“Darcy, please just go get some coffee,” Jane snaps as she searches her desk. Papers flutter to the floor as Jane mutters incomprehensibly under her breath.
“I really don’t think you should have any more coffee today, Jane,” Darcy says flicking through playlists on her iPod, really starting to regret taking the internship. She had no clue what she was doing working for an astrophysicist, who spoke in almost indecipherable science jargon and had a coronary any time Darcy touched one of her machines. Her duties so far included collating data and making sure Jane was fed, watered and occasionally forcibly put to bed. It was boring, but the pop-tarts were free and the wifi was good.
Dr. Jane Foster was beautiful, brilliant, and driven. Things Darcy never thought she would ever be, though she was pretty sure she could be as tyrannical a boss as Jane could on a coffee bender with no sleep for the past forty-eight hours. “You need sleep, doc.”
“Coffee now,” Jane repeats, pointing at the door without looking up from her notes.
“Okay okay, don’t have to tell me twice,” Darcy says. With a shrug she pulls her glasses off, folds them carefully, and shoves them into a pocket of her sweater.
“I’m going,” Darcy huffs, waving her hands up in surrender. She was so buying Jane decaf though. Grabbing her jacket from the hook, she waves goodbye and heads out for the coffee shop down the block.
It’s a beautiful spring evening; coffees warm in her hands, the scent of garlic and cheese wafting on the breeze from the Italian restaurant across the road, her favorite playlist blaring through her headphones.
“Excuse me, have you got the time?” a man in a dark burgundy shirt inquires.
Taking a half step back, Darcy narrows her eyes and juggles the tray of coffees in her hands to slip her iPod out of her pocket, “Sixteen minutes past six.”
“What’s your name?” he asks with a slow smile.
“Darcy,” she says automatically, reaching up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “You?”
“Gabe, though it doesn’t really matter now,” he adds with another smile. This one is a little sad around the edges and doesn’t quite meet his eyes. Gabe brushes the pads of his fingers over the back of Darcy’s hand.
“Fuck off, dude,” Darcy says jerking her hand back and reaching for her taser lurking somewhere in the bottom of her bag, buried beneath an empty tube of chapstick she’d been meaning to throw out, three hairclips, two pens, a half filled notebook, and an assortment of foreign coins. She’s never stepped outside the continental US and doesn’t own a passport. Yet.
“You better hurry, darlin’, you’re gonna be late,” Gabe nods and turns his back on her. He doesn’t look at her, just turns and wanders down the street whistling.
“Asshole,” Darcy mutters under her breath.
It’s the last thing she says before she dies.
“Hey, dead girl,” a voice calls, as Darcy stumbles along the edge of the crowd gathering around the body, her body, curled up on the sidewalk. A hammer covered in blood inches away from a knit hat and an iPod cheerily playing through blood covered earbuds. Gross.
“This isn’t happening. This so totally is not happening to me. I’m not dead,” Darcy says stomping her foot on the ground and reaching up to touch the hat on her head. It still felt real. She still felt real. Except, except someone really should tell the barista who just stepped through Darcy. “Excuse you, bitch,” Darcy snaps, watching in horror as her arm solidifies back together. The barista ignores her, lifting up her phone to get a better angle of the body on the ground.
“She can’t hear you,” says the same voice again, capturing Darcy’s full attention. She looks around to see two men staring at her. One in a grey suit, with an apologetic smile plastered across his face, reminds her of her Junior High School counselor. The younger man is dressed in a scuffed leather jacket, dark skinny jeans and a faded black t-shirt.
“I’m not dead,” Darcy says again, tears trailing down her cheeks. Darcy’s protests make no impact on the man in front her. Her body is still there on the ground, in a pool of spilt coffee and blood.
“I’m sorry, Miss Lewis, but it’s true. I assure you of the fact you are dead,” says the suit, smiling benignly. It makes Darcy’s skin crawl.
“But I didn’t want to die. I’m nineteen I haven’t done anything. This isn’t fair,” she sniffles, scrubbing her tears furiously away.
“Death never is,” says the suit. His name is Phil Coulson and he’s about to be Darcy’s new boss.
“Are you like angels or something?”
