Disclaimer: I so do not own anything here, including but not limited to the Marvel characters, the Billboard Hot 100 and these particular songs, and James Bond.
The songs were chosen because they are some of the best in the world. Any connections to other films in which they appear are purely coincidental.
If you haven't read the rest of Darcy Lewis Can't Lose or "Roll Call," you'll be fairly lost here.
About the rating: This includes discussion of reproductive biology, safe sex, and related issues. In other words: Man, if you can't deal with high school health class, get on out of here. On the other hand, I don't doubt that some of you will be disappointed. Sorry (but not sorry enough to change anything). Also, language.
I should go through and thank all of you reviewers by name for your ongoing support, but that would take too much space and time. I hope you know that I appreciate you and thank you all very much for your valuable fanfic-reading attention. And I am duty-bound to especially thank Melibells for being so supportive and enthusiastic.
Steve's neck was bent at an awkward angle and his feet hung oddly off the end of the couch. He wouldn't be there if Darcy wasn't lying on top of him, her head resting on his chest. It wasn't at all comfortable, but it was certainly pleasant. He spoke to the top of her head, running his fingers through her hair.
"You need to get a bigger couch, sweetheart."
Darcy's finger traced designs on his arm. "A bigger couch, or a smaller boyfriend."
He chuckled, and it vibrated through Darcy. "A new boyfriend would be less expensive than a new couch."
"Not necessarily. To get a new boyfriend I'd have to buy new clothes and go out and like, make an effort."
"You didn't have to make an effort to get me."
She turned her head to put her chin on his chest and look up at him. "I learned to box to get you. If that's not making an effort, I don't know what is. Anyway, all this new effort I'd have to go through would be after I'd spent a small fortune getting drunk to mourn losing my old boyfriend. A new couch would be a better investment."
He looked down at her, her eyes gray in the shadows. "Can't argue with that," he murmured. She closed her eyes and hummed as he twirled a strand of hair around his finger. Not for the first time he wished that it would be easier to stay or easier to go. It only got more difficult the more time passed. He heaved a weary sigh.
"All right, girl, get up. It's time for me to go."
"Nooooooooo," she whined. She grabbed the hand not currently involved in her hair and put it on the small of her back, snuggling down against him. "I'm too comfortable."
"Poor baby," she cooed, scooting up to kiss him. The movement created pleasant friction against very sensitive spots—this was the kind of thing that made it so difficult to leave, the warmth in his chest whenever she was around and the other, lower heat that her touch, her smile, even her voice could cause. Steve bit back a groan as his hand tightened in her hair. He loved her hair, every curl and flyaway. Her mouth tasted like kettle corn and cream soda. It was almost too much for him to take, and he gently pushed her away.
"Darcy, honey, I really have to go," he sighed.
"Fine." She climbed off him as gracefully as she could manage, and stood pouting, arms crossed, bottom lip stuck out. If he looked at her now, at that adorable face, he'd never go. Steve swung his legs off the couch and stood up, rolling his neck. "But you don't have to go, you know."
"Right now I do." He grabbed his jacket and stopped in front of her.
"Is there ever going to be a time when you don't?" she asked quietly. He couldn't think of a thing to say; there was no easy answer. He kissed her sweetly and left.
Alone in his room, in the not-quite-dark and not-quite-quiet of the city night, he had time to think. Steve had never felt about anyone the way he felt about Darcy. Not even Peggy; that had been different, and bittersweet. Peggy had been the first woman who'd paid him any amount of attention, and even though they hadn't known each other for very long, he'd imagined that they would get married after the war. He was amazed at just how naïve he'd really been; he didn't think anyone now would seriously consider marriage before even a single date. But back then, it wouldn't have been so strange. He would have married Peggy and then gotten to know her, learned all her secrets and habits as they worked together and raised their children.
With Darcy, it was all different. He already knew so much about her: how she was confident but doubted how much he cared for her, how she worked so hard whenever she put her mind to something, how she loved just hanging out with Thor and would do anything for her foster brother, how she could understand what he meant when he didn't even understand himself, how she hummed and purred when he touched her. Steve had to wonder if what he felt was affected by his physical reactions to her. He knew that lots of people thought it was uncool for a man his age to be a virgin, but just because he'd never done the deed didn't mean he never thought about it. Since meeting Darcy he'd thought about it a lot. It was almost embarrassing how much he thought about it, and how eagerly his body responded to those thoughts. But there were so many things he wasn't sure about: if he was ready to take that step, if she wanted him in the same way he did her, if it was even right for them to be together, if he wouldn't mess everything up, if Thor would kill him for debasing Darcy, if it was disrespectful to her and the way he'd been raised to be entertaining such thoughts.
