Notes:

This is it folks, the end! This story has been a thorn in my side and a joy to write. There were a lot of things I wanted to show in this story, and some of got done and some of them didn't.

I went back and forth about how I wanted to end this story. I didn't know if I wanted something big and romantic, but that would have flown in the face of everything previous. The same went for something dark and dramatic or straight rainbows and puppies happy ending. I hope you enjoy what I decided on, because it really felt like what needed to happen.

Darcy sits in a rolling lounge chair, with a nifty IV stand attached to the side. The IV itself is attached to her arm, pumping a steady stream of cold saline into her veins. After blood work, peeing in a cup, x-ray and being swaddled in bandages, all she wants is to curl up in a dark corner and not exist for a while. Instead, Harrison is rolling her down the hallway, through more corridors that Darcy doesn't recognize, with Sitwell bringing up the rear. As they walk, the halls become less and less crowded, until finally they're the only ones around. They come up to an unmarked door, and Sitwell steps forward to wrap his knuckles against it. A seconds later the door opens to reveal Maria Hill, dressed for combat and expressionless. She steps aside to let them enter. The room looks like an office, a mans office, with dark wood bookshelves, a monster of a carved desk and no visitors chairs. Fury sits at the desk, engrossed in his tablet. Once Harrison has pushed her into the room, she and Sitwell leave without a word. Darcy takes a deep breath.

"You did good Lewis." Fury says, looking up from his tablet. Hill takes a seat behind the desk, at Fury's right, and her expressions softens. Darcy blinks.

"Thank you." She whispers, keeping her head up. Fury sets the tablet down, and leans forward, his expression hard.

"I'm not going to lie to you, this was our fuck up. We had bad information and it came back to bite you in the ass." Fury says, his voice low and well, furious. Hill rolls her eyes, snagging the Directors abandoned tablet.

"I appreciate you admitting that." Darcy offers with a shrug. Fury snorts, tapping his fingers on the desk. Hill looks up from the tablet, smirking.

"Darcy, you should never have had to go through that, but you did well. You held it together." Hill says, her voice leaving no room for argument. Feeling her eyes get a little misty, Darcy nods.

"Did I give away too much?" She asks, playing with the IV tube.

"That's what we're here to find out." Fury says, leaning back in his chair.

"I told them that I was in the lab when the hippies opened all those portals up. I told them the equipment wasn't calibrated correctly, so SHIELD could only narrow the origin point down to 25 blocks. And that Tony hacked his way to the information about Ginsburg and then just flew off on his own." Darcy says, meeting Fury's eyes dead on. He nods, stealing his tablet back from Hill before scrolling quickly.

"That's what we heard." Hill says, her face still relaxed.

"Tell me about Carmichael." Fury says, something like a smile on his face. Darcy leans forward, baring her teeth.

"I'll tell you every damn thing you want." Darcy says.

###

It's hours later and Darcy feels like she's been put through a meat-grinder. Fury and Hill had been almost gentle, for them, but even so the hours of questions had left her shaky and fuzzy headed. Harrison comes to fetch her, after the details of Lilly's mind games have been turned over for the hundredth time. Fury and Hill are already engrossed in something on the tablet, and they barely look up when the doctor enters. Harrison's expression is the normal medical professional mixture of bored and exasperated, but she spares a smile for Darcy. She figures she must look like death's leftovers if Harrison bothers with comfort. Darcy drifts in and out as Harrison wheels her back down the hallways. They end up in what's probably some petty officers quarters, a cramped studio apartment affair that's barely more than a bed and a kitchenette. Harrison gently pulls the IV out presses a band-aid to the little red circle. Darcy settles onto the edge of the bed with a herculean effort, blinking up at Harrison. Harrison sits down next to her, reaching out to grab Darcy's chin and tilt it in her direction. Harrison snaps a few times in front of Darcy's face, and she blinks, her head jerking back in startlement.

"Darcy I need you to listen to me, okay?" Harrison says, her face a mask of concern. Darcy blinks, nods, her thoughts clear, if slow.

"Okay." Darcy says.

"All your labs came back clean, your x-ray is clear. You're a little dehydrated, but you're otherwise fine." Harrison says, her words careful. Darcy nods again.

"But when we tested your urine, your pregnancy test came back positive." Harrison says, voice neutral. Darcy gasps, bringing her hands up to cover her face. Fucking sonofabtich she does not need this right now. One time without protection, one time- Steve and his super-swimmers are in so much trouble.

"I didn't know you could detect it that early." Darcy says, letting her hands drop to her lap.

"Most people can't, but we have a test here. You had unprotected sex what, three days ago, four?" Harrison says, voice completely without judgment. Darcy nods. The other woman pauses, her expression calculating.

