December 4, 2016
Steve wasn’t sure if he should wait on the lawn for Darcy or go ahead and get into the helicopter. On the one hand, it was polite to wait for a lady. On the other hand, it was the 21st century and, at best, most women seemed to find his manners quaint. On the other hand, if it had been Natasha, he would have waited just to irritate her. On the other hand, although he wasn’t certain that he even wanted to ask Darcy out – she was mouthy and bold and bright and crass which was all incredibly attractive and a little intimidating – he definitely didn’t want to inspire ‘aw, look at the cute old frozen guy’ feelings in her. On the other hand – and he really did not have enough hands for debate and it was more of a pro-con list at this point and if he kept it up he would need a battle strategy just to decide if he should fucking wait – Darcy was on the short side and gracefully getting into a helicopter, even one as well-designed as Tony’s, wasn’t easy.
He clenched his jaw over his own indecisiveness. Get a fucking grip, Rogers.
Just as he was about to slide open the door for himself, Darcy stepped out outside and he had to stop moving because his eyes were glued to her.
Before the meeting he had waited at the front door to the White House for her, not necessary out of good manners, but because he had been nervous about meeting Tony by himself. And because Natasha had grilled him long and hard on the appropriate things to say – and when to keep his mouth shut – in front of the President. Apparently, most of the topics Steve wanted to voice would be better saved for another time. Or never.
He was so glad he had waited. Darcy was gorgeous. He had known she was pretty even when she was covered in soot and smeared with blood – maybe especially then. But in her wine colored skirt and ecru blouse her skin glowed. She hadn’t worn her glasses, and while he liked the way they framed her face, without them her eyes looked bigger and more vibrant. He had wondered if she had done something different with her makeup, because he couldn’t make out the freckles on her cheek either. Aesthetics aside, Darcy was also very, very good at her job.
He had realized what she was doing even while she was talking him out of his nerves about the meeting, but that didn’t stop her method from working. And the way her mouth ran… Darcy was funny, and smart, and kind of irritating in that she always had a joke or a sarcastic quip ready and she never shut up. She gave Tony a run for his money in the incessant talking department. Which was a real feat.
And with the President. God. She had taken subtle charge of that meeting in a way that even Peg would have been envious of. As if Darcy had an alter ego of bossy, professional, no-nonsense shark to balance her everyday persona of bossy, casual, sexy dame. He wondered for a brief second if Natasha had been giving her lessons. Without insulting anyone, she had steered the conversation, kept Tony from being more than his baseline offensive, and cut short the usual fawning and toadying photos before Steve became too uncomfortable. He and the others were pardoned and thanked for their service faster than Steve could blink. But she didn’t stop there.
What she did for Buck… Steve had to swallow hard. He had known she was working on his friend’s pardon, or at least a non-extradition order that would keep Bucky in the U.S., but that had been all he had dared hope for. Darcy had argued – argued doesn’t cover it – she had eloquently announced that James Barnes would be declared living and reinstated to the Army – with back pay and a promotion based on the recommendation that had been submitted by Steve just before the train. Until she brought it up, Steve hadn’t even remembered writing the request back during the war. It would take Bucky to Staff Sergeant, and the amounts she had listed for ‘owed income’ included base pay, accounting for inflation and interest, as well as hardship pay, combat pay, housing allowance, BAS II, clothing allowance, and Foreign Language Proficiency pay – which Steve hadn’t even known was a thing. Buck spoke eight languages, that Steve was aware of, and had learned French at the behest of the US Army before he was captured. All in all, Bucky would never have to work a day again. If he invested well, his grandchildren might never have to work. It was staggering. All that, and then an honorable discharge, retro-active to the day he broke his programming.
Steve watched Darcy step carefully across the lawn, mincing a bit so her black heels wouldn’t sink into the grass. There was an asymmetric fold across the front of her skirt that parted to show her knees with each movement. Steve stared while he tried not to tear up. Darcy had handed around a thick document to each of the politicians and smiled in a way that was both sexy and feral. Maybe sexy because it was feral. Maybe he was the only one who thought it was sexy. She had outlined why a hero and prisoner of war should be honored, why Ellis should be the one to do it, and then ruthlessly reviewed the salient points of Bucky’s time as the Winter Soldier. President Ellis had agreed that there would be no public ceremony, but he agreed with all of her suggestions. They hadn’t sounded much like suggestions to Steve. With each step Darcy took he mentally listed what she had done for Bucky.
Prisoner of War Medal, for his time under Zola in Azzano in 1944.
Service Star, for POW status with the Soviets. She had brought up footage that not even Steve had previously forced himself to watch, and used it to illustrate proof that Bucky’s conduct during captivity was honorable, and that he resisted interrogation and extreme torture beyond reasonable measures. The Secretary of State had looked ill. The Attorney General had briefly excused himself.
Purple Heart, for losing his arm when he fell off the train plus seven additional oak leaf clusters, one for each decade under HYDRA.
Distinguished Service Cross, which was awarded not just to Bucky, but to the Howling Commandos as a unit. All would be posthumous except for Steve and Buck.
Medal of Honor, for his actions during the Austrian train battle which had saved Steve’s life.
Bronze Star, for a prolonged sniper battle just a week before Buck fell.
Silver Star, for outstanding service and heroism during combat in which Bucky had given away his sniper position to save civilians.
The last four had been documented by Steve in his officer’s log. He would have submitted them all if his plane hadn’t gone down. Somehow Darcy had found out and made certain that the men who served with Steve would receive at least a portion of what they deserved.
Steve ran his hand over his face. The wind kicked up by the helicopter was making his eyes water.
“Help a girl up, would ya’?”
