Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel's characters, Lucky Charms, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," or anything else you recognize. The title and the first line are taken from "Pistol Packin' Mama" by the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby.

No "Avengers" spoilers; if you haven't seen "Captain America" or read the rest of Darcy Lewis Can't Lose, there are things you won't get.

You guys, I know even less about boxing than I do about dancing. Way to write yourself into a corner there, LJ. Please do not listen to any pseudo-advice given here. I got most of my info from Balazs Boxing's website. Lapushka is a Russian term of endearment that literally means "little paw." THIS GOT TOTALLY OUT OF HAND and I kind of love it.

Thank you tons to everyone who's reviewed the other bits so far, especially Amanda and Mel (you're ace!). I'm quite looking forward to your reactions.


She's a terror, make no error, but there ain't no lassie fairer

Tony spread his arms wide and pronounced, "This is going to be a train wreck of epic proportions. I should sell tickets."

"Put a sock in it, Tony."

"No, listen, Steve. This is Drunk-ass Darcy—"

"Don't call her that!"

"That's what she put in my phone. This is the girl that you, despite an unconscionable age gap, like."

Steve glared, but it was weakened by uncomfortable fidgeting. "I don't—"

"Let's be real, okay? This is me you're talking to." Tony sat down across from Steve. "You do like her, you have at least since you two went dancing, if not before, and you're not going to try to deny it to me of all people."

"Fine," Steve snapped. "What's your point?"

"My point, Steven, is twofold. Part the first is, are you sure you like her for the right reasons? Not just because she looks a little familiar, like another sassy, strong-willed brunette?"

"You think I like her because she reminds me of Peggy?"

"I'm saying this may be a thought that has crossed her mind, so you might want to think about how you'd answer that question. The second part is, Darcy is very much a product of her time. If you do this boxing thing there'll be lots of physical contact and heavy breathing and sexual tension. She might have different, shall we say, expectations of how things will progress than you do." Tony mentally congratulated himself for being so tactful, and watched for Steve's reaction.

"Oh."

"Right."

"But what if…" He looked like it physically pained him to be having this conversation. "What if she doesn't even like me that way?"

Yes, it seemed Tony was enough of a bastard to laugh at a friend in his hour of need. "Oh, man, that's a good one," he chortled, slapping the table. "'What if she doesn't like me that way.' Cap, I know you're no ladies' man, so take it from a semi-reformed one: not only is she interested in fondue"—here Steve groaned "Of course you know about that" and put his head on the table—"but she might like to lease the cow, with an option to buy. Possibly the bakery, too."

Steve looked up, miserable and confused. "I have no idea what that's supposed to mean."

"It's like we don't even speak the same language sometimes. She likes you, okay."


Darcy scrolled through her contacts, wondering why she didn't have any regular girlfriends. Even though Thor was back, Jane wasn't any less busy with work; she still wanted to know as much as possible about the Bifrost and its relation to real-world—well, Midgardian—astrophysics. Pepper was nice, but they didn't know each other well enough for this kind of conversation; ditto Natasha, who was probably out of the country anyway and also probably hadn't ever had to worry about interacting with the opposite sex, even when they were trying to kill her. Thor, Dr. Banner, and Clint, while very good in their areas of expertise, wouldn't be the best at feelings. That only left one person, and her thumb hovered over the name onscreen for a second before tapping it.

"Speak to me." He had to raise his voice to be heard over a crackling, whooshing sound.

"What is that noise? Are you flying?"

"No, welding. What's up, Lewis?"

She felt like a whiny teenager as she asked, "What does it mean when a guy wants to teach you to box?"

"Knowing you, that he thinks your mouth is going to write checks that your body can't cash." There was a grunt and the noise stopped. "In an entirely hypothetical situation of this kind, it means that the guy cares about your well-being and wants to share something he's good at with you."

"Is this a bad idea?"