"The longer you wait, the less effective it's going to be. But we have a- pill on the helicarrier, and I can prescribe it for you if you want, later on." Harrison offers. Darcy closes her eyes, her thoughts racing. God she's not ready to have kids, she's almost positive she doesn't want kids, and fuck she's dating Captain America, adding a kid would paint an even bigger target on her back for every villain in the world. She's 99.9% sure she cannot handle a kid, but she's so tired and this is such horrible timing.

"I'm sorry to just surprise you like this, but you needed to know your options. I know the timing is awful, but I wanted you to know as soon as possible, to think through your options. The pill can't be prescribed until the six week mark, but I can do that for you. Come to me in medical if you want and I'll prescribe it." Harrison says, standing up. Darcy nods, taking a deep breath.

"Thank you, I appreciate it. I'll- let you know." Darcy says, her voice soft. Harrison nods, backing up to the door.

"You'll go back to the tower tomorrow, but you can stay here for the night." Harrison says, opening the door. Darcy waves the other woman out. Once the door is closed she stares at it, feeling hollow and brittle and maybe a thousand years old. She makes herself stand, kicking off her flats and shrugging out of her blouse. She pulls back the scratchy blanket, stares down at the mattress. She's so tired it almost makes her sick, so tired she probably won't be able to sleep for hours, if at all. But she dutifully climbs in anyway, rests her head on the pillow and stares up at the ceiling. She closes her eyes and tries to think nothing at all.

###

She's woken from a light doze by the sound of the door opening. She's scrambling back into the corner, she has no idea where she is, god why is it so dark, fuck, she can hear her breath coming in huge heaves-

"Darcy! Darcy it's okay, I'm sorry, it's just me, it's Steve." A man says- Steve says from a few feet away. Darcy freezes, her heartbeat loud in her ears. She can see him silhouetted against the door, his posture tense.

"Turn on the light." She whispers. After a short pause, he does and Darcy blinks up at her boyfriend, her thoughts fuzzy and slow from being woken up. Steve's staring at her like someone's walked over his grave, his expression something between hopeful and terrified. He's wearing one of his checkered grandpa shirts, hair tousled, and looks so much the same she could cry. She makes grabby hands at him and he crosses the room in a rush. He pauses at the edge of the bed, uncertain, so she walks to him on her knees. She grabs him around the waist, and his arms encircle her in an instant. She buries her face against his stomach, and god he's warm, and familiar and perfect. He curls around her, his body on the knife-edge of tension, like he's making himself stay relaxed. She lets out a choked sob and he jolts like he's been slapped. He pulls back and she makes a wordless noise of protest. But it's a temporary separation, because he's bending at the knee to scoop her up into his arms, held across his body bridal style. She rests her head on his pecs, hmmmm she's missed those, as he crawls up onto the bed. He sits with his back to the wall and she wiggles around so that she's settles comfortably over this legs, and hides her face against his neck. His arms stay wrapped tightly around her, and she shudders, takes a deep breath, relaxes. She doesn't say anything for a long few minutes, letting herself calm down again, trying to figure out what she wants to say, if she wants to speak at all. Steve holds her close, takes deep breaths. The heat of his body weighs down her thoughts, makes her sleepy in a way she hadn't been before. She yawns, stretches, and feels Steve smile against her neck. She turns so that she's facing him, leans back a little so she can see his face. Neither of them speak, yet, and it's nothing but their wide eyes and warm breath. His jaw is clenched with the effort of keeping quiet, and his expression is nothing short of agonized. She sighs, presses a soft kiss to his lips.

"I'm okay now. You guys found me." She says, watching him closely. He squeezes his eyes shut, grimaces. She runs a careful fingertip over the shape of his brows, cheekbones.

"I'm not saying it wasn't awful, because it really fucking was. But I survived and I'm mostly intact." She continues, not sure if it's helping or not. She's too tired to deal with this, but she can only imagine how much this is hurting him. He opens his eyes, looking furious and broken apart in equal measure.

"It shouldn't have happened at all." He says, voice perfectly level. She nods her agreement, which seems to settle him some.

"Well duh. But this had better damn well be a learning experience. Like, we need to do our best to make sure something like this never happens again." Darcy says, stern. He cracks a smile, faint, but true.

"Darcy…" Steve starts, sounding regretful. Damnit, She knows that tone. She reaches up to grab his face, holds him still as she glares into his eyes.

"Don't you fucking dare." She snarls. His eyes widen in panic, but she barrels on before he can speak.

"If you were trying to pull a 'if you weren't close to the Avengers, this wouldn't have happened' manpain savoir complex thing, keep it to yourself."

"Darcy- it's true, it's our fault you were even targeted in the first place." He says, and damn she should have recognized that immovable tone, that's the sound Captain I Made Up My Mind America. She rolls her eyes.

