Word Count: 5015
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Also Posted At: AO3
Author's Note: Continuing thanks to my wonderful beta, the lovely 51stcenturyfox!
Summary: "Oh, God," he said, and she knew just enough about Captain America to find this a pretty strongly worded statement on the situation. (Or, Steve and Darcy wake up married in Vegas.)
< Chapter 2
At 7:32 AM on a Tuesday, a unexpectedly diligent research intern managed to connect one of the clearer photographs of Steve Rogers and his mystery Vegas girl with the publicly released information about Jane Foster's research team, including a few officially sanctioned photographs intended for press releases. The story broke on E! and spread like wildfire through the media.
At 7:59 AM, her name started to trend on Twitter.
"So this is what we planned for," Pepper said. Darcy painted her toenails one-handed, phone smashed up against her ear and her tongue caught between her teeth as she dabbed the excess polish off the brush. "We'll be sending out the press release that you saw yesterday, Darcy, approximately five minutes from now."
"Got it," Darcy said briskly, and wiped a neat, straight line down the side of her big toe with a bit of kleenex. The nail polish was a pale baby yellow, the color of sundresses and easter eggs.
"Yes, ma'am," Steve said, his voice muted by the phone, and Darcy smiled absently at her toes.
"We're getting there, I promise," Pepper said. "Just hang in there."
"No sweat," Darcy said. She squinted thoughtfully at her toes. White polka dots might be the way to go once the base coat set.
After the call ended, she did several laps around the room, wiggling her toes in a futile attempt to speed up the drying process, and collapsed dramatically onto her mattress with a large-scale flop. The mattress bounced gently underneath her once or twice, cradling her momentum and absorbing the shock, leaving Darcy lying face down on a placid surface, suspended and motionless.
"Jaaaaane," she whined. "I am soooo booooored."
"Gee, I never would have guessed."
Darcy switched the phone to her other ear and and twisted, trying to catch a good angle of her back in the bathroom mirror. She had stripped down to her bra, with the band of her rocket ship pajama pants rolled over twice, tugged down low on her hips so that the shield sat like a beacon smack dab in the center of her lower back. It was inked in a thick line of black and filled in with solid blocks of primary color. It was starting to look a little worn around the edges from surviving multiple showers, but it was still surprisingly bright.
She hadn't told Jane, or anybody else, about it.
"Yeah. I'm sorry I keep calling you - and you've been an absolute saint - but now you're leaving tomorrow morning and I guess the dark, horrible reality of that is starting to sink in."
Jane laughed, softly, and Darcy wrapped an arm behind her back, tracing the unseen edge of the top of the circular shield with one of her fingers. "Sorry, Darce."
"I know, I know. Science waits for no woman."
"It does not. But you're right, I should have planned my work trip to Stark Expo around the assumption that you would end up married to Captain America after meeting him for the first time and need to go into hiding while that gets sorted out. What was I thinking?"
"Good question. Sounds reasonable to me."
"Call your parents," Jane said briskly. "Watch a movie, read a book, marathon a TV show, do a bunch of jumping jacks, make a website for something, work on your resume, apply to more jobs, catch up on your emails."
"Done, done, done, done twice, not going to do jumping jacks, no, done, done, done. I also started this pushup program that I read about online - I have an alarm on my phone that goes off every hour now and I stop whatever I'm doing and do three pushups. I'm pretty sure my arms already look more like Michelle Obama's."
She rotated to face herself in the mirror, and bought herself a front row ticket to the gun show. Then she frowned, and put her phone into speaker mode so she could take a photo. Before and after pictures were definitely the way to go here.
"Look," Jane said, "I have to go to some meet and greet thing that Tony's making me attend, but I'll see you tonight, okay? I'll bring over pizza, and maybe Thor, if I can find him."
"Pepperoni and my favorite Norse god? Jane Foster, you might just be the best thing ever."
"Later, Darce," Jane said warmly, leaving Darcy alone in her bathroom, staring at a shield drawn in permanent marker on her back.
