“Well, shit,” she blurted. She could stop the tears, but not the profanity. She never was very good at that part. A quick glance to the room around her and she found only one inquiring raised eyebrow. Hopefully they would assume she just lost her handy dandy notebook again, and not, well, everything else.
“Everything okay over there, Lewis?” a voice asked. It was male, which was weird because Jane most decidedly was not. It reminded her that no, they were not holed up in the tiny lab in the middle of nowhere anymore, but instead were doing the same work with the same machines in a huge-ass glass-bedecked monstrosity where others wandered in and out as they pleased.
Okay, that last part wasn't strictly the truth. They wandered in and out, yes, but only because they were still hauling stuff in. Some was old, some was new, and, frankly, she hadn't had the time to sort it all out yet. She had precisely enough time to hook her laptop up to the wi-fi and to check her mail.
Okay, again with the not-quite-truths. They had gotten in a day and a half ago, she slept for about a third of that, got a text that her data was pretty much maxed, and then worked on getting to the wi-fi while directing others where to stack stuff. Not that it mattered, really. The space was far too big for their meager belongings and most of said belongings were set to be replaced and/or upgraded sooner rather than later. It was a matter of working out what they needed and what actually survived transport. Maybe tossing in a wishlist of extraneous things along the way like “chairs that weren’t duck taped together” and “an electrical source that was actually grounded and didn't shock the shit out of her when she got within two feet of it” along the way.
“Lewis?” the voice prompted, and that reminded her that she hadn't actually answered it yet.
“Fine,” she managed, sounding anything but. A deep breath and a better try later, she insisted, “It’s fine. I just need to deal with something off-site. And figure out how to get off-site, but, whatever. It’ll be…”
“Fine?” the voice guessed on her behalf.
She closed her laptop to prevent inquiring eyes from seeing all the gory details and turned to Jane instead. “So, hey, you got this for the next hour or so? I've got to go check on a thing.”
Jane looked up from the latest delivery, ponytail half falling out and half held together by about six pens of varying hues. Darcy had taught her to color code her notes and there had been no turning back. “Thing?” she questioned.
“Thing,” Darcy confirmed with a decisive nod of her head. “A thing, many things, possibly missing things, my life is going to hell in a hand basket sort of thing. Wait, how long does it take to get to Culver from here? Because I need twice that plus time to bitch someone out.”
Jane actually put down the whatever it was she had been checking on at that. “Why Culver and what's missing?”
Darcy gave in and sighed. It wouldn't be that bad, but she knew curious and nosy well-doers were listening in. “Culver because that's where we went after the whole ass-end of Norway thing - you told off some bigwig and got your office back for a few months before we shot back over to England? Yeah, managed to get my stuff into a storage unit before we left. You can put the pieces together and guess what’s missing because you’re all smart like that.”
“Oh, Darcy, I'm so sorry…” Jane said because she did put the pieces together. “What do you need?”
“To borrow the van for a few? I swear I’ll duct tape the clutch back together again this time?”
She forced a smile and expected an eye roll or to be told to remember to fill the tank which would be funny because Jane was the one who always forgot that part. Instead, she got a rather terse, “She can’t go alone.”
It was a male voice again, but a different one than before. She turned in the direction of it to find a guy with some seriously built arms frowning at her. He smirked and probably flexed since the muscles were that much more prominent than before, but she got herself together enough to ask, “Ex-squeeze me? And you are? Because I'm a grown-ass woman who can take care of herself.”
“You're a grown-ass woman who can't even recognize me from surveilling you for months,” he countered. “At one point I literally sat at the table next to you and stared at you for an hour until the waitress told me I had passed the line to creeping. All you did was order a refill.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. She then adjusted her glasses and repeated the attempt. “You're one of the SHIELD guys, right? They stalked us enough that I just sort of blocked them all out. Not like any of you actually helped us fight the Giant Flaming Robot of Death when it came down to it. The only thing any of you seemed interested in was my bra size.”
The guy opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself at a look from one of the other guys just out of her line of sight. He made a face in that guy’s direction before he turned his attention back to her to explain, “My point is that you didn't see me, didn't see most of us. You, on the other hand, were just seen with Doc Foster again after being caught on one of the most popular You Tube vids in the past three years. You are now officially a target, like it or not, and can't go to some back alley storage place alone.”
