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Hide Your Fears Away

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Darcy knew how to hide. It was ingrained from a very young age. Her mother was paranoid and suspicious of anyone she met, whether it be about her work, or about her daughter; she could never be too careful. For as long as she could remember, Darcy knew how to get out of the house any way possible. Her mother made it into a game to which only they knew the rules.

“Okay, my little shadow, are you ready to play?”

Darcy’s eyes widened as she nodded excitedly.

“Play Momma, play!” she whispered.

“That’s right sweetheart, so if I sit completely still, just like this-”

She froze looking ahead with wide eyes. Darcy curled around the ottoman enough to cover her body, and slowly slunk towards the door in the room. Her mother’s eyes watched her diligently. With soft footsteps, the toddler moved to the hallway and down the back steps into the garage where her Oscar the Grouch backpack lay waiting for her. She shuffled from the door behind the boxes scattered around and sat as quietly as possible like she had been taught.

“Okay, Darcy, time to come inside.”

Darcy ducked down and held her breath. Her little body shaking but no noise coming from her.

“I mean it Darcy, if you don’t come out, you’re in big trouble missy.”

Still no noise or move to get up. Darcy started to play with her pigtails nervously.

“Darcy Marie Lewis. This game is over, come out right this instant.”

Darcy pressed her knees into her cheeks and squinted through the small cracks. Her body was almost vibrating with tension. Three beats of silence stretched forever until finally her mother let out a small exhale of relief.

“Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was warm and gold.”

Darcy popped up and ran to her mother’s knees hugging them tight.

“You sounded mad, Momma.”

“I know sweet pea, but you did so good! You are the best hider I ever did see.”

Darcy giggled as two light hands ruffled her braids lovingly. Squirming out of her hold, she pulled her mother by the hand all the way upstairs for her favorite activity: Story time.

Every time it was the same; hide until Momma says so, don’t come out, don’t say anything. Darcy only ever saw it as a game. Something fun for her and maybe something to keep the quiet. She never thought she would need it. She never thought it meant anything.

Every few months, Darcy and her mother would pack up and move. Her mother called it their next adventure, and little Darcy was always excited to see what was next. At every new town, Darcy was allowed one new toy. At age 4, she usually picked whatever lit up the most. This time it was a Lite Brite. Darcy loved the colorful lights on the board; the happy child tapped on each color and giggled throughout the whole car ride.

At one point, moving her hand across the screen, she saw the board blink. Tilting her head, she stared at the lit up screen. She looked up at her mother then back down, but the board stayed stubbornly solid. Huffing, she went back to playing while her mother parked into their new driveway. When she didn’t get out right away, Darcy looked up to see an older bald man in front of the door. He smiled broadly at her mother, but Darcy didn’t like his smile. His lips were too thin and it reminded her of when her Momma was mad.

“Darcy, stay in the car.”

Darcy held the toy to her chest but hunched further into her car seat.

“Yes, Momma,” she whispered.

Her mother got out of the car and stalked up to the larger man in the suit.

“What are you doing here, Stane? I made it very clear I don’t want or need your help.” She snarled at him, trying her best to control the shaking of her hands.

“Now now, I am just here as a family friend. I can’t let you two little ladies alone in the world. Not when you mean so much to the mental health and stability of my own job and future employment.”

He smiled with dark eyes and put his arm around her shoulders, not deterred in the slightest when she flinched away from him.

“Now, I think it would be best if we all sat down and went over the plans together. You know, the plans you skipped out on when you left town in such a hurry?”

He sighed in mock disappointment as he shuffled her closer to the car. Raising his eyebrows, he let go of her to adjust his suit jacket and waited expectantly for her to move ahead. She stiffly opened the van door and started removing Darcy’s safety harness. Clutching the bright board by the handle, Darcy put her arms around her mother so she could hide her face in the hug.

She jerked her head at Obadiah, certain that he already had a key to her new house. Chuckling, Stane turned towards the house and sauntered in, giving passing glances at the empty rooms in the small bungalow and allowed the girls ahead through the hallway. Once situating Darcy into the corner of the living room, her mother turned to block Stane’s view of her.

Darcy dropped her toy for a moment, but her mother was too tense to notice. Hunching over the screen, she saw it flicker again. Scrunching up her nose, Darcy turned the screen side to side making sure not to break her new gift.

“Alright, we’re inside, Stane. What do you need?”

“Now now, Dr. Hansen. Let’s not get snippy. We both know how much trouble you would get in, if it were known exactly how much information you’ve stolen from Stark Industries. I wouldn’t want to get you in any hot water over corporate espionage.”

“Espionage?! I have never stolen any work that wasn’t mine to have, and you know this. I—”

“What I know, Doctor, is that a prominent scientist such as yourself up and left a highly prestigious employment opportunity without notice. You had an affair with the boss and, would you look here, a tiny carbon copy is along for the ride. If that doesn’t scream ulterior motive, then I’m sure the cool half million in your offshore accounts would raise all the right eyebrows.”

Maya sucked in a sharp breath, eyes wide and utterly seething at Obie’s smug face.

“What do you want, Obadiah?”

“Just information. I’d be inclined to know where you two lovely ladies are and when you would decide to leave. I’m also dying to hear all about little—where did she go?”

Stane’s face morphed from pleasant to glowering in an instant. The corner was empty except for the flickering lights of the Lite Brite. He ripped it off the floor and stomped up to Maya.

“What did you do?”

She lifted her chin and stared right in his eyes and said, “I have no idea what you mean.”

His lips thinned and he paced back shaking the toy toward the window before turning to face her. Composing himself, he smiled calmly.

“Call her back here. Now.”

Shrugging, Maya just raised her voice slightly, “Darcy! Come here please darling.”

Two seconds pass and no scurrying of feet passed by. Stane’s fist tightened around the toy, cracking it, and through clenched teeth he declared, “Again, or I swear you will regret it.”

“Darcy Marie, get back here right now!”

