Darcy’s on the roof of Avengers Tower playing checkers with Bruce when it happens.
Steve is perched on the roof-garden’s wall dangling his legs ninety-odd stories over the skyline of New York and broodily drawing… something, probably Peggy Carter or Bucky again, or possibly, if they’re lucky, any of the animals Pepper and Darcy dragged him out to see yesterday at the Brooklyn Zoo, which would be a nice change from him constantly drawing from memory all the people he lost while taking the long, silent ice-nap. Tony’s lying back in a deck chair and attempting to look completely relaxed while he drinks a strictly (thank you, Pepper) non-alcoholic beverage and practically projects holograms around himself of E=Anxiety Squared. As per usual Tony’s trying to hide behind his sunglasses and a lot of studied nonchalance, and it’s not working any better than it ever has when it comes to Steve.
It’s funny, Darcy thinks, as she jumps three of Bruce’s checkers and he makes a “Why didn’t I see that coming, I’m a scientist?” face and kings her again, that Tony and Steve pretty much hated each other on sight. Of course, once everyone had figured out that Loki had planted the Evil Magic Spear of Evil in Tony’s SHIELD lab for precisely the purpose of getting everybody to tap into their darkest, pettiest possible selves – really, it was a miracle Bruce hadn’t Hulked out right then and there – there were apologies all around, and now Tony hovers over Steve like a prodigal older brother.
SHIELD is a very small universe, so that while it is itself a highly secretive organization the people within it have few secrets from one another. Because of this Darcy knows that Pepper occasionally reminds Tony, in that sensible way she’s got of gently scolding while at the same time absolutely supporting him, that Steve’s only been out of the ice for a few months, and it’s going to take a while for him to get a grip on this new century and sort out his place in it. In the meantime, however, Darcy is also aware that Steve tends to run into the thick of a fight without checking the odds against him, or waiting for back-up, and he drives his bike too fast too often through Manhattan in the small hours of the morning, and he sits on the edge of a precipice ninety stories up, drawing and drawing while Tony watches him, quivering like a nervous border collie and running Captain America algorithms in his head, persistently defeated, because Steve is not made of circuit boards and wires, and for all his good intentions Tony is still kind of stupid at how to handle actual humans.
Steve shifts his position minutely on the edge of the garden wall, and Tony twitches as though he might lunge out of the deck chair and try to make a grab for Steve before he leaps to a splattery death on the pavement below, which Darcy could tell Tony he’s really not going to do. At least he wouldn’t do it in front of his friends. She’s quite sure about that.
And then there’s a weird noise.
It starts over in the northwest corner of the patio, a loud, rhythmic grinding sound in the air like someone turning a huge, invisible garbage disposal on and off. Steve jumps down off the garden wall, makes an irritated noise as he realizes his shield is nowhere in sight, and grabs for the steel table next to Tony, sending Tony's unread paperback, the half-finished bottle of San Pellegrino, and the bucket of ice it was resting in tumbling to the floor. He brandishes the table in one powerful fist and scowls threateningly toward the increasing racket. Tony has risen to stand next to Steve, clutching his icy glass of SP and looking as though he’s torn between standing pat with that, or making a dash indoors for his armor. Bruce stands in front of Darcy and the checkers table, staring uncertainly at the tall, rectangular shape shimmering into existence where the noise is the loudest.
The garbage disposal finally grinds to a stop and Bruce wonders aloud, “Why is there a blue police box on our roof?”
Darcy agrees that this is a fair question. She hasn’t got superpowers, or anything to brandish, short of a keen sense of snark. Her taser, regrettably, is down in her bedroom, several floors below. She decides she’s perfectly happy to stay right where she is, peering at the blue box from behind Bruce’s shoulder. She sees the muscles in Steve’s arm tense, gripping the table hard, as the door of the blue police box slowly opens inward.
A woman of perhaps middle years, her inquisitive expression framed by shoulder length brown hair peers through the opening. She smiles hopefully at Tony and asks in a voice pleasantly British, “Ah. Hello. Stark Tower, Manhattan, United States of America, year 2012, post-Chitauri invasion? Please reassure me at least that it’s Stark Tower and 2012. Going to be dreadfully awkward if I’ve cut it too early.”
“Uh,” Tony begins, staring hard and perhaps a bit hungrily at the blue police box. “It's Avengers Tower now, but... Um. Essentially, yes.”
The woman grins, “Fabulous! All out, everyone!” She advances on Tony, “Sarah Jane Smith, U.K., universe at large, time-traveling investigative reporter.“ She smiles reassuringly at Tony’s suspicious scowl, “Currently on holiday. Haven't packed a camera. Don’t fret.” She extends her hand. “And you are?”
Tony accepts the proffered hand automatically, “Tony Stark. Billionaire phil—wait, ‘universe at large’? Is that thing space-worthy?”
“The Tony Stark?”
“Yes. The. There can be only one. Listen, is that—hang on, did you say time-traveling?“
“I’m looking for Captain America,” Sarah Jane Smith clarifies. “Captain Steven Rogers, United States Army—" Her glance lights on Steve. "Oh that’s you, isn’t it dear. My goodness, you’re just as large and wholesome-looking as in the newsreels!“
“Ma’am?” says Steve, looking wide-eyed and thoroughly gobsmacked.
“Oh my God,” Darcy squeaks, because three figures have emerged from the blue police box behind Sarah Jane Smith, investigative reporter, and Darcy recognizes one of them as SHIELD Agent Peggy Carter, the other as Sergeant James "Bucky" Barnes of the actual Howlin' Commandos for fuck's sake, and the third looks like Chewbacca the Wookie, except that it's a little smaller, and its fur is blond as barley. “Oh my God,” Darcy repeats, because really that bears repeating.
