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Queen of Crows

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No one is sure what woke her.

Director Fury had been assured her tank was secure and the drugs they pumped in would keep her asleep for eternity if necessary. Even then, they had a facility dedicated strictly to containing her. The kind of place that’s spent so long being hidden that it no longer exists. There are no whispers of it because no one even knows it’s there. The guards in that place are convicts bound to service there and the scientists too crazy to be taken seriously by anyone but a man with one eye. Perhaps, people would consider it hell if they knew of its existence. A place so hot and dark that what else could it be? A place of silent screams and endless pain, with only one prisoner.

No one knew what color her eyes were anymore.

They hadn’t been seen in so long that the fact they had a color no longer mattered. Floating in a tank of translucent blue gel she slept. Her hair floating like a halo around her head and her limbs limp and lax. They called her Sleeping Beauty and Princess instead of 003492834 since she had no name. Only a long string of numbers that most shortened to 003 for formal reports. Her naked body held no sexual attraction to the men in the facility. They’d been staring at her as an object for so long she’d lost any appeal as a woman, as a human. Most thought of her as a simply a thing. A toy that the scientists monitored and watched daily but never really did anything with. How could they? She wasn’t to be woken. If that happened then hell would truly burn.

No one saw her wake.

It was nearing midnight, not that time matters in this hole devoid of light. Deep in the underground facility there was a whisper in the dark. A tremor shook the ground and for a split second the lights went out. In that moment, the darkness found her. A pair of eyes snap open to a world devoid of light and then as the lights flicker back on chaos erupts.

She breaks the tanks impenetrable glass with one smack of her fist, which seemed to be covered in shadows.

Alarms blare and all those drills that the soldiers run no longer feel so silly as they realize that Sleeping Beauty has woken and she’s no princess. She’s a dragon – she breathes fire. Battle stations are manned and machine guns are clutched tightly in sweaty hands covered in black gloves. Yet, no one sees anything as a wave of shadow envelopes everything and slowly the screams can be heard. Men tremble and one unfortunate soldier shits his pants and dies with the humiliation fresh in his mind. Not a single soldier survives her escape. One or two scientists do, but when questioned they can barely stutter out a few words before they begin to tremble and slam their heads against the table or tear out their hair.

When the warning dings on the helicarrier the tech sitting at the station barely blinks. He files it into his report and then sends the report up the chain. It takes another dozen people marking the same little box and sending it up the chain before Fury gets the report.

His single eye widens and for a brief moment the messenger who delivered the report spots true fear on his face before it is wiped clean.

“Get me a plane ready.” Fury barks, putting the report back in the file. “I need to leave in less than five.”

The messenger nods, “Where to, Director?”

“I don’t see how that is any of your damn business.”

~

Miles away she’s clawed her way back into the world. Her eyes water with tears as they try to appreciate how the world looks bathed in light. Not sure where she is and clothed in only the unfitting scraps she grabbed off a soldier, she stumbles upon a road. Following the path, she enjoys the warmth of sunlight and the chirping of birds. The world is so busy and loud compared to the silence she’s been existing in for decades.

The sound of a car approaching causes her to turn. She sees the beat-up truck chugging down the road with windows open and music spewing forth. As it nears it begins to slow, coming to a spot beside her.

A cheerful brunette is driving with two kids and a baby strapped in the backseat. “Hey there! You look a little lost.”

She smiles at the woman and her facial muscles ache in protest, so out of use. “I’m afraid so… I don’t really remember what happened but I woke in the forest…”

“Oh my!” the woman exclaims, her motherly instincts kicking in and making her want to help the bedraggled looking woman who can’t be older than early twenties at most. “Honey, why don’t you get in and come with us?” The woman has good instincts and she knows a harmless girl when she sees one. In any other case she’d be right, but not this one. This girl is a monster with blood dripping from her hands. Yet, the monster is tamed for now and the precious princess newly woken from a deep sleep is in the monster’s place.

Still, she hesitates at accepting the offer. She knows what she is and the kinds of things she can do. No matter how much she’ll try, she won’t ever forget the sounds of the screams or the taste of fresh blood. “Are you sure? I don’t want to impose or put you out.”

The woman leans over and opens the door. “Come on we like company! Don’t we kids?” The little girl and boy cheer in excitement over someone new and the baby laughs with joy in a way only the truly innocent can.

She gets in the truck and shuts the door behind her. When she’s buckled, they take off down the road again with the music only slightly lower so they can speak.

“So what’s your name? Do you remember that?” the woman asks, taking her eyes off the road for a moment to eye the stranger she’s let into her life.

A smile dances across her face as she nods. She does remember. Actually, she remembers it all but she’s not about to confess her crimes to such a sweet woman. “Yes, it’s (y/n).”

The woman grins and holds out a hand for her to shake. “Nice to meet you, (y/n). My name’s Laura – Laura Barton.”

Chapter Text

It had been a month since Laura Barton had picked you up on the side of the road and given you a place to stay. With not hesitancy she had opened her house and home to you and enveloped you as part of the family.

Nathaniel lets out a shriek of laughter as you blow raspberries on his stomach. His little fists wave merrily as he continues to laugh as you make faces and tickle his sides. The innocent delight of the children caused the places in you that had been kept in darkness for so long to fill with light and hope. Every smile they gave you felt like a precious gift.

“Aunty!” yells Lila as she and Cooper come running inside with Laura trudging up the porch steps behind them. The three of them had gone out to take a walk to the lake while Nate napped and you stayed behind.

Gently you put Nate down on his blanket on the floor and turn to catch the children as they race into your arms. “Did you have fun, ladybug?”

Lila grins wide and nods. “We saw some of those pretty purple flowers you like and then a fish hopped out of the water!”

“And Mom can’t even keep up and run as fast as we can.” Chimes in Cooper with a proud puffing of his chest.

“Is that so?” you ask, eyes wide in pretend wonder. As they prattle on you watch Laura smile softly at the scene as she scoops up a babbling Nate. She presses a kiss to his chubby cheek and meets your gaze. With a wink, she takes Nate to the kitchen leaving you to entertain the older two.

After dinner, it takes nearly two hours to get the kids ready for bed. Between the pouting at not being allowed to stay up later, a lost rubber duck during bath time, and three bedtime stories the evening is a whirlwind. Finally, you and Laura are sitting on the porch swing in the softly dwindling light.

“My husband is coming to visit in a couple weeks.” Laura breaks the silence between you two. “I know you don’t like being around groups of people or new people, but I’d like you to stay long enough to meet him… Please?”

You clench your eyes tightly shut in a long blink. “I don’t know… It’s weird enough you let me in like a lost stray. You don’t think he’s going to be freaked out by this random girl who helps take care of his kids and lives in his house?”

She reaches over and grabs one of your hands, making you aware that you’d clenched them into fists so tightly that your nails had bitten into your flesh leaving little half-moon indents. “I think he’s compassionate enough to recognize a lost soul when he sees one. And besides the house is in my name not his, so technically its mine.”

You laugh, sure that’s what she intended and relax. “Okay, it’s not like I have anywhere else to go anyway… I’m just a whale floating through the ocean now.”

“A whale?” Laura squeezes your hand and laughs. “Really? Whale is what you’re going with? Not a raven?”

“Raven?” you ask, knowing what she’s referring to but waiting to correct her.

She releases your hand and gestures to the black birds that always seem to be found in the trees surrounding the property since you showed up. “Those giant black birds that seem to be watching over us. Surely you’ve seen them.”

Now it is your turn to laugh. “Those aren’t ravens, Laura. Those are crows!”

“How can you tell the difference?” She’s eyeing the birds confusedly. “Aren’t they basically the same?”

You hesitate, your gaze locked on the birds as they begin to settle in for the night. “Somewhat… Crows are creatures of darkness and death. They’re carrion birds, meaning they feed on dead animals. Pieces of the night sky that have been crafted into winged messengers. They live in groups called murders and they care for those they consider family. Never attack a crow or they’ll all come after you.”

Laura turns and gives you a surprised glance. “That’s some explanation.”

“I like birds.”

~

Fury stands at the head of the table with the Avengers sitting around him, with various frowns on their faces. Head bent with his eye trained on the ground it looks as if Fury is trying to repent. Repent for the actions that have led to this moment and the crimes committed because he signed them off. Somewhere inside of him he’s ashamed of his actions; however, he also feels they were necessary. If you’ve trapped a dangerous animal you cannot simply let it go. It’s got claws and fangs that’ll cut down any that come after it. No, you can’t let such a creature roam free. So, you cage it. Trap it and then hide it away. Fury turned you into an animal. A pretty thing more feral than human when he first saw you. Fool.

“What I’m about to tell you surpasses all levels of clearance.” Fury raises his head, finally acknowledging his part in what has occurred. “There are no electronic clues to trace back to it and the signal what was set off alerting me to the problem registers as something entirely different. In short, there is no way to know of the existence of this unless you were there in the beginning – and there are very few of us left who were.”

“Sounds interesting.” Tony waggles his eyebrows. “You’ve got my curiosity peaked!”

“Tony, please.” Steve lets out a sigh, while Bucky shifts uncomfortably. “This is serious.”

Nat and Clint sit up straighter and Bruce fidgets.

“What?” whines Tony, leaning back in his chair. “What is the worst he could be hiding? We’ve handled aliens and saved a fossil from Hydra. What could Fury be keeping that is so bad? SHIELD’s version of a super soldier?”

Bucky and Steve frown at the fossil dig. The two soldiers share a look of worry over what SHIELD could be hiding that could be so bad. Neither will voice said concerns but the tension in every line of their bodies speaks volumes.

“Actually, we believe she’s some kind of mutant.” Fury decides to chime in causing everyone to stare at him. “003 was a captured mutant we were holding in a secure facility.”

There’s a pregnant moment of silence.

“You were holding a woman captive?” Bruce inquires, almost puzzled. “Why?”

Looks fly between him and Fury as the team awaits the answer.

“She was dangerous,” Fury heaves a sigh. “More so then we expected and when we tried to contact her she lashed out causing us to panic. After that it was a matter of luck and, potentially, her reluctance to hurt us that led to her imprisonment. There are more details I can’t share with you now, but all you need to know is that she needs to be located and contained. I’ve sent out a few recon teams and they’ve found nothing. She’s vanished like smoke on the wind.”

“Smoke on the wind?” snorts Tony, with a smirk. Obviously, not taking anything Fury is saying seriously. “That’s a bit cheesy sounding, isn’t it?”

“You ever seen darkness manifested in a person, Mr. Stark. Seen the way it twirls itself into a human shape then smiles at you with eyes so empty of light that you see the void. The void where humanity ends and evil leaks forth. That’s what she is, and smoke is a perfect description for her. By the time you smell smoke the fire has already caught and you’re about to be burned into nothing. If you smell smoke, you run. If you see her, you run.” Fury plants both hands on the table and leans forward. “I’m not sure if she should be captured or killed, but she needs to be found. Right now she’s out there watching the world and observing us with a smile on her lips. She’s waiting. At the perfect moment she’ll burn the world to the ground if she so chooses. I’m not about to let her light a match while there is still breath in my body.”

Clint lets out a low whistle. “She sounds fun.”

“Do you have any info on her?” Nat asks, shifting in her seat to smack Clint with her foot.

Fury pushes a single folder forward. “The facility was destroyed and there were only a few survivors. This is all we have that hasn’t been lost. You can talk to the scientists still alive, but they’re not altogether there anymore.”

“She drove them crazy?” Tony barks out a laugh. “Impressive!”

“Dangerous,” mutters Bruce. “How’d she do that?”

“They wouldn’t say.” Fury states bluntly. “But they seem terrified of the dark now.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t trust him,” Bucky mutters to Steve. The two of them stand away from the rest of the team that is discussing the possible ways to track 003.

Steve sees the tendril of fear that skirts across Bucky’s face before vanishing. He remembers how long his friend was in hiding. And he remembers how any people still consider Bucky a monster.

“It’ll be okay, Buck.” The words feel hollow in his mouth, but he says them anyway. A weak attempt at soothing the barely tamed man beside him. Sure, James Buchanan Barnes still retains the part of who he was before Hydra got their hands on him… yet, he’s also got a darkness in him now. A feral ferocity that can’t be controlled (and everyone knows it). Bucky can paint on a smile and even offer up a convincing laugh, but Steve knows him better than that. Steve sees the way he assesses each person that walks in the room to determine how to best to neutralize them, and the way he checks his food and drink for poison before consuming anything. The trust that Bucky once possessed has been eliminated. He’s like a circus animal that’s been beaten for so long it flinches at the gentle touch and welcomes the sting of the whip. After all, the whip it can trust.

