"Do they make Captain America costumes for cats?" Darcy asked her boyfriend. She snapped a photo and hit send.
"Do they make any costumes for cats?" Ian asked. She heard the beep of an arriving message on his end. "Did you just send me a photo of a bathroom?"
"I just sent you a photo of Captain America's bathroom," Darcy said. "I'm not allowed to post any pictures of his place on Facebook but they didn't say I couldn't send them to you."
"Why are you in Captain America's bathroom?" her boyfriend asked. "I thought you were in New York to set up Jane's new lab."
"I am, but hotels are super expensive and Jane had a friend who had a friend that needed someone to watch his cat while he's on the west coast for a couple of weeks and it turned out that friend was Captain America!" Darcy sent another photo, this one of Captain America's toothbrush, and heard the receiving beep.
"He has a purple toothbrush?" Ian asked.
"I know, right? There is a serious lack of red, white and blue in this apartment. I was hoping he'd like, sleep under a flag. He needs to patriot up the place. I thought I'd get a costume for his cat as a surprise." The medicine cabinet was disappointingly bare.
"You do know it's six am here?" Ian asked.
"Duh, that's why I didn't call you an hour ago." Darcy left the bathroom behind and wandered back into the living room. She snapped a picture of the living room: perfectly matched furniture and retro posters. Oh, and a guy in dark clothes climbing through the window.
"Intruder!" she yelled. She dropped the phone, snatched up her taser from the coffee table and fired at him. The electrodes hit his chest. He stumbled back a step but didn't fall and when she blinked, he had a knife out.
Darcy dropped the taser and ran for her purse, which was sitting on the kitchen table. "I've got pepper spray!" she yelled and dug it out.
The man lifted his hands, though he didn't let go of the knife. "I'm sorry," he said. "I think I've got the wrong apartment." He looked around and his eyes landed on a Brooklyn Dodgers poster over the couch. He frowned. "Actually, I think you have the wrong apartment."
Darcy flipped the thumb latch on her pepper spray and held it out at arms' length. "I am definitely supposed to be here, so you better just go out the way you came, buddy."
He squinted at her. "Who are you? Why are you in Steve's apartment?"
"I'm Darcy." She took a wide stance and glared at him over the pepper spray. "I'm catsitting."
"I'm a friend of Steve's. I'm…" he hesitated for just a second, "I'm Bucky. I stay here sometimes. He didn't say?"
"He said he has a friend that comes by sometimes. He didn't say he had a friend that breaks in through the window. We're on the twenty-fifth floor!" Darcy said.
Bucky shifted his weight slightly. "He's got nosy neighbors."
"Like the kind who call the police?" Darcy said hopefully.
"There's a picture - there, on the fridge," Bucky said, pointing with the knife, though his hands stayed above his head. "It's me, with Steve."
Darcy gave him a wary look and shuffled sideways to get a better look at the photo while keeping the pepper spray pointed at Bucky. She looked at the photo, looked at the man by the window and looked back at the photo. "It doesn't look like you."
Bucky, still gripping the knife, used his right index finger and thumb to pull his glove of his left hand. He waggled five metal fingers at her. "Does this help?"
Darcy looked back at the photo. "Oh! Yeah! That is you!" She walked forward, keeping the pepper spray in front of her. "Give me the knife," she ordered. Bucky lowered his hands and offered it to her hilt-first. She accepted it, inspected it and nodded. "You may come in." She put the pepper spray can in her bathrobe pocket.
"I'm already in," Bucky pointed out.
"Well now you're invited," Darcy said.
"I'm not a vampire," Bucky said.
"I don't judge," Darcy said. "Okay, house rules. I get first pick of TV, though your input will be considered. I like to drink milk from the carton so if that's a problem, get your own. You get the wifi password if you behave and I'm ordering pizza so if you want one you better tell me now. No saying you don't want any and then eating all of mine."
Bucky blinked. "When did Steve get a cat?"
"Like two weeks ago. She doesn't even have a name yet," Darcy said. She patted her pocket for her phone. "Crap!" She ran over to the bathroom doorway and picked up the phone. "Ian?" She hit redial. "Ian! Hi! It's cool, I'm not dead or anything. Captain America's friends don't use the front door. Maybe he flies. Do you fly?" she asked Bucky.
Bucky pointed at the window. "Fire escape," he said. He sat down on the couch.
"I don't think he flies," Darcy said.
"I talked to Jane," Ian said. "I think she's alerted the police."