They were the same thoughts, over and over, and they never got any less confusing. He rolled over, punched his pillow a bit harder than necessary, and tried counting sheep instead.
Darcy chewed on a thumbnail, lost in thought. If anyone else had refused her womanly charms for this long, she would have kicked him to the curb as a lost cause. But as frustrated and unfulfilled as she currently felt, Darcy couldn't imagine breaking up with Steve. For one, it would make trying to hang out with the others super awkward. For another, she would feel terrible, because it would make him upset and she would feel guilty and he might offer to sleep with her before he was really ready and while she wasn't above hints and invitations she was not going to pressure him into taking that step. She wanted him to want to do it. And most importantly, she didn't want to not be with him, even if it meant she had to be celibate for longer than she'd hoped.
Maybe it was all down to a communication problem. She'd told him she understood him; she'd told him that he was the best man she knew, and that she was his. From her perspective it seemed she'd made it pretty clear how she felt, at least as far as she knew how she felt. But even if he was amazing in pretty much every way, Steve was still a guy, and probably needed it spelled out for him so there was no doubt.
She always felt much better with a plan.
Even though Steve hadn't seen Darcy all day, he found a note in his jacket pocket in her handwriting. Thor or Tony could've put it there; she easily could've convinced Pepper or Natasha or Bruce or Clint or even "Uncle Phil" to plant it. It was probably Thor, though; they (with the exception of Natasha and Clint, who refused to watch for fairly obvious reasons) had been working through the James Bond series of films, and Thor and Darcy were very invested in pretending to be 007-type spies. There'd been a lot of using code and drinking martinis and calling Pepper "Miss Moneypenny" and trying to get Tony to install smoke grenade launchers in one of his cars. Thor would've jumped at the chance to help deliver a secret message.
It was short and suitably mysterious.
#7, Billboard Hot 100
July 21, 1979
When he got home he opened the internet browser and typed in the information. The results showed that it was a song title, and it left him shaking his head. "I Want You to Want Me" was anything but subtle, but that was definitely her. He clicked on a video link and listened to the song.
It was so Darcy—a live track complete with screaming fans. And those words said it all: "I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I'd love you to love me, I'm begging you to beg me." He didn't doubt that she meant it, every word, and if he hadn't known how she felt before, he certainly did now. It would have made him laugh if it weren't so gut-wrenching. He shook his head and clicked the replay button, thinking that having one of his questions answered didn't really make things that much easier.
"Do you think we're still together just because I'm his first real girlfriend and he doesn't know how to break up with me?"
Jane was doing her level best to be kind and supportive through Darcy's little crisis. Sometimes her former intern was very trying, though. She was normally so smart and confident that her occasional fits of insecurity were bizarre and a bit off-putting. Jane tucked the phone between shoulder and ear and deleted spam e-mail as she answered.
"I think if you're really worried about it, you should ask him. And also, you're an idiot. You cannot seriously believe he'd do that. Darcy, this man could walk down the street and pick up basically anyone he wanted to, male or female, and have them eating out of the palm of his hand. But he's with you, and it's a choice he's made. Stop freaking out. Even if you don't believe in yourself, believe in him."
Darcy felt comforted, but still grumbled, "I don't know why I'm asking you. Your boyfriend's a god who worships the ground you walk on." Jane knew the play on words made Darcy feel better.
"I know," she said smugly. "But it's not like you have any right to complain. Your boyfriend's a legendary war hero."
"Ugh. I want to smack us both in the face right now." That sounded more like regular Darcy. It was probably safe to wrap up the call, then.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I am going to stop freaking out and take positive action steps instead," Darcy answered obediently.
"Good girl. Let me know how it goes."
Time for a positive action step, one that would both hopefully confirm a suspicion about Steve's reticence and satisfy her curiosity. Darcy stuck her head through the door and looked around the lab. "Hey, Dr. B. Tony's not here, huh?"
"No, he's out. Anything I can help you with?"
She seemed unsure. "Um, I think you could, but I don't know if you'd like it," she said honestly.
"Try me." He set down the slide and sat on a stool as she walked into the lab.
"You know a lot about the serum, right?" She didn't think it was necessary to specify which serum.
He shrugged, slipping his glasses off and into his shirt pocket. "More than most people, but not everything."
"Do you know if there are any unexpected side effects?"
Bruce said nothing, merely raised an eloquent and sardonic eyebrow. She realized her mistake and said, "No! I mean, I know there are… Shit. Sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring it up. This is why I wanted to ask Tony." She ran a hand through her hair.
"It's okay, Darcy. Why don't you just ask your real question?"