The fisheye lens turned Steve into a caricature of himself, all pointy nose and blocky jaw with swept-back blonde hair and shoulders narrowing down to a comically small waist. Darcy paused a moment before undoing the chain lock and turning the handle. She had stopped by his hotel room a couple times, but Steve had never ventured down from his suite on high - probably, Darcy assumed, out of an old-fashioned sense of propriety, coupled with a healthy dose of very reasonable my-what-a-weird-situation-we've-found-ou
"Hey - what's up, Cap?"
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks like a six year old, and rocked back on his heels in the hallway. "You tased Thor?" he asked mildly, out of nowhere, raising a single interrogative eyebrow. Darcy hid a smile.
"Uh, if you mean did I righteously defend myself when some threatening, muscle-bound Adonis showed up in the middle of nowhere and freaked me the fuck out - you better believe I did."
The corner of Steve's mouth twitched.
"Also," she added, feeling just a tiny bit smug, "I hit him with a car too. Want to come in?"
"Only if you promise not to tase me," he said, and put his hands up in a show of innocence that really only resulted in some awesomely flexed biceps, because that was fair of the universe. "Or run me over."
"I make no promises," she said, and opened the door wider.
Her hotel room seemed even tinier with Steve looming inside, obviously at a loss for what to do with himself and looking like he wanted to duck his head down from the ceiling despite the fact that there was more than enough clearance. She waved him grandly over to the two chairs, with straight wooden backs and upholstered in a heavy-duty plaid, next to her tiny dollhouse-sized coffee table.
"So what's up?" she said, and tucked her feet up underneath her.
"I came here... I wanted to see how you were doing. With what happened this morning."
"Oh, you know. I'm trying not to let the sudden fame go to my head - staying grounded, hanging with my homies, being all Darcy from the block."
He nodded. He was wearing a collared plaid shirt with his hair slicked neatly back, and it occurred to her then that he had probably dressed nicely to come talk to her.
She cleared her throat. "Um, seriously though. I'm doing okay. Bored as all get-out, but okay."
"It's strange," he said quietly. "I understand that. I remember when I... when I became Captain America."
"I'm sure that was a whole special rainbow of strange. I'm only the assumed-girlfriend of Captain America. People are going to forget about me faster than you think - out of sight, out of mind. Anyway, Pepper has this entire thing covered with a frightening level of efficiency. It's really not that bad."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah." She shrugged. "Besides, it's kind of cool to have been a trending topic on Twitter. I'm going to kill at two truths and a lie from here on out."
"...Is that what it sounds like?"
"Uh, yup. Pretty much - it's a game where you tell somebody two things that are true about yourself, and one that isn't, and then the other person tries to guess which one is the lie. It's an icebreaker kind of thing. So I might say that my three things are... I've hit the God of Thunder with a family sized science-van, I've been a trending topic on Twitter, and I like pickles. One of those statements is a lie."
"You don't like pickles?" Steve looked aghast at this shocking piece of information.
"Eww, no. They taste like sour in my mouth."
He gave her an are-you-broken-inside look, and Darcy bit back on the sudden, giddy urge to laugh.
"And what about you, wonder boy? What are your two truths and a lie?"
"Let's see." He tipped back his chair, and floated a foot up when he hit the balancing point. "I love pickles, I've punched Hitler, and I've never been called wonder boy before."
"Well, the pickles thing is obvious, considering the stink-eye you just gave me. And since punching Hitler in the face is basically your penultimate reason for existing... I guess wonder boy?"
"You do remember meeting Tony, right?"
She slugged him cheerfully in the shoulder before remembering the whole stupid muscles-like-iron thing Steve had going on. "Yes, you, I totally remember that part. Wait, does that mean you've never punched Hitler? Oh my god, either I've been lied to all my life or you actually hate pickles."
"I've never punched Hitler," he said solemnly. "I fake-punched a whole lineup of fake-Hitlers, but I never saw him in real life."
"Blasphemy!" she gasped theatrically.
