; try to lay still so it can dry.”

Fortunately (or unfortunately; she was still not quite sure) the path to the bathroom put Steve in Darcy’s line of sight, so she got to watch that truly spectacular ass walk away. He left the door to the bathroom open, too, because he was a terrible person who was completely unaware of his own attractiveness, so she got to watch him bend over the sink to scrub his hands.

“It works,” he called, sounding surprised. “See?” He turned and held up his hands, once again skin-colored instead of covered with dark indigo swirls.

“Wow,” she replied. “I would’ve given it even odds that you were stuck with that for weeks, or however long your super metabolism takes to replace your skin.”

He smirked, and Darcy had to bite her lip to keep from whimpering. “Yeah, I was a little surprised, too. JARVIS, do you know if I can dilute the solvent to lighten the dye in places? Or is there a white I can use?”

“Let me ask Mr. Stark,” the AI answered, pausing for a few seconds. “He says the solvent will work if diluted, but if it’s stronger than one part solvent to three parts water, it will completely remove the dye instead of just fading it out.”

Steve nods. “All right. Darcy, I have to get some bowls from the kitchen.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Do I want to know?”

“Trust me?” he asked, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck.

“Yeah,” she answered before she had a chance to think about it. But it was true. She did trust him, maybe more than she should’ve.

His eyes softened. “Okay. Be right back.”

True to his word, he was back in the bedroom in a few minutes with two stainless steel bowls and a set of measuring spoons. He disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a cup of water and a towel to cover the bedside table. She watched, doing her best not to move, as he measured solvent into the bowls, then water, and mixed them together.

“All right,” he said finally, picking up the paintbrush and dipping it in the undiluted solvent. “This is the tricky part, so try to hold as still as you can.”

“Go for it,” Darcy said, doing her best to relax.

He pulled the paintbrush out, wrapping his left hand around her wrist and adjusting the position of her arm minutely. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he touched it to her arm, creating a pattern of dots in the swirling colors on her skin, connecting some of them with thin lines. The brush moved out of her line of sight, but she felt the cool touch of the brush continue across her shoulders and down her back. When it finally stopped, Steve set the brush down on the towel and looked at her, his gaze so intent she could almost feel it like a touch against her skin.

“One more step and I think we’ll be done,” he finally said, meeting her eyes. “Unless I completely screw it up, and then we’ll have to start over.”

“You better not,” she mock-threatened. “I’m not sitting still for this again.”

Steve pouted, something that shouldn’t have been as adorable as it was on a man of his size. “Aw, really?”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “You’re not cute, Rogers. Get on with it.”

“Fine,” he said, dipping his fingers into one of the bowls of diluted solvent and waiting for most of the liquid to drip off. “Let’s get it done.”

She braced herself, but the touch of his fingertips to her skin was still a problem. Instead of the random swirls and circles from before, he was tracing very specific patterns, but she couldn’t focus enough to figure out what they were. All too soon, he was lifting his hands away, sitting back to look at his handiwork. He reached out one more time, traced one more cool, curving line down her back, then dried his hands on the towel.

“Done?” she asked, craning her neck to try and see down her arm, but from this angle it was all a blur.

“Yeah,” he said. “Give it a minute and you can get up and take a look.”

Sure enough, a few minutes of only slightly stilted conversation later, Steve offered her a hand up and then blushed and dropped it when he remembered that she wasn’t wearing a shirt. Darcy picked up her shirt and held it to her chest as she made her way to the bathroom to take advantage of the massive mirrors.

“Holy shit,” she blurted when she caught her first glimpse as she came into the bathroom. “Steve…” her voice trailed off as she turned this way and that to try and get the full effect.

Clouds of purple and blue and green swirled up her arm and over her back, dotted with stars. Lines connected some of the stars into constellations, and the constellations acted as skeletons for fantastical shapes, like clouds over the background nebulae. A dragon curled up on her left shoulder blade and a snake wrapped around her upper arm. A whale leaped from waves on her right shoulder blade, and a baby elephant lifted its trunk from the small of her back.

“You like it?” he asked, leaning against the doorway and rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.

“It’s so fucking gorgeous,” she said honestly, still turning to try and see all the details. “Seriously, Steve, this is a work of art.”

He blushed even deeper. “Well--”

“No, really,” she said, turning to meet his eyes. “It makes me feel beautiful to have this on my skin.”

“You don’t need it,” he blurted out, then snapped his mouth closed. The blush spread down his neck and under the neck of his t-shirt.

They stood there in silence, his words hanging in the air so heavily they were almost visible. Darcy was acutely aware that, except for the tank top she was holding to her breasts, she was naked from the waist up.

“I should probably put my shirt back on,” she finally mumbled, moving toward the doorway. For a second, when his fingers twitched upwards, she thought Steve might stop her, but he moved out of the way and let her pass back into the bedroom, keeping his back turned so that she could put her clothes back on.

“It’s late,” Darcy said when she finally had her bra and tank back on, a little more armor between herself and the rest of the world. “I should go.”

“Oh,” Steve said, turning back around. “Um, okay. I’ll see you in the morning?”

She smiled at him, hoping it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “Bright and early. Thanks again, Steve. I love it.”

“Anytime,” he said, and Darcy gathered her things and escaped to her own apartment.

As she fell asleep that night, she was still trying to tell herself that he hadn’t looked sad as she left. She still didn’t believe it.

Steve hesitated outside Darcy’s door, cardboard tray of coffee cups in one hand and waxed paper bag in the other. After the way they’d left things the night before, he wasn’t entirely sure of his welcome. Suck it up, Rogers, he chided himself. Tomorrow morning you’re gonna be living in the same apartment. You’ll have to talk to her at some point, might as well be now.

He nodded to himself and knocked on her door. Hopefully the turmoil in his stomach wasn’t visible on his face.

“Coming!” said a muffled voice from the other side.

All too soon the door swing open and Darcy was standing there. She was fully dressed in her new clothes and wearing makeup so subtle that even Steve’s enhanced vision could barely detect it (except for the bright red lipstick that made him miss Peggy with a fierce, steady ache that never entirely went away). She didn’t look fully awake, though, a supposition that was confirmed when she reached out for the coffee with an inarticulate grumble.

“Here,” he said, turning the tray so that the correct one was closest to her. “Brooke down at the coffee shop said this was what you usually order.”

Darcy took the cup, sniffed it suspiciously, and took a long drink, turning away from the door and motioning him inside without looking back. Steve closed the door behind him and followed her a little hesitantly into the small living area. She curled up into one corner of the couch, clutching her cup like a lifeline, so he set the bag down on the small coffee table and settled into the other corner with his own cup.

Even without looking up, Darcy somehow sensed when he opened his mouth to talk. She freed one hand from her coffee cup and held it up toward him, palm out, so he subsided and let her drink her coffee in peace. When he judged that she was about halfway through the cup, he picked up the bag and fished out a muffin to offer to her.

She took the muffin and alternated bites of it with drinks of her coffee until both were gone. Finally she set the cup down on the coffee table with a sigh (after taking the plastic lid off of it and tipping it up to be sure she’d gotten every last drop).

“Okay,” she said, turning toward him. “I think I can words now. Thanks for the coffee.”

“No problem,” Steve said.

“So, what time are we getting this show on the road?” Darcy asked.

“Um,” he said, his cheeks heating. “Well, we’re supposed to take a cab to the apartment at ten and the ‘movers’ will meet us there with ‘our stuff.’”

She raised her eyebrows at him. “But?”

Steve swallowed. “But the security department strongly recommends that we spend at least an hour today, preferably two, ‘getting comfortable with our cover identities.’”

Darcy blinked at him. “Okay, I had one cup of coffee, but my brain isn’t fully online yet. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.”

He took a deep breath. “We’re going to be pretending to be a couple. They want us to get used to touching and kissing and stuff. Otherwise people might get suspicious.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, not meeting his eyes. “So, like the hand-holding and stuff yesterday? Acting all couple-y?”

“Yeah,” he answered, pretty sure his face was bright red at this point. “I, uh, haven’t really done that. The couple thing, I mean.”

“Haven’t really had a lot of chances, have you?” Darcy said. Her voice was soft and understanding, but not pitying. “I haven’t done it in awhile, but I think I remember the basics.”

The next thing Steve knew, her hand was slipping into his, slim, strong fingers lacing between his bigger ones.

“This okay?” she asked softly.

“Yeah,” he answered, looking at their hands before meeting her eyes. “I’m not exactly a blushing virgin, Darcy. I have kissed dames--girls--women before.”

Her eyes sparkled with amusement and her mouth quirked up at the corners. It hit him like a blow to the stomach, how gorgeous she was, and for a moment he literally lost his breath.

“Golly gee whiz, Cap,” she teased gently. “Kissing? Really?”

Steve did his best to channel Bucky as he moved closer to her, suddenly wanting nothing more than to wipe the smile off of her face. “Tell you a secret,” he murmured, leaning in until their faces were only inches apart. There was something deeply satisfying in the way that her eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat. “Didn’t always kiss ‘em on the lips.”

Darcy’s chin lifted a little. “Would you kiss me if I was your girl, Steve?”

He leaned in closer, until he could feel her breath on his cheek, and brushed a kiss onto the corner of her mouth. “If you were my girl,” he breathed, kissing just under her jaw where her pulse drummed against his lips, then up under her ear, “don’t know if I could stop kissin’ you.”

She shivered under his touch, tilting her head to the side to give him better access. He pressed another kiss further down, at the spot where her neck flowed into her shoulder. The soft, breathless sigh that escaped her lips was one of the sweetest sounds he’d ever heard.

