Bright lights spilled over the balcony as music drifted through the open doors. Darcy Lewis sat in the shadows, smiling and humming along as she watched people pass the doorway. Some of them danced by while others strolled along as they chattered. The party seemed to be a smashing success with the guests if their laughter gave her any measure by which to judge. No one noticed her quiet figure as she sat on the stone bench. And that didn’t bother her one iota. They expected her to be inside, she knew, and sooner or later someone would be coming out to fetch her, scolding her all the while for being outside in the wind, but she wanted some time to herself.
She wanted to remember.
The breeze played with her hair, teasing free several white strands to dance in the air as she looked up to the sky. Did Heimdall still look down, watching over her as Thor and Jane requested? What did he tell them? She had not seen them in many years. Thor’s heart broke every time he came back to find more old friends gone and those who remained getting older, frailer.
Such was the cost of passing years.
Not that they hadn’t offered her a home in Asgard. They had asked her to join them several times, but first there had been her husband and the duty he felt bound him to Earth. Then their children...and their children... One thing after another kept her from accepting their invitation until they ceased visiting Earth. But Thor had promised he would come should she ever have need. Such a lovely thought...if a little unnecessary. She was probably one of the most protected women on the planet. If she needed help, then the world probably had bigger problems than one Asgardian prince - no matter how brave and powerful - could handle.
A soft sound of footsteps reached her just before someone sat down beside her. Darcy looked around and smiled at the redhead waiting there. “There you are,” she chuckled. “Wondered if you’d be here.”
“I would never have missed this birthday.” Natasha Romanoff, one of the original five, sat there as poised as ever. Affection curved her lips into the tiniest of smiles. Her age didn’t show as much as Darcy’s own, but then again - it never had.
Until you looked into her eyes...then it always showed - at least to Darcy.
“I remember finding you out here every year,” Tasha continued. “Waiting for him to get home before you went in to join the party.”
She huffed and then chuckled. “My soulmate always did take his sweet time about showing up.”
“But he never failed to be here.”
“No,” she agreed, her voice soft and dreamy in remembrance. “No matter what, he always finished the mission in time to be here for my birthday.” Then she gave Tasha a sideways glance. “And you lot tried so hard to keep us from meeting.”
“Not that it did any good,” the redhead laughed. “Fate will have its way.”
Time could never dim the memory of that day in Darcy’s memory. It remained crystal clear, no matter how fuzzy some of the others became.
The Three Scientists - or was that Bears? - had been edgy all morning, fussing and huffing over the least little provocation. Papa Bear - aka Tony Stark - growled over his toys, not wanting to share while Mama Bear - aka Jane Foster - hissed about engineers who thought they knew anything about astrophysics trying to give her grief about her energy readings. Then there was Baby Bear - aka Bruce Banner - who just tried to stay out of the way and ignore everything going on even though Darcy could see the tenseness ratcheting up in his shoulders every time one of the others so much as opened their mouths. After twenty minutes she threw up her hands and drafted some help. It took all of them, but she, JARVIS, and Pepper managed to get Tony and Jane both out of the labs long enough to lock Bruce inside while locking them out. Some clever threats led to the two tired, cranky scientists being hustled off to bed. Darcy considered it a job well done, grinning at the others before hightailing it for the main kitchen.
She wanted a large cup of coffee, some kind of pastry, and ten minutes of blissful silence.
And she wasn’t going to get it.
Not exactly anyway… Silence reigned in the room when she stepped through the door. Her eyes scanned the rigid expressions of the faces that turned to her as her steps faltered. Clint and Tasha stood on one side of the room, wary eyes focused on the two men standing across from them. Steve hovered near his newly returned best friend. James Buchanan Barnes had only been in the Tower for a few days, but she’d been kept on the opposite side of the building by well-meaning and overprotective friends (or on different floors because no one trusted the scientists alone these days - too many explosions). So...basically she hadn’t gotten to meet him yet. She eyed the group - they stood between her and her goal of coffee and no one seemed ready to break the stalemate.
That meant it was up to her - Darcy Lewis, the Cat-Herding, Scientist-Wrangling, Hero-Supporting assistant to the rescue.
“You can’t fight in here,” Darcy announced, poking James in the arm as she strolled past him and Steve, flashing a smile towards the watching spies. “This is the War Room!” A mischievous smile flickered over her mouth. “Free cookies of your choice if you get that reference.”
A hand shot out and caught her arm before she could get too far away. Everyone else in the room froze as James turned her to face him. Shadowed blue eyes zeroed in on hers. “Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and released in 1964,” he replied in a matter-of-fact voice as if reciting details from a file.
That might have thrown her if she hadn’t already been shocked by the words themselves. “You are totally the reason I’m a movie junkie,” she managed as she pressed a hand to her shoulder where those words had been etched in her skin for as long as she could remember. “I’ve got a better collection than most resale stores.”
One corner of his mouth twitched up into something that almost resembled a smile as the people around them made choking noises. His free hand pulled his shirt up just enough to reveal a line of her handwriting curving around his left side. “I woke up with these...and looked it up.”