"You learning to box is going to be a glorious riot of bruises in inappropriate places and the kind of language that would put a Tarantino movie to shame. I can't wait." Tony sounded gleeful, but then sighed. "Other than that, you should know by now that I am the worst person to ask for advice about anything emotional. If it comes down to it, I will welcome you aboard the S.S. I Have Made a Terrible Decision, of which I am the captain. I'm admiral of the whole fleet, really."

"Thanks, Tony. Somewhere in all that, there was actually something worth hearing."

"That shouldn't have happened." Darcy heard a loud creaking and then a thud from the other end. "Eek. That shouldn't have happened, either. Gotta run. Ciao, kiddo."

"Bye."

Time to find her sneakers.


Week One

She knew that he thought she was beautiful and perfect, and that he'd never tell her she could stand to lose a few pounds, like some other guys had. But that didn't mean that she wanted to get all gross and sweaty in front of him. Why did she keep agreeing to these things? The dancing was one thing, because she at least got to wear cute clothes and there was (theoretically, if not in practice) the whole sensual rhythm thing, but she could foresee nothing good coming of this.

Except for improved physical fitness, learning a new skill, and spending time with your new favorite person, an annoying voice in her head said.

But three days a week? And starting on a Saturday morning, of all times? Saturday mornings were for sleeping in and eating Lucky Charms while you watched cartoons. They were not for exercise, learning, hand-eye coordination, or anything that required a functioning brain.

She double-knotted her laces violently and wished she had her taser.


"Let me see your hands." Darcy held them out, palms down. Steve took her left and rotated it palm up before wrapping it. He was talking about how correctly wrapping her hands would keep them protected and strong, and she really did try to pay attention, but it was hard. It was too early, and she couldn't deal with his fingers skimming over her skin. She shook her head to clear it.

"You alright?"

"Fine. Let's do this."

"First things first. When you make a fist, keep your thumb on the outside. If it's on the inside you could break it, and then you'd be useless in the fight."

"Do you honestly think I'm ever going to need to be able to punch somebody for real?"

He looked down at her with hard eyes. "I hope not. But you know what the world is like. I want you to be able to defend yourself."

Don't look in his eyes. He's like a freaking hypnotist. "Thumb outside fist," she repeated.

"Now put your feet shoulder width apart…" He demonstrated, nudged her feet into place with his own, stood behind her and pushed into her back to show where her center of gravity should be. When he was satisfied with that, they moved to the position of her fists, higher than she expected they'd need to be. He had her relax out of the stance and then take it up again, checking her foot placement, alignment, and hands. Eventually they worked up to actual punching, throwing jabs and straight rights into the air.

"Great! You're doing really well," Steve praised. Darcy narrowed her eyes, but there was no sarcasm or deceit in Steve's words. He turned away and picked up a pair of weird mitt-pad things, slipping them onto his hands. "Now for the next step, you actually get to hit something." He grinned and winked at her.

"I can't hit you!"

"You won't be hitting me," he reassured her. "You'll be hitting the mitts." He smacked them together. "Aim for the center. Remember, you're using your whole body, and punching through the mitt, not just into it." Steve planted his feet and held his mitted hands in front of his chest. Darcy still hesitated.

"What if I miss and hit you in the face?"

"You won't. Even if you do miss, you'll hit me in the chest, not the face. And I have been hit in the face before." He cocked his head and waited. "Come on, Lewis, hit me with your best shot."

"You don't even know who Pat Benatar is," she muttered, setting her feet and raising his fists. "Thank you so much for getting that song stuck in my head." And with the frustration borne of having an '80s song stuck in her head at an inopportune time, she started to punch.


Week Two

"C'mon," Steve encouraged with an open smile. Once she'd gotten the hang of the stance and the basic punches, it was time for footwork. "It's just like dancing."

She glared with the animosity only someone forced to skip her morning coffee could achieve. Steve had seen friendlier-looking Hydra agents. A lesser man would've quailed before that look. "If it's just like dancing, then A. why weren't you a better dancer and B. why do you expect me to be any good at this?"