“Excuse me, Captain, Ms. Lewis,” JARVIS interrupted. The AI sounded remarkably apologetic, and Steve’s face warmed all over again at the reminder that JARVIS monitored everything that happened in the Tower. “My apologies for the interruption, but Mr. Stark has asked to see how the dyes worked before you leave the Tower.”

“Oh, yeah,” Darcy said, pulling back just a little and letting go of his hand. Steve did his best not to feel disappointed; it helped that she was running her hands over his forearms, turning them over and frowning at the unmarked skin. “Did you wuss out on me, Steve?”

By way of answer, he pushed up his left sleeve.

“Oh, wow,” Darcy said, reaching out to brush her fingers lightly over the image, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline silhouetted against a fiery sunset. “You did this? Steve, how?”

He shrugged, pretending that he wasn’t blushing with pleasure at her awed reaction, and from the feeling of her fingertips against his skin. “We used to work upside down all the time. Helps make sure you’re drawing what’s really there.”

“It’s amazing,” she said, sincerely ringing in her voice. “It must’ve taken you all night.”

“Not really,” he said without thinking. “I had time to do--”

Her eyebrows shot up and her eyes sharpened as he snapped his mouth closed. “You had time to do another one? Where?”

Steve sighed and pulled the hem of his shirt up to reveal the lines of words he’d inked in over his ribs last night. “JARVIS said tattoos of quotes and poems are a thing people do now. This one…” he shrugged, unable or maybe just unwilling to put into words why he’d chosen this particular poem .

“I beg your pardon,” JARVIS said, sounding somehow even more apologetic than before, “but Mr. Stark has asked me to convey the following message.”

“Hey, lovebirds, break it up,” Tony’s voice boomed through the apartment. “You’ll have plenty of time to make out once you get to your new home. Now get your asses down here before I send DUM-E up there with his fire extinguisher.”

Steve’s only consolation as he stood and offered Darcy his hand was that she was blushing as red as he was.

“Oh, wow.”

Darcy turned at the voice behind her, leaving the movers to figure out the best way to maneuver the couch through the door.

“Hi,” the woman coming down the hall toward her said. “You must be the new tenant? I’m Danielle.”

“Nice to meet you,” Darcy said, shaking the offered hand and trying hard not to give into her very superficial first impression (tall, thin, probably thinks I’m a fat cow--shut up , brain). “Yeah, my boyfriend and I are trying to get moved in. Assuming the movers can actually get the couch in through the doorway.”

Danielle nodded, eyeing the movers. “I guess it wouldn’t help if we started yelling ‘Pivot!’, would it?”

Darcy laughed out loud, clapping a hand over her mouth when she snorted a little. “Probably not,” she agreed. “But I think we have to be friends now, since you used a Friends reference.”

“Oh, good,” Danielle said, smiling widely and tucking her long red hair behind her ear. “It’s going to be nice to have that apartment filled, even if the walls are super thin.”

“Oh, really?” Darcy asked.

“Yeah, we--hey, babe, come meet the new neighbor,” Danielle called, her eyes focusing over Darcy’s shoulder.  

Darcy wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she turned, but the short, curvy woman with sandy blonde hair definitely wasn’t it.

“Em, this is Darcy,” Danielle said, wrapping her arm around the shorter woman’s waist and pressing a kiss to her hair. “She and her boyfriend are moving into that empty loft. Darcy, my wife Emily.”

“Nice to meet you,” Darcy said, jumping a little as Steve came up behind her, his left hand landing on the small of her back and arm sliding around her waist. “This is my boyfriend, Steve. Honey, Danielle and Emily are our neighbors.”

“Hi,” Steve said, shaking their hands. “It seems like a nice building.”

“It is,” Emily confirmed. “We’ve been here for four years; it was our wedding present to ourselves.”

Danielle smiled wickedly down at her wife. “I was just telling them about how thin the walls are between there and our loft. We’re going to have to be a lot quieter now that they’re here.”

Emily flushed a bright pink. “Dani!” she hissed.

“It’s true,” Danielle insisted. “The tenants before you had a very, ah, vigorous sex life. I learned way more than I wanted to know about them.”

“They were very nice people,” Emily said firmly. “Just...not quiet.”

Darcy mustered up a smile. “Well, we’ll try to be quieter than they were.” Steve’s hand tightened on her waist for a second and she looked questioningly up at him, but nothing showed on his face except for a slight flush on his cheekbones.

“Likewise,” Danielle said, smiling back. “Anyway, we should let you get back to your moving. It was nice to meet you, though.”

“You, too,” Darcy said, tugging Steve with her as she turned back toward “their” apartment.

“Oh, look,” he said. “They got the couch in.”

“Yup,” she agreed, more than willing to get on board with the not talking about it. “Was that the last of the furniture?”

“I think so,” he said, holding the door open for her. “We’re almost done.”

Steve closed the door behind the movers and let the fake smile slide off his face for a minute, resting his forehead against the smooth, cool surface of the door.

“Dude. Same,” Darcy said from behind him. “I’m thinking takeout, beer, and Netflix. I don’t even have enough energy to get up off this couch and make sure we have beds. Worst case scenario, this couch is super comfy. Probably more comfy than the door. Hint, hint.”

He laughed, pushing off the door to join her on the couch. “Sounds good. What do you want for dinner?”

She pursed her lips and looked at him. “Do you trust me?”

He pretended to have to think about it, just to watch her expression become outraged. “You know I do,” he said, ducking the pillow she threw at him.

“Okay, then it’s a surprise,” she said, grabbing her StarkTab. “But I promise you’ll like it.”

“Just get a lot,” he said, leaning back on the couch and stretching his arms above his head. “I’m hungry.”

“I have met you before,” she retorted tapping at the screen. “Make yourself useful and go grab the beers.”

He shoved himself off the couch and tossed her a casual salute before heading past the spiral staircase into the kitchen. By the time he made it back with two longnecks in hand, Darcy had set the StarkTab aside and started messing with the overly complicated remote control that came with the giant television.

“Thanks,” she said, accepting her beer and taking a long drink. Steve tried his best not to stare at the long line of her throat as she swallowed, with mixed success. “Food should be here in about an hour.”

“Sounds good,” he said, settling into the other corner of the couch. Darcy scrolled through various shows on the TV and he resigned himself to another evening spent trying to catch him up on popular culture. “What are we watching?”

“I’m not up for anything too dense right now,” she said, hitting one last button on the remote and setting it on the coffee table before tucking her toes under Steve’s leg. “So, in honor of our new home…”

The Fox logo flashed on the screen, and then a brassy flare of music played. The screen read “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and a man in a dress shirt, tie, and an overly flashy swimsuit stood up from behind a desk.

“Is this one of those things I missed?” Steve asked, taking a drink from his own beer.

“Nah,” Darcy said, smiling at him. “It’s just a fun show. Doesn’t take too much thought, lots of humor, deals with serious issues sometimes but not in a depressing way.”

He took another drink, unable to stop his own smile from spreading. “Okay.”

She wriggled her toes more firmly under his thigh. “I think you’ll like it.”

An hour and a half later, the coffee table was littered with takeout containers and Steve lazily contemplated whether he had room for another slice of apple pie or peach cobbler. Or possibly one more hush puppy. They were small. They wouldn’t take much room in his stomach.

“So I guess you liked it,” Darcy said, smiling at him from her corner of the couch.

“That was amazing,” Steve said, reluctantly closing the pie container and pushing it away from him. “That’s southern food?”

She paused the show and started gathering the containers, so he pushed off the couch and helped. “Yeah. I hadn’t had anything like that until I went to Culver, but I really missed it after I left. The nice thing about New York, though, is that if a food exists, you can probably find a restaurant that makes it.”

“If I ate like that every day I’d probably end up as wide as I am tall,” Steve said, rinsing the empty containers before putting them in the recycling bin.

“It’s a problem,” Darcy agreed, putting the leftovers in the refrigerator. “But I seriously doubt that, given your metabolism. More show? Or are you ready for bed?”

“Maybe a couple more episodes?” he suggested. “Unless you’re tired?”

“Nah, I’m a night owl,” she said, handing him another beer before moving back into the living area. “And since we’re supposed to be ‘working from home,’ we can sleep in as late as we want.”

Steve opted not to say that he’d probably be awake after around four hours of sleep. This evening had been...nice. Normal, in a way that he hadn’t had since before the ice.

So he followed Darcy into the living room. He let her snuggle into his side as she drank her beer and laughed with her at Peralta and Santiago and Boyle and Diaz and tried to ignore the warm, soft feelings in his chest by reminding himself that this was all pretend.

“I’m not drunk!” Darcy protested, pulling away from Steve’s hands. “I’ve had two beers, one of them with food. I’m perfectly capable of climbing stairs by myself. I don’t need your help!”

Steve threw up his hands. “I’m not saying you do. It’s late, and I’m tired, so I’d like to go to bed, too.”

“Well...good,” she said, turning her back on him and climbing up the metal spiral staircase. It was pretty and didn’t take up much space, but she hated to think of the movers having to get furniture up it.

She got to the top, walked past the office area, around the wall that separated it from the bedroom area and stopped dead in her tracks. Steve came around the corner and bumped into her, his hands going to her hips to keep her from falling.

“Are you okay?” he asked, stepping back and letting his hands fall away.

“Yeah, sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I there another bedroom here somewhere?”

“Gotta be,” he said, crossing the room and flicking on a light switch, peering around the wall. “Bathroom here. Maybe it’s downstairs?”

Darcy shook her head. “No, downstairs is just the living room and the kitchen. I think this is it.”

Steve came back out and joined her in staring at the one (count it) one king-sized bed. It looked plush and comfortable and was probably plenty big for people who didn’t have to think about sharing it with the object of most (all) of their best sexual fantasies.

“I can take the couch,” Steve said finally, much like she’d expected he would.