Steve's good natured expression darkened, and she saw him clench a fist, the bone of his knuckle standing out suddenly white. "If I had ever met him in person, I'd have done more than just punch him."
Oh. "And that's why you're an American hero," she said finally, softly, and he glanced over at her, the color high on his cheeks.
She traced the curve of the coffee table with her finger, running the glossed edge of the wood under her fingertip. "So... ah, have you ever punched Thor? Please tell me you've punched Thor at least. Restore my faith in something."
He shifted a little, knees stuffed underneath the low profile of the coffee table, which was failing a little harder every minute at being a functional piece of furniture. "Are you trying to ask which one of us would win in a fist fight?" he asked, with an obvious attempt at good humor.
"Sure. Bare-knuckle brawl, epic bar fight, you and the God of Thunder - who reigns supreme?"
"Thor," he said seriously. "I don't know what you think I am, but it's not that. If I get to have my shield, though," he continued thoughtfully, "that might even things out a little."
"Does that mean Thor gets to have his..." She mimed hammering a nail into a two-by-four.
"You're the one laying down the ground rules."
"I suppose I have to say yes to the cosmic hammer then, if you get the shield. Sorry, man."
"That's fair. And yes, I have punched Thor, but only by accident."
"Okay, I don't even understand how you accidentally punch somebody."
"Training," he said succinctly.
"And that's reason number twelve hundred and one that I'm not a superhero. ...Superheroine. Wait a second." She narrowed her eyes. "Let's back way up here. Who told you about me tasing Thor anyway? Was it Jane?"
Steve shifted a little in his seat. "Actually, it was Thor."
She narrowed her eyes even more, squinting suspiciously for all she was worth. "Does Thor know about...?"
"He doesn't know about the.. the wedding, no." Steve's eyes floated up from her face to examine a particularly fascinating section of ceiling. "He merely wanted to, ah, inform me of your many good traits. I think he thought he was being quite subtle."
"...Are you saying that Thor was trying to wingman me?"
"Oh, Christ." She let her head fall into her hands. "I don't know whether that makes my life the best or the worst."
"The best?" Steve offered cautiously.
She cracked a smile and looked back up at him. "Always the optimist, huh."
"Just trying to be helpful, ma'am," he said - rather cheekily, she thought.
"Alright. So what else did the Almighty Thor say about me? I guess I'm kind of interested in what he thinks my good points as a potential mate are."
"The tasing was mentioned several times."
"Okay, well, that's not surprising. The man has a hard-on for people who can take him down."
"Oh. Did Dr. Foster ever...?"
"Um, kind of? She also hit him with the van - it was basically a vehicular free-for-all for a while there. More than that, though, Jane is wicked smart. She could take him out with nothing but her mind, and Thor totally knows it." She pointed a finger at her own temple in demonstration of the serious power of Jane's smarts.
"He also mentioned, ah, several things I think I shouldn't share." A thin blush blossomed on his cheeks, staining them red like he was in some sort of Rockwell painting and had just stolen an apple pie or put a frog in the teacher's desk or something equally wholesome.
"...Was it about my boobs? Because I've got to imagine that's a selling point."
"He thinks of you as a sister," Steve protested weakly, and that was a yes there was definitely discussion of your tits if Darcy had ever heard one. She got it. Her breasts were pretty awesome.
"That's cool, because I think of him as the older brother I never had, who I like to occasionally ogle and is totally doing my boss lady/best friend. It's your classic sibling relationship."
Steve manfully ignored this. "He really does care for you very much."
"He's a good guy," she said, trying not to sound as over-the-top fond of the dude as she was.
He fell silent for a moment after that, fidgeting in a way she already found very un-Steve-like, scuffing a foot distractedly on the carpet. He was staring somewhere in the vicinity of her left knee, lips pursed together.
"So I really came here..." He stopped and cleared his throat, trying again. "I'm tired of being cooped up."
"Ugh, YES, me too. I'm about to go crazy. I braided and unbraided my hair like eight times today, because I couldn't think of anything better to do. I think Jane's about ready to throw her phone under a bus to avoid me. Being under house arrest sucks the major suck."
