"Don’t move, Darcy," Natasha said. No one could have disobeyed that tone of voice. Darcy froze, finger still on the trigger of the stun gun. Bucky lay sprawled on the floor, metal arm thrown above his head as though he’d swooned. His gun lay a few inches from his hand. Natasha holstered her weapon and drew out her phone.
Darcy squinted. "How do you have pockets in that outfit?" she asked.
"It's well-constructed," Natasha said. "Hold still." She snapped a couple of photos with her camera phone. "Okay, now take your finger off the trigger and hand me the gun, grip first." She slipped the phone back into her pocket.
"There's not even a bulge," Darcy said with admiration. Natasha held out her hand, palm up. Darcy sighed and reluctantly handed over the gun. Clint lowered his bow and slipped the arrow back in his quiver.
Bruce cleared his throat.
"Pants!" Darcy said. "Right!" She stepped carefully over Bucky's prone body and got a pair of sweatpants from Captain America's dresser. She stepped over Bucky again and handed Bruce the clothing. "He'll be all right, won't he?" Darcy looked anxiously at Natasha.
"Should be. Can you take a look, Doc?" Natasha asked.
Bruce slipped the pants on and tied them at the waist. He knelt next to Bucky and pressed two fingers to the pulse point at his throat. "What did you shoot him with?"
"He called them ICERs," Darcy said.
"Dendrotoxin," Natasha said.
Bruce pulled up one of Bucky's eyelids to look at his pupil. "He'll be fine," Bruce said, standing up. "His metabolism will burn through it quickly."
"Oh, good," Darcy said with relief. She took a throw blanket from the back of the couch and draped it over Bucky.
"Is that your helicopter on the roof?" Bruce asked Clint, jerking his thumb towards the ceiling. "You left your lights on."
"Oh, crap!" Clint slung his bow across his chest and ducked out the window. They could hear his feet pounding on the metal as he ran up the fire escape.
"How'd you end up here?" Darcy asked Bruce.
"Cab ran a red light," Bruce said. "I'm a little vague on what happened after he hit me but I ended up on the roof here. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to scare anyone. I thought Steve would be here."
"He's in California," Darcy said. "I'm catsitting."
"When did Steve get a cat?" Bruce asked.
"Couple of weeks ago," Natasha said. Something clanked heavily on the fire escape. "Your ride's here," she told Bruce.
Iron Man rested a hand on the window frame and leaned in. He flipped up his faceplate and looked around the room. "You threw a raging party and didn't invite me?" His eyes landed on Bucky and he lifted his eyebrows. "Did you put his bra in the freezer yet?"
"That's just slumber parties," Darcy said.
"Nah, Rhodey used to do that to me at M.I.T.," Tony said. "What'd he do to you, Romanov?"
"Wasn't me," Natasha said smugly.
"Total accident!" Darcy said, throwing her hands up. "The stun gun had a really sensitive trigger."
"Protip," Natasha said, "don't point a gun at someone you don't want to shoot."
"What about the time you-" Tony began.
"Wasn't an accident, Stark," Natasha said.
"Do you have some kind of Iron Man signal?" Darcy asked Bruce. "Because I know you weren't carrying a phone when you got here."
"I always know when he's dangling in the wind," Tony said. "You see, I was once bitten by a pair of radioactive pants-"
Bruce cut him off with a quick hand gesture. "Tony's got a StarkAlert set up. It's always news when the Other Guy makes an appearance. Anyone hurt?" he asked Tony.
"No, but there's a cab driver capslocking all over Twitter right now." Tony said. "His car's totaled."
Bruce gave a derisive snort. "It's just fortunate he didn't hit someone less resilient."
"JARVIS, send CNN the footage from the traffic camera," Tony said.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Bruce said.
"The news is out; you gotta control the spin," Tony said. "Anyway, Beiber's been quiet lately. CNN needs a story or they’ll have to go looking for real news. You can release a statement tomorrow assuring the driver that you won’t be suing.”
“I’m not going to sue the driver,” Bruce protested.
“Perfect, just like that,” Tony said. “Ready to go?”