She inhaled deeply and asked, "Does Steve have super sperm? I'm on birth control and we'll use protection, if we ever have sex, but I think maybe that's one thing he's worried about, his little guys being super-powered, too. I don't think he wants Captain America to have any illegitimate children." She laughed hollowly.
It wasn't an unexpected question, but he didn't have an answer. "I'm sorry, I don't know." Darcy sighed, and he added, "I could find out, though. There are actually a lot of things we don't know about the effects of the serum, and I've been thinking of asking him to do some tests anyway. Enhanced reproductive capability isn't out of the bounds of possibility, and it should be looked into."
She smiled a little. "So you'll do it for science?"
"Of course." He smiled back crookedly, and she relaxed even more.
"I think you deserve a Team Science shirt for this."
"Does Tony have one?"
"Excellent." That brought out a grin.
"Thanks, Dr. B." She started to leave the lab, but then stopped and shook a finger at the ceiling. "JARVIS, not a word of this to anyone. Get it?"
"Good." She waved goodbye to Bruce. Positive action step taken; now just to wait for the results.
Bruce didn't tell him where the idea had come from; he just mentioned to Steve that it was a good time to start running some tests, and could he come to the lab to give some tissue samples when he had time. Tony watched as Bruce swabbed for saliva and drew blood and then handed Steve two plastic cups with screw-on lids. "One for urine, one for semen," he said casually.
"What?" Steve actually dropped the cups in shock. Tony had to work very hard not to laugh.
"We're looking into all the effects of the serum," Bruce said. "That includes effects on the reproductive system."
"Like what?" Steve asked weakly.
"Possible increase—or decrease—in the amount and size of sperm, increased viability, stuff like that."
"If you have super swimmers," Tony summarized.
"I never thought of all that…"
"That's why we're paid the big bucks," Tony said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Now get in that bathroom and fill 'em up for science."
Steve shuffled zombie-like out of the lab, eyes locked on the jars in his hands. Tony gave Bruce one of his sharp, shrewd glances and finished scrawling a label in black marker.
"Just happened to think now was a good time for a full physical, huh?" he asked blandly. Bruce made a noncommittal noise. "Not at all prompted by any outside parties with a vested interest in the results?" Bruce ignored the question to which Tony had already deduced the answer. Tony flipped the marker into the air and caught it. "Obviously you didn't share your inspiration with him."
"My great love of science? I think he knows about that," Bruce said drily. He didn't look up, but Tony was surely making a face.
"What happened to doctor-patient confidentiality?"
"When the results come in, I will share them with Steve. After that, whoever he wants to share them with is his business."
"Who he wants to share it with is the big issue here," Tony said. "I don't know if he's ever shared with anyone before. Kinda got to feel bad for the guy, going this long without sharing with anyone."
"Tony," Bruce sighed.
"Yes, dear?" Tony fluttered his eyelashes at his friend.
"I'm just here to do the science. If you want to get involved in Steve's relationship issues, that's fine, but I'll stick with the biological stuff."
Tony's face lit up in the way it always did when Bruce said anything that could be construed as dirty. Luckily, Bruce was saved from Tony's comment by a very subdued and red-faced Steve returning to the lab with his two plastic cups, lids screwed on firmly—so firmly that Bruce asked him to loosen them a little. When Steve heard there was nothing further they needed from him in the lab, he excused himself. Tony cracked his knuckles, rolled his neck, accepted a thumbs up from Bruce, and swaggered after Steve.
"Hey, Cap, you seem a little preoccupied. Anything you want to talk about?"
"'m all right," Steve murmured, slowing his steps to let Tony catch up.
You want to play that way? Tony thought. I can make you sing like a canary. "You seemed a little surprised back there is all. Y'know, with the—" He juggled air in an exaggerated replay of Steve's clumsiness.
"Last time I had a physical, I don't remember having to supply…that. And Dr. Erskine never mentioned any changes that might occur in that particular system, so I wasn't really expecting it to be an issue." He shrugged and probably hoped it looked nonchalant, but the bob of his Adam's apple betrayed him.
"Bruce likes to be thorough. Can't blame the guy. But I guess you didn't talk about sex a lot back in the day." Tony was glad that he could get away with non sequiturs like that. It helped to be able to trick other people into talking about subjects they would otherwise avoid.
"Not as much as people do today. Everybody else seems to know so much about it; I feel a little out of my league." They got into the elevator and Tony slumped against the wall. He wondered just how much Steve did know about sex; the fundamental act hadn't changed from his day to the present, and Tony vaguely remembered seeing awkward propaganda posters that warned soldiers about the dangers of venereal disease.
"Aw, do we need to have The Talk? You see, when a man and a woman love each other very much—"
Steve cut him off with a snort. "I was in the Army, Tony. I know how it works. And love is not a requirement." The doors slid open and Tony followed him out of the elevator and down the hall to his room.