“It’s not back alley…” she protested.
“I've been to Culver, any place a student can afford is back alley,” he countered. He then continued, “So, until we can get some other system in place, you wait for a Stark-approved security agent to take you there. Done. No objections.”
She slammed her palm down on the desk. “Oh, there’s objections,” she assured him. “There’s a fuck ton of objections, most of which start with the fact you don't fucking own me or have a say in my life. I'm not waiting or wading through the paperwork and red tape to have some rando that I've never met that happens to be approved by another guy I've never met walk beside me to figure out just what few possessions I have left. There’s apparently a big gaping hole where the door was, which means there are going to be fewer with each passing minute as opportunistic assholes decide if they like my stuffed animals or my CDs from eighth grade better.”
She was just getting wound up, could feel her blood pumping and the words trickling down to her tongue truly and utterly unfiltered, but was stopped by a quiet, “I’ll go.”
“What?” she asked at the same time the guy with the arms did.
The other man just shrugged, dark hair flopping forward and almost into his eyes. “Ain't like they are going to challenge me. And if they do?” He ended his statement with another shrug. She would have questioned his self-confidence, but that's about when she noticed it - the shiny bit of him that wasn't quite a bit of him and was kind of iconic at this point.
Bucky Fucking Barnes had just offered to schlep for her.
“No way,” the man who had stopped Arms Guy’s protest earlier countered. He was all red, white, and blonde and she questioned how this was her life. “If they went after her belongings, it was likely for a reason. That means that they were informed. If they were informed about her, what's the likelihood that they have been informed about you? Key words, triggers that we haven't found yet, sedatives?” the actual-fact American icon argued.
“You got a better solution, punk?” Bucky Fucking Barnes challenged. “Like the lady said, every moment we waste, more of her stuff is going to be gone. I know what it's like to not have much, so do you.”
“Which is why I will go with you both. They won't make a play, or at least not a successful one, on you if I'm around, and they definitely won't make a play for her if we’re there.”
“Well, you wanted to test him in the real world,” Arms Guy reasoned. He looked both amused and pained at the same time, then added to it by shooting her an apologetic wince. She had to remember his name soon, maybe when she wasn't so pissed that everyone else was making her life choices for her. It was bird-related, she was fairly certain. Bird Man? Wing Shot? Whatever.
“Do I get a choice in this?” she butt in. She felt it was reasonable what with it being her life and everything.
“Not if that choice is going alone, sweetheart,” Bucky Fucking Barnes told her, almost sympathetically. He had a way of doing so that made the “sweetheart” portion of it somehow less demeaning and more, well, sweet.
Which is how she found herself on a mini road trip to her old stomping grounds with the fucking Winter Soldier and god damn Captain America.
She didn't think it was necessary. Then again, she also didn't think it was necessary to mentally call them by their real names until she slipped and found out that one blushed, like a lot, and the other cackled in a way she in no way found endearing except that she did.
“You can just call me Bucky,” Bucky Fucking Barnes said when he calmed down. “It'll save time when we’re on the run from the bad guys that you think don't exist.”
“And you can call me Steve, ma’am,” Captain Actual America told her. She relented because the Mr. Rogers from her childhood had never looked so hot in a cardigan. Also, Steve surrounded himself with plaid and a shield versus puppets and a train, so that worked too.
Bucky, well, she had a feeling he surrounded himself with weaponry, even on this short and simple trip. Technically he himself was a weapon. Technically so was Steve. But she had seen him pocket a clip tossed to him by Hot Redhead Girl who had shown up out of nowhere while they were leaving, and that sucker disappeared into the aether in about two seconds flat, so she was guessing she wasn't going to figure out how much other goodies he had on him any time soon.
All of this for a handful of boxes, a bag of bedding, and a toaster that had seen better days.
The guy that ran the storage place didn't recognize her newfound companions, only noticed that they were big. It was like some magical super soldier cloaking technique or something - they wore baseball caps and everyone went blind. The guy stopped with the far less sweet version of sweetheart after a glare and showed her to her unit. She reluctantly gave him credit as he had fashioned a temporary door that had to be unlocked and everything, even if that lock was a single tumbler that she could have picked in eighth grade - there had been a closet at the back of the changing area for dance class and she was curious, so sue her.