"I'll call her," Darcy said. "Go have breakfast. I'll check in with you in an hour if I haven't been axe murdered. Love you!" Darcy hung up and dialed Jane's number. While it was ringing, she dropped the knife on the kitchen table and picked up the pizza menu. She shoved it at Bucky. "Be useful. Order me a large one of these," she tapped her finger on the California Special, "and get something for yourself. Jane, hi! aw, voicemail. Hi, it's Darcy, I'm not dead, call me when you get this."
There was a rapping at the window. Bucky jumped to his feet and a knife appeared in his hand.
"Seriously?" Darcy sighed. "Nobody uses the door?"
A face appeared at the window. "Hi!" Iron Man said. "Everything okay in here?"
"How do I know you're the real Iron Man?" Darcy called out.
"Well, I'm in a red and gold metal suit and I just flew up to a twenty-fifth floor window," he said.
"Persuasive. Come on in," Darcy said.
Iron Man pushed open the window and climbed in with a cat-like grace, which is to say that he misjudged the height of the window sill, stumbled forward and then righted himself with the particular sort of dignity that demanded the watcher ignore what they'd seen in the last few moments. "Jane said you'd been attacked," he said.
"Someone broke in but it's cool, he's supposed to be here," Darcy said. She pointed at Bucky.
"I guess I should have called first," Bucky said. He lowered the knife.
The Iron Man mask flipped up and revealed a face Darcy had seen on TV a whole lot and a few times in YouTube videos that usually got pulled within a few days of posting. "He says he's Captain America's friend," Darcy said.
"Well," Tony Stark said. "He is. He's a ninety-five-year-old cybernetic assassin who worked for an international terrorist organization and nearly leveled D.C., but he is Captain America's friend. Which speaks to some unresolved self-esteem issues on Cap's part if you ask me."
Darcy turned to look at Bucky. "You're ninety-five?"
Bucky rubbed his bottom lip with his right thumb and gave Darcy a small grin. "Clean living."
"You said you weren't a vampire!" Darcy glared at him.
"You heard the assassin part, right?" Tony asked. "I didn't imagine myself saying it? I tried to put an ad on Craigslist to get Cap some more friends but he didn't even thank me."
"I'm actually retired," Bucky said.
"Do you get a 401k with that?" Darcy wondered. "Jane doesn't have a pension plan."
"No, my last employer went out of business very abruptly," Bucky said.
"Did all their assets get frozen?" Darcy asked.
"Sort of the opposite," Bucky said.
"Yeah, she's fine," Tony said to the air. "It's Barnes, though. Get Cap on the line."
"Who are you talking to?" Darcy asked. Her phone rang. "Jane! I'm here with Iron Man and a retired vampire."
Jane paused, considered this, then said, "Ian said you'd been attacked."
"Misunderstanding," Darcy said. "No big." Tony was still talking to the air. Darcy pointed at Bucky, pointed at the pizza menu and raised her eyebrows expectantly.
The corners of his mouth quirked up. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
"I figured Tony could get there faster than the police," Jane was saying.
"You called Iron Man just to check on me?" Darcy said. "Which is cool, don't get me wrong."
"Steve has enemies," Jane said. "We were concerned -"
"Wait," Darcy said. Bucky had just picked up the phone receiver. "I want a Garlic Extravaganza instead," she told him.
"Isn't that a bit rude if you're eating with a vampire?" Jane asked.
"He's getting his own," Darcy said pointedly.
"You never eat all your pizza, I don't see how me taking a couple slices even matters," Jane grumbled.
"I like leftovers," Darcy said.
"Okay," Tony said, who seemed to be done talking to the air. "Cap says he's safe. I myself am skeptical on the matter, so you're welcome to come back to the tower with me."
Darcy looked over at Bucky and he tensed up. "Nah," she decided. "We're getting pizza."
"Are you sure?" Jane asked. "I'm looking at his background and he's dangerous, Darcy."
Bucky had the phone receiver to his ear but he was watching Darcy carefully.
"So am I," Darcy said firmly. She added in a lower voice, "I'll call you in two hours if I'm not dead."
"All right," Jane said, resigned.
Tony shrugged. He handed her a card. "Call me if you change your mind."
Darcy took the card. "You have pockets in that suit?"
"Gotta put my ID and credit cards somewhere," Tony said. "Barnes," he nodded as a farewell.
"Stark," Bucky responded with an answering nod, his face carefully neutral.
The suit's mask flipped down and covered Tony's face. He turned around and headed for the window.