“Where is she?!”

“I told her, if she ever felt threatened, to go find the nearest police officer or adult to help.” Maya grinned at him, “You are welcome to stay and explain why my 4 year old is terrified of the strange man in the house with her mother.” She smirked at him.

“DARCY! Come out here now!” His voice shook the hallways and made Maya jump slightly. Glaring mutinously after several minutes, he threw the panel of lights near her head. She didn’t move but flinched slightly when the toy broke against the wall behind her.

“Something is going on here, and I’m going to find out what. This isn’t over.”

With that last threat hanging in the air, Stane marched out of the house slamming the door behind him. Maya waited as she heard the town car speed away. Even then, she waited, tears pooling around her eyes. She waited until 30 long minutes had passed and she rushed to the hallway, calling, “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was warm and gold!”

A blur of green and black tore through the house at a frightening speed.

“Momma!” Darcy hid in her mother’s legs, sobbing at the lowest volume possible, in case the loud giant was still around.

“I know, honey, I know. You did everything you were supposed to. My brave little shadow. Come on, let’s go. We’re leaving so he can’t come back.”

 

~

 

They moved again. This time to the East coast. Maya kept changing cars and never left an electronic trace. She would take money from ATMs at airports and bus terminals to cover her expenses, but then drove three states over. After calling a previous contact and securing a clean identity for herself, she got a part time job at a local pharmacy. She worked enough hours to not seem suspicious and to create a network that would report to the police if she went missing.

Another hurdle she was trying to avoid was Darcy starting preschool. She actively avoided registering the little girl for anything. Even when she was born she purposefully gave Maya’s mother’s maiden name to avoid linking her to Maya or Tony. She never changed Darcy’s name though. It was confusing enough for Maya, she didn’t want to put the little girl through any possible memory blunders.

The new apartment was small, but in a good neighborhood. Maya made sure to meet all the neighbors after extensive background digging. Every opportunity to ingrain herself into the community was made, but she avoided televised events or newspaper photographs. They stayed longer than any other spot. Almost a year passed and Maya even found a group of mothers that rotated turns for home preschool. No registration necessary.

Things were quiet and smooth. Darcy was happy with friends, and Maya started to breathe a little more each day. She was completely blindsided when an unmarked SUV arrived in front of the town’s pharmacy. As she was getting ready to go back inside, the back door opened revealing Obadiah in a black suit. As he moved away from the door, she glimpsed Darcy in her carseat. She had a small monkey in her lap but was sleeping quietly.

“What did you do? What did you give her?” She whispered frantically.

“Now now, she’s just fine. She had an allergic reaction at school and the moms just didn’t know. Luckily I was there a bit earlier and gave her a small dose of antihistamine. She’s just dozing off. Now come along sweetheart, I know you want to make sure Darcy’s okay for yourself, isn’t that right?”

There was a dark gleam in his eye as Maya clutched her purse to her chest and nodded quickly. Sidestepping him off the curb, she clambered onto the back seat and ran her hand down Darcy’s small face. Her breathing was deep and even, but she had slightly raised bumps on her neck and hands. The door closed behind her and Obadiah got in the front seat. Nodding to the driver, he turned in his seat, “Buckle up, we’ve got a drive ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

“How did you find us, Stane?” Maya adjusted her seat belt to crowd closer to Darcy.

He chuckled mirthlessly. “Why? So you can avoid it in the future? Let’s just say I have access to just a very intelligent system.”

Darcy began whimpering and turned into her mother’s warmth. Maya laid a soothing hand on the child’s cheek and kissed her forehead, frowning when she felt the heat of it.

“Whatever you gave her is making her sick! What was it and how much did you give her?”

Stane sighed shaking his head. “I swear, hysterical women are not worth it.”

He turned once again and extended his hand with a thin metal rod. Maya felt a zap and her muscles seized up. Unable to move with the tension and pain in her limbs, she saw Obadiah put away the rod. She tried gasping for breath, but each attempt burned in her chest. Maya’s eyes watered as her body started to tremble. Obadiah reached over and lightly tipped her over towards the window.

“Now then, I’ll give you some time to calm down. Do you think you can handle that, Dr. Hansen?”

Maya could only whimper pathetically. She tried moving her hands to get to Darcy, even just to hold her hand, but couldn’t get her limbs to respond. Closing her eyes was difficult enough, but the tears rolled down her cheeks as she took in shallow breaths.

They were in the car for over an hour. In that time Darcy only adjusted in her seat but never woke up. Maya was slowly gaining control of her fingers when they stopped at a wide military hangar.

Four men in suits and sunglasses met the SUV at the entrance. Two opened Maya’s side and grabbed her arms when she shifted towards the floor. One unbuckled her seatbelt but she tried to struggle to get to Darcy. Stane looked almost bored getting out of the passenger side door.

“Bring her to Exam Room 1. I’ve got the girl.” He walked around the other side and unbuckled Darcy. Lifting her from her seat, he rested her on his shoulder as he followed the team inside. Maya tried to yell, but her jaw was slow in reacting, muffling her angry screams. Her feet were dragging and she felt the prickling sensation throughout her body.

The men dragged her through hallways and down one set of stairs. Opening a door at the far end of the corridor, the men entered a room. They laid her propped up in one of the several seats set up in front of a window. The room it overlooked was plain white with only one twin bed in the corner. The door to the room had no doorknob, but opened inwards, revealing Obadiah stepping in with Darcy still asleep. He set her down on the bed and walked swiftly to the door, laying his hand to the side to have it pop open again.

Maya’s breath caught in her throat. Clumsily, she shifted in her chair towards her daughter, reaching out one hand to lean against the window separating them. Stane walked into the room followed by several men in white coats. Curling around her seat protectively, Maya glared balefully at the group crowding around with clipboards.

“Alright, gentlemen, I want the whole slew of tests. Tell me if this little girl is a mutant, enhanced, or just efficiently trained. We don’t go home until we have conclusive evidence either way. Is this understood?”

