Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Title from Harry Connick, Jr.'s poignant version of "If I Only Had a Brain."
Be forewarned, this is as much a fan-of-research fic as it is a fan-of-"Avengers" fic. It's much more introspective and significantly less peppy than the others in the series. Furthermore, I had to extrapolate some information, since Google did not come up with a good answer to my query "where did steve rogers go to high school." Go figure.
Again, I have mixed feelings about this (endings are always my biggest challenge, and this one's not great). When I saw that it was Chris Evans' AND Kat Dennings' AND Stellan Skarsgard's birthday today, I decided I had to post it. Happy birthday, y'all!
The first step was always the internet.
Darcy couldn't help it; she was naturally curious, and going to college and being a research assistant had only reinforced her inclination to look for answers. What had started as a vague question about how adorable Steve had been as a kid inevitably led her to the internet.
So she started by Googling "Steve Rogers." At first there wasn't much about the one she was looking for, but eventually by adding "Brooklyn" she started to narrow it down. And after a while and doing some math she figured out about when he would've been in high school, and then ruled out all the schools that hadn't been around then. And then she worked as far back in his life as she could, which hadn't been that far. Eventually she'd concluded that Steve had graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School sometime around 1938. After that minor victory, Darcy wondered why she didn't just ask him, but almost immediately answered her own question: she didn't want to ask him anything that would upset him, and she knew he wouldn't have any old pictures of himself lying around anyway, and she didn't want him to know she was Google-stalking him.
She'd searched for Captain America, too, but that was a total nightmare. There were patriotic fan sites and have-my-babies-now fan sites and anti-fan sites that branded Cap and all the rest of the Avengers freaks and menaces that ought to be locked up for the public's safety. It made her sick and angry that people could refuse to be grateful for, even refuse to acknowledge altogether, what the Avengers had done. Darcy seriously considered starting her own site to heap praise on her friends, but then figured that would be kind of weird. So she took deep breaths and kept going.
One site had a link to a YouTube video showing old footage of the Captain in action. It was cheesy and propaganda-y and so hilarious, and Darcy bookmarked the page before looking for any other videos of him out there. There were more official war-time videos that she supposed had been newsreels, but also some shaky footage of Cap meeting actual soldiers, shaking hands and visiting field hospitals. She watched as a soldier said something that made Cap laugh, and saw that the expression was so familiar, but also so different somehow. Not for the first time she wished that he'd never gone on ice, even if that meant they'd never have met. Then she shook her head. It was dumb and a waste of time and potentially heartbreaking to wonder if he'd have been happier if he'd stayed back then.
It turned out that Captain America collectibles were a thing, too. There were war bond posters, and programs from his appearances; the autographed ones went at a premium, of course. The trading cards seemed to be especially valuable, and there was a dorky uproar online whenever someone announced they'd collected a whole set. One site had lots of messages of congratulations to a user called PhilInBlack, and truly ridiculous offers of money for his complete set, which he politely refused. Darcy wrote herself a note to send him a message about where she might find some of the cards at a reasonable price. Just for, you know, research purposes.
The internet only got her so far, though, so she hopped on the subway and headed over the river to the borough where he'd grown up.
The Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library had a somewhat imposing façade. She wouldn't have guessed it was a library if she didn't already know, and she wouldn't have gone in without having something specific to find. But she knew that inside there was a copy of The Blueprint from 1938.
She sat down at a table with the blue-covered yearbook. Feeling oddly anxious as she flipped through the book until she found the senior portraits, she went straight to the Rs.
It…wasn't pretty. As much as Darcy admired Steve's character and knew that those traits were in the teenager in the picture, it was hard to see him looking so small and sad. The skinny, sickly face under lank hair looked like it belonged to someone related to Steve, a kid brother of cousin, but not the Steve she knew. The expression, like those surrounding it, was serious, and all the young men wore jackets and ties. But there was something about the eyes, the look of determination tempered by kindness, that would always be Steve.
The awkward Steve who didn't understand girls made so much more sense after she saw that picture. If she was being honest, Darcy couldn't say for sure if she'd have given Steve 1.0 the time of day herself. It made her kind of sick knowing that she could have missed out on something important and someone amazing. Someone she didn't deserve.
