Darcy stared at the envelope she held in her hands. She had seen them before, of course, but rarely had they been given to her and never recently. It was standard size to fit in with everything else delivered, but an odd almost-manilla and almost-not color. Again, to fit in yet draw the eye of someone in the know.
She was, unfortunately, in the know. It was a family thing, really. Well, of a sort. Her family knew these things and therefore she did as well. She didn't necessarily want to but, hey, such was life and all that. Living, calling, whatever you wanted to name it, it was hers.
The way she saw it, she had a choice. She could tell A or she could tell B or she could review with B to get the info to possibly tell A. So, it wasn't exactly that great of a choice, but she technically still had one.
She tapped the edge of the envelope against her lips twice, and then made up her mind. She muttered to Jane that she was going on a supply run, knowing the other woman wouldn't hear her anyway what with her head in the inner workings of some new thingamajig. At least this way she had plausible deniability on the off chance someone checked the feed.
She headed out and made sure to grab a burner phone from one of the numerous hiding places along the way. Checks in place and suitably away from all the security features she supposedly knew nothing about, she made the call. Three rings, hang up. Two rings, hang up. Three rings and picked up before it could reach the fourth.
"Honey, what's wrong?" a far too calm voice answered.
She didn't have time for any of that and instead launched into, "We had a deal, mom: no hits on my friends, especially boyfriends."
"And I've held to that deal despite the loss of income," her mother insisted. Calm wasn't quite a thing of the past, but it was close. "Tell me what happened."
Darcy sighed and mentally counted to ten in Norwegian. She would have done it again, but knew even a burner phone could be traced if required. "I received a Request. In my fricken office, the one we got moved to just this week because Janie set fire to the other one again. I did my last assignment, am technically still doing it and that's why I'm off any and all rosters. What the hell is this about?"
"Language," her mother chided, but it was absently so she didn't pay it much mind. Especially since it was followed by, "I'll look into it and see what I can - shit. Alex is off the grid. He said he had a decent catch that wasn't his usual fare, but worth it anyway."
"And you think he could be here?" she asked doubtingly.
"I think wires could have been crossed trying to contact him and they reached you instead," her mother clarified. She hummed thoughtfully. "I have no way to contact him right now to make sure he doesn't take the assignment. I guess we should be grateful that you received it in error? I do hate when you two go up against each other."
"Boyfriend, mom. Boyfriend. I will take that fucker down if he messes up a single hair on his pretty little head," she seethed. Before her mother could call her out on her cussing again, she ended the connection. Technically, it was near time anyway. Technically, she didn't want to hear some half-assed reasoning as to why she should give family a pass. She may cut something, but it sure as hell wasn't going to be slack.
The phone was disposed of easily enough and then she went about running her "errands" which mostly consisted of stopping in multiple bake shops and pretending to remember what her brother's favorite was and if the shopkeeper could remember for her. When Betsy's Bun House described the asshole and his love for meringue, she knew she had hit pay dirt.
"Wait, why is a minion calling a team meeting? And why does she have a box of meringues the size of my face?" Tony asked, already reaching for the offering.
"Protocol 1952-D-4A-MC," she rattled off. She noticed two people stop in their tracks at that. Two others looked thoroughly befuddled, and pretty much everyone else just looked doubting. Well, save for Wanda, but she was fairly certain the other woman could read her mind at the drop of a hat and, given the small smile she received at the thought, she amended that to being damn sure as well as thankful she kept a good secret.
"In case you missed the memo, we're not SHIELD anymore, so all those random numbers and letters mean nothing," Tony said. He had white fluff in his beard at this point, so it was hard to take him seriously.
"Son of Coul himself assured me he tossed this sucker in with the Avengers framework to be on the safe side," she waved off his complaint.
"Yeah, well, seeing how he's-" Stark started, but was cut off.
"If you honestly think he's dead and gone, you have not been paying attention to pesky things like the news or your own facial recognition software," she said with a roll of her eyes.
Tony stopped and stared at her for a moment before he shook his head and reached for a tablet. "I miss the snarky, oblivious lab assistant," he muttered. "Any chance of getting her back?"
"I did work hard on that persona," Darcy admitted. "Kinda like it too. Close enough to me yet ditsy enough to get away with, like, anything. Almost blew it when I made the ID for Thor, but totally worth it."
"I knew you were smarter than you looked!" Jane exclaimed. Pieces of her own meringue went flying, but she paid them no mind. "You haven't sold me out because my work hasn't shown up anywhere I haven't approved, but you better start talking, young lady. And remember we've got a psychic and a god on our side."
Wanda made a face at being called a psychic, so Darcy rushed to apologize even though she wasn't the one who made the affront. "You know she hates being called that - totally belittles her awesomeness. And I'll tell you, well, not everything, but a bunch of it as soon as Stark confirms we're in lockdown."
"Locked and loaded," Tony confirmed. Clint and Natasha made a show of removing a set of comms the others may or may not have known about, and Wanda nodded in confirmation that everything she could get a handle on was toast.
So she told her tale of not-quite woe. How SHIELD and Fury in particular kept an eye out on a certain institute of learning for whacked out scientists after the whole Hulk thing came to light. How Jane's need for an intern was the perfect opening. How he suspected even back then that SHIELD had a leak or seven and decided her research should be protected on the off chance it proved useful.
"I never knew the guy cared," Jane muttered with distain.
"I know, right? It was totally the whole confiscation thing that hid it so well. On the up side, it was totally his most trusted dude doing the confiscating, and mostly because other agencies were getting a little nosy, so there's that," Darcy confided. Her throwing a hissy fit over her iPod back then had only been partially for show. It took Agent-man far too long to get with the program and figure out it held her credentials. Even when he did, he was less than impressed and didn't want to play nice. That was fine, as she was more than willing to play dirty if needed. Plus, it kinda reinforced that he was of the side of good not to be swayed so easily. Extra bonus that Fury let her be there when he told him the truth. She would remember that look on his face forever.
"Why you?" Steve asked, cutting into her musing and getting right to the heart of the matter. He was in his standard defensive yet protective stance, arms crossed and feet shoulder-width apart and daring anyone to come at him. She wasn't nearly that stupid. She knew people who were, and they totally got what they deserved.
"My family has a history of freelancing, yet with ties to the founders of SHIELD itself," she finally admitted. It was the truth, but a carefully phrased version of it. She winced and looked away, not fully wanting to see the reactions. "Loyal to the original mission, will never take a job that puts the core of it at risk, and hella protective of certain aspects."
