The mugger comes out of nowhere, or at least that's what it feels like to Darcy, who barely has time to fumble for her taser. It figures, somehow, that since she deals with global criminal conspiracies, megalomaniacal mutants, and alien invasions at work, that she'd forgotten about the guys with guns who try to make their living on the street.
"You don't want to do this," she says, trying to remember the details of that one hostage negotiation course Coulson had insisted she take while she absolutely does not freak out and hyperventilate. "I'm going to reach into my bag and give you my wallet, and you're going to take it and we're both going to get what we want without anybody getting--"
A shape swoops out of the darkness and knocks the mugger to the ground.
There's enough light for Darcy to make out a flash of white teeth, a bright blue stripe along the arms and chest of the new player in her urban drama, and when he turns around to face her, shaggy dark hair that he tosses off his forehead with a grin.
"Yeah, I--yeah." She's seen weirder, and she has her taser in hand now. Everything's totally under control. "You're new."
"Not really," he answers. "But it's been a while since I visited the city." He gives her a once-over she feels even through his mask. "I'd have come back sooner if I'd known you were here."
And then he shoots a grapple gun and disappears up into the darkness the same way he swung out of it in the first place. The night air feels cool against her heated cheeks.
Darcy makes it the rest of the way home without incident, though her hands are shaking a little when she tries to unlock the door to her apartment.
The smell of cookies baking wafts out as the door opens, and Steph is standing in the kitchen holding a tray in hands covered with oven mitts.
She's not usually home at this hour--she has some crazy night job, at a hospital or something, Darcy thinks--but Darcy's really glad she is tonight. She lets the door slam behind her and leans against it. The slight trembling in her hands has progressed to full-on shaking in her whole body.
"Darcy? You okay?" Steph puts the tray down and walks the few steps from the oven to the front door.
"I--Yeah," Darcy answers, but allows Steph to pull her into a hug. Steph smells like cookies and baby powder, and pats her back with the oven mitts, which is just silly enough to let Darcy turn the sob in her throat into a weak laugh. "Some asshole tried to mug me, but then this other guy--I don't think it was Spider-man, 'cause Spider-man wears a full face mask, right? This guy just had a domino mask. And really white teeth."
"You're okay, though, right?" Steph asks, pulling back and looking at her. "That's the important part."
"Yeah. Just a little shaken up."
"Good." Steph goes back to the stove. "Cookie?"
"I had my taser," Darcy says, feeling vaguely defensive. "I could have handled it. I once tased--" She stops, not because that's classified (though it is) but because she's learned the lesson about how working for SHIELD can make the people you love into targets, and while she doesn't love Steph--they've only been roommates for a few months--she likes her enough not to want to put her on the bad guys' radar. Any more than she already is, anyway. Darcy knows her dad was a bad guy himself--Coulson had backed Darcy when she'd argued that Steph had never been in trouble herself when Hill had brought it up during the apparently obligatory SHIELD review of her living arrangements. She thinks that's why Steph works so hard to stay on the straight and narrow. Steph is looking at her now, though, waiting for her to finish that sentence. "Some dudebros at a frat party. So I totally could have handled it."
"I didn't say you couldn't," Steph says, grabbing a few cookies herself and sitting on the couch. "But a near-mugging always deserves cookies and hugs."
"Okay," Darcy says, joining her on the couch. "I can accept that." Steph's from Gotham, so Darcy figures she would know. She eats a cookie or two--they're definitely homemade, not the usual slice-and-bake kind. "Thanks."
Once she's alone in her bedroom, Darcy does an online search for pictures of the guy who helped her. They are few and far between, though there's one website (discovered on a Robin fansite forum, of all things) that identifies him as Nightwing. All the pictures are as unclear as her memories, but his smile and the blue stripe on his uniform are unmistakable.
When she gets to work in the morning, Darcy discovers Nightwing's not in any SHIELD database she has access to. She emails the mod of the forum (from her personal gmail on her personal phone; she's not an idiot)--one email@example.com curt reply basically says pics or it didn't happen. Darcy closes it in disgust and goes back to the report she's supposed to be writing about a cell of militant separatists in Montana.
A couple of weeks later, after the team has returned from whatever classified trip they were sent on (Darcy pretends she doesn't know where they are at all times, but Tony hooked her up with a backdoor into the classified server the first time she beat him at beer pong), Clint and Natasha come by at six to collect her for happy hour, and after a shot of Blackhaus and half a pint of Stella, she finds herself telling them the story.
Or, okay, a modified version of the story where she doesn't sound completely terrified. "So before I can even get my taser out, this guy comes swooping down out of nowhere and ties the mugger up. I think it was Nightwing."
"Nightwing?" Clint scoffs. "That guy's not real. You shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet."
"Well, someone cut in on my little dance party," Darcy says. "And I'd like to track him down and thank him."
Natasha just hums thoughtfully and takes another sip of her gin and tonic.