“You can’t. She’s just—she’s only five!” Maya rasped out. She put a trembling hand to her throat willing her voice to sound more firm and unmovable.

Obadiah barely glanced up to look at her. “Keep an eye on the mother. If she gives you any trouble, have her removed to another room. Give me updates on the hour.”

Murmurs of agreement came up from the group. Stane left the room, pulling a small recording device out of his pocket. He clicked it a few times before he closed the door after him. The scientists clustered around the window and a large machine in the corner.

“What are you doing? What’s happening?” Maya was desperate, but the men continued to ignore her. One of the scientists left the room and appeared on the other side of the window. He went up to Darcy kneeling on the floor to take her pulse and write down his findings. Darcy started to stir and the scientist stood up and stepped to the side.

Darcy lifted her head and leaned on her small arms. One side of her face was still slightly blotchy, and she ran a tiny fist over her eye before opening them both. Maya’s heart clenched at the uncertainty in her daughter’s eyes. Glancing at the strange man, she slowly sat up, curling around her body, mimicking Maya’s body language.

“Who are you? Where’s my momma?” Darcy’s small voice was clear and slightly angry.

“Subject seems to be fully awake. No signs of concussion, nor is cognitive function impaired.” The man took out a small light and sat on the bed facing Darcy. She scooted as far away as possible. In one swift motion, the scientist reached out and grabbed her by the arm, moving her forward into the light. He checked her eyes and ears, deaf to her cries and attempts to get away.

Sighing with a breath of annoyance, the man gripped Darcy’s arm and shook it firmly. Maya was out of her seat and banging on the window with all her might.

“Let her go or I’ll rip you apart! LET. HER. GO. RIGHT. NOW!” Maya hit the window with each word and she saw Darcy look up trying to find her. The little girl was practically vibrating in her seat out of fear. Suddenly, the lights flickered and the scientist had an arm full of air. There was a flurry of activity on Maya’s side of the window and the intercom sprang to life.

“Dr. Roan, stay completely still, our readings show that the girl is still in there. We are going to administer a sedative to see if we can find her.”

Roan looked slightly confused with his arm still out, but nodded. A light blue mist flooded the room from bottom to top. Roan’s legs shuddered under his weight crumpling onto the bed. Maya felt helpless on the other side of the mirror as she saw Darcy reappear in the corner huddled up. The doctor moved to the exit and opened the exam room next door. Maya saw her chance and lunged after the man. As he was putting his hand on the wall, Maya rammed into him and dashed into the room.

She gathered Darcy in her arms pressing a kiss on her forehead. By the time she turned around, the main scientist was blocking the doorway, looking distinctly ruffled. He nodded towards Dr. Roan, who was still drowsy from the limited sedative injected in the room. Helping him up, they turned to Maya, sneering down at her.

“Fine, you’ll just wait here for Mr. Stane.” Turning to the window between the rooms, he said “Don’t turn on the sedative. It’ll damage the mutant further.”

With that, both scientists stumbled out of the room before slamming the door shut. Maya glanced at the window and hoisted Darcy so she was tucked under her chin against her shoulder. Keeping an eye on the doorway, she moved across the room and put her back to the corner. Smoothing back the little girl’s hair, she sat down to wait.

“Come on, my little shadow, wake up. Please, we need to play now. Sweetheart, open those eyes for me.” Maya whispered encouragements and pleas into her daughter’s ear but Darcy wouldn’t wake up. She took a deep breath and looked to the ceiling, holding back tears. She steadied herself and tried to find a way out of the room.

Before she could try to inspect the window, the door opened again. Obadiah stood in the doorway and nodded behind him to the scientists. He closed the door and walked up to survey the girls in the corner. He sighed and shook his head slightly.

“You’re making this more difficult than it has to be, Dr. Hansen. Surely as a woman of Science you can see reason. The child needs to be tested, for safety concerns.”

Maya snarled at him, “You’re not touching her, Stane. I don’t care who you have on your side, she’s a child, she’s no threat to you.”

Stane’s eyes grew in anger and he stalked forward with thinly veiled disgust. “She’s a mutant. As long as we are in the dark about what she can do, we’re all in danger.”

Maya held Darcy closer to her, trying to move away from Stane. He simply reached over and hauled Maya to her feet bringing her up to his face. Smoothing out the anger lines and pasting a smarmy smile, he cocked his head and spoke in a cajoling tone.

“Now, Dr. Hansen. Maya. For the good of everyone, let’s not be difficult and give us the girl.”

May twisted in his grasp and spit in his face. “GO. TO. HELL.”

With his eyes closed, Obadiah tightened his grasp on her arm. He moved his left hand towards the handkerchief in his front pocket. Wiping away the spit on his cheek, he tsked under his breath. He threw the handkerchief on the bed and searched his inside pocket. He swiftly reached out and stabbed Maya’s arm with a syringe.

Tensing up, Maya tried speaking but the words slurred together. Her grip on Darcy loosened and she fell to her knees. Stane caught Darcy before she hit the floor and hoisted her up again.

“Dr. Hansen, you just had to make it difficult.” Turning to the window, he yelled at the scientists, “Make sure she doesn’t leave this room. I want guards outside, make sure she doesn’t interrupt again.”

Maya’s knees gave out and she was left struggling for consciousness on the floor. She tried to claw her way out of the rapidly approaching dark, but nothing would slow the drug. Her final thought before succumbing to sleep was of Darcy.

~

Stane walked through the hallways with the little Stark brat in his arms. Of all the women that Tony dabbled with over the years, of course the only one that pops out an heir has the damn mutant gene. Stane opened the door to Exam Room 7. He turned to the scientist that followed him. Rutherford or something like it.

“The only biometrics allowed in this room are Benning and myself. Am I clear, Rutherford?”

“It’s Richardson, sir.” Stane looked around before looking back at the small man in front of him.

