A/N: I know. No update for 10 months, then 2 updates in one week. Following me must be troublesome. So thanks for reading.
"I could call Coulson, but the CIA is already on their way to pick up Ward. His team would never get here in time. We've already turned his compatriots over to the Feebs," Hill reported as they sat around the table in the conference room.
"I just told him SHIELD was coming to give him something to stew on," Natasha said. "Who is the Agency sending?"
"Sharon Carter, actually."
Steve stiffened at the sound of her name. Natasha had wanted him to ask her out. Technically, he had before he found out she was his secret SHIELD detail. When she left SHIELD for the CIA, Steve had had neither the opportunity, nor the inclination to ask her out. He didn't feel like actively pursuing spending time with people who lied for a living. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Natasha smiling.
"Do we have any SHIELD gear in storage?" she asked.
"Yes," Maria replied slowly, cocking an eyebrow curiously.
"Natasha?" Steve asked.
"Ward would have known that Sharon wasn't Hydra, but he probably doesn't know she's not SHIELD anymore," Natasha replied. "Maggie Vincent was SHIELD, right? She has the right build if we just put a mask on her."
"May?" Maria asked.
"All right. I'll ask—"
"Stop," Steve said, cutting Hill off before focusing his attention on Natasha. "What are you hoping to accomplish by convincing him Coulson's people are collecting him?"
"I think that's his ultimate goal; to get back to them and exact his revenge for his girlfriend's death, or whatever his psyche has come up with," she explained. "Ward killed the entire detail when he was taken out of SHIELD custody the last time. If he thinks he's going where he wants to go, maybe everyone can survive the trip."
"That's a pretty big 'if,' Natasha."
"And the alternative?"
Steve sighed as he flattened his fist on the surface of the table. "Make sure Maggie Vincent knows the risks and that it's completely up to her whether or not she goes," he ordered.
"Understood," Hill replied, nodding curtly before leaving the room.
Steve groaned and buried his head in his hands, pressing his palms into his eyes in an attempt to clear his mind. Natasha, for her part, simply waited for him to look back up at her.
"I talked to Darcy. She's extremely entertaining when severely sleep deprived," Natasha said. "She had to punch some guy that was hitting on her. Told me you showed her how."
Steve did his best not to react, but he was sure Natasha caught the look of pride that certainly flashed across his eyes.
"There was also a guy pretty determined to take Wanda home," she continued.
Steve's eyes shot up as his gaze toward her narrowed.
"Relax, Big Brother," she teased him. "The guy backed off immediately when she turned him down. Darcy still had his business card in her car. He checks out. We're scrubbing the night club footage looking for whoever Ward had on them."
"Think you could teach them how to spot a tail?" Steve asked her.
"Clint and I already had a plan to train Wanda in that area," Natasha informed him. "We'll just train Darcy as well."
An image of Clint jumping out at Darcy and consequently getting tased in the balls bounce across Steve's brain. He chuckled involuntarily and covered his mouth to try and hide it.
Natasha arced an eyebrow. "You're sleep-deprived, Rogers."
"I'll be fine," he replied flatly.
"No, you won't."
"What about the leak inside?" he asked, staring her down as he pointedly changed the subject.
Natasha returned his glare for a moment before continuing, "I don't think it was an intentional, or malicious leak. From what we can tell, Ward has been in the area for a while using the Brad Hanson alias. He wasn't exaggerating when he said he was a patient man. All he had to do was wait for a maintenance worker to have one too many beers. I've got Sam talking to people now. He's good at putting people at ease. I was going to help, but I assume you'd rather I talk to Sharon."
Steve's mouth formed a grim line in response to her knowing smile.
"I understand why you didn't want to pursue anything with her," Natasha said, covering the hand he had on the table with her own. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue something at all."
Steve took her hand and leaned forward. "Why is everyone suddenly so concerned about my love life?" he asked, exasperation seeping into his voice as he squeezed her hand.
"You've kind of been a huge pain in the ass lately," she told him sweetly. "I think we all figure if you get laid, you might loosen up a little."
Steve felt his ears start to burn. He knew he'd been a hard ass lately. He did not realize it had lead to some sort of conspiracy among his teammates. He supposed it wasn't as bad as the pool they had going on when he had lost/would lose his virginity. Natasha was actually only a month off, not that he was ever going to tell her that. And the only other living person who could confirm it might not even have the memory anymore.
"We also realize that you're not the sort of person to just find someone to get off with," Natasha continued matter-of-factly. "Consequently, we are all concerned with your love life."