“You don’t have to do that,” Darcy said, having apparently become a masochist at some point in the recent past. “It’s not long enough. Besides, what if someone sees the blankets? How are we supposed to play a happy couple if you’re sleeping on the couch. We’re both adults and it’s a big bed. It’ll be fine.”

He raised his eyebrows at her. “If you’re sure.”

“It’s fine,” she said, grabbing the bag she’d packed before they left and heading into the bathroom. “Don’t worry about it.”

Of course, the bathroom didn’t have a fucking door.

“Fucking hipster lofts,” she muttered, digging her contact stuff and her glasses case out of her bag before popping her contacts out and putting her glasses on. She changed into her tank top and pajama pants super fast, not because she thought Steve would barge in while she was changing (sadly), but because hogging the bathroom is rude.

All too soon, she walked back into the bedroom area, rounding the corner to find Steve already under the covers, lying stiff and silent on one side of the bed. She turned off the lights and slid into the other side in the semi-darkness, folding her glasses and setting them carefully on the bedside table. Dim illumination filtered in through the windows, even with privacy shades, and the skylight above the bed, filling the room with a slight glow.

They lay there in awkward silence for who knows how long. Darcy was hyperaware of her breathing and Steve’s, neither of which were slowing and settling into sleep rhythms. Her mind raced, frantically trying to come up with something to break the tension, when a low, feminine moan sounded from the other side of the wall.

Darcy bit her lip, listening, nothing but silence for a minute. Then another moan, a distinctly different voice this time, too muffled to make out words, but too loud to ignore. She couldn’t help picturing their neighbors, just for a second, before she resolutely put the mental image out of her mind.

“You know what?” she said, swinging her legs out of bed. “I think I want to sleep with some music, if that won’t bother you?”

“That sounds great,” Steve replied, his words almost tripping over each other. “I love music.”

The noises didn’t abate in the time it took Darcy to find her bluetooth speaker and switch it on; if anything, they got louder, the moans underlaid with a rhythmic creaking. She flipped through her phone playlists until she found the one she was looking for and started it up.

The first piano chords of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness sounded. It wasn’t loud enough to cover the sounds from next door, but it did mask it somewhat. Darcy fiddled with the volume until she reached the best possible volume for drowning out the noise without making it obvious to the neighbors that they were trying to do so.

“That work?” she asked, slipping back into bed.

“Yeah,” Steve said, almost on a sigh. “I...yeah, that’s better. Thanks.”

Darcy turned toward him, but between the dim light and not having her contacts in, he was pretty much just a vaguely glowy Steve-shaped blur. “You got enhanced senses out of the whole serum deal, right? Did that include hearing?”

He hesitated. “Yeah. It’s not like, I’m not like a bat or anything. But better than most people? Better than me before the serum, for sure. I was actually partially deaf...Buck said it was because I wasn’t smart enough to not get punched in the head.”

“Do you need me to turn up the music?” she asked. As much as she would’ve loved to follow up on his last statement, something in his tone when he said Bucky’s name made her feel it wouldn’t be a good idea to press.

“Nah, it’s fine,”  he said, turning toward her and tucking the pillow more firmly under his head. “‘m actually a little bit more sensitive to loud noises. This is about as loud as I could sleep through. Nice music, though.”

Darcy smiled shyly. “Thanks. This is my ‘I have a test at 8 am and my roommate is having sex, please stop so I can get some sleep’ playlist from back in college.”

“Seems like a long name for a playlist,” Steve said, his voice so deadpan that she knew for a fact he was trolling her.

She whacked him with a pillow. “I’ve never been able to figure out why Tony thinks you’re a humorless robot. He’s been in the same room as you, multiple times. You’d think someone as smart as he is would be able to figure out what a snarky little shit you are.”

Moi ?” he said, pressing a hand to his chest in a parody of incredulity. “Why, Miss Lewis, surely the symbol of our great nation could never stoop to such pettiness.”

“Yes.” She pointed at him accusingly. “That right there. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

He was close enough now for her to see the sadness on his face when he shrugged. “People see what they expect to see. Even smart people.”

“I guess--” she was cut off by an enormous, jaw-cracking yawn. “Okay, apparently it’s past my bedtime. Night, Steve.”

“Good night, Darcy,” he said softly.

His eyes were the last thing she saw before hers closed for the night.

Steve had never slept particularly well. In his early life, sleep was all too often interrupted by coughing fits, fever dreams, or any of another half-dozen nearly constant symptoms. After the serum, he’d required much less sleep, often waking after only four hours, but those hours were rarely restful, plagued by dreams with the diamond-sharp clarity of his new, perfect memory.

This morning, though, he found himself drifting gently toward wakefulness, warm and soft and comfortable. By the time he was aware enough to notice how unusual this was, the slow rise to consciousness instead of snapping instantly awake, he was awake enough to realize that Darcy had wrapped herself around him in the night, or maybe vice versa.

Either way, her arm was thrown across his waist, her head pillowed on his shoulder and her hair, smelling faintly of sandalwood, tickled his nose. Their legs were tangled together, and Steve was suddenly, painfully aware of how aroused he was and that her small hand was only a few inches away from where his morning wood tented the front of his boxer briefs.

He gritted his teeth and started slowly, stealthily disentangling himself, ignoring the small (stupidly large) part of him that wanted to stay, that wanted to know why they couldn’t wake up like this forever. It wasn’t easy; Darcy clung like a limpet, and a couple of times he thought he was going to to have to admit defeat. But he finally managed to extricate himself, leaving Darcy cuddling his pillow, and made his way into the bathroom.

Steve fumbled with the shower controls for a minute before he figured them out (you’d think in the future they could’ve done something as simple as standardizing hot and cold water handles, but apparently not). He stripped out of his skivvies and left them in a heap next to the mat, stepping into the shower.

The spray felt amazing against his back; sometimes he thought the best thing about the future was how readily available hot water was, even for those as poor as he and Bucky had been. Steve closed his eyes, basking in the warmth and the golden light streaming in from the window that took up half the shower wall.

When he reluctantly opened his eyes, turning so he could wet his hair under the shower head, he nearly yelped with surprise. Somehow, probably because of how tired as they’d been when they’d gone to bed, he hadn’t realized last night that one wall of the shower was exposed to the bedroom. He could see Darcy in the bed, lying on her back now, one arm flung out across the sheets.

He almost panicked, turned off the shower and bolted for the relative privacy of the bathroom. But when he searched his memory, he couldn’t remember seeing into the shower from the bedroom, only a mirrored glass panel that he’d assumed was some form of decoration. It must be one of those that you can only see through from one side, he realized, his heart still racing.

A part of him was still deeply uneasy about the prospect of Darcy waking up, possibly being able to see his silhouette in the shower stall, but he knew from long, uncomfortable experience that his erection wasn’t going anywhere without assistance. This shower was the only place in the loft with even a questionable amount of privacy, so Steve turned back toward the spray and took his cock in hand with a sigh.

Time was of the essence; there was no telling how long it would be until Darcy woke up...and that thought send a little shiver of excitement down Steve’s spine. He closed his eyes and turned his back to the spray, letting it run over his shoulders and down his chest and back.

In his mind’s eye, he pictured Darcy as he’d last seen her, sprawled across the bed. Imagined her eyes opening, sleepy at first, then widening, because in this fantasy, she could see into the shower, see him stroking his cock.

Steve ran his free hand down his chest, putting on a little bit of a show for his imaginary Darcy. He knew what this body looked like, for all that it still didn’t feel entirely like his own, and he’d gotten enough propositions from women and men alike to know that it was considered attractive. He flicked first one nipple, then the other, with his thumbnail, moaning a little; everything was more sensitive after the serum, but his nipples had been the most surprising thing. It felt like they were wired directly to his cock; touching them when he jerked off was always guaranteed to get him off faster.

Fantasy-Darcy licked her lips as she watched him, one hand sliding under the blankets that covered her. Steve rolled his hips, fucking his cock into his hand, imagining the soft, wet sounds of her fingers moving inside her pussy.

She slid her free hand up her stomach, pushing her tank top up inch by slow, teasing inch. He shuddered, caught on the edge as he caught a glimpse of the heavy curves of her breasts, then her nipples, hard and crinkled. She caught one nipple between her thumb and forefinger, then the other, her hips moving so fast it was visible even under the blanket. Her head fell back against the pillow, her eyes closing as her body shook with the force of her orgasm.

When she finally opened her eyes, deliberately withdrew her hand from under the blanket and slipped her fingers between her lips, Steve came so hard he thought his legs would give out.

It took several minutes before he could open his eyes again. He was half-relieved half-disappointed to see that Darcy’s eyes were still firmly closed, although she had rolled over so her back was to the shower. He turned off the shower and stepped into the bathroom to towel himself dry, trying not to feel guilty about using Darcy, even an imaginary Darcy, to get off.

The noise of the shower seeping into her consciousness woke Darcy. If it had been the water alone, she probably could’ve ignored it, but combined with the light filtering around and through the privacy shades, staying asleep was clearly a lost cause.

She opened her eyes, but instead of being greeted by the familiar blurs of a world without corrective lenses, a jolt of adrenaline shot through her like a bucket of ice water, jerking her into wakefulness. Directly in her line of vision was a figure that, even without her glasses on, could only be one Steven Grant Rogers, naked as the day he was born.

Darcy fumbled for her glasses, trying to be stealthy about her movements as she put them on, just in case this wasn’t an incredibly vivid dream, but apparently this was her actual life now. What she’d thought was a mirrored glass panel last night was apparently actually one wall of the shower stall, the one-way coating reflective when the lights were on in the bedroom. But now, with the morning light streaming through the shower window, anyone in the bedroom could clearly see everything happening in the shower.

