They’re at the astrophysics conference in Rome -- Jane keeps forgetting Darcy’s her SHIELD escort, not her research assistant, but that’s ok, since Darcy just passes everything to the nearest minion and says “Take this to the lab,” in her most Coulson-y voice -- when Jane almost plows into a big guy with a Prince Valiant haircut on the fifth floor. She mutters something and continues to scribble in her notebook.
“Sorry,” Darcy says to the guy. He nods at her solemnly. Then he picks her up and throws her out the window.
Darcy doesn’t even have time to scream -- her stomach’s in her throat, and the wind’s whipping through her hair, and then she does something and lands. On her feet. With only a little thump, like she had just jumped off the bottom step. She stares blankly at the neatly manicured lawn inexplicably under her feet and not, you know, mashed under her mangled body. There’s a shriek from above, and she whips her head up.
“Oh my god!” shouts Jane, hanging out the window. “Darcy!”
“I’m fine!” she says, then, “Get away from the window! Is that guy still there?”
“What guy? Are you ok?”
“Hold on,” says Darcy. The hallway they were in wrapped around the back of the auditorium; it was 150 feet long, with one door at each end and a fire escape in Darcy’s view. There’s no way even Jane could have missed the guy, once she had been distracted from SCIENCE! by her former assistant’s sudden defenestration.
She taps into SHIELD’s radio frequency. “Attention, all agents,” she says, her voice only shaking a little. It’s the first time she’s ever had to call anything in. “Code 4. Adult male, approximately 6’4” -- shit, what do you call someone who’s Native American but not from America?”
“First Nation?” Smits suggests. “First floor covered.”
“I don’t think he was from Canada,” says Darcy. “Red shirt, horrible bob. I need eyes on the auditorium.”
“I’ve got it,” says Oxidine. “Lewis, are you all right?”
“Yeah, fine,” says Darcy, after floors 2,4, and 6 check in. Her phone rings.
“Talk to me,” says Coulson.
“I just got thrown out of the window by a giant Aztec,” says Darcy.
Coulson sighs. “Yes, I was afraid something like this would happen.”
“What,” says Darcy.
“Well, you see,” says Darcy’s mom, the video chat barely lagging at all. “You’ve always been able to do... little things like that.”
“Little things? Like fall out a window?” says Darcy. “Why do you even know that? I thought you were a good parent!”
“We’ve had an eye on your abilities for some time, Agent Lewis,” says Coulson, hovering behind her. “I believe they were inherited.”
“Wait,” says Darcy to her mom. “You can jump out of windows, too?”
“Well, no,” says her mom. “Darcy, we thought about telling you, but... you were, uh. Kind of adopted.”
“What,” says Darcy.
Darcy stumbles into her hotel room, grubby and exhausted and drunk (the last thanks to Jane, who had tracked her down after her debriefing and immediately dragged her to the hotel bar). She doesn’t bother with the light, because her night vision has always been good (preternaturally so, says Coulson, because he knows creepy details like that, like he knew she was adopted before she did, she can’t believe she actually missed him when they all thought he was dead) and she’s seriously considering just collapsing on top of her bed fully dressed.
The Aztec guy is standing in the middle of the room. Darcy immediately draws her taser.
“Seriously, buddy?” she says. “My day is bad enough. If you want another round of defenestration nation, it’s your turn.”
Aztec guy -- why does she think he’s Aztec? It’s not like he’s wearing a sign or anything -- puts his hands up.
“I apologize for before,” he says. “I had to be sure.” He nods towards the dresser. “That is for you.”
The world’s tackiest middleweight belt is sitting on top of it.
“No, thanks,” says Darcy, her hands tightening on the taser. “What do you want?”
“Darcy Lewis,” says Aztec Guy. “You see in the dark. You fall like a cat. You are the Puma Man.”
“What,” says Darcy.
Aztec Guy’s name is Vadinho. He’s some kind of priest and, apparently, her mentor. Because she is the Puma Man. Despite, you know, being neither a puma nor a man. Apparently her title loses something in translation.
There might be a similar problem with Aztec Guy, too, because he says he’s from the Andes plateau, but Darcy is pretty sure geographical concerns are the least to worry about in the mystical cult of the Puma Man.