Later, since Clint has to go back to the Helicarrier, Natasha insists on walking Darcy to the subway. Darcy's annoyed but not drunk enough to be belligerent about it. And really, she likes that Natasha cares enough about her to make the effort. Not that Darcy can't take care of herself. It's just nice to know other people are willing to do it if she couldn't.
It's a nice night, so they keep walking--the next station is only seven blocks away--and they're nearly there when something explodes somewhere to the east of them, and all the windows on the nearest Duane Reade explode in a shower of sparks.
Darcy's not too sure what happens after that--Natasha pushes her down and gets on the phone, gun already in her other hand. Darcy gets up, taser in hand, and waits for Natasha to tell her what to do as a bunch of skinheads start crawling out of the woodwork like roaches. They're shouting something unintelligible about raid, so it seems appropriate.
Natasha turns and glances at her, mouth pinched tight, and says, "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay." It's even mostly true. Darcy puts on a brave smile that barely wobbles. "Do what you've gotta do."
Darcy edges her way to the corner of the building out of the way and takes out her phone to record Natasha as she wades in, taking down guys quickly and efficiently. There's a whooshing sound over her head and then someone else is helping out, his body twisting and flipping between groups of armed men, disarming them and knocking them out. It's Darcy's friend from the night she was mugged. She forgets to be scared as she watches him and Natasha systematically take the skinheads down. They're all either knocked out or tied up. It's over surprisingly quickly.
"I'd say we've got to stop meeting like this," he says, giving Darcy that bright smile again, "but I'm glad I was around to help." He turns to Natasha, who's slipping her phone back into her pocket and brushing her hair off her forehead. "And I'm really glad to meet your friend. You were amazing."
Natasha raises an eyebrow. "And who might you be?"
He gives her a blinding grin. "I'm just a concerned citizen."
"He's new in town," Darcy offers.
"No, just not a regular," he says. "I've been here before." The sound of sirens is getting closer. He gives them another one of those megawatt smiles and says, "Sounds like it's time for me to go, but seriously, you're amazing. We should do this again sometime, when I don't have to leave so soon." His mask doesn't do much to hide his playful leer.
Natasha snorts and rolls her eyes, unimpressed, and turns to Darcy. "You're okay?"
"I'm fine," she answers as the cop cars and SHIELD SUVs roll up.
"Ha," Darcy says when Clint comes over to her. "And you said Nightwing wasn't real. He showed up tonight to help Natasha beat these guys up."
Natasha nods. "Someone matching his description did join the fight, though I certainly could have handled these losers on my own."
"It was amazing," Darcy says. "He did these flips and shit--I swear, it was like something out of Cirque du Soleil or something." She holds up her iPhone and grins. "I got it all on video."
So they bundle her into one of the SUVs, Clint warm and solid on one side of her and Natasha warm and surprisingly soft on the other.
Her phone starts ringing as news of the fight hits the internet, and after she reassures her mom that she's okay, she calls Steph back to tell her the same thing.
"Good," Steph says, "I was worried." She grunts, and the next time she speaks, her voice is breathless. "Got a difficult patient here, gotta go."
Back at the SHIELD office in Times Square (Darcy much prefers it to the Helicarrier, which she still can't believe can actually fly; she spends most of her time on it waiting for it to plummet helplessly from the sky), they hook her phone up and watch the video of the fight. It looks pretty cool, and it's barely noticeable that her hand was shaking the whole time.
"Wait," Clint says as Nightwing does some kind of triple flip-twist combo that makes him look like he doesn't have any bones before he kicks two skinheads in the chest and launches himself into another somersault. "I know this guy. Or, well, I used to know someone who could do that move."
They all turn to look at him. "Are you sure? It doesn't seem that complicated," Natasha says. Darcy should know better by now, but she turns and stares at Natasha, who shrugs. "With practice, I mean."
"Do you remember the Flying Graysons?" Clint says.
"What?" Natasha says, thrown by Clint's non-sequitur.
"They were a circus act," Darcy says, glad for once to have one up on Natasha. "They died during a performance. Trapeze artists, right?"
Clint nods. "Yeah. A little before your time, I'd think."
"My mom's a true crime buff and the Graysons' story was all over Forensic Files until--Holy shit." She looks at Clint, wide-eyed, and he looks back, wearing a similar shocked and excited expression. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
They both say it at the same time. "We know who Batman is."
By this point, the rest of the team's joined them as they stand around in Coulson's office, video footage of Nightwing replaying over and over again on the wall behind them.
"No fucking way," Tony says. "No fucking way in hell." He sinks down into one of the uncomfortable office chairs (Coulson chose them so people won't sit and chat; Darcy always rolls her own chair in when she meets with him). "If this is true, I'm pretty sure I owe Pepper an island in the South Pacific. Not just a vacation, an actual island. She's never going to let me forget this."
"Of course Pepper knows," Natasha murmurs, like that's the exciting part of this conversation. "Of course."
"She's got a soft spot for old Brucie," Tony says, mouth twisting in disgust.
"That explains so much," Darcy says.
"Batman's real?" Steve says, bringing them all back to the heart of the matter. "I thought he was a myth."