And it wasn’t just Steve in the shower, although that would’ve been quite enough of a wake-up call. No, this was Steve, eyes closed and head thrown back, water trickling down his chest and beading on his chest hair, one hand stroking almost lazily over his thick, hard cock.

As Darcy watched, he slid his free hand slowly down his chest, almost like he knew she was watching, but when she checked, his eyes were still closed. He brought his hand back up, his thumbnail flicking across one nipple, and a shiver moved through his body, all those lovely muscles in his chest and arms and stomach rippling under the skin. He did it again, on the other nipple this time, and his mouth fell open.

He’d been pretty still so far except for the movements of his hands, but now his hips started to move, fucking his hand into his cock. His forehead furrowed and his whole body shuddered again, like he was so turned on that he couldn’t take it any longer. He bit his lip, white teeth digging into the plump, pink curve of it, his chest heaving as he moved faster and faster until he came.

It splattered against the shower wall, inches below where he braced his hand for support, breathing heavily as his other hand kept moving, coaxing out a couple of aftershocks. Finally he shuddered one last time and let his hands fall to his sides, still breathing deeply.

Darcy suddenly became aware that Steve could open his eyes at literally any moment and see her perving on him. She quickly rolled to put her back to him, sneaking her glasses off and under her pillow, and steadfastly ignored the little voice in her head suggesting that one good show deserved another.

After some interminable number of minutes, the shower turned off. When Darcy managed what she thought was a reasonably credible yawn and roll, blinking like she’d just opened her eyes, Steve was crouched down and digging through his bag, probably for clothes, since he was only wearing boxers.

“Did I wake you?” he asked softly, not turning around.

Darcy tried to speak, but an inarticulate noise was all that came out. She put her glasses on, cleared her throat and tried again. “Nah. The skylight’s pretty, but it’s too bright in here to stay asleep once the sun comes up. Think they make shades for skylights?”

“If not, I’m sure Tony would be happy to invent one,” Steve said, standing up and carrying the clothes in his hands into the bathroom.

Before Darcy could do much more than think about getting out of bed, he was back again, wearing jeans and pulling a t-shirt down the last few inches to cover his abs. “I can start the coffee if you want?” he offered.

“Please,” she said.

He disappeared, his feet surprisingly quiet on the staircase. Darcy hustled out of the bed and into the shower as quickly as possible, because the only thing that could make this morning weirder would be Steve walking into the bedroom while she was in the shower and realizing how transparent the glass was in the morning light.

And if she was a little tempted to take her time, just in case that happened...if she got herself off, fingers moving quick and furtive under the spray, while imagining that exact scenario...well, that was between her and the shower.

By the third day, things had fallen into a pretty comfortable (boring) routine. Steve still usually woke before Darcy, allowing himself a moment to bask before untangling himself and making for the shower, scrubbing himself down quickly before she woke, since the shower was apparently perfectly visible from the bedroom in the morning light. So far she’d slept through his showers, even the times he’d guiltily jerked himself off, not sure if he wanted her to wake or not.

After his shower he went downstairs and sketched or read or worked his way through his List of Things Steve Needs To Experience until he heard Darcy stirring upstairs, when he’d pause and put her coffee mug (it had a picture of a cat and the words “I do what I want”) under the coffeemaker for her. They took their coffee out on the balcony, enjoying the morning breeze in silence until Darcy was sufficiently caffeinated for speech and human interaction.

Since they both supposedly “worked” from home, there was no reason for them to go out, but they were both a little antsy after three days in the loft, so Steve made an executive decision.

“Let’s go out for breakfast.”

Darcy blinked at him for a minute. “Really?”

“You weren’t interested in house arrest, right?” He shrugged. “There’s bound to be some good places around here. Let’s go for a walk and find one.”

“Okay,” she said, her smile spreading slowly across her face. “Let me find my shoes.”

A few minutes later they emerged from their building and stood there, blinking in the sun. “Which way?” Steve asked.

“Uh…” Darcy pursed her lips, tipping her head from one side to the other. Finally, she grabbed his hand and pulled him to their right. “This way.”

They wandered through the Williamsburg streets, pushing through the pedestrians on their way to work, or home from work, or wherever they were going. They took turns at random until Steve was fairly certain that anyone without his sense of direction would be thoroughly confused, and despite the crowds, he was pretty certain that no one was following them.

Finally they turned down a side street, nearly deserted despite the morning rush, and Darcy stopped in front of a tiny storefront, pulling Steve inside. “I smell coffee.”

The restaurant was full enough that Steve found himself hunching his shoulders, trying instinctively to make himself smaller, but the food was cheap (for Brooklyn in this century; part of his soul still shuddered at the thought of paying twenty dollars or more for a meal, when that would’ve paid his and Bucky’s rent for an entire month once upon a time, with a few bucks left over for food).

It tasted good, too, the whites of his eggs cooked solid, the yolks popping under his fork to run golden over his plate until he sopped them up with toast, and fluffy pancakes on the side. Darcy made noises over her waffle that were practically obscene, so he assumed hers was similarly delicious.

It took Steve until the end of his breakfast to realize why he felt so comfortable, despite the cramped space. But when he let himself really look around, instead of just being on alert for possible threats, he realized that almost everyone in this restaurant was wearing some kind of uniform; coveralls or button-down shirts with name patches stitched on the breast and steel-toed work boots, black or white shirts and slacks, creased from having an apron tied over them, and the kind of shoes that they could stand and walk in for hours.

It couldn’t be more different from the crowds of businesspeople and tourists in Manhattan, the crisp, tailored suits and shiny shoes, the shorts and t-shirts from the shops that seemed to sprout every few feet. Steve always felt vaguely foreign there, all that frenetic energy seeping under his skin until he wanted to lash out. But here, in this place, surrounded by working people, it felt more like home than anywhere he’d been since the ice.

“I didn’t know places like that still existed,” he admitted as they were walking back toward their loft, the smell of the river strong in the air.

“I don’t think they do in Williamsburg,” Darcy said, swinging their linked hands a little. “The hipsters have pretty much taken over.”

Steve suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember taking her hand; in a few short days it had become as automatic as breathing. “You don’t like hipsters?” he asked, trying to distract himself.

She shrugged. “I mean, they’re nice to look at. I appreciate the appeal of a skinny guy in glasses as much as the next girl. But most of them are too busy being super impressed with themselves to carry on a decent conversation.”

He hummed noncommittally, trying to ignore the all-too-familiar sinking feeling in his stomach. Of course Darcy would be interested in someone she could talk to. There’s an irony to the fact that the people she finds attractive are people who look more like his former self than his current muscular physique.

He hated himself, a little, for not being able to squelch the last tiny spark of hope in his chest. This wasn’t a fairy tale, he knew that all too well. He’d gotten more than he had any right to hope out of this life, when all too many people said he’d never live to adulthood. Why should it matter that his timing was always off?

The rest of the walk back to their building was quiet.

“Steve! Darcy!” Emily waved at them from the mailboxes as they come into the lobby. “I was about to come knock on your door.”

“What’s up?” Darcy asked, taking the piece of paper that the other woman handed to her.

Emily tucked her hair behind her ear. “We try to have a little get-together party every month or so, up on the roof while the weather lasts. Mostly people from the building, but friends are welcome, too. We--I thought, since you guys haven’t been here very long, it’d be a nice way to get to know your neighbors.”

“Sounds fun,” Darcy said, glancing over at Steve, her gaze unreadable. “We’d love to. Tomorrow night?”

“Yep,” Emily confirmed, her smile widening. “About seven. See you there?”

Steve cleared his throat. “Should we bring anything?”

Emily waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it for your first time. Next month we’ll put you to work.” She glanced at her watch. “Uh-oh. Speaking of, I’m about to be late. See you tomorrow!”

Steve grabbed Darcy’s hand, pulling her to a stop just before she opened the door to the roof. “Wait,” he said, something odd in his voice.

“Steve?” She turned to look at him. He was paler than usual, his lower lip red and chapped from where he’d been chewing on it. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. No.” His fingers tightened on hers. “I...maybe I’m sick. Maybe you should tell them I’m sick and go on without me.”

She moved closer, rubbing her thumb across the back of his hand, trying to tamp down the sudden worry. “Talk to me, Steve. What’s going on?”

He opened his mouth, closed it again. Opened it. “I, uh. I don’t really like parties.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” she asked, lifting her free hand to his shoulder. “We didn’t have to do this. We can go home right now.”

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head and straightening his shoulder. “It’s fine. I can do it. I survived those stupid charity things that Tony dragged me to. This won’t be that bad.”

“Nah,” she said, smiling encouragingly up at him. “For one thing, you don’t have to wear a tux.”

“Thank Christ,” he breathed.

“Ready?” she asked, setting her hand on the doorknob.

He nodded. “Yeah, just...stay with me, okay?”

“Cross my heart,” she said, pushing the door open. She could feel him behind her, his grip on her hand just short of painful, as they stepped out into the light.

Darcy pulled her sunglasses down from where they were perched on top of her head, blinking against the brightness. The roof was really nice, plants scattered around in pots and raised beds, with lots of little chairs and benches spread throughout. There wasn’t anything like the crowd Steve must have been dreading; little conversation groups had clumped here or there, but there couldn’t have been more than thirty people on the entire rooftop.

“Hey, you made it!”

Darcy turned to see Emily and Danielle coming to greet them, smiling warmly. “We did,” she agreed. “Thanks again for inviting us.”

They made small talk for another few minutes before the other women shepherded them through loading paper plates with food and finding a place to sit. Steve let go of Darcy’s hand to load his plate, but he stayed so close that she could feel him there, even when she couldn’t see him. They found a seat at a picnic table and settled in with their food and drinks, Steve’s knee pressing against hers under the table.