"Those aspects being?" Natasha prompted. She had shifted into her forced casual stance, very similar to Darcy's own. Her money was on Nat because it was far too long since she had even attempted anything physical. That, and she wasn't stupid - even at her best she would've lost that battle in a blink of an eye.
"We assist," she said simply. When she saw that wasn't going to cut it, she amended that to, "We assist with the protection of the core of SHIELD and that which said core needs to survive. It was a promise my grandmother made, and we've upheld it the best we can. Let me tell you how pissed mom was when the whole Hydra infiltration came to light. I think she's still digging through files looking for signs. I know she's gone after at least one asshole that assigned her falsely. Hell, she personally obliterated one guy who made a grab for Sharon - that one she took total offense at. We missed it, but she's trying to make it right."
"And what do you define as 'the core of SHIELD' seeing how that's your go-to right now?" a new voice cut in.
She had been waiting for that, really. Still hadn't made up her mind as to how to address a far bigger issue than just an assassination attempt because, really, lying to the boyfriend was a no-no. He might respect the reasoning, but that didn't mean he'd still respect her when all was said and done.
Still, she gave in to the urge to hedge with, "You want the answer I'm supposed to give you, or the no-holds-barred blunt version?"
She earned a smirk for that, just the tiniest of ones, but enough to tell her he was still on her side, for now. "You look tired of holding back, doll. Might want to try to be yourself for a while," he shrugged.
She smiled and, for the first time in far too long, let out a truth her own family tried to obfuscate and shine up to be far fancier than the reality truly was: "The core of SHIELD is whatever Peggy Damn Carter would approve of - which covers a hell of a lot. Secretly, I think Granma Dot had a girl crush on her, but who am I to judge? I'd fangirl her myself if ever given the chance."
If there had been a doubt how Bucky would react to that particular confession, it was erased entirely by his guffaw. Steve, on the other hand, looked like he had been smacked upside the head with a flounder. He blinked slowly, and then did it again as if that would change things. Finally, he asked, "Your grandmother worked with Peg? Why didn't you just come out and say that right away?"
"Well, 'worked with' is generous, really. More like antagonized and occasionally saved her hide," Darcy sheepishly admitted.
Whatever else she had to say on the matter was cut off by Clint's, "Your grandmother was Dottie Fucking Underwood?" He was armed, and let her know it but, then again, so was Bucky and so did he. The fact her boyfriend stood between her and the man not fully backing down from threatening to shoot her warmed her heart a little.
"Is, not was," she corrected. "Granma Dot is alive and kicking, possibly literally. A little slower than she used to be, but the dead-on instincts remain. Also? Probs not her real name but she really liked that one so we kept it. I think it was a nostalgia thing."
She debated showing how some of those instincts translated to herself, but remembered how out of practice she really was, not to mention how she probably never reached the level of challenging Barton's own skill level in the first place. Tricks pulled when she was a kid did not amount to challenging an acrobatic sharpshooter, and an official Avenger at that.
Turned out it wasn't necessary anyway as Natasha stepped up and removed his obvious weapon with ease. "Fury trusted her, both of them," she pointed out.
"Because Nick is such a trustworthy guy," Tony chimed in with a roll of his eyes. He moved whatever was on his tablet up to the nearest projector and said, "Seems to either be legit or one of the most elaborate hacks ever. It's in the electronic version of the framework like she said, plus physical copies dating back to the 1950's with photographic evidence of their existence from that date from that little box Fury dropped off that never made it to Nat's data dump. We've got microfiche and older - much harder to fake, really. Plus, you know, the pic of Carter herself with a signed copy..."
Clint backed down a little more, and Bucky stepped back to her side. Whether it was to support her or contain her, she had no idea. Natasha still eyed her though, evaluating no doubt, sizing her up. She would know more about Granma Dot than anyone else save for Darcy herself, so it was rather fitting.
Whatever Nat had to say was cut off by Bruce though. The usually quiet guy raised his hand and asked, "Um, Dottie Underwood? What am I missing here?"
"Dottie Underwood was the alias used by one of the earliest agents of the Red Room," Natasha answered for him. "Stories vary as to whether she escaped or was killed, but she was quite successful in her time. I always suspected escape was the correct answer as handling methods were drastically changed around the time of her disappearance."
"So she escaped and adopted a rugrat and pretended to live a normal life right under everyone's noses, pausing in the picture-perfectness to randomly do SHIELD's dirty work and train that rugrat to do the same?" Tony guessed.
"Not adopted," Darcy corrected, and kind of hated the way Natasha's eyes shadowed at that.
"But I thought the Red Room..." Bruce started, clearly confused. He looked between Natasha and Darcy, a furrow between his brows.
"Handling methods changed," Natasha repeated. Thankfully, that seemed to be the end of that. Well, aside from Wanda's frown and sympathetic look in her direction.
"As fun as this history lesson is, and yeah I know it's important so that you guys might actually believe what I'm about to say but, can I get back to the whole saying it part of the program?" she tried. They were on a timeline; she knew it even if they didn't.
Tony waved at her magnanimously, but appeared to still be scrolling through images and all sorts of other data. "By all means, secret grandchild of a secret assassin, wow us with your woes."
She huffed a breath and fought the urge to go off track yet again. Envelope received meant clock was ticking and it was time she got to the damn point. "Someone put a hit out on a descriptor that is totally Bucky and it was sent to me instead of my brother in error."
"What, no kill rules for guys you screw?" Tony scoffed.
"No kill rules in general, unless absolutely necessary. I'm sort of the black sheep of the family that way," she corrected, ignoring both the dig and the way Bucky bristled at her side. "I do the research and legwork, occasionally infiltrate if needed, and do a fuck-ton of the hacking because figuring out how to electrocute someone with a broken fan is fine but an iPhone is too damned confusing."
She was never going to let her mother live that one down. Ever.
"So you kill by proxy instead?" Clint snorted.
She shook her head. "If you're implying I do the legwork and the fam does the kill, you'd be wrong, Mr. Also-an-Assassin-Man," she snarked right back. She hadn't done that since she was sixteen and figured out just what her intel was being used for. "We try to keep things separate; keeps everyone safer."
"Not as safe as getting out of the business altogether," Steve pointed out, and he wasn't wrong.