"No, it was AIM's fault for thinking I could give them information on Jane's work. I've been working with and being friends with Jane and Thor for years before I even met everyone else. It's too fucking late to go back to just being a regular person, that bird has flown." She says, squishing his face for emphasis. He shakes his head as if to dislodge her hands, and she narrows her eyes at him. With one last face squish, she lets her hands drop.

"It shouldn't have happened in the first place. You'd be safer off if you weren't- if you weren't around us anymore." He says, his arms tightening around her.

"Look, I'm not going to argue that it shouldn't have happened. But fuck you for trying to take my friends and my awesome life away from me because youthink I'd be better off without." She says, sounding tired even to her own ears.

"That's not what it is at all, I'm just trying to keep you safe." Steve says, his face shutdown. She grits her teeth, closes her eyes and counts to ten.

"It's not your job to keep me safe! It's your job to be with me, and support me. And I like you a lot, scarily a lot okay, but Jane is my best friend in the world, and Bruce and Tony and Thor and Clint and Natasha are my friends and I want to be with them, it'smychoice." Darcy hisses, her eyes narrowing. Steve freezes, blinks, his eyes going distant as he thinks over what she's said. She lets out a long breath. Minutes pass, and she appreciates more than she can name that he's taking the time to actually think about this, rather than flex off into the sunset in some assbackwards attempt at protecting her.

"Fury said something like that, when we were- planning your rescue." Steve finally says, a small self-deprecating smile on his lips. She snorts, rolling her eyes.

"He said the moment Thor touched down in New Mexico, you and Jane became targets. He said there's no going back now, and I could either act like a toddler throwing a tantrum over things I can't change, or I could do my damn job." He continues, his voice thoughtful.

"Fury makes a good point." She says, not able to resist teasing him entirely.

"I just- it ripped me open." He says, closing his eyes. She gently cups the back of his head and pulls him against her. He takes a deep breath, and she presses a kiss to his temple.

"You said you trusted me to make my own choice about your strength." She murmurs. After a pause, he nods.

"If you and the others want to rip SHIELD a new one for having bad information, go for it. If you and Tony want to turn the tower into a death fortress, do it. But I'm already a target, and you can't change that. Maybe Fury could find some underground compound in the North Pole where no one could find me, but it'd be like slowly being chewed to death by ants." She says, well aware that SHIELD probably does have an underground compound in the North Pole. Steve laughs a little, his breath warm against her skin.

"So yeah, technically I could be safe somewhere. But I want to be with the people I love-" she manages not to flinch at the slip up- "-and I want to stay where I am, because here is where I feel at home and where I'm happy. If I'm going to be in danger, I'd rather it be worth it." She says, kissing his temple. He lets out a long sigh, before leaning upright again. He smiles, before catching her lips in a kiss. She opens to him, and it's slow, unhurried, a little terrifying. He pulls back, right on the edge of her needing air, and they gasp, shake a little. She feels… grounded again, and it's so strange.

"I'm sorry." He whispers, his face pinched with regret. She smiles, shrugs.

"Don't ever try to make my decisions for me again. You have every right to feel your feelings, but I'm my own person. If something affects one of us, it affects both of us, and we need to make choices together, not you handing down judgment from on high." She says, making herself lay down the rules before she gets distracted. He flinches, starts to speak, but she presses her palm over his mouth.

"That's vise versa, in case you were wondering. I'm pissed, but Steve, the point is that you listened. You had this idea but you listened to what I said and you thought about it. That's what I needed." She says, letting her hand fall. His eyes are watchful, and he says nothing for a long moment.

"I can't promise that I won't do something similar again. I can't- the idea of losing you hurt so much- I'll probably panic and act like an asshole. But I'll try not to, and I'll do my damndest to listen when you speak." He says, careful, as if picking his words out of a crowd. She grins, pulls him down for a fast kiss as a reward.

"That's all I ask. I wouldn't have accepted a promise." She says, feeling hopeful, like maybe, somehow, this could work out. That they'll work out. He studies her face for a few seconds, before an answering grin splits his face.

"We're quite the pair, huh?" He says, snorting. She nods, rolling her eyes. He leans his forehead against hers, making a small sound of contentment, and Darcy closes her eyes, feeling her body relax. She's warm, she's safe, and Steve's here with her. It's more than she could have hoped for, curled up in Morris's deep freeze. She tilts her head, brushes her lips across his.

"Come on-" she says "-bed time." Steve nods, stretching long and luxurious in a way that would normally offer all sorts of things she could take advantage of. But instead, he balances on his knees, holding her close, and she just rests her head on his chest, feeling more tired than human. He lays her gently on the bed, her back to the wall, and he takes the outside edge, his back to the door. She snorts in amusement but doesn't say a word, wiggling around so that she's settled pressed up against his chest, her hands curled between them. He pulls the blanket up over them, slings a possessive arm and leg over her, she snorts again and feels him grin against her temple. Drowsy warmth is dragging her down into the darkness of sleep, and she buries her face in the crook of his neck.