“I’m very sorry for the interruption,” Bruce told Natasha and Darcy. "I'll return Steve's pants as soon as they're washed. Please pass my apologies on to James."
"C'mon, big guy, we'll miss Neil DeGrasse Tyson." Tony held out his arm to Bruce.
"Is he on TV tonight?" Darcy asked.
"No, he's coming over for drinks," Tony said. "Pepper can't stall him for long if we're not there. Me to you, the guy's kind of a diva." Bruce put his arm around Tony's shoulder and Tony wrapped his red and gold arm around Bruce's waist. Tony flashed metal horns with his right hand and took off from the fire escape.
Clint clambered back in through the window a moment later. "You missed Iron Man," Darcy said.
"Wasn't aiming at him," Clint said. "The window guy is here. The truck just pulled up."
Darcy walked over to the window and looked out. "How can you tell?"
"Keen powers of observation," Clint said. He unslung his bow from across his chest, walked towards the front door and caught his toe on Bucky's boot. He stumbled sideways and banged his shoulder on the wall. Natasha hid a small smile. "I see better from a distance," he muttered, righting himself.
Clint hung his quiver on the coat rack and leaned his bow against the wall. He opened the door on the first knock. The "window guy" turned out to be a small, dark-haired man who spoke to Natasha in a language Darcy assumed to be Russian. He waved in two large, dark-haired men carrying a sheet of glass and spoke to them in probably-Russian. The small man took his bag of tools to the window frame and set to work installing the replacement pane.
Natasha paid the main in cash. The new window had a digital lock set into the lower left corner of the frame. "Bullet-proof, repulsor-ray proof and theoretically, Hulk-proof, though the wall isn't," she said, after the workers left. She dropped down on the couch next to Clint. "You can't shoot it," she added to Darcy, who was inching towards Bucky's gun.
"I wasn't gonna," Darcy said.
"The bullet will ricochet off it and kill you," Natasha said.
"I wasn't gonna!" Darcy said, and veered off towards the kitchen. "I'm just going to make popcorn." A metal hand clamped around her ankle and she let out an ear-splitting shriek.
"You," Bucky snarled, "are a dead woman."
"Popcorn sounds perfect," Natasha said, getting up and going to the kitchen.
"Okay, the trigger on that gun? Super sensitive," Darcy said. She tried to carefully tug her ankle from his grip but his fingers didn't budge. "I'm very sorry I shot you," she added.
Bucky let out a low growl but he released her ankle. He threw off the blanket and dragged himself to his feet. "Motherf-flipping sonofa-a-gun. That stuff has a h-heck of a kick," Bucky grumbled. He picked up his gun, engaged the safety and tucked it into his belt.
Darcy stared at him. "Are you trying to keep our PG rating?"
Bucky folded his arms across his chest. "I can't swear in front of a lady," he said.
"I'm a 'lady'?" Darcy asked, then held up a hand. "No, forget that part. Why can't you swear? Are you under a curse?"
"It doesn't matter," Bucky said.
"Are you unable to talk about the curse?" Darcy whispered.
"There's no curse!" Bucky said. He ran a hand through his hair and hunched forward. "It's just what my mother taught me."
Darcy's eyes went wide. "That," she declared, "is adorable."
"Don't," Bucky said.
"No, seriously, it's really sweet!" Darcy said.
"You've sworn in front of me," Natasha pointed out dryly.
Bucky looked flustered for a moment, then brightened. "Russian doesn't count."
Natasha snorted. "Nice try."
"We're getting off the subject," Bucky said.
"What was the subject?" Darcy asked.
"How I'm going to get you back," Bucky said. He tapped his thumb against his lower lip, then pointed at Darcy. "I'm going to eat your pizza," he decided, taking a step towards the kitchen.
Darcy blocked his way. "You gave it to me! No takebacks!"
"You shot me!" Bucky stepped to the right and Darcy stepped sideways to block him.
"And that was totally my bad but you can't take presents back." Darcy frowned at him. "What would your mother say?"
"My mother has nothing to do with this!" Bucky protested. He stepped to the left and Darcy moved sideways to block him again. She rested her hands on her hips.
