One of the first things Darcy Lewis ever learned in life was that she should never, ever discuss her soul mark with anyone. Ever. As a child, she didn't understand this restriction; her mother told her (over and over again, until she could repeat the mini-speech in her sleep) that soul marks were personal and private, and that no matter what the other girls did in the bathroom or the gym locker room, she should not under any circumstances show hers to anyone or tell anyone what it said.
She was eleven before she finally understood why.
She'd thought, for a long time, that perhaps her parents were just especially prudish or something; after all, her soul mark was incredibly tame. He just introduced himself by name, apologized for her inconvenience, and said that he would make sure she got home right away. She thought it was nice; kind of old-fashioned, but nice.
And then, when she was eleven, she found herself standing in front of the television and looking at her soul mate as he became the supreme leader (and, apparently, Evil Dictator) of his country. When the newscast went off, she looked at her mother across the kitchen and said, "You knew."
Her mother nodded. "We knew."
Darcy looked back at the television, which was now displaying the weather report. "This is... kind of big," she said.
"You could say that," her mother agreed. "Do you understand now?"
"Uh," Darcy replied. "Yeah." And that was the end of that conversation.
When she was sixteen, she watched her soul mate do battle against the Fantastic Four for the first time, and she wondered quietly: what did it say about her, that her soul mate and apparent "perfect match" was an actual, real-life supervillain? And then, after some thought, she realized that it actually said a whole lot.
When she was eighteen, she went off to college. Her parents worried, letting her go away like that, but she promised to be careful. "After all," she said, "it's not like I'm going to attract his attention at a tiny little school like Culver!" And she promptly majored in political science, because Evil Dictator.
When she was twenty-two, with only a semester left to go before she finished her degree, she took an internship as an easy way to pick up six science credits without having to actually step foot inside a science classroom. Oops.
When she was twenty-four, still working in astrophysics - or possibly interplanetary relations? - she followed Jane Foster to London. Oops .
When she was twenty-five, she stood in Jane's mother's kitchen and watched BBC News report on the fall of SHIELD. When the coverage began to loop for lack of new information, she shut the television off and said, "What time is it in New York?" After determining that it was midafternoon, she pulled a worn business card out of her wallet, picked up her cell phone and made an astronomically expensive overseas phone call. "Mr. Stark, this is Darcy Lewis. I'm calling about that offer you made to move Jane Foster and me to New York."
A few weeks later, she and Jane moved onto Thor's floor in Avengers Tower. Being back in the States was good, but being in the Tower, where they were safe, was in Darcy's opinion a thousand times better. HYDRA was still disorganized in the wake of Steve and Natasha and Company burning SHIELD to the ground and salting the ashes, but they wouldn't stay that way forever, and they weren't the only group who would be dangerous. Especially now that SHIELD's files were all out on the Internet and everyone who happened to look at them knew who Darcy Lewis was and how she knew Thor.
Meeting the Fantastic Four was not something Darcy expected; she'd kind of gotten the feeling that the different superhero teams all worked independently from one another. It was pleasant to find out that this was not quite the case; it turned out that, though the teams were nominally separate, they were in constant communication and worked together when needed. It was not unusual to bump into one of the X-Men, usually Wolverine or Gambit or Rogue, in the common areas, or to find Reed Richards or Sue Storm collaborating with Jane (or, more rarely, Bruce or Tony).
It was more unusual to find Johnny Storm in the common area, smoking hard and up in Steve Rogers's face about something, but when she encountered the situation, about two months after moving in, Darcy leapt - literally - right into the middle of it, putting one hand in the center of each man's chest and pushing - not that she accomplished anything. " Okay ," she said, more loudly and forcefully than she usually did. "Let's all take a breath and about four steps back from one another. Now , Steve. Now , Johnny."
There was a long, tense moment when she was afraid they might ignore her completely and start swinging around or through her, but finally Steve broke, taking the requested four steps back. As soon as he moved, Johnny did as well, and once they were separated, Darcy took a long, shaky breath. That was stupid, she chastised herself. You could've been hurt . But she was fairly confident that neither one of them would have hurt her, regardless of how angry they might be at each other. She took another breath, and hoped her voice was even when she spoke again. "Thank you," she said, trying to keep her tone calm. "Steve, you go first. Use your words instead of your fists."