“Oh we’re not angels, sweetheart. They don’t do wet-work. We’re grim reapers,” says the man in the leather jacket, James Barnes with a smirk that is equal parts charming and unnerving.
“Barnes,” Phil says. Phil the un-dead. But so was she.
“So what’s next?” Darcy asks, concentrating on nudging a salt shaker across the table with her fingertips.
“You, Miss Lewis, are going to be a grim reaper,” Phil says into his newspaper. Who even reads the newspaper anymore?
Darcy’s fingers pass through the salt shaker.
“Two waffles with extra bacon and two pancakes,” the waitress, Beth, announces with a tired smile. She sets four plates on the table though there are only the three of them seated in the booth. “Anything else I can get you?”
“No, thank you, Miss,” Phil says with a blissful smile.
A vaguely uncomfortable feeling settles in the pit of Darcy’s stomach, which was odd considering she can’t really feel anything. Darcy frowns down at the plate and crosses her arms over her stomach, “So what I’m supposed to wander around in black robes carrying a scythe?”
“It’s a job, Miss Lewis, not a b-movie. We reap souls from their bodies and mind them before they go off to their final destinations.”
“Like what the airport? I’m going to be a flight attendant without the flight?”
“Welcome to the ranks of the un-dead, please put your seatbelts on and your tray tables up,” Barnes interjects with a shit eating grin.
“Barnes and Rogers will show you the ropes later. Now eat your breakfast,” Coulson says lifting a forkful of eggs to his mouth.
“Breakfast...” Darcy says breathing in sharply. The smell of syrup, salt, grease and crappy coffee fills her lungs as she cautiously reaches out to touch the plate.
The plate is warm and solid beneath her fingers. Or rather her fingers are solid enough that she can touch the plate and pick up a slice of bacon, without concentrating on moving it. The bacon is greasy and salty and just about the best thing she has ever tasted. “Oh my God, this is so good,” she moans smoothing the butter over the waffle on her plate.
“I can tell,” Barnes smirks and Darcy kicks him under the table. Her foot connects with his shin and she grins at the stream of colorful curses that pass between his lips.
“Wait, who the hell is Rogers?" Darcy asks. She licks a spot of bacon grease from her fingertip. "Oh wait am I not supposed to say hell? Is that offensive?”
“Nah, angels are dicks,” Barnes dismisses, as he pours maple syrup all over his plate. Darcy wrinkles her nose and he winks at her, mouth curving up in a smirk. “Speak of the devil, Steve’s here now.” Barnes lifts his fork, syrup dripping onto the table top, and jabs it at the door.
Darcy looks up from her plate of waffles, following the direction of Barnes’ fork to see a tall blond in a grey hooded sweatshirt stride through the doors of the Waffle House.
“Where are Jones and Tasha?” Rogers asks, mouth turned down in a truly impressive scowl.
“Tasha’s got an early call and Jones got promoted. Meet the replacement, Darcy Lewis, recently un-dead. Darcy meet Captain Steve Rogers, one time war hero, and long time un-dead,” Bucky says.
Bucky and Steve have some sort of conversation without words, just twitching eyebrows and intense gazes. Which, whatever, they can totally eye fuck each other, Darcy really didn’t care. That was always the problem though, care too much or care too little, things never seemed to balance out in her life. What was her life anyway. Ugh, just no to everything.
Darcy’s fork scrapes across the plate and Steve’s eyes rake over her. She tries not to squirm and fails at it, cheeks heating up under his scrutiny. If she thought Barnes was pretty in a pornstar sort of way, then Rogers looked like a movie star that should have been on the cover of a magazine. Well, maybe not with the scowl he’s sporting, but still as pretty as the Nordic god Jane had been seeing the last month before Darcy went and died.
She wasn’t going to think about being dead, the autopsy, Jane sobbing at her funeral, or that punk kid that ran off with her iPod. Coulson said she wasn’t allowed to go haunt his ass. Being dead was a big bag of dicks as far as she was concerned.
“I, um, hi,” Darcy says dumbly, when she can’t stand the silence a moment longer. She wipes her fingers on a scratchy paper napkin and holds one out across the table. His hand is surprisingly warm for being dead.
Un-dead, she reminds herself.