“Wait, if the Puma Man is supposed to protect your people, did he just, like, check out five hundred years ago?”
“Ugh, great, I’m from a long line of flaky superheroes,” says Darcy.
Vadinho shrugs again. “Each Puma Man serves in whatever way he can,” he says philosophically, which Darcy is pretty sure nevertheless translates to “What a pack of idiots.”
“So what do you need me for?” asks Darcy. Before he can answer, she gets a sudden, blinding headache, and her phone rings.
“Darcy! Get over here!” Jane shouts excitedly, and then she’s talking too fast for Darcy to make out anything more than the occasional “quantum!!”
“Yes, Jane, I’ll be right there -- no, get the minions to do it -- yes, they know how to use Matlab -- what? No! Jane, seriously, put the coffee down, you don’t need any more caffeine.”
She hangs up. “Well, either there’s a massive Einstein-Rosen bridge forming naturally, or someone just blew up the universe. Or maybe both.” She rubs her forehead, and the headache fades a little.
“You sense danger,” says Vadinho.
“Just like the mighty puma,” Darcy mutters.
She brings Vadinho with her, because omgwtfPuma Man. Coulson doesn’t even blink at her new sidekick, which just confirms Darcy’s suspicions that he’s basically all-knowing and also, a jerk. Vadinho is still carrying the belt, unfortunately.
“What’s going on?” she asks as they walk briskly down the hallway, agents scattering before them under the combined might of Coulson’s bland death glare and Vadinho’s quiet menace, or possibly his horrible haircut.
“Dr. Foster detected an anomalous concentration of dark energy particles over New York City,” says Coulson. “However, they are apparently significantly different from readings of the Bifrost or the Tesseract.”
“Okay, so why am I here? And why did you let him in?” says Darcy, jerking a thumb at Vadinho. “No offense, dude, but you did assault a SHIELD agent.”
“Dr. Foster requested your presence. You do have some practical experience in these kinds of situations,” says Coulson, “and Mr. Vadinho has assisted us in the past.”
“You have?” says Darcy.
“The treasures of my people are not always fit for the wider world,” says Vadinho. “I am their custodian while the Puma Man comes into his power.”
“I am sure you’ll be pleased to know there are no windows on this floor, Agent Lewis,” says Coulson as he swipes them into the labs.
The anomalous concentration of dark energy turns out to be the appearance of a giant alien ship, piloted by a being who calls himself Set. A quick peak at Wikipedia confirms that this is probably not a good sign.
“Does this mean MacGuyver is going to show up, too?” Darcy asks. Jane started shouting things about quarks and decay rates, so Coulson magically produced a report from somewhere and reported himself to a command center. Darcy and Vadinho also reported to the command center, not that anyone had actually ordered them there, but following Coulson and looking confident opened all sorts of doors when he didn’t slam them shut on your foot.
SHIELD’s translation software kept crashing whenever they tried to run Set’s hissing and spitting through it, so they’re relying on Thor to negotiate in Allspeak, to SHIELD’s general horror. Coulson seems pretty chill, though. Well, Coulson’s always pretty chill, but in this case Darcy thinks it’s a combination of a greater trust in Thor -- she wouldn’t nominate him as secretary of, like, the UN, but the guy was raised to be a representative of his government, even if a large part of their foreign affairs seemed to be based on kicking ass -- and the simple knowledge that this shit looks bad regardless of anything Thor says.
“You know our Cheyenne Mountain files are above your clearances, Agent Lewis,” says Coulson. “And Richard Dean Anderson regrettably did not appear in Stargate the movie. I will, however, approve your request for a larger office supplies budget if you feel that may contribute positively to our nation’s security.”
“Does shooting rubber bands at Tony Stark count?”
“Yes,” says Coulson.
“Darcy,” says Vadinho quietly. Darcy rubs her forehead.
“Yeah?” she asks.
“This is not the first time Set’s kind have challenged our ancestors.”
“Our -- ” Darcy blinks. “You mean, Puma Mans -- Men -- Persons -- have fought them before?”
“On Earth,” says Vadinho, “and across the stars.”
“So what you’re saying,” says Darcy slowly, “is that he’s an evil alien, and I have all the powers of a puma from space.”