"Here I was going for the birds and the bees and you're getting all deep on me. No, being in love is not an actual requirement. But it helps." Stark let slip the façade of arrogance and insouciance, and Steve saw the man Pepper loved; more than that, he understood how someone could fall in love with Tony.
"So are you going to give it up to Darcy?" Tony plopped himself into the desk chair; it still rolled and spun, even though it was an old-fashioned wooden one, so he commenced spinning from side to side. Steve sat on the edge of his bed.
"I don't know what that means. Give what up?"
"Your V card."
It took him a moment to process, and then Steve made a frustrated noise. "I wouldn't think you'd want to talk about Darcy doing that."
"You're thinking of Thor. And I'm pretty sure he'd tell you to tap that already, too." Tony changed his tack. "Look, you do want to…be with her, right?"
"Yes. Of course." Steve's fingers tightened where they were clenched together. If that wasn't a sure sign of sexual frustration, Tony didn't know what was.
"So what's the hold-up? You can tell me." He gestured around them. "This is a safe space. No judging. We'll workshop it out."
Steve looked down at the carpet. "Just because I want to doesn't mean it's right."
"Normally I'd agree, since I'm living proof of that. But why would this be wrong?"
"Captain America is a role model. He shouldn't—"
It was Tony's turn to interrupt. "Let me stop you there. Darcy is not dating Captain America. She's dating Steve Rogers. Unless you were planning to do it with your suit on—in which case I'd have to tell you that you're doing it wrong, or at least kinkily—then I don't see the problem."
"What if I'm not good at it?" Steve asked in a small voice.
As sympathetic and non-judgmental as he was trying to be, Tony couldn't not smirk. "Practice makes perfect. She'll understand, and if I know Darcy, she'll be more than willing to teach you. Next?"
"I don't want to hurt her."
"Physically?" Steve nodded. "You may be strong, Steve-o, but the Hulk you are not. You're not going to hurt her. You're too much in control and you care about her too much for that to happen."
"This is pretty humiliating, you know?" The blond's face was going to be red for a while at this rate. As a verified sex god himself, Tony couldn't claim to understand how he felt, but he did know how uncomfortable it was to talk about feelings. It must have been worse for Steve, who'd grown up largely without his parents and who now had to resort to talking with Tony Stark, of all people, who he probably imagined was recording the conversation for future laughs and who would mock him at the drop of a hat. To his credit, Tony was making an effort to be mature and accepting and cuddly.
"I know. The things we do for love, though, right?"
Steve's expression took a minute to decipher. Tony decided it was 25—no, make that more like 10—percent surprise at his serious use of the L word, and 90 percent Steve's epiphany that he was, in fact, in love with Darcy. Finally. But no matter how obvious it seemed to him, Tony had no right to call any other man an emotional idiot, and certainly not one who had so much to catch up on anyway. He gave Steve a moment to process his thoughts before he went on.
"I know you, Steve. I might not always agree with you, but I know you. You're worried about all the old stuff: ruining her reputation and being a good man and everything else. I'm not saying any of that's a bad thing, and you wouldn't believe me if I did. But you've gotta stop torturing yourself, and Darcy." He paused for a moment, considering, then amended his statement. "Okay, you can keep torturing yourself if you want, but you have to at least talk to Darcy about this. She doesn't deserve to get jerked around."
Tony looked serious, maybe even stern; Steve hung his head in yet more shame. At that response, Tony stifled a sigh. He didn't bother to have shame himself, so he wasn't about to deal with someone else's. He pulled out his ace.
"I don't know if you've noticed, Captain Oblivious, but Darcy glows when she sees you. She gets all lit up like the Fourth of July." He half smirked when Steve looked up, frown slowly fading and a more hopeful expression dawning on his face. "For some reason, Darcy adores you. All you have to do is look at her to see that. Just look at her, and you'll know what to do."
Okay, maybe not the most helpful advice to end with. Maybe a dramatic exit would help disguise that fact. Tony spun the chair with a flourish, bounded up, and left Steve to his thoughts.
Time for positive action step two. At least she hoped it would be a positive action step.
"Can we talk?" Darcy stood in the doorway, looking somewhat uncomfortable. Steve felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach; he had a lot to think about, and he wasn't sure he was ready to talk yet. And despite what Tony had said, Darcy didn't look particularly incandescent at the moment. But he couldn't just refuse to talk to her, no matter how unprepared he felt.
"Of course," he said, rising and trying to keep his voice even. "Come on in." She walked in, closing the door behind her, then standing awkwardly, hands shoved in her back pockets.
"So, I thought we could talk about our relationship." She cringed inwardly; it sounded so blunt and harsh.
