A Magic Number
January 27, 2017
“Thank you again for taking the day off. I hope this doesn’t make more work for you on Monday.”
“No sweat, Steve.” Darcy grinned up at him. Snow was falling – it seemed like it had never really stopped this winter – and it dusted her hat and hair lightly. “I already put in overtime this week. Remember how we canceled date number three so that I could listen to the French Minister of State try to kiss your ass? Remember how I did that for you so that you didn’t have to show up at the meeting? Remember, Steve?”
Steve did remember. He felt a little guilty about it, but only a little. And it was more that he felt guilty because last weekend Darcy had planned a Saturday afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium and made reservations for dinner at a Greek place she claimed had the best baklava this side of the Mediterranean. But, as Bucky had said, dealing with governments was Darcy’s job, after all. And if it meant that Steve didn’t have to sit through uncomfortable innuendos regarding Nazi occupation and try to bite his tongue so that he wouldn’t point out the hypocrisy in public beach attire mandates, then he was grateful she was so good at what she did.
He returned her smile. “Does that make this the third date?” Darcy had been very specific, tantalizingly specific, about what she expected from a third date.
She held up her mittened hand, as if he could see her fingers ticking off. “One: kung fu extravaganza. Two: naked yet sadly unmolested soldier. Three: furniture scavenger hunt.” She nodded decisively and tucked her arm into his, pressing closer against him as they made their way down the sidewalk.
“Shopping is a date, are you sure?” He teased, then processed what she had said. Heat bloomed on the back of his neck and low in his belly. “You never said I was naked.”
“Oh,” she scoffed, and he couldn’t tell if she was blushing or just cold, “you were totally naked. Super naked. Like, I deserve a prize for all of the nakedness and yet none of the hanky-panky. A good citizenship award or something. You’re the Captain of this figurative nation-shaped boat, can’t you decide when someone has shown valiant self-restraint in the face of extreme temptation?”
Steve bit his lip at the look of lascivious pride on her face. It had been a long couple of weeks since that first date. He had managed to bring her coffee a few times – lunch once, and there had been an intense twenty minutes of mouths and hands in her office before he was summoned to mediate a discussion between Tony and Nat. All in all, Steve was really looking forward to date number three. He vacillated for a moment between good manners and what he wanted to do, which was pull her into the first alley they passed and kiss her senseless. He settled for something in between. He tipped his head so that his breath would blow across her earlobe and whispered in a low voice,
“I only give rewards for bad behavior.”
He was pleased to hear her breath catch; her chest heaved just a bit under her red coat. Steve would admit he looked, he was only human. Her cheeks definitely gained more color and the tip of her pink tongue darted out to touch her lower lip. He wanted to catch it in his own mouth.
“Steven Rogers.” Her eyes were practically glowing behind her glasses. She leaned up on tiptoe, pressing her weight against his bicep. “My behavior will win every ribbon you’ve got. And then some,” she purred. She fell back on her feet and tugged him into their first stop of the day, but she could have lead him to an opium den and Steve wouldn’t have cared. He was preoccupied by the thought of Darcy, bare of everything but some strategically draped first place awards.
She would taste – look, look good in ribbons.
That only made his jeans uncomfortable and Steve was glad for the mid-thigh fall of his wool coat. It also brought up a hazy dream, or maybe a fantasy, of Darcy in his bathroom. Steam all around her and the smell of vanilla in the air. He was tall enough he had seen everything, and no amount of foggy glass could conceal how soft and delicious Darcy was when naked. And shocked. She had looked really shocked, which was out of place for a fantasy.
“Did I say you tasted pink?” He blurted.
Darcy raised an eyebrow, and it was only then he noticed the salesperson approaching and then promptly veering off to help another customer. He had never been so happy that wearing sunglasses and a hat inside was only considered mildly ill-mannered in the 21st century. The last thing they needed was a report that Captain America was propositioning a woman in a furniture store.