"Hi, there's a door!" Darcy called out, but Iron Man was already on the fire escape. She watched him take off. "Darn it, I should have asked him to take me flying!" She turned and looked at Bucky with a calculated expression.
Bucky put a hand over the phone receiver. "Still don't fly," he said.
"Keep in touch, Darcy," Jane said.
"I will," Darcy said. "Oh, wait until you see the lab! It's got machines that go ping!"
"I can't wait," Jane said.
Darcy put the phone in her pocket and walked over to Bucky, who was giving the address to the pizza place. When he hung up, Darcy held out her hand. "Gimme," she said.
Bucky looked down and realized he was still holding the knife. He flipped it around and handed it to her hilt-first.
"Do you have any more?" she asked.
Darcy held out her hand again. Bucky produced a third knife and gave it to her. "Where are you keeping all these?" she asked. He didn't have any visible sheaths.
"Never mind, I don't want to know," Darcy decided. "Cool arm."
"Thanks," Bucky said. He tugged the sleeve of his sweatshirt down to cover his wrist and part of his hand.
"Uh, is that blood?"
Bucky looked down and saw a red smear on the back of his metal hand. "I should shower," he said, heading toward the second bedroom.
"Do you need a doctor?" Darcy asked.
Darcy flopped down on the couch, put her feet up on the coffee table and picked up the remote.
Bucky emerged ten minutes later wearing a clean grey hoodie with black cargo pants. His damp hair was tied back in a short ponytail. "What are you watching?"
"Dog Cops!" Darcy said. "Netflix just got the series and I've been dying to watch it." She jabbed the remote in Bucky's direction. "If you spoil me, I will shiv you."
"Never seen it." Bucky sat down in the recliner. "What's it about?"
"Yeah, but is it about dogs who are cops or cops who-"
"Shhhh!" Darcy said. "No talking over the TV."
They paused the show when the pizza arrived and Darcy called Ian back. "Hi, it's me, I haven't been axe murdered."
"I don't even have an axe," Bucky pointed out over a mouthful of pizza. He sat at the kitchen table in a relaxed, casual pose with the chair turned sideways so he could rest one arm on the table as he ate. It was probably coincidence that this let him keep an eye on all the windows and the front door.
"I don't know that, I haven't seen everything in your pants yet," Darcy said.
"And you're not going to," Bucky said.
On the phone, Ian said, "Er, what?"
"Don't worry about it," Darcy said. "Are you at work yet? Make sure Jane's eating and don't just order food, make sure she's actually consuming it. She forgets when she's sciencing."
"I know, you left me menus with Post-It notes," Ian said.
"Yeah, but sometimes she sticks the food in the cabinet because she thinks it'll stop me from bugging her. Do not fall for this trick. Stand over her while she eats."
"Uh, I will," Ian said. "I'll call you when I get off work."
"Good," Darcy said. "I want a full report." She hung up the phone. "Our intern," she told Bucky. "And my boyfriend. But don't worry, it's totally ethical. We're not paying him."
"I don't judge," Bucky said. A scrawny brown tabby emerged from the master bedroom. She stood in the doorway and mewed pitifully.
"That cat looks pretty skinny," Bucky said.
Darcy opened a can of cat food and dumped the contents into a dish. "She was abandoned. That's why Captain America wanted someone to stay with her, so she can get used to people."
"He has a first name."
"I know. I like saying Captain America," Darcy said. She set the food on the floor next to the pantry. The cat mewed again from the doorway.
"She's not going to eat?" Bucky asked.
"Not while we're in the kitchen." Darcy tossed the cat food can in the garbage. "C'mon, let's watch some more. I want to see how long it'll take them to find the poodle gang's hideout."
The episode ended on a cliffhanger so they went right into the next one. The crooked captain suspected the new recruit was spying on him, so he tracked the recruit to the abandoned warehouse district and trapped him in a corner. The recruit's radio was cut off, he had no backup and no one knew he was there. "Any last words?" the captain growled. The recruit leaned forward -
Darcy's phone buzzed. She let out a cry and jumped up. Bucky was on his feet with a knife in his hand. "Sorry, sorry," Darcy said, digging her phone out of her pocket. "Just a little jumpy and I forgot it was in my pocket and are you kidding me with that thing?" as she spotted what Bucky was holding. He lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender and set the knife down on the coffee table. "Jane! Hi! I'm not dead."
"You said you'd call," Jane said. "I almost alerted the Avengers again."
"We were watching Dog Cops and there's this whole thing that starts in episode two -"
"No, no, don't say anything, I still haven't seen it," Jane said.