Bucky frowns and shakes his head. “Will it, Steve? Do you really believe that Fury is telling us everything? I don’t trust him.”

Neither do I, Steve thinks. He keeps that thought to himself though. No need to make Bucky even more skittish than he already is. “The best thing for this girl is if we help find her, that way no matter what happens we can make sure she’s safe. If we find her we can determine if she really is a danger or just misunderstood. Alright, Buck?”

Steve can see the thoughts churning behind Bucky’s eyes, yet even after knowing him for so long he has no idea what Bucky is thinking. Is he angry still? Worried? What does he see in Steve’s expression?

Slowly, Bucky nods. “Okay.”

Steve breathes out a soft sigh. One crisis averted, now to find the missing woman.

~

“You shouldn’t walk alone, (y/n).” Laura warns as she bounces Nate on her hip. “It’s getting late out and I can run to the store in the morning for milk.”

You adjust your jacket, zipping it all the way up. “I don’t mind, Laura. The older two are asleep and it looks like Nate is down for the count. I’ll be back in an hour tops. A nice brisk evening jog will do me good.”

Laura grabs your arm as you attempt to leave. “Just be careful.”

A smile stretches across your lips. “Don’t worry about me – the darkness feels like an old friend.”

It isn’t terribly dark yet. The sun is barely beginning to sink below the horizon and the shadows are long and lean as they stretch and wave in the sunset. This time of day has a magical quality to it. The way that the night and day seem to meet in the moment of sunset to form a beauty of its own. Sunrise is lovely, but sunset is magnificent. A wave of deep blue is overtaking the sky and chasing the warmth of pinks and oranges away as it drapes night over everything. Night embraces you. In the night you feel at peace.

It doesn’t take long to grab milk from the closest convenience store and dressed in your jogging clothes you make your way into the parking lot. That is when it happens.

First all you hear is the sound of drunken laughter and heavy footsteps, but you pause. Oh, foolish you, pause and turn toward the source of the noise. Three men all slightly drunk and with cruel smiles are stalking toward you with the look of violence in their gazes. They watch you with twisted sneers and clammy palms. As they get closer that’s when they begin to speak to you.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” One croons as he beckons with a hand.

You blink at them and listen to the whispers of darkness that tell you their secrets. The deeds that make evil linger in their veins and bubble from their laughter. Those secrets about broken bodies, weeping women, and begging pleading children. No, these men aren’t good. No one will miss them when they’re gone. You know why they’re here though. Like attracts like, and no one has ever accused you of being good.

“She’s a pretty thing.” A hand reaches out to touch you and for a moment you allow it. The stench of alcohol burns your nose, but luring them in is easy as long as you’re silent and still. “A tad small in the tits department, but at least she’s got’em.”

They laugh and you blink.

Perhaps, you’ll offer mercy? It is not entirely foreign to you that sometimes humans change and repent for horrible deeds. Maybe these men will take salvation?

“You should let me go.” It is a onetime offer. A deal that will expire the moment the hand doesn’t move but is joined by another seeking to punish and cause pain.

The slap stings as your head slams to the side from the force. It should cause you to feel more rage than you do. Rage is an old friend. Fire and brimstone are glorious when unleashed, but these pathetic thugs don’t warrant that. No, all they will get is a flick of the wrist as you watch them choke on their own darkness.

“I warned you,” you murmur and then you strike.

The hand still on you is yanked off and twisted until it breaks. The crack of bone and wail of pain are akin to a symphony of angels singing to you. As you force the man to his knees, the shadows around you bind him down and begin to pull. Each second that passes cause the man’s body to come closer to the breaking point. That point where there is no escape and it accepts death. The body always reaches acceptance before the mind. Gazing down at a broken, ruined body and seeing the mind struggle to fight is your favorite part.

Once he is taking his final breath, you turn to the others. They are frozen in horror and that makes them easier, stupider prey (almost not worth your time). Instead of waiting for them to recover from the shock you decide to be kind and kill them. Clenching a fist, you proceed to pull the darkness from them. Reaching deep into their very souls you begin to purge it from their body and watch, amused, as they choke on it. It looks like black tar as it seeps from their noses and ears. Tears of thick, black, viscous ooze down their cheeks before you. Soon they are on their sides heaving, trying to get air into their tar filled lungs. Hope has passed for them and soon the primitive part of them realizes that and hopelessness fills their eyes.

You relish in their pain, and when you’re sure they are dead you let them melt into nothing but darkness before you. Darkness consumes. And they belonged to it – to you.

~

In the morning, Laura gives you a cheery smile as she pours milk on the kids’ cereal.

Chapter Text

Tony, Steve, Bucky, and Bruce sit around a table spit balling ideas after determining that the search for the missing woman was going nowhere. When Fury enters it is in a moment of utter silence as the four men seem to have run out of ideas.

“Well?” Fury asks, arms crossed and brow furrowed. “How goes the search?”

No one bothers to answer.

Finally, Bruce speaks up. “It isn’t going anywhere.” Taking off his glasses, he rubs his eyes. “We have nothing to go on since the facility was destroyed. No witnesses because the scientists aren’t talking. And no clue what this person even looks like!”

“Seriously,” Tony adds with his usual snark. “Why no pictures? How the hell do you expect us to do anything with not even a partial picture? You don’t even remember what she looks like. Besides, we’re not even sure why she’s dangerous except for the destruction of the base.”

“In which she was imprisoned,” growls Bucky.

Steve shifts uneasily in his seat. “With all due respect, Sir, we don’t have any reason to be hunting this woman. Nothing has happened since her escape. As you can see both Barton and Romanov have taken a vacation since this seems so unimportant.”

“Can’t you give us anything?” whines Tony.

“Why is she so important?” Bruce inquires as he slips his glasses back on. “Why are you so afraid?”

Fury stares at them all for a moment. Nothing is said and no one makes any move to break the silence. Then, he speaks. “I’ve seen a lot of darkness in my time. Some people get lost in the darkness. But others are built from it. She is the darkness. There was a little town in South Dakota where it all started. A small town. A quiet town. The kind of place that time forgot and people rarely venture to or from. The population was four hundred and twelve people. Men, women, children of all ages that lived in peace. Until she arrived. We’re not entire sure how it occurred, but we got lucky. An agent was from that small town and happened to go home for holiday, so he was the first to discover the chaos.”

“It was a slaughter.” Fury sits down heavily in a chair, unable to keep standing. “From what we could tell people simply turned on each other. Mothers literally smothered daughters. Sons beat fathers to death. Neighbors burned down each other’s homes with families inside. The police shot the fire men and a fire man’s axe was found buried in the sheriff’s head. All four hundred and twelve people were dead.”

“My god,” murmurs Steve, horror written across his face.

“We sent a cleanup team along with a team to try to piece together what occurred. That’s when we found her.” Now Fury looks vaguely sick. He’s clutching the arms of his chair with a force that looks painful. “An agent discovered her swinging on a playground surrounded by the corpses of children and parents. She was simply swinging, and when the agent approached she looked up and spoke to him. Words that haunt me to this day and they were not even spoken to me, “Do you think a plague would kill people off quicker?” and that’s all. He took her in for questioning, but the agents monitoring her succumbed to the same force she used on the town and killed each other. After she escaped a spree of unrelated, sudden crimes occurred which we used to track her down. She was sedated and locked away for study. It has been decades since she was put to sleep. After the incident, we covered it and the world forgot about that tiny town and those four hundred and twelve people who were murdered. Yes, murdered because that woman made them kill each other.”

“What is she?” asks Tony, ever the inquisitive one.

Fury releases his grip on the chair and flexes his fingers. “We don’t know.”

~

You hate begin nervous. It makes your skin itch and your shadow jump around behind you. Today is the day Laura’s husband comes home for a visit and it makes you want to vomit. It makes you want to run. To slip into the shadows and lie in darkness until the potential danger has passed. However, there will always be another threat. Threats that you can’t predict and a few that you can. You know what’s coming… It is only a matter of time until she sends someone to deal with you. You shudder, thinking about how the past will be coming to haunt you.

“Aunty?” calls out Lila as the sound of her feet pounding on the floorboards upstairs can be heard.

“Coming, ladybug.” You yell back, standing and stretching before heading toward the stairs.

When you reach the top floor, she’s standing with her hands on her hips. She’s wearing the dress Laura bought her the other week with the daisies on it and has on some pretty white sandals. It is clear she’s dressing up for her father’s return. A bittersweet smile crosses your lips as you try to imagine doing this for your father. He’d have swooned.

Lila pouts, “I can’t tie the bow in the back.”

“I can do that, ladybug.” You twirl your finger and she turns around so you can fix the bow in the back for her. “There you go – now you’re ready!”

Off she goes, downstairs and outside to where Cooper is playing in the yard with Laura watching over them. Your stomach clenches, and you try to calm it down as you recall what Laura recently decided. Instead of telling her husband about your nonexistent past, she’s already told him you’re the nanny she hired. It’s a thin cover, but she says he won’t question it once he sees you with the kids. And when she mentioned a family friend, Aunt Nat coming… well that didn’t help your nerves any.

Gliding toward the back bedroom, you enter the nursery to watch Nate sleep. Standing over his crib and watching his even breaths makes you smile. His face is peaceful and blank while his arms and legs occasionally twitch. Reaching down a hand, you stroke his baby fuzz and grin. He’s adorable awake but when he’s sleeping there’s something special about him. The amount of peace a sleeping child has never registered with you before. But, then again, how many sleeping children had you seen?

It had been a long time.

You hear the car long before the kids start squealing. Then you hear the giggles and shouts of “Daddy!” as they run out to meet the car. For a moment, you continue to watch Nate sleep, then as if he’s aware his father is home and he should go greet him, he wakes up. A big baby yawn and some sleepy babble, the he’s raising his arms demanding to be held. Picking up the little prince, you carry him down the steps while rubbing his back while he giggles. He’s a happy baby and loves his cuddles.

“There’s your daddy.” You whisper in his ear when you step onto the front porch and watch a man with short brown hair lifting Cooper over his head. A red-headed woman is carrying Lila while she gives Laura a hug.

A loud squawk comes from a crow in the tree closest and you feel all the tension leave your body. All of a sudden, you’re reminded of all the shit you’ve lived through. The pain you’ve faced and people you’ve lost. If this man wants to kick you out that’s fine. You’ll survive another broken heart.

“There’s the baby,” coos Laura when she sees you holding Nate. “Come here, (y/n). Was he crying?”

All eyes snap to you as you bounce Nate a couple times and bring him down to hand to Laura. “No, he was good. He woke up and started talking so I figured I could bring him down since naptime is obviously over.”

Laura hands Nate over to the man, whose eyes flit from you to his wife then to Nate.

“Clint,” Laura says, her voice taking on a tone that broaches no arguments. “This is (y/n), the nanny I hired. (Y/n) this is my husband, Clint Barton.” She turns and points to the redhead who has joined you all. “And this is our closest friend, Natasha Romanov. Nat this is (y/n).”

The judgment in their eyes is clear. Each newcomer holds themselves with a tension that could be cut with a knife. Ah, judgmental stares… if there are death threats later you’ll feel right at home. Maybe even an assassination attempt to make everything seem homier.

You paste on a smile that fools everyone, “It is nice to meet you both.”

“Likewise.” Clint states with forced calm. “I’ve heard very little about you.”

It was awkward and tense but somehow dinner was managed. After, you cleared dishes and stood at the sink rinsing and loading the dishwasher while the others were putting the children to bed. A soft whisper of shadow behind you alerted you to the presence of the woman, Natasha, in the room.

“Lila adores you.” You muse as you punch in the washing machine settings and begin to hand wash the last few. “She talks about you daily, and her greatest dream in life is to be a warrior like you. It is sweet how much she admires you.”

When Natasha props herself against the cabinet next to you, it is easy to see the apprehension and surprise in her face. “You aren’t what I expected. You don’t seem nervous or afraid of us even though we’ve been icing you out and here you are… being nice or trying to butter me up?”

You let out a light laugh, “I’m not a huge butter fan – too many carbs. And as much as I adore the kids and love working here I understand that I’m not part of the family and would hate to make things awkward for them.”

“Practical,” she nods. “Oddly, I like you.”