He relaxed gradually as the night went on. Darcy wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting; maybe he’d thought they’d have to stand up and be introduced to everyone en masse like new kids in class? Instead, they meet people naturally as the ebb and flow of the party brought them into contact. After a couple of hours, Steve was mostly back to his normal self, although he still wasn’t talking as much as when they were alone in their apartment.

“Who would’ve thought Captain America was shy?” she murmured in his ear while Dani and Emily were chatting with two brothers who apparently lived on the second floor about some kind of change to the garden.

“Captain America isn’t,” he returned, equally softly, brushing her hair behind her ear. “But Steve always has been.”

Darcy fought back a shiver. His hand was big and warm on the back of her neck. The beer they’d been drinking wasn’t affecting him at all, but she was almost tipsy enough to forget all the reasons why she shouldn’t climb into his lap like they were really dating.

“We can go if you want,” she said.

He shook his head. “No, I’m fine. You look like you’re having fun.”

“Awwww,” Emily said, looking at them from across the table. “You two are so cute together. How did you meet?”

Darcy looked at Steve, trying not to panic. Why hadn’t they spent their time figuring out how to answer these questions instead of sending each other memes and cat videos?

“We work in the same building,” he said smoothly, sliding his hand down her back and wrapping his arm around her waist, pulling her into his side. “I noticed her right away. Obviously.”

She shook her head, amazed at his ability to switch gears between misleading truth and absolute lie. “You did not.”

He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Did too. First time I saw you, you were wearin’ that red hat and the t-shirt with the cat on it. Some asshole grabbed your ass in the elevator and you threatened to tase ‘im in the balls.”

“Oh, God,” Darcy moaned, burying her face in her hands as everyone else at the table laughed. “You saw that?”

“Sweetheart, it was all over the buildin’ by the end of the day,” Steve said, pulling her hands into his. “Tony still has the video. They use it in the orientation when they’re definin’ sexual harassment.”

“You weren’t scared of her?” one of the brothers asked.

Steve fixed him with a scornful look. “Why? I’m not the idiot who grabbed her ass.”

“Jesus, Jack,” the other brother (Alex? Something starting with Al, anyway) muttered, pulling him up off the bench and in the direction of the door. His voice faded as they got further away. “I can’t take you anywhere. You’re lucky Mom and Mama didn’t hear that; you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week...”

“Anyway,” Steve said, turning back to Emily. “I wanted to ask her out right there, but I have it on good authority that I don’t know how to talk to women.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You’ll note that there are three women currently seated at this table, with whom you are conversing. And what he’s not saying,” she continued to Dani and Emily, “is that literally every single woman and approximately half the men in the building were after him. If they were even a little into dudes, they made a play for him. Mr. Oblivious here had no fucking clue.”

“Except you,” Steve said, smiling at her, but his eyes were a little sad. “I would’ve noticed you.”

“Ehh.” She lifted a shoulder in a half-assed shrug. “I was halfway convinced you were gay. Some of those women could’ve been models.”

“Nope.” He pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Just waiting.”

Dani shook her head. “So if Darcy didn’t make a move, did you ask her out, Steve?”

“We got put together on a project,” Steve said, his voice still absolutely sincere. “I saw my chance, and we’ve been together ever since.”

Dani and Emily smiled at them from where they’re cuddled together on the other bench, both a little tipsy. “That’s so great!” Emily said. “But you must be sex ninjas! We haven’t heard a peep out of the two of you since you moved in!”

“Em!” Dani looked at her wife, wide-eyed. “You can’t just say shit like that!”

Darcy’s face heated, and a glance at Steve showed her that he wasn’t much better. “I was in the Army,” he said softy. “It’s...kind of a habit.”

“I’m sorry,” Emily said, looking ruefully at her glass. “I guess the beer hit me a little harder than usual. That was rude.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Darcy said. Her cheeks were still warm, but Emily looked so embarrassed she couldn’t say anything else.

“No, really--” Emily persisted, but she closed her mouth when Dani nudged her.

“So, Darcy, what do you do?”

Darcy jumped on the conversational lifeline. “Social media management, mostly, for small businesses that can’t afford to have a full-time in-house person.”

She managed to babble on about her imaginary job (honestly, it sounded pretty damn interesting; maybe she should try to start something like that up for real) and the conversation stayed out of overly personal subjects long enough for Steve to relax again.

Even at his most relaxed, though, he was always touching her--a hand on her shoulder or the small of her back, playing with the ends of her hair, his thumb rubbing circles on her hand.

Steve might’ve been relaxed, but Darcy felt like she was about to explode. Living with Steve was bad enough. She’d thought her crush was hopeless before, but now she knew what he looked like first thing in the morning. She knew he liked puppy videos and swore like a fucking sailor, that he remembered how she liked her coffee and sat with her in silence until she was caffeinated enough for conversation. Not to mention the fact that she’d seen him in all his naked, muscled glory, knew what he looked like when he came. How the fuck was she supposed to get over this stupid asshole?

Especially when he Would. Not. Stop. Touching. Her. His hand was curled around her hip, his thumb stroking back and forth at her waist, brushing the bare skin where her tank top had ridden up. It felt like sparks on her skin, and it took every ounce of willpower she possessed not to climb into his lap and kiss him senseless, especially since there was basically zero privacy in the loft. The best she could hope for was him staying up late tonight so maybe she could get herself off once or twice before he came to bed.

The conversation reached a natural lull and Darcy managed a fairly credible fake yawn. “Sorry, guys,” she said, climbing off the bench and not-so-incidentally moving out of Steve’s grasp. “I think it’s getting pretty close to my bedtime.”

“We’re so glad you came,” Emily said, and Dani nodded in agreement. “Have a good night, guys.”

Steve followed her toward the door, his hand landing on her back again (of course) and Darcy barely managed not to grind her teeth.

“You okay, sweetheart?” he asked as they went down the stairs, because of course he noticed. Why would he continue to be dense about women when it would be super convenient for her?

“Fine,” she said, trying to keep her voice even as she unlocked their door. “Just tired. Think I’m gonna turn in early.”

He caught her hand, closing the door behind them and leaning back against it. “Is it about what Emily said? I don’t think it’s gonna blow our cover. They really believe we’re together.”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling helplessly at him. “They really do. You were very convincing. I’ve never heard anyone lie like that, without saying one thing that wasn’t true.”

He ducked his head, letting go of her hand. “I had some time to think about it.”

“Well, it’s a good thing one of us did,” she said hoping he couldn’t hear how brittle her voice sounded in her own ears. “By the end of it, even I was mostly convinced you were actually into me.”


She held up a hand. “Not right now, please, Steve. I just want to go to bed, actually have some time alone for a change.”

She didn’t look back at him as she went up the stairs. She changed into her pajamas, brushed her teeth mechanically, took out her contacts and got into bed. Alone. She could hear Steve moving around downstairs, but he didn’t come up.

She lay in the dark for what seemed like hours. Any traces of arousal that were left were buried in sadness. Of course Steve wasn’t into her; why would he be? She couldn’t let herself forget that again. Not if she wanted to come out of this intact.

She finally fell asleep, curled into as small a space as she could manage.


Steve watched as Darcy disappeared up the spiral staircase, his brain working frantically. She’d sounded...sad. Like his mom used to, the nights when she cried in her bedroom after she thought he was asleep.

His first instinct was to follow, to pull Darcy into his arms and comfort her, but that wasn’t his place. He wasn’t really hers, no matter how much he wanted to be. She’d said she wanted time alone; he wasn’t sure he believed that, but he had no right to disrespect her choice.

So he stayed downstairs. He tried to sketch, but after the fourth time it turned into Darcy’s face, he set it aside. He flipped through listings on Netflix, but either the show didn’t seem right, or Darcy would be upset if he watched the next episode without her.

Finally he wandered out to the balcony, looking out over the city lights. He was restless in a way he hadn’t been since they came here–-just off somehow.

Because she’s upstairs and you’re not, dumbass , he realized. The past few days had been some of the most restful since he woke up in a fake room in a whole new century. Just the chance to be , to not have to worry about being crushed under the weight of all the years he’d missed, was a priceless gift. But it didn’t feel the same with Darcy gone, upset, pulling away from him.

He’d told the truth that night, as much as he could while still keeping her safe. He’d seen her that first time in the elevator, marveled at her absolute unwillingness to back down. Tony’s jokes to the contrary, his libido hadn’t stayed frozen when the rest of him thawed, but, even though he’d been lonely, Natasha’s efforts to find him someone had left him cold. He’d tried, even going on a few dates with Sharon--Agent Carter, but the reality of his connection to Peggy had been too much for either of them to overcome. He’d been relieved, really. He didn’t want to open up his life to someone else like that. He wasn’t ready.

Except then Darcy Lewis blew into his life like a hurricane, and ready or not, Steve couldn’t look away. She was amazing; always on the move, always with something to say. Steve was so fascinated that it had taken him a few weeks to realize that the one person in this century who made him want something more was also the one person that seemed to only want to be friends.

But her reaction tonight...he took a deep breath. Maybe he had a shot after all.

Tomorrow , he decided. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.

He went back into the living room after a while, surfing aimlessly through the Internet until he was pretty sure Darcy was asleep. He brushed his teeth as quietly as he could and stripped down to his undershirt and boxers before sliding carefully into the bed. Darcy shifted next to him, then rolled over to wrap herself around him.

He closed his eyes and did his best to fall asleep. It was hard, when he was smiling so widely.


Darcy jerked awake to noise and chaos. Her pillow moved--no, that was Steve, shit, she’d been sleeping on Steve?--an alarm was sounding, like the most obnoxious fire alarm in the world, before it cut off and at first she thought she was dreaming, because she could hear JARVIS.