"We got caught up in it, is all I'm saying," Darcy said.
"But you're okay?"
"All right," Jane said. "Call me in the morning, New York time."
Darcy picked up the knife and put it with the rest in the kitchen. "Do you have any more?" she asked Bucky.
"Nope," Bucky said. He sat back in the recliner.
"I'm starting to think you have trust issues," Darcy said. She started up the show again but two episodes later she was yawning. "I'm going to bed," she said. She got the knives from the kitchen. "I'm taking these with me. Don't stab anything and keep the volume down if you watch TV. I sleep light." She took the knives into the master bedroom and then poked her head out again. "Don't watch any more Dog Cops without me."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Bucky said. "Anything else I shouldn't do? Do you have a list?"
"Don't think you're funny, 'cause you're not."
"Wait, let me write this down." Bucky said. He picked up a pencil and blank sketchpad from the coffee table. "Any more?" he asked, pencil hovering over the page.
Darcy scowled and shut the bedroom door and the lock clicked into place. When she got up the next morning, Bucky was gone.
So was all the leftover pizza.
* * *
A few days later, Darcy came home from the lab and found a leather jacket hanging on a kitchen chair. A folded newspaper sat on the table. The door to the second bedroom was closed. She carefully inspected the rest of the apartment. Nothing else had changed from when she'd left that morning, except for the cat, who had been eyeing her suspiciously from the dresser in the master bedroom earlier and was now eyeing her suspiciously from one of the pillows on the bed.
Darcy knocked on the door to the second bedroom. "If you're not Bucky, you should know that I'm armed and extremely dangerous," she told the occupant. She waited a moment, but there was no sound from the bedroom. "If you are Bucky, I'm ordering Chinese food, so tell me if you want some." Still no response. "Okay, I'm just going to order extra so you don't eat mine. Again."
Darcy called in her order, then dumped a can of cat food into a dish and left it at the far edge of the kitchen. The cat slipped out of the master bedroom about twenty minutes later, ate the food, bumped her head against Darcy's shin, then ran back to the bedroom when the deliveryman rang the doorbell.
Bucky emerged from the second bedroom about fifteen minutes after that. Darcy was sitting on the couch in sweatpants with her feet up, eating kung pao chicken and watching last night's Daily Show. "Whoa," Darcy said, pausing the show. "You look like hell."
Bucky ran a hand through greasy hair. He had dark shadows under his eyes and a fading bruise on one cheekbone. "You sure know how to make a fella feel good." He trudged over to the kitchen counter and peered into the takeout bag.
"I'm not here to feed your ego," Darcy said. "Maybe you should go back to sleep."
"Wasn't sleeping," Bucky said.
"Maybe that's the problem," Darcy said. She looked him over. He was in a long-sleeved t-shirt with a spattering of bleach stains and dark green cargo pants worn ragged at the heels. He wasn't wearing shoes and his black socks had a hole in one toe. "You want to just hand over your knives now and save us both some time?"
"Not carrying any," Bucky said. He got a carryout container and chopsticks from the takeout bag and took them out to the living room where he dropped down on the recliner and dug into the food.
"I looked you up on Wikipedia," Darcy said, pointing at him with her fork. "It said you were born in 1917."
Bucky nodded, scooping chow mein into his mouth.
"But I figure you're not a vampire because you ate all my garlic pizza. Thanks for that, it was going to be my breakfast." She glared at him.
Bucky gave her a guilty look. "I got hungry."
"Skip the sad-puppy eyes." Darcy stabbed a piece of chicken with her fork. "The freezer's full of food."
"I was born in 1917," Bucky reminded her. "I don't know how to use a microwave."
Bucky nodded sadly. "It's sure hard to learn all this new-fangled stuff."
Darcy narrowed her eyes. "You are totally full of shit."
Bucky grinned and lifted his shoulders in a what can you do gesture. "It worked on Stark."
"Did you give him puppy eyes?" Darcy asked.
Bucky scratched his unshaven chin with the back end of a chopstick. "No, I don't think I did. Was that my tell? I oversold it?"
"I'm afraid so," Darcy said.
"I'll work on it." He scraped the last of the noodles into his mouth, then frowned at the empty box.
"Oh my God, you're as bad as Thor," Darcy sighed. "There's orange chicken, too," nodding toward the kitchen. She picked up the remote and pressed play.
"And now we go to Samantha Bee, Senior Intelligence Correspondent, for the latest on the superhero arms race. Sam?"