"True that," she admitted. "But Fury pretty much paid for my completely legitimate college degree on the condition I make sure no one takes a hit out on someone I ended up actually really liking anyway, so that's also at play. I will keep Jane as safe as humanly possible until the day I die, and not just because of some decades-old clause. As far as he's concerned, it's a long term job. As far as I'm concerned, it's a life with a career path that doesn't end up in a random ditch or unmarked grave."
Jane looked touched by the admission while the others looked varying levels of confused and concerned. Bucky took advantage of the lull to cut in with, "Speaking of taking hits out on people you like... You do know I'm pretty self-sufficient, right? Can protect myself with a fair deal of precision?"
"Totes agree, hun," she assured him. She patted him on the arm and he seemed more amused than anything else, so she ran with it. "Alex is good, but not good enough to infiltrate and take on your class of training, any of yours, really," she said with a wave of her hand towards the gathered group.
"So, er, why the emergency meeting then?" Bruce asked. "Not that we don't appreciate you airing a, well, fairly big secret, but..."
She sighed and resisted the urge to tug on her hair. It was a nervous habit that she had tried to break for years. Her mother told her it would be a tell that got her killed some day. She mentally counted to ten and shook her head at Wanda's silent offer to help calm herself. If she couldn't handle this, she didn't deserve the family name.
Finally, she said, "So, twofold on the reasoning. One: I would prefer not to see my brother killed when you manage to stop him. Two: Don't you want to know who's dumb enough to put out the hit and just who they're linked to?"
"You are asking us to use non-lethal force against an assassin with the trade off of gathering intel," Natasha summarized for her.
She nodded. "Hopefully no force at all since mom's trying to get a hold of him to make sure he hasn't started prep work yet," she corrected. She winced and then conceded, "But since the letter was sent here, chances are pretty damned good he's been at least observing and expecting a request for more."
Natasha and Clint nodded as it was a reasonable belief. Steve and Tony both had near identical frowns, likely due to someone getting past the defenses they had set up against this very thing. Tony of course liked to multitask, so he also added a disparaging, "'Mom?' Not exactly threatening with the call sign there."
Darcy rolled her eyes. "What the hell am I supposed to call her? Madge? She is my mother, as in biological, as in birthed me. Alex is my brother, as in came from the same womb, just at a different date. Who needs fancy fake names when you can call them what you normally would and not have to play pretend?"
"I talked to your mother on the phone once," Jane mused between licking the stickiness off of her fingers. "Somehow, I don't think that was a kid who slammed their finger in the door in the background anymore."
Darcy snorted because, really, there was no way her mother would ever voluntarily work with children. She could barely cope with her own two. "Research mode then?" she prompted. "Find the baddies, find my bro, hope they aren't the same?"
"Why the hell not?" Tony shrugged. "Barnes might not be me favorite person in the world, but finding out more about Peggy Carter's frenemy might be worth it."
And that was apparently that. There was no way she was patient enough to sit through the dozens of security cameras tracing back the poor mail delivery peon carting crap through the literally hundreds of drop points throughout the tower, so she was more than willing to go along with it when Bucky announced he was stealing her for a bit.
Okay, that was a lie. She was kind of really dreading what he had to say, and probably would have watched paint dry to avoid it, but he took her arm all gentle-like and led her towards the elevator and so she went with it. Besides, if he wanted her dead, she'd already be bleeding out into the super posh carpeting while the others finished up the meringues.
He brought her to his place and initiated the security lock down, which both gave her time to mentally prepare a defense and wonder if he just didn't want to hear Stark bitch about the carpet since Barnes had hardwood floors. She knew how to override the security of course, and even had a preprogrammed app for just that, so her phone was already in hand when he crowded her up against the little kitchen island and stared down at her with an intensity she wasn't quite comfortable with.
"Look, I'd say I could explain but it would all sound like weak-ass excuses and I really do owe you more than that and..."
She trailed off when he took her face ever so carefully between his massive hands and kissed her senseless.
When he eventually pulled back and she was able to catch her breath, she admitted, "Okay, not reaction I was expecting, and not that I'm complaining, but whu-?"
He just chuckled and lifted her up to perch on the counter before he leaned in to kiss her again. She went with it until she realized she probably shouldn't and reluctantly pushed him away. "You gave up your secret for me," he said by way of explanation. Her hand was still on his chest, resting in the fabric above where flesh met metal, so he resorted to settling between her legs and curling around her the best he could to press his lips to the top of her forehead.
"Your life was potentially at risk, of course I did doofus," she replied.
"I'm a genetically modified super soldier who has had more hits put out on him than you are years old," he told her.
"And my brother was trained to be the best," she protested. Then, after a brief pause, "Well, best by going standards. I still say you and anyone who wears that pretty little Avengers' A on their gear probably throws off the curve a bit but...."
His hands shifted to her shoulders and she looked upwards, surprised to find him look damn near amused. "Darcy, doll, you could have thought up a thousand ways to share your intel without outing yourself. Mixed up mail was right there as an option. Pure chance. You're a trusted friend and no one would have questioned you. Instead, you gave up everything on the off chance it would help. That speaks louder than anything else you could've said."
"But..." she protested, but was silenced by another press of his lips.
"Did you directly lie to any of us?" he asked. He shook his head and corrected himself to, "Other than anything that could have been considered under orders, did you ever deliberately tell an untruth that could have caused harm to any one of us?"
She thought about that for a moment, but couldn't think of any real example. "Other than when I added a crap ton of hot sauce to Clint's soup and told him that mine was perfectly fine so he should stop being a baby, not that I can think of?"
"That wasn't harmful, that was funny. Plus, lets be real, he deserved it for screwing up Foster's machine and giving you an extra four hours of work trying to fix it," he reasoned with a smile.
"Six. It would have been longer, but I created an algorithm to speed things along," she admitted.
"So, other than hiding your own intellect while protecting someone that, in your own words you consider a friend, and getting a chance a a semi-normal life for the extremely loose definition this place has of normal, what are your actual crimes?" he asked.
She winced. "Don't ask me that, there's a few things I did before this assignment that weren't pretty," she warned.
"And I'm pure as the driven snow," he scoffed. He tucked a curl behind her ear and studied her for a moment before he spoke again. "I just have one question, doll: have I been calling the woman I love by the wrong name all this time?"