“--approximately twenty hostiles approaching the building. Avengers ETA is seven minutes. The apartment security countermeasures have been deactivated; Mr. Stark is trying to get them back up, but he recommends making for the roof so we can get Ms. Lewis on the Quinjet as soon as it arrives.”

“Okay,” Steve said, pulling his shield out from under the bed. “Darcy, we have to go. They’re coming.”

“Wha--?” Darcy fumbled for her glasses. She only just got them into her hand before Steve pulled her bodily out of the bed. She barely got her feet under her before he was pulling her over to stand with their backs against the wall next to the bedroom entrance.

“Wait until I tell you it’s clear,” he ordered in a terse whisper before rolling through the doorway. Darcy put on her glasses and stood, waiting anxiously, until he darted back into the room.

“They’re not inside yet,” he said. He should’ve looked ridiculous, barefoot in boxers and a t-shirt, holding Captain America’s shield, but he didn’t. “Stay behind me, okay?”

“Okay,” she repeated, following him out of the bedroom and down the staircase. They paused in the living room, Steve’s head cocked to the side as he listened.

“They’re coming in from the balcony, but the team in the hall got delayed,” he said, moving toward the door. “We have to go, now.”

Darcy fisted her hands in the back of his t-shirt as he reached for the doorknob. He looked over his shoulder and met her eyes, although she couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a reassuring look or one of approval.

His lips moved, counting down soundlessly. Five, four, three, two..

On one , he wrenched the door open so hard it banged against the opposite wall and they darted out into the hall. Darcy could tell he wasn’t moving at top speed, but even so it was all she could do to hold on and keep her feet under her.

She didn’t even realize there were bad guys in the hall until Steve threw the shield, knocking down the two that had the bad fortune to be lined up with each other. It took down another one before Steve caught it on the rebound. He whipped around, taking out the three that were trying to sneak up on them from the opposite direction. He paused to be sure there were no more coming before taking off for the stairwell to the roof, which was, of course, at the opposite side of the building from their loft.

Darcy followed in his wake, her heart pounding in her ears. Being kidnapped last time had been nothing like this; a moment of panic when she’d thought she was being mugged, a jab with a needle, and then waking up in a small, locked room. This was chaos and movement and sharp, sudden violence, up close and personal in a way it hadn’t been since New Mexico. A part of her was screaming that she should do something, that she should fight, but the rest of her was screaming louder that she was in her pajamas and unarmed and not at all prepared for this.

Realistically, she knew that this could all end badly, that there were at least fourteen more goons coming, that Steve was just one man. But watching him move through the halls, even knowing that he was limiting his movements to keep her safe, it was impossible to imagine him losing. He took out every goon they encountered with quick, effective movements, always moving toward their goal.

They finally reached the staircase door, a trail of unconscious bodies left in their wake. Steve checked behind him one last time to make sure no one was sneaking up on them before opening the door.

The stairwell was thankfully empty, so Steve pulled Darcy inside and closed the door behind them. He fiddled with the knob for a minute, then swore under his breath and set the shield down, grabbing the doorknob with both hands and twisting. When he let go, the knob was crumpled and bent and clearly non-functional.

“What if some of the Avengers try to come up that way?” Darcy asked in a whisper.

“They’re meeting us on the roof,” Steve replied at the same volume. “Anyway, Tony can blast through a door, Thor can take it out with his hammer, Clint and Natasha could kick it down, and the Hulk probably wouldn’t even notice there was a knob.”

Darcy nodded, a little embarrassed that she hadn’t reasoned through all of that. In her defense, it was ass o’clock in the morning and she’d been dragged out of a sound sleep for this little brouhaha.

“So,” she said a few minutes later, when they were still standing there. “If we’re meeting them on the roof, shouldn’t we maybe go to the roof?”

“JARVIS said seven minutes,” Steve replied. “It’s only been four. If we’re on the roof, any air support will see us, and we’ll be out in the open. In here, this door is jammed and we’ll be able to hear if they try to get through it, so the only way they can come at us is from the roof. I can protect you in here. We’ll move to the roof once the Quinjet is making its final approach.”

“Okay,” she said. She tried to think of a time she’d felt more completely extraneous, but other than watching Jane and Thor make eyes at each other, she couldn’t come up with anything. “I’m sorry you got stuck watching me.”

Steve reached out to take her hand. “Darcy, no. This week--” he broke off, his head tilting to the side. “I hear the jet. We have to go. Now.”

He towed her up the stairs, pausing at the top to listen before pushing the door open. Darcy did her part by following in his wake and not digging in her heels and demanding he finish his sentence like the childish part of her wanted to do. This wasn’t a movie, where declarations of whatever can happen while the bad guys conveniently wait to attack. This was her life, and she’d like to keep it.

Anticlimactically, there were no goons on the roof, so Steve was able to haul her over to the hovering Quinjet and all but toss her in as Natasha hopped gracefully down. “Get her back to the Tower,” he ordered

Hawkeye saluted from the cockpit. “Aye, aye, Captain. One taxi service coming up.”

The flight back to the Tower was one of the most surreal experiences of Darcy’s life. Clint tried to engage her in conversation, but after the second time she lost the thread of it, staring out the window, he let her sit in silence for the final minutes.

Pepper, Bruce, and Maria were there to meet her at the landing pad and take her inside. Darcy felt almost like a refugee, stumbling into Stark--Avengers Tower in her bare feet and pajamas.

She curled up on the couch and accepted a fuzzy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. Neither Maria or Pepper tried to make small talk, and Bruce followed their lead, which let her focus on the video and other information JARVIS was relaying to them.

The Avengers had made short work of mopping up the remaining goons, but apparently some of them had been willing to give up information on their employers, because they were on the move again as soon as Clint got back with the Quinjet, heading to another location.

As much as Darcy was worried about Steve (and the other Avengers, but they weren’t fighting in their pajamas) the interrupted night’s sleep and the warmth and comfort of her current situation were working against her. She fought it, but she fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the assault on the Serpent Society’s headquarters.

Her dreams were filled with a pajama-clad Steve, fighting off bad guys with a pillow, always getting interrupted before he could say more than her name.

Steve threw his shield with vicious force, caroming it off of one-two-three-four of the special targets Tony had made for him before catching it in mid-air, absorbing the force of its motion in a flip before he hit the ground.

“Careful,” Natasha drawled from behind him. “I think the one on the left is about to crack.”

“Tony designed them to handle the shield,” Steve said, throwing the shield again without sparing her a glance. It ricocheted beautifully, as always, coming back to him, but the leftmost target split in half and fell to the floor in its wake. He didn’t even have to look to know that Natasha was arching an eyebrow at him.

“The shield, yes. You throwing the shield at it over and over because you’ve got a lot of feelings you don’t know how to handle? Not so much.” She walked over and took the shield from his hands. “Go do something productive with your time before you take down the whole Tower.”

Steve might have been out of the Army, but he knew an order when he heard one. “‘Something productive,’ huh?”

“Nothing that involves sparring or exercise,” Natasha said, smirking at him. “Learn something new. Use your brain for a change.”

“Fine!” Steve threw up his hands and headed out of the gym.

“And don’t come back until tomorrow!” she called after him.

Darcy did her best not to stomp around the kitchen as she gathered ingredients and tools. So what if they’d been back at the Tower for almost a full twenty-four hours? So what if she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of one Steven Grant Rogers in those hours? It wasn’t like they were friends. Just because they’d lived together for a week...just because it had seemed sometimes like there was a mutual attraction…

She groaned, pulling herself out of her reverie. Obviously she’d been imagining things. Well, that was just fine. At least now she knew.

“JARVIS,” she said. “I need some music. Can you throw on my ‘Angry Girl Music’ playlist?”

“Certainly, Ms. Lewis,” the AI replied. “It would be my pleasure.”

Darcy went back to searching for the measuring spoons, finally finding them in a drawer with the utensils (why? They were just going to get lost because they were so much smaller than everything else).

She turned back to the counter where she was assembling everything and jumped when she saw Steve standing there, almost dropping the spoons she was holding. “Jesus, Steve. Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry,” he said, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. “I was just gonna grab some lunch.”

“Knock yourself out,” she said, gesturing toward the fridge. “I think there’s still some leftover pizza in there.”

She went back to her counter, dumping butter and sugar in the stand mixer bowl and starting it up, trying not to listen to the sounds of the refrigerator opening and closing behind her, the beeps of the microwave, trying not to feel like Steve’s eyes were on her.

“Whatcha making?” he asked, over the music that JARVIS had considerately lowered so they could talk to each other.

“Cookies,” she said, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl before cracking eggs into it. “They’re going to need a day or two to be sure they’ve gotten all of the guys that were after me and Jane. I figured as long as I’m stuck here, I could get some use out of this badass kitchen.”

“It’s pretty nice,” he agreed, taking his pizza out of the microwave. “Want some help?”

“You don’t have anything else to do?” she asked, turning to look at him.

He shrugged, picking up a piece of pizza off the plate. “Nat kicked me out of the gym after I broke one of the targets. I wouldn’t put it past her to make JARVIS enforce it.”

“Ms. Romanoff has engaged a security lockout,” JARVIS confirmed. “Unless you find a way to override it, you cannot enter the gym until tomorrow.”

“There you go,” Steve said, smiling crookedly at her. “I’m all yours.”

Darcy bit back her instinctive response. “Finish your pizza,” she said, turning back to the mixer. “I’ll put you to work.”

By the time he was finished, so was the cookie dough, thick with chocolate chips and pecans. They worked together in a surprisingly efficient assembly line, scooping the dough onto pans and putting them in the oven, pulling the finished cookies out of the oven and moving them onto the cooling racks.