"Hi Jon! Thor has lead the arms race since the battle of New York and he's still going strong. The Yamblr campaign gained Hawkeye some ground, but Thor's reappearance in London dealt that a heavy blow."
Bucky leaned against the kitchen counter, watching the TV with a slight frown as he ate chicken from a takeout box.
"However, a new contender arose during the attack on D.C. Can you bring up a photo of the Falcon? There we go. Just look at those arms." The studio audience cheered.
"I'm looking at his arms, Jon."
"We're on the air, Sam."
"Right! Sources say that Thor may soon find himself elbowed out of first place."
"What about Captain America?"
"He's got potential, Jon, but those long sleeves are holding him back. He's currently ranked just above Tony Stark. Our team of analysts have compiled the data and suggested a few costumes that would give him a fighting chance. Number one, please." The audience cheered. "As you can see, this is very close to what he wore in the Battle of New York. A classic look with a slight variation. "Now number two-" The audience whooped and whistled. "This one also gets him a leg up in the leg race, currently dominated by the Hulk. And then there's number three-"
Bucky had just taken a large bite of chicken. He doubled over, coughing.
"… a category which only Tony Stark currently qualifies for…"
"Are you okay?" Darcy set her takeout box on the coffee table and ran over to him. "I know the Heimlich Maneuver."
Bucky waved her away. His effort to exhale the chicken in his windpipe was hindered by his inability to stop laughing. Darcy tried to smack him on the back anyway, but his metal hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. "Don't."
"You're talking, that's good, that means you're breathing, so you wanna let go of me?"
Bucky opened his fingers. Darcy pulled her wrist back and rubbed it with her other hand. "Sorry," he said. He sucked in a couple of breaths and leaned back against the counter, his right arm wrapped around his ribs. The cat slipped out of the master bedroom and sat down at the edge of the kitchen, primly licking a paw and pretending she hadn't come out to see what the fuss was about.
"… Steve Rogers needs to remember that we, the American people, have the right to bare arms."
"Thanks, Samantha. We'll be back in a minute."
"Don't suppose you know a seamstress?" Bucky asked. He looked down and realized he'd squeezed the takeout box and now had orange sauce all over his right hand. He transferred the box to his other hand and licked his sticky fingers.
"Not in New York," Darcy said. She walked back to the couch and picked up her food. "You've got sauce on your clothes," she said.
The right cuff of his t-shirt sleeve looked like it'd been dipped in sauce and he'd managed to smear some on his chest and pants as well. "Great," he muttered. He walked around the counter to the kitchen sink and started scrubbing at his shirt with a wet paper towel.
Darcy sat down on the couch but jumped up when she heard the rattle of the window sliding open. She dropped her food on the coffee table and grabbed her taser from her purse. The cat dashed into the second bedroom. Bucky vaulted over the kitchen counter and drew a gun from the back of his waistband. He reached the window first and stopped two steps in front of the intruder with his pistol pointed at the man's chest.
"Whoa!" the man said, lifting his hands over his head. He wore a tight olive-green t-shirt and had something strapped to his back with a chest harness. "It's me, Bucky. It's Sam. You know me."
Bucky's face didn't show any recognition. It didn't show any emotion at all.
"Bucky…" Sam started to lower his hands. Bucky raised the gun to Sam's head. Darcy fired.
The electrodes hit Bucky in the back. He stumbled forward, pivoted and swung the gun towards Darcy.
"Crap!" She dropped flat on the ground and threw her arms over her head.
Bucky pulled the gun back, color returning to his cheeks. "What are you doing?" he asked, hurt. "He's the intruder!"
Darcy lowered her arms and lifted her head. "He's the Falcon. You were being freaky."
"So you shot me with a weapon you know doesn't work on me." Bucky tucked the gun in the back of his waistband and strode over to offer Darcy a hand up. "Good reaction time, terrible strategy."
"What's up with that, anyway?" Darcy asked, scrambling to her feet. "It's worked on everyone else."
"You ever shot Captain America?" Bucky asked.
"No," Darcy said. She walked over to her purse, which was sitting next to the couch. "I shot Thor once, though." She dug out a new taser cartridge and swapped it out for the used one.
Sam slid the window shut. "You tased the God of Thunder?" he asked incredulously.
"He was having an off day," Darcy admitted. She stuck the taser in the right pocket of her sweatpants.
"I'm starting to think you have trust issues," Bucky muttered.
"You said you weren't carrying any weapons," Darcy said accusingly.
"I said I wasn't carrying any knives," Bucky corrected.
Darcy strode over to him and held out her hand. "Gimme," she said.