"Goodnight." She whispers, blinking slowly. He shifts, presses a kiss to her hair.

"Goodnight." He says, sounding wide awake. He's probably going to stay up all night, she thinks, but doesn't say a word. That idea, having someone she trusts keep guard, is what finally sends her into sleep.

###

She wakes up tangled with Steve, feeling as if several hours has passed. Her eyes and head still feel gritty though, like she'd stayed up every night for a week studying for a vicious midterm. She knows she can handle that, so she stretches, yawning, and feels him shift around in response. She's sprawled out half on top of him, his arm draped across her waist. She props her chin up on his chest, blinks at his smiling face, yawns. He runs a careful hand through her hair, not seeming to mind how gross it is. She lets her thoughts come back online, slow like sand sliding through an hourglass. His tension from yesterday seems nowhere in attendance, his expression soft and relaxed, his body loose limbed under hers. It looks, she thinks, like he spent a great deal of time in thought, and liked what he found. For herself, the screaming press of emotions that had boiled right under her skin for days has faded, leaving her feeling steady and as even-keeled as she gets. She still feels… bruised, but at least she knows she isn't going to burst into tears or run screaming down the hall at the first uncomfortable conversation.

"Did you sleep at all?" She murmurs, turning to press a kiss to the inside of his wrist. He makes a chagrined seeming twisty expression, shakes his head.

"Not a wink." He admits, low. She searches his face, and he lets her, not bothering to guard his expression. He doesn't look tired, probably a super soldier thing, and the panicked, forceful energy from last night seems to be gone. She reaches out to brush her fingertips over his face and he turns to press his lips to each of them in turn.

"I assume you spent most of the night alternatively brooding and thinking?" She says, letting her hand fall to the side. He quirks a self-deprecating smile, shrugs.

"Mostly the brooding." He admits with one of his aww-shucks grins. She raises and eyebrow at him, grinning.

"But I did- it was easier to think with you safe and here with me." He says, catching her gaze with his. His expression is serious, and his eyes search hers like there's answers hidden there.

"I'm- glad?" She offers, still feeling slow and a little behind. He huffs out a small laugh, flicking her hair with his fingers.

"I thought about what you said last night. About living with us, and me trying to run your life." He says, soft, tone apologetic. She tenses, he freezes in panic, but she makes herself relax and take a deep breath.

"And?" She asks, keeping her voice neutral. She figures he's come down on her side of things, or else he'd be tense, maybe even angry, but this is still nerve-wracking.

"I went straight to wanting to send you away like a damn princess in a tower. I was freaked out, angry, and you being hurt- hurt me. But it was stupid, and you're right." Steve says, lips pinched like there's something sour in his mouth. She's not sure she's ever met someone who hates being wrong like Steve does. She smothers a laugh into his chest, hears him sigh in exasperation. When she's gotten herself back under control, she lifts her head to grin at his disgruntled expression.

"I- thank you for listening." She says, forcing her expression smooth again. He smiles, still a little uncomfortable.

"I won't lie, it was difficult. But you- we're worth more than my pride." He says, voice unsteady. She feels her face flush, her heartbeat goes fast, because yeah, it's like that.

"We are. And when it's my turn to eat crow, I'll try not to be a raging bitch about it." She says, offhand. He grins, bright and everything like home.

"I know, right? Look at us being all adult and shit." She continues, much to his amusement.

"Remember when we talked about fucking up?" Steve asks, still smiling. She scowls at him and he laughs, almost shaking her off. His arm tighten to hold her in place and she reaches out to flick his ear. He hisses, ducking away.

"I remember. I feel like this is exactly what we were talking about, you're right, okay." She says, sounding sulky even to herself. He grins, both his hands coming to settle at her waist. He starts to sit up, Darcy makes a disgruntled sound, but he holds her still as he sits upright, leaving her draped across his lap. She glares up at him, sticks her tongue out, and he chuckles again. Before she can find something snarky to say, he's lifting her, turning her to settle her back against chest. Considering their first time was in a position much like this, it should be lascivious, should send heat along her skin. But instead it just feels relaxed, her legs leaning against his bracketed knees like a supremely comfortable lounge chair. She leans her head back on his shoulder, closes her eyes, lets out a sigh when he places a kiss on her neck.

"I think we can do this." Steve says, quiet. She nods, saying nothing around the knot in her throat. But he doesn't seem to mind, his hands tracing formless patterns over her arms and neck.

"I think we can too." She says finally, the thought of it frightening. They sit there, in soft silence, neither of them speaking or moving for long seconds. Finally, Steve's stomach lets out some of its loud hungry monster noises, breaking the silence. Darcy giggles, and Steve lets out a groan of embarrassment.

"Hungry?" She asks, sly. Steve snorts, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

"I could eat." He says, the grin clear in his voice. Darcy thinks a moment, considers that her stomach feels gnawingly, black-hole empty, and figures she could eat as well.