She leaned forward and quirked an eyebrow. "So do you have a plan, Cool Hand Luke?"
"I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon," he said.
She froze, staring at him.
"You... are you suggesting we, what, sneak out of here? And go to the Grand Canyon?"
"How do we even get there?"
"Your..." She snapped her mouth shut.
"It's okay if you don't want to," he said earnestly, interpreting her silence as rejection. "But I need to do something. And I thought that, since we're both in the same situation, that maybe you might want to..."
"Yes," she said quickly. "Yes, I do..." she realized with a sudden panic she couldn't end the sentence there and hastily tacked on, "...want to. Go with you." She wondered, a little dizzily, if this counted as their second date, if you categorized the whole marriage-proposal-acceptance thing as the worst first date idea in the history of ever.
A small smile tucked itself into the corner of his mouth, showing the faintest of dimples, and she pressed her fingernails into the palm of her hand. "Okay," he said.
She drew in a deep breath. "...I can't believe you've never seen the Grand Canyon. It's, like, un-American. I mean, you're basically the person equivalent of the Grand Canyon; how have you never seen it?"
"Have you been there before?"
"Once, when I was a kid. The Lewis family has a proud and noble heritage of cross-country RVing."
"Okay," Steve agreed, with a polite blankness she was beginning to realize he deployed when he didn't feel like asking for clarification on every single reference past the 1940s that he didn't understand, and then his face softened. "I've always wanted to see it," he said, in a quieter tone.
"Spoiler alert: it's awesome."
"I'm going to hold you to that."
She propped her chin up on her fist thoughtfully. "So how are we going to pull this off? Without, you know, being harassed the whole time?"
"We can leave early - I was thinking oh-six hundred hours. And we'll be on the road most of the day, which will help. We should stay away from people."
"I think we need disguises," she said, because she was nothing if not totally brilliant. "Jane has a wig I could borrow."
"I have sunglasses," he said, helpfully.
She grinned at him like the Cheshire Cat. "You're brilliant," she said. "This is absolutely brilliant. And you're kind of a rebel. I like it." She grabbed for her phone, sitting on its charger at the base of the TV. She had to tip two legs of her chair off the ground to make it. She swiped the thing open and texted can you bring the pink wig tonight? to Jane.
She was pretty sure this was not the right thing to be doing, galavanting off with a genetically engineered supersoldier she'd accidentally married four days before, where the annulment process featured such things as actual strategy conference calls and a carefully orchestrated PR campaign. Jane would kill her if she knew about this. Pepper would probably unleash the full power of an unbridled Tony Stark on both of them. She could barely be in the same general area as Steve without wanting to jump his bones in weird, increasingly possessive ways. None of this was going to end well.
"Jane's wig is pink," she said, instead. "It's a Halloween thing, but she brought it here for some sort of Stark Expo after-hours scientist costume party deal."
He nodded slowly, like he wasn't quite sure what he was agreeing to. "I'm sure it's swell," he said, and to his credit it didn't even sound like a question.
"Heck yes it is."
"Is she going to notice you're gone tomorrow?"
"Who, Jane? She's hitching a flight back to New York tomorrow morning, so as long as I have my phone on me, the answer to that is no."
Her phone beeped:
sure, what for?
reasons, she texted back.
He pursed his lips. "We'll need to bring food with us tomorrow. I think we should split the order through room service. We can pack up the mini-bars too."
"Oh man, you have a mini-bar? That must be nice, living how the other half lives."
"Oh," he said, looking a little embarrassed. "S.H.I.E.L.D. always books me into rooms that have one. I guess I assumed they were a normal thing, now." He gestured toward the lime-green mini-fridge taking up valuable floor space against the wall next to her TV stand.
"Nope, that's just a sad, empty fridge."
"Okay, then, so I'll pack up my mini-bar to share and we'll come up with our room service orders tonight."
"Sounds like a plan," she said, trying to bite back on the massive grin spilling over onto her face.