They didn’t talk much, but it was a comfortable silence. They’d lived in each other’s pockets for the better part of a week. Even though the massive, incredibly well-equipped kitchen was nothing like the small, cozy kitchenette in their loft, they moved smoothly around each other. Darcy had to keep reminding herself not to lean into Steve’s space like she would have when they were “together,” not to seek out the little touches or look at him too long or too hard.

Finally, the last batch of cookies was cooling on the rack. Darcy braced herself for the brush-off, waiting for him to leave, but somehow they ended up on the couch in the media room with a plate of cookies and two glasses of milk, picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine from where they’d left off.

It was so much like being back in the loft that at first Darcy didn’t register it when Steve’s arm slid around her shoulders; she just snuggled closer, then froze when she felt his lips brush against her temple. “Steve?” she asked, hating how small her voice sounded.

He stiffened against her. “Uh. I...sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I can go?”

“No!” she said, maybe louder than necessary, from the way he flinched a little. She lowered her voice. “I get it. We spent a lot of time pretending to be all snuggly, so it’s hard to break the habit.”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

Darcy deflated.

Steve took a deep breath. “You know what? No. It’s not the habit. I mean, it is a habit, but that’s not why I’m sitting here with you right now.”

She pushed back a little bit so she could see his face. “I know you have this whole ‘can’t talk to women’ thing going on, but I’m gonna need you to make sense, Steve. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” he met her eyes squarely, “I’m saying pretending to date you was one of the best times of my life, except for the part where it wasn’t real. I’m saying I want it to be real. If you...if that’s something you want, too.”

“I...really?” Darcy cringed as soon as the words came out of her mouth. But Steve was smiling at her, warm and open. He slid a hand around the back of her neck, his fingertips brushing the spot under her ear where he’d kissed her once (was it really only a week ago?). She shivered, and his eyes darkened.

“Told you I didn’t think I could stop kissin’ you if you were my girl,” he murmured, leaning closer. “You willin’ to take the chance?”

She looped her arms around his neck, unable to keep from smiling. “Well, you know me.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, smiling back. “I do.”

He closed the last of the distance between them, pressing his lips to hers. It was soft and sweet, just mouth on mouth, until Darcy’s lips parted on a sigh. Suddenly Steve tilted her head just a bit more and licked into her mouth like he was starving, the faint flavor of chocolate mingling on their tongues.

She wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but when they finally broke apart, both breathing hard, she was sitting in Steve’s lap. His hand was still wrapped around her neck, the other on the small of her back, rucking up her t-shirt to find skin. Darcy had always been too curvy to be considered petite, despite her height, but the fact that his hand was big enough to span almost her entire back made her feel tiny in comparison.

“So,” he said, his lips wet and red from kissing. “You want to get dinner sometime? Maybe go dancing? We can take it slow, if you want.”

She smiled and shifted her weight so she could grind down a little against the very obvious erection underneath her. “We’ve already moved in together and slept together, Steve. I think that ship has sailed.”

“Thank Christ,” he breathed, pulling her back in for another kiss, his hand on her back pulling her even closer. The thin fabric of her yoga pants and the denim of his jeans did nothing to disguise the hard line of his cock pressing firmly between her legs. Darcy rolled her hips experimentally and they both moaned into the kiss.

“Hey! Lovebirds!” Tony’s voice snapped at maximum volume.

Darcy nearly bit Steve’s tongue when she jumped, and Steve jerked backwards almost at the same moment.

“No fucking in the common room,” the disembodied voice continued. “You both have perfectly good suites with excellent soundproofing and almost certainly overpriced mattresses, plus a courtesy selection of condoms, lubes, and high-end sex toys. Now get the fuck out of there before I have JARVIS activate the sprinkler system.”

They sat there in stunned silence for a moment. Steve’s face was flushed bright red and Darcy was pretty sure hers wasn’t any better.

“I do apologize,” JARVIS said. “Mr. Stark has access to the security cameras in all public areas of the Tower.”

“Well, then,” Darcy said, getting to her feet and holding a hand out for Steve. “We should probably go somewhere more private.”

Darcy walked into her suite, Steve still holding her hand the way he had all during the elevator ride. Unfortunately, the transition time had given her entirely too much time to think about what was happening. And the more time she had to think, the more unlikely it seemed.

The door to her suite closed behind Steve and she turned, opening her mouth, about to suggest that they take a minute, sit down, talk this out, figure out how the literal embodiment of American manhood ended up wanting one Darcy Elizabeth Lewis. But before she could get a word out, Steve pulled her into his arms, his eyes hot and intent on hers, and then he was kissing her again, deep and wet and filthy, his hands pushing up the hem of her t-shirt, stroking every inch of her stomach and back that he could get his hands on.

“Steve,” she breathed when he started kissing the side of her neck again, unerringly finding the spots that made her shiver and moan. There must have been something hesitant in her tone, though, because he lifted his head to look her in the eye again.

“Do we need to stop?” he asked. “We can stop. Or slow down. Am I going too fast?”

“No, no, no,” she said hurriedly. She seriously thought she might cry if he stopped.  “It’s fine. I’m just...nervous, you know? It’s been awhile, and I know I’m probably not what you’re used to--” Darcy bit her tongue, but the words were already out, hanging there in the air.

Steve’s eyes sharpened and she could practically see the wheels turning behind them. “Well, you’re a hell of a lot prettier than my right hand, that’s for sure,” he drawled.

Her memory presented her with an unfairly detailed image of exactly what it looked like when he used that right hand. She might have made a small squeaking noise.

He arched an eyebrow at her, but thankfully didn’t pursue that any further. “Don’t you know how beautiful you are, Darcy?” he murmured, pressing a kiss to her cheekbone. “So fuckin’ gorgeous.”

She shook her head a little in automatic negation, but her eyes fluttered shut when he kissed just under her jaw.

“I thought for sure you saw me lookin’,” he said softly, his breath gusting over her skin. Another kiss. “Tried not to.” Kiss. “But I couldn’t stop myself.”

“I…” Darcy’s breath caught in her throat as he nudged the neckline of her shirt aside to press a soft kiss onto her collarbone. “I didn’t--really?”

“Mmmhmm,” he said, kissing the other side as well, before straightening up, sliding his hands up her back and into her hair. “Thought I was bein’ rude, makin’ you uncomfortable.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I thought I was making you uncomfortable. You didn’t seem to want to be around me very much.”

Steve chuckled. “Guess neither of us was payin’ attention.”

“I guess not,” Darcy admitted, raising up on her tiptoes to kiss him again, sliding her hands around his neck. He leaned down to meet her, using his hands in her hair to change the angle before sliding them back down her back to curve around her waist, pulling her closer. His cock pressed against her stomach, hard and thick, and then he was sliding his hands under her ass and lifting her like she was weightless.

She wrapped her legs around his waist instinctively, shuddering a little bit from how good it felt, even fully clothed, the thick ridge of his cock between her legs. “Bedroom’s that way,” she said breathlessly, pointing off to her right.

Steve carried her all the way to the bed before setting her down. His hands curved possessively over her ass until her feet hit the floor, then slid up to toy with the hem of her t-shirt. “Can I take your shirt off?” he asked softly.

“Only if I get to take yours off, too,” Darcy replied.

One corner of his mouth tipped up in a smirk. “Seems fair. Ladies first.”

Darcy never had been able to resist a challenge, so she dropped to her knees, enjoying the way the smirk slid off his face. She pushed the hem of his shirt up just enough to press her lips to the skin above his jeans. He sucked in a breath above her, so she did it again, pushing his shirt up inch by inch and following the trail of dark blond hair with her lips. A part of her was tempted to take a detour to trace his abs with her tongue, but there would be time for that later.

When the shirt got stuck under his arms he lifted them, letting her tug it the rest of the way up and over his head and drop it to the floor. She pressed one more kiss between his pecs before he caught her face in his hands, devouring her mouth frantically.

He lifted his head and almost before she could open her eyes, he was turning her around, her back against his chest. She blinked a couple of times before realizing that they were standing in front of the oversized mirror on her wall.

“Look at you,” he said, dropping his head and brushing her hair to the side so he could speak directly in her ear. “Just look how fuckin’ beautiful you are, Darcy.”

She watched, fascinated, as his hands smoothed down her arms, wrapped around her waist. She looked almost delicate in front of him, his big hands splayed over her stomach. His fingers curled in the hem of her shirt and pulled it up, up, until she had to lift her arms to let him take it off. He dropped it to the floor; his hands came back almost immediately to rest on her hips then slid slowly upward to cup her breasts.

“Been drivin’ me crazy this week,” he muttered, his fingers tracing the edge of her bra. “All those new shirts, your pretty tits just barely peekin’ out. Wakin’ up with you next to me, wrapped around me. No place to jerk off except that fuckin’ shower--”

Darcy must have made some kind of noise, because Steve’s eyes snapped up to meet hers in the mirror.

“I, uh,” Darcy swallowed, her mouth going dry as Steve eased one strap down off her shoulder, pressing his lips to the mark it had left on her skin. “I might have woken up and seen you. That first morning. In the shower.”

“Oh, yeah?” He repeated the action on the other side, then reached down to unhook her bra. “Enjoy the show?”

She lifted her hands instinctively to hold the bra in place as the last hook came free. “I…”

Steve covered her hands with his, his lips brushing against her ear again. “I didn’t know you could see from the bedroom,” he confided, coaxing her hands gently away. “But I wanted to you to. That’s what I was thinkin’ about. Imagined you watching me.”

Darcy made a noise in the back of her throat, although she wasn’t quite sure if it was from his words in her ear or his hands closing over her breasts again, skin on skin as her bra fell to the floor.

“Do you wanna watch me again?” he asked, his thumbs brushing lightly over her nipples. “See how much it turns me on?”

“Maybe next time,” she said, lifting her arms and sliding her hands around the back of his neck. “I wanna touch you.”