Bucky frowned. She wiggled her fingers. Understanding dawned. "I am not giving you my gun," he said.
"You nearly shot me!" Darcy said. She wiggled her fingers again and tapped her foot impatiently.
Bucky held up his hands to keep her at a distance. "You did shoot me," he pointed out. "I am not giving you a loaded weapon."
"You can't have a gun in here. You're too jumpy."
"I'm too jumpy?"
"Maybe you could give it to me," Sam suggested.
"No," Bucky snarled. Sam took a step back and lifted his hands.
"I might be a little jumpy," Bucky admitted, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand.
Darcy raised her eyebrows.
Bucky closed his eyes and sighed. "You can have my bullets," he offered. He drew his gun from his waistband and popped the clip out. He thumbed the bullets out of the clip and into her hand, then gave her the one from the chamber.
"Do you have more?" Darcy asked.
"Not on me," Bucky said.
Darcy examined the bullets suspiciously, nodded approval and dumped them in the left pocket of her sweats.
"When was the last time you got some sleep?" Sam asked Bucky gently.
Bucky ran his hand through his hair and gave Sam a tight smile. "Are you here to check up on me?"
"I am here because some punk-ass engineer put a shiny new power core in my wings which overloaded the thrusters and shorted out the primary steering. Had to take her down fast. Luckily there's a nice open roof up there," he said, jabbing his finger at the ceiling. "Hi, I'm Sam," he said to Darcy. "I usually call first." Sam unbuckled his harness, slid the folded wing pack off his back and set it down next to the recliner. It said Stark Industries - Falcon - Mark I along the side.
"Darcy." She offered her hand and he shook it. "I'm catsitting. I don't think you have my number. If you gimme your phone, I can fix that."
"As the lady requests." Sam took his phone from his pocket and handed it to Darcy. She plopped down on the couch and patted the seat next to her.
"Thought the lady had a boyfriend," Bucky said. He sniffed the cuff of his sleeve.
Sam joined Darcy on the couch.
"I'm moving to the city. I want to meet new people," Darcy protested.
"You keep staring at his arms," Bucky gave her a sly smile.
Darcy heaved a sigh. "You are the worst wingman ever," she told Bucky.
Sam leaned back and laid an arm along the back of the couch. "I used to wonder," he said to Darcy, "how a good-looking guy like Steve Rogers stayed so single for so long." He looked over at Bucky. "I'm starting to get the picture."
Bucky lowered his wrist. "You saying you're a better wingman than me?" Bucky asked.
"Hell, yeah, I'm better," Sam said.
"Steve's still single," Bucky pointed out. He picked at a glob of orange sauce on his t-shirt.
"I'm working on it," Sam said.
Darcy tapped Sam's phone and hers beeped. "There you go," she said, handing his phone back.
Bucky rolled his eyes. "I'm gonna change." He disappeared into the second bedroom.
"How long are you in town?" Sam asked. He accepted his phone and slipped it into his pocket.
"Another week," Darcy said. "I've got to set up my boss's lab and find an apartment, then I'm back in London until the end of the month." She picked up the kung pao chicken she'd dropped on the coffee table. The container had fallen on its side, but since it was only half full, most of it had stayed in the box. She mopped up the rest of the spill with paper napkins.
"You work with Dr. Foster?" Sam asked.
"Yeah!" Darcy said. "Do you know her? Does she know you and didn't tell me? She does that."
Sam laughed. "No, but Tony Stark's very excited about all the science that's going to be happening in his building."
Suddenly they heard a screech from the second bedroom. The cat dashed out and dove under the couch. Bucky ran out after her, pale and distressed. "Is she okay?"
"What did you do?!" Darcy jumped to her feet and reached for her taser. Sam dropped flat on his stomach to look under the couch.
"I… I think I stepped on her tail," Bucky said. He ran both hands through his hair, eyes wide and worried. He was wearing nothing but a ragged bandage on his ribs and a pair of Captain America boxers. "She was under the bed. I didn't see her!"
"She's fine," Sam said. He pushed himself up and leaned back on the couch. "I think you just wounded her dignity."
Darcy shot Bucky a dirty look and bent down to look under the couch. "It's okay, Meow Meow, I won't let him hurt you again."
The cat hissed.
"Okay, we'll be here when you're ready to talk about it," Darcy told the cat. She sat back on the couch and narrowed her eyes at Bucky. "You owe her an apology."
"I'm really sorry," Bucky said to the couch. He gave Darcy a puzzled look. "What kind of name is 'Meow Meow'?"