“Miss Lewis,” Steve says. He squeezes her hand once before pulling his hand away. His jaw flexes and he slides the untouched plate of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, and pancakes closer.
“Darcy,” she corrects.
Bucky rolls his eyes and elbows Steve in the side, “She’s with us.”
Steve looks at Bucky and they have another conversation with twitching eyebrows, and tilted heads. Steve’s scowls and Bucky flashes a reckless grin. Darcy drops her gaze and pushes her plate away, wondering if she can slip under the table and crawl away or if that was too cowardly for a grim reaper. She looks longingly at the door, but when Coulson clears his throat, her shoulders slump in defeat.
“So when did you kick the bucket? Philip here won’t say when he died,” Darcy blurts out. Fuck my afterlife.
“It’s not polite to ask,” Coulson states from behind his newspaper.
“A lifetime,” Steve says with a bitter twist of his lips.
“Died in the war....World War Two,” Bucky answers with a shrug.
“Now you’re just fucking with me.”
“Nope,” Bucky grins and steals a piece of bacon from Steve’s plate, “Fell from a train fighting Nazi bastards. Hurt like a sonuvabitch.”
“And you?” Darcy asks, swinging her gaze to Steve. He looks paler than before as he sips his coffee.
“Plane crashed into the arctic in 1944. Froze to death before a reaper pulled me out of my body,” Steve says. His blue eyes look icy when they meet hers and she has to look away.
“He died a hero,” Coulson says, peering over his paper.
“You’re... you’re serious,” Darcy says. Steve nods once and she lifts her hand to reach out to him before pulling it back into her lap. Her belly twists as she tries to process everything said and find some bit of relevance and meaning to her life. Afterlife. Whatever. “Well, fuck."
“Not on the first date, sweetheart, Steve’s no hussy,” Bucky smirks.
“Jackass,” Steve rolls his eyes, but he grins behind the lip of his coffee cup. “So what happened to you, Darcy?”
“Oh, I got hammered,” Darcy says so bluntly it makes Bucky choke on his coffee. Steve shoots him a ‘what the fuck is wrong with you’ look and holds out his napkin. Bucky waves his hand away, wiping the coffee on his chin away with the back of his hand.
“As nice as this coffee klatch is, I have work to do and so do you,” Coulson says as he folds his newspaper up and pulls out a black leather wallet. He drops money and a yellow post it note on the table. “Good luck today, Miss Lewis.”
“What’s this?” Darcy asks, pointing the post it note; a name and a time written in neat block letters across it.
“The job. External influence division,” Coulson replies with that same unnervingly benign smile he had earlier. “Don’t be late.”
“External what the what?”
“We get all the messy stuff; murder, suicide and accidents,” Bucky says.
“Popping souls before they experience the pain of violent death,” Steve adds as he helps himself to the bacon left abandoned on Darcy’s plate.
“So what’s the deal with the post-it notes?”
“We get a name, an address and an ETD,” Steve explains as they hop off the bus. The bus as apparently reapers didn’t often own cars. Whatever. “Uh, the estimated time--,”
“Of death, yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Darcy supplies waving her hands. Steve halts his steps and arches a brow. “What? Dude, seriously, I watch CSI.” Or at least she did, before her life story switched to past tense. “So like why not send text messages? It seems a little old school...no offense.”
“None taken,” Steve replies.
“Used to be sent out by telegram,” Bucky says as they climb the steps to an apartment building. The lobby of the building is fancier than any place Darcy’s ever been to; marble floors, shiny brass, and exotic flowers in cut glass vases.
“C’mon. We’ve got an appointment to keep,” Steve says tapping Darcy’s elbow. She jumps at the touch, and Steve jerks his head towards the elevator. They slip past the door man, who doesn’t look up from his computer screen. Darcy fights the urge to wave at the man, but Steve tugs on the sleeve of her shirt to hurry her feet along. The elevator feels small and cramped and the bubble of hysterical laughter sits heavy on her chest.
“How long now?” Bucky asks when they step out onto the top floor of the building.
Steve pulls the post-it note from the pocket of his jeans, scans it and crumples it into a ball, “Two minutes.” He shoves the ball of paper back into his jeans and they walk towards the address on the post-it note.
