Lee versus Li: Second Things Second
January 8, 2017
“I totally did not see Wuman ‘fessing up to Bruce Lee’s character,” Darcy said as they threw away their trash and left the theater. “I mean the whole seduction scene – sure. But then I kind of figured it would be a trap for Lee. Like she would sex him up to get him tired-”
“Getting him alone to drug him would be smarter,” Steve interjected. It was cold outside, but before Steve could think of a way to offer to pull her closer, purely for her comfort, Darcy tugged on a pair of ridiculous striped mittens and tucked her hand through his arm. He was surprised he had followed the movie plot well enough to discuss it with her. Darcy was distracting on any day, but in a dark room sitting right next to him she was hell on his concentration. It had seemed that every time he had gotten drawn into the film, Darcy had shifted against him, or squeezed his hand, or brushed her fingers against his in the popcorn bucket. He hadn’t been so aware of his own body since his first day with the serum.
“Ha! You have been hanging out with Natasha a lot. Wuman was beautiful, but she’s no Widow. After Lee was all wonky from the sexing, I thought for sure it would be a knife to the back – or maybe she’d call in the Big Boss. I mean, I guess this was redemption or something for her character – even the prostitute seeks justice for the good guy, but-”
Steve tuned out for a few minutes. He should have been ashamed of that, his mother had raised him better, but her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright behind black frames. The sun had already set, making the dirty slush on the ground appear cleaner, the city quieter. This, he was pretty sure, was what it was supposed to be like. Walking down the sidewalk with a beautiful woman. Healthy, stomach full, knowing that his friends were all safe. He never thought he would get that.
“-Steve. Earth to Steve.” He snapped back to attention, a guilty flush warming the back of his neck. She laughed. “Usually guys do a better job of at least pretending to pay attention – especially on the first date.”
“I just…this is nice.” Steve winced. That was not what he had wanted to say at all. Darcy pulled him to a stop, her face serious, and he tried to prepare himself for worst case scenarios. Steve Rogers, ladies and gentlemen, able to stop good times just by opening his mouth. She was studying him, looking for something in his eyes that he was pretty sure wasn’t there. At least he was familiar with disappointing his dates.
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Ah, I, well, yes but-”
She tugged sharply on the leather sleeve of his coat, making him forget whatever stupid explanation he had been formulating. Her face was close. Her lips were shiny and soft looking, even more than usual. He could smell the faint mint of her candies and something light and powdery like perfume or soap.
“Yeah, ah, yes, Darcy?”
“You’re really tall.” He just nodded. He really wanted to kiss her, but they were still a block away from the restaurant and hours away from saying goodnight, and there was her story about that date when she was thirteen and- “Steve. You have to be willing to meet me halfway here.” What? Oh. OH.
Her lips were soft. And then she licked into his mouth – just once, quickly, and she tasted like popcorn oil and chocolaty mints and heat. Then she was pulling away, smiling even wider than before.
“Thank god Benji Walters didn’t have your game. My dad would have lost his badge for threatening a minor with a shot gun. So. Dinner?” She pulled him back into the flow of pedestrian traffic and he let her. Whatever situational awareness had been injected into him by Erksine and reinforced by the Army scattered. He didn’t remember the rest of the walk or reaching the restaurant, instead replaying the wet swipe of her tongue and her husky voice. Fuck Bucky. And Sam. Twice. I am good at dating. There was a suspiciously Natasha-sounding voice in the back of his head that suggested it might be Darcy who was good at dating, but Steve choose to ignore it.
“Yáuh mātyéh yéhsihk chēutméng gah?”
Steve came back to himself at the unfamiliar language and stared at Darcy. The owner had come out personally to seat them, although she had a much younger waiter with her to carry menus, and seemed delighted by Darcy’s Chinese. Steve was too shocked to be delighted. They had a rapid-fire exchange and many smiles before Darcy stood up.
“Come on, they’re moving us to a better table.”
Steve thought they already had the best table – Tony had made the reservation for him. “Are you sure? I’m fine if-”
“Don’t be rude, Steve.” Then she winked at him. Winked. Steve let out a huff that was both laugh and frustration. There was no getting around that Darcy was gorgeous, smart, and fearless. A great kisser. She was also an infuriating wise-ass at least a third of the time. Including when she was sleeping. Maybe more. For all he knew she talked in her sleep too. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that there weren’t enough words in English for as much as Darcy had to say; she had to learn another language too.
The owner was spry for a lady of her age, and led them up a narrow staircase to a small balcony that overlooked the restaurant. They were given one of the two tables there. She waved off the waiter and then gestured to Steve while speaking with Darcy. He made out his name, and a few words he thought were entrees, and then the owner was bowing and disappearing back downstairs to leave them alone.
“I thought you said your Chinese was rusty,” he said wryly.
“That’s my Mandarin. This is Cantonese. I’ve always been better at it, although I can’t write anything but my name in either language and I can only read the basics in Cantonese. Bathroom, Exit, Police, Bar, For A Good Time Call – you know, just the essentials.”