"I believe in you." Simple as that. (Although she did notice he hadn't answered the first question.)

Dammit. Damn him and his sincerity and damn his blue eyes and his resolute inability to lie to her.

That didn't mean she had to like it.


Week Three

"I don't think this is a good idea, Tony."

"Where's your sense of adventure, Big Green? She just started learning. It's not like she'll be able to hurt you. Besides, it's the team gym. We have a right to be there."

"Then shouldn't we actually be wearing workout clothes, so it doesn't appear that we're just there to gawk?"

"We'll change when we get there."

Tony strolled into the gym looking as carefree as always; Bruce followed much less confidently. He never spent much time in the gym, since the Other Guy usually did all the work. Looking around, he saw Steve and Darcy in front of a punching bag. Tony walked over to the weight benches. "Come on, buddy, let's do some biceps. I'll spot ya."

"You know, it's uncanny how someone spotting would have a perfect view of those two," Bruce said drily.

"It's crazy, right? How much do you want, buck and a half?" They loaded some plates on the bar, and Bruce positioned himself on the bench.

As Bruce lifted, Tony watched. Darcy's ponytail bobbed as she punched and she had an uncharacteristically serious expression on her face. She wore shorts and a slightly oversized t-shirt with a stylized depiction of Mjolnir on the front. Her gloved hands connected with the heavy bag that Steve held steady. He gave quiet criticism that Tony couldn't hear, and Darcy pulled her elbows in closer to her body.

Bruce replaced the bar with a clang and swung himself up. "She looks pretty good," Tony reported as they switched places.

"Don't let him hear you say that." Bruce paused to look at the calendar on the wall, where a very pretty girl in a very sheer robe brushed her hair in front of a mirror.

"He wouldn't get jealous—or would he get jealous?" Tony sounded way too intrigued and willing to find out the answer.

"Protective, not jealous. And he knows you don't have any designs on her."

"Ain't that the truth. She's like the annoying little sister I never had. Or wanted." Tony hefted the bar and Bruce smiled down at him.

"You love her. Don't try to deny it."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Bruce tried to pay attention to Darcy's workout, but he couldn't in good conscience refuse to spot Tony, even if Tony had basically ignored him while he lifted. When he chanced a look, Steve was standing next to Darcy, running his hand along her arm from elbow to wrist, checking the rotation of the joints. While his attention was on her arm, Darcy looked at him with the most unguarded expression Bruce had ever seen her wear, all of her hopes and doubts obvious on her face. He felt guilty for seeing something that she never would have wanted anyone else to see. He turned his attention back to Tony.

When Tony finished his set, he sat up on the bench. "How's it looking?" he asked. Bruce took a seat on the bench next to him.

"It's looking…pretty big. And intense."

"Like looking in the mirror," Tony nodded sagely. "I suspected Darcy's feelings were not just in her pants."

"They're definitely not. You can see it all over her face."

Stark pointed at his lab bro. "That's disgusting."

With Tony, you ignored about every other sentence and you'd be okay. "What about him?"

"Captain Obvious? Yeah, he digs her."

"I don't know Darcy very well, but they seem a bit…mismatched."

"She's a firecracker, all right—she'd have to be, look how long she's lasted around us—and she's sharp. But she does seem to have quite the gooey center."

"I hope so. Otherwise, is there a contingency plan for the team leader getting his heart broken?"

"I've been thinking of investing in a distillery. Other than that, we just have to keep our fingers crossed."


Week Four

"Do you only hang out with me because I remind you of Peggy Carter?" she asked quietly, eyes locked on the mitts.

Even though Tony had mentioned it earlier, the question still caught Steve off-guard. "What? No!"

"But I do remind you of her."

"Well, yeah. She was…an important person. Keep your shoulders down."

"So when you met me and I reminded you of her…"

"I thought, Peggy and Darcy would really like each other. I wish they'd had the chance to meet."

She seemed to think about this, still focused on the mitts.