Steve let the silence fill the room as he let his mind drift back to the nightmare in the salvage yard. "We can go home." Peggy's words still haunted him because he had little idea what a peaceful home actually was. For a moment, though, he held her in his arms and he knew what love was. He knew what home was. He wasn't entirely sure if he would ever find that feeling again, or even if he deserved it.
"Thank you," he finally said quietly, gently squeezing her hand.
Natasha smiled. "You're welcome, Rogers."
Darcy had managed maybe three or four hours of disjointed sleep between the pain in her ribs and the interruption of Natasha's brief, but friendly interrogation. Unable to rest, she started to wander around the facility. She caught the tail end of Ward's transfer. She rubbed her eyes when a woman who looked like Melinda May punched Ward in the throat at something he said to her. Her eyes found Sam and tugged on his sleeve like a kid. "What is going on?" she asked.
"What do you think is going on, traitor?" he whispered.
"Hey, you try actively lying to his face and see how long you last," she hissed back. "We're not handing Ward over to SHIELD. We can't be."
Sam shook his head. "It's the CIA. Maggie Vincent is wearing one of those masks. It's all part of a ruse Romanoff cooked up to keep Ward from trying to escape before they get him to whatever hole they're going to throw him in," he explained.
She found her eyes drifting from the armored car Ward was being shoved into and to the blonde woman talking to Steve. She was exactly the sort of person you'd expect a guy like Steve to be with. She was beautiful, tall, confident. The catsuit with SHIELD insignia proved that she was in peak physical condition and Darcy found herself shifting uncomfortably. Sam noticed her discomfort from the corner of his eye and smirked.
"She was his neighbor," he told her. "Steve thought she was a nurse named Kate, and it turned out she was a SHIELD agent named Sharon. She put a gun to Rumlow's head, so she's not one of the bad guys, but being lied to still didn't sit well with Steve."
That was evident in the short, clearly cold responses Steve was giving the other woman. Darcy understood why that made her want to smile, but she almost wished he didn't.
The crowd started to break up and Natasha crossed the corridor to them as soon as she saw them. "Hey, Sam's helping me talk to the staff about a potential leak," she informed Darcy. "Would you be alright with Clint flying you out to Coulson?"
Darcy blinked, a layer of grogginess still settled over her brain. "Uh, sure, that's fine," she replied, still unsure as to why she was being asked the question in the first place.
"I'd also appreciate it if you didn't tell him who you're going to see," Natasha continued with a smile.
Darcy let the wheels in her brain spin for a moment before she returned Natasha's mischievous grin. "You know, old Hawkeye's not a spring chicken. He might just have a heart attack."
Natasha's smile grew. "He'll be fine seeing Coulson alive, but there is someone else there whose presence might give him a heart attack." At Darcy's confused expression, she added. "I owe him back for something. 0600 good?"
"Understood," Darcy replied with a two-fingered salute.
As Natasha and Sam went off, Darcy carefully tried to disappear into the crowd before Steve could see her. The shock gone and the grogginess clearing from her system, she was suddenly afraid of what might happen if she was in close proximity to him again. It wasn't as though she thought she was in bodily danger, but she was in very great danger of potentially throwing herself at him, if she didn't try to smack him first. The two options often presented themselves in equal measures. It was a bad idea, terrible really, to get involved with an Avenger. Not only was it essentially sleeping with the boss, she'd witnessed what happened first hand when the relationship went south. But Steve wasn't Thor. He wasn't going to randomly disappear to another dimension. He could just get a mortar round to the chest and die. That unpleasant thought twisted her insides.
She quietly knocked on Wanda's door and a soft voice granted her admittance. Wanda's quarters were slightly larger with a sitting area and a four piece bathroom. Darcy had noted that no one apparently trusted an Avenger with their own kitchen. Wanda was on the bed wearing a long t-shirt and sweater, but she clearly hadn't been sleeping. She looked up at her visitor and her eyes started to well with tears.
"Don't you dare apologize to me," Darcy ordered as the other woman opened her mouth. "It wasn't your fault. Not at all."
She sat down on the bed and let Wanda cry onto her shoulder despite her body's protests.
After Wanda had calmed down she sat back up and said, "I'm so tired, but I can't sleep."
"Same," Darcy told her. "What sort of movies did you have growing up?"
"Oh, I don't remember many," she replied. "They only had Pinocchio at the orphanage."
"You need a Disney princess marathon, STAT," Darcy said, reaching for the remote.