"Do you think you can wait until we get back to the tower? Because the food here tastes like shit." Darcy asks, craning her head around to look at his face. He laughs again, smiling crookedly at her.

"It's not that bad." He says, rolling his eyes. Darcy makes a wordless sound of indignation.

"Not that bad? It tastes like velociraptor shit. Shit that it ate, threw up, and then shat again." She says, turning all the way around to better glare at him. By this point, Steve is laughing too hard to even speak, wheezing and all but falling off the bed. Darcy grins at him, waggling her eyebrows. While he tries to collect himself she clambers off the bed, not even tripping over herself. She grabs the discarded blouse from last night and slips it on, grimacing at the idea of how gross she and it are. She feels… restless here on the hellicarrier. Okay, yes, she was kidnapped from the tower, but she'd bet her good vibrator that Tony didn't sleep or eat until every inch of his security protocols were reviewed and fixed. It's more home than anything else right now. Steve finally manages to stop laughing, and he slides off the bed, standing beside her. She smiles up at him.

"I think I can wait to eat until we get back if you can." He says, shrugging.

"I want to get off this damn thing as soon as possible." She says through gritted teeth. She doesn't have many bad memories here, per say, but she doesn't have any good ones either.

"We have to stop by medical and check in with Harrison, but after that we should be able to leave." Steve says, running a hand through his hair, settling it back into his grandpa style with ease. And shit, Harrison, pregnancy test, fuck. The thought hits her like a train and she has to sit back down before her legs give out. Steve's expression goes panicked and he kneels in front of her.

"Darcy? What's the matter?" He says, his face pinched in concern. Darcy closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and asks herself if she wants to have a baby. The answer is a resounding, loud, oh fuck no. She's nowhere near ready. Her life is in no way conducive to babies and she the thought of being a mother makes her want to panic and hide in a hole. She opens her eyes and smiles at him, feeling strained.

"I'm pregnant, it's yours." She blurts. His face goes blank with shock, his eyes frozen wide. He opens his mouth to speak, but she raises her hand.

"Before you- I just need to say this first." She waits for him to nod before continuing. "I'm not ready to be mom. Fuck, I've never been maternal and I don't know if I'll ever want to be a mother. But right now, with my life- with our lives what they are- I would never want to bring a child into this world unless I was 100% sure I wanted them." She says, making herself meet his eyes. She's scared. Steve's proven himself willing to listen and adapt, but he was raised in the 40's how does that even translate-

"I agree." Steve says, slow and deliberate, as if her panic reads clear on her face. Her thoughts stagger to a halt and she blinks in surprise. Seeing her struck dumb expression, he smiles, soft.

"I- for one it's your choice. But, for what it's worth, I agree. I don't think either of us are ready to be parents, and frankly, I don't want to be a father, at least not yet. I've had so much change in the last few years- I need more time before something like this." He says, his eyes watchful on hers. She smiles, feeling tears of relief gather at the corners of her eyes.

"Oh thank god." She says, shaky. Steve snorts, running his hands over her thighs, back and forth, soothing.

"How do you- do we-" Steve makes a frustrated expression as he tries to figure out the wording, but Darcy knows what he means.

"There's a pill. You can't take it until the pregnancy is six weeks along, and Harrison said she'd prescribe it to me, if I wanted. But since I don't want SHIELD to know that much about our sex lives, I figure Natasha might be able to find a place off their radar. And remind me to ask her for birth control recommendations, because mine is obviously shit." Darcy says, narrowing her eyes in annoyance.

"And that's it?" He asks, voice soft.

"That's it. We- we can talk about kids and shit later, but I think we need more time, you know?" Darcy says, her voice sounding tentative against her best efforts. He nods, his expression solemn. There's silence for a long, aching moment. She lets out a long, shuddering, sigh, feeling like a million lbs have been lifted from her shoulders. The choice is made, and that's it, she has a plan now.

"Ready?" Steve asks, quiet. She nods, smiling.

###

By the time they get back to the tower, it's night, another day slipped between her fingers. After the medical check, one last debrief, and Steve spending the day osculating between looming over protective and pointedly not overprotective, she's so tried she could cry. The tower is deserted and as she and Steve walk across the shadowed lobby, Darcy finds it easier to breathe, finds herself relaxing for the first time all day. Home, she thinks, I'm fucking home. As they step into the elevator, Steve crowding close to her side, she feels herself tear up a little, overwhelmed.

"Good evening Ms. Lewis. It's a pleasure to have you back. We were- worried for your safe return." JARVIS says, his voice subdued. Darcy looks up at the ceiling, brushes tears from her eyes.