“Thanks,” you throw her a genuine smile. “And Lila is right, you have the stance of a warrior. I can see why she aspires to be you.”

She lets out a snort, “Now I know you’re flattering me.”

A smirk flits across your face for her to see. “Hey, it can’t hurt my case any. Besides, I find being friendly can work wonderfully in such situations.”

You chat for a while longer as you clean up the kitchen and she helps. By the end, you both are laughing and talking like old friends even though she’s been stealthily trying to question you about your past while you smoothly dodge. Lying can be exhausting, but you’ve had years of practice.

When Laura and Clint finally come down she makes her leave, firmly taking Laura with her. Natasha throws you one last look over her shoulder before she and Laura head outside to sit on the porch, far out of earshot.

A tension builds in the room and you can see the swirls of darkness that accompany Clint. Biting in the inside of your cheek, you refuse to be the one to break the silence.

“So,” he crosses his arms and takes a stance that seem as immovable as a mountain. “You’re the nanny Laura hired.”

You take on a relaxed pose of nonchalance. “I am.”

His mouth turns down in a deep frown. “Laura likes you. A lot. Me on the other hand… Meh.”

This time you quirk a smile and shrug. “Listen, I don’t want to disturb your family or make trouble. If you don’t like me that’s fine, and if you want me to leave I will. Family is important and this one is yours. Not mine. Yours. Laura is wonderful and your kids are amazing, but I’m just the nanny. All you need to do is say the word and I’ll take my stuff and leave. You can even blame it on me when you tell Laura. It doesn’t matter, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. And if you think I’m not best for them, then so be it.”

Mentally you’re calculating what few possessions you’ve collected in your time here. The collection of thrift store clothing Laura had bought you and the newspaper clippings you kept of articles that seemed to speak to you. That yummy cake recipe, the picture of the rescue dogs, and those silly little poems they put in on Fridays. It wasn’t much, but to you it was the world. It had been a long time since you had wanted to hold onto trinkets.

Clint sighs and runs his finger through his hair, clearly agitated. “Dammit! I didn’t want to like you. A nanny seems weird and impersonal. Who the hell wants a stranger to watch their kids? When Laura told me I roped Nat into coming so we could scare you off and now this! Nat seems fine with you. Laura loves you, she threatened divorce if I make you leave. And the kids adore you. Fuck. Even I kinda like you after that whole spiel. That’s just not fair.”

By the end, he’s practically whining and it’s both amusing and endearing to watch in a grown man. Then he starts to sign instead of speak and you watch rapidly as he curses and rants in ASL. After a while he looks back up at you with a sheepish expression, as if expecting you to have some sort of reply to the stream of chatter that just occurred.

Do you prefer I sign instead of speak? You ask hands moving and lips remaining pressed together.

His eyes widen in shock and then soften into excitement. You sign? This is awesome!

You offer a shrug, It’s one of those skills I picked up throughout life.

“We are so keeping her!” Clint practically yells while he wraps an arm around your shoulder and leads you outside to join a laughing Laura and Natasha. “How do you feel about dogs? I’ve always wanted one for the kids.”

Chapter Text

“But, Daddy!” whines Lila as she clings to her father’s leg. “We don’t want you and Aunt Nat to go!”

She and Cooper had been pouting and whining for the past hour since they found out their father and aunt were leaving. Laura had been uncommonly quiet because of the departure, but was trying to hide her sadness. It wraps around her like a blanket in your mind’s eye, dark blue and bordering on the color of dusk. Yet, no sinister simply a dark emotion.

It had been several weeks they had been able to stay and after the first night they accepted you completely. Clint and you spoke in ASL and somehow all of his cheesy dad jokes made you laugh as hard as the kids. It had been a long time since you’d seen a dad as great as Clint Barton. He treated you like a little sister and teased you mercilessly, which you quickly learned to give back with equal sass. Unlike Clint’s over-the-top brothering, Natasha became a quiet comfort. She sat with you and shared pieces of herself that it seemed she shared with few. Little bits like a crow dropping pebbles at the foot of a trusted friend. You learned how much she loved daisies and that cake pops were her favorite dessert. Or how she hates broccoli and always reads the end of a book first.

You were family to these people, yet you couldn’t offer the same candor. Too soon you feared it would all end.

“Take care, kid.” Clint gives you a hug and you pass over the cards the kids made.

“Here are the cards from the kids,” you pinch his shoulder and he lets out a squeak of pain. “Don’t read them until you’re back safely. We both know if you look at them before you’ll be turning around and coming back.”

He pouts, “Fine, you big meanie.” As he goes on to hug Laura and the kids, Nat approaches you.

“Watch out for them,” she smiles at Clint who is tickling Cooper mercilessly. “They need someone to hold things together.”

For a moment, your smile slips but you quickly pull it back into position. “Of course, you know I’d do anything for them.” What you don’t say is that watching out for them might not be best for them. Part of you knows that you’re toxic. If you stay the family will start to die from the inside out. It’ll be slow and unnoticeable until it is too late to save them. That’s how it has always been with you. Toxic. Deadly. Unfortunately cursed.

A loud caw breaks through your troubled thoughts, and you glance up to see the crows shifting uneasily. They sense the shifting of the wind and instinctually realize that things will change – soon.

~

Clint and Nat strolled into the common room of the tower looking refreshed and smiling. Tony was pouring himself another cup of coffee while monitoring a page of notes Bruce was scribbling in, and Steve and Bucky were chatting with Sam on the sofa. It was a relaxed atmosphere as they greeted the newly returned agents.

“Alright, idiots! Gather round and see the adorable shit my kids made me!” Clint grins like a fool while he waves the unopened package of cards in the air.

The others laugh and grumble, but come to see what he holds anyway. They watch as he pulls out the first card, Lila’s, and finds it covered in pink spiders with a crayon version of Nat on the inside beating up bad guys. Everyone laughs and Nat barely manages to suppress a blush of pleasure. Steve makes a comment about how Nat should wear a pink body suit instead of black and nearly gets eliminated by her stare alone. The next is from Cooper and contains a ton of pirate stickers, because he’s obsessed with pirates and thinks Clint would make a good first mate. More laughter as Tony compares Fury to a pirate and Bruce muses how he wanted to be a pirate when he was young. Then comes one from Laura and Nate that is simply her reminding him not to come back with a dog because if they get one it will be picked out as a family. Nate’s chubby handprint is splashed on the cover and Sam remarks how it’s in Clint’s color.

Then a third card falls out of the larger envelope. It lands on the floor innocent in its pale blue envelope. Bucky scopes down and picks it up, handing it to Clint.

Clint turns it over in his hands and they all stare for a moment at the name written on it. In loopy writing is the name Nick Fury.

“Holy shit.” Tony whispers, setting down his coffee.

For a moment, they all stare at each other and then Clint is ripping the letter open and yanking the paper out. It is a simply piece of paper, folded in half, and only contains one line of text.

Your move.

“Nobody was there but us. How could… No!” Clint’s eyes are wide as they meet Nat’s. “I need to call her. NOW!” He shoves the paper into Steve’s hand, and the supersoldier takes it while signaling Tony to call Fury.

The phone rings while Clint has it pressed tightly against his ear. “She was so normal. All she did was wash dishes and make funny quips. I like her, Nat. She was good people. You saw her singing Nate to sleep. And she carried Lila on her back while playing ponies! Ponies! What kind of horrible villain plays ponies with a little girl. We would have sensed if she was bad. Oh, god… she’s with my family.”

“Clint, sweetie? You just left!” comes Laura’s laughing voice on the other end of the phone.

Clint lets out a choked sob in relief. “Laura, where’s (y/n)? Is she there now?”

“No, she went out to grab groceries this afternoon. I thought you said you liked her. Clint, she’s a good person. Calm down and stop worrying.”

“Did she take any of the kids with her?” There’s an undertone of panic in Clint’s voice still. The team watches him intently as he clutches the phone.

Laura laughs, “Not this time. Lila and Cooper are beat from all the antics they got into with you here and are napping, and Nate is about to eat something. Right, sweetie?” There’s the sound of a baby’s laughter on the other end as Nate waves his arms and giggles.

Sinking to his knees, Clint closes his eyes. “That’s good. I’m going to send some agents to your house now. Whatever you do, do not let her back in. She’s dangerous, Laura. You can’t trust (y/n). She’s a monster.”

~

“She was living with my family, sir. Taking care of my kids and chatting with my wife. Natasha and I met her, talked to her, and never suspected anything was off about her. There were no indications that she knew us or that she was planning anything. There are agents at my house now and my family is going to be relocated. She’s vanished, sir. No one can find any trace of her since she supposedly left to get groceries yesterday afternoon.”

Fury stares at Clint while he gives his brief report. As he listens to Clint continuing to talk, Fury stared at the message the woman had sent him. (Y/n), she had called herself. It was a pretty name and made Fury want to chuckle at how normal it sounds. In fact, she could be anyone by Clint’s description. The kind of woman that flitted through crowds unnoticed unless she wanted to be, she never needed to stand out. He’d been younger when he’d seen the woman. She’d seemed like a mere slip of a girl at first glance. And though he tried her features always became fuzzy and distorted the harder her tried to recall them.

“Did the crows leave?” he interrupts Clint’s report.

For a moment Clint pauses, then frowns. “Yeah, they did.”

“Then the queen of crows is gone.”

Chapter Text

The winged bits of shadow circle the sky around the park you’re taking refuge in. Some of them land in trees above the bench you’re using while a few land near your feet. One precocious bird hops onto the seat beside you and comes to rub against your arm. With a small smile, you rub the back of your fingers against the shiny feathers.

“Pretty bird,” you croon to your little friend. “Tell me, what have you seen?”

Your eyes flutter close and when they open they stare white and unseeing at the world. Images flicker of a tower with a giant A, the sweeping swish of a long leather jacket, silent laughter from faceless people as you sit in a sterile white room, and then eyes filled with sadness and fear… eyes with unshed tears that have seen the kinds of things that would make others cringe. Then your sight cleared and once again you saw the park.

“Thank you, precious.” You lean down and kiss the bird’s head.

It makes a low noise of happiness then files off. Soon the sky is dotted with darkness as most of the crows take flight. Off into the world to be your eyes and ears, your spies on those who will be coming for you. Closing your eyes and tipping your head back you enjoy the warmth on your face for a moment.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” comes a quiet voice beside you.

Tears fill your eyes at the sound of a voice you’d heard often in your captivity. The voice that had kept you sane during your endless sleep and the voice that had woken you. She who had called the darkness and forced it to find you. Of course, she had sensed you seeking to see more than you could through your birds. After all, she saw everything.

“Beloved little sister,” you smile when you open your eyes and see the figure sitting next to you.

She isn’t physically there. All that sits beside you is a ghostly image of the woman she is. Eyes the same color as yours stare back and in most ways it is like looking in a mirror. Some would call you twins if they did not know any better.

She smiles, “Ah, Sissy, you’ve gotten yourself in quite the dilemma. Destroying Earth?”

“It was the right decision,” you defend your actions. “This planet is killing itself. These humans are awful! They hate each other and get angry about anyone they deem ‘different’ then what they call the norm. It is sickening and these heroes they have defending them are flawed and horrible creatures.”

At your reasoning, she laughs. Loud and joyous, like she used to when you were younger; causing your lips to twitch up in a small smile. “Oh, Sissy! How have you not realized it yet? All life is flawed, and imperfect, and somewhat horrible. No matter what there will never be a perfect society and that is something you must accept.”

“I’m realizing that,” you grumble.

She takes your head in her nearly corporeal hands. It felt like being touched by chilled water, and your whole body shivers as she leans in and pecks your cheek.

“Don’t be foolish and try to use your birds to look into the future. If you try again I’ll let it take you until you’re trapped in a world full of possible futures and no present.”

Ah, your beloved sister. Possibly the cruelest of you all. Not the most destructive, but the cruelest.

You crack a small grin. “I’ll be good, Sister.”

“I know.” You watch her fade away with a smirk barely flitting across her face. “Keep in mind what they’ll be doing to catch you now.”

~

“Since we sat you both down with a sketch artist we’ve been able to get an accurate picture of what (y/n) looks like.” Fury sneers as he uses your name. To him you’re still 003, the nameless, inhuman experiment that was locked away. Knowing you have a name makes you real and more human. Having heard from Laura how you acted and played with the children invokes emotions he refuses to acknowledge. Humans can be monsters. But it is always easier to face monstrous monsters. You’ve slipped between categories and Fury can’t allow that. How to remind everyone you’re dangerous? “We’re ready to broadcast her image on every news outlet.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Steve asks, thinking about how violently you might react if you’re cornered by civilians. “Do we want to risk casualties like that?”