Darcy dozed off during Sleeping Beauty, and awoke to Wanda sleeping soundly next to her. She carefully extricated herself from the bed and pulled the covers up around Wanda, and she suddenly missed her brother terribly, and thought about asking if they could take a side trip to her gran's house the next day. Since they were taking a Quinjet, it wouldn't take as long.
She managed a couple more hours of sleep before her alarm woke her. Showering was an almost excruciating experience with cracked ribs. She found a pair of leggings and a blousey shirt that concealed the brace she was wearing nicely. She hadn't washed her hair as that would have required drying it, and put it up in a loose bun instead. As it was always two steps above freezing on the base, she pulled on Steve's hoodie as well. She grabbed the files and tablets she might need and tossed them in her messenger bag. That was when she noticed her ID and glasses weren't in there. She'd left them in her car. She headed toward the garage and stopped short in the doorway. Steve was sitting with his bike in front of him on a stand while he reattached a wheel. Unfortunately, his back wasn't toward the door, so there was no way he hadn't noticed her.
"You gonna just stand there all day?" he asked, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as he looked sideways at her.
"I, um, I just needed something from my car," she said, quickly making her way to the most mundane vehicle in the room. She unlocked it without fumbling her keys too obviously and started rooting around for her things. She tossed some jackets and shirts around, and opened the glove box before she started to panic about her lost wallet. Then she heard a throat being cleared behind her and turned to find Steve holding her wallet and glasses case.
"The techs took this stuff out when they were searching your car earlier," he explained. "I was going to put it back, but I didn't want to break into your car."
"Thanks," she mumbled, taking the things from his hands and dropping them in her bag before shutting the door to her car. "Do you even know how to break into a car?"
Steve chuckled. "Yeah, you learn a lot of things during a war," he told her.
She nodded to broken motorcycle and said, "Did you learn how to work on that during the war, too?"
"Yeah," Steve said, nodding as he put his hands in his pockets. "Howard thought I should know some basic maintenance, although Tony would probably think I'm a total dunce with it."
Darcy found herself staring at his arms above his pockets. "Your arms are perfect," she mused.
Darcy's eyes snapped up as she realized what she'd said. "I mean, you were pretty banged up and you had a bandage yesterday, and now…you're fine…"
"Oh, yeah," he said, taking his hands out of this pockets and rubbing his arms self-consciously. "I heal pretty quickly."
"And you don't even scar?"
Steve hesitantly shook his head.
"That's not even fair. I still have a scar from when I was nine. Here," she said, grabbing one of his hands and pressing his fingers to the two-inch scar on her scalp. "I don't even know how I got it. I just woke up in the hospital with a headache and terrible haircut. Gran never told me what happened. It was probably super embarrassing. I probably tripped and exposed myself on the playground or something like—"
While her mouth ran away with her, she hadn't noticed that his fingers had stopped tracing the line of her scar and had threaded themselves through her hair. She didn't even realize how close he'd gotten until his lips pressed softly against her own. Though time seemed to stop, Darcy's mind raced. She felt elated and very silly all at once, and she had no idea what to do with her hands. Fortunately, her lips seemed to have a mind of their own, and responded in kind until Darcy felt her lungs might burst.
"Here," Darcy said, grabbing his hand and placing it on her scalp.
He felt the raised scar on her head and wondered what could have possibly ripped her head open so violently at the age of nine. Then he noticed how soft her hair felt between his fingers. He hadn't ever touched her like this. He felt a little guilty for not taking in every word she was saying, but he just wanted to touch her more. He pressed his lips to hers, and for a moment worried he made a mistake until she mirrored the pressure of his movements, encouraging him. The hand not tangled in her hair pressed into the small of her back. He realized a moment too late that was a mistake as Darcy gasped in pain and pulled away.
"Sorry," he said to Darcy's wide-eyed face, as he started to back away. "I didn't—"
Darcy suddenly reached out and grabbed his face, pulling him down. Their teeth clattered together and he could feel her nervous laughter reverberate against his lips. As her arms snaked around his neck, he let his fingers thread through the hair on the back of her head with his other hand safely on her hip. They stayed entwined until the need for air forced them apart. Both of them still gasping for air, he pressed his forehead to hers and looked down into her blue eyes.
"Uh, I can come back, but we were supposed to leave ten minutes ago."
Barton's voice resounded through the room like ice water. Steve quickly stepped back from Darcy. She was red-faced and looked almost angry, though Steve couldn't quite tell what she was angry about. She grabbed her bag in a huff and wordlessly marched out the door past Barton.
"See you later, Cap."
Steve did not miss Barton's barely contained glee as he left the garage.