They shook hands as he left, like co-conspirators, and because apparently that was the thing they did now. Darcy was starting to think that going for the high-five option really would have been the awesomer choice.
She went to Google News, did a search for his name, and ordered the results by date.
The top story not about the Vegas fiasco was a PR piece about Captain America visiting a children's hospital in New Jersey. It was a short human-interest write up with a few quotes from parents and one from Steve, talking about being sick as a kid (in the Great Depression, a small voice in her head chimed in, before she pushed it down ruthlessly). There was an attached photograph of Steve, decked out in all the Captain America trappings, crouched down next to a skinny girl with wide, dark eyes and a handkerchief around her head. Both of them were staring solemnly at the camera.
The second article was about the continued clean-up from the giant mechanical squid that had attacked San Francisco, because that was the world they lived in now - aliens attacking New York from a wormhole in the sky and mechanical sea creatures trying to take out the Bay Bridge. She clicked over to YouTube, and brought up some shaky cell phone footage of that day. She'd seen it all before - video of the attack had been replayed obsessively on the 24-hour news channels for weeks afterwards - but she'd always watched for Thor, zipping through the air, a small streak of red in the sky.
This time, she watched two small figures running out to the middle of the bridge, one in black and the other carrying the Captain America shield. They were tiny against the vast span of the bridge, and even though she knew what was coming, she bit her lip as they paused for a moment at the center, preparing something, then jumped over the railing together, limbs flailing as they fell toward the surface of the water.
She googled her own name.
The image results were mostly variations of her night out with Steve, with a few publicity stills of the work she'd done with Jane and S.H.I.E.L.D. last summer sprinkled in for good measure and a pretty spectacularly bad headshot from her college's online directory.
She was beginning to group together the Vegas pictures into several distinct cameras/scenarios:
There were a few fuzzy shots of the two of them walking through an as-yet unidentified casino, lost in each other in a way that was obvious to see even in the crappy quality cell phone photos, his hand curled around her hip.
There was a cluster of photographs of them in the booth of some dark bar, sharing a side, his arm kicked back around her shoulders and a goofy-happy smile on his face as she jabbed a finger at some imaginary topic in front of them.
There was one of them...
She closed the screen to her laptop, her heart beating fast and a heated flush working its way up her body. Goosebumps chased up her arms, and she pulled the sweater she wore closer in around herself, stretching the sleeves. She took a deep breath in through her nose, told herself that she was an adult and this was ridiculous, and opened the laptop back up again, slowly.
They were standing against a brick wall, kissing in a way she could only describe as intimate. Steve was slumped down to her height and she was standing on her toes, her hand wound up in the hair at the back of his neck. Both of their eyes were closed. There was an expression of... of something on Steve's face she found hard to look at, some sort of intense emotion breaking through the surface, like razor thin lines of sunlight through the edges of a curtain. There was a focus there she couldn't reconcile, couldn't remember.
His arm was hooked around her waist, and his hand was spread possessively over the flat of her back, a place where she knew the shield was now and was willing to bet it had been when the photograph was taken, drawn on her skin.
She had her right hand placed flat on his chest, and she could see, just barely, in the distorted colors of the photo, a glimmer of something gold on her finger.
She shut the tab and stared blankly at her keyboard.
He was waiting for her in the parking garage the next morning, kicked back against an old-fashioned looking motorcycle with wide handlebars and an upright stance. He was staring, unfocused, at the plain concrete wall in front of him, sporting aviators and a brown leather bomber jacket and looking impossibly good for 6 AM in the morning.
She wondered if he'd seen the same photo she had. She hadn't seen a laptop in his hotel room, and Steve was pretty much the textbook definition of low-tech, but the man worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. - for all she knew, the bottom of his shoe had the ability to pull some Get Smart shit and turn into an iPad or something.
It was much more likely that he didn't go poking through the media for information about his own life. It wasn't his style.
She took a deep breath (in through her nose, out through her mouth) before continuing on, walking briskly up to him like she hadn't just been lurking around the corner and watching him like a total creeper.