Clint nods in agreement. “I agree with Cap on this one.”

“She didn’t hurt your family though,” counters Tony. Fiddling with a gadget, he barely looks up as he talks. “She was with them for months and never harmed any of them. I’d say that decreases her threat level, no matter what she did in the past.”

“Sticking up for criminals now, Stark?” sneers Clint in response. “Going to start batting for the other team?”

“Only for you, hot stuff.” Tony retorts, looking up long enough to wink at Clint and blow him a kiss.

Before more bickering can occur Fury shuts it down. “No matter, we need to find her somehow and it has been over a week since she left the Barton household. This is the quickest way. As Mr. Stark has said she’s been non-volatile so far.”

“So far,” hisses Clint, which earns him a glare from Nat. She may not agree with Fury but he’s still in charge, and she trusts him.

“Alright,” Steve relents. He shares a look with Bucky, who’s been silent this whole time. “We’ll do things your way for now.”

As they file out, Steve grabs Bucky’s arm and pulls him to the side. “Are you okay, Bucky?”

Bucky stares at the ground for moment then meets Steve’s gaze. “I don’t know, Steve. We’re hunting her down and treating her like a criminal. And she is, I get that, but how is she different from me? We don’t know her story. She was fine living with Clint’s family. Yet, we’re going to call her a monster and get her crucified by the public in order to bring her in. It makes my skin itch.” He digs his metal fingers into his skin but doesn’t scratch.

“We have to find her, Bucky.” Steve winces at Bucky’s lost look. “We need to bring her in and figure this out. I don’t fully agree with Fury but this may be the quickest way. Do you have any better idea?”

Bucky releases his arm and clenches his fists. “No, I don’t. But I’m afraid for her. This woman I don’t even know and I’m worried about what will happen to her. I feel like I understand her. To me she sounds like a weapon. She sounds like me.”

~

It had been nearly a week and you’d spent most of your time staying in a dingy motel and sitting in a park. The park was nice and quiet, except when the mothers brought their children to play in mulched off area near the benches. Most days found you sitting on the bench people watching. The way they interacted with one another fascinated you. Normal interactions seemed so shocking as you observed them. From what you saw it wasn’t perfect but it was beautiful.

“Assemble!” yells a little girl dressed in a Captain America helmet and shield.

You bite back a smile as you watch her tottering group of friends, all dressed as superheroes, gathers around her.

She’s got her hair in pigtails and grabs the hand of a little boy dressed as Falcon, and they lead the charge toward the slides. The others trail behind, but the little Widow isn’t looking at them anymore. No, she’s staring at you. Then she dashes off after the group.

Turning away from them you watch the crows circling above, and turn to observe a couple joggers… until your peace is shattered.

“You!” a voices squeaks in the semblance of an order. “Villain!”

Amusement fills you when you see little Captain and her barrage of heroes (She’s still holding Falcon’s hand). “It’s nice to see you, Captain.” You give her a smile, and watch her stand taller when you address her as captain. “Did you need something?”

Little Widow steps forward. “You’re the bad lady from the news! Mommy was watching this morning and I saw Captain America say you were bad.”

“Did he?” you muse, what an excellent counter move. Now the entire country knows what you look like. It could have gone badly though if you were still set on the destruction of the planet. However, that had changed. Did they know that?

“Yeah, he did.” Little Widow crosses her arms. She looks fierce in a childish way.

You wonder if she’ll grow up to be as powerful as you expect. She’ll be unstoppable one day. If you know anything about warriors, and you do, you know she’ll be one someday. Battling the world in whichever way she chooses.

“Okay,” you concede. “Would you like to take me in?” You hold out your wrists, palms up.

Little Captain turns to the others and they seem to go over the idea.

“Falcon, you stay and guard the bad lady with Hulk and Iron Man.” Little Captain announce. “I’m going to get Mommy with Widow and Thor.”

Then they are off and you’re left sitting on a bench. Being guarded by little superheroes and musing how this was how you were captured. Not by the grown superheroes or by the police, by children.

You smile.

What would Fury do with this twist?

With that thought in mind, you laugh. The kind of laugh that shakes your whole body and makes tears gather in your eyes. This is just another opening move in the game. You’ve played games with mortals before and you can tell this one will be fun. Wiping tears from your eyes, you let the laughter consume you.

Chapter Text

“This is her?” Steve and Bucky stand outside the room you’re locked in with Fury.

You sit chained in a room of all white. Like a spot of soot, you mar the pristine shine of the room with your dirtiness. Smudging the chair and table as you get comfortable in your chair with hands passively laying on the table. It is hard to look directly at you because you seem to blur in the room. All the white outshines you and makes you receded despite being the only being in the room. They’d sent in agents to question you, yet you’d spoken to no one. They asked about the kids that captured you and you smiled. They asked about the Barton family and you tilted your head. They asked you about the people you killed and you simply laughed. Breaking you was a feat they’d never accomplish.

“This is her,” Fury confirms.

The three of them stare at you. Take in the disheveled tangles that have become your hair, the purple hue that has developed under your eyes from fatigue, and the slump of your shoulders due to boredom. There is nothing about you that speaks of defiance or strength, yet it exudes from your pores. Power contained in a delicate, human looking body.

Suddenly, you look up from staring at your hands and the men collectively suck in a breath when you seem to look directly at them.

Steve shifts and resists the urge to take a step back. “Is she always like this?”

“So far.” Fury crosses his arms and frowns. “I can’t put my finger on it…”

“It’s her eyes.” Bucky replies to Fury’s unasked question. “See how blank her eyes are. That’s why she’s so intimidating. Can I talk to her?”

Steve stiffens, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” He glances back to the you and watches as you sway back and forth now, humming gently. In some ways this terrifies him more than before because how does one deal when faced with a monster? A human can be picked apart until a motive is found. Money? Power? Love? Respect? All motives that can be understood by others, but you? What makes you tick? That is the question Steve asks himself, and the lack of answer makes him feel a shiver of fear.

“Let the sergeant have his turn.” Shrugs Fury as he crosses his arms. “Maybe he’ll get something from her. There was discussion of sending Romanov or Barton in but they’re too close as of now. Perhaps Sergeant Barnes can get something out of her we can’t.”

Steve is adamant though. “No, not until we figure out if she has the ability to use her powers while in containment. Get those cuffs we used on Loki and stick those on her first. I’m not letting you go in their unprotected, Bucky.”

~

Hours later, you’ve been fitted with some amusing cuffs that they seem to think will protect them from your powers. Cute. Amusing. Foolish. You sit passively through the fitting and let them have their fun as the agents lock you up. Then it is back to waiting. For a while you meditate then you decide to look a little farther. Pushing your vision outward you connect with the crows that are flying around the city and watch the world go by. It is toeing the warning your sister gave you, but not enough to make her mad. She was one person you didn’t want to anger. Moving your lips in silent orders you soar above the world and exam it through a bird’s eye view. You remember that you’re powerful. Seeing the world from afar always remains you of such.

“Hello.”

A voice breaks through your traveling mind and you feel like you’re falling as you return to your body. After some rapid blinking, you focus on the man sitting across from you. At first you simply look at his physical shell. The long brown hair, day old stubble, and metal arm all draw your attention. Then you see the darkness. It swirls around him like an old friend and has seeped into his very pores. This man wears darkness like a second skin. It coils like snakes around his torso and cinches tightly around his neck like a noose. He’s choking on it. Not because it wants him to die. No, the darkness loves this man, but so does evil. This isn’t the harmless darkness of a moonless night or a shaded spot on a sunny day. This man has the kind of darkness that lurks in locked rooms filled with screams and bedrooms with blood being spilt between sheets.

Redemption?

For him?

“I’ve seen shadows brighter than your soul.” You watch him draw back as if physically slapped. “The way it crawls over your skin and embraces your entire being makes me want to rub my hands against you to see if they come away covered in ink. Does it make you afraid? The darkness. Do you fear the mistakes you’ve made? The terrible deeds you’ve committed? Your body count is quite impressive, and extensive. They made you a monster, and you’ve yet to reclaim that title from them.”

Whispers of deeds long forgotten crowd your mind and there is a buzz in the voice of darkness as it spills his deepest secrets to you. Naughty little bits and deeds so heinous they should make you flinch.

He stiffens and leans forward. “You think you know evil? You think you understand darkness?”

This makes you laugh and brings tears to your eyes. “You’re an idiot.”

“I’ve lived in darkness so much it has become me!” He snaps as he rises to your bait.

“Darling, I am darkness.” With those words, you snap the cuffs they put on you and reach out a confident hand. In his shock he doesn’t push you away as you swipe a gentle hand down his cheek and pull it back to examine.

“Huh,” you muse. You rub your fingers together and sniff the hand for any signs. “No ink. I guess you aren’t all black and twisted as I think. Pity.”

At this he stands and begins to back toward the door. When his hand touches the handle he lets the panic win and starts to bolt.

“It was nice to meet you, James.” Floats down the hall, following him like his own shadow.

~

“She’s been locked in a cell similar to the one used for Loki.” Nat informs Clint as the two walk down a hallway. “They’ve sealed the whole floor after she left Barnes in hysterics. Why do you want to speak to her anyway? She could have killed Laura and the kids.”

Clint stops walking and turns to stare at Nat. “I know. That’s why I’m so pissed off. She spent months living with my family, singing lullabies to my kids, and becoming friends with my wife to the point they considered her family. Why? She didn’t do anything or even threaten them. When the time came all she did was send a message to Fury. No threats towards anyone… Not even him.”

Nat crosses her arms and regards him with worry. She knows what he wants to do and isn’t sure she supports the idea. While she is still somewhat confused why you’re considered a dangerous criminal, she isn’t one to go chasing trouble (at least not in this case). The primal part of her knows that you’re too dangerous to get involved with. It would be safer, easier, to stay away and let other agents handle the situation.

“Can you at least wait until Thor arrives to tell us if he knows anything about her?” This is her last, halfhearted attempt to convince Clint not to walk into the den of a dangerous predator.

He shakes his head. “No, I need to know now.”

“Okay,” she concedes. “I may have stolen the passcode to the door. Let’s go.”

When they reached the door to the holding room with you in it they pause.

Nat hesitates with her hand hovering over the keypad. “You should go in alone.”

“Huh?”

“You’re the one with more confusion and questions then me. I like the girl but if she can’t reconcile with you then I can do without our potential friendship. See what you think…” she pauses and takes a deep breath. “And if you decide she’s not a monster. That you’d trust her with your family still, I’ll go talk to her.”

“Fine,” grumbles Clint, like a petulant toddler. “Open the door.”

Nat does and then Clint slips in as she shuts the door behind him.

“Clint Barton,” your words greet him as does your amused smile as you sit in your cage with the majesty of a queen. “Come to speak to the caged bird?”

Chapter Text

When Clint emerges almost two hours later, he’s got tears in his eyes and Nat can see there’s regret filling them. Her mind fills with questions as she watches him hold the door open for her. It is not often she sees Clint in a state of remorse and she wonders what you could have said to make him that way. When he entered the room, it was to confront you and demand answers. He was there to attack and break you with his anger. Yet, now it is clear he’s been the conquered one.

“Go on in, Nat.” He croaks and then coughs to clear his throat. “She’s good. We’re good. After you’re done I want to talk to Fury about getting her out. She doesn’t deserve to be locked away like this.”

Nat pauses and lays a hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Clint chokes out a laugh. “Not really, but I’ll be okay. (Y/n) is worth a few tears. A monster she may be but I trust her.”

“Okay,” Nat squeeze his shoulder, then she goes in.

The cage is much like she remembers Loki’s being, except you sit in this cage instead of him. You’re sitting twisted like a pretzel on the floor with eyes closed and a serene expression.

Your eyes open to see her standing before you with her arms crossed. “Natasha Romanov, it is lovely to see you even with the circumstances being what they are.”

“You’re looking good for being in a cage, girlie.” Nat moves closer to you and grins. “Never thought I’d be visiting someone in a cage and not breaking them out.”

“You’re welcome to break me out.” You respond with a shrug. “I don’t recommend it considering your boss wants me trapped, but it would be a sweet gesture.”