Thor’s voice blares suddenly in their comms. “Your terms are unacceptable!” he roars. “We shall meet you on the field of combat and bely your falsehoods with our strength of arms!”
The computer screen flashes as the program finally finishes analyzing Set’s language. --COMPLETE AND TOTAL SUBJUGATION OF THE PLANET scrolls across the monitor.
“Oh, look,” says Darcy, as alarms start going off throughout the building. “I sense danger.”
So it turns out that maybe the reason Darcy’s headache o’ danger sensation didn’t go away might have something to do with the way that Set EMP’d all the National Guard forces, forced the Helicarrier into the water, captured the Avengers (though not until after they had taken out the weapons on his ship), and sent out a message saying BRING ME THE HEAD OF THE PUMA MAN.
In all caps, because he’s clearly an asshole.
“Colonel Fury is consulting with the armed forces now,” says Coulson, disconnecting his earpiece. “We have half an hour before any military action can be initiated to stop Set and rescue the Avengers.”
“We?” says Darcy. “Are you going to help me cut my head off and deliver it to his spaceship in a duffel bag?”
“Of course not,” says Coulson. “I’m required elsewhere and would have to disavow any knowledge of independent action against the invader. However, the Avengers Initiative was started to provide a more flexible and... creative approach to protecting our safety.” Then he leaves.
“Right,” mutters Darcy. “Creative.” She looks at Vadinho. “So. He wants the Puma Man? He’ll get the Puma Man.”
Vadinho holds out the belt. Darcy sighs, and puts it on.
There's a brief flash of light, and suddenly she's clad in the traditional raiment of the Puma Man.
"Oh, my god," she says.
She’s wearing a poncho/opera cloak, an itchy brown sweater, and khakis. SKINNY khakis. The enormous belt is still just as enormous and just as ugly.
“Yes, the gods have given me the privilege to clothe the Puma Man in armor befitting his or her dignity,” says Vadinho serenely.
“You do this on purpose, don’t you,” says Darcy. “You throw people out of windows and make them wear horrible clothes because you think it’s funny. Can I have a helmet or something?”
For the first time, Vadinho hesitates. “The mask of the gods wields great power,” he says. “I do not doubt your courage, but it can tempt even the purest of hearts -- ”
“What?” asks Darcy. “No! I don’t need more power, I just want to cover my face.”
“Ah,” says Vadinho, and hands her a gold mask. She puts it on -- it sort of makes a whirring noise and grows to cover her whole head -- and feels much better, not in the least because it’s pretty unlikely anyone will ever connect her with a shiny Mike Tyson dressed like it’s casual Friday from hell. “The mask will remain silent as long as you refuse to call it.”
“Noted,” says Darcy.
“You have skills of your own, but some of the awesome powers of the Puma Man take many years to master,” Vadinho warns.
“How long will it take for me to learn to fake it?” asks Darcy.
Vadinho considers it for a moment. “Two, three minutes?”
“Great,” says Darcy. “Let’s make a plan.”
The Awesome Powers of the Puma Man:
- Falling out of windows
- Seeing in the dark
- Sensing danger
- Teleporting places she’s already been, like that sports bar on an entirely different continent conveniently located under an alien spaceship
Vadinho gently puts her down at the feet of Set, head bowed. “The Puma Man has laid down her life so that you will leave her planet in peace,” he says.
“No!” shouts Thor. “You will pay for bringing low such a mighty warrior!”
Set laughs unpleasantly. “Will I, son of Odin? Will my blood spill like the sacrifices at Tenochtitlan? Will -- ”
Darcy rolls over and tasers him.
His armor sparks and locks up, and Vadinho punches him in the face. Set staggers backwards, trips over Darcy’s outstretched leg, and collapses into the control panel unmoving.
“Shut up, loser,” says Darcy. Ok, maybe it’s not the best one-liner ever, but thanks to the mask’s mystical translation circuits she had to listen to that guy babble on forever while she was pretending to have kicked the bucket.
“Well done, Puma Man,” says Vadinho, sounding genuinely proud that she had learned how to play dead. Apparently her predecessors have set the bar really low.