“Who the fuck cares what your name is, Rutherford? Nobody gets in this damn room, understand?!”

“Y-yes sir! I’ll inform the rest of the team!”

The man scurried away and Stane could only huff rolling his eyes at the incompetence money bought these days. This exam room had a longer bed in the middle of the room. He walked over and shifted the girl onto the bed. As he put her down she started to shift. He quickly reached out to grab her arm and tied down the first restraint.

The belts lined the edge of the bed all the way down, but Stane only need 4 ties to secure the girl completely. As he was tying the two cuffs on her wrists, two wide eyes blinked up at him. Nervously darting around the room looking for her mother no doubt.

“Your mother is sleeping because she couldn’t keep her damn mouth shut, so we’re finishing this without her.”

Tiny eyes lost their fear for a moment as the slip of a kid glared at him. He would be annoyed if it wasn’t so funny.

“Don’t talk about my momma like that.” Righteous fury from a 5 year barely intimidated a duckling. Curling his lip, Stane leaned down and narrowed his eyes at her, his hands pressed her shoulders to the table. Darcy tried to pull away but she couldn’t move.

“Listen here little lady, we’ve spent a good amount of time and effort not to mention money trying to figure what makes you tick. So sit down, shut up and I promise, you and mommy will go home mostly in one piece. You make this harder than it needs to be...well, then I have no problem showing a mutant where they belong.”

With the last word he shoved off Darcy’s small chest knocking out her breath and making her cry out. Stane turned towards the window, yelling out for the scientist to start the damn process. Darcy was shaking against her restraints trying to remove them but nothing would budge. The cuffs cut into her thumbs and the band over her stomach was bruising her sides.

The man with a bright white coat came in with a tray full of sharp metal objects. Just the sight of the sharp needles made Darcy dizzy with fear. The scientist stopped by the table and started to arrange his tools. Looking up briefly, he addressed Stane.

“According to all the medical data we have on mutants, we can observe the mutant gene best through bone marrow. We already know she has abilities that can affect her whole body, so her marrow will be able to tell us the most information. We have the labs ready for the sample as soon as we obtain it.” He set aside a large thick needle close to him.

Stane nodded. “Find me when you get the results. Get to work, Dr. Benning.”

Chapter Text

Stane had barely left the hangar when the shrill sound of his phone went off.

“Sir, you need to come up and see this. It’s urgent.”

“Benning, If I go upstairs and you don’t have results for me, you’re going to have a whole new meaning of urgent, you hear me?”

“Y-yes, sir, Mr. Stane, but the girl! She’s glowing, sir.”

Stane flipped his phone shut and motioned to the driver to move back to his station. Turning around he stalked the way he came until he was outside the exam room. Light was glowing from the crevices of the door. Stane only hesitated slightly before moving into the viewing room next door. The large viewing window had a glare from the bright—almost blue—light coming from the exam room.

“Turn the damn lights off. They’re adding to the glare!”

The scientists turned off all lights except the emergency lighting. Darcy appeared to be vibrating and was trying to scramble away from her bindings, but the restraints were too tight. Her eyes were darting all over the room in fear. Stane kept his eyes on the girl while the scientists monitored her vitals.

“Her BP is rising! Dr. Richardson, we have to administer a sedative intravenously. We can’t use the gas again so soon. Can you get closer?”

The doctor inside the room tried to get closer to the thrashing child, but the closer he got to the bright light, the more his skin burned. Only a few feet away, he couldn’t stand the pain any longer and wrenched himself backwards to safety.

“The light around her is pure energy, I can’t get close. She’s gonna burn up the room! Let me out now!”

Stane interrupted before Bennings could open the door. “We can’t do that, doctor. If we open that door for a second, we could lose her. Her speed is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Use the gas sedative, it’s worked well before.”

Bennings turned incredulous eyes on Stane. “Sir! We can’t use the gas multiple times on a subject within only hours of the first use. The repetition of the sedative would cause intense neurological damage, not to mention her age and Dr. Richardson’s own health.”

Stane stared down at the slight doctor. “Let’s get something straight, doctor, that mutant in there has important information coded into her very DNA. I don’t care if she’s turned into a drooling monkey, or your colleague has to drink through a tube for the rest of his life, knock her out or I will!”

Bennings stared at him in horror, but didn’t move from his frozen place by the control panel. Stane made an impatient noise and shoved him out of the way. He slammed his meaty fist on the button to release the gaseous sedative.

As soon as Dr. Richardson heard the gas from the vents, he turned and ran to the door, trying to open it. His hands were shaking and he was trying to take only shallow breaths. As soon as the gas hit his side of the room, his knees started shaking. Somehow, he was sure that the light was getting brighter.

Dr. Bennings was monitoring the vitals signs of both Richardson and the mutant girl. While RIchardson’s heartbeat was slowing down, the girl’s was increasing to a dangerous rhythm. He tried to adjust the amount of sedative going into the room, but nothing helped. The light was getting brighter and brighter.

“Mr. Stane! The sedative is accelerating her mutation! I don’t know how but her vitals are all over the place.”

Just then, an agonized scream tore through the room. The light was bright against the window and neither Stane nor Bennings could see through it. The machines finally quieted down, and after another minute, the light edged away.

“Oh my god.” Bennings horrified whisper was drowned out by Stane’s roar of anger. In the room, where Richardson had been standing a few moments ago, there was only a small pile of white dust. Worse, there was no sign of the child at all.

“WHERE IS SHE?!” Stane rounded on Bennings, glaring at the poor doctor who was shaking and looking back into the exam room with wild fear in his eyes.

“Sir, she’s gone. The machines have no record of her vitals. It’s like she disappeared out of thin air.”

“Well, clearly that isn’t possible. FIND HER! And someone bring me her mother. It’s time to find out what this brat can do. I don’t care if we have to pry it out of her, she will tell us everything. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”

The doctor nodded and made the request over the radio frequency. His eyes kept straying to what was left of his colleague. Not for the first time, he regretted taking this position. He worked better with theories and equations. Hands-on interaction with mutants was never supposed to be in the cards. After this mess was over, he was definitely going to take up the professor position offered at that small school in upstate New York. If he never saw another mutant in person, it would be too soon.