She should have just stopped there, closed the yearbook and considered her curiosity sated, but there was another name that her mind couldn't forget. Even though she had a car-crash type feeling, that gnawing, roiling feeling where you know you shouldn't look because the results will make you want to throw up and cry but you do it anyway, she still looked.
In contrast to finding a picture of young Steve, it was terribly easy to find a picture of Peggy Carter.
Cap's first love had wide eyes and glossy dark hair. She was in her uniform and totally worked it. She must have been even prettier in real life, given the opportunity to walk and talk and smile and wear civilian clothes. And she must have been a good person if he loved her.
Darcy didn't feel jealous, exactly. It was hard to sort out just what she felt. Pity: Peggy had never had the chance to have an actual relationship with the object of her affection. Respect: She had been pretty hardcore, according to her records. Gratitude: She had helped make Steve the man he was today, and not just through the training program. And yes, the tiniest bit of envy: Steve had loved Peggy. He might still love her.
Of course he still loved her, Darcy thought. He wasn't some jerk who had dumped her and moved on with his life; they'd been tragically separated by war and duty, like so many other couples had been. Steve would always feel something for Peggy, and it would probably always be love and honor and guilt and regret, all mixed together. But Darcy knew that you could love someone without being in love with them, and she knew him well enough to know that Steve would die with a piece of his heart belonging to Peggy Carter.
"JARVIS, buddy. How're the old processors today?"
I am well, Miss Lewis, and you?
"I'll level with you, J. I'm curious."
Might I ask what the object of your curiosity is?
I am familiar with Captain Rogers. About what precisely were you curious?
"I was trying to find some pictures of him as a little kid, but finding stuff is harder than I'm used to it being. I am usually ninja at this, and it's driving me crazy." She paused. "This also sounds much more pathetic and stalkery out loud than it does in my head."
You forget that Tony Stark programmed me. Your interests are benign and mundane compared to some I have heard.
"Probably no chance you'll elaborate on that, huh?"
None at all.
I assume that you have scoured the internet quite thoroughly, with particular emphasis on the National Archives?
"Yep," Darcy sighed. "I should have known how hard it would be. It's not like he participated in a clandestine government experimental program or anything. I'm not trying to recreate the serum or find out any top-secret details, I just want to know what little Stevie Rogers looked like when he was, like, 10, you know?" Maybe the first sign of madness was expecting sympathy from an AI.
"You're probably going to say no, but is there anything you could do to help me out? I'm sure you can't without getting permission from Tony, but I don't want to have to explain this whole situation to him. He'd never let me live it down."
Would you be willing to let me ask?
"Sure, if you think he'll say yes."
Just a moment, please. There was a pause and then Darcy heard both JARVIS and Tony speaking. She didn't know if Tony could hear her, so she kept quiet.
"What's up, JARVIS?"
Miss Lewis has requested my assistance in a research project, the AI said smoothly. May I?
"You know I can't say no to you and Darcy," Tony replied. "Just don't break into any secure facilities and if you do, turn the lights out when you crazy kids leave."
Thank you, sir. There was another pause and the faintest click. Then JARVIS said, At your service, Miss Lewis.
"Seriously? It was that easy?"
I suspect Mr. Stark is in a good mood. And he is quite fond of you.
"That's good to know."
Before we continue, might I make a suggestion?
"I'm all ears."
Have you considered the implications of all that you might find in your research? It is possible you might learn things that you did not want to know, and that Captain Rogers might not want others to know.
Darcy felt her eagerness deflate. "That is a very good point. In fact, that is such a good point that I should probably think about it for a while."
I shall be ready when you make your decision.
"Thank you, JARVIS. You've been really helpful."
As always, it is my pleasure, Miss Lewis.
JARVIS was right. There was a line between obsessively clicking through someone's Facebook profile and having a supercomputer steal their classified records. Since the latter was illegal as well as unethical, it was a good reason not to pursue that avenue. Besides, if he ever found out, she didn't think he'd be able to forgive her, and as reasons went, that one had more pull than any question of legality. She couldn't handle it if that happened.
Steve was a pretty private person. He'd grown up when secrets were easier to keep. And that was it: just like there was a line between looking and digging, there was a line between Steve Rogers and Captain America. If she couldn't understand and respect that, she really didn't deserve to know him.