She wasn't sure if what was inside was better or worse than she had expected, really. The few boxes that were left were ripped open with most of their contents strewn across the floor. Clothing had dark and greasy boot prints for new and less than wanted accents as did old family pictures that had been ripped out of now broken frames. That's what told her whoever had done this was searching for something and not just making an opportunistic grab. Thieves tended to leave pictures alone, unless the frame itself was worth something, but these guys smashed the frames and yanked out what was inside, tossing her life’s memories away like they were nothing.
“Anything tech-related is gone,” Steve said, pointing out the obvious.
“Not completely,” Bucky argued back. He held up her old toaster as if that proved his point. Technically, it was tech. Technically, it had burned her bread for six years prior to being boxed.
He set that down carefully before moving on to a clear plastic bin next to some stuffed animals. They had been tossed out, her once bright white bunny stained beyond what even she had managed over the years. She was going to have nightmares about her sweet teddy bear literally sliced in half. It had held a simple voice program that said, “I love you, Darcy,” when she squeezed it, recorded by her grandfather before he passed away. Now, the wires hung loose and the hard protective box in the center gaped forward like it had been an extra in the Alien movies. She squeezed it once and damn near dropped it when all she got was a garbled mess that sounded more like a threat than an endearment.
She took a deep breath and set that aside to see what else had survived. The others were not in the best shape, but at least weren't sliced and diced. When she saw another tuft of fake fur under a wayward sweater, she damn near choked. “Oh, holy shit,” she breathed. She picked up the old Teddy Ruxpin with one hand, and cradled the power source with the other.
“Sorry, Miss Lewis,” Steve winced. “Maybe we can find another for you?”
She ignored him though, and set the bundle on the top of one of the overturned boxes. A flick of her finger opened the case and she smiled when she saw the insides fully intact. “Thank your deity of choice for stupid henchmen,” she breathed.
“Ma’am?” Steve asked, clearly confused.
She pushed a few non-standard buttons and the bear reared to life. She may, possibly, have committed the image of the fearsome Winter Soldier pointing a gun at a stuffed bear to permanent memory before she explained, “They didn't know what they didn't have.”
A holographic display lit for a split second, and she flipped the bear so that she could look it in the eye for the retinal scan. A few more beeps and readings later, and data began to scrawl across the wall, frighteningly from the bear’s eyes, but, whatever. She released her hold and everything turned to black again, hidden tech working precisely how it should.
At the inquiring looks she received, she explained, “So, Jane likes to build stuff out of scrap. Her mind is amazing and she could probably make a radar array out of office supplies if given the chance. Anyway, after SHIELD stole everything that time, we figured out ways to hide at least pieces of what she was working on so things wouldn't be a total loss if it happened again.”
“And the bear?” Bucky prompted, still looking half ready to destroy the thing. She made a mental note to never show him what it looked like without the fur covering.
“Had surprisingly advanced robotics for its day,” Darcy answered for him. A little finagling, a few random discarded high-density memory chips, and a genius later, and they had a storage device most people would miss. The data was outdated since huge advances were made in the past few months alone, but it would be a place to start over again if needed.
Steve looked impressed, but that changed to instantly on guard when the guy from the front desk asked, “Is it biometric and, if so, does your hand still need to be attached to make them work?”
She gulped, but that was about all she got the chance to do. She heard Bucky growl the words “Cover her,” and then she was surrounded by a couple hundred pounds of super soldier shielding. There were grunts and groans and the echo of shots in an entirely too small of place and a fair deal of screaming which she was fairly certain wasn't coming from herself.
When it was all over, Steve unfolded himself from pretty much being on top of her, and chided, “We can't question them if they're all dead, Buck.”
“Two of ‘em are still breathing,” Bucky defended himself.
Darcy peeked around the massive shoulders that still stood in her way and saw far more than just one guy on the ground, many with clearly broken bones, many bleeding from multiple places. Surprisingly, barely a drop of it seemed to have reached any of her belongings. There was a splatter on a quilt, but it had already been pretty much shredded so it was already a goner long before the truncated battle. She didn't know if she should be impressed or terrified by that accuracy.