"Hey JARVIS, it's good to be back." She says, managing to smile. Steve gently, slowly, twines his fingers through hers, and she squeezes reflexively, flashing a smile at him too. The elevator doors open soundlessly onto the Avengers main floor and Darcy all but leaps out, filled with a sudden and fierce need to see her friends. She tugs Steve out into the living room, and into the kitchen. Her friends, Tony, Bruce, Natasha, Clint, Thor and Jane, all sit around the kitchen table, their heads swiveling to face her as one.

She feels more tears leak from her eyes, feels Steve gently drop her fingers and step away as Jane launches herself across the room. Jane hits her with a shriek and a hug so strong it rocks her back on her heels. Darcy holds her friend tight, buries her face in Jane's hair and tries to take deep breaths. She hears someone come up on her side, feels another set of arms around her. She smells gun oil and expensive perfume, Natasha. She hears the murmur of male voice and lets herself have the hug for another long moment. Finally, regretfully, she pulls away. Natasha and Jane step back, giving her room and Darcy swipes tears off her eyes with extreme prejudice. The others have all stood, their faces matching masks of concern and relief. Tony and Clint stand closest to her, and she nods to them with a smile.

"Bad guys beaten?" Darcy asks, her voice still watery with tears. As one, their faces go dark and smug, and Darcy considers that maybe it should scare her.

"I… interrogated Morris and Carmichael." Natasha says as she tilts her head with a grin that's sly and altogether terrifying. Bruce ducks his head to partially hide his own nasty smirk as Thor and Clint and Jane smile unrepentantly. Tony, for his part, doesn't smile so much as tilt his head and look like he's plotting the downfall of man.

"Hell yeah-" Darcy says, fist pumping in victory- "-rule 55 motherfuckers." Rule 55: Revenge is not a dish best served cold. Revenge is a dish best served like a Vegas buffet, never ending and with style. It had been Tony's rule, added just after the Mandarin fiasco, and at the time no one had had the heart to erase it. Darcy thinks, looking at the grim faces of her friends, that Rule 55 isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The thought buoys her and she turns to wiggle her hands at Steve, inviting him back into her space. He doesn't hesitate, as if he'd been waiting for her to ask, and steps up to press himself along her side, their hands tangling together once more. Darcy raises her eyebrow at the room at large, daring them to say a word. No one does, although the leering almost gets out of hand.

"What the fuck happened with the rescue?" Darcy says, stepping forward to claim a chair at the end of the table. Steve comes along with her, tense at the mention of the rescue, but sits close enough they can keep holding hands. The rest settle themselves back into their chairs, their faces varying shades of malcontent. Natasha ends up on her right, followed by Clint and Bruce, while Jane sits directly across, followed by Thor and Tony. Tony taps unhappy fingers on the table, averts his eyes. Darcy tugs at Steve's hand and he glares at her. She sticks her tongue out and his face softens into a sheepish smile.

"I lost my shit." Steve admits, leaning back in his chair. Natasha and Darcy snort in amusement, while the rest grin at their now blushing fearless leader

"That's one way to put it." Natasha drawls, leaning forward to meet Steve's eyes. He grimaces, grits his teeth, shrugs. Tony laughs, his fingers still tapping an agitated rhythm on the table.

"You have no room to talk." Natasha says, narrowing her eyes at Tony. Tony raises his hands in surrender with a smile too strained to meet his eyes.

"Oh, I admit I lost my shit. I just like hearing boy scout say it." Tony says, deflecting so hard he could be a solar array. Steve leans forward in his chair, expression tight, but Darcy slaps her hand down on the table in anger, cutting him off.

"No! You fuckers are going to act your age and you're going to tell me what happened!" Darcy snaps, letting go of Steve's hand to smack him on the shoulder. Steve and Tony freeze, their eyes wide, before settling back into their chairs.

"We all got a little- high strung after you were taken. It was chaotic for a while." Bruce says with a shrug. She hears Clint snort in amusement, but the archer says nothing.

"I mean when Steve and Tony jumped the gun and I had to be air-lifted out." Darcy says, pulling her hand free of Steve's and crossing her arms over her chest. Steve lets out a long breath, looks down at the table, and Tony looks away, seeming ashamed.

"Guys-" Darcy starts, annoyed despite her best intentions.

"I saw the tapes and I-" Steve starts, looking up at her.

"-went completely apeshit. We both did- we all did really." Tony finishes, looking up at her with a ghost of a smile. Darcy nods, trying to figure out what she wants to say.

"You guys are the fucking Avengers." Darcy says, voice strained. Her thoughts are almost sluggish, and the idea that she could cause so much upset and disarray among the Avengers leaves her feeling lightheaded.

"And you are precious to us, Darcy Lewis." Thor says, leaning forward for emphasis. His expression is so open, so earnest that Darcy almost has to look away.

"I'm the civilian, I'm vulnerable." Darcy says with a shrug and a quirk of her lips. Natasha makes a dismissive sound and reaches out to flick Darcy's ear. Darcy hisses and ducks away, glaring at the assassin.