Darcy was there, holding out her hand and smiling. He took her left hand in his and put his right under her elbow to steady her as she climbed the narrow step into the cabin. The fold of her skirt split high enough under her movements that he could see a garter strap and creamy bare thigh. Too soon, it was hidden again and she had taken the far seat.
“Friday,” she called out as soon as he was inside and shut the door behind him.
“Yes, Ms. Lewis?”
“Upstate facility, please. And would you text Jane our ETA? And Thor, actually, on the off chance he hasn’t broken his phone.”
“Certainly, Ms. Lewis. If I may inquire, are congratulations in order?” The helicopter began to ascend smoothly, excellent soundproofing making conversation easy despite the rotors.
Steve watched Darcy slump back against the plush leather, a tired smile on her face. It was the first time that day he had seen her looking less than professional and in-charge.
“You bet your sweet server banks, Fri. The White House will issue a press release before the East Coast nightly news cycle.”
“That is excellent, Ms. Lewis. On behalf of the Boss and Ms. Potts, please allow me to offer my thanks and congratulations.”
“And me too,” Steve murmured. She turned her head to look at him, but Steve held her gaze. He needed her to know he was sincere. “Thank you, Ms. Lewis. The mistakes I have made, even when I felt my reasons were altruistic, have had terrible consequences for people that I care about. Without you, I might never have had the chance to correct them. I can’t tell you how much…if there is ever anything-”
“Dude.” She stopped, winced, then sat up straight again. “Captain Rogers. First, please, god, call me Darcy. Only my Hebrew teacher and subs looking for domination are allowed to call me ‘Ms.’ when I’m not on the clock – and you don’t look like you are into Hebrew or frottage, so I think we can shelve that, right?” Steve was still trying to process and decide if he should be worried about a blush breaking out when she continued, “And B, I didn’t do this for you. Well, not you, in the specific, immediate sense.”
“Tony,” he said quietly, wondering how he felt about that.
“No. Honestly, no. I did this…god.” Her eyes flicked down at her lap and she shoved her bag to the floor. “Okay. Okay, Lewis, why not? Let’s go there.” She took a deep breath and met his gaze again. “What do you know about the veil of ignorance?”
Without thinking, Steve raised an eyebrow, “I was in the Army, Ms. – Darcy. That describes a lot of decision making in combat.” She barked out a laugh and he smiled, warmed by the way her shoulders eased and her cheeks flushed.
“Nice. But I was talking about political theory. Basically, it states that if an individual was entering into a new society – without knowing what status they would have, like blue collar worker or Rockefeller or slave – and they were given a vote or choice about how the society is run they would chose the most fair, most equitable society. So if there is a 50% chance you’ll be a slave, you’re not going to risk that against the 1% chance you’ll be a Rockefeller. Get it?”
“I think…I’m not sure how that applies.”
“I’m not sure if I’ll be the person terrorized by Ultron, or the person saved from an alien invasion, but if I have the choice, I want to live in the society where both things can happen. I want to believe there is a society where the worst scenarios we face are the poor decisions we ourselves make – and have the opportunity to learn from. Should there be safeguards in place? Of course. This isn’t theory, after all, it’s real life. But I would rather risk a murderer going free than execute an innocent man. I would rather deal with the accidental bombing of an office building by a powered person than tag and incarcerate people who had no choice in becoming powered – or did so with the intention to fight injustice and stop pain. People who are willing and able to fight in a battle that is outside our control. I want the government that will work toward a better, safer, more equitable future without destroying the rights of those they govern. I want the society where we are judged by the sum of our actions and the intent behind them – one where we work together to make informed choices and then agree to live with the consequences and if they are bad to try again. Together. The social contract is necessary, yes, but it is also mutable and malleable. As it should be.”
Steve could feel his mouth wanting to hang open. At the same time, he didn’t think he had ever wanted so badly to kiss someone. Darcy Lewis had to be the smartest, most passionate woman he had ever met.
“So. Yeah. You’re not welcome, cause. This wasn’t…for you…” She was starting to look uncomfortable, but Steve had no idea of what to say to make things better. All he could think about was how amazing she was and how beautiful and how if he asked her out now she would think he was insane. And Tony would have a recording of it. She grimaced, falling back into her seat.
“Friday,” she mumbled, definitely blushing and looking anywhere but at him. “Please tell me there is something urgent that needs my attention. Like, right now.”
She spent the rest of the trip to the facility working on her tablet and speaking with Friday, pausing only long enough to let him know that an apartment had been made ready at the Tower for him, and that she would be scheduling meetings for Tony and him beginning in a week or two. The others would need to decide if they wanted to reside at the Tower or at the facility, or find their own accommodations. As they landed, Darcy gathered her bag and then paused,
“Oh, and text Friday or I any travel arrangements anyone needs immediately – if they want to go somewhere for Christmas.” She laughed shortly, “Now that Yinsen is official, I actually have staff for that. Or a staff. A person. Fuck. I guess now I need to hire our own people instead of poaching from Pepper.” She rolled her eyes. “In any case, let me know. If Sam or anyone needs a flight – I can set that up for them with a little more privacy and security than booking online. Of course, the Canadian house is available to you through the New Year as well.” She opened the door herself, but easily took his hand when he offered. “Thanks, Captain.”
He was sure he mumbled something in response, but he couldn’t be sure what as he watched her round backside in that wine skirt as she bent to leave the helicopter and then walked off the landing pad.
He started at Friday’s polite inquiry. “Uh, yeah?”
“Would you care to close the door, sir? Or shall I?” He blushed, realizing he was still holding it open, staring at the door Darcy and her skirt had disappeared through.
“Yeah, uh. Sorry.”