Nat walks over until she stands directly in front of the clear wall separating the two of you. “What did you say to Clint? He’s forgiven you and was crying.”

You grimace and rise to your feet in an effortless move. Gliding across the few feet between you, you stand eye level with Nat. “I told him about how much I love Laura and the kids. How to me they’re family and I hope that someday he can forgive me for lying. I told him about how when I was trapped in that prison those scientists kept me in I watched the world go by and craved to be part of it. I told him about my hopes and dreams. About the fears that still haunt me. And about how much I love microwave popcorn. I told him as much of the truth as I could. The kinds of things that people like Nick Fury don’t think to ask. And I shared with him the fact that I’m not here to destroy the planet. At least, not anymore. So, let me ask you – what would you like to talk about?”

For a moment, Nat isn’t sure what to say. How does one respond to a speech such as that? She trusts you. For whatever misguided reason, she looks at you and doesn’t see evil. A monster you may be, and if Nat is certain of one thing it is that you have done horrible things and can do them still. But, she sees a spark in you. Something that makes her feel that you’re not good because you have chosen to do bad things for a reason. She recognizes someone who has a plan and will execute it no matter the cost. Whatever you’re reasoning, she knows it is what you consider the best course of action… even if it is not the “good” one.

“I found recipe for s’mores cakepops I’m dying to try, but you know what a terrible baker I am.” Nat reaches out and places a hand against the wall. This is her peace offering. An olive branch in the form of an outstretched hand. If she could Nat would break you out, but she can’t. Not while things are still so uncertain. You’re still shrouded in mystery and shadow still cloaks you, and Nat knows this. She is well aware that you’re not a song bird, you’re a crow and if you felt inclined you’d peck out her eyes and devour her flesh while she screamed in agony. Carrion birds are the strongest, the scariest, and the darkest.

You smile wavers as you hold out a tentative hand. “Really? If I ever get a chance I’ll make you some. I’m an excellent baker, if you recall those amazing cinnamon cookies I made…” Pressing your hand flat against hers with the wall between you, her pulse radiates through the cage and into you. Meeting her gaze for a brief moment the two of you become one. The assassin and the crow of darkness.

Nat shivers as she feels shadows slide over her. It isn’t a comfortable feeling, but it isn’t bad. She feels hidden, sheltered. The darkness doesn’t trap her it embraces her. Suddenly, she understands that this embrace is you.

~

Bucky sits in the middle of an abandoned field. The air is clear and there’s not even a single cloud in the sky. Here in the light without a soul in sight he feels safe. There are no people, cameras, or shadows. The grass is cut nice and low so that he can see everything. Secrets can’t linger in the sunlight.

Laying back, Bucky rubs his fingers together the words you spoke to him playing on repeat in his mind.

No ink.

No ink.

No ink.

Reclining back until he’s laying down, Bucky stares at the sky. He holds up a hand and examines the veins he can see running beneath the skin. They’re dark and thick, like rivers of ink flowing beneath this skin. He imagines his body filled with tainted blood as dark as night and thick as tar. In moments like this Bucky feels infected with darkness. Bitter that you’re not how he expected. For some reason he wanted you to be lost in darkness like he was. Craving sunlight in a world that shunned the moon in a dark sky, but you weren’t straining for light like he was. He wanted to be good and light. You, however, seemed to embrace the night with open arms. You claim to be darkness, and he believes it. There’s no disputing the emptiness in your eyes. The crimes from his past haunt him. Even though he knows he couldn’t control himself, Bucky still feels the guilty. That guilt fills his thoughts and clouds his vision like the darkness takes yours. And that guilt is an ugly, twisted thing.

A loud squawk breaks through Bucky’s tormented thoughts. Blinking he realizes he’d shut his eyes and dozed off for a moment. He sits up and feels his mouth run dry as he takes in his surroundings.

“What the hell?” Bucky’s gaze is filled with black. The field of grass that seemed so much like paradise when he arrived is filled with crows. Loud and angry they fluff their wings and scream at each other. Heaven has become hell and Bucky is trapped in their midst. None are close enough to crowd him, yet he’s encircled completely. It might be his imagination but Bucky feels as if he can smell death in the air as he starts to stand.

When he is on his feet he can see just how far the blackness stretches. The crows take up all available ground between him and any sort of escape. In fact, for as far as he can see is black bodies of screaming, squawking, carrion birds. They mock him with their beady eyes and loud obscene noises. Each of them seems to be laughing at how they’ve enclosed him in their ranks, seemingly claiming them for their dark mistress. And he knows who that is. He knows these birds belong to you. Knows that if they’re here mocking him it is on your behest. You, who he sees as the queen of crows.

“GO AWAY!” He roars.

The birds go silent and a stillness settles over everything for a moment.

Bucky’s chest is heaving as he takes gulps of air and his eyes travel over everything wildly. The moment stretches endlessly then suddenly darkness moves. The birds take flight in a giant wave of movement, sweeping up and all around him. He is incased black as they swirl everywhere him and block out the sun. Only darkness can be seen.

Only darkness.

“NO!” Bucky’s voice is hoarse and filled with fear as for a moment he feels as if he’s back in that hole in ground where nothing but darkness ruled.

Then the birds clear and he drops to his knees, head tilted back to see the blank sky. No birds in sight and the light has return. Yet, the light feels tainted now. There is no peace to be found in a world that moves so fast and burns with a brightness that hurts. The light hurts and he knows it.

Closing his eyes, for the first time in months Bucky lets the tears come. They come fast and furious and run down his cheeks like streams of pain. Bucky hunches down and digs his hands into the ground. He clutches the ground to anchor himself in the world of light.

When he finally reopens his eyes, he sees black droplets. Wiping his hand over his cheeks, he stares at liquid as black as ink staining his hand.

Now, he laughs. Loud and frantic as he stares at his tainted hands.

“I guess she was somewhat right.” He muses as he speaks to no one. “I don’t bleed ink but I do cry it.”

Chapter Text

You’re meditating when he storms in. Without even opening your eyes you can tell who has entered the room and it gives you a preserve sense of pleasure to taste the hints of fear that seem to permeate the air as he comes towards you. Fear doesn’t always give you such happiness, but this time it does. All the heroics and selflessness have formed a seemingly perfect individual. Steve Rogers is anything but perfect. The doubts slip through his mind as wisps of shadows are joined by the urge to unleash his tempered anger. He’s like Bruce Banner in that sense. He holds anger on a tight leash afraid of what will happen if he lets it rule him, yet unlike Banner who has come to terms with his… Rogers tries to cage it like an animal. If he doesn’t learn to do more than fear his anger soon it’ll boil over and destroy him. You’ve seen it before.

Heroes.

Villains.

So similar.

“What did you do to him?” he demands as he bashes a hand against the wall.

You can feel the wall absorb the impact, but it holds steady. Peeling your eyes open, you regard him with mild amusement. “Who?”

Another slam as the wisps of darkness slither around him. He’s not coated like Barnes is or containing it like Banner. Captain America has darkness in him, everyone does, and his is currently curling around his neck like a loving noose.

“You know who!” Steve bellows and another layer of his darkness emerges.

Lips quirking, you can’t help but make a joke. “Come on, Captain. We’re all adults here. You can say his name – Voldemort.”

This has him pulling back and frowning. He doesn’t get the reference… why would he? You’d seen some of the movies with Cooper and Lila; enough to crack a Voldemort joke.

“Did you not get that reference?” you mock, not bothering to try to conceal your amusement. “Why don’t you go watch a Harry Potter movie instead of bothering me with your trivial anger.”

Now he’s frowning again. Pulling back his hand and assessing his anger. You can see the guilt start pouring in and it makes you want to gag. Precious little golden boy can’t even handle his emotions. Pathetic.

He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. Bucky’s been acting weird since he talked to you. You did something to him.” His tone is carefully blank but the accusations is still there.

“I reminded him that he’s got darkness in him.” You lean back on your elbows, lounging like you’re entirely at your leisure and not trapped in a cage. “Not evil, though we’ve all got some of that too, but darkness. No one is made purely of light and he doesn’t realize that. It’s silly to let yourself try to be something you can’t.”

“Are you saying him trying to be a hero is bad? Wrong?” Steve crosses his arms and glares. The full weight of his judgment hits you and all you do is shrug.

“Heroes? Villain?” you ponder as your rise to your feet and glide closer to Steve. Standing right in front of him, you smile. “Are they really that different?”

He opens his mouth to respond, but you shush him.

“Don’t answer, Captain.” You raise a hand and place a finger against your lips. “Think about what makes a villain and what makes a hero. At their core they’re the same. None of it is about the typical excuses they give. At the very center it is all a cry for attention - to be seen as the best. The best at something. And the best people? They change the world for better or worse.”

Wrapping your arms around yourself you turn away from him. “It has been nice chatting, Captain.”

He opens his mouth to speak again, but closes it. Maybe you’re right, he thinks. Turning away he holds his head high even as his brow furrows in thought. You weren’t what he expected after all. Now he’s no longer certain about what to say to Bucky. How do you comfort someone when you’re not sure what to say? He wants to assure Bucky that he’s a true hero, but is that a good thing? Are heroes good?

“Do you consider yourself a hero, Captain?”

Hand on the door, Steve freezes. Your words have cut to the very core of him and for a moment he doesn’t know what to say.

“Sometimes,” he breathes out. “Sometimes I do.”

~

He isn’t sure if it is from fear or from intrigue, but he dreams of you now. Usually, it starts as a nightmare, and then you’re there, chasing them away with feathers falling from your wings and shadows dancing about your legs. These are the dreams he's comes to love hate. They make him afraid that he isn’t strong enough to chase his demons on his own. That he needs you, someone he doesn’t know and doesn’t trust, to do it for him.

But, he finds slowly, that he starts to simply watch the memories that play in his mind at night with you. Still you come with your darkness and feathers, but instead of interfering you watch with him. The acts that occur are still horrific to see, yet you stand there silently observing. Only after weeks of this do the good memories start to surface. The ones with sticky jam hands, a skinny punk with a big grin, and constant laughter start to intersperse with the ones of colder days.

Then it happens.

Bucky awakens in the dream to someone he doesn’t recognize. In a place he is sure he has never been.

“You’re not what I expected,” the woman says with an amused tint to her voice.

He can’t make out her features except for a flash of white teeth and a slim hand slipping from beneath swathes of fabric to help him sit up.

“Do I know you?” he asks, unsure what emotion he should be feeling.

She sighs, “I’ve gone by many names… But, the name you can call me is Aru. A nickname from my favorite brother that has stuck with me.”

“Aru?” Bucky affirms with a grin. “Does it mean something?”

With a laugh, she shakes her head. “Silly man. Yes, translated it loosely means ‘the universe’s brightest star,’ which is apparently how my darling brother views me. But, I’m not here to talk about me and the silliness of my family. I seem to have gotten lost looking for someone.”

“Who?”

“Me.” Comes a reply behind Bucky and he turns to see you standing there like he always sees you in his dreams. You arrive draped in feathers and with them tangled in your hair; part human and part crow. A foot in both words as you ruffle your arms that seem to be wings.

“Sissy!” Aru exclaims as she reaches towards you. “There’s too much darkness surrounding you. I’m afraid I’ve pulled us into Sergeant Barnes’ dream not entered yours. Tragedies like this didn’t happen to me in my youth!”

“Come on, brat.” You grab your sister’s arm and meet her gaze at eye level. The two of you look almost like twins if it weren’t for the age difference and that Aru’s hair hasn’t been cut in several centuries.

She pats your cheek with her hand. “I’m afraid my time here is almost up… But, you need to be careful. Earth isn’t hidden from the rest of the galaxy. You aren’t the first person to come here seeking to fulfill your duty. Keep your eyes open, Sissy.”

With a flourish of her hand she vanishes, leaving you alone with a stunned Bucky Barnes.

“That was your sister?” his mind starts racing with questions about your family as you hesitate.

You heave a sigh, “Yes.” Then, you too, vanish.

~

Clint wasn’t usually an argumentative guy. “Mellow” and a “team player” were much more his style. He was a good agent and a loyal soldier willing to do what he was ordered with little questions because he trusted those who gave the orders. Yet, when it came to those he cared about that changed. Natasha knew this, and had always admired this trait in him. Loyalty was a prized quality in a best friend and she felt lucky to have Clint as hers. Thus, she was not surprised when he recruited her to demand Fury release you from your prison. Was she happy about sticking it to the man and being rebellious? Abso-fucking-lutely. She knew that whatever your past held, right now, you were not a threat to them. So, she cheerily joined Clint as they metaphorically stormed the castle to confront the king. Unfortunately, his knights were with him for this battle.