"I don't appreciate being mocked about my mark," Steve finally ground out. His fists were clenching and relaxing repeatedly, the movement almost rhythmic. "I can put up with a lot, but not that."
"You need to chill out ," Johnny shot back. "I didn't say a goddamn thing to you about your mark!"
"The hell you didn't!" Steve began, his voice rising, but Darcy reached up and clapped a hand across his mouth.
"Hush," she said repressively. "Johnny, as closely as you can, please tell me exactly what you said to Steve."
There was a long pause before he replied, somewhat sullenly, "I quoted Silence of the Lambs ." He glanced over at Darcy, who was frowning at him in consternation. He waved a hand expressively. "There's a resemblance."
"I've noticed," Darcy replied dryly. She looked from Johnny to Steve and back again. "Oh!" she suddenly exclaimed. "The Buffalo Bill line." She paused. "That's kinda creepy, Johnny."
"It was the first thing that came to mind!" Johnny defended himself. "And anyway, so what? That doesn't give him the right to... to... slut-shame me!"
Darcy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing in his face. "Johnny, sweetheart, I'm pretty sure it's impossible to shame you for anything." She looked up at Steve, removing her hand from his mouth. "Steve, what did you say to Johnny?"
Steve had, by now, gone dark red. "I said," he admitted, squaring his shoulders, "that it was very likely that was the only person he hadn't... yet."
Darcy's jaw dropped. "Steve!" she gasped, not sure if she was proud or horrified. "I didn't know you had it in you!"
His face crumpled a little, both regretful and angry at once. "I'm sorry," he said. "But I really don't like it when people make fun of my mark!"
"I told you, man, I wasn't !" Johnny exclaimed.
"Okay, stop ," Darcy said. Suspicion was beginning to form in her mind. "Steve, where's your mark?"
"On my back," he answered.
She moved around behind him, gently touching his shoulder blade. "May I see, please?"
Steve sighed heavily, then reached up and pulled on the back of his shirt, lifting it up high enough for her to read the words scrawled messily across his skin. Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me. I'd fuck me hard.
"Okay. Thank you." She tugged his shirt back down and smoothed the fabric over his skin with both hands. Then she moved across the room. "Johnny," she said, "where's yours?"
He stared at her, a dawning horror in his own eyes. "Oh, God," he muttered. He reached down and hooked his thumb into the loose waistband of his pants, tugging it down far enough for Darcy to read the words that arched over his left butt cheek, in neat Palmer-style cursive writing that she recognized quite easily. That's probably the only person you haven't fucked yet.
She raised her head, looking over Johnny's shoulder at Steve. "How the hell is it possible that you've known each other longer than I've known either of you, and neither of you has actually spoken to the other before today?"
Steve blinked. "What?"
"He wasn't making fun of your soul mark, you asshole," Darcy said, shoving Johnny closer to Steve. "He was saying it. Look." She manhandled Johnny into turning, and pulled his waistband down again to show Steve the words on Johnny's skin in Steve's own writing. "See?"
Steve stared at Johnny in shock.
Johnny stared back in horror.
Darcy grinned broadly. "Congratulations!"
"That is not possible ," Johnny blurted. "I'm straight ."
Darcy blinked. "Totally straight? Kinsey zero?"
"Well," Johnny temporized. "Maybe a one. But... but..."
"I'm in love with someone else," Steve interrupted. "So I can't..."
"The guy with the metal arm, right?" Johnny asked, relief washing over his face. "Tony said you knew him from before."
"Yeah, that's..." Steve swallowed hard. "That's Bucky. He was..."
"I know," Johnny said when Steve's voice trailed off. "They teach you guys in history starting from like fifth grade. And I can put the rest together. I mean, being gay wasn't legal back then, right?"
"Yeah," Steve admitted, almost crumpling onto a stool at the kitchen counter. He rested his elbows on the granite and put his head in his hands. "When I lost him... it was like my whole world ended. He was everything to me. And now, finding out that he's still alive... but what they did to him..." He shook his head, trailing off again.
There was a moment of silence before Johnny reached out and rested his hand on Steve's shoulder. "So talk to me," he said, his voice uncharacteristically gentle. "Maybe I can help."