“My friend!” shouts Thor happily. “Forgive me for doubting that you could ever be -- ”
The ship rumbles. Mauve lights start flashing, which is weird, but the blaring alarm is unmistakable. Especially when the floor pitches and they lurch downwards.
“Puma Man, I think it is time we left this place,” says Vadinho.
“Free me, and I shall collect my companions,” says Thor.
“Right,” says Darcy. She looks at Set’s patented unbreakable chain, currently wrapped around Thor, then down at the smoking and ruined control panel. “Uh.”
“Your hands are claws,” says Vadinho helpfully.
“Yeah, just like a puma -- hey!” says Darcy. “Sweet.” She picks up Thor’s chain, pulls it taut, and slashes down. It stings, but the link snaps in half cleanly. She shakes out her fingers as Thor punches through a wall and carefully extracts his hammer from behind Cap’s shield.
“You take that side,” says Darcy, and slices through the hinges and bolt on the first cell. She steps to the side and bangs her fist on it twice.
“Can you kick it down, Cap?” she shouts, over the sound of Thor remodeling. There’s a thud, and then the door falls forward with an enormous clang. Captain America blinks at her.
“Who are you?”
“Aww, c’mon, I was setting you up to say, ‘Can you kick it down Cap who?’” she says, as she starts on the next cell.
“What’s the punchline?” he asks, helping Hawkeye limp over the wreckage of Thor’s rescue. Then they both make a beeline for their toys while the Black Widow sweeps debris off Set’s computers.
“Uh, I actually didn’t get that far,” says Darcy. “Look, I’m new at this, ok?”
She’s barely stepped back from the last door when it crashes across the room on a jet of repulsor fire. “Hey, people,” says Iron Man. “Pumas. I’ve got partial access to the mainframe and it says we’re going to crash in about two minutes, so I vote we move this party to that great Mexican place by the Tower. Also, I ejected the Hulk, I hope nobody minds.”
“We can’t let the ship crash here,” says Cap grimly. “What are our options?”
“There’s a manual override to return to point of origin,” says Iron Man. “I’ve got Dr. Foster on the line -- we should be able to send the ship back.”
“I can set up a few seconds’ delay,” says Black Widow, hovering over a mostly-intact touch screen thing. Of course she can read hieroglyphics. “Iron Man, can you do better?”
“Of course I can, I’m -- uh, looks like a five second window is the best we can get. Gotta be quick, folks.”
“All right,” says Cap. “We’re evacuating now. First flyer available, I need you to hit that override and get out of here when we’re clear. Where’s the nearest exit?”
“Here,” says Darcy. Her claws squeal across the space-glass windows, which shatter outward in an extremely satisfying explosion when she kicks them.
“Peachy,” says Iron Man, then grabs Cap and takes off.
Thor looks at her with a disturbed expression. “I swear, my friend, we will return -- ”
“It’s cool, get them out,” says Darcy, and Thor nods and takes off, Black Widow and Hawkeye clinging to him. Then it’s just her and Vadinho and a foundering spaceship.
“What should we do about him?” says Darcy, nudging Set with her foot.
Vadinho shrugs. “Let him return to his people.” He gives the smoky bridge an impassive glance. “The chariots of our fathers are much safer than this.”
Darcy snorts. “A Ford Pinto that’s already on fire is much safer than this,” she says, and then a migraine hits so hard she can’t see. She dives blindly at Vadinho, and they both crash to the deck as something big collapses behind them. All the lights go out, and the floor drops out from under them.
“That was not two minutes!” shrieks Darcy, then shrieks again as they’re thrown sideways towards the windows. “Vadinho!” she shouts, but there’s a flash of red and someone catches him as he's sucked out.
“You do not fly, but your mind does!” he shouts, and they disappear into a cloud of smoke. Something detonates deep in the ship.
Darcy pushes off the window frame, grabs the big red lever, and yanks. Then she throws herself out the window into free fall.
Her initial reaction of AUUUUUGH!!!!! is temporarily interrupted when something else explodes behind her. She twists around to check on the ship just in time for it to disappear with a gentle blip, and then the only things left plummeting to earth are a bunch of debris and her.
Well, she isn’t flying, that’s for sure. Her mind? How does your mind fly, this isn’t like -- oh. Apparently it is.
Yep, she can fly.
She pretty much sucks at it, but whatever.