"Asgardian," Darcy told him. "I named her after Thor's hammer. By the way, was gonna ask, does Captain America's shield have a name?"
"Who names a shield?" Bucky asked. He walked over to the couch and crouched down to see the cat.
"Who names a hammer?" Darcy countered. She turned to Sam. "Do your wings have a name?"
"Called 'em a few things on the way here," Sam grinned.
"We'll stick with Meow Meow," Darcy decided.
"Doesn't Steve get to name his cat?" Bucky asked. He stretched his right hand toward the cat, who growled. He pulled back his hand and stood up.
"He took too long," Darcy said.
"Do you want me to rewrap that?" Sam asked, nodding at the bandage around Bucky's chest.
Bucky looked down and realized what he was wearing - and what he wasn't. "I got it," he said and made a hasty retreat to the bedroom.
"Are you sticking around?" Darcy asked Sam. "We're going to watch Dog Cops."
"Wish I could," Sam said. He stood up, picked up the wing pack and hoisted it over his shoulders. "I need to get this back to Stark so he can revise the prototype. Gimme a call sometime. I'll show you and your boyfriend around the city."
"Awesome," Darcy said. "Will do."
A few minutes after Sam left, Bucky emerged from the bedroom fully dressed. He wore a clean t-shirt and a lightweight jacket.
"You know, you could be a contender in the arms race if you wore short sleeves now and then," Darcy said. She'd salvaged what was left of her kung pao and resumed eating it.
"I'm not qualified," Bucky said.
"Um, I got a good look and yeah, you are," Darcy said. "Bonus points for the cool metal arm."
He stuffed his left hand in his jacket pocket and hunched his shoulders. "I'm not interested," he said.
"Fine." Darcy lifted a hand in surrender and dropped back against the couch cushions. "Get over here and I'll start the show."
"Be there in a jiff," Bucky said, heading to the kitchen. "I'm going to make popcorn."
"Where are you putting all that food?" Darcy wondered. "Is that arm hollow?" She heard him rummaging in the cabinet and called out, "Need help with the microwave, Gramps?"
Bucky leaned out and shot her an annoyed look. "I can fly a plane," he said. She heard several beeps from the microwave. Bucky came back around the counter and dropped down in the recliner. "Start it," he said.
"Yes, sir," Darcy said, and pressed play.
"Previously, on Dog Cops…"
Five minutes later, the fire alarm in the kitchen shrieked. Darcy clapped her hands over her ears. Bucky jumped to his feet, gun in hand, just as the smell of burnt popcorn drifted into the living room. Darcy grabbed a magazine off the coffee table, ran to the fire alarm and fanned it to clear the air, trying to cover both ears with one arm wrapped around her head. Neither worked.
Bucky stuck the gun back in his waistband, stalked over to the fire alarm, ripped it off the wall and crushed it in his metal hand. In the ringing silence that followed, Darcy stared at him.
"Um," Bucky said, letting the pieces of the alarm fall from his hand.
"Okay, while that was super cool," Darcy said, "it does have an off button." She poked her finger towards the mangled plastic on the floor.
"Why didn't you use it, then?" Bucky asked.
Darcy looked down at the magazine in her hand. "Tradition?" She dropped the magazine on the kitchen counter, popped open the microwave and tilted her head at the contents. "Do planes come with a popcorn setting?"
"I'm going to open the window," Bucky decided. He took a step toward the living room. Darcy heard a clatter on the fire escape just before Bucky tackled her, throwing them both to the ground behind the kitchen counter. A second later, the window shattered and Darcy heard several heavy thumps from the living room.
"Contain the asset. The girl's disposable," said a voice from a radio.
"Uh, not friends?" Darcy asked.
Bucky's face went tight and grim. "Oставайся на кухне," he ordered, and then he was off Darcy and over the counter to the living room.
"I have no idea what you just said!" Darcy called after him. She took a deep breath and drew her taser.
* * *
To be continued!
Huge thanks to DarkLightLuna for beta and translation services.
Two men dove through the window with their guns raised, feet grinding broken glass into the carpet. Bucky swung his gun up and pulled the trigger twice. Both times the hammer clicked on an empty chamber.
Darcy winced. "My bad." She felt in her pocket for the bullets, but Bucky had already tossed the gun aside. He slammed his metal fist into the face of the bulky man on his right, who reeled back and clapped his hand to his face. Blood dripped through his fingers. The tall guy on the left squeezed his trigger. Bucky ducked the shot, grabbed the guy's wrist and gave it a sharp twist. Bone snapped and the man screamed. Bucky threw him aside and the man landed in the middle of the coffee table. The table collapsed under his weight.