Darcy took several very quiet steps backward toward the door, watching as Johnny hooked a stool with his foot and pulled it over so that he could sit down beside Steve. Their voices were low now, too low for her to hear from the doorway, but she could see the shifting of their postures as they turned toward each other, and she grinned broadly at the sight and felt extraordinarily privileged to have witnessed it. She slipped from the room and hurried to the elevator.
She burst into the astrophysics lab, where Sue and Reed and Jane were all studying something on some of the equipment. "Guys, guys, guys!" she exclaimed. "Stop sciencing for a minute, this is important!"
Jane raised her head, giving Darcy a tired look. "What is it, Darcy?"
"Johnny!" she exclaimed. "Johnny and Steve!"
Sue raised an eyebrow. "What about them?"
Reed blinked at her. "That's impossible, we'd have known by now."
Darcy grinned. "Nope! Somehow, possible. I just watched it happen."
"But we've been working together for ... my God, since the Battle of Manhattan," Sue said. "They have to have spoken to each other since then; it's been two years."
"But Steve was transferred to Washington for over a year," Darcy pointed out. "And Johnny doesn't come to the Tower much, does he?"
"No, that's true," Reed said. Then he broke into a broad smile. "Steve, huh?"
"Yep!" Darcy confirmed, grinning broadly. "I'm pretty sure they're platonic; the first thing Johnny did was declare that he was straight, and of course everybody knows by now that Steve's in love with Bucky. But still ."
"This is the best thing ever," Sue said, a brilliant smile crossing her face. "Maybe now he'll finally have someone he feels like he can look up to and respect, and he'll start maturing."
"Let's hope so," Darcy said. "Because the next time he tries to grab my ass, I swear to Thor I'm breaking all his fingers."
Johnny threw himself into the search for Bucky with as much will as Steve himself, and it wasn't long before both of them were crisscrossing the country together with Sam Wilson, following leads and searching for the love of Steve's very long life. Johnny's resemblance to Steve ended up being instrumental in finally bringing Bucky in from the cold: they tracked him to a small town in western Kentucky, where he was hiding and healing and trying to regain his memories.
Bucky saw Johnny before anyone else saw Bucky, and before Johnny quite knew what was going on, he had his arms full of weeping super-assassin. With no idea what else to do, he wrapped his arms around Bucky and held on until Sam and Steve got there - at which point things very nearly degenerated into a brawl, as Bucky's first, confused assumption was that one or the other - or both - of the blond men was a HYDRA ploy.
It took Steve pulling out the story of their first kiss - "under the boardwalk on Brighton Beach, remember? I was twelve and you were thirteen and we were so scared that somebody might see us" - for Bucky to understand that it wasn't a ploy, and then he threw himself into Steve's arms and wept some more. He went back to their motel with them that night, and agreed to return to New York with them the next day.
They brought him, temporarily, to the Baxter Building. It was Johnny's idea, but Sam backed him up on it. "It makes sense," he told Steve. "Anybody who might know he's been brought in, the first place they're gonna look is Avengers' Tower. So while they're looking at Avengers' Tower, we can be battening down the hatches in the Baxter. And if worse comes to worst, we can get him out of there."
Steve had to admit, after thinking about it, that it was probably a good idea, and Bucky went along with it because Steve said it was okay. Tony cobbled together some tracking devices that could be worn, swallowed, and otherwise carried on one's person, and Darcy - as the least noticeable person with high enough clearance - was dispatched to the Baxter Building to deliver them to Bucky and Steve, just in case.
It was when she left the building that disaster struck.
Darcy was a target - everyone knew that. She was a target because of her association with Jane and Thor, because she lived in the Tower, because she was friends with the Avengers, and because she knew things about Jane's research. She was a target because she'd been on-site for Thor's first arrival on Earth. She was a target because her name was all over SHIELD's Thor-related files.
She never expected to be a target because she was seen hugging Johnny Storm outside the Baxter Building on a random Wednesday.
He walked her out, making jokes at his own expense the way he often did with people he trusted, and she hugged him just outside the door. "You've really grown up a lot recently, Johnny," she told him. "It's a good look on you."
"Oh, yeah?" he grinned down at her. "So now will you sleep with me?"