"She'd be okay with you taking a gift back, then?" Darcy asked.
"… Fine, forget the pizza," Bucky said grumpily. He looked around for ideas and his eyes landed on Natasha, who had just sat down on the couch with her bag of popcorn. She gave him a suspicious look.
"What?" she asked warily. Bucky walked over to her, rested both hands on the arm of the couch and leaned in to whisper in her ear. Natasha ate a piece of popcorn. "It'll cost you."
"Earlier you threatened to tell us for free!" Bucky protested.
"Wait, whoa, what are you doing?" Darcy demanded.
"The circumstances have shifted," Natasha grinned.
Bucky rubbed the spot between his eyebrows with his thumb. He looked over at Darcy, sighed, and asked Natasha, "What's your price?"
"You can't do it!" Darcy objected. "You'll spoil yourself as well!"
"Through season three?" Natasha asked Bucky. She tapped a manicured finger against her chin. "All the characters?"
"All of them," Bucky said coldly. He straightened and gave Darcy a triumphant look.
"You want spoilers, I'll give you spoilers!" Darcy jabbed her finger at Bucky. "Bruce Willis was dead. Soylent Green is people. It was Earth all along. Rosebud is his sled. Snape kills Dumbledore. The boat sinks."
"Seen it, seen it, seen it, saw it in '41, read it, not a spoiler," Bucky said, counting each one off on his fingers. "I'm old, I don't live under a rock." He turned to Natasha. "Dog cops isn't enough," he said viciously. "What'll it cost me for the ending to Schemes of Kings?"
Natasha gestured Bucky closer with a finger. He leaned down and she whispered in his ear.
"No," Bucky said, shaking his head.
Natasha shrugged. "That's the offer." Bucky scratched his chin, looked over at Darcy, then whispered something in Natasha's ear. She twisted her mouth as she pondered the offer, then nodded. "Terms accepted."
"No!" Darcy yelped. She clapped her hands over her ears.
"Hold on!" Clint stood up and threw his arms out, one hand each towards Bucky and Darcy as he put himself in the middle. "Tasha, don't say anything. Bucky, think about what you're doing. Really, really think about it. Think about what you're doing to yourself. Don't go for the nuclear option. Once these words have been spoken, you can never unhear them."
"I don't watch the show," Bucky said.
"Well," Clint said, "you should. It's really good."
"Okay, okay!" Darcy lifted her hands in surrender. "I yield. You wanna just shoot me, make it even?"
Bucky stared at her. "I'm not going to shoot you!"
"C'mon, it'll make you feel better," Darcy said. "I still have a couple of taser cartridges."
"No!" Bucky stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and hunched his shoulders. "I don't want to shoot you."
"What do you want, then? I could send you a gift basket." Darcy turned to Natasha. "Do they make gift baskets with knives?"
"I could recommend a couple of places," Natasha said.
"Stark used to make one with grenades," Clint offered. He sat back down on the couch.
"That was a sampler," Natasha said. She held out the popcorn bag and he took a handful.
"Yeah, but you could tie a ribbon around it," Clint said.
"I have knives and grenades. I don't need anything," Bucky said. "You know what, just forget it. You're forgiven."
"Really?" Darcy gave him a skeptical look. "You can't take it back. There's no unforgive option."
"I know." Bucky said. "It's done. Let's move on."
"All right." Darcy smiled. "Wanna hug on it?" She spread her arms and Bucky took a wary step backwards.
"Handshake?" he suggested. He cautiously offered his right hand. Darcy walked over and solemnly shook his hand.
"You've got a knife up your sleeve," Darcy noted.
"Don't try to change me," Bucky said.
Natasha signed. "Does this mean our deal is off?"
"'Fraid so," Bucky said
"Oh, thank God," Clint muttered.
"No." Natasha pointed at him. "You are not getting out of this. I have another bargaining chip." She took out her phone and a moment later, Bucky's phone buzzed. He checked the message.
"Oh, no," he groaned. "There's a picture."
Darcy looked over his shoulder. "Ooh, my hair looks cute tonight."