While she tried to sort that out for herself, her protectors/companions called for backup to clean up the mess. She looked around and tried to focus on what she needed to bring with her and what she should leave behind, but it was hard to do so, and not just because her glasses had been knocked off and gotten all grimy in the shuffle. Cleaning them on her shirt had just left both that much more of smeared messes.
“You okay, doll?” Bucky asked, a steadying hand on her shoulder. She found that she was shaking, which was weird. Also, she had no idea when that had started let alone how to stop it. A deep breath did nothing save for prove she was at least not hyperventilating.
“Why don't you get her something for her blood sugar? It's not bad, but any level of shock is not good,” Steve reasoned. He was still on the phone with someone named Nat and continued to check the unconscious bodies for whatever the tinny female voice told him to.
Bucky wiped his hands off on an honest to fuck handkerchief from his pocket. As in she checked to see if the sucker was monogrammed since it had a cute little embroidered border on it. Somehow, despite the destruction, he had only gotten a few specks on his knuckles. If there had been more and his super-ness had taken care of it, she would never know. With a satisfied nod from Steve telling him he had gotten it all, he held a now clean hand out to her and offered, “Should we get you some coffee? I saw a place a block or so away. I think it has those s’more ones?”
She sniffed and looked around at the chaos that surrounded her. Instead of commenting on any of that, she found herself muttering, “They aren't in season and do I want to know how you know my favorite?”
He shrugged. “Read up on you on the drive over in case there were any surprises. Figured if the coffee didn't work, I'd try for ice cream. Your file says you like something called a Dove bar if you can get it, but will go for anything in the chocolate family. We can hit a store if you’d like. I'm sure Stevie and I could finish off the rest of the box if you only want one.”
She blinked, taking away the important parts of what he said. “There's a file on me? And it lists ice cream types? You guys are way thorough.”
“Have to be in this business, doll,” he said without apology. Then, with a grin she had only seen in the history books, he added, “Wanna see if they can make an exception to that season thing?”
Which is how she found herself sipping an almost-s’more mocha with the Winter Solder while a sussed-up Teddy Ruxpin was shoved into her bag that lay at her feet.
“You are a man of many skills, Mr. Barnes,” she said as she lifted a mostly melted marshmallow to her lips.
“Most of them of the type you don't write home about,” he pointed out sourly.
She put her drink down and reached for his hand. He flinched ever so slightly and she realized she had grabbed for the metal one simply because it was closer. Faux pas already committed, she kept it there, the grooves and smoothness a new and interesting texture beneath her fingertips. “Hey, those skills just saved my hand if not my life, so I'm all about celebrating them. You volunteered to come with, and who the hell knows what they would have done if I was alone? Well, I mean other than the nightmares I'm sure to have. Anyway, you volunteered and then you did the whole dramatic saving the day thing, and then you even added caffeinated chocolate to the mix. Skills: you have them. Appreciation: I have it.”
He hung his head so she couldn't tell if he actually blushed or not, which was highly disappointing. When he glanced back up, it was with that whole tilt of the head and worried/sad eyes thing that she was a total sucker for. Maybe that was in her file, maybe it was a lucky guess, but she was totally going to fall for it and possibly coo, right up until he said, “Nightmares, doll?”
She nodded and picked up her drink again, making sure not to let go of his hand. He left it there and she was calling dibs. “Technicolor wonders, really. At least they were after the whole Death Bot thing, and the Dark Elves thing, and… well, even after seeing clips from New York and Sokovia. Overactive imagination has to get its kicks somewhere, right? Mine prefers the night shift.”
He looked pensive despite her blasé attitude. “Anything help with them?” he inquired.
“A few shots of tequila and a bad movie marathon has been known to hold them off for a few days and make them a little less heart-racingly sucky. Jane’s been known to toss me a project or three to keep me distracted until they lighten up a bit as well,” she rattled off without fully thinking.
It got him to grin though, even though his next words were, “Bad movie night it is. Barton has been trying to get me to watch something called ‘Sharknado’ - you in?”
“It's a cinematic masterpiece, trust me!” a new voice chimed in from behind her. It was Arms Guy, walking in to a fricken coffee shop in full tactical gear with a damn bow strapped across his back. At least it answered the question as to his name, even if it was only a last one as she was fairly certain that wasn't his first. She'd figure the rest out later.