Her brain kind of stuttered out at that. Love. He loved her. Her mother had scoffed more than once that love was for fools and children, so, same thing really. And yet, when it came down to it, very few other words even came close to what she felt for the man in front of her. Maybe it was love, and maybe it really was for fools as she had readily gave the game away to try to save him with barely a second thought.
His voice cut into her inner ramblings and she refocused in time to hear, "Darcy? Sweetheart? If that's even your real name?"
"Darcy Louise. Well, the one time I remember meeting my father he called me Dacelle, but he was all artsy and crap. I have like five fake birth certificates and three have that name on them. Mom's pretty much always called me Darcy though, so has Granma. Alex mainly just calls me things that gets him in trouble with mom," she rattled off.
She had been taught early on that names identified you, gave you your credentials. They might be used to track you, but you should be able to stop that crap before it starts anyway so you might as well use the street cred, especially if it got you another job or a higher pay scale. Besides, everyone always suspected an alias anyway - lay down a single false trail and they ran after that instead of the truth.
"And your surname? So I can get it right on any legal forms, of course," he prompted, but his lips already twisted into a wry grin.
"Eh, varies depending on the certificate and need," she admitted. "Dad's legal last name was Pritchard, but we're kinda the matriarchal type, so let's keep the Underwood?"
"So, Dacelle Louise Underwood-Pritchard..." he started, but she cut him off with a tap against his seriously massive and seriously close chest.
"That just sounds like an arrogant mouthful," she protested. "Let's just keep with the Darcy? Maybe toss on an Underwood if you feel the need?"
He nodded, and restarted whatever had gotten into his head with, "Darcy," pause for a kiss, "Louise," pause for another kiss, "Underwood," yet another, "How about we waste some time while everyone else tries to figure out who's trying to off me and who you really are?"
"What'd you have in mind, Mr. Targeted Assassin? Or do you prefer Sergeant Targeted Assassin? So I can get it right on those same forms?" she asked with a smile. She finally reluctantly set her phone to the side. Close enough to reach if needed, but her instincts were telling her the threat had receded.
His response was less verbal and more reaching down and yanking off first one of her ballet flats and then the other. Those ended up somewhere near the stove. Her jeans ended up halfway into the hopefully empty sink - not that she was really paying that close of attention because undoing the buckle and zip on Bucky's own jeans was always an adventure of trying not to cut yourself or drop weaponry someplace vital. After that, she was done with responses.
Steve had knocked on the door and started some question about meeting to talk about Carter, but quickly stuttered out an excuse and ran away around the time she reached her third orgasm. It was for the best as she was propped up against that same door while Bucky drove into her again and again and there was the possibility that she was urging him on in between some seriously unladylike grunts.
Whatever. She'd deal with that later. Her boy was a giver and it'd be rude to refuse him.
Steve texted them that they found something several hours later. He clearly did not want to risk overhearing any more of their exploits as he chickened out of even calling. Truth was that they had already cleaned up and moved on to coffee and leftover pie, so it was all good anyway. Not that they told him as much.
He blushed when they walked in and Natasha raised a probably knowing eyebrow. Wanda high-fived her in passing, as did Jane, while both Tony and Bruce pretended to ignore all their antics even while she heard Stark quietly snort under his breath. Clint just kept up this weird stare/glare thing that told her not all was of the good with him. She'd question why, but he had been in New Mexico those years back and was probably pissed he missed any sign of who she was as much as being kept out of the Fury-Coulson Sing-a-Long Club.
"What did we find out?" she asked. She walked up to the multitude of screens, but it was hard to tell where to look first. She'd get to all of them eventually, but did like a designated starting point, even if it was just to ignore it.
"That Cap here may have amazing healing abilities, but takes like ten minutes or more for a good blush to die down," Stark replied. He glanced at her for a reaction, and she was proud to deny him one.
"So, same as he was pre- this shit," Bucky shrugged. It earned him a punch to the arm, but he just turned so that it was his left one and Steve had to shake out his hand from the attempt.
"What did we find about stopping a hit and not offing my brother in the process?" she amended.
Tony typed something and two of the largest screens switched to the same feed. It looked like a normal, boring day in the mailroom, so she waited for an explanation. "We have the letter all the way back to point of entry. The search for your brother would be a hell of a lot faster if we had, you know, an actual image of him to go off of. The Super Spies over there argued he'd probably just change his looks anyway, but we have it narrowed down to six candidates for possible pansies, only two of which actually touched the damn thing on camera."
The screens switched to show six faces of varying ages and ethnicities, all clean-cut and scrubbed up nicely - probably their official work IDs. Her own had her rocking a topknot and baggy sweatshirt that proclaimed aliens were coming so wear protection, her glasses at just the right angle to offer a smidge of glare and further obscure any identifying features. Jane had a few good ones with her, but those were locked down on her private phone and not searchable by corporate servers. She made a mental note to ask why no one had ever questioned why so few pics of her existed when she constantly had her phone out snapping and posting. Sloppy, really, though she did appreciate the way the current millennial lifestyle helped her out.
Stark read off details about each peon, and the screens lit up with singular views of each as he rambled. Company functions were a given, though it didn't surprise her that he tossed on a few Snap Chat pics as well. It was one of those that caught her attention. Well, three, actually.
"Back up?" she requested. He flipped back to the previous image. "Now shot two of the one with the guyliner addiction?" Both pulled up side by side. "Now the fourth one of the girl with mad braiding skills?"
He did as requested, but grumbled, "I'd ask if you want to drive this thing, but-"
"But you use your own specific pictographic keyboard with no cypher for regular humans?" she finished for him. She had seen it more than once and kind of wanted one of her own to poke at. Technically, it made the data harder to crack. Technically, it spoke volumes as to how his mind worked.
Natasha had to one-up her and took the pad directly out of his hands. That was for the best, really, as she skimmed through and quickly pulled up a handful of images of the remaining clerks and tossed them up onto the screens with a smirk towards Stark's pouting protest. Eventually, she handed back the tablet and offered a rather disappointed echo of her earlier assessment, "Sloppy, really."
Darcy nodded. "It's not like Alex at all," she agreed. Each clerk had at least one picture with him clearly noticeable in the background. One he was fishing, one playing chess, and others doing random things with the crowds or lack thereof of wherever the clerk had been. Honestly, there was even one where she swore he was looking directly at the camera with an expression of "do you believe this shit?" and every one of them had him positioned underneath something that practically screamed his name: a tree branch, a door jamb, a fricken sign for Wood Street. Now she just had to figure out if he was pulling a Granma or sending some other message.