"A lot of people would enjoy that photo." Natasha gave Bucky a wicked smile. "Fury might even put it on his holiday cards."
Bucky looked up at the ceiling and let out a long sigh. "Five lessons," he conceded.
"Lessons in what?" Darcy asked. "Knife stuff? Punching people? Mass consumption of food?"
"Swing dancing," Clint sighed. "Natasha wants me to learn so she'll have a partner."
Darcy gave Bucky a puzzled look. "You… dance?"
"You're looking at the Brooklyn Lindy Hop champion of 1940 and 1941," Natasha said.
"I won a couple of local competitions," Bucky admitted.
"You are just full of surprises," Darcy said admiringly. She frowned. "Hold up, you have grenades?"
"Not on me," Bucky said.
Natasha and Clint's phones beeped at nearly the exact same time and they both checked their messages. "Well, it's been fun," Natasha said, standing up.
Clint went over to the door and retrieved his bow and quiver. "Don't forget to replace the fire alarm when you go shopping," he said. He strapped on the quiver and slung the bow across his chest. Natasha typed in the code to unlock the window, slipped out and went up the fire escape, her footsteps barely making a sound. Clint climbed out of the window and locked it behind him before going up the steps himself.
"Shopping?" Bucky looked around the apartment in dismay.
"Oh, yeah, you totally busted up the place. Go get your credit card and a computer. You owe me a new phone." Darcy hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her sweatpants. "You know, we could use a bit more color around here."
A few days later, Darcy got home to find Bucky sitting on the couch watching TV. He started when she opened the door and fumbled for the remote, but she heard a bit of dialogue before he shut it off. "Are you watching Dog Cops without me?" Darcy demanded. She shoved the front door shut and stalked over to the living room. "Gimme," she said. Bucky produced a knife from his sleeve and handed it to her hilt first, giving her an innocent look from under his shaggy hair. "The remote, smart guy," Darcy said, accepting the knife and holding out her other hand.
Bucky sighed. "Watching television is not a crime," he said, as he handed over the remote. He reached for the knife but she pulled it out of his reach.
"You said you'd wait for me," Darcy said.
"I'm notoriously untrustworthy," Bucky said. Darcy set the knife on the kitchen counter and flopped down on the couch next to Bucky. She rested her feet on the new coffee table. Bucky frowned. "Don't scuff it up." Darcy dropped her feet to the carpet, toed off her shoes and put her stockinged feet back on the table. Bucky looked upward and sighed. "In my day, we had manners," he told the ceiling.
"In my day, we consider watching ahead on Netflix to be rude," Darcy told him. She turned on the TV.
"I didn't even get through a whole episode," Bucky complained. "Just restart it."
"I plan to," Darcy said. She grinned. "You wanna make some popcorn? We can test the new fire alarm."
Bucky narrowed his eyes at her. "There's hummus in the fridge."
"Sounds good," Darcy said. She went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, looked at the contents, closed the fridge and leaned out over the kitchen counter to look at Bucky. "Did you buy groceries?"
"Uh-huh," Bucky said.
"A lot of groceries."
"Did you… come in the front door?" Darcy asked.
"So what if I did?" Bucky said defensively.
"I didn't know you knew how," Darcy said.
Bucky raised his eyebrows. "They had doors in the forties."
"I'm familiar with mid-twentieth century architecture," Darcy said impatiently. "I'm just saying… you know… "
"I have a key and all the new codes," Bucky said stubbornly. "I can get in however I want and I wanted to use the front door."
"Okay! I was just asking," Darcy said. She took the hummus from the fridge. "Where do you stay when you're not staying here?"
"That's special operational information," Bucky said.
"What the hell does that mean?" Darcy asked.
"It means it's none of your business," Bucky said. "If you don't get over here soon, I'm starting the show without you, from where I left off."
"All right, Mr. Grouchy Pants." Darcy loaded up a plate with hummus and pita bread and brought it out to the coffee table. She left her feet on the floor this time. "Go ahead," she said, with a majestic sweep of her hand. "Play it from the start."
"You have the remote," Bucky pointed out.