~

Darcy’s whole body hurt. The shaking finally stopped, but her head ached and her body felt like lead. She tried to open her eyes, but they seemed stuck together and gritty. There was a loud ringing in her ears that was slowly fading. She felt more than heard a light shuffling noise, and then there was a sharp poke to her stomach.

She curled in on herself and let out an involuntary whimper. A few seconds passed where her hearing tuned in and out until it was normal. Another sharp poke and several giggles came from above her. Suddenly a tentative kick came near her head and she couldn’t stop the sob that burst out of her.

“Hey, get away from there! Whaddya think you’re doing?”

There was a scuffle and the sound of several punches landing. The shaking came back full force, and a slight tingling traveled from the tips of her fingers through the rest of her hands. She whimpered at the pain and tried to push it down. She heard another voice enter the fight. More grunts came through to Darcy’s consciousness, and she was finally able to blink away the grit.

She saw several boys in a grimy alleyway, her back was pressed up against a dumpster and it seemed as if some of the boys were running away to the street. Taking deep breaths and focusing on calming her full body shivers, Darcy pressed her body further into the corner of the dumpster and the alley wall.

She eyed the last two boys with distrust. Trying to find a quick exit was impossible, and her feet still wouldn’t cooperate. So instead, she just curled tighter against her knees and watched the taller boy help the smaller one up.

They dusted off their knees and the smaller one lifted a hand to wipe at his bloody lip. The larger one tried to help arrange the blond’s coat. Shrugging him off, the smaller boy turned to Darcy with wide blue eyes filled with concern. She tucked her eyes down by her knees to avoid seeing him, hoping that he couldn’t see her.

“Hey now, ‘m not gonna hurt you, doll. Just wanna make sure you’re a’right.”

He stopped a few feet away from her and turned pleading eyes to his friend. Huffing out a sigh, the taller boy shuffled his feet, but didn’t come closer.

“Sweetheart, please. Your head is bleedin’ something awful, I know you’re scared, but you gotta let us look at it. We won’t hurt you none, honest. Stevie here was gettin’ them boys away from you. Stevie’s Ma is a nurse.”

Darcy sniffled a little before turning wide eyes on the boys. “Do...do you know where my momma is?”

Both boys deflated a little and looked at each other. The blond scrubbed his hand over his hair uncomfortably and looked to the other for help. The brunette pulled the small boy back so as not to crowd her and then knelt down to look her in the eyes.

“Ah, no honey, I don’t, but Stevie and I can help you look, soon as we get that pretty little head looked at. My name is James, but you can call me Bucky. What’s your name, little lady?”

Small tears ran down her cheeks and her voice wobbled. “M’ Darcy. Momma said I can’t talk to strangers though.”

Bucky smiled softly at her, “Your momma’s a smart lady. We just wanna help you and then we can look for your ma, is that okay?”

Darcy looked at both boys, they were older than her, but nowhere near as old as the giant man. They had kind eyes, like Mrs. Jones at daycare.

“Will you keep me away from the bad man?” She whispered.

Bucky’s eyes crinkled with compassion, while Stevie stood ramrod straight with worry.

“Yea, sweetheart, let’s get you to Mrs. Sarah. She can help with all of that.”

He extended his hand to her, and with some difficulty, Darcy grabbed onto his fingers, but she couldn’t make her legs move. She stifled a whimper, but Bucky just adjusted his grip and had her cradled on his shoulder without jostling her too much. He ran a soft hand down her head and turned to Stevie, nodding and motioning to the exit of the alleyway.

Darcy slowly wrapped her fingers in his collar and turned her unbruised side of her face into his shoulder. Every few steps, he would rub his hand down her back soothingly. She saw Steve glance back a few times, but she was too busy looking at streets.

Things seemed different here and she wasn’t sure why. The people dressed differently than any of the town’s momma had taken her to, so she didn’t know where she was, she just knew she had to get as far away from the bad giant man as she could.

They turned into an old apartment building and few flight of stairs. Stevie hurried ahead to find his ma, but Bucky took Darcy to the couch making sure to set her down gently. As he tried to move way, Darcy grabbed his fingers and tried to hide behind him as she took in the new area.

Bucky chuckled but kept his hand available as he crouched down on the floor. He didn’t want to tower over her and scare her even more. As he sat with Darcy near his shoulder, he saw Mrs. Sarah come in with Stevie behind her. Darcy shrunk behind his head and all Bucky could do was wiggle his free fingers at Steve and his mother.

“Oh y’ poor dear. Do y’need some water, maybe a glass o’ milk? Are y’hungry at all, dear child?”

Her voice was soft but strong, with a strange lilt to Darcy’s ears. But it was comforting and without even noticing, she moved away from Bucky and lifted her arms towards the woman. Without any more prompting, Sarah swiftly picked up the small girl and cuddled her softly, aware of her injuries. Slowly rocking the girl, she moved into the kitchen.

“Steven, get me a pail ‘o milk started on the stove. James, bring me my bag from my room, we can get this little one fix up in just a smidge of time.”

Chapter Text

Steve was nervously pacing the small living room, cautiously glancing back in the kitchen where his mother was coaxing the tiny girl to eat something. The conversation was so familiar to him that if he wasn’t so worried, he might have laughed. Bucky was sitting on the loveseat reading through the comics of the Sunday paper, calm as could be.

The blond 15 year old was abuzz with nervous energy. The little girl from the alley seemed fine with his mother, but her bruised and disoriented state was cause for alarm. Steve’s had enough concussions to know the shakes and nausea it can cause, especially in a small body. Turning, he shuffled to the worn cushions next to Bucky and perched half on the arm to keep an eye on the two ladies in the kitchen.