"You're our friend. We weren't prepared for you to be taken." Natasha says, rolling her eyes.

"Is anyone every ready for a kidnapping?" Darcy asks, raising her eyebrow. In response, Natasha levels an unimpressed glare at her, as if she knows what Darcy's up to.

"And the- loophole, by the way, that allowed them to penetrate the tower's defenses has been taken care of. I promise you that." Tony says, his hands still and eyes intent upon hers. Darcy swallows, nods.

"Why didn't they go after Jane? I mean, I was just the intern." Darcy asks, looking back and forth between Natasha and Tony. Steve trails his hand down her arm and tangles their fingers together again, posture tense, as if he needs her touch to steady himself. Darcy traces nonsense patterns into his palm and his whole frame relaxes.

"They tried." Thor snarls, slamming his hand on the table. As one, the room freezes, remembering that Thor is a god, baptized in blood and battle and has lifetimes of violence and war behind him. Jane settles her hand in the crook of Thor's arm, leans up to murmur something in his ear, and the god relaxes, his threatening posture melting away. She feels Steve and Natasha relax, almost as one.

"Well that was stupid of them." Darcy manages, cutting through the tension like a knife. Thor leans back in his chair, crossing his arms proudly in front of his chest.

"Yes. They came to regret their choice." Thor says, smug.

"Here here." Bruce mutters, raising an imaginary glass in salute. The rest of team salutes him back, smug and still strung tight with suppressed violence.

"You guys can't lose your shit though, every time one of us gets in danger." Darcy says, motioning back and forth between herself and Jane. Jane nods in agreement, her eyes narrowed at Thor.

"I think you'll find we can." Tony drawls, his heart not really in it. Jane smacks him on the arm and he hisses, glaring at her.

"Pepper, Darcy and I made the choice to be here with you-" Jane says, eyes scanning the table- "-and we came the conclusion, all on our own, that the risk is worth it. We're going to be in danger again, and we need to know you guys can handle it." Jane's voice is soft, her expression pinched with worry. No one says anything, the world's mightiest heroes sit quietly, shamefaced and tense.

"Where is Pepper, by the way?" Darcy says, to give her friends some breathing room. Tony's head pops up like a spring and he grins at her, eyes wide and smile mean.

"At SHIELD. Threatening to pull all of SI's contracts if they fuck up like this again." Tony says, leaning back in his chair, smugness radiating off him like heat from a fire. At his words, various noises and expressions of victory and delight ripple over the team. Darcy snorts, leaning her head against Steve's shoulder with a sigh. He shifts slightly to give her a more comfortable perch, and his fingers tighten around hers.

"Jane's right guys." Darcy says into the silence, regretful and tired in equal measure.

"I'm not saying she's wrong." Clint says mulishly, speaking up for the first time since they entered the kitchen.

"I do not disagree with Jane either." Thor says, careful.

"But I won't promise not to be upset when my friends are threatened." Bruce says, picking up where the god left off. He ducks his head, adjusts his glasses, clearly uncomfortable with even talking about friendship. Darcy wants to hug him, she really does.

"We can do better though. We can- drill, and have plans in place for situations like this." Steve says, pressing a soft kiss to Darcy's hair. Natasha nods in agreement, her expression troubled.

"SHIELD has some procedures that I think we can cannibalize for our purposes." Natasha says, already scrolling through her StarkPhone. Clint makes a considering sound.

"ALPHA785?" Clint asks, reaching for his phone as well. Natasha nods at him, already distracted.

"The point is I'm still here. You guys got me back." Darcy says, laying her words out like the losing hand in a poker game. Steve tenses, tightens his fingers around hers, relaxes, lets out a long breath.

"I suppose that's good enough for now." Bruce responds, speaking for the team at large. His expression is mostly blank, but the thick lines of tension around his mouth and eyes belie any thought of serenity. Darcy closes her eyes, suddenly so tired the thought of walking to her rooms feels like a marathon.

"Darcy?" She hears Jane ask, hesitant. Darcy opens her eyes, yawns. Bruce and Clint have already pushed back from the table, and Natasha helps Darcy to her feet, Steve steadying her on the other side. Tony stands and saunters to the end of the table, as Thor and Jane bring up the rear. Darcy sways in place, looks at her friends as they cluster at the kitchen entrance and feels, for the first time since she woke up in the AIM warehouse, that everything will be okay. She tears up, swipes them away, and smiles at them.