“It’s a TARDIS,” Sarah Jane is explaining to Tony and Bruce, “Bigger on the inside than on the outside, slides - occasionally tumbles uncontrollably, but mostly slides - through time.”
“That’s not possible,” Bruce claims, though he sounds a bit uncertain to Darcy.
“Half-ton jolly green giant living inside a certain one hundred sixty pound scientist,” Tony points out matter-of-factly.
Bruce sighs gently, as though recalling that the shameful mistreatment of the laws of physics has become part of his life now, and pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “Right.”
Steve stands pale and stock-still, clutching the metal table in a white-knuckled fist. He stares at Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes as though they’re each some cruel illusion.
Peggy smiles at him, looking beautiful, dignified and a little teary-eyed in her 1940’s British army uniform, and she says, “Hello, Steven.”
Steve croaks, “Peggy?”
“Sarah Jane thought we might bring the dance to you, after all.” Peggy raises one hand toward him, then drops it to her side and stands quietly, letting him stare while his brain works through the sheer impossibility that his eyes are telling him is, in fact, entirely possible.
Bucky teases in an accent that Darcy recognizes as pure Brooklyn, “You were always the brains of the outfit. Figure it out, Cap. Oh and see here, meet Hans. His mom found me at the bottom of that ravine in Switzerland after I got blown off the train. Patched me up good. Hans is a Yeti.”
“Buh?” Steve says, still apparently caught firmly between stubborn hope and crushing disbelief, and likely hung up a bit on the concept of Yetis performing roles generally thought to fall to Saint Bernard dogs. It's a lot to assimilate.
Darcy steps from behind Bruce and offers her hand to Bucky. “Darcy Lewis, personal assistant to Dr. Jane Foster, physicist. I once tased the Norse God of Thunder, so if you want to tell me you were rescued by a family of Swiss Yetis during World War Two and time-traveled here in a blue spaceship shaped like a British police box, I will totally believe you. I actually have seen weirder things.” Bucky’s daredevil grin widens further as he takes her hand in a strong, warm grip. “Give Cap a minute,” Darcy suggests. “He got frozen in ice for seventy years. He’s still catching up.”
“Yeah, I’m gettin’ that,” Bucky laughs.
Darcy notes to herself that Sergeant Bucky Barnes is a very attractive man, and oh hey, about her age, if you minus the time travel.
And then Steve’s brain appears to catch up all at once as he flings aside the table, and steps forward to throw one arm around Peggy and the other around Bucky. He crushes them together, and they both make happy “Oof!” noises and grab him right back.
Steve babbles, “Jesus, I never woulda thought, I still can’t, hell if I’m going nuts I’ll stay nuts!”
Tony will certainly swear later that no such thing as wet tracks of emotion trickling down his cheeks from beneath his sunglasses could possibly have occurred, so Darcy fishes out her StarkPhone and takes a picture for purposes of posterity, or maybe blackmail. No one notices Darcy’s photo – two photos, group shot for history, no make it three, universe-hopping lady reporter in a blue police box, how often does that happen? - except for Hans the Yeti, who really does sound a lot like Chewbacca when he laughs.
Hans’s large brown eyes are bright in a round face covered in short blond fur. His nose is oval and dark like a retriever’s. Darcy suppresses the urge to pet him. She’s not familiar yet with Yeti etiquette.
“Hi,” she says.
Hans grins at her, baring a broad mouthful of blunt, white teeth, and takes her hand in his. Hans's hand is large, warm and furry, but otherwise not much like a paw at all. It's definitely a hand.
Darcy wonders whether George Lucas has known all along something most other people don’t.
The door from the roof garden to the tower opens, and Colonel Nick Fury strides through, followed by a dozen heavily armed and anxious-looking SHIELD agents, who fan out behind and to either side of him. Fury glares out of his single gimlet eye at the tableau before him, then suddenly stops, grins fiercely and declares, his voice ringing out like the angel Gabriel exhorting the Hosts, “Sarah Jane Smith, as I live and breathe!”
Sarah Jane turns from beaming at Steve and Peggy and Bucky, stuck together like the legs on a milk stool, and beams at Fury instead. “Colonel, it has been far too long!”
“I see you’ve taken the Doctor’s wheels for a little joyride,” Fury deduces, sounding amused. "Isn't there a chapter or six in the Companion's Manual about stealing people out of their time streams?"
Sarah Jane bounces smugly on her toes. "Captain Rogers's plunge into the Arctic ice is a fixed point," she explains, "but the fates of Sergeant Barnes and Agent Carter are not."
Fury smirks, "Nicely played."
"I am an investigative reporter," Sarah Jane reminds him with a hint of mischief. "These little details are all in a day's work, yeah?"
"So what's with the Yeti? That is a Yeti, am I right?"
"Oh, Hans created Bucky's cybernetic arm," Sarah Jane tells him lightly, "and I've suggested he and Bucky ought to show it to the young Mr. Stark. He ought to be interested in this sort of thing, don't you think?"
Fury blinks. "Cybernetic arm?"
"Poor Bucky fell an awfully long way," Sarah Jane points out solemnly.
Darcy peers up at Hans. "That was really nice of you, to make Sergeant Barnes a new arm."
Hans smiles brightly down at her with his big white teeth and shrugs, as though building a new body part to replace the one ruined in an epic fall from a moving train in the Swiss alps while battling the forces of evil is the sort of thing any guy might do for a buddy.
Darcy watches Steve grinning at Bucky and Peggy fit to light up all Manhattan, and she thinks contentedly that yeah, these are the kinds of people she hangs out with now.