Bucky rested his hand on Steve’s shoulder, trying to offer comfort while not looking away from the comics. For all his disinterested air, Steve knew that there was a distinct tension in Bucky’s grip.

“Calm down punk. She’s in no safer arms than your ma. She’ll be right as rain soon enough, Lord knows Mrs. Sarah has enough practice tending to a tiny body that belongs to a fightin’ fool.”

Steve bristled at the fond teasing, “She wasn’t fightin’ and you know it Buck! It wasn’t her fault.” Bucky squeezed slightly and gave Steve a smirk. The blond huffed out before settling further in his seat.

“Buck, she looks just like her…” Steve’s voice was lowered, almost pleading with his oldest friend.

The brunette gave him a sad smile before sighing out the old argument, “Don’t go chasing ghost stories again, Steve. It’s been years and that little girl in there is barely five herself. What happened wasn’t anyone’s fault. Least of all you.”

Steve’s shoulders hunched in near his ears and he mumbled a half-hearted reply. His eyes still didn’t move off the little girl in his mother’s arms. His mind couldn’t wrap around the striking similarities from his memory. Rubbing the heel of his hand over his twitching eyebrow, he settled in and snuck the last pages of the comics section from Bucky.

A few minutes passed and Sarah moves into the room slowly with arm full of little girl. Sleepy eyes looked at the boys, but small tremors kept going through Darcy as she clung to Sarah Rogers. With a slight whisper, Sarah turned to the boys.

“‘ll set this little one to bed in your room Steven, when I come back, I better be hearin’ all about my new friend here, understood boys?”
“Yes Ma’am” they chimed in quickly.

Bucky and Steve looked at each other. Steve was slightly nervous, he could never lie to his Ma, but Bucky was glaring at him in warning. He knew what he would sound like, he knew what Bucky thought about his theory.

They only waited a few more moments before Sarah Rogers came out with a stern look on her face. She held up one finger and moved to the arm chair across from Bucky. Leaning back, she looked first to Bucky then settled her eyes onto her son, who she knew couldn’t lie to her.

Sure enough, Steven started to fidget under her gaze, surreptitiously looking to Bucky for help. Clearing her throat, she made the boys look at her until they gulped and straightened against the lumpy couch.

“Ma, I had to help! Those no good boys from down the street kept poking her, one even looked like he was about to kick her!”

Sarah’s eyes cut to Bucky, looking for confirmation. His voice was quieter, but no less certain.

“He’s right Mrs. Sarah. They were up to no good. I saw them do the same thing to a stray dog a few weeks ago. A couple of bruises on us is better than whatever they were planning on doing to that little girl.” He finished with a self-assured nod.

Sarah Rogers considered herself a fair person, even if her son would test every nerve in her body with worry and exasperation. She tried to hold back a fond smile when she looked upon her stubborn Steven. She wasn’t about to reprimand good deeds, especially when he saved an innocent child from Heaven’s knows what.

A slight smile tugged at her lips, “Boys, I’da never scold ya for doin’ right by a young one. But she’s mighty confused. What did she tell ya about herself?”

Another nervous pause, before Bucky volunteered. “Well, Ma’am, she mentioned something about a ‘bad man’ and she was all types of terrified. She didn’t say much but she was looking for her Ma something fierce.”

Sarah’s eyes got sad, and an itch in Steve’s heart wanted to make the soft look go away. Leaning forward, he tried to catch her eyes.

“But we found her only a few blocks away. We thought maybe, since you know most of the mothers at down at St. Lawrence, you would know if any little girls were missing?” He looked at his mother with hopeful eyes, with absolute trust that she could fix this.

“I was hopin’ she told you where she’s from. She kept sayin’ she’d never bee’ to New York, let alone Brooklyn. I dunno if it was just the bump to the head, or if she truly doesn’t remember the trip here. She said she was from Willowdale, Virginia. Said it was important she remembered. Poor dear. Tomorrow ’ll ask around the hospital to see if anyone reported ‘er. Would you boys stay with her? S’only right we keep an eye on ‘er as much as possible.”

The boys readily agreed, but she saw the same nervous pinch to her Steven’s lips like when he tried to hide his latest black eye.

“What else aren’t ya telling me, Steven?”

Bucky closed his eyes and waiting for the inevitable.

“Ma...She- She looks just like, well- Maya.” He ended on a hushed whisper. Sarah’s eyes got wider, but then turned even sadder.

“Oh Steven-”

“Bucky said the same thing, but her eyes look just like hers, she is the spittin’ image! Just, I don’t know. Smaller.” Steve’s shoulders hunched in and he looked miserably down to the floor.

With a slight sigh, Bucky turned to Sarah with a resigned look. Sarah curled her fingers around the hem of her sleeves before reaching out and cupping Steve’s face.

“I will always be grateful to that girl. She saved my son’s life, and for that I promised I would always do what I could for her even if others may not agree. I don’t pretend to know what else she could be capable of, but even I don’t know of the limits with the enhanced. It wasn’t right what they did, but Steven, it’s been 10 years. That little girl in there is no older than five.”

Steve crossed his arms. He knew what she was saying, but something didn’t sit right in his gut. He knew Maya’s face, and it was the same as Darcy’s. But he just nodded and set up the couch to sleep through the night.

~

Maya’s throat burned and her eyes felt like lead. Her mind was speeding by but none of her limbs wanted to listen. Slowly she came aware of the floor and corners of a room pressing on her back. Her thoughts swirled together in an overwhelming wave, she tried to focus on one thought after another, but they kept disintegrating as soon as she focused.

A door slammed near her and her body flinched and recoiled at the pain. Pushing up on the floor, the pads of her fingers gripped the tile as she struggled towards consciousness.

“Wake up, Maya!” An awful cheerful voice came near her ear, then a terrible screeching noise drew near her. Tilting to the side and leaning on the wall, she grimaced into a bent position. In front of her, sitting on a stool, was Obadiah Stane. His cold eyes surveyed her, but there was a fake smile pasted on his face.