"Did you know she shot at me once?"

Darcy's head snapped up, her eyes wide. "Really? What happened?"

"Well, she, ah, kind of saw another girl kissing me." He looked embarrassed, even after all the time that'd passed. "And then Howard showed me my new shield and Peggy decided to test it out by shooting at me."

"That's badass," Darcy said approvingly.

"Peggy met me before the serum, when I was a scrawny nobody. She thought I was a supersoldier because of my actions and my beliefs, not because of some drug. She made me feel like a whole person." He met Darcy's eyes. "And you make me feel like a normal one. You can't understand what that means to me, that you don't look at me as a waste of space or a science experiment or a propaganda tool or even a hero, but just as a guy who's not a great dancer and kind of awkward around pretty girls. You make me feel like I'm just a guy named Steve."

She dropped her hands. "You're not just some guy, though. You're the kindest, most unselfish, best man I know. And I know some pretty amazing people. You know, all those weirdos you hang around with." She whirled her hand in a gesture to the building around them and its occupants. Steve took a step toward her.

"Darcy. I don't want you to think that you're just a replacement for Peggy. You are beautiful and funny and thoughtful and secretly very sweet."

She gave him half a smile. "Don't tell anybody else that, they'll never believe you."

He shook his head, and they looked at each other for a long moment before Darcy stepped back. "Enough talk about how awesome I am. Let's get back to me kicking ass."


Week Five

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

"Welcome aboard," Tony replied with a salute, and while Steve didn't get it, he didn't care enough to ask. "What's the deal?"

"I just can't stop thinking about her."

The way she smiled soft and sweet when it was just the two of them. How she looked at him over the top of her glasses with that smirk. Her surprising patience when she had to explain yet again which remote control did what. The first time he'd truly looked at her, that afternoon in her apartment. The curves he'd seen then and felt since that prompted ungentlemanly thoughts.

"Pretty soon I'm going to have to kiss her, and I don't want it to get in the way of training."

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Tony cried, throwing his hands up. "You're just going to up and kiss her? Don't you have to write to her father first, declare your intentions?"

"Oh, ha ha," Steve said without rancor.

"Why do you talk to me about this, out of all the Superfriends?" Tony leaned back and crossed his arms behind his head.

"I've wondered that myself," Steve answered wryly. "Out of everyone, you understand her best."

"I, the prime-aged billionaire engineering-mastermind crimefighter, am the best at understanding the 20-something female research assistant," he mused. "Sounds about right. Here's an idea, why don't you just ask her on a date?"

Steve leaned forward with what was very nearly an evil grin. "Ready to do some reconnaissance?"


Tony looked up from the magazine when the door opened. "Ladies," he greeted, swinging his legs off the couch. "Just the people I wanted to see."

Jane looked at Darcy quizzically. Darcy shrugged one shoulder.

"I'm trying to plan a special date for Pepper and I was hoping for some ideas." He smiled disarmingly.

Darcy stared at him. With the money he had, a special date should be no big deal. "Dude, you have a private jet. Just fly her to Geneva or Dubai and go to a restaurant there."

He waved off the suggestion. "Nah, she'd over the fly-the-jet-to-Europe date by now. Turns out it's not environmentally conscious. I was looking for something a little closer to home." He turned to Jane. "Dr. Foster, what do you and Thor do on your dates?"

Jane turned pink and Darcy snickered. "They don't really go out on dates," she explained. Tony did his best to keep his expression neutral.

"We do so!" Jane collected herself and told Tony, "We go on lots of walks, in Central Park and on the High Line. And Thor likes the zoos."

"Zoos!" Tony muttered. "I knew I left something off the list. JARVIS, zoos!" he yelled into the air.

Zoos added to the list, sir.

He looked back at the confused women. "Darcy? Ideas?"

"About zoos?" She frowned. "San Diego's supposed to be nice…"

"About dates. Try to keep up." They exchanged sneers.

"Doesn't Pepper like art? And the ballet? You should really know these things by now."