"That might be a good idea," he answered slowly.
Darcy rushed on, "Because I really like you. I like spending time with you, and just being around you. It's good. Really good. And I'm pretty sure you like me and like being with me, too." He nodded quickly. "But just when things are about to go from really good to amazing, you always leave."
"Aha," he murmured. The knots in Steve's guts unclenched, and then retied themselves in a different configuration. Now he had a clue what this conversation was about, but he still wasn't looking forward to having it. "And you don't want me to leave."
"Of course not! And, to be honest, I don't think you really want to leave, either."
That was true. "It's the right thing to do," he said carefully.
"Why?" Good question, Darcy, she congratulated herself, even though she had a fairly clear idea of what his answer would be.
"Because I respect you."
"This might blow your mind, but you can respect me and have sex with me. At the same time." She didn't want to look defensive, even if that was how she was feeling, so she didn't cross her arms the way she wanted to. Instead she clenched her hands together in front of her.
"I don't want you to do something you might regret later." It sounded lame even to his own ears.
Screw not looking defensive. "I know you think you're being all noble and whatever, but I am a grown-up. You are not a thing that I'd regret doing." She stared at him for a minute. "Unless this is some Jedi mind-trick to get me not to sleep with you because you don't want to sleep with me."
"Jedi" sounded vaguely familiar, but Steve couldn't place it at the moment. "How do you even come up with these ideas?" he asked.
"Should I take that as a no?"
The whole conversation was taking a turn for the precarious. He'd definitely have to be careful how he answered; he didn't want a rogue double negative to blow up in his face. "I'm not trying to trick you into not sleeping with me. I've been thinking a lot lately, and I really do want to…" He swallowed, looking away. Darcy felt her resolve weakening in the face of his utter adorableness. He looked up again, right into her eyes, and she could have sworn she felt a physical shock course through her. "I really want to have sex with you."
Her throat felt dry all of a sudden. "So what's the problem?" she said, aware that her voice was husky.
"I'm afraid." It all came spilling out then; he couldn't stop it even if he wanted to. "I'm afraid that I'll hurt you. I'm afraid that you'll leave me because I'm not experienced. I'm afraid that someone will take you away from me. I'm afraid that you'll get tired of me. I'm afraid that I won't ever age and you will and then I'll have to lose someone else I care about."
Better than she'd expected, but also worse, and as usual, her brain latched onto the worse in the confusion. "You think I'm not scared, too? I am! I'm totally scared that I'll lose you. I'm scared that I'll lose you in a battle, or because I finally disappoint you more than you can deal with, most likely when you figure out why I'm so much more experienced than you, or because you realize that you're still in love with some ideal woman you'll never have."
Steve wasn't sure how he had gone from admitting his great fears to quickly losing his patience. For a smart young woman, she just had no clue sometimes. He tried to ignore the part where she accused him of still being in love with Peggy. "Are you serious? Darcy, I would die for you."
"That doesn't exactly make me special," she pointed out flatly.
Impatience was turning to anger, and she was still amazing him—she would never cease to amaze him. "I've never been criticized for being selfless before," he said, more sharply than he should have.
"Well, now you know that I'm a selfish bitch," she snapped back.
"Don't you dare tell me not to swear."
"I wasn't going to. If you'd let me finish you'd know that."
Her shoulders jerked up in an angry shrug. "Selfish bitch, remember?"
"You're being ridiculous!" Even before it was out of his mouth he knew it was the wrong thing to say. He cursed the life he'd led that hadn't taught him never to tell an upset woman that she was being ridiculous. Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him in frightening silence before turning abruptly, throwing wide the door, and stalking out.
From the hall she yelled over her shoulder, "I'm going to the gym to wreck shit. Don't follow me."
If he couldn't use the gym, Steve would have to go for a run. He didn't head in any particular destination, just pounded along the streets in a steady pace, forcing himself to focus on his breathing and his limbs until he was across the bridge. Then he let his mind wander.
Darcy was such a pain in the ass sometimes. She was rude and annoying and loud and opinionated. He had a sneaking suspicion she'd somehow twisted their conversation into a fight, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out how, and he'd never accuse her of it. She swore all the time, and occasionally drank too much. She was not the cliché girl next door, the one you could introduce to your parents, the kind of girl he'd dreamed of marrying. But…
But Peggy would have liked her, and she would have liked Peggy. Bucky would have loved her, once he'd gotten over her rejection (Steve felt confident that she would prefer him to his best friend); she would have been his perfect wingwoman. Steve could just imagine the havoc they would have wreaked together in New York, in Bucky's time or in Darcy's, and smiled in spite of himself. Everyone who mattered back then would have approved of her if they'd gotten the chance to know her, and everyone who mattered now did, too.