“Don’t worry, Steve.” She patted his arm with false sympathy. It wasn’t hard to tell when Darcy was being sarcastic or funny. Her mouth was moving. “You were a perfect gentlemen. And you called me pretty, which was nice.” He was about to smile, relieved that if he had actually seen her naked at least she wasn’t offended, and also trying not to desperately recall every inch of skin he could remember, when she continued, “And you told me all about your first anatomy lesson, so I understand that you might not be able to help but stare.”
Steve felt his mouth fall open. He recalled his first time seeing a naked girl. Mostly naked. Bucky had led him around the side of the gymnasium after school with the promise that he had a jar of spiced apples in his lunch sack they could share, only to find out Buck had timed their snack to coincide with the high school girls’ finishing up in the locker rooms. The locker rooms which had windows at ground level in the narrow walkway where no one was allowed to hang out and which made a perfect hiding spot for two boys with sweets. Steve’s neighbor, Gertrude Akheimer, had seen them and screamed bloody murder. Bucky had had to bite his own arm to keep from laughing and giving away their hiding spot behind the cafeteria dumpster. Steve had been equally embarrassed and confused about what Gertrude wore under her clothes.
He was definitely not confused about what Darcy looked like naked. He had strong, extremely strong feelings about her. Naked. In his shower.
She smirked, turned away, and pulled out her phone, comparing a photo on it to a sofa on display. “Do you think this has ‘clean, modern lines without being angular’? Salty nuts and scrotum, if Bucky was going to be this specific about your décor, he should have come himself. I’ll just send him a picture. He can decide. Do you care about this? Or does an artistic eye not…”
Steve followed Darcy around for the next three hours, looking at sofas in big furniture stores. He tested to make sure nothing groaned under his weight. Darcy bounced a lot – for ‘science’ she claimed – which he enjoyed. There were tables in small custom shops. Rugs in sketchy, back alley consignment stores and trendy designer galleries. He had opinions, and she listened and firmly repeated that it was his house and he should get want he wanted. She had weird taste, eclectic and bright and oddly charming when it wasn’t assaulting his eyeballs with colors and patterns he hadn’t known existed on Earth. Bucky repeatedly texted her that everything she sent him to look at was shit. Steve ignored him, purchasing the least obnoxious rug she liked and having it delivered to his place. He planned on putting it in one of the spare bedrooms. A guest wouldn’t have to look at it too long. And a kid would probably like the – Whoa. Slow down there.
He shook himself out of that train of thought and focused instead on steering them toward some lunch. He could hear Darcy’s stomach rumbling and his had been empty for way too long. He managed to spot a tiny corner table in a crowded deli and maneuver both Darcy and the bags she had collected into place before the other guy eyeing it up could get there.
“You okay holding down the fort while I get food?”
“I’ll beat off any chair poachers. Feed me, Seymour!” She dramatically laid the back of her hand against her forehead and tipped her head back, displaying a creamy line of neck and a peek of skin down her scarf. “The biggest sandwich they have. No mayonnaise. I can forgive a lot, Steve, but I swear to God if there is mayonnaise on my sandwich there will be hell to pay.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He returned her grin and noted how her eyes darkened just a little. If anyone had tried to tell him back in 1939 that good manners would turn women on he would have thought they were insane. In 2017, he’d dust off opening doors, pulling out chairs, and standing when Darcy entered the room (no matter how Natasha would scoff) if it meant those peacock blue eyes would heat an extra degree.
The counter staff didn’t even look at him as he ordered and paid. Steve loved the anonymity of New York. He filled drinks and checked Darcy’s sandwich twice – no mayo, before returning to her side to find her studiously ignoring a guy trying to talk her out of the second chair at her table. Steve wasn’t sure at first if the man was more interested in a place to sit or the well-filled out blouse that was revealed since Darcy had removed her coat. His jaw tightened when the guy moved close enough that her elbow brushed against his hip. Definitely not the seat. The asshole wasn’t even trying to hide how he was staring at her chest. Steve stopped carefully easing through the crowd and began striding with purpose.
He needn’t have bothered.
Darcy looked up from her phone just before Steve could get close enough to say anything.