“Like cookies that much, do you?” she asked before blinking at the two men giving them shocked looks. Tasha’s eyes darted between them, resignation settling in as if she were putting together a puzzle. “What?”
“You...he…you...” Steve stammered. James gave a soft snort as he glanced at his oldest friend, but he stayed quiet.
“Soulmates?” Clint’s expression couldn’t seem to settle, drifting between concern, shock, and exasperation. “Seriously? You two?”
“Somehow I am not all that surprised.” Tasha pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fate’s sense of humor has always been questionable.”
Darcy eyed all of them for a long moment before shaking her head. “I need coffee,” she informed them. “I have been dealing with toddlers masquerading as scientists and I haven’t had enough caffeine to deal with spies and agents and paranoid heroes.” Curling her hand around James’ elbow, she gave it a tug. “Come on, soulmate. We can discuss what type of cookies you like while these guys pick their jaws up.” She sent a wink towards Tasha. “Good luck!”
Shaking off the memories, Darcy turned a cheerful smile on her friend. “You couldn’t decide if you were amused or horrified,” she mused.
“Never horrified,” Tasha corrected. “Just...concerned.”
“Which translates to horrified.”
The redhead gave a nonchalant shrug. “It’s your birthday so I will let you have your way this time.”
“Because I’m right.” Darcy’s smile turned smug. “I’ve known you too long, Tash.”
“True enough, little sister.” Tasha reached out to touch a white lock that curled along Darcy’s cheek. “And why aren’t you inside?”
“I was waiting for you.” Darcy took her friend’s hand. “Got a favor to ask.”
Tasha’s fingers tightened. “Anything.”
“So fast,” she teased. “But it’s nothing you haven’t done before...and I know you’ll already do it, but…”
“If it helps you to ask, then ask.”
Darcy gave her a soft smile before waving her free hand towards the boisterous crowd on the other side of the doors. “Watch over them for me?”
Silence fell over the balcony, making the music from the party sound louder than ever. She watched as various emotions played through Tasha’s eyes, emotions most people wouldn’t have seen, but the two of them had been friends for too long now. Five decades and some change meant Tasha trusted her with keys and clues no one else got to share. Her face settled into sorrowful acceptance.
“You never needed to ask.”
The two women sat together and watched the party. One older in appearance, but the other older in years, they seemed a rather mismatched set. Even the party-goers, the ones here to celebrating Darcy’s birthday didn’t understand the bond between them. “The kids seem to be having a good time,”
Tasha’s soft chuckle signified her agreement. “Who knew there’d be so many of them?”
“Not like Clint and Laura didn’t try their best to add to the world’s population,” Darcy pointed out.
“As if you and James didn’t?”
“They’re good kids.” She pursed her lips. “Maybe a little too full of themselves and their pranks at times, but good kids.”
“Very much the children of their parents,” Tasha noted with a flick of her eyebrow.
Darcy’s laughter rang out, still bright though not as strong as it had been when she was younger. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The redhead paused before folding a second hand over their clasped hands. “You think it will be soon?”
“I’m tired,” she agreed, not needing any clarification. “And...I hear the past more than the present these days.” Darcy turned her gaze from the party back to Tasha. “I think they’re calling me home.”
“I will miss you.”
“You’ll see me again sooner or later,” she replied, pulling her hands free to hug her friend. “And we’ll be waiting for you wherever we are.”
Hope gleamed in Tasha’s eyes as she pulled back. “You believe that?”
“Absolutely.” Darcy’s tone allowed for no argument. “I refuse to believe that all of the love and...and...connections we have just go…’Poof!’ when we die. There has to be something or somewhere else, whether you call it Heaven or the Elysian Fields or Valhalla or whatever. I know there’s more.”
“Then I will hope to see you there.”
“You’ll be there,” Darcy promised. “If I have to drag you in myself.”
Shared smiles lit the night only to be interrupted by a new voice calling out.
“Grandma Darcy!” A little girl with dark curls and striking blue eyes came running out on the balcony. “It’s time for cake!” She skidded to a stop, her eyes going wide as she spotted both women. With a joyful shriek she threw herself at them. “Aunt Nat!”
“Hello, moya malen'kaya koshechka,” Tasha laughed as she caught the child and swung her around. “And how are you, Miss Talia?”
“Hungry for cake!” Talia threw her arms around the redhead’s neck. “You can have some too! Mama made pryanik.”
“My favorite.” She shifted the girl to one hip and turned back to Darcy. “Shall we go in, moya sestra? You can’t miss your birthday cake...no matter how untraditional.”
“I like spice cake,” Darcy laughed. She pulled herself to her feet and started towards the door. “Besides, it’s your namesake’s favorite too.” Reaching out she tugged on a lock of her granddaughter’s hair. “Isn’t it, sweetheart?”
“Yep!” Talia giggled.
“Then in we go.” Darcy waved the other two ahead of her before taking one more glance up at the night sky. “You watch over them too, okay?” she whispered. “With their grandparents, they’re going to need all the help they can get.” Then she caught her breath as she spotted something in the sky above her.
A shooting star shot through the night...clear despite the light pollution from the city.
Darcy’s smile blossomed. “Thanks, Big Guy.”
She turned and walked into the light and warmth of the party.