"Done it. What about you? What would a poor but hip young person do on a date?"

Memories of dancing and laughing under streetlights flooded her mind. She swallowed. "Something low-key, I guess. Go bowling, or to a movie, or have a picnic in the park."

"Bowling?" he snorted.

"Hey, you asked! Not everybody's all rolling in dough like you are. Some of us would be satisfied with Ray's or a milkshake."

Tony smiled at her last word. "He is so rubbing off on you."

Darcy looked away, but he still caught the small smile. "Yeah, well…better him than you," she said, but her heart wasn't in the snark.


Week Six

After about six weeks of training, interrupted by a few minor emergencies and more so by what SHIELD called "community outreach opportunities," and during which interruptions Steve had made Darcy promise to practice even if he wasn't there and she actually had, he brought up an idea that she really hadn't been expecting.

"You want me to spar with Natasha." There was a look of utter disbelief on her face.

"I don't think it would be a good idea for us to spar against each other. I might forget to pull my punches."

"And she won't?" Darcy spat. "She's an assassin, Steve, she might accidentally kill me!"

"Natasha is a master of self-control. She has less chance of hurting you than any of the rest of us, besides Clint."

"No, you and me can spar. I trust you not to hurt me." She tugged on his arm. "Please don't make me fight against her!"

Steve tried not to look as troubled as he felt. "But if you get in a real fight, it will be against someone who scares you and actually wants to hurt you, not against someone who cares about you." He gulped, then continued, "You won't really learn if you only practice with the same person over and over."

"What about Dr. Banner? Or, like, Pepper?"

"We can't risk Bruce losing control. And I don't think Pepper would be a very effective opponent."

She made a frustrated noise and stamped her foot. It would have been cute if she hadn't been growing seriously angry. "Come on! I did not sign up for this. It's one thing for you to teach me, but I don't want everyone else having first-hand knowledge of how sucky I am and laughing about it." She crossed her arms and looked away, tapping one foot.

"Nobody will laugh at you."

"Oh, bullshit, Steve, have you met Tony?" she snapped.

"I'll make sure nobody else comes down here again while you're working, all right?" She remained unmoved and he sighed. "Look, we all know Tony's an asshole, and there's nothing I can do to stop him. But everybody else knows how hard you're working, and they respect you for it. Even Tony does, but he just can't keep his mouth shut."

A tiny smile slipped onto Darcy's face. "You called Tony an asshole."

"Well, he is. Most of the time." Hesitantly he put out a hand and touched her shoulder, wondering at the sudden goosebumps he felt beneath his fingertips.

She bit her lip and tried to think, afraid she would agree to too much. Finally she nodded.

"What's that?" he asked. He placed a finger under her chin and gently tilted Darcy's face up to him. He had that look on his face, the hopeful, honest one that she knew she couldn't resist. She took a deep breath.

"Okay. I'll spar with Natasha."

He smiled and said softly, "Attagirl." It made her feel ready to take on anyone, Natasha included.


When she was actually facing the older woman in the ring, Darcy didn't feel quite so prepared. She'd seen the Black Widow move; she was like a jungle cat that you thought was gorgeous until it was ripping your face off. Usually Darcy was fairly self-confident and independent, but she really hoped Steve had taken Natasha aside and told her to move at half-speed, or slipped her some depressants. Otherwise Darcy didn't have high hopes about her chances.

They pounded gloves in the middle of the ring. Natasha moved slowly, waiting for Darcy to attack first. It was hard to want to attack someone who probably had a knife hidden somewhere, even if she was only wearing a sports bra and shorts. Eventually Darcy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and swung.

It was a tiny bit fun, to be honest, but it was mostly terrifying. Even if Natasha was pulling her punches, Darcy knew her body was going to be covered in bruises. She tried to remember about using your opponent's momentum against them, but her opponent wasted no momentum and made no mistakes. She let Darcy land a few punches, though, which was immensely satisfying, and Darcy felt like her blocking improved as she got into it.