"Way to be incognito, dude," she said, and reached up to straighten her shoulder-length wig, ironed straight and a shade of electric pink that put the entire decade of the 1980s to shame. "I think all you've done is make yourself look even more Captain America-y."
He stared at her, and she grinned. "Like it? It took me forever to pin my hair up underneath."
He cleared his throat. "It looks nice," he said, his voice a little tight. He looked down, away from her.
She frowned, and dug out a pair of thick, white-rimmed sunglasses from her purse.
"Let's trade," she said, and reached up - and up - to pull the aviators off his face, peeling off a layer of unapproachable male and revealing a blinking, slightly confused Steve underneath.
He gestured at the white sunglasses, which she now noticed with a vague sense of guilty amusement had a single fake rhinestone embedded in each arm next to the brand name. "You want me to wear those?"
She slipped his aviators on and gave him her best we-are-not-amused look. "Are we or are we not in disguise?"
"Then yeah. These," she pointed to the sleek retro sunglasses now on her own face, "scream Captain America. Aren't these just your normal sunglasses, anyway?"
"They hide my face," he protested.
"C'mon," she cajoled. "It'll be fun. Epic adventure, goofy disguises, what could be better than that?"
He twisted up his mouth like he wanted to argue with her more, but he put the white-rimmed sunglasses on.
"I look ridiculous," he muttered.
"Actually," she said slowly, "you don't." He looked different - his jaw looked about 25% less sharp next to a pair of glittery plastic gems - but on the whole he looked... well, good. The white frame contrasted with the battered leather jacket and white t-shirt he wore and broke up some of Steve's untouchable 1940s movie star aura, like he was maybe just some hot, self-absorbed guy in his 20s who dressed slightly to the right of the line when it came to ironic fashion. "You really don't."
"Thanks," he said flatly.
"No, I mean it. You look kind of..." hot, modern, my age, "...like you should be in Kanye West's entourage or something."
"Let's skip to the part where I don't understand what that means and start there."
"It means you're pulling it off."
"Hmm." Steve sounded highly skeptical of the situation, but he turned to fiddle with the bike as she grabbed the helmet off the seat, wondering how she was going to manage the whole helmet-and-wig arrangement. She pocketed his sunglasses and settled for shoving the thing on her head and sorting out the damage later. The helmet surrounded her in a thick plastic bubble, and felt heavy when she ducked her head up and down, like she was the coolest bobblehead ever, or maybe an astronaut.
"Where's your helmet?" she asked.
"You're wearing it," he said distractedly, running his hands over the line of the bike, his fingertips moving gently over the paint job like he was reading braille. She could see the tendons fanned out on the back of his hand, and the muscles in his forearm as they shifted, his fingers flexing as they skimmed over the metal.
"Um. Isn't that dangerous? And doesn't Captain America without a helmet on make you, like, a bad role model?"
"I don't actually need a helmet. I've taken on worse than a road before."
"Okay, but what about the kids? Also, the fact that you can utter that sentence about your life is kind of horrifying."
He straightened back up and smiled at her. "...Are we or are we not in disguise?"
"Fine," she said. "Be reckless. You should just know that I'm pro-helmet, pro-condom, and pro-flossing. I'm a safety girl."
He turned away from her again and muttered, so low she almost couldn't make it out, "I am reckless." He swung his leg over the bike, turning the key and revving the engine. It echoed like thunder in the empty, early-morning parking garage.
She clambered up behind him, and faced that awkward moment when you decide what to do with your hands and body on the back of your husband/casual acquaintance/dude frozen in time and from literally several generations ago/superhero friend's motorcycle. She settled for a few inches of space between them and her hands on his hips, clutching at the thick, double-sewn hem of his leather jacket.
She knew that if she walked her fingers over and skimmed them up underneath the fabric, she'd find her own writing and a very in-your-face claim of ownership. She squeezed the fabric a little tighter in her fist.
"Ready?" Steve yelled back over his shoulder.
"You better believe it," she said, and held on tight.
Chapter 4 >