"Why is my favorite barista photobombing everyone?" Jane asked in a tone that implied she was not actually asking.
A few keystrokes later, and the screen filled with the smiling visage of the brat she called bro, red apron and hat in place, the logo for the coffee shop downstairs emblazoned on everything.
She was beginning to regret having one of those fancy brew-anything machines installed in her own apartment because, really, she could have sorted this all out back when he started this ridiculousness five months ago.
"Is that Lou?" Clint asked, surprised. "Man makes a mean macchiato. Possibly literally if he's an Underwood."
Darcy gave him a side-eye for that but, to be fair, she was giving the side-eye to the applicant details that now scrolled across the screen. "Louis D. Arcey?" she asked in disbelief. "And no one caught this?"
Bucky snorted, which was really not helping things. He did, however, pick up the envelope that had held the letter that started all the fuss and waved it towards her. "Not that I'm complaining about the delay, but is there any reason we didn't just do a name search on this sucker?"
A correcting label had been clipped to the outside but, underneath, the original request for delivery had been in a scrawled script declaring it was for "Louis DArcey" - also known as Louis D. Arcey, of course. The mailroom had probably questioned why a barista was getting mail and sent it on to Darcy Lewis instead. All in all, not the worst misspelling of her name ever. Or even in the past week.
"We did, it seemed stupid, so we moved on," Tony admitted. That was fair, really, as it was a whole new level of dumb.
"Do me a favor?" she asked. Not that she paused for a response - either he would do it or someone else would, curious as to why she asked. "Backtrace his steps? Figure out just where in the tower he's been and if he screwed with anything? You probably won't find anything but, hey, maybe he was feeling generous and left a breadcrumb or three."
"You know any clues he left behind are probably false trails, right?" Steve asked. He received a round of looks that screamed "duh" at him, so he quickly amended that to, "Which might at least hint at what he's trying to keep us away from. Also, Darcy, your Natasha expression is eerie."
She hadn't been trying to match anyone, but spared a glance over to the woman in question just as she glanced at her as well. Probably less of mimicry and more identical feelings of exasperation, but she'd go with it for now. Nat was awesome; any comparison was a compliment as far as Darcy was concerned.
Two and a half hours and more pizza than was probably healthy later, Stark and the others had figured out where Alex had been and she had figured out where he was likely to be. He had called in sick to his last two shifts and yet his ID had pinged off of the parking ramp sensors even though he had avoided being caught by any cameras. Stark put the upper floors of the tower into a higher level of lockdown and started a diagnostic of all systems to make sure there were no surprises, and the others decided to reconvene in the morning.
This meant it took her a whole fifteen minutes to get to street level and go find the brat.
It wasn't that hard, really. He might as well have sent her a damned map with the route lit up all pretty-like. When she approached the bland-looking apartment building with its backlit walkway, she gave in to the urge to mutter, "You have arrived at your destination."
Lock popped, she headed to the lower level laundry area and then scootched the oversized electrical panel out of the way to get to the tunnel behind it. It was dirty and dusty with scuff marks leading a fairly clear path and she silently lamented how far the quality of thuggery had dropped over the years. Have some pride in your work, really. Cover your tracks or scrub the whole damn area clean and dare anyone to make a move against you, but don't half-ass your hide-outs and meet-ups. It was just damn disappointing.
There were a few rusted metal doors along the way, but the dirt and general lack of care told her they weren't what she was looking for. Instead, she took the bend, ducked a pipe, and opened a rickety door that looked like it had at least been used once since the Clinton administration.
What she found made want to her sigh: rando nondescript meeting area of indeterminate size because it was solid shadows save for one overhead bare bulb that literally swung on a chain above a fricken rickety desk and chair.
"For fucking real?" she muttered, no longer caring about professionalism since her meet up clearly did not.
As expected, her declaration triggered the start of the night's events. Her brother stepped into view of the light, as did some loser in a suit meant to impress but needed some tailoring at the shoulders.
Loser Boy made a show of crossing his arms in front of him and tilting his head towards the desk. Clearly he was supposed to be the muscle or some such thing. She tossed her bag down on top of the cracked wood and watched the sucker rock for a second before she glanced up to see if he was satisfied. He raised his eyebrows doubtingly, so she made a show of slowly removing her tiny custom made tiny taser from her jeans pocket and placing it beside it. In jeans and a fitted knit top, apparently she didn't look like she could stash any weapons of mass destruction anywhere, and Loser Boy nodded in satisfaction.
Hands still up to seem all unassuming-like, she popped her gum and cheerily asked, "How's it going, Alex?"
"You do know that this is a trap, right?" her brother verified in the same sugary tone.
"Well, duh," she said, trying not to roll her eyes. She failed but, then again, she didn't really try that hard. "Figured that out with the damn near neon flashing sign."
"You know the trap wasn't for your boy toy, right?" he asked with a quirk to his lips.
Like some sadly cliche movie of the week, three armed men stepped from the shadows, a fourth coming up from behind Alex, actually buttoning the cuff on his sleeve and everything. Like, who did that? Did he unbutton it just to make an entrance, or did he forget it that morning and figured the prime time to do it was when his attention really should be elsewhere?
"I'm sure your significant other, whomever he may be, will miss you terribly, Miss Underwood," Button Man said with some truly horribly mocked sympathy.
And that told her all she needed to know about him. Under-informed, over-confident, and kinda a dick. Alex's lip ticked upward for a moment, and she knew she had her confirmation as to his thoughts on the matter. He also shrugged and, in doing so, showed her that he hadn't just been standing at parade rest, but that his hands were tied behind his back with just the barest of give for movement.
"What do they have on you anyway?" she asked, knowing it pissed off the other guy that he wasn't the center of her attention. She was totally going to make it a point to ignore him as much as possible.
"A .45 and a couple of AKs I think," Alex replied. He pretended to think for a moment before he added, "Plus at least one of those shock baton things that hurt like a son of a bitch."
So about what she expected, really. No surveillance listed but they probably either figured she would have hacked it anyway or whatever they chose to use to block her from getting a signal to call out might have interfered and made their own stuff useless. If it wasn't Stark-level - and it probably wasn't given how underwhelmed she was with the whole thing - the location as a whole wouldn't have played well with standard off-market options.
