Well, this is the end...

-XXX-

Next time he wakes is much like the first, sans pills and Darcy. Struggling to sit up, he finds Pepper instead at his bedside, her simple blue skirt suit pressed neatly and her hair in a basic bun. She straights instantly in her seat, bright smile in place. He likes Pepper truly, and often wonders how someone so put-together has ended up with Tony Stark.

She is still smiling when she leans forward, saying briskly, "Good to see you awake, Steve. The whole gang is out for breakfast…on one wanted to wake you."

"Thanks," he mumbles, flexing his fingers. "You didn't have to stay behind."

Pepper shakes her head. Steve observes a few strawberry-coloured strands fall out of place and drift down to frame her heart-shaped face. Crossing her legs, there is a slight flash – a glare from the screen of her tablet – and Steve is glad to see she's kept occupied.

"I don't mind," she says cheerily. "I needed to do some paperwork, anyways."

"Thank you," he says again, sincerely. At that, he begins to rise, testing his ankle against the cool, polished granite. The ache is dull now, less than it was before, and he thinks he might be okay without an ice pack. Quietly, Pepper watches, her tablet tucked to her chest, blue-grey eyes alight with concern.

"I'm glad to see the SHIELD medics managed to get you back to us in one piece."

"Yes, they did a fine job."

She peers at him. "You probably need a shower and some time to get…settled. I know Darcy wants to see you."

He had not anticipated the flush of heat to his cheeks, nor the increase in his heart rate at the mere mention of the research assistant. "I suppose she might, ma'am."

Pepper laughs. "Oh, I'm certain she does." The CEO casts him a serious glance as she rises, pausing at the threshold. "You know, we non-sciencey type. We regular people…people who aren't superheros. We can keep up." She holds his eyes on hers for a long moment. "Just so you know."

Easily enough he can comprehend what she's implying. Steve isn't sure if she thinks he's dragging his feet, or if it's just a warning, but he doesn't care to find out. Instead, the Captain nods solidly. Pepper smiles again, faintly this time, and slips from the room. Steve waits until the door is shut before he shuffles into the bathroom. A long, hot shower is just the sort of thing that will allow him to think.

-XXX-

It ends up being an exceptionally short shower (some military habits will never die). Steve ends up wandering into the main living area. Wandering right into Darcy and Bruce, who were settled across from one another, discussing uniforms. Darcy sits on the sleek white sectional, her legs curled underneath her, while Bruce relaxes in one of the squat black armchairs.

"- I'm just thinking if every the other guy comes out you lose your pants, that's gotta be costing you. I mean, pants are not cheap. There has got to be a better way."

The doctor is nodding, slight smile gracing his expressive lips. Folding his hands, he agrees. "Stark is currently working with a few people in the textile industry for a flexing fabric that can stand great extensions and reductions so that every time I come back I don't find myself completely buck naked. It'd be more like briefs than pants. But, in the long run, it is a necessary evil."

"Still, dude. I mean, last month was those Dockers you really liked – I heard you talking about 'em. When are a man's pants going to be safe?"

He finally catches her eye. Darcy falters in her speech.

Just the sight of him in a white v-neck tee, loose grey sweats (and not the ones with elastic at the bottom, gross, but with loose pant legs and the drawstrings tied), with his hair damp but neatly combed, is enough to make her completely loose her train of thought. In fact, it's so lost, Darcy would later say the train was derailed and crashed tragically into a nearby water tower, where it would be doused in a heavy dose of Dear-God-Wake-Up. She stops speaking completely, just to oogle him.

Bruce's slight-smile increases threefold. His fingers steple, and he sits back further to observe the interaction. Steve hesitates, casting a glance to his teammate. But Bruce merely raises his brows.

Sitting a full cushion away from – but still next to – Darcy, the Captain is clearly uncomfortable. Bruce lets them both stew in heavy, intent-laden silence for a few minutes while Darcy stares at him pointedly, eyes flashing. "Please. For the love of God, Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Get. Out." He raises his hands to shield his lips, which he is biting. Darcy takes in his sparkling brown eyes. His amusement at her pain is frustrating enough, but now he's just extending the torment.

Finally after what feels like an age Bruce rises. "Well, I better get back to the lab," he says cheerily. "Don't have too much fun. And careful on that ankle, Cap. Do you need someone to check your ribs later?"

"Yeah, thanks," Steve murmurs, gaze flickering to Dr. Banner's only briefly.

With that, Bruce departs, beaming widely.

Silence resumes. Steve stares straight ahead, swallowing, while Darcy takes to looking down at the pillow. Awkwardness takes them like a chill. Neither speaks, each playing over hypothetical conversations in their heads. The research assistant begins to trace the diamond pattern on throw pillow. Steve stares at his fingers.

"How have you been?" he blurts abruptly. "Has…has Jane kept you busy?"

Darcy smiles down at the pillow, not looking up, playing with the tassels. "Yeah. She has."

Another pause. It's Darcy's turn.

"How are you feeling? You look…better. Way better, actually. Some zzzs did you good, Cap."