“We’re going to have a little chat, and if I don’t like the answers you give me- Well, No one is looking for you, so we have all the time in the world to get the right ones, now don’t we?”

Maya focused on her breathing, but information was slotting neatly in her head. The number of steps to the door, the number of fire sprinklers in the room, the amount of soldiers she remembered from the car to the exam room. Anything that could help her with escaping flew through her mind, trying to cobble together some semblance of a plan.

“Where’s Darcy?” She croaked out.

A satisfied smirk curled his lips. “There now. We have a common goal. We both need to find that little brat before things get out of hand.”

Terror gripped her heart. Blinking and dumbfounded, “She’s gone? She got away?”

Stane rolled his eyes. “Sure, a 5 year old got through all our systems on her own. You and I both know if she is out of this facility, it wasn’t on purpose. That means trouble for me, but even worse for you. I don’t know what she can do, so I can’t even imagine how bad it can go. You on the other hand? Tsk, you know exactly what she can do, and judging by that terror on your face, it’s not a good thing.”

He reached up and plucked a thin metal rod from his front pocket. Turning it slightly and setting it on the floor in front of her, he leans back with a frown.

“So just think of me as on your side Dr. Hansen. We both want your girl back here where she can cause the least amount of trouble. Sure, we want different end results, but I won’t underestimate you if you won’t underestimate me. I guarantee without your help, my end result will be exceedingly more messy. You don’t want that, now do you?”

Stane’s smile was all teeth, making Maya want to vomit on his expensive italian leather shoes. Clenching her teeth, she went over all her options. If it was true and Darcy was out of the facility, there was no telling where she could have gone. She had no control, there was no research or testing that could give her any inkling to what Darcy could actually do. There was nothing that regulated the small bursts of power she showed when she was born.

“I don’t know where she is. I don’t know how to find out. Fear makes the outcome worse, it throws off every cell in her body on a molecular level. Somehow a large man threatening her didn’t make her feel warm and fuzzy.”

Stane scoffed. “Well then, looks like we’re going to the lab.”

Maya gaped at him. “Are you deaf? We have nothing to test, there is nothing I can do, she’s not here, I can’t recreate anything.”

Stane’s lips thinned, “Molecular level you said? So if you had, say, access to her DNA, could you isolate the mutant gene she has to see what she’s capable of?”

Maya narrowed her eyes, growling low in her throat, “That’s not how molecular genealogy works Stane. In theory I could observe but I couldn’t manipulate outcomes. It’s not possible.”

Stane straightened over her, grabbing her arm and ignoring her grunt of pain as he dragged her along.

“You’re smart Maya. You’ll figure it out. After all, you have the most to lose out of all of us. Don’t you?”

Chapter Text

Darcy’s eyes itched, but didn’t close. She stubbornly kept them open, curled up against the corner of Steve’s twin bed. Her hand inched up, until the comfort of her thumb was pressed against the roof of her mouth. Momma kept trying to get her to stop. Gave her popsicles, things to hold, but Darcy couldn’t let go of her thumb.

She heard the boys and the pretty lady talking in hushed tones, but tears still sprang to her eyes. She was so tired and confused. She had slept so much that day though, but her head was still spinning with pain. Rubbing her cheek on the threadbare pillow, she chased the warmth in the small room.

The door to the hallway was left cracked open, letting in a small sliver of light. She could barely hear them now, and nothing they said made sense. The pretty lady with gold hair told her she was in New York. That couldn’t be right. When Momma moved them down from Maine, she stopped in New York to take Darcy to the huge toy store with the big piano on the floor. Darcy was so excited to see it, ever since she saw that movie.

But the New York outside didn’t match the New York she remembered. It was only a few months, but the city was smaller, quieter, not as many of those lights that blinded her the first time. No one dressed the same either. Mrs. Sarah was wearing the oddest white dress Darcy had ever seen, it was stiff instead of soft and had socks all the way up her legs.

Someone was fibbing and Darcy didn’t know why. Mrs. Sarah seemed so nice. Bucky and Steve were so caring, there was no way they could know Mr. Stane or the doctors. She hoped. Curling tighter into her borrowed shirt, she tried remembering more of the day. The cotton in her head stayed, and all she could focus on were her Momma’s screams. Shivering slightly, Darcy rubbed her eyes across the scratchy pillow. The tingling in her nose slowed down, but the tears kept falling.

A slight hitch in her throat had her burrowing down into the pillow. She didn’t want to let anyone know she was awake. She didn’t know where she was, and even if she had nice eyes, Mrs. Sarah might be lying. That scared her the most- if a mommy as nice as that was lying to her, she’d never get back to her momma.

Darcy breath shuddered inward and she heard a rasping breath in the hallway. Popping her eyes up above the pillow she strained to see in the now dark room. The hallway light was gone and everything was quiet except for a soft wet cough that turned into wheezing.

Darcy held her breath and tried to pinpoint where it was coming from. Her head popped out of the blanket she had covered herself with. Biting her lip she looked toward her door. The person was struggling just outside the hallway. Shrugging off the large comforter, Darcy wiggled on her stomach and landed feet first off the twin bed. She crept up to the door, then turned back and grabbed the smaller knitted blanket to wrap around her shoulders.

Tiptoeing to the door, she looked out through the hallway. Nothing came from Mrs. Sarah’s room, so it must have been Stevie on the couch. Pressed against the wall, Darcy shuffled through the darkness until she got to the edge of the living room. Steve’s back was facing her as he muffled as much of his breathing as he could. Darcy furrow her brows and adjusted the blanket to leave her hands free.

She padded over to the couch and slowly extended her arm. On the next labored breath Steve took, she gently but firmly smoothed her small hand between his shoulderblades. Even when he tensed and his breath hitched even more, Darcy kept a constant motion up and down while Steve’s breath calmed.