"Poor little J," she replied, reaching up and patting his cheek. "You always want what you just can't have." Then she turned away and started up the street.
"Someday you'll change your mind," he called out to her.
"Maybe so," she called back over her shoulder. "But not today!"
He disappeared back into the building. She walked behind a conversion van. She did not emerge on the other side.
Inside the van, she struggled against the iron grip of the man who held her, screaming against the thick towel being pressed against her face, but it was no use; her nose and mouth filled with a sickeningly sweet smell, and her lungs felt like they were full of something entirely wrong . Her fingers and toes began to go numb, and then her vision darkened. A moment later, she knew nothing at all.
When she woke again, she was still in the van, and by craning her neck, she could see New York outside the windshield. It hadn't been very long, then. Long enough, though, that she was now lying on a hospital-style gurney, her wrists and ankles bound securely like a psychiatric patient. She was still wearing her own clothing, but had been covered up by a sheet, and a rubber mouth guard had been shoved between her teeth and somehow secured around her head, effectively gagging her.
She made a loud, angry noise.
A man's voice spoke from the other side of the van. "There's no use getting worked up," he said, a faint accent to his voice that Darcy couldn't place. "We're almost there, and nobody's going to see or hear you except me. You can either lie there quietly or I can knock you out again, but chloroform's bad business. You don't stay out long, so I'd have to leave the towel on your face, and that can cause nausea and topical burns and liver damage. It's better if you just relax."
She made another loud, angry noise.
"Everything will be explained when we get where we're going," the voice said. "You won't be hurt."
She made another noise, just to let him know that she wasn't going to give up without a fight. He chuckled softly but did not respond; instead, she distinctly heard him settle into his seat and begin humming a tune she didn't recognize. She craned her neck again, struggling to see where they were going; a moment later, something soft and thick covered her eyes. From the scent of her own perfume, she recognized the scarf that had been stuffed into her messenger bag. "No, no," the voice said. "You don't need to know where we are. It'll only upset you."
She made a furious screech behind the gag, but he only chuckled again, patting her on the shin. "Don't worry," he said. "It won't be much longer, and you'll be able to move around a bit."
She couldn't tell how long they drove; it could have been five minutes or an hour. But quite suddenly there was a bump and the sound of the road changed; they had gotten off the pavement and onto gravel. A few minutes later, there was another bump, and the van was back on pavement again; only another minute after that, the whole thing shifted and drove up an incline into some kind of huge, echoing space. The van's engine cut off.
Darcy waited, but there was no other movement in the van; she listened carefully, but all the sounds outside were muffled voices speaking a language she didn't recognize. There were a number of loud, metallic bangs, and then, quite suddenly, a loud mechanical whine that was somehow familiar. She struggled to place how she knew the sound, and only realized what it was when the sound was paired with movement.
An airplane. They'd driven the van onto an airplane. She was being flown somewhere.
She panicked and began struggling with her bonds, her movements causing the gurney to rock in place. It was steadied a moment later by strong hands, and the man's voice said, "If you don't stop, I'm going to have to knock you out again. You don't want that. Just settle down."
She made a variety of panicked, angry noises, but he ignored her protests, simply patting her on the shoulder. "Just relax," he said again. There was a moment of pressure as the plane lifted off the ground, and Darcy whimpered in terror. A voice, muffled through the body of the van, came over a loudspeaker, but its owner wasn't using English, and Darcy still didn't know what was going on.
A moment later, the scarf was removed from her eyes, and the man who had snatched her into the van was tucking it into her bag, which he then laid on the gurney beside her. Someone opened the van door from outside, and the gurney (with her on it) was maneuvered out of the van, then the man rolled it across a wide cargo bay, through a door, and down a wood-paneled hallway. They stopped at a door, and there was a succession of electronic beeps before the door slid open. The man pulled the gurney through the door, which slid shut behind him.
He took the bag off the gurney and set it aside somewhere. Then he said, "All right, deep breath." She made a noise of inquiry which was answered by the reappearance of the chloroform towel. She held her breath for as long as she could, but that wasn't long, and within seconds she was out again.