When Steve ordered a break Darcy wrenched her headgear off and spat out her mouth guard. "I'm sure you hear this all the time, but you're amazing," she called to Natasha when she'd got her breath back.

"Not as often as you might think. Thank you."

"I should've been learning from you instead of this one." Darcy nodded at Steve, who looked only mildly offended.

Natasha shook her head. "Cap's done a good job, much better than I could have done." Darcy figured that was as close to a compliment as she would get from the other woman, and even if she hadn't meant it that way, that's how Darcy was going to take it.

Once Darcy had rested, they both gave her pointers and the women entered the ring again. Darcy felt more confident than before and attacked more readily. She also realized that Natasha had used the first round to gauge Darcy's skill level, and was now going to be much more of a challenge. Maybe Steve had been right and Darcy would learn even more fighting against different people. Maybe it hadn't been the bad idea she'd first felt it was.

No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than she found herself flat on her back, Natasha grinning wolfishly over her. "Sorry," she said, sounding not the least bit contrite.

"Ow."

"That wasn't a legal move, Natasha," Steve chastised from the edge of the mat.

"She won't always be up against legal moves. She has to be prepared for people who don't fight fair." Natasha leaned down and grabbed Darcy's arm to haul her up. "We'll start you on kickboxing next, lapushka. You'll like that."

"Only if you teach me how to swear in Russian at the same time."

"Deal." They shook hands, and though Steve shook his head, they all knew he didn't mind in the least.


Week Seven

Darcy was having a hard time with the speed bag. She couldn't get the rhythm right, and the bag kept wobbling in circles.

"I'm really bad at this."

"You're still learning. You're not doing that bad, I promise."

"Not doing that bad? Great, I do really suck." Darcy started unwrapping her hands.

"Hey, come on, sweetheart, don't be like that." It wasn't until he noticed her freeze that he realized what he'd said.

Figured the first time he used a term of endearment would be in the most unromantic spot possible. Darcy slowly started unwrapping again, at a loss for anything else to do. She froze for a second time when Steve's hands covered hers.

"Darcy," he said, and waited until she looked up before continuing. "I'm really proud of you. I hope you can see how much you've learned and be proud of yourself, too." His voice dropped lower. "And I've never seen anyone who made boxing look better."

Darcy seemed to have forgotten everything but his hands on hers and his voice making her shiver. He leaned down, eyes drawn to her lips, and—

The door burst opened and Thor swaggered in. "There you are, Darcy," he said, cheerfully oblivious. "Come, we must not be late for our meeting."

As she allowed him to push her toward the locker room, she muttered, "It's not a meeting, it's an appointment. Where I'm going to tell them to dye your hair green." This was followed by muffled cursing in the depths of the locker room.

Thor crossed his arms over his chest and regarded his teammate. "How fares the combat training?" he asked with a vague smile.

Steve took a deep breath, trying not to be angry. "It's going fine. Darcy doesn't have any background in martial arts, so we started from the ground up."

"And how fares your wooing?"

That caught Steve off-guard. He couldn't find an answer before Thor loomed over him. "Young Darcy is like my foster-sister, my 'sister from another mister,' as she says. Should any harm befall her, the transgressor will answer to Mjolnir and me." The Asgardian thumped Steve on the shoulder and grinned. "Take care, my friend."

Great.


Darcy wanted desperately to kiss him. She thought about it all the while Thor was getting his hair trimmed, ignoring the magazine open in her lap and shirking her duties of making sure the stylist didn't cut it too short and Thor didn't do anything too freaky. If Steve had been any other man she would have leaned in, stood on her tiptoes, and gone for it. But he made her want to wait, to be patient until he was ready. Not because she had suddenly gone all old-fashioned and worried that he would feel like less of a man if she made the first move or any stupid thing like that. She wanted to wait because it would be worth it. He was worth the wait.

She made herself want to vomit sometimes, thinking things like that.