After a few minutes, Steve turned around to eye Darcy in the dim light. Darcy in turn, huddled in her blanket and sat down on the floor to look up at him. Her hand crept up to find her mouth again. She leaned back against the coffee table and stared up at him.

Steve cleared his throat and melted slightly at her large wet eyes.

“Couldn’t sleep? Must be strange to be away from home, and well, uh-”

He ended with an embarrassed mumble, ears tinged pink. Darcy tilted her head to the side and scrunched her nose. Pulling her thumb down to her chin.

“Momma always reads me a story ‘fore I sleep.”

Steve’s jaw worked at the word for a moment before stumbling over his tongue. “Story. Right, okay I can do that.” He scrambled off the couch, leaning back to keep from hitting Darcy’s knees. The little girl stood up and held her arms towards him. He, however, did not have the natural grace and smoothness Bucky had with small children. So instead of picking her up, he uncertainly lifted his arms half way, as if to mimic her and clasped her hands in his. Turning her in place, he moved forward with both of their arms up like she was Pinocchio.

Steve awkwardly walked her to his room like this, but instead of pulling away from him, Darcy giggled quietly and jumped up to follow his hands. Smiling weakly, Steve lifted her onto the bed and sat in the rickety old chair next to the bed. Wiping his hands on his knees, he tried to think of any story from his childhood he could remember.

Darcy saw him flounder, so she curled up on her side and looked at him. “Do you have any Nancy Drew books? Momma never gets through one, but I like how they start.”

Her eyes were wide and Steve felt a little like a heel denying her. “Um, sorry, I don’t think I know Ms. Drew and her writing. We- uh, we don’t really have many paperbacks nowadays.”

Darcy’s just kept staring at him with her nose scrunched up. Ruffling his hair nervously, “But my Ma told me a lot of fae stories from when she was young. How about one of those? I know about um, let’s see. Do you like stories about leprechauns?”

Darcy’s eyes got wide and she ducked down, “No Stevie, too scary.” She whispers.

Steve rushed a little, “Ok! It’s okay, how about, um, mermaids? Ma told me about them ever since I read Peter Pan…”

Darcy perked up, “Like Ariel?”

“Um, yes? Maybe like your friend Ariel.”

The little girl settled into the bed and stared up at Steve as he stumbled through a few stories about Mermaids on the Cliffs of Moher. He even imitated his mother’s light accent for a slight giggle from Darcy. Her eyes drooped, and Steve trailed off as he thought about her situation. It was too similar, she was too similar to the other girl from the alley.

Pursing his lips, he puffed up a bit, whispering, “Maya?”

Darcy’s eyes fluttered a bit and her eyebrows furrowed. Sluggish eyes peered at him.

“How- Do you know my momma, Steve?”

He choked on his tongue. “Maya is- your mother?”

~

Stane was interrupted from the interrogation by his phone chirping the same 6 bars of some ridiculous song. Closing his eyes against the twitch that started in his temple, he stalked from the room and answered his phone.

“Tony! What on earth did you do to my phone this time?” The bite was real, but he worked to lay some smooth jovial tones over his words. Stane heard tinny noises in the background indicating that he was on speakerphone.

“You needed some Funky Cold Medina, Obie. Your ringtone was in serious need of some upgrading. You don’t like it? Maybe not the right feel. How do you like Nelly? I’m sure I can find the right tone combination for one of his new songs…”

“Tony, you’re suppose to be in the Tokyo offices talking about the merger between the factories. Why does it sound like you’re in a garage instead?”

“Not a thing that’s happening anymore. Merger would’ve lost us money, I’m making sure that doesn’t happen.”

Stane tightened his hand over the metal of his phone, twisting up so Tony wouldn’t hear the aggravated sigh that escaped.

“Well, that’s an...interesting move, Tones. I thought we talked about this. With the merger, we can cut labor and increase productivity on the government projects. The army needs the contracts on time, and the merger puts us in a better position to make that deadline.”

“Eh, we’ll make the deadline, Obie, especially with two factories. Labor doesn’t need the cuts if they’re capable of making the timetable. Quality over quantity and all that, right?”

Reaching up, Stane pushed his fingers to his nose to stave off the fury he felt. He briefly imagined stringing Tony up and shaking him like he did his little brat. After a few seconds his rage passed and he let out a slight chuckle.

“Well, look at that. Never thought I’d see the day that you quoted your dad back to me, Tony. Gotta say, I am impressed. You’re right, if nothing’s broken, why not use the same strategy from your old man? Playing it safe has always gotten us through with the company.”

That stopped the tinkering in the background. Hesitantly Tony piped up, “Yeah, well, Dad was always a stickler for employee loyalty, even if it held onto the company’s baby weight through the years.”

Stane made a considering sound. “Well, the merger would be a way to trim the fat, even if it wasn’t about making the deadline, the company could only benefit from keeping the best minds around. That’s just a competitive job market you’re contributing to, right?”

There was a metal tap on the other end as Tony set down a tool. “Pushing the limits is basically a Tony Stark staple. Might as well live up to it. Alright Obie, but you gotta come back and wrap it up. The suits keep taking up my social time. It’s a waste of perfectly good booze.”

Smiling slightly, “Alright Tony, just try not to offend all of them before I get there. I’ll book the jet now.”

“Great, enough time to finish working on the video capabilities on this phone. Can we move up the timetable on the STARK phone? I think we could have a prototype by the end of the year that will blow your Razr out of the water.”

“You got it Tony, I’ll see you tomorrow as soon as I get in.”

He hung up and let out a relieved breath. Damn Tony. He never made his job easier. Slight nudges weren’t going to be enough to tip his hand anymore. He had his own contingencies in place, but if the little Stark brat was really lost, that was one plan he couldn’t tap into for Tony’s compliance.

There would only be so many times before Howard’s ghost stopped working against his stubborn kid. Tapping the small phone against his lips, he thought about the Ten Rings group that had approached him. Putting that idea on the back burner for now, he made the arrangements for his flight.