Shots echo down the hall before they reach the door.
“Shit,” Bucky and Steve say in unison.
The door to the apartment opens and man in a grey coat walks out as calm as you please. A black leather briefcase is in his right hand, dabbing at spots of red on his face with a yellow handkerchief with his left. The man doesn’t look at them, just walks along the hall whistling a jaunty tune under his breath.
Steve and Bucky push ahead of her into the apartment. The apartment is done up in grey and white, and probably cost more than the rest of Darcy’s college education and a lifetime of being Jane’s minion.
Not that she had a life any more. Not since a hammer fell from the sky onto her fucking head.
It’s Steve who reaches the body first, reaching down and lifting the soul from his husk. He’s careful not to step in the pool of blood staining the white carpet. Honestly who has white carpets?
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” the soul babbles, running his hands over his chest, and staring wide eyed down at his empty body.
Steve talks with the soul, edging him away from his body with a sympathetic smile and polite nodding of his head. Darcy wraps her arms around her middle and tries not to say anything inappropriate, though what the hell could she say when standing at a murder scene with two un-dead grim reapers talking to the shade of the victim.
Movement catches the corner of her eye and she jumps. Just a little bit. Bucky snorts and shakes his head as he riffles through the pockets of the recently deceased. He pulls out a wallet, leafs through credit cards, receipts and takes the cash, stuffing it into the pocket of his jeans.
“The body isn’t even cold yet,” Darcy whispers.
“Believe me, kid, he doesn’t need it where he’s going,” Bucky flashes a crooked grin and pulls a phone out of another of the victim’s pockets and swipes his thumb across the lock screen.
“What’s...what’s that,” the soul asks, voice cracking.
“Where you need to go,” Steve says.
Darcy watches in fascinated horror as the soul looks over at a space of blank wall between two bland pop art canvases. His face lit up, like it’s his birthday, the Fourth of July and Christmas all rolled into one. The soul pulls away from Steve, and that’s it, he walks towards the wall and he’s gone. No heavenly choir singing, that Darcy can hear, no angels sitting on clouds plucking away at harps.
“That is so fucking weird,” Darcy whispers.
“Wanna see something really weird? Smile,” Bucky says.
“What?” Darcy asks. The phone clicks as Bucky snaps a picture.
“Catch,” he says and tosses the phone at her. The phone hits her arm and falls on the floor.
The girl on the screen isn’t her.
She’s pale like Darcy, with lank dark hair that looks in need of a wash and a cut. The girl’s eyes are brown where Darcy’s are blue. The hat perched on her head is the same as Darcy’s and so is the shirt but it really, really isn’t her.
“That’s what the living see when they look at you,” Steve says stepping up beside her.
The girl in the photo looks worn down by the weight of living. Ironic considering Darcy was newly un-dead.
“Do you think she’s pretty?” Darcy asks before she can stop herself.
“Not as pretty as you,” Steve says at the same time Bucky says ‘you’re tits are perkier.’ Steve reaches around her and smacks the back of Bucky’s head.
“Ow. What the fuck, Steve,” Bucky grumbles, rubbing the back of his head.
“Don’t be such a fuckin’ dick,” Steve says plucking the phone from Darcy’s hand. He deletes the photo and puts the phone back in the pants pocket of the deceased. “Come on let’s get out of here and find you some place to stay.”
Darcy takes one last look around, at the blood on the white carpet, and the pop art paintings that probably cost more than Jane’s lab.
“Hurry up, hammer girl,” Bucky calls out from the door.
Darcy wrinkles her nose at the nickname and carefully closes the door behind her. I miss my life and my iPod, she thinks. “Don’t call me that,” she says aloud.
“What should we call you then, sweetheart?’ Bucky asks, turning around to walk backwards down the hall. “I can think of a few things.”
“How about my name for starters,” she says.
“Good luck with that,” Steve snorts.
“Don’t ruin things, punk,” Bucky grins. He swings his arm out at Steve, who carefully sidesteps out of his reach.
“Is he always like that?” Darcy asks, arching her brows.
“You get used to it,” Steve grins lopsidedly. He takes a half-assed swing at Bucky’s head and Darcy finds an honest smile curving across her lips.