Before she could talk herself out of the right decision, she sent a text to JARVIS. No hacking the secret stuff. Thanks for the advice.
Darcy dropped her Pop-Tart with a sigh. Thor looked over at her. "What troubles you, little one?" he asked.
"I haven't done anything worthwhile with my life."
"You have felled the mighty Thor," he reminded her, grinning. She smiled a little, because how many people in the Nine Realms could say that?
"While that was objectively amazing, and I am proud of it, I don't know if it has improved society in any way. All of you save the world on a daily basis, and Jane makes brilliant scientific discoveries, and I push buttons on my laptop." She looked as dejected as he'd ever seen her. Thor rested a large hand on her shoulder.
"You are not a warrior, Darcy. It is not your duty to save lives or protect planets. Surely you know that your efforts are important. Your pushing of buttons has done much good, and brought forth great results. Without you, Jane could not complete her work, nor would she take care of herself. And you have been a great aid to Steve and myself as we learn about this place."
At the mention of Steve's name, Darcy looked down. "I just feel like I haven't done enough or given enough," she said, thinking of Peggy. "How am I supposed to compare to someone who's given up everything and still stayed strong?"
"You compare to none, Darcy, and none compare to you. Our lives would be the poorer were you not in them. Any man who thinks you lack courage or will or strength does not deserve your regard. All right?"
She nodded, feeling a bit better. He patted her shoulder and smiled encouragingly.
"Be of good cheer, systir. And finish your Pop-Tart."
Darcy inhaled deeply as she entered the library. Not just the library, the library on Fifth and 42nd. Even in the entrance, the scent of leather bindings and old paper lingered in the air. "Where have you been all my life?" she asked.
"It's been here. You the one that ain't been here," the security guard chuckled as she passed through the metal detector and grabbed her bag.
"I think I got here just in time."
If there was one thing she'd learned from Jane, it was that data didn't do any good just by existing. Once you'd observed and gathered, you had to assemble and analyze. You had to put it all together. After you'd gone to the effort, it was nice to have something to show for it.
Never let it be said that she had not listened.
She spent what felt like days at a microfilm reader, scanning newspapers for any mention of Captain America. She checked the Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News,the Post, the Brooklyn Eagle, and local papers from Podunk, Kansas, and wherever else his barnstorming tour had gone. She got permission to print them on the fancy archival paper she'd bought (never realizing, as she'd gone into the art supply store, how many kinds of paper there could be in the world) and printed every item she found. She also printed headlines from V-E Day and V-J Day, bought a postcard of the Eisenstaedt picture, and found an online store that sold reproductions of the Cap war bond posters.
She pulled quotes from websites and message boards of people's reminiscences about meeting Cap. Lots of them were from now-old ladies and talked about how handsome and impressive he'd been, and Darcy loved those, because she knew they'd embarrass him. But there were others that talked about how much he'd lifted their spirits and reminded them that even at home they could do their part. There were scanned photos of Cap with babies and veterans from the First World War, and she collected them carefully and wrote e-mails and cited sources.
It wasn't that great as far as scrapbooks went, since it was all secondhand and she wasn't really crafty. And when she was done, Darcy didn't know what to do with it. She'd planned to give it to him, but she didn't know if he'd want to see it. Instead of seeing the good he'd done, he might just think about the people he'd lost, and the duties he felt he'd left unfulfilled. It would also reveal as much about her as the calendar had.
The scrapbook seemed done, but there was something missing, that final piece that would tie it all together and show that everything he'd done and sacrificed was worth it. So it sat in a box under her bed for weeks as she vacillated and tried to figure out what else it needed. Then one night, as they all sat watching "The A-Team," it came to her. She sent a text to JARVIS asking for one more favor.
When she finally gave Steve the book, the last page featured a picture of all of the Avengers and their friends lounging in the living room. Pepper was leaning over the back of the couch, handing a drink to Jane; her other hand rested on Tony's shoulder, and he covered it with one of his own. Thor pointed to something onscreen, and Bruce, Clint, and Natasha were discussing explosions, judging by their gestures. Steve was laughing, and Darcy sat gazing adoringly up at him.
Below the picture she wrote, "All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. —Winston Churchill." And she signed it To Steve, with love from your biggest fans.