"I'm much better," he says lightly, though he ducks his head at her smile. "Thanks. Slept. Showered…ah…"

"Yeah, I can tell." Darcy nods to his dampened locks. "Good thing too. You were getting kinda ripe. Which, I mean, anyone totally would after three days. Of, you know. Running and shit. I mean, not that you looked bad, or anything. Because you always look good. Seriously, good. Ah…"

She's never been the broad-shouldered, blonde-hair, blue eyes type. Darcy has always preferred slim, fair-skinned, dark-haired fellows. Guys who liked libraries and coffeeshops. Guys who thought Fiats were cool. Guys who wore ironic band t-shirts and jeans that were a little too worn and sneakers. Those where the fellas Darcy typically goes for.

But sitting her, next to bashful, sweet, bulky Steve, she's reconsidering her "type." Because, right now, instead of slowly edging away from her or getting otherwise creeped out by her rambling, the Captain is slowly beginning to smile. Grin, even. There is even something like a blush rising in his cheeks. Darcy Lewis finds herself being completely and entirely charmed.

"Thank you," he tells her seriously. "I appreciate that."

She shrugs. "Hey. I only speak the truth. Glad to have you back, Cap. I've missed my roof-buddy."

His baby blues twinkle. "Don't tell me, things would be dull up there without me."

"Well. I mean. Who else was I gonna teach to dance. We've still gotta get you out to a club. We need to make plans, man!"

Steve considers this – considers her. Darcy gets the sense that he's taking her a little too seriously. But she doesn't break eye contact, not once. Then, thoughtfully, Steve leans forward. He extends one hand.

"Plans…plans sound good."

For maybe a solid minute, Darcy stares at the hand being offer. It's calloused, the colour of warm Miami sands. Clean. Solid. A good hand.

One she accepts. The fingers curl around her own, squeezing briefly. Darcy looks back up at him. Steve's eyes are suddenly dark, sort of, but in a warm way. Suddenly she's squeezing back and smiling and God, her cheeks are probably pink too, but hell, it doesn't matter now, does it? She's not even really sure what has happened between them. No matter. Something has happened, and damnit, it's something good.

And it might've turned into something better, however, JARVIS interrupts the moment in his clipped, upper-class Brit tones.

"Mr. Rogers, Miss Lewis, pardon me for the interruption," the AI began smoothly. "But I thought I might warn you that Mr. Stark, Ms. Romanoff, Mr. Barton, Mr. Odinson, Ms. Foster, and Ms. Potts are all on there way up here. Specifically, to see you, sir. Shall I…ward them off?"

Steve looks to Darcy, who rolls her eyes theatrically. Another squeeze.

"No," he says, directing his attention to the ceiling – where one might imagine an AI's source to be. "By all means. I want to see them."

"Very good, sir."

The research assistant makes to pull her limb away. God forbid anyone see them. Tony would have a field day. But Steve doesn't let her. He doesn't let go. In fact, he shifts closer to her. Where Darcy is tense, Steve begins to relax. So when the group arrives, they're legitimately sitting together, legitimately holding hands. Nat's and Pepper's eyes instantly train and zone in on their combined limbs. No one mentions it, though, not a word is spoken in regards to the pair.

And that, to Darcy, makes all the difference.

-XXX-

Later, on the roof, around ten p.m., he's taken up her hand again. Silently. His thumb traces across the tops of her knuckles. They are thoughtful, for the moment. Peaceful. At-ease. Darcy could use and hundred thousand words to describe the moment, yet none would be able to quite sum it up.

His sketchbook rests on his lap. He'd made some drawing on the Helicarrier before it dropped him in the barren wasteland of the Black Hand's hideout. Inside the leather bindings are pages upon pages of clouds and loosely sketched jets. Darcy has never thought of airplanes or fighter jets as "pretty" or "graceful." Perhaps it was the way the Captain portrayed them – sleek lines, liquid form, metallic sheen. They are creatures of shine. "Kind of beautiful."

"These are brilliant, Steve," she whispers. "Seriously. We need to get you a studio, or something. Like, for real. You're amazing."

Steve smiles widely. "I'm not so good. It's…something to relieve the boredom."

"You're gifted," she says firmly. "You're very good. I would kill for your talent. Steve, you really are something."

The Captain, the Brooklyn boy, watches her bite her lower lip. Perhaps he might believe her. She is genuine now, no sarcasm, no biting remarks. Merely open. Hushed tones. He's a little startled.

She turns another page. What greets her this time is a softly-drawn portrait of her, lips quirked, face shadowed, head tilted. It is – dare she think it – charming. Cute, even. And she looks way better than in real life. He's captured a sort of light in her eyes, and made her hair – ski hat included – look totally nicer than it ever has in the history of Darcy styling her own hair.

Looking up, she blurts out, "I missed you loads. More that I have before. And…and I'm super-glad you're home and not too hurt."

"Me, too."

"And I'm glad…I'm glad of this." She raises their combined hands. "You make me happy, Cap."

"I'm glad to have the chance, Miss Lewis."

With this she slaps his knee lightly. The unspoken "Call me Darcy," passes between them. She bites her lip again. But this time…this time it's to hold back a small smile.

Darcy leans into him, brushing his shoulder. For the first time, Steve leans back. Warm with quiet joy and sleepier heads, the pair sink into a smooth silence. And together, they watch the flickering lights of the city that never, ever sleeps.

-XXX-

It's not so much an ending as it is a beginning. A little tentative.

Hope you're enjoyed this snippet of my ship. Really this was just me trying to understand Steve and using a chance to write Darcy. They're lovely. Thanks so much for the support. More reviews would be lovely!