“Look, dude. Seat’s taken. And I’m not interested.”
“Come on, maybe I made a bad first impression. How about I give you my number and-”
“Okay, now you’re starting to embarrass yourself. I said I’m not interested. So this is your chance to move along before it becomes a thing.” She set down her phone on the table, where it buzzed with notifications. People at other tables were starting to look, some in sympathy, others in amusement. “Next time, with some other woman, try talking to her before you ogle her boobs and see if that works out better for you.”
The man’s face flushed. “I-”
“Hey, sweetheart,” Steve slid the tray onto the table, and tried not to feel too satisfied with the way he could look down on the other man’s head. Or nervous about calling Darcy sweetheart in public. It was probably too possessive of him. “Avocado okay?”
Persistent guy turned, a condescending smirk on his face, no doubt ready to feel superior to whomever Darcy had saved a seat for. He did have on some expensive looking clothes so maybe he thought wealth was what should have made Darcy interested. But then, Natasha had picked out Steve’s coat – on Tony’s dime, so he felt confident he held his own in the looking financially comfortable category. And Erksine had ensured he took first place in the mind-your-manners-around-my-girl-or-I’ll-knock-out-your-teeth category. Not that Steve would actually hit a civilian for being rude. But it was pleasant to think about sometimes.
The guy’s eyes met Steve’s neck, he looked up, and blanched.
“Ooo – BLT, what have I done to deserve you?” Darcy didn’t even bother dismissing Persistent, but began unwrapping her sandwich and dumping the container of green glop all over the toast. She met Steve’s eyes and pushed out his seat with the toe of her boot. “I promise I will do it again – with fervor.” And she winked.
He noticed when Persistent slunk off, Steve always monitored potential threats even when his mind was considering other things. Things like the way Darcy’s white teeth crunched into the crisp bacon and the little noise she made when she licked a smear of guacamole off her bottom lip. Thank god for the serum, because without it there was no way Steve could have remained aware of his surroundings and still watched Darcy enjoy her lunch so thoroughly.
“Emmm,” she moaned around another mouthful and Steve took a bite of his own deluxe club to cover his interest in her enjoyment. “I almost forgot.” She swallowed and used her left ring finger, the only one not yet smeared with bacon grease or tomato juice, to unlock her phone and swipe through a few screens. “This was sent to me while you were in line. Thought you might want to see it.” She spun it around to face him and turned her full attention to her sandwich.
It took Steve a few bites to figure out what he was looking at. A message, from BoySlut, reading: We’re even, and a picture of Secretary Ross, in full uniform, standing in an office setting. Behind him was a generic looking man in a black suit. He had a white cord behind his ear. Security. It was the look on Ross’ face though, that really caught Steve’s attention. His skin looked clammy, gray and sort of damp. His eyes were wide, his mouth slack with shock. Maybe actual, medical shock, it was that blatant. He looked old. Beaten. Like a bully that had been knocked down for the first time and wouldn’t be getting back up for a while.
Steve’s precise attention to detail caught the name plate on the desk behind the Secretary. It was partially covered, but he could still make out enough of the title to guess the rest. “Darcy?” He tensed his shoulders, leaning over the table in an effort to remain unheard. The deli was loud, crowded, and unlikely to be under surveillance, but his time on the run had taught him to be careful. He whispered, “Is this photo from inside the White House?”
“Yerh,” she nodded, cheeks bulging with food and began licking her finger tips. She swallowed. “I think I tapped out my resource with this one. But it was for a worthy cause. Anyhow,” she grinned, eyes alight behind her glasses, and caressed the edge of her phone to draw his attention. “He got fired today. You wouldn’t believe the negotiating for that to happen under the new administration. Congressional inquiry pending. Happy third date, Steve!”
He stared at her, trying to understand how he had gotten so fucking lucky. She leaned forward too, stopping just before her eyes would have crossed to meet his gaze. Her voice dropped an octave into seductive territory.
“Do I get a reward now?”
“Sweetheart,” he breathed, no nerves in using the endearment this time, “you can have anything you want.”