The thing was, he didn't care. He was used to people telling him what to do. SHIELD had never expressed any particular opinion about his relationship with Darcy; they'd been discreet in public because Steve felt it was the right thing to do, and that probably kept Fury off their case. But the minute someone tried to keep him away from Darcy for any reason other than her immediate safety was the minute there would be problems. It wasn't anybody's business who he loved.
And he did love Darcy. He couldn't deny that anymore. She was fierce and strong and determined and brilliant. It seemed almost inevitable that he'd fallen for her; he'd probably been doomed from the moment she answered the door in her underwear, and then with every encounter he'd lost himself a little more to her and the light in her eyes. All he had to worry about was whether she loved him in return.
"You okay? You seem a little…frustrated."
Darcy whacked the punching bag. She hadn't heard anyone approach, but she'd grown used to people sneaking up on her; she didn't even look away from the bag when Natasha spoke. "Not you too. I don't know why I'm all surprised that everybody knows. Nobody can keep a secret in this damn place."
"Or I'm just observant."
"Whatever," Darcy muttered. She swung wildly, hearing Steve's voice in her head telling her to keep her punches closer to her body, and that just made her even more mad. She tucked her elbows down all the same.
"Want to unload?" Natasha asked. When Darcy didn't reply, she suggested, "Or I could guess." The other shrugged sharply, her attempt at a nonchalant expression not quite working.
"You got in a fight with Steve."
"Ding ding ding."
"Because he's old-fashioned and refuses to sleep with you, even though you two have been together for months." And are completely, foolishly in love with each other, she added in her head.
"I don't buy that that came from observation alone." Natasha shrugged. It was hard to convince people you weren't using secret spy powers on them; Darcy was just easier to read than she'd like to believe.
"If you need another outlet for all that energy, you could use Clint," the redhead suggested casually. "He wouldn't mind. And that's putting it mildly."
For a moment she thought Natasha meant to spar with, but in that case, why didn't she just volunteer? And then the light bulb blinked on and Darcy gaped. Not too long ago she would have given serious thought to the idea of sleeping with Clint. He was fit and attractive and liked good music and knew how to dress in a way that did his body all kinds of favors; she just knew that he'd be a good lay, experienced and athletic. Eventually she realized the silence had gone on for too long and said, in an automatic way, "Thank you for the very generous offer." Then her brain kicked into gear. "But even if Clint didn't mind, Steve definitely would, and I kind of would, too. I don't want just anybody; I want Steve." She dropped her hands and slumped dejectedly against the bag.
She'd expected that response, but Darcy's reaction had been amusing anyway. "Come on, lapushka," Natasha said kindly, "you'll feel better hitting something that will hit back."
Bruce looked over the top of his glasses with an amused expression. "Are there any particular results you want to hear, or should I just start from the top?"
Steve smiled sheepishly in return. "Now that you mention it, I am kind of curious about the, uh, reproductive issues." He laced his fingers together and had to stop himself from drumming his heels against the counter he was perched atop. Even after all these years, he still felt that old anxiety in doctors' offices (or approximations thereof), waiting to hear what new malady he had, what new treatment had failed, what new words of rejection were in the offing.
"Well, I'm no reproductive biologist, but it looks like everything's normal. Sperm count is good, and they seem to be healthy." He turned his attention from the notes to the now visibly relieved young man in front of him. "Given all your previous ailments, I wouldn't be surprised if your levels were low back then and the serum boosted them to normal. I'd say that with no more than the usual precautions you should be able to enjoy a healthy sex life without any unintended results."
"Thanks, doctor." Steve was a bit surprised at the lightness he felt. It was the best news he'd had from a doctor in quite a while; at the same time, he couldn't deny that he'd been worried ever since Bruce had mentioned the possibility that something might be different about his…swimmers. Steve definitely wanted children some day, and while he was glad he still had that ability, he wasn't ready to have them yet.
Bruce smiled. "Glad to help." Then, feeling like he ought to at least offer, he added, "Do you have any questions, while we're on the subject?"
"I have a general understanding of the mechanics. Is there anything I should be asking?"
He shrugged. "Not that I know of, if you're comfortable with your knowledge of the dangers and precautions. You're always free to ask anything, though, you know. And if you're not comfortable asking me, there are books I can recommend. I just have one word of caution: don't trust everything you read on the internet."
"What about what I hear from Tony?" Steve asked drily.
"If you could get past the mockery and sarcasm, he'd probably have some good tips. But I'm not sure it'd be worth asking."
Absently, Steve kicked his heels back. Bruce waited to see if he was going to ask anything else, but there was no immediate follow-up question. The pause was just on the cusp of awkwardness when Steve spoke again.
"What do you think?"