When she came to, she was alone, lying on a very soft surface. She waited for the dizziness to pass before she sat up and looked around, finding herself in a small but well-appointed bedroom. The bed was a double, the mattress firm but soft, and covered with a soft, whiskey-colored duvet. A small table sat under one of the two windows in the room; there was a chair beside it that was upholstered in suede the exact same shade as the duvet. Under the other window was a low bookshelf, stocked with a variety of hardback volumes in different genres. A flat-screen television hung on the wall between the two windows, and the remote control was lying on the nightstand. There were two doors in the room; one of them, the one she had probably come in through, had an electronic keypad and was probably locked. The other stood open, revealing a small but functional bathroom.
Darcy's bag was in the chair; she lunged across the room for it and upended it over the bed, scrabbling through her things. Her phone was gone - no surprise - as was her StarkPad. Her Kindle was still there, though, and so was her iPod. She smirked, then turned the Kindle on.
There was no wi-fi on the plane; that was not a surprise to Darcy. She didn't care; she didn't need it. The first thing Tony Stark had done when she moved into the Tower, after bemoaning the fact that she wouldn't let him blow up her iPod, was to install backdoor software on every piece of electronics that she owned and regularly carried. She had only to open up the very innocuous-looking application, and the Kindle hooked itself up to one of Stark Industries' proprietary communications satellites.
Within thirty seconds, Darcy was Skyping directly into Tony's workshop. "Tony!"
His head jerked up as JARVIS shut the music off, and he looked around. "What?"
"Tony!" Darcy said again. She watched him look around for a moment more before finally finding her on the monitor over the fabrication units.
"Lewis?" he asked. Then he blinked. "Are you on the emergency protocol? What happened? Where are you?"
"I don't know!" she exclaimed. She gave him a rundown of everything that had happened after she left the Baxter Building.
"Okay, don't panic," he told her, working on one of the computers. "I've got the satellites tracking your location now - you're over the Atlantic and heading east. JARVIS, call the assembly." He fell silent for a moment, his fingers flying over the keyboard, and then he froze, staring at something on his own screen. Slowly, he lifted his head and looked directly at her. "Lewis," he said. "Do not panic."
"Oh, shit," she whispered. "What is it?"
He held up one hand. " Do not panic. "
"If you don't spit it out, Tony, I am most definitely going to panic. What is it? "
He took a deep breath. "The plane you're on filed a flight plan direct across the continent. You're headed to Doomstadt."
"Oh, fuck ," Darcy whispered.
"Darcy, don't panic," Tony said again. "We're going to get you out of there. Clint's scrambling the Quinjet already, we're barely two hours behind you."
"No you won't," Darcy said, her grip on the Kindle white-knuckled as she fought not to cry. "He won't let me go. How did he find out? I've never told anyone, never shown anyone. How did he know?"
"Darcy, what are you talking about?" Tony asked. "How does who know what?"
"Von Doom!" she exclaimed. "He's my soul mate. But how did he find out?"
Tony stared at her. "How the hell is Victor von Doom your soul mate?"
Darcy stood up. She braced the Kindle on the table, leaned against her bag, and she stepped in front of it. Then she unzipped her pants.
"Whoa!" Tony said, throwing his hands up in front of his eyes. "Pepper will kill us both!"
"Shut up, Tony," she snapped. "Look."
He lowered his hand and took a cautious peek over the top of it, then dropped it completely and stared. She'd pulled the waistband of her underwear down just far enough so that he could see the words on her skin, just above the ridge of her pubic bone. "Oh," he said. "Oh, shit."
"Exactly," Darcy said, pulling the cotton fabric back up and then re-fastening her jeans. "Now tell me again how you think this is going to go down."
Tony's mouth firmed into a flat, hard line. "Believe me," he said, "he's not keeping you against your will. I don't care if we have to pull down Castle Von Doom brick by brick. Do you hear me?"
Darcy nodded, swallowing hard. "Okay," she whispered.
"Okay. Good girl." He nodded once. "I'm getting in the suit now," he said. "The jet's going to be wheels up in about five minutes. The satellites have you, and they won't lose track of you, so just keep your tech on you and you'll be fine. Okay? We're coming to get you, Darcy."
She nodded again. "Okay."
The screen went dark, and she set the Kindle back down on the table. Then she slumped down into the chair and stared out the window at the ocean.