"Oh, yeah." Darcy retrieved it from the side table and started the show.
Two episodes later, someone rapped on the window. Bucky's right arm snaked out and grabbed Darcy's wrist before she could reach for her taser. "I think we're okay," he said. Darcy looked out the window and saw Captain America standing on the fire escape, dressed in khaki slacks and a blue button-down shirt. He waved. Darcy got up and punched in the code to open the window.
"Hi," Darcy said. She looked back at Bucky. "Do any of your friends know how to use a door?"
"New locks on the elevator and stairwell," the Captain said. He climbed in the window and Darcy saw he had his shield strapped to his back. "I don't have the codes." He pointed upward. "Felipe let me come through his place." Darcy reached out and poked the shield with her index finger. The Captain gave her a confused look.
"Oh, yeah," Bucky said. He leaned back and put his arm on the back of the couch. "Romanov replaced your window and Mrs. Sablan next door did the rest. There was a break-in around here recently. You know how paranoid people can get."
"I do," the Captain nodded. He looked around the room, taking in the new lamp and coffee table.
"Welcome home, Captain," Darcy said.
"Please, just call me Steve," the Captain said.
"Welcome home, Steve," Darcy said. "I'll just grab my stuff and get out of here." She went into the bedroom, leaving the door open.
"No rush," Steve told her.
"I sent you the new codes," Bucky said.
"If you'd've sent me the new codes, I'd've had the new codes," Steve said.
"Clearly not, because I did send them and you don't have them," Bucky said. "You should've gotten an encrypted message from me yesterday."
"Encrypted," Steve said.
"Yes," Bucky said. "They're security codes; I wasn't going to email them. I set up that server for messages, remember?"
"Yes," Steve said. "We talked about it on the phone last month. You were going to give me the key to the encryption the next time you saw me."
"Right, I…," Bucky's voice trailed off. He scratched his chin with his thumbnail. "I've got an encryption key for you," he offered.
"Oh, good," Steve said. "Very useful."
"Meow Meow's in the bedroom," Darcy said, dropping her overnight bag next to the couch. "She's curled up on the pillow."
Steve paused. "'Meow Meow'?"
"She named your cat after Thor's hammer," Bucky explained.
"Meow Meow," Steve repeated, trying out the words.
"If you don't like it, too bad," Darcy said. "You had your chance to name her." The cat poked her head out of the bedroom, spotted Steve and dashed over to him. She rubbed against his leg and butted her head against his shin. Steve rested his duffle bag on the floor and swept the cat up. Darcy waited for her to hiss or swat him, but she just settled into Steve's arms and purred. Darcy looked over at Bucky, who shrugged.
"We'll try it out," Steve said. He skritched the cat behind the ears, then set her down gently. "Let me put my stuff away," he said, picking up his bag. "Have you folks had dinner yet?"
"Just snacks," Bucky said. "I could put something together, though. I got groceries."
"You bought groceries," Steve said, giving Bucky an odd look.
"Yes," Bucky said. "From a store. Don't look at me like that. It's not like I drove to Florida for oranges."
"I'm not looking at you like anything," Steve said. He took his bag and shield into the bedroom. He returned a few minutes later with a bundle of fabric in his hands. "The shower curtain has a picture of me on it."
"Yep," Darcy said. "It's retro. Very in."
"There's stars and stripes pillows on my bed," Steve said.
"Who can't use more pillows?" Bucky asked.
"The towels have red, white and blue stripes."
"He picked them out." Darcy jerked her thumb at Bucky.
Bucky lifted his hands. "She gave me two options and I said I didn't think 'Captain America' would want to dry his rear end with the American flag."
"You can say 'ass'," Darcy told him.
"Can," Bucky said. "Don't wanna."
Steve held up the bundle of red, white and blue fabric that had been in his hands. "Should I know what this is?"
"A new costume for you," Bucky said, matter-of-factly. He pulled a printout from a drawer in the coffee table and handed it to Steve. Steve's eyebrows shot up. "A TV show suggested the design and I had a lady make it up for you." Steve set the drawing on the coffee table and held out the article of clothing at arm's length as he tried to make sense of it. "You've got it sideways," Bucky said. Steve turned it.