"Group hug, you lousy fuckers." Darcy mutters, shuffling her feet. There's a pause, before Tony lets out a whoop of laughter and darts across the room. They converge upon her like a wave upon rocks, smiling, yelling, wrapping her in warm arms and the sensation of home. Tony and Bruce give her careful hugs, their expressions as sorrowful as they are happy, but she knows it's just the shadows in their heads. Jane throws her arms around Darcy's neck as Thor lifts them both in the air with his exuberance, booming something about Ravens, probably. Natasha and Clint converge upon her from either side, pressing a kiss to her cheek and a gripping her arm tight, respectively, before they move away. Steve stands behind her, his hand touching some part of her at all times, laughingly adjusting as the tide of aggressive comforting passes. Finally, they've all said their peace and Darcy leans back into the circle of Steve's arms, feeling at once more energized and as if she wants to hibernate for a month. She leans her head back to look up at Steve, and he grins down at her, the shadows in his eyes seeming lighter than before.

"I'm so fucking tired." She confides, hearing her voice fade under the weight of exhaustion. He nods, solemn, as the others quietly slip out of the kitchen.

"I'll keep watch." Steve says, wrapping her arms about her waist for a brief hug. She frowns, opens her mouth, closes it at the look of almost desperation that passes over his face.

"You sleep whenever I wake up next." She comprises, the sternness of her order somewhat comprised by the yawn that splits her face. He nods, stepping back so he stands at her side, slipping his arm through hers.

"I can live with that. And Tony finished your suite while you were- gone. I figured you might not want to sleep in mine." Steve says with a grimace, as if he doesn't even want to sleep in his suite. Darcy understands the sentiment. Darcy starts walking at a slow trudge, Steve politely keeping pace. By the time they make it to the living room, it's dark, lit only the splashes of city lights, and there's no sign of her friends. If she leans some, most, of her weight on Steve's arm he doesn't say a word and his steps don't falter. The elevator doors are already open and waiting by the time they make it there.

"Thanks JARVIS." Darcy mutters, another yawn breaking through her words. Her thoughts feel muggy and slow, like a wind-up toy on its last twist of power.

"My pleasure Ms. Lewis." JARVIS says, and it might be her imagination, but his voice is softer than usual, almost like a whisper. Once inside the elevator, Steve carefully leans her against the wall, hovering close in case she totters over. Another time she would resent the implication that she can't be trusted not to fall over in a perfectly stable elevator, except that, no yeah, she might fall over at any moment. Thankfully, it's only a few seconds between when the elevator doors close and when they open again, revealing a darkened living room she doesn't recognize. As she and Steve make their careful way out onto her floor, she distantly registers that those are her bookshelves, and books, up against the far wall.

Steve steers her though the living room, past chairs that she knows aren't hers, and into a darkened bedroom. The far wall is taken up by a huge window, and there's a twinge of unease, but she ignores it in favor of shuffling over to the large and gorgeous bed, before flinging herself down on it. She ends up sprawled diagonal with her feet hanging off the side like a child. She hears Steve walk around to the other side, before he lays himself down by her, mirroring her pose. His face is barely a breath away from hers, so she brushes a kiss over his lips, soft as a sigh. His eyes flutter close, almost involuntarily, and he kisses back, gentle and open. They trade kisses back and forth in a slow tide, the city lights casting bright lines of color across their faces. There's nothing sexual about it really, just a warm intimacy that settles her, makes her smile gently into his kisses. Steve reaches out to run his fingers through her hair and she opens her eyes to meet his, feeling slow and sweet like molasses.

"Comfortable?" Steve asks, teasing, as he twirls a stand of her hair around his fingers. She stretches, takes stock of her position, and figures she can sleep like this for a few hours. All the better to make Steve sleep, she thinks, self-satisfied.

"Yeah, I'm good." Darcy says, stretching once more for verisimilitude. Steve quirks his lips as if he knows exactly what she's doing, but says nothing. He stretches too, shifting his arm down from her head to settle across her back. The feel of him through her shirt is a warm comfort.

"We're okay." She whispers, running her fingers across his face, tracing the shape of his eyebrows. He smiles and it almost reaches his eyes.

"I know, Darce, I know." He says, shifting around to find a more comfortable position. She sighs, feels herself go languid and boneless on this ridiculously comfortable bed.

"I don't know where to go from here." She whispers, finding courage in the hushed darkness. He shifts close, their noses bumping, and she's unspeakably grateful. Not just for the closeness, for the heat of him, but because at this distance she can't see his expression and he can't see hers.

"Neither do I. But it's… okay. We survived this and we'll figure it out." Steve say, conviction strong in his voice.

"I- I'm so glad I found you. I'm glad that it's you and I'm glad you're here with me for the ridiculous hero stuff, even if you dress like my grandpa." Darcy whispers, her voice brittle. She feels Steve grin against her lips, before he brings his hand up to cup her face.

"I'm glad I found you too. With all this ridiculous hero stuff, I wouldn't want to do it alone. We- I think we're better together." Steve says, pressing another soft kiss to her mouth.

"Yeah-" Darcy says- "-that."

Notes:

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read and review. If you liked the story, please tell me why and recommend it to, you know, everyone. And if you didn't, please tell me why in a constructive manner.

Thanks again!