“I trust her and will take full responsibility for watching her.” Announces Clint, after he demanded your release. “Nat will back me up and between the two of us we can watch her constantly, plus JARVIS can monitor her too.”

Fury stares at Clint. “You’ve certainly changed your view of her. What happened?”

“She’s not a threat,” argues Clint, refusing to admit he talked to you. “If she wanted to escape don’t you think she could? She broke the cuffs we used on Loki like they were cheap plastic. So far she’s cooperated and been utterly passive about whatever we’ve done to her.”

“Not that we’ve done much,” mutters Tony from his place at the table.

They’re in the conference room and all of them are present, even Bruce. It was actually a briefing on you that they were having, but Clint had been left out because of his compromised position on this subject, which Nat neglected to tell him. Fury had assumed that Clint would be overly for treating you harshly due to how you had threatened his family (not that you had actually threatened them but your mere presence counted to him). But, now Clint was here defending you and Nat was backing him up.

“What do you suggest we do, Tony?” Steve asks, looking strained and tired.

Tony shrugs and eats another handful of blueberries. “I mean it would be good idea to let me and Banner take a few samples. If she was studied before that data is gone or unreachable… So, why not let us do a little research?”

“She’s not a guinea pig, Stark.” Growls Clint as he slams his hand on the table. “She’s a person!”

“A dangerous person,” Tony retorts with a narrowing of his eyes at the archer.

“I agree with, Clint.” Nat chimes in, making her alliances clear to all.

Steve lets out a humorless laugh. “Of course, you do. I think Tony is right.”

“See!” Tony tosses a couple blueberries up and catches them in his mouth. “Cap, agrees with me and I know Bruce does. So, you’re outnumbered.”

Bruce says nothing and continues to stare at his tablet.

“How can you agree with him?” shouts Clint. “Tony will take her apart bit by bit like a piece of scrap metal!”

“Because she’s dangerous and we need answers!” Steve snaps, clenching his fists on the table.

Things get more heated and insults start to become personal. Fury sits quietly through it all watching them argue, his eye is trained on the only person who seems to be holding back – Bucky. The agitation he can see building in the assassin is curious because he can’t tell which side he’s going to side with. He suspects it will be the side Steve is on because they’re friends. But, he saw how Bucky reacted to you. It was not the reaction of a man unaffected. You can offer Bucky something none of the others can, a true understanding of the darkness in a person’s soul. Sure, this is a team filled with the broken and damned, but what do they truly know about the hell Bucky survived? Nothing. Even Fury can admit to himself when they’re out of their depths. It is obvious to the director that you understand. The words you speak and the way you poked and prodded him. It was all a test.

Did it work?

Enough.”

The room falls silent when Bucky speaks, and even Bruce looks up. They all stare at him with bated breath, waiting for whatever he’s about to say.

“Clint’s right.” Bucky looks at his hands resting flat on the table and flexes his fingers. “She should have some freedom. We’re waiting for Thor to show up, right? We’re working on the assumption that she’s from another planet and he’ll have some information. Why treat her like an anomaly until then? Maybe we could ask her if Tony could run some tests in exchange for her freedom? Compromise?”

Before anyone else can answer, Fury stands up.

Chapter Text

They’d let you out of the prison they thought could hold you (HA!). Now, the would-be heroes had you confined to one level of the tower that was shared by Clint and Nat. It was an amusing situation for the two spies as they found themselves subjected to your new-found hobby – cooking. After whipping them up the best pancakes they’d ever tasted Nat went out and bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Between that and Pinterest you’d started perfecting your new skill. Water-cress soup became Nat’s favorite much to Clint’s and your surprise and she refused to share after you’d each had a single bowl.

Along with cooking you baked. Thus, Clint and Nat found themselves in a decidedly cushy position as all their meals became decadent and sublime. When the others began to notice the tasty treats the two sometimes had, at first they were jealous until they learned of the source. Then, the jokes began. Teasing over the thought of poison in the food and to watch out letting you around sharp instruments. Those jokes started to die down as they heard more and more about the meals you cooked and the other things you did for your favorite duo. You sparred with Nat occasionally and were always up for late night snacks when they had trouble sleeping. One night when Clint woke up after a nightmare about his family you strolled into his room with two cups of tea laced with Baileys and proceeded to listen to him share his fears with you until he fell asleep. In the morning, he woke up to find the two of you still in his bed with your hand clutched in his. He squeezed your hand and you squeezed back. In that moment, Clint felt safer than he had in a long time.

Sometimes, Nat needed the same thing. Human contact is a powerful thing and both agents needed someone to hold onto in their moments of weakness. She never felt she had to protect you from her darkness. When it came out you never did more than blink. Even her scariest demons couldn’t scare you. You made the devil run for cover.

Tony and Bruce saw you once a week for tests and samples. It amused you to let them try to find something. Everything always came back “normal” as if you were a regular human being. It drove Tony crazy and baffled Bruce. You never spoke to them and followed their instructions docilely. Occasionally, Fury would show up to observe and you’d chat with him about the most mundane things.

Oddly warm weather for this time of year.

Have you heard that new pop song on the radio?

I saw the cutest picture of a cat the other day.

It was an odd coexisting but it was working.

~

“Is there something you wish to share with the table, Clint?” you ask as the archer squirms in his seat for the fourth time this morning. “You’re going to fall out of your seat if you keep up all the fidgeting you’re doing.”

Clint chances a glance up to meet your searching gaze before turning back to his eggs benedict. “It’s nothing.”

You snort and pour more coffee for Nat. “Liar. Every time you lie a new speckle of blackness seems to settle over you like soot. I wonder why lying bothers you so much… I digress. What are you keeping from me?”

“Steve told us Barnes wants to meet with you again.” Nat speaks up as she toasts you in thanks for the coffee. “Something about Bucky having nightmares about crows. It is making Steve go crazy to see how Bucky is acting now.”

“Oh?” you muse with subtle curiosity. “Does the lost soldier need a shoulder to cry on?”

There’s a moment of awkward silence.

“No,” says Clint, breaking the silence. “In fact, he’s doing rather well for someone who’s been waking up screaming for months. Steve said he’s gone quiet and that’s what’s freaking him out. Do you want to speak with Bucky?”

You shrug and nibble on a piece of bacon. “I would not say no if the sergeant wanted to talk to me. Though it may not be as helpful as the captain wishes.”

“Good.” Nat states as she downs her coffee in a giant swallow. “They’re coming to visit after breakfast.”

“I suppose I should change then.” Looking down at your silky pink robe with butterflies on it you realize that neither soldier would appreciate your casual dress. It might amuse you to shock them with your scandalously short robe, but it wouldn’t give the impression of seriousness. Neither Nat nor Clint minded your wardrobe of bright colors and silly patterns. The other day you’d found a pair of bunny slippers online and remarked how adorable they were. Two days later you had a pair of white bunnies with little pink noses on your feet and your two roommates had never seen someone so happy. For all your affinity for darkness and shadow, you tended to enjoy bright colors and fun patterns. A stark contrast to what they expected.

The elevator dings.

“Too late,” mumbles Clint, taking his last bite and basically fleeing the kitchen area.

You glare after him and call, “Traitor!”

He turns and gives you a quick grin and a wink before heading to his room.

The door opens and the two supersoldiers appear, neither looking pleased to be there.

“Gentlemen, care for some breakfast?” you ask from your seated position beside Nat.

Both stare at you in shock as they take in the elaborate breakfast spread, then your attire, finally looking at Nat who is still wearing her Harry Potter pajamas. Decked out in silver and green, her house colors, she gestures for one last cup of coffee as she continues to read the novel sitting before her on the table.

“Ignore me,” she says without looking up as you refill her cup. This time adding a dash of creamer to achieve the creamy brown color she likes best.

“We need to talk.” Steve demands as he takes a seat across from you with Bucky on his left. “After last time…”

Chuckling you stand to grab them each a cup for coffee. “Decided if you’re a hero yet, Captain?”

Visibly irritated Steve shifts in his seat and doesn’t reply.

“I cry ink.” Bucky breaks the silence that was beginning to build. “Your crows made me.”

“Did they?” you pour them each a cup and slide them over the table. “Did you feel better after crying?”

Bucky frowns, “I- I don’t know.”

“You look better.” You state bluntly. “The darkness isn’t drowning you. Part of you is accepting it and that will make life easier. Have you been dreaming of your past? Of those people whose lives you took because they made you? Do you see the birds?”

Now, Bucky leans forward and the two of you seemed locked in a moment that the others cannot even try to be part of. “They’re loud and angry as they circle the dead… They peck at their corpses and seem to laugh at me. Every time I close my eyes I see giant black birds with shiny wings that seem to carry the souls of the dead. Then I open my eyes and they’re still there - outside my window or flying overhead. Why do they haunt me even during my waking hours?”

“Does your past stop haunting you when you wake? You can’t escape fear or guilt.” You don’t move as he leans even closer to you; almost straining across the table. “Feed the birds. Accept the guilt and embrace your fears. Don’t let them rule you. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. You didn’t ask for yours.”

“And what about yours?” counters Bucky with a slam of his metal hand upon the table. It creaks and looks dented but no one notices. “How is your sister doing? Have you been thinking about her warning? Should we be worried about another world killer showing up?”

Instead of getting mad, you smile. “I prefer the term destroyer to killer. And I haven’t heard from my darling little sister since that time. She’s in no position to be contacting me. What about your sisters? Do you remember any of their names or has the good captain been filling you in?”

Bucky and you lock gazes in a charged stare.

“Just stop bothering him.” Snaps Steve, breaking the connection between you and Bucky.

Blinking rapidly, Bucky slouches back into his chair quietly.

With wide eyes, you blink at Steve. “Stop bothering him? Captain, I haven’t seen Sergeant Barnes since he tried to talk to me that one time. If he wants to be left alone he shouldn’t let his darkness rule him. After all, darkness is my specialty.”

Your eyes flutter at your words and for a moment the lights flicker off before coming back on as if nothing ever happened. Getting up, you place your dishes in the sink to wash later and walk to your room aware of the three sets of eyes that watch you leave.

Neither Steve or Bucky has ever been intimidated by a woman in bunny slippers before, but today both of them watched you leave with tendrils of fear wrapping around their hearts and squeezing to the point of pain.

“You shouldn’t harass her, Steve.” Nat says, turning the page of her book. “If you continue to it won’t be her that makes you stop… It’ll be me.” Slamming the book shut she leaves the two of them stunned and silent.

After she’s gone, Bucky turns to Steve. “I think…” He trails off and stares down at his hands as he wraps them around the coffee mug before him. “I think she understands me. I’m not afraid of who she is anymore, just what she can do. You’ll never understand me, Stevie. That’s okay, but she gets it. When she looks at me she’s not seeing flaws that need to be fixed. No, she sees something to be accepted. I need that, Steve.”

He drains the coffee from his mug and smiles at it. Not a big smile, but the beginning of one.

Steve watches with a frown. “Maybe we should lock her back up. The testing is going nowhere and she’s not doing anything.”

“What will a cage do?” Bucky asks as he stands. “Chains couldn’t hold her and neither can a cage. Darkness is everywhere.”

He leaves Steve sitting there as he goes down the hall to your room.

Chapter Text

Bucky found you just pulling down the end of your shirt as he enters your room. Closing the door softly he stands with his back against it and watches you begin making your bed. The way you work is methodical and soothing to observe. You aren’t rushed and never look up at him. In some ways, he feels he is intruding on an intimate moment. There is something personal about seeing you in the space you have carved out for yourself. He can tell that while it is somewhat personalized it is also still just a room.

“I miss the smell of the sea.” You speak suddenly, reaching out to straighten your mountain of pillows. “I was born near the sea…”

This peaks his interest. As far as he’s aware you’ve never spoken of where you were born or any part of your history.

“The sea?” he prompts. “You like the ocean?”

You nod as you finish with the bed and go to stare out the window. “Endless stretches of water always look so inviting to me and I can remember splashing in the waves with… It hurts to be landlocked sometimes… Like I’m trapped. Do you feel trapped?”