Button Man started some long-winded and probably rehearsed schpeel about collecting them both and how it was a great achievement and how smart he thought he was and yadda. It wasn't like she was paying that much attention to his actual words. The gist of it was that he wanted to undermine the Infamous Underwoods - and she silently preened at that description - likely for some wrong Granma made against his granddaddy when he was just a lowly loser in some scummy wannabe crime division that wasn't even Hydra-levels of stupidity. He was going to make a name for himself and get revenge in one fell swoop. Bonus if he could use them to get their mom to reveal herself in an attempt to save her babies. Like that was ever going to happen. She would disown them for incompetency first.
"They do know that putting both of us together is a hella bad idea, right?" Darcy asked once the idiot basically laid out his entire plan plus life goals.
"Unless, of course, I made a deal with them," Alex pointed out. "I hand you over, they help fake my death, I go live in Cabo for, like, ever. Or at least until I decide to reinvent myself."
She didn't even pretend to hide how pissed she was at that prospect. "You'd turn on the fam?"
He winced. "It's not much like we're much of a family, really. Besides, if given the choice to not get killed versus awkward holiday dinners where we all talk in circles and don't tell each other a damned thing about anything? Common, Little D, you've gotta know which wins."
And she did, which was the sad part. He had said Cabo, a dream discussed as a retirement option for years. Sun, sand, anonymity, and stupid rich people to fleece - what wasn't to love? Well, other than the fact that he called her little. He was only four inches taller than her, less if she dared to wear heels.
"He was, of course, foolish," Button Man preened. "He honestly thought we'd let him go at the price of his bratty sister. Disappointing, really. I would have thought more of the Underwood legacy."
"Bratty?" she confirmed with a single raised eyebrow. Alex's own eyes widened and he took a deep breath as though to prepare to defend himself. "I'll show you bratty you disloyal sanctimonious little fuck..."
Her opinion of the armed posse diminished even further when she lunged at her brother and they simply stepped back to laugh. She knocked him to the floor, tucked and rolled, taking him with her to the edge of the shadows, making certain to make as violent of a scene as possible.
"About damned time," Alex bitched under his breath and rolled them further towards the darkness. He rattled the cuffs he wore and gave her a pointed look.
"If you can't get out of those, you're just plain sad," she replied. She pretended to fight him while patting him down to see if he was rigged. She figured he would have warned her but placed very little trust in pretty much life as a whole at this point.
She grabbed one of the knives tucked away in her boots and offered it to him, pleased that he already had one cuff undone. She took another blade for herself and chucked it at one of the goons who finally had gathered up the energy to rub his two brain cells together and decide to go investigate just what was going on. It hit the hand that had held his gun, pierced it all pretty-like, and his only visible weapon clattered to the floor. He recovered quickly enough to lunge at her, so points to him, but seemed to forget that she was still on the floor, as in within range of all those pesky little tendons available above his scuffed dress shoes, and she grabbed yet another knife from the holster at the small of her back and put it to good use. A tuck and roll later and both he and one of his buddies hit the floor, weapons either useless or just plain out of reach.
Loser Boy was probably lamenting that he never actually frisked her at this point.
She was decidedly not. It was not her fault they ran a shoddy op.
She kept her most recent knife with her because it was awesome and so well balanced that she saw no need to throw it away and search for it later if she didn't have to. She clambered to her feet but stayed in a crouch, Alex damn near mirroring her position beside her.
"You know what'd be nice right about now?" he asked mildly as multiple weapons were turned in their direction. "A gun. A gun would be nice right now."
"You know my feelings on using one," she chided him.
"And yet I still want one," he replied. He was a crack shot, she preferred to injure or maim only and get as much information as possible out of a target before they passed out instead. A tiny little dosing later, and the target couldn't remember the hours leading up to their unconsciousness and she was in the clear.
"You don't think we can take them?" she asked doubtfully. "Granma will be so disappointed in you. Both of us, really." The bad guys seemed thrown off by their bickering, which gave her plenty of reason to continue.
He shook his head. "I didn't say we couldn't, I'm just saying it'd be a hell of a lot easier with a damned gun."
"Okay," she shrugged.
Alex's eyes narrowed. "Okay?" he asked suspiciously. "Did you actually bring one?" He eyed her bag on the table with newfound appreciation.
"Nope," she said, popping the p for effect. She watched the hopefulness die down to disappointment before she added, "But he did."
Five shots rang out in quick succession, baddies collapsing to the floor in their wake. She kicked the weapons away from the three closest to them and let Bucky saunter over and verify they were contained to his own standards. She waited for his disparaging eye roll before she threw herself into his arms in as dramatic of a way as possible and enthused, "My hero!"
The eye roll was now directed at her, which was fair considering she openly giggled at her own antics. "Really, doll?" he asked dryly.
Her response was interrupted by Alex when he doubtfully asked, "Did your boy just kneecap all of them in one go? Including the ones you already took down?"
She nodded and cheerfully explained, "He's a keeper. Also? A sniper. A very thorough one."
"I thought you didn't like guns?" Alex asked with a frown. He started patting down the men, making certain to step on vital bits of anatomy and kick heads as appropriate.
"I don't like using them, as in me myself doing so," she clarified. "I mean, obviously I understand they still have a purpose; look at you and mom."
"Bonus if that purpose is to save your ass?" he guessed. He shook his head at the eager nodding he received in response. He reached for the next idiot, and then jumped back when the guy started writhing on the ground, blue sparks of electricity dancing along his limbs. "Warn a guy, will you?" he grumbled.
Darcy, in response, deadpanned, "Hey, Alex, look out. The asshole is going for the piece strapped to his ankle."
Bucky simply used his greater height to look over the top of her, eyes probably instantly zeroing in on the tiny metal disk that clattered off the goon. "Did you steal from Nat?" he asked. She couldn't tell if he was horrified or impressed. That was fair as she figured neither could he.
"She totally shared!" she insisted. "If you don't believe me, ask her yourself. I'm guessing she's either in the hallway or sneaking in through the back right about now."
"Ruin all of my fun," Natasha grumbled as she stepped out of the shadows. She raised an appraising eyebrow at the way neither Alex nor Darcy herself jumped, though Darcy could tell it had been a near thing with her brother. He was far too jumpy and it made her question just what the idiots had pulled with him. For now though, she concentrated on trying not to preen when Natasha added, "Good catch with the extra piece."
Sue her. She was trained, yes, but praise from the actual-fact Black Widow? That deserved ice cream or something.