“There's sharks… in a tornado…”
“There's a tornado full of sharks,” he confirmed gleefully. “There’s even sequels. We can make a night of it or, better yet, have our own version of Shark Week.”
“Sharknado Week?” she guessed. It was hard not to smile at his unabashed excitement.
“Don't encourage him,” the redhead from earlier warned as she strode up behind him. Head to toe black leather was not a bad look on her. Another patron seemed to agree, and then damn near shriveled in his seat at the way she regarded him.
Bucky’s grin grew that much wider though. “It's for the greater good though,” he insisted.
Darcy nodded with mock solemnity. “They think it will replace my nightmares of blood and destruction with those of flying sharks.”
“And you really think that they, along with Stark and Foster, aren't going to argue the science, or lack thereof, and end up trying to recreate the scenarios in the lab?” the woman asked.
“And you think I would try to stop them why?” Darcy countered.
The woman muttered something low and possibly in another language before she asked the Barton guy, “Remembering now that Fury said to keep them apart. Something about the world not be able to handle what they would get up to? Who approved this move and were they dumb enough to put Foster’s lab near Stark’s?”
Barnes, for his part, mused, “Would you use stuffed sharks or plastic ones though? Plastic could be slightly more realistic, or at least do more damage, but the stuffed ones would look better on that video site. Bet you could get a few thousand hits in a day easy with those.”
“At least the damage will be on Stark’s dime?” Barton tried.
“So will the bottle of Tovaritch that I'll need to get through this,” she said glibly. Barnes smiled like that meant something and Darcy just shrugged. The woman looked to where the two still held hands and raised an eyebrow, saying only, “But the mocha I’ll take while we’re waiting for these two can be on yours.”
Barton seemed amiable to that, until he made a show of patting his pockets down before he asked, “Anyone want to spot me a five?”
“Aren't you, like, a super hero or something?” Darcy asked. “Shouldn't you have tons of your own by now?”
“Oh, kotenok, you have a lot to learn about your new movie night friends, especially this one,” the redhead sighed. It was followed by a quizzical and rather amused, “You still have no idea who either of us are, do you?”
“Sure I do,” she said easily enough. At the doubting look she received, she explained, “You are Hot Redhead Girl and he is Arms Guy Barton. And you say I don't pay attention…”
Bucky snorted and cut in with, “Should've heard what she called us until we caught her at it. Enough to make Stevie blush, even though that doesn't take much.”
“Eh, I've been called worse,” Barton admitted. He took a ten from Bucky and pumped his fist like he had won the lottery. “At least she thinks you're hot?” he called over his shoulder before he headed towards the counter to place an order.
The redhead looked to where Darcy was no longer holding Bucky’s hand, but still positioned herself to be damn near touching. He hadn't minded before, the contact had calmed her down as much as upped his apparently hazy self-esteem, and he was fricken hot. Sue her. “That just means she has good taste,” she commented nonchalantly.
Darcy didn't blush, but it was a near thing. Bucky, on the other hand, dipped his head again and she was totally calling that as his tell. She was going to make it her mission to make him do that as often as fucking possible, so she waited until he raised it again to say, “Did Non-Puppet-Loving Mr. Rogers tell you about the reaction to the Ruxpin? Seriously, if there's video you should get your hands on it, and not just in case it caught a glimpse of top secret data.”
“I'll see what I can do,” the woman promised, but still did not formally introduce herself. It was apparently a game now or something. Whatever. Someone would break eventually and her money was on the good Captain.
To her surprise, the two crazy hot super-whatevers did not claim a seat at the table with them. Instead, they found one of their own and pulled out mini tablets and started typing away. She’d question the secrecy aspect of a college-town cafe, but Arms Guy flipped his to show her a full queue of sharky goodness all lined up and ready whenever she was. This left her to make small talk with a guy who didn't really say much but seemed to know precisely the right words when he tried. She learned a lot about him for the little he said and decided she rather liked the prospect of learning even more.
Eventually though, all chocolatey goodness was gone and she couldn't stall any longer. “Bye-bye time?” she guessed.
He had finished his own drink a while before her and stood to bus the dishes. “Yep,” he confirmed when he returned. “You can take the Quinjet back with Mutt and Jeff over there if you’d like? Be a lot faster. Steve and I can take the car back.”