"SHIELD has been aware of the Batman's identity for some time," Coulson says calmly, like they haven't just busted open the most amazing story Darcy's ever heard. "I'd be interested in hearing how you reached your conclusions, Darcy." He turns to Clint. "And you, yours."
"I worked at Haly's for a season," Clint says, "back before the Graysons died. They were all talented aerialists, but the kid, Dick, he was something else. He's one of the only people I ever saw who could do what Nightwing did on that video, and that was when he was ten. I can only imagine what he'd be capable of now if he kept up with the training."
"And after his parents were killed by the mafia," Darcy says, "he was adopted by Bruce Wayne. That episode of Forensic Files was the highest rated ever, but it was pulled from syndication, due to an injunction obtained by Mr. Wayne's attorneys. My mom has it on VHS." She smirks at Tony. "Guess you're not the only billionaire playboy superhero on the block." Tony grimaces but motions for her to keep going. "Batman was already an urban legend at that point, but it was only a few months after he took in Dick Grayson that Robin made his first appearance in the mythos, and his uniform was eerily similar to the one Grayson wore as a trapeze artist. Wait." She turns to Clint. "You worked at Haly's? You were a carny?"
He shrugs a shoulder. "I was a trick-shot archer. Also threw knives sometimes."
"That is so cool."
"I want to know why we haven't recruited him, if he's real," Steve says, cutting off Darcy's inquisition of Clint. "I mean, Batman." He sounds as excited about it as Coulson sounds about him. Darcy bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"His psych profile was not--" Coulson coughs. "He would not have been a good fit with this team. It's best to leave him to Gotham."
"And Gotham to him," Clint adds.
"Seriously," Tony says. "The guy dresses up like a giant bat to fight crime. And trust me, that's not even the craziest thing about Bruce Wayne."
"He involves children in his work," Natasha says in a carefully neutral tone that makes Darcy want to take a step back.
All she says, though, is, "Well, Nightwing seemed pretty cool."
Coulson makes a humming noise and, with an apologetic look at Steve, shoos them all out of his office.
"My phone," Darcy says, turning around to go back in and retrieve it.
"I'll have it for you in the morning," Coulson answers, meeting her in the doorway. "After I make sure the video has been removed completely and has not turned up on the internet."
Tony nudges her and gives her a nearly imperceptible shake of his head, so she makes a tsking sound and says, "Fine. But you better not eavesdrop on my personal calls."
Coulson smiles like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Would I do that, Darcy?" And then he shuts the door before she can answer.
Everyone else is chattering; maybe because they can't share secrets with the rest of the world, the Avengers are some of the most inveterate gossips Darcy's ever met, and they are in full-on gossip mode now, quizzing Clint about his time at Haly's and Tony about his acquaintance with Bruce Wayne.
The adrenaline of the night is starting to wear off, though, and Darcy can feel herself drooping.
Clint slips an arm around her waist, quietly steers her into an SUV, and takes her home.
"You okay?" he asks as the pull up in front of her building.
"Yeah," she says. "Just tired."
"Okay." He presses warm lips to her forehead and waits until she's inside the vestibule before he drives away.
Steph's not home yet--Darcy's surprised to see that it's barely eleven. She feels like she's been awake for days; the shots of Blackhaus probably didn't help. She changes into her pajamas, brushes her teeth and climbs into bed.
She wakes up several hours later to pee, and on her way back to her bedroom, she sees a dark shape creeping in through the window, taller and broader than Steph. Her taser is in her backpack, and she grabs it and hits the light in one twirly motion that leaves her dizzy and blinking, but armed.
She blinks a few more times, and then recognizes Nightwing at the kitchen table.
"I once tased the god of thunder and knocked him out," she says, pointing her taser at him. She neglects to mention that he'd already been spat out by an Einstein-Rosen bridge and run over by a truck by the time she'd gotten to him. "You're just a cute guy in an ice dancing unitard. What do you think I could do to you?"
"I just wanted to ask you to delete the video off your phone," he says with a shrug. "It's hard to be secret force for good if everybody knows you exist." He gives her one of those panty-melting grins. "Ask your cute redheaded friend, Black Widow. I'm sure she'd understand."
"If you know my redheaded friend was Black Widow, Dick," Darcy says, "then you know that SHIELD has already confiscated my phone."
He winces. "Dammit."
There's a jostling noise out on the fire escape, and Darcy catches a glimpse of bright blonde hair through the window.
"Steph?" She straightens up and points the taser at Nightwing again. "If you've hurt Steph--"
"No, no," he says. "I'm a big fan."
The person who comes crawling through the window, eyes wide under her mask, isn't Steph, exactly. She gives Darcy a sheepish wave and a smile.
"Holy shit, my roommate is Batgirl?"
Darcy puts her taser down, takes a deep breath, and squares her shoulders. She deals with weirder stuff every day at work; she can totally handle this.
"Waffles?" she says, going to the fridge for the eggs and milk.
The two masked vigilantes in the kitchen smile. "Yes, please."