Thor interrupted her reflection with his booming voice. "How fares your training?"

"I'm ready to kick your ass," she grumbled under her breath. "I'm still not good, but I'm a lot better than when I started."

"How is Steve in training?"

"He's great. He's really patient and doesn't mind when I lose my temper. If this whole superhero thing doesn't pan out, he should teach kindergarten."

"And he has attempted no impropriety?"

It took her a minute to get that one. "No, Thor! Are you kidding me?"

"When I entered today, it looked—"

"Do not tell me you interrupted on purpose. What are you, the God of Terrible Timing now? You—you halftroll!"

He looked at her with blue eyes made big and guileless. "Darcy, are you not my dear sister? Is it not my duty to protect you?"

"Yes, but…" She sighed. "You know Steve. Would he ever do anything bad to me?"

Thor seriously considered it for a minute, during which Darcy wondered what the hairstylist must be thinking. Surely in New York this was not the weirdest conversation she'd ever heard. "No, he would not."

"Of course he wouldn't," she affirmed, hoping that settled it.

"Especially now that he knows terrible retribution waits if he does."

Darcy groaned and put her face in her hands.


Week Eight

"So," Steve started, looking terribly ill at ease and not meeting her eyes. "Now that you feel comfortable enough to spar with someone else, then you don't really need training, per se, anymore."

"What's that mean?"

"It means we're, um, done." He peeked at her face to see what her reaction was.

"Done? Just like that? This can't be a case of the pupil becoming the master, and don't tell me I don't need more practice." She jammed her fists into her hips and stared at him expectantly.

"Of course you need more practice." Her stare turned into a glare. "I mean, it's something that you have to keep practicing. If you want to stay in fighting trim. Not that you're not trim—um, it's just an expression."

"So I'm just supposed to come in and punch the bag."

"And spar. Against whoever you feel comfortable working with."

"I feel comfortable with you."

Why was this so hard? "That's probably not a good idea."

She made a strangled sound. "I swear you're purposely dense sometimes! You're not going to hurt me. You couldn't even if you wanted to. Steve, come on. We've totally had this conversation before." She put a hand over her eyes for a moment. "Did I do something to offend you?"

"No, no, of course not! You can't always assume that you've done something wrong or upset me in some way."

"What else could it be? Everything was going well, at least I thought so, and then all of a sudden you drop me. What am I supposed to think?" Oh, no, did she have tears in her eyes? She blinked quickly. Darcy Lewis did not use tears to influence or manipulate men. Even if she was more upset than she would have expected.

"You're making this a bigger deal than it is."

"Um, it kind of is a big deal! At least it is to me."

"Really?" The look he received was a mixture of contempt and incredulity and it hurt. "It is to me, too, Darce, you know that."

Darcy felt like she didn't know much of anything at the moment, though she wouldn't say that.

"You assume that I don't want to spar with you because I don't want to hurt you."

"You're certainly not scared that I'll hurt you."

He did his best to ignore the scathing tone. "Did you ever think I don't want to spar with you because I can't imagine ever hitting you? That's the exact opposite of what I want to do with you."

"I cannot follow this conversation. I need you to stop alluding to stuff and just say what you mean." She sounded helpless when she added, "Please."

Steve stepped forward and put his hands on Darcy's arms. "I'm not going to hit you, ever, for any reason. The main reason I think we should stop training together is because I'd rather take you out on a date. More than one date, to be honest."

He was smiling down at her, and he slid his hands down her arms until he held her hands. Part of Darcy's brain, the part not melted into a puddle, had to wonder what she'd done to end up in such a position, where she palled around with a god and bickered with a billionaire and flirted with an American icon. Taking that internship had been such a good choice.

"So what do you say? I promise there won't be any physical exertion this time." Those damn blue eyes sparkled and she smiled like a slow-burning fuse.

"That would be extremely disappointing."

He laughed, a low chuckle that filled every part of her, and leaned down. This time there was no interruption.

It was so worth waiting for.