“You trying to get rid of me, Barnes?” she teased. She was torn, really. Awesome ride on an awesome custom piece of tech that she may or may not have to sign a gazillion non-disclosure agreements about but get back in a matter of literal minutes, or road trip through rush hour traffic with a guy she kinda sorta would like to get to know a little bit better. Maybe.
Arms Guy rolled his eyes and said, “For fuck’s sake, really? Toss me your phone Barnes, and don't add an explosive this time.” Bucky did, but watched him carefully as he typed something in quickly and handed it back with, “Lewis’ number. Not that you'll have the balls to make first contact. Nat?”
Darcy turned to find the redhead currently held Darcy's own sparkly purple phone in hand, screen unlocked, and was typing in a contact. She didn't even know when the woman had time to grab it, but took comfort in the fact that she now knew at least a truncated version of the woman's name.
The newly identified Nat handed it back with, “Barnes’ number is in there, as well as the Avengers’ emergency line and Rogers’ personal cell. Don't make me regret this by you two managing to find even more Hydra goons. There will be words.”
“Why would I need Mr. Hot Roger’s personal line?” she asked as she pocketed the thing she had thought was still pocketed.
The two super-whatevers rolled their eyes in unison, but it was Bucky that cut in with, “You two seriously underestimate Stevie’s obsessiveness.”
Barton simply shrugged. “Eh, he’ll probably still make the ride back with you even if I tell him I tagged you with a tracker.”
“But this way, when the inevitable stupidity happens, she’ll have options,” Nat finished for him, ignoring the way Bucky glared at Barton and Darcy patted herself down looking for something that may or may not actually exist. Nat-lady then plucked the robot teddy bear out of Darcy’s bag and looked at it as though it were a literal bomb. “It will reduce the risk to you and your appendages if this is not with you for your travels,” she said, followed quickly by, “Take a picture and it’s more than appendages you will have to worry about, Barton.”
Darcy turned to find Arms Guy poutingly shoving his own phone back into one of his many pockets.
Which is how Darcy Lewis found herself riding shotgun with the fricken Winter Soldier while Captain America pretended to sleep in the back of an SUV owned by Tony Actual Stark. Said ride ended up nearly twelve hours longer than necessary when Hydra inevitably did attack, Bucky made use of the veritable arsenal he carried with him, and she made use of all three newly added numbers as well as one labeled simple “Widow” that was answered with, “Of course they attacked - where are you now?”
Still, a nap, a wash, and a ridiculous amount of pizza delivery later, and she found herself curled up on an extremely convenient seating arrangement left in a seriously giant room with a seriously giant flat screen, the Sy-Fy logo lighting up big and bold across the darkness. Bucky had offered to sit on the floor to let her have the love seat all to herself, but she reasoned there was plenty of room and enticed him with a bowl of popcorn and a promise that he could gut the first person to make gagging noises in their direction.
“Did you really have to bring tablets for everyone?” he questioned.
She nodded and shoved another handful of buttery goodness into her mouth, trying not to think too hard about how they had gotten everything damn near just right. Her quilt had been darned and washed and was draped over her just so. Her teddy was oddly AWOL, but Jane had texted a picture of it in Stark’s own lab, all sorts of wires and tools around it.
The least she could do was help them out the way they helped her, or so she reasoned. “Either you're prepared, or the movie gets paused while they search for them later. This way, they can design their simulations real-time. I even pre-loaded the standard velocity of four levels of tornadoes to help them out. I tossed in the standard weights of full size sharks, but expect this ridiculousness to blow those out of proportion.”
“You're truly kind of frightening,” he said with a smile she could just make out in the dim light of the room.
“Damn right I am!” she declared proudly.
She offered out the bowl for him to grab a handful of popcorn for himself. He shifted and put the bowl in his lap where they could both reach it and she took advantage of the new position to curl up next to a wall of warm muscle that she already associated with safety. She had known him for like a day and he had already saved her life twice and didn't question her food choices, at the very least she had found herself a new cuddle buddy for bad tv.
When he wrapped an arm loosely around her shoulders and a curl of her hair around his fingers, she amended that to the possibility of something more.
She didn't even take offense at the way Nat snapped her fingers and Barton pulled out a five.