"Now it's upside down," Darcy said.
Steve tried to right it and Bucky winced. "No, you wear it like that, it's gonna chafe."
Steve sighed. He wadded up the fabric and threw it at Bucky's chest. Bucky caught it with a grin. "You model it, then," Steve said.
"Maybe another time," Bucky said. He stuffed it under the table. Darcy's phone beeped and she checked the message.
"Anything else?" Steve asked Bucky. Darcy typed a reply on her phone.
"Yep," Bucky said. He got a box from under the coffee table and handed it to Steve. Steve opened it and found a squat Captain America figure with wide eyes and a large head. Steve looked it over. "The head wobbles," Bucky told him. He leaned over to flick it and looked up at Steve with a mischievous grin.
Steve chuckled and shook his head.
"Yeah, like that," Bucky said.
Steve closed his fingers carefully around the figure and smiled fondly. "Thank you, Buck," he said sincerely.
Bucky lifted his eyebrows. "I'm ragging on you," he said. "You get that, right?"
"Oh, yeah," Steve said. He poked the figure's head and made it wobble some more. "I'm gonna get you back," he grinned. He sat down on the couch and bumped his knee against Bucky's. "You gonna stick around for a bit?"
Bucky shrugged. "Maybe I will." Thunder rumbled and the window rattled.
"Are we expecting a storm?" Steve asked.
"Uh, actually, I think that's my ride," Darcy said. She grabbed her bag from beside the couch. "You," she jabbed her finger at Bucky. "Do not watch any more Dog Cops without me. I mean it. I'll know."
"Or what, you'll shoot me again?" Bucky asked.
"Let it go," Darcy advised. "I'll be back in New York full-time in like, two weeks," she said. "I'll call you." She smiled at Steve. "It's very nice to meet you and I had a lovely time." She handed him the key and offered her hand. Steve shook it.
"Thanks for looking out for everything," Steve said.
"Not a problem," Darcy said. Meow Meow stalked over to Darcy, butted her head against Darcy's leg, then stalked away. "Aw, I'll miss you, too," Darcy told her. The cat settled under the couch and began licking a cat toy.
"Is that my shield?" Steve said, frowning.
"Catnip," Darcy explained. "There's a t-shirt that goes with it, but she refused to wear it. Maybe you can convince her. It's in the drawer with the treats."
"A t-shirt for the cat?" Steve said, as though he hadn't heard her right.
"So you guys can match!" Darcy said. Lightning flashed and Thor landed heavily on the fire escape. Steve opened the window to let him in.
"I apologize for the intrusion," Thor said. "There is an urgent matter and Jane requires her full team."
"Gotta go," Darcy said. "Science!" She pumped her fist. "No Dog Cops," she reminded Bucky. Bucky crossed his heart.
"Dog Cops!" Thor said. "Jane and I have been watching much of Netflix lately. It is a fine story, though the Captain's death left me quite distraught." Darcy and Bucky glared at him. "Ah," Thor said, taking in their expressions. "I take it you have not yet reached that part of the tale."
"No," Bucky said darkly. "We have not."
Thor scratched the back of his head. "I apologize," he said. "I hope you will enjoy the story nonetheless."
Darcy folded her arms across her chest. "Rosebud is his sled," she said viciously.
Thor stared at her. "Pardon?"
"When the time is right, you'll understand," Darcy said. "Someone spoils me, they pay the price."
Bucky looked at her, impressed.
"Vengeance will be mine," Darcy added.
Thor still looked confused. "We should depart."
"Of course," Darcy said. She slung her bag across her chest and followed Thor out onto the fire escape. "Whoa, this is high up."
"I will not let you fall," Thor assured her. He put his arm around her waist and she clung to him. "Farewell," he said to Steve and Bucky.
"Bye!" Darcy waved.
Thor spun his hammer. As they flew away, Darcy heard Steve ask, "Why is there a bouquet of knives on the kitchen table?"
"I got a gift basket," Bucky replied.
* * *