Choosing to ignore the lapse in your sentence, Bucky leans against the door and closes his eyes. “I feel trapped all the time. By my past and by my potential future. The memories I have and the ones I can’t quite reach. What color were my mother’s eyes? Who was my first kiss? I can remember exactly how to kill a man with penknife but not those important details. I feel like Steve is holding on so tight to me that I’m suffocating. Doesn’t he understand how stifling he is?”

“He cares. Possibly too much, but he wants to support you to the point of reforming you.” Resting your head against the cool glass, you stare down at the street. “What he wants is to make you who you used to be, but you can’t ever go back to that person. Can you accept that?”

“Maybe…”

“I don’t see that you have much of a choice. Bad or good, the future will come no matter how much you try to stop it.” You turn your back so you can meet his gaze as he cracks his eyes open. “The questions is - what kind of future do you want? Decide on the man you want to be and set out to achieve that. The past has shaped you but it doesn’t define you. Remember that.”

Bucky’s head bobs up and down as he stares at you. He forgot how beautiful you could be and as you stand their looking like his savior and insanity wrapped in one he realizes how dangerous you are. With eyes that see everything he’s trying to hide, he knows that he’s exposed under your sharp gaze. You’ll take him apart bit by bit if it amuses you. Staring at you, Bucky comprehends that to you he’s prey. A small bunny lost in the forest before the bird of prey swoops down and devours it.

It has been a long time since he felt helpless. He hadn’t liked the feeling when HYDRA had him. But later when the two of you are eating sandwiches together for lunch he comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t mind feeling helpless next to you because it means you’ll take care of him. And if there is one thing Bucky Barnes needs it is to be cared for by someone like you.

~

The others observe your newfound friendship with Bucky hesitantly. It begins with him eating meals with you, Nat, and Clint. Soon it progresses to coming to the lab to observe the tests Tony and Bruce run on you. Slowly it grows as he finds that your presence eases his anxiety. He starts to bring you gifts every time he leaves the tower – the occasional bunch of flowers, a book he thought you would enjoy, or plums (a personal favorite of his). Despite spending more of his time with you he doesn’t deviate from his usual activities. He still jogs with Steve every morning and then trains with him in the afternoons. Fury won’t clear him for missions yet, but he is encouraged to go out and interact with people; to rejoin society.

And he does.

Because it means he’s able to share the world with you.

If he goes to a park he brings you back tales of college students playing frisbee and children complaining to mothers. Or if he decides to wander a bookstore he’ll return with obscure novels by authors no one has ever heard of. He never brings you best sellers. When he finds out you can speak Russian he spends an entire week only speaking Russian with you. This leads to annoyance from the others since only Nat speaks Russian apart from you. Though Clint gets back at him by having conversations in sign language with you. Then Bucky starts testing you with other languages. Can you answer in French? German? How’s your Mandarin? It becomes an amusing game to him, and he hasn’t had anything really amusing since before he became HYDRA’s puppet.

Whenever he leaves the tower he sees them. Large, black birds that are his shadows. They dot the trees and ledges above him and every time he looks at them they seem to squawk in acknowledgment. It makes him feel safer to know that you’re somehow watching out for him.

However, Steve hates it.

He loathes you and the way he feels you’re turning the team against him. You never leave the floor you’ve been confined to except for the times you go escorted to the lab, and yet he can’t help but feel you’re plotting. Planning something that will bring them to their knees. Bucky smiles for you more than he does for Steve and it eats him alive. When he looks at you he sees his own darkness reflected back at him and it burns.

With the way you meet his gaze and smirk it is obvious you know what you’re doing to him. How he can feel his anger turn molten under his skin to the point he’s afraid if he coughed it would come up sooty. The rage Steve felt was hot and every moment he heard your name or saw you flamed the fire until he was afraid he would be burned from the inside out. Flames may be light but they create darkness. They breed darkness with a vengeance.

Slowly it is tearing Steve apart and finally he gets to the point where he’s going to break. He finds you as it is nearing midnight and, without a plan in mind, sets on the attack.

“What are you?” He grounds his teeth together and crosses his arms. To anyone else it would be intimidating to have a large man, Captain America, glaring down at them. You take it with the grace of a goddess.

You don’t even glance his way. “A goddess. Or perhaps I’m merely a puppet with strings another pulls. Somedays I’m a hero and others a villain. What am I to you?”

Stance never wavering, he spits his reply out with menace dripping from every letter. “The devil.”

Laying down on the window seat and stretching your arms above your head, you let out a low chuckle. “Yes, sometimes I’m that too. It is hard to be defined by one title, one role, above the others. Are you Steve or Captain America or Stevie the little boy from Brooklyn? Can you be all three? Obviously, you’d like to see me as one despicable trait and then write me off as such. What if you had done that to James? He was the Winter Soldier for so long that for a time Bucky vanished beneath this new person. Do you see him as that?”

“No!” Steve’s arms uncross as he wavers before you. “He’s more than what they did to him. No matter what he’ll always be my best friend.”

“So, why is it so hard for you to look at anyone else that way? Do you see Mr. Stark as a drunk asshole? Dr. Banner as an angry monster? Natasha as the unforgivable assassin? Clint… well, he’s perfect.” You laugh at your joke, but then sober. “Are you perfect, Captain?”

Head hanging in shame, Steve whispers his reply to a room of darkness. “We both know I’m not.”

You get up slowly, as to not spook him, and place a gentle hand under his chin. Lifting his head so you can cradle it in your palms, you offer a sad smile. “And why is that so bad? You bleed darkness, Steven. We all do. Every person in this tower, in this city, in the goddamn world bleeds darkness because that’s the only way to let it out. You’ll always have it in you, but every time you take up that shield and stand against those who want to let their darkness become evil to the point of harm you bleed a little bit of your own darkness out. Stop bottling it up and let it out.”

At your words, he can feel the tears that he’s been choking on spillover. They run down his cheeks and over your hands. “I can’t.”

“You already are, Captain.” You hold him tightly and let him sob his bleeding heart out. The darkness he’s had strangling him and covering his skin starts to slip away as he releases it. It joins the shadows as they settle, no longer feeling threatened by Steve. When he had come in angry and ready to fight, every drop of darkness in the room had become a weapon ready to destroy him should he try to harm you. Now, though, it rolls off his skin. Caressing him as it leaves him a softer kind of darkness. It is no longer at odds with him.

~

Bucky wasn’t sleeping when Steve came in and sat next to him on the bed. They both sat facing the door with their feet planted and hands resting before them in poses that seemed relaxed but radiated tension. When Steve sighed and laid back so that he could stare at the blank ceiling, Bucky did the same. Neither spoke, but for friends as old as these two words were unnecessary. It became apparent that the rift that had been between the two was over.

“I never thought you were a bad person, Buck.” Steve answers an unasked question that Bucky has been holding onto for a long time. “You were never a bad person. HYDRA made you do bad things but they never made you bad. In fact, you’re the best person I know.”

“Then what was it?” Bucky closes his eyes afraid of what the truth could be.

For a moment Steve doesn’t reply. He heaves a heavy sigh and clenches the bedsheets in his hands. “I felt like I’d lost my best friend. When I woke up in this decade I was alone. There was no one to stand by my side and I – I got used to that. It took a while but I learned to adapt to this strange century with crap I don’t even understand. Then… Then you show up.”

Steve’s voice hitches, then wavers. “I-I didn’t know how much I needed my best friend until he was here but out of reach. But, I got you back! You were here and out of HYDRA’s grasp… But you weren’t really here. Too much of the time you were stuck in that place that HYDRA put you in and I couldn’t get you out of it. It became my mission to save you from yourself and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t saving you, I was crushing you under the weight of my own expectations. I’m sorry for that.”

“S’okay, Stevie.” Bucky mumbles as he lays his hands on his chest.

“No, it’s not.” With a shake of his head, Steve continues. “I’m sorry for making you feel like you were broken. No one comes through what you did without some damage. We all have damage… We all have darkness. It is what we do with that knowledge, with that darkness and damage, that defines us. You’re my best friend, Bucky. I’m with you till the end of the line, hell, even past that.”

“Till the end of the line.” Bucky intones as he holds up his hand, eyes never wavering from his spot of the ceiling.

Steve grabs it in his and they became brothers in arms once more. A friendship remembered and cemented, the kind that has withstood all the tests time has thrown at it.

Chapter Text

Tony Stark had a problem. Actually, he had numerous problems but the more pressing was the results of every tests that he and Bruce had run on you. No matter how many times they took samples and ran diagnostics, everything always came back normal. No indication of powers or anything inhuman. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t one hundred percent certain you weren’t human.

“Nothing new?” you inquire as he has Bruce take another blood sample. “Just more blood and perhaps a nice cheek swab? Really, for such intelligent individuals this is rather dull.”

Tony fiddles with his latest inventions and doesn’t bother to look up at you. “Yeah, well if not at first and all that jazz.”

“I highly doubt trying again will get you gentlemen anywhere in this case.” Holding the cotton swab now that Bruce was finished. “The results will never change.”

“Why is that?” Bruce asks feeling more inclined to humor you this week. Lately, he’d noticed that your presence was calming to him and not at all as stressful as he feared it would be. Plus, you were reasonably intelligent on the matters he and Tony study and seemed interested when he spoke of them to you.

You let out a sigh. “Because my body has acclimated to the dominate species of this this planet and that is human. I’m built to blend in and not appear as anything but ordinary. Thus, if my results didn’t come back normal then it would mean I’d stick out, which I’m not supposed to do.”

“That seems… impossible.” Bruce muses as he fiddles with the vials of blood. “Have you always been able to do this?”

“I suppose,” you shrug. “It has never been something I’ve considered much.”

Tony is about to add to the conversation when a subtle cough from the corner can be heard. This is his second largest problem. Bucky Barnes has taken up the unofficial position as your body guard, a job he seems to take very seriously. Unless he is with Steve or training, Bucky can be found somewhere in your vicinity. It is not that it is a problem, per se, for Tony… more of a curious annoyance. Something he cannot fully comprehend as occurring.

“Are we almost done?” you ask on behalf of the silent soldier in the corner.

Bruce nods. “Yeah, you can go now.”

When you stand, Bucky appears behind you like a shadow that never strays too far from its mistress. The team found it concerning at first, even Clint, but as it became apparent that your relationship with Bucky was helping him heal they stopped worrying. He liked to be near you. It comforted him to know that no matter how dark the shadows or black the night there was someone who was standing amongst it. In a sense, he felt protected by you.

The Winter Soldier. A man known for his prowess as a skilled assassin was like a child hiding behind your skirts. That is not to say he couldn’t kill with the same efficiency as before, but he had no need to. And, each night he went to sleep the nightmares plagued him less and pleasant memories invaded his dreams once more.

As you start to leave the lab, you pause to stare out the window. A look of longing on your face as the sun hits it. “Do you know if Fury has permitted to let me out of the tower yet? I desperately wish to breathe fresh air again.”

“No clue,” Tony doesn’t even bother to look up as he responds. Already, his thoughts on you and Bucky are drifting to the back of his mind.

Bruce gives a helpless shrug, but does offer you a sympathetic smile.

“Come on,” Bucky guides you from the room and into the elevator. “I’ll see if I can get Fury to relent.”

You don’t bother responding, too busy caught up in how you’re stuck in yet another cage.

~

“Well?” questions Nat as she munches on her sandwich while eating lunch with Steve. Clint left days ago to visit his family, whom you spoke with more than him (which he often complained about). “Can you talk Fury into letting her outside or what?”

Steve shifts uncomfortably and takes another bite of his sandwich to prevent needing to answer for another moment. It isn’t that he minds helping you get permission to go outside, but that he isn’t sure how much he can sway the direction. None of the others had been able to convince him, thus they turned to Steve.

“I’m going to speak to him right after eating.” He replies as finishes swallowing. “I might be able to convince him to let her outside like on a porch or maybe the rooftop.”

“Come on, Steve.” Nat huffs as she throws a chip at him. “Stop chickening out and do it. None of the rest of us could get anywhere with him so it is up to you. Be Captain fucking America!”

Steve stares down at the remains of his sandwich that is clutched rather tightly in his hands. “Yeah, I know. Big goddamn hero, that’s me.”

“Language!” comes the shout of Tony from the kitchen where he’s making himself a sandwich.

Bruce shuffles into the room carrying his lunch over to the table and gives them both a sheepish smile. “Ignore Tony, Cap.”

“No one can ignore Tony.” Says Nat with an eyeroll. “He’s too damn annoying.”