She glides -- well, descends -- ok, lurches to earth. Flying while hunched over and flailing is totally how the cool kids do it. Totally.
She staggers when she hits the ground in front of the Avengers and Vadinho, but sticks the landing. Eight points for the Puma Man. Well, ok, seven. Six from the Russian judge, since the Black Widow totally has that impassive face she uses instead of laughing.
Even Captain America is trying, not very successfully, to hide a smile.
Darcy tries to be mad, but she has the sinking feeling that her flying looked exactly as ridiculous as it felt -- i.e., like she was being given a wedgie from space.
There’s a rumble, and the Hulk slowly pulls himself out of his crater in the street. He glares blearily at Darcy. “AGAIN,” he says, then collapses forward and shrinks down into a snoring Bruce.
“My royal cousin!” says Thor, and gives her a bear hug. Darcy gurgles in surprise, because it’s not like she was using her ribs or anything.
Steve blinks. "You know this -- person?"
Thor slaps Darcy on the back, almost knocking her over. "This is the mighty Puma Warrior! One of the descendants of my distant kin across the stars and guardian to their mighty gifts. I have proudly fought by their side before, on Midgard and across the nine realms."
"Actually, it's just me, guys," says Darcy, and pulls off her helmet.
“The Puma Man,” Vadinho intones.
Clint’s poker face cracks and he lets out a snort of laughter. Natasha elbows him.
"That's, uh, quite the get-up there, Darcy," Steve chokes out, that hypocrite.
“Sure, laugh all you want,” she says. “I dress up like Captain Dork to save the planet, and you, but you go ahead and make fun of my Dockers.”
“I will not,” says Thor. “Darcy, I have always admired your strength of spirit, but I was not aware of your lineage!”
“It’s cool,” says Darcy. “Neither was I.”
“A momentous day! It is an honor to join battle with you, my friend,” says Thor, and gives her another backslap.
“Thor’s right,” says Steve. “Agent Lewis, you know we always appreciate your help.” He hold out his hand. “But this time we owe you our lives. Thanks.”
“Not a prob, Cap,” says Darcy, shaking his hand.
“And I like your khakis,” he adds. “I think they look smart.”
“I find your cape majestic and cunning in design,” says Thor.
“I’ve seen way bigger belt buckles,” says Clint, which she supposes counts as an apology.
Natasha gives her a nod.
“Tony?” says Steve.
“What? Oh, right,” says Tony, finally flipping his face-plate up. “Thanks for the save, Lewis. Also, I like the helmet. Very face-obscuring.”
Tony had been quiet. Too quiet.
“You didn’t,” she says in horror.
“Three thousand views and your own hashtag already,” he says. “And a gifset on Tumblr.”
“I hate you and everything you stand for,” she says, just as her phone buzzes. She fishes it out of her pocket, which is at least one thing her mystical puma space khakis have going for them. There’s a text from Coulson:
Miss Potts kindly sends you her thanks, and the footage of Stark’s initial flight testing for the Iron Man Mk. 2.
Good job, Agent Lewis.
“Never mind,” says Darcy.
“What?” says Tony. “What happened? Who are you talking to?”
“And thank you,” says Steve to Vadinho.
“My people have long stood against the evils of the world,” says Vadinho. “It is good to have allies to stand with us.” He turns to Darcy. “Puma Man, I must return to our home, but I leave behind me a worthy guardian of our heritage to stand with these heroes.”
Darcy waits for him to finish.
“You, Puma Man,” Vadinho says patiently.
“Oh. Right,” says Darcy. “Thanks, Vadinho, that... means a lot, actually.” She pauses. “Wait, wait. Dude, you totally punched an evil god in the face. Why do you even need Puma Man?”
“The ways of the gods are mysterious,” says Vadinho. He walks away, disappearing into a cloud of smoke from some burning debris.
“So,” says Steve. “Puma Man.”
“Pretty much,” sighs Darcy.
“I hate to be picky,” says Natasha. “But pumas aren’t really known for their flying.”
“You’re just jealous,” says Darcy, and teleports back to the SHIELD labs in Rome just because she can. Jane will appreciate the data.
After that? She’s learning to fly. Actually fly.
You know. Just like the mighty puma.