Steve reddened slightly as he said, "About Darcy and me having sex."
"I can't say I've given it much thought," Bruce admitted. "It's really none of my business."
Steve's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "That's never stopped anyone around here from having an opinion. Anyway, I'd like to hear yours." He waited patiently, watching Bruce.
The doctor couldn't help but feel almost flattered that Steve respected his opinion. Unfortunately, that also meant that he had to make sure to give a good answer. He thought for a moment, taking off his glasses and leaning against a countertop. "It seems like you want to have a normal life, or at least as normal as it gets for us. And from what I've seen, Darcy is part of your normal. You've been waiting for a lot of things for a long time, Steve. If it was me and there was one thing I didn't have to wait for anymore, I'd take it."
Steve sat quietly for a moment, and then nodded slowly. He hopped off the counter and thanked Bruce again on the way out of the lab.
He had only been in his room for a few minutes, staring at the ceiling and considering his plan, when a deliberate tread in the hallway alerted him to a visitor.
"I have noticed you have been preoccupied lately, Steve. Would you care to talk?"
Truthfully, he was tired of talking, but Thor would not hesitate to pound him with Mjolnir if he thought Darcy had been hurt. "It's kind of personal," Steve said, hoping that would encourage Thor to go away.
"I see," he said, coming in without being invited. It was one of those things he did that would have been rude from anyone else, but coming from a god and the heir to a throne it was easier to accept; the presumption was unthinking, but not insulting. "It concerns Darcy, then."
Steve sat up and rubbed his face, both palms against his cheeks. "No offense, but you're not exactly the most impartial person to talk to this about."
Thor was neither offended nor deterred. "I do indeed desire Darcy to be happy," he began, and Steve tensed, preparing to defend himself. He was surprised when Thor continued, "But you should be, too. We cannot know what the Fates have in store for us. In the face of that uncertainty, I cling to those things I do know and trust: the strength of my comrades, the bonds of family—" Thor's voice faltered here, but he rallied to continue "—the love of my Jane. These things give me comfort and joy; they sustain me and drive me on. It cannot be otherwise with you—we are much alike in that respect." Thor smiled faintly. "Darcy is dear to you; I ask only that you let her know this."
"You're not worried about me hurting her?"
He shook his head as if talking with a small child. "If you did hurt her, I would gladly take care of whatever she left for me. But you will not. Your heart is good. Trust in it, and it will not guide you wrong."
"Can I ask you a question?" Thor had no boundaries. He'd give her an honest (albeit potentially embarrassing) answer.
"Of course. What is it?"
"How did you know you were in love with Jane?"
He chewed his egg roll—not a bite of one, but an entire egg roll that he'd shoved sideways into his mouth—contemplatively for a moment. "I knew when I could not imagine my life without having her by my side, not only as my lover but as my friend and companion. When I realized that I would shift Asgard and Midgard and every other realm to have her happy, and I would be satisfied with no other woman."
She picked up a slice of water chestnut with her chopsticks, examining it from all angles. "When did you tell her?"
"As soon as we were reunited. Though not in front of the whole company, of course. And I tell her every chance I have now." It was hard to reconcile Thor, wielder of Mjolnir and master of storms, with Thor, sweet teddy bear currently waxing rhapsodic about his girlfriend and picking peanuts out of the kung pao chicken.
"You're such a romantic, T.O." She couldn't laugh as she normally would have done, and he noticed. Thor looked fondly at the girl sitting opposite him. He could hardly imagine life without her, either.
"Though I have never told you, I love you dearly as well. You must know this."
"Of course I do," she said, tears pricking in her eyes. "I love you, too."
"I know." He passed her the lo mein as proof.
But did she love Steve?
Just to get it out of the way, so it wouldn't cloud her other observations: He was hot. Like, distractingly, maddeningly hot. He was built like a dream come true, with wide shoulders tapering to an enviably small waist above an ass so perfect it looked like it'd been carved in marble by Michelangelo. And his profile made her want to weep and his eyes were entrancingly blue. So yes, she wanted him on the shallowest level, in the most primitive way. That was an established fact. There was nothing wrong with feeling that way, but it wasn't love.
She certainly admired him. He was polite and kind and good. Okay, sometimes it got a little annoying; sometimes she felt like a total bum compared to him and his achievements. But that was on her, not him. He really believed in being a good role model, so he tried to inspire others, not criticize them (except Tony, and he was even getting better about not nagging Tony so much).
Of course she liked him. He was smart and funny and talented and sweet. He liked eating and watching movies with his friends. He'd never hurt her on purpose. He tried to be normal, and in many ways he was.