Steve raised his eyebrows and Darcy grinned. “Impressed?”
“Terribly.” The waiter came by with water and hot tea before leaving them again. “Why Cantonese?”
“Sheryl, that’s my step mom, filmed a sci-fi series in Yunan Province right after she and my mom got married. When they signed her for seasons two and three, mom enrolled in graduate courses at Kunming University so we could all live together. That was right before I turned six. We stayed until I was nine – Agent None was canceled when Sheryl dropped her contract for a movie deal in the States. I was like, the dumbest kid in Chinese school because my characters looked like I dipped a cricket in ink and then let it hop on the paper, but once we came home I got to skip a grade due to my math genius. It was actually kind of shitty. And Cantonese is not really useful, career-wise, given that the People’s Republic is all about Standard Chinese. I do occasionally find out about the best hot pot, though. Like tonight.”
“So your mom-”
“Is a lesbian? Yeah.”
Steve smirked. He might have grown up during the Depression, but that didn’t mean he was unaware of the modern world. “I was going to say, is a professor?”
“Oh,” Darcy had the grace to blush a little, “yeah, sorry. Um, she teaches System Security and Aggressive Cyber System Defense at UCSD.”
Steve made a mental note to look up what that meant later. While he wasn’t unaware of the modern world, he also wasn’t ready to turn a first date into a ‘teach the frozen guy’ lesson. “And your step-mom? She’s an actress?”
“Uh-huh. Huge fan of the Black Widow, too. I have avoided so far telling her that Natasha has an apartment in the same building where I work. The demands for a photo would be non-stop.”
“And your dad is a cop?”
“Deputy. Uglier uniform but he gets to take the car home – so score one for free transport.” Darcy checked to see if the tea had steeped enough and then poured for both of them. “And since we’re doing first date stuff…your mom was a nurse, right?” He nodded. It had been nearly ten years, for him, since Sarah Rogers had died. He was able to talk about her much easier than Bucky could about his folks. They had been alive when Buck was drafted.
Darcy continued, “So was the job then similar to now? Long shifts and less respect than she deserved?”
Steve chuckled. “Pretty much. And people didn’t go to the doctor then like they do now. Not just because it was expensive, but that was a lot of it. We always seemed to have somebody stopping by the apartment because they had a rash or a cough or needed a midwife. Ma delivered more babies than any doctor at Brooklyn Hospital Center, I’m pretty sure.” He was prepared to talk about his father, but Darcy surprised him.
“And did she want you to go into medicine?”
“Not that she ever said. Probably a good thing. As much as I liked pulp novels, science was never my strongest subject. Now Buck, he had a real head for it. Math too. Probably why the Army made him a sniper.”
“So what was your favorite subject?”
The food arrived, hot pot – which apparently the owner had recommended. There were different kinds of meat and vegetables and a self-contained little cooker of broth and noodles. Darcy encouraged him to try all the different sauces and half-way through the meal he figured out why she had ordered it. She could take one or two bites of everything and leave the rest to him without making it obvious to the staff he was eating three times what a normal person would. It was more insightful and considerate than he had thought she would be, and that assumption made him feel guilty. It was just that Steve worked pretty hard, when he was out in public, to not stand out. Darcy seemed to have figured that out on her own, not mentioning that he left his hat and sunglasses on until they were in their theater seats or at the restaurant booth, and ordering family style so he wouldn’t look like a food vacuum.
They stayed for over an hour, and Steve was surprised at how much time had passed when the check came. The conversation never fell flat, and not just because he was certain Darcy could talk to a cement wall, but because she listened too. She waited to hear what he had to say and asked questions he didn’t expect.
“This has been really fun,” she said with a smile as he helped her with her coat.
“We’re not quite done yet. Unless you’re ready to go home?” He waited with less trepidation than he had expected, but with Darcy he needn’t have worried.
“Oh right,” she said, leading the way outside and waving to the owner on the way out. “The infamous three-step date plan. Well, who am I to stand in the way of that? Lead on, McDuff.” He relaxed fractionally and hailed a cab. As soon as they were seated she dropped a fortune cookie in his lap.
“Eat it all before you read it, those are the rules.” She was already crunching through hers and Steve followed her instructions, wondering if their next kiss would taste like sweet wafer and not finding it in himself to feel presumptuous.
“Your patience will be rewarded with passion,” she read off the little white paper. Steve nearly inhaled cookie dust. “What’s yours say?” Her eyes were sparkling and her smile crooked in a way that made him think she might have altered her fortune slightly. He took a risk and didn’t even look at the slip.
“Silence is Golden.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Let me see that.”
“Absolutely not, Miss Lewis. That would destroy the sanctity of the fortune cookie. You should be ashamed of yourself.” He quickly folded it and stuck it in his jeans pocket, relatively sure that not even Darcy would go after it.
“Hm. Interesting tactic. You better hope Stage III makes up for this.” She leaned into his side, shivering a little so that Steve felt justified in wrapping an arm around her.
“Don’t worry. I have a backup plan too.”
“I would be disappointed if you didn’t, Steve Rogers.”