As Steve finishes up his lunch, he takes it to the kitchen and then gives the team a salute. “I’ll be going on my mission now. If I don’t return you may have my stuff.”

The team snickers as Steve enters the elevator to confront Fury about getting you some fresh air.

~

“She can’t be trusted, Captain.” Fury repeats for the third time as he argues with Steve. “We know nothing and have learned nothing. The answer is no. She cannot go outside!”

Steve leans back and sighs. “Come on, Director. You’ve got to give us something. There will be mutinies if you don’t. She’s corrupting us all.” He gives a small chuckle as he realizes how true his statement is. Slowly, they’ve all come to accept you in their lives. You listen without judgment when they fear no one else will. Without meaning to you’ve become a part of the team.

Fury leans back in his chair. “I can’t offer much. Protocol would have her put back in a tank like she was before. But, I won’t do that.”

Letting out a relieved breath, Steve smiles. “Okay, what are you offering?”

“She can go outside but not leave the tower’s premise. Sorry, Captain, that’s the best I can offer.” Fury spreads his hands.

“Okay,” Steve agrees, standing to go tell you the news.

Chapter Text

It is a cloudy day, but you don’t care. The feeling of the breeze on your face and the smell of rain in the air makes you quiver with delight. Heavy clouds hang low in the sky making the world look smaller than it is. Feeling cocooned in the darkness of the clouds you embrace the world with open arms from the top of the tower. Nose raised, you inhale the scent of freedom and bask in the joy it brings you. For too long you have been content to toil in the cages that have ensnared you… That time is coming to an end. Now, the city lays small and fragile before your inspection. Like a miniature that you have the pleasure of enjoying (or snuffing out) at will. It amazes you how delicate a human life can be even when there are thousands of them scurrying along in the city below you.
“I’m glad you’re happy,” Bucky states from where he’s leaning against the wall several feet away. Unlike you, he’s hiding near the building and not taking full advantage of the rooftop terrace.
You turn from your view of the city and smile at him. “Thank you, James. Being inside was too much of a cage for me at times.”
“I understand.” He replies as he offers you a rare smile. “It doesn’t seem such a luxury until it is taken away.”
The sky seems to weep at his words as it begins to rain. Not a large storm but a sudden opening of the sky to release a torrent that could last for hours. Drenching you within minutes you don’t respond to Bucky as you tilt your head back and laugh. You let out a sound of pure joy at the feeling of something so peaceful and cleansing that it takes away all your pain. The water plasters your hair to your face and soaks your clothing through until it becomes heavy. With your mouth open, you catch the droplets on your tongue and feeling them run down your throat. It a moment of peace.
“Having fun?” Bucky’s voice comes from right behind you.
Lowering your head, you turn and see him standing in the rain. You smile, holding out your hands to take his in yours. “Isn’t the rain glorious, James?”
“Yeah, doll.” He grasps your hands now noticing the use of the pet name as you drag him closer.
“Let’s dance.” You announce as you position his hands so the two of you can twirl about in the rain.
“Um,” Bucky hesitates as his metal hand flexes at your waist. He’s worried it is too high or too low, and maybe this is too intimate, or that he can’t remember the steps to anything. He’s terrified of this. “Not sure I’ll remember any steps.”
You smile and bring yourself even closer to him. “Don’t worry, Sergeant. I can lead us until you get the hang of it.”
Not willing to argue, Bucky tightens his grip and nods.
With the rain still pelting down and no music but the droplets hitting the ground to be heard, the two of you dance.
~
Her giggling is infectious as she clings to your waist, little toes digging into the top of your foot as she balances on them. The music playing is one of your favorites, a slow ballad that involves intricate sweeps and hand gestures. It is a romantic dance; the best kind always are.
“Twirl us, Sissy!” Aru begs as she squeezes you tightly.
Your arms are wrapped around her with steading hands pressed tightly to her back. “Again, stardust?”
“Again!” She announces with the authority of a queen.
Little queen, she rules the entire court with her dazzling smiles and engaging nature. While Kore is the majestic one, all kindness and tempered passion, Aru brims with life in a way many cannot look away from. You on the other hand are the quiet darkness behind both. Neither majestic or dazzling, you remain placid in your beauty. Kore and Aru demand to be seen. You slip into the shadows and wait for the most observant to see you.
“May we cut in?” Zacharias inquires, he and Zacchaeus stand beside the two of you. They’re bend over in formal, courtly, bows which makes them look even more solemn in their military uniforms. Each has been serving in the Imperial army for nearly a decade and their deep hunter green uniforms glisten with hints of gold and silver from all the accolades they’ve earned. Of all your siblings they are the most earnest in their endeavors, no matter what they are.
“Of course, kind sirs.” You lift Aru off your feet and set her down gently.
Both of you execute flawless curtseys before Aru leaps into Zacchaeus’s arms. She laughs as he catches her easily and soon he is spinning her away with a smile, rarely seen, on his face.
Zacharias takes your hand in a more sedate manner and the two of you continue the dance. “She glows with happiness when with you, sister dearest.”
“She glows with happiness no matter who she is with, silly brother.” You tease him with a quick yank of his hair, which he has let grow so long he wears it in a braid down his back. “Our little star burns brighter every day.”
Your brother frowns at your words. “Yes, she does. Her power is immense and ever growing. When will she finally reach the peak of her power? The gift of future sight is amazing but dangerous if she spends too much time venturing down the paths the universe might take. She’s very young to be so powerful. Do you think she can handle it?”
“You think we should bind her power?” With a sharp intake of breath, you cease dancing and pull Zacharias to the side of the room. “How can you suggest something like that?”
He shrugs and leans in closer to whisper in your ear. “Sister, if she is not controlled soon it may be too late. If we bind her now then slowly let the bonds dissolve it won’t hurt her.”
“And who do you suggest does the binding? If you think Ezekiel will let anyone touch a hair on Aru’s head you’re delusional.” Rolling your eyes, you slap Zacharias’s shoulder. “Binding her might be a good idea, but you get to pitch it to the Lord of Chaos. If he doesn’t remove your head from your body call me over.”
“I’m his brother, he wouldn’t harm me.” Zacharias boasts with a grin.
You smile before shaking your head. “For her, Zacharias, I dare say he would.”
As one you both turn to see Aru. She’s laughing and spinning with Zacchaeus, her head tilted back and eyes sparkling with joy. Everyone is watching the young princess as she shares her happiness with all. Even the young man standing near the back, his head lowered but gaze raised to watch her. At his side stands a young woman in white, she whispers in his ear. Ezekiel and Kore watch Aru with something like calculation in their eyes.

~
“Not so bad, was it?” you ask as the two of you sit in the kitchen with mugs of tea in hand and towels around your shoulders.
Rubbing some of the moisture from his hair, Bucky offers you a small grin. “I suppose it wasn’t.”
You sip your tea and let your eyes wander over nothing. “My father taught me to dance. In fact, he taught all my siblings to dance too.”
Bucky stills. “Not your mother?”
“No!” you bark out a laugh. “Mama never liked dancing. She loved to watch us though. My brothers were especially good at it. “Just like your father,” she’d always say.”
Meeting his gaze, you look wistful. “We used to use the foyer to practice. There’s an even number of us so we’d all partner up and practice our steps together with someone humming the tune. Mama would always scold us for using such a public room, but Papa would just laugh. Laugh, and correct our footwork. He made it so that we could glide across the floor like flower petals on the breeze. That was a long time ago.”
Bucky reaches out and grasps your wrist with his hand. It is so foreign to him, this voluntary touch, but he does it for you. “Do you have many siblings?”
You brighten at his words. “Not so many.”
“You have Aru?” he prompts, eager to learn more about you.
“She’s the youngest of us. The most cherished,” you sigh. “Darling, Aru. The one we must protect and care for. Unlike the rest of us she was sheltered utterly from the world. But, I don’t fault anyone for that. A child like her deserved only roses and rainbows.”
“Any more sisters?”
“Yes,” you delve into your memories as you tell him about them. “One other sister - she goes by Kore. Kore the Keeper of Balance. There is a legend that has spread far and wide about the three of us. It tells that we represent the three sides of every woman. Together we cared and nurtured women throughout their lives. Keeping them strong and reminding them that women united can achieve anything. We were even worshipped… But, circumstances changed. The tale goes that I grew jealous of my sisters’ powers and contrived to steal them. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this with my magic so I turned to another means. I killed both my sisters and devoured their souls, thus claiming their magic for my own. Shunned by the people I fled the world and began a journey to state my unquenchable appetite. They called me the Destroyer of Worlds because the story tells that I travel the universe destroying planets in order to try to sate my lust for more power.”
Bucky finds he has moved closer to you as you wove your tale. Now, he sits with his knees brushing against yours and both his hands tangled amongst yours. “And? Where are your sisters?”
“You don’t believe I actually killed them?” You ask with a look of mock offense. “I’m appalled you aren’t asking that!”
He laughs, as you intend him too and nudges your knee with his. “Come on, tell me.”
Rolling your eyes, you tell him. “Kore ran away. Very scandalous as she dashed off into the night, never to be heard from again. She was the best of us. The brightest and the boldest, but the most willing to run from a problem then face it head on. Silly, girl.”
“And Aru?”
“Ah, the young one.” You muse. “Well, she was taken. Stolen away under the pretense of keeping her safe.”
“What?” Bucky exclaims, drawing back. Shocked by your words, his mouth hangs open. “Your brothers did nothing to stop it?”
Biting your lip, you look away. “Yes, well… That is part of the problem. Two of my brothers went out after Kore. The twins vowed not to return until they found her and dragged her back with them. Dedicated fools. It was always a matter of pride to them that Kore left us to burn.”
“And the last brother?” asks Bucky, totally immersed in the story. “She mentioned she had a favorite brother. No brother worth his salt would let his sister’s kidnapping go unavenged.”
“Oh, he didn’t.” you say, solemnly. “He would never let anyone harm Aru. To him she is the world and nothing would stop him from protecting her, hence the problem. He kidnapped her.”
For a moment he stares at you, his mouth hanging open.
“So, the story can never be disproven.” You finish the tale with a heavy sigh.
He leans closer to you. “And neither sister has been found?”
You shake your head. “Not for lack of trying. But the twins have not sent word since they left looking for Kore, and Aru has been untraceable since she was taken.”
“By your brother?”
“Yes, by my brother – the Causer of Discord.”
“That’s quite the name.”
“Mainly we call him Ezekiel.”
~
In a bar, hundreds of miles away, sits a young brunette woman. She’s nursing yet another drink and seems uninterested by the laughter and merriment around her, as she stares down at the condensation on her glass. On one of her last night in the city before she heads back to work she’s trying to enjoy herself, and failing. The bar is the farthest thing from what she enjoys. She’s more of a nice glass of wine and a good book kind of girl. Yet, tonight she’s gone out to try to have a good time.
“You look bored.” A silky voice beside her comments.
She looks up and smiles at the sight of the attractive man leaning against the bar next to her. His hair is glossy and dark, slicked back in a way few men can truly pull off, yet this man does it exceptionally. Dressed in a suit, minus the tie, he looks like a business man dressing down for an evening out. Yet, his eyes are that of a shrewd hunter examining potential prey. To some he might be too much. With wicked eyes, a mocking smile, and body set to pounce he is intimidating as much as he is appealing.
The very essence of him alights discontent as the woman tries to determine if he’s worth the risk. It is a good thing she is such a risk taker.
“I was,” she says as she turns fully towards him. “Have you come to offer some entertainment?”
He smiles and the shine of his teeth makes him look more like a wolf ready to devour her than before. “I always aim to please beautiful women.”
She offers him a smile in return. “Oh, do you?”
“I really do,” he purrs as he slips closer to her. “May I ask this particular beautiful woman’s name?”
“Maria,” she holds out her hand. “Maria Hill.”
Taking Maria’s hand, he kisses the back of it. His lips linger on her knuckles before he pulls back, not releasing her hand. “Well, Maria, could I escort you out of here and perhaps make it so you have a more pleasant evening?”
Slipping from her seat, Maria finds herself standing almost pressed against the stranger. “I think I’d find that pleasing. Are you going to tell me your name?”
“Come on, darling.” Coaxes the man as he slides his arm around her waist to hold her close as he leads her from the bar. “Let’s get out of here before things get too chaotic. And I go by Zek.”
~
Later that evening, long after Zek left with Maria, things at the bar did get chaotic.