But just because she respected the guy and trusted him and wanted to jump his bones didn't necessarily mean that she loved him, did it? Darcy felt herself in unfamiliar waters. She'd had several boyfriends in the past, a few casual flings, and had told at least one guy that she loved him. Try as she might, she couldn't remember the way she'd felt about him. Deep down she knew that whatever butterflies she'd called love then were nothing compared to the pulsing, glowing feeling of Steve. Steve calling her sweetheart as sweat dripped off her forehead in the gym, Steve spinning her across the dance floor, laughing, Steve with desert stars reflected in his wondering eyes.
Did she love him?
There was some minor city-saving that had to happen out in Texas that kept Steve and Darcy from having another talk. During that time Darcy quietly flipped her shit, sobbing for the first time in years, terrified by the idea of something happening to Steve before she got a chance to tell him she loved him. Jane comforted her as best she could, holding her friend until she fell asleep, her face red and tear-streaked.
Pepper phoned to let them know that their boys were on the way home and Darcy dragged Jane into a taxi to the tower. The gang was back by the time they arrived, looking a little dusty and bruised but unbroken. Darcy did her best to control herself, forcing herself to walk across the room, sparing the others wan smiles as she went. But when she finally reached Steve Darcy flung her arms around him, mindless of his dirty uniform, and clung to him.
"What's wrong, sweetheart?" he asked, gently, kindly, and every last barrier inside her crumbled.
"I love you," she mumbled against his neck, not caring if he heard it or not. She had to say it, for a million reasons, but mostly for the simplest one: because it was true.
He moved back, hands on her shoulders. "Did you just—what did you say?"
Of course she loved him. She stared up at him, knowing that she loved his dorky shirts and his stubborn sense of duty and all the things that made him Steve, including his expectant blue eyes. "I love you."
They weren't words he'd heard a lot in his life, and they'd never sounded better than coming from her. He felt so relieved and grateful and happy that for a moment he forgot to answer, just looking at her. "I love you, too," he finally said, laughing a little in amazement, while everyone else in the room left as quietly as possible. "Darcy, I love you."
It wasn't like in the movies—they'd both say it was better than anything in the movies, of course, but it didn't follow the script. They didn't immediately fall into bed to consummate their love. For one, Steve had to debrief at headquarters and then have a shower and eat something, although possibly not in that order. And when he finally got back to his room, full and clean, it was to find Darcy snoring peacefully on his bed, clutching one of his pillows tightly. Steve lay down next to her, watching her even breaths until he too fell asleep.
Even after that it was back to the way it had been. Both were content to float on their mutual declarations of love for a while, much to the amusement and occasional annoyance of their friends. They went on quiet dates and held hands during movies and kissed in Steve's room or Darcy's apartment, and it built up steadily, inexorably. And when it finally did happen, it wasn't planned; he just didn't leave one night.
Darcy had been waiting for him to pull away as they made out on the couch. He'd been surprisingly handsy all night, fingers sliding up and down her spine under her shirt, thumb stroking her side. His kisses had started off eager and quickly moved to hungry. He latched onto her neck at the same time his hand brushed against her breast, and she gasped. Instead of moving away, though, the hand resolutely stayed where it was. This was a welcome development; Darcy felt her heart start to pound. It made her even more disappointed when the inevitable happened and he stood up.
Instead of making excuses, though, he pulled her up and walked silently into her bedroom.
She didn't want to break the mood, but she had to ask. "Are you sure?"
He nodded, resolute, pulling her close. "I don't want to wait any longer."
In the dark, he told her things until she believed them. He told her that he would never get tired of running his fingers through her hair and that her lips drove him crazy and that the noises she made went through him like an electric shock and that he'd dreamed of her and daydreamed of her and that his fantasies were nothing compared to having her there with her pulse racing and her eyes wide. Then, just in case she still didn't believe what he said, he showed her.
Darcy whispered that she would wait forever for him because he was worth waiting for, because he was perfect, because he deserved to get everything he'd ever wanted, because she loved him but that was the least of what he had going for him. She trembled, breath shaky, and soon the only thing she could say was Steve and yes and I love you.
At no point in their relationship did she expect she would wake up alone after their first night together, but Darcy was the only one in her bed when she finally opened her eyes. If she'd been more of a morning person her reaction would have included more fear than disappointment; as it was she grumbled into the pillow as she stretched. When one of her hands met a piece of paper she pulled it close to her face, squinting at the neat handwriting.
Good morning, sweetheart.
I have a meeting and didn't want to wake you.
Call you soon.
#27, September 16, 1978
Darcy pretended her heart wasn't melting inside of her as she grabbed her phone and typed in the chart position and date, muttering "Only 27? Weak." But when she saw it, the title had her laughing aloud, and she turned the volume way up, stood on her bed, and danced to "Just What I Needed."