“Next time,” he echoed, sliding his hands slowly, slowly down her sides until his thumbs caught in the waistband of her yoga pants. “Can I?”

She nodded, watching in the mirror as he tugged the stretchy fabric down past the curve of her hips, taking her panties with them. She had to let go of him as he knelt behind her, peeling the pants all the way to the floor and steadying her as she stepped out of them.

Steve slid his hands up her bare legs, pressing a soft, open-mouthed kiss to the small of her back before getting back to his feet.

Darcy turned to face him again, toying with the button on his jeans. “My turn.”

He spread his hands. “Be my guest, sweetheart.”

She undid the button and pulled the zipper carefully down. His cock practically leaped out of the open fly, tenting the soft cotton of his boxer briefs. A quick shove had his jeans falling to the floor; she hooked her thumbs under the elastic waist of his underwear and looked up at him, waiting for his nod before she eased them down his legs. They dropped to the floor around his feet and he stepped out of them, completely, gloriously nude, his cock hard and bobbing against his stomach.

“Look what you do to me,” he said, his voice low and rough. He reached out and pulled her against him, kissing her hungrily.

One of his hands cupped the back of her head, fingers threading through her hair, and the other smoothed slowly down her bare back to grip her ass, pressing her against him until they were as close as they could be. Every touch was more intense with no clothing between them; the roughness of his chest hair against her nipples, his fingers pressing into her skin, the slight tug on her hair as he tilted her head just a bit to the side, all of them sent sent sensation sparking across her skin.

“God, Steve,” she moaned when he kissed his way to her neck again, wriggling against him, because it wasn’t enough . “Please--”

“Too slow?” he asked. Before she could respond, his hands were on her ass again, picking her up. He took two steps and sat down on the bed.

Darcy gasped, bracing her hands on his shoulders, as he leaned forward and licked over her nipple before sucking it gently into his mouth. One of his hands slid up her back, urging her closer, and her eyes slid closed. She moaned again when his free hand closed over her other breast, squeezing the nipple gently just as his teeth scraped lightly over the other one before releasing it.

“God, I can smell you from here,” Steve breathed against her chest. He smoothed his hand down her stomach and down between her legs, stroking a finger gently over her clit before pressing it inside her pussy. “So wet for me, sweetheart.”

She was fairly sure her blush was covering her entire torso, but then he added another finger and she couldn’t bring herself to care because it felt so good, his thick fingers stretching her open, his voice low and rough in her ear.

“Next time I’m gonna lay you down and bury my face in your pussy,” he said, adding a stroke of his thumb over her clit that had her grinding her hips down. “Not gonna stop til you come all over my face. Wanna be able to smell you for days--” he kept talking but she lost the thread of his words as he crooked his fingers inside her, fingertips brushing over her g-spot once, then again. All she could do was come, her fingers digging into his shoulders as her whole body shuddered through it.

“--there you go,” she heard him say when the blood finally stopped rushing in her ears and she opened her eyes. “There you are, gorgeous, so fuckin’ beautiful when you’re comin’ for me. Wanna fuck you now, Darcy, can I?”

“Yes,” she managed, her voice rough from the way she’d been gulping down air. “Please...wait, wait. Condom?”

He reached down to the bed with his free hand and picked up a square packet, tearing it open with his teeth before reaching down to roll it over his cock.

“Didn’t expect you to be so good at that,” she commented, because apparently orgasm completely deleted the filter between her brain and her mouth.

Steve smirked up at her. “These newfangled things? Took me awhile to figure ‘em out. Did I put it on backwards again?”

Darcy shoved at his shoulders, which had about as much effect as her trying to move the Tower. “Shut up. Did you wanna sit here and snark at me some more or did you want to fuck me?”

His eyes darkened and he slowly pulled his fingers out of her pussy, holding her gaze as he slid them slowly into his mouth, licking them clean before pulling them back out. “Oh, I definitely want to fuck you,” he rasped, curling one hand over her hip and urging her forward. He used the other one to position his cock until the head was pressing against her pussy.

She lowered herself down and they both sucked in a breath as his cock pushed inside of her. Even with all of the foreplay it was still a stretch, the thickness of his cock almost too much for comfort. She worked him inside in short, shallow movements as his hands smoothed up and down her back.

Finally he was as deep inside her pussy as he could go, both of them breathing hard. Steve waited patiently as Darcy took a minute to adjust before she started to move, rising up a little before sinking back down. Her nails bit into his shoulders as he slid his hands down to circle her waist and started to thrust up into her, meeting her as she moved downward.

She rolled her hips a little to get his cock exactly where she wanted it, right on that sensitive spot inside her. Her clit rubbed against him as he thrust and it was like lightning across her skin; the wet, hot slide of his cock inside of her combined with the pressure on her clit was so good she bit her lip to keep from crying out.

But then his hands were sliding up to cup her breasts. “Wanna hear you,” he rasped. “Don’t hold back on me, Darcy, c’mon.”

His fingers closed on her nipples, a gentle squeeze, but the sensations zinged directly to her clit, multiplying everything she was feeling. “Fuck, Steve,” she moaned. “Please--”

“Anything you want,” he promised his own breath coming harshly. “Do anything you want, sweetheart, just tell me.”

“Don’t stop,” she managed. Her eyes closed as she moved faster, chasing an orgasm that seemed tantalizingly close and yet very far away. “Don’t stop, Steve, please, please, please…”

He took her at her word, matching her pace, drawing little gasps and moans out of her with each movement of his hands on her breasts, his cock inside her pussy. She hovered on the edge of coming for what felt like hours, everything she was feeling too much and not enough.

“Fuck, Darcy,” Steve breathed. “Love seein’ you like this. Wish we could stay like this forever, wish I could fuck you forever. Come on, sweetheart, come for me--”

She let out a little sobbing moan, moving faster, almost slamming down on him now, her back arching, her whole body drawing tight. She was almost, almost, almost--and then she was there, her mouth opened in a soundless scream as she came.

Steve murmured things she couldn’t quite hear as she shuddered through her orgasm, riding the aftershocks for several endless moments, but she finally slumped forward against his chest, his arms coming around her.

“Do you need to stop?” he asked.

Darcy’s heart melted a little. She could still feel him hard inside her, feel the pounding of his heart in his chest, but he still asked. She leaned back a little so she could kiss him, soft and sweet. “No,” she said, pulling back to smile at him. “But maybe it’s your turn to do the work.”

His eyebrows shot up, and the next thing she knew, Darcy was flat on her back on the bed, his cock still hard and thick inside her pussy. “Oh, I see how it is,” he drawled, lacing their fingers together and pushing her hands gently into the mattress on either side of her head. “You don’t think I was doin’ any work?”

“I didn’t say that!” she protested, gasping as he thrust back inside her. “Just--I was--ah--doing more.”

Steve leaned down and kissed her, deep and wet and filthy, fucking her the whole time. “Well, then,” he said, lifting his head. “You just lie back and let me do the work, sweetheart.”

She tried her best to come up with a snarky comeback, she really did, but the way his hands were pressing hers into the mattress, the weight of his body on top of hers, the movement of his cock inside of her, all had her climbing toward yet another orgasm.

From the look on his face, he wasn’t too far behind. “Feels so good,” he gasped, his breath speeding up in time with his thrusts. “You feel so fuckin’ good, Darcy--”

He broke off when she tipped her hips up to meet him, trying to find that one angle that had him hitting the perfect spot. When she wrapped her legs around his waist, he groaned, his rhythm faltering for a minute before continuing. He freed his hands from hers and braced them against the bed, moving faster, faster, and then he pressed himself deep inside her one last time and came, shaking with the force of his orgasm.

Steve collapsed on top of her and buried his face in her neck, his heart racing so hard she could feel the beat like it was part of her own body. She rubbed her hands soothingly up and down his back and felt it slowly, gradually slow.

Before too long, he pushed himself up and off of her, pulling the condom off, tying a knot in it, and dropping it in the bedside trash can. Before she could react, he dropped to his knees in front of her, lifting her legs over his shoulders. He licked up her center and over her clit, nuzzling his face deeper between her legs. She felt his muscles bunch under her legs and then his fingers slid into her pussy, curling up as he licked her clit.

Darcy’s hands clenched in the sheets, her hips arching helplessly up toward him, unable to stop the moans coming out of her mouth. “There,” she gasped breathlessly when his tongue flickered over the spot that made her legs shake, “there, Steve, please--”

Never let it be said that Captain America can’t take direction, was her last coherent thought before she came apart under his mouth and hands.

When she finally stopped shaking, he pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her thigh before pulling away. She frowned, trying to get words from her brain to her mouth, but before she could manage it, Steve gathered her up and placed her gently on the pillows at the top of the bed. He stretched out beside her, draping an arm over her stomach, and Darcy snuggled happily into him as he pulled the blankets up over both of them.

“That was---”

“Amazing,” she said firmly. “Spectacular. Mind-blowing?”

“Yeah.” He smiled softly at her, the smile widening as she yawned. “All of that.”

“Good.” She smiled wickedly at him. “Just think how much better we’ll get with practice.”

He let himself fall back against the pillow. Darcy followed him, attaching herself to his side. “I might just die from sex.”

“Yeah, but what a way to go!”

They lay there in comfortable silence for a few minutes, before Steve shifted next to here. “Someplace you’ve gotta be?”

“No?” He turned his head to look her in the eye, leaving them nose to nose. “Unless--d’you want me to go? We’ve been in each other’s pockets for the past week; I understand if you want some space--”

“Steve,” she said firmly. “You are going to stay in this bed, and we’re going to sleep. And in the morning, we’ll get up, eat breakfast, and have morning sex, not necessarily in that order. Cool?”


“Good.” Darcy arranged the covers to her liking. “Now go to sleep.”

“Yes, ma’am.”