"Just how many of your cohorts tagged along on this sucker?" Alex asked. He looked to the doorway warily, as though expecting a full battalion to appear at any moment.
"Kinda made it look like you were going after my boyfriend. As in, the hit request pretty much explicitly described him and when he'd be hanging out with me," she shrugged, completely unapologetic.
Alex sighed at that and glanced between Darcy and the man that still loosely held her. Bucky shifted his hold to allow him to wave with his left hand, metal glinting at the ends of his fingerless gloves with the motion. "I can't believe you're dating Bucky Fucking Barnes," he grumbled.
Darcy leaned back against a truly solid chest and readily admitted, "A lot more than dating, really. That middle name you just chose for him? Totally on the mark. In fact-"
Alex covered his ears and cut her off with, "Please don't tell me these things. I'm your brother for fuck's sake."
She stuck out her tongue at him because she could, but he took it as he lack of continuance and lowered his hands again. "Let's take a moment of self-reflection and admit something to both of ourselves: I may be dating one of the original Howling Commandos, but Granma would've totally hit Peggy Carter if given the chance," she solemnly told him.
She felt Bucky's silent chuckle through the rumble of the chest she was still pressed up against. It appeared he was enjoying her brother's strife as much as she was, perhaps even more so when Alex breathed out heavily through his nose and groused, "Trust you to take a moment and make it even more awkward."
"I only mess with you because I care," she assured him. She stepped away from her favorite backrest to pat him on the arm and add, "Would I have walked into this obvious trap if I didn't?"
Alex flicked her nose and agreed, "No, I know you wouldn't have." A little more sheepishly now, he said, "Sorry for the set-up. A week with those electric baton things makes you short on ideas. Also jumpy as hell around anything that sparks for a while, but, you know..."
That explained his reaction to the Widow's Bite then. It also explained her silent conversation with Bucky where, in a single look, he confirmed he'd tranq the guy if that's what it took to get him checked out by a medical professional.
"So, we done here? Yeah, we're done here," Alex rambled. He clapped his hands together and edged backwards toward the door that led away from the entrance both she and Bucky had used, clearly intent on escaping.
Darcy shook her head. "Nope, not done by a long shot. You've got some talking, maybe some groveling, definitely some sucking up to do," she told him. "For myself, I've really only got one thing though."
He took the bait just like she knew he would, and asked, "Yeah, what's that?"
"To stall you long enough so that we can dose you and get you back to the tower before you can ditch out," she replied glibly.
He frowned at that, full on scowly face and everything. "You gonna turn on me?" he accused, fuming. "You have nothing on me; I made sure of that. And family? I warned you, never betrayed you, and-"
"Oh, shut up," she cut him off. "We're going to make sure there's no lasting damage from what in your own words was a week's worth of abuse and then check you to make sure they didn't bug or rig you in ways I missed, that's all. Bonus points if you actually, you know, visit for more than half a second and, seriously guys, how much more stalling do I have to do?"
"That's good," Natasha shrugged. She had a needle in hand and said needle caught her brother perfectly off guard despite the warnings.
"I hate you," Alex announced, but his words were already beginning to slur. He stumbled back a step, but Nat caught him and lowered him carefully to the floor.
He was still fighting it though, concentrating so very hard on overcoming the effects of the drug. She rolled her eyes at it all. "Dude, you've been dying to meet the actual-fact Black Widow for years, and here you are lying in her arms and everything!"
Alex's eyes went big at that, and she caught the slightest turn to Natasha's lips that meant she was greatly amused. That, and Nat freed a hand to wave at him cheerily just like Bucky had done earlier.
Another figure stepped from the shadows and Darcy was not ashamed to admit that her knife was in motion before even Barnes could stop her. Then again, maybe he just didn't try that hard. Barton was a quick little fucker though, and simply ducked and twisted and came right back up again as though nothing unusual had happened at all. He gave her an appraising stare, and then gestured to where the blade was now buried in the wall behind him.
"Decent arm," he said mildly. "But when do you find the time to practice?"
She stomped over to retrieve it and kicked a slowly rousing baddie along the way. "I've got a board in my room. Jane thought it was for darts, Thor offered me something called a 'seax' - and whoa with the misunderstanding at first on that one. Should totally take him up on the offer next time he tries."
She figured she might as well take the opportunity and gathered the rest of her gear as well, pausing to wipe the gross parts off on those who contributed to the grossness. By the time she had slid everything back into place, taser and all, and had checked that nothing in her bag had gone amiss, Clint stood over Alex, a clear pout on his face. "I wanted to tranq an Underwood," he complained.
She patted him on the shoulder consolingly. "Don't worry, I'm sure that I'll piss you off enough to try someday. Just don't try any of that new funky stuff - my reactions are way off standard and you will be responsible when I hurl all over everything while trying to climb the side of the tower."
"You too?" Natasha asked with a raised eyebrow. Darcy had the feeling blood tests were in her future, if only to see what she had inherited from her grandmother's days in the Red Room and how it related to what was used later.
"Yep," she confirmed, trying to push away thoughts she didn't have the time or energy for at the moment. "But man, you should see how I hold my tequila."
"I have, it's a little frightening," Barton replied. He poked at Alex to make sure he was good and truly out before adding, "Also hilarious, by the way."
She looked to the mostly unconscious bodies that surrounded her, only one of which she actually cared about. "So, what's the plan anyway? Other than checking Alex out, I mean," she asked. Then, to clarify as well as make a suggestion or three, she added, "Do you guys need these guys for anything or is it a free-for-all? I'd love to get my hands on their phones and any other tech they might have but don't actually need the goons themselves per se. If y'all want them, go for it. Otherwise, disposal is easy enough. I mean, they gave us these pretty abandoned tunnels and everything."
She didn't even realize that her knife was back out again until Clint offered, "I think I'm a little frightened, actually. Anyone else not want to know her preferred disposal methods?"
Neither Natasha nor Bucky took the bait, though Bucky did counter with a barely audible growled, "I think I'm a little turned on, personally."
"You and me both," she grinned just to mess with Clint. As expected, he rewarded them by making a face and fake gagging noises.
"Sorry to ruin your fun," Natasha cut in with a tone that said she was anything but, "Stark is airborne in case your would-be captors had a backup plan, and Steve is in the hallway pretending he can't hear you talk about making out on top of bullet-ridden bodies."
"They are not bodies yet," Darcy protested. "Though, I mean, I do like that suggestion. Would seriously keep down the chance of retaliation. Plus, they have now seen all of us and could tattle to any higher-ups and that would just suck."
"You think there's higher ups?" Clint verified.
She shrugged, honestly not sure. "These guys were inept. They had intel, but only weird sections of it. They knew we were Underwoods and I'm guessing the main idiot wanted petty revenge or whatever, but he really didn't know that much about us or how we work. Bonus that he had no idea about Bucky and truly seemed to think none of you would dare to get involved. Might be a test for them - that they totally failed by the way - or it could be a test for us as a whole, the A-team and the U-team, you know what I mean?"
"I'd say you were being paranoid, but I couldn't do it with a straight face," Clint relented. "Besides, in spy life? Paranoia is key to survival. Let's get this trash cleaned up and see if we can't see find a trail," he suggested.
They started to do just that when Natasha elbowed him what would be considered softly by her terms. "I'm proud of you," she said with just a hint of a smile. She patted down one of the goons and waited for his questioning eyebrow. "You resisted making landfill or litterbug jokes, and that took a lot of restraint."
"It really did," he agreed.
Alex checked out just fine, but the baddies did not. Aside from the long and painful prison rehab they had in their future, they had a few hazy ties in their past as well. Nothing concrete that she could figure out just yet, but something screamed "Evil" at her, so she planned to keep digging for a while.
Everything seemed to tie back to SHIELD though, as in the foundation of it and the wiping out of anything that might possibly protect that foundation in case it was to be rebuilt the right way and not some half-assed way that only vaguely hoped that this time they could avoid the tentacle influence. Nix the Underwoods, nix the support system, and either slide in or just nuke it as a whole. She honestly couldn't tell which was the preference. They went after the descendants of some guy named Sousa and another named Thompson at the same time they went after her family, and made a play at an old Hollywood family by the name of Martinelli as well. The Avengers team couldn't figure that one out, but one call to her mother and she had her answer. These people - the real ones running the show - had seriously done their research into old-time history, which meant they probably wouldn't just run off from a single op gone bad.
It also meant that they were outsourcing to losers to cover their tracks, which troubled her somewhat. Not just that she was apparently not worth the A Game, but that they were willing to sacrifice a few pawns to get more important pieces into position.
Flash forward to four days from when she reunited with her wayward sibling, and half the tower was in a snit fit. A fire alarm had been pulled at a D.C. nursing home, and a cadre of bodies were found neatly stacked outside of the back door. There was a fricken bow and a card and everything.
"Mom got the message through?" Alex guessed as he looked at the feed.
"Nobody messes with the core of SHIELD," Darcy agreed.
Bucky tagged along with Steve and Stark to investigate, so it was easy enough for her to slip in as well. Actually, she would have been disappointed in herself if she hadn't at least tried - fangirl mode was totally activated. Alex officially declined, which meant there was a very Alex-shaped attendant mopping the hallways when she strolled into the nursing home that she pretended that she didn't notice.
Body count was an apparently standard five, but none of them had the luxury of only being kneecapped. Shot, stabbed, and suffocated, she did notice they were also each gifted with single letter monograms carved into the backs of their hands.
"Hydra?" Bucky guessed after stringing the letters together. They had been left in order, so it wasn't hard.
"Raise your hand if you're surprised," Darcy said drolly. It was less that they baddies had advertised themselves, and more that someone had branded them on their behalf. Clearly whoever took them down didn't have the time for subtlety as they literally spelled out who they worked for and left the credentials pinned to their pockets to be traced at a later time.
Clint and Natasha took care of that, so she was left at Bucky's side as the trio of men approached the legend herself: Peggy Fucking Carter. She had to use every trick in her arsenal not to squee.
The elderly woman sat in a wheelchair overlooking a perfectly scenic garden. Older, frailer, and still a demanding presence, especially to those who knew her backstory. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, even if she was wearing less of a power suit and more of a set of old woman pajamas.
The nurse to her side tucked a strand of graying hair out of the way as she leaned close to say, "Now promise to call me if you need anything?"
"You make such a fuss," Carter waved her off, but there was a smile to her lips when she did so.
"Always," her attendant said with perfectly matching expression.
Steve stepped forward and fussed over his one time love while Bucky did a very poor job hiding his amusement. Darcy, for her part, shared a knowing look with the woman now waiting patiently off to the side.
It was harder than it should be to watch the once indomitable Peggy Carter recite off details of a failed attack followed by utter and complete confusion as to why she was next to the perfectly tended garden and not in her room. She seemed to know Steve right up until she didn't, called Tony by his father's name, had the vaguest of recollections of Bucky, but rather pointedly told Darcy, "I know precisely who you are, don't try to fool me."
The squee nearly escaped at that one.
They chatted for a while longer, Peggy weaving tales of past and present and her gathered audience hanging on every word. She treated Darcy like she had known her all of her life and, well, given the stories she had heard during said life, it was easy enough to follow along with even the most ridiculous of tales.
At the end of the day though, Carter pulled her close and whispered, "I know you think you have a mission. Well, I'm telling you it has changed. You keep these daft men safe and sound and we'll call it even. I'd say to keep them away from foolishness, but we both know that would be an impossible task."
"I'll do my best, ma'am," she promised.
A large orderly that had been personally vetted by both Stark and Rogers came up to push the legend back to her room, and Steve immediately moved to follow. Bucky waited for Darcy though, lines of concern in his face when he saw her eyeing the garden warily. "What's wrong, doll?" he asked.
She caught the slightest glint of light off of the petals of a grouping of Georgin that were frankly out of place amongst the others. Satisfied all was right in the world again, she simply shrugged and said, "Just found it odd that Granma didn't bring her back to her rooms herself."
Bucky chuckled, loud and deep, immediately turning to where the nurse had stood for the majority of their visit. Nearby, she heard the familiar dulcet tones of Barton lament, "Damn it! She was right fucking here and we missed it!"
Natasha smiled though, and Darcy had the feeling it was far less of a miss and far more of pointedly looking the other direction. Oddly, she was fine with that.
Not everyone had pristine pasts, and none of them had that sparkly of presents or futures either. None of them were perfect and all of them could justifiably make the random innocent mistake. That mistake helping someone who just helped an ally that you held near and dear? Yeah, totally innocent and random.
And she knew half a dozen people who would take you down if you argued otherwise.