Bucky turned back to the window in time to see a couple of women in dark, unmarked military clothing come through it with their guns drawn. One had short blond hair, the other had tight black curls knotted at the nape of her neck. A third woman followed, her hair hidden under a black knit cap. She carried a gun, a monster of a thing that looked like a machine gun and a bullhorn had once loved each other very much. She braced it on her hip and fired at Bucky. A wire net shot out of the horn of the gun and wrapped around him. He stumbled, swearing in Russian. The bulky man kicked out and swept Bucky's legs out from under him and he slammed to the ground.
"Okay," Darcy said. "This is bad." Her phone was in her purse, which was lying on the side table next to the couch. Her eyes swept the kitchen, but there was no phone in sight. Why couldn't Captain America have a landline like an ordinary old person?
Darcy crept out from behind the counter on her hands and knees and scampered toward the couch. The bulky man swung his gun towards her and she dropped flat. The shot hit the wall just above her and Darcy threw her arms over her head.
Bucky tore his left arm free of the net and ripped it away from his chest. He drew two knives from somewhere on his body and slammed them down into the bulky man's feet, pinning them to the floor.
"You liar!" Darcy exclaimed, under the sound of the man screaming. Bucky flashed a smirk in her direction. Darcy shook her finger at him. "We are having words later," and ducked behind the couch just before the blond woman fired at her. The shot threw bits of the wall into Darcy's hair. "You know, if we survive," she muttered to herself, shaking off the drywall dust.
Bucky's legs were still twisted in the net. He spun himself on his back like a resourceful turtle and slammed both feet into the knees of the blond woman. The black-haired woman fired at Bucky, but he flipped himself over on his stomach and the shot just grazed his back.
He grabbed a fallen handgun from the floor and fired two shots, one into the black-haired woman and one into the blonde. Both dropped. Bucky tore the netting off his legs with his left hand. He put his hands on the ground behind his shoulders, pulled his legs back and flipped himself onto his feet.
Darcy stretched her arm out from behind the couch and felt around on the side table. She found her purse and pulled the phone from the front pocket. The woman in the knit cap dropped the net gun and drew a sidearm. She fired the pistol and the phone flew out of Darcy's hand. The shattered pieces hit the wall and fell on the carpet. "No!" Darcy cried out. "I didn't back up my photos!"
Bucky tackled the woman and threw her to the ground. They struggled for a minute, then Darcy heard a gunshot. Bucky stood up and the woman lay on the ground, immobile.
The tall guy dragged himself up from the remains of the coffee table. He spotted Darcy hiding behind the couch and narrowed his eyes. "Don't you dare come near me!" Darcy yelled at him.
She swung her taser up just as Bucky grabbed the man's arms, and fired just as Bucky twisted and threw the man away from the couch. The tall man crashed into a standing lamp just outside the second bedroom. The electrodes from Darcy's taser hit Bucky in the back. Bucky staggered, swore in Russian and gave Darcy an exasperated look. "Uh-uh, that one's on you," Darcy said.
The woman in the knit cap lay still on the floor. Bucky swept up a gun and stalked over to the tall man, who was struggling to untangle himself from the lamp cord. On the other side of the room, the bulky man yanked the knives from his feet. He flipped one so he was holding the blade and drew it back to throw it.
"Behind you!" Darcy yelled. She grabbed the bullets from her pocket, dashed forward and threw them all at the bulky man's face. The man jumped back in surprise and the throw went wild. The knife buried itself in the wall several feet away from Bucky.
Bucky fired into the tall guy, who stopped moving. He swung the gun around and fired at the bulky man, who dropped to the floor. Darcy held her hands up and he lowered the gun. "Okay!" Darcy said. "You're kind of a badass, but, uh, maybe you could've left someone alive? For questioning, maybe?"
Bucky looked down at the gun and turned it over in his hand. "These are ICERs," he said, holding it up by the barrel with his left hand. "Dendrotoxin-based stun guns. They wanted to take me alive." He stuck the stun gun in the back of his waistband.
"Oh!" Darcy said, relieved. "So you knew that when you shot them?" She stuck out her foot and poked the bulky man's body with her sock-clad toe.
Bucky frowned and he opened his mouth, but his phone rang before he could answer the question. "This is Bucky ...yes, thank you for the warning," he said dryly. "I've taken care of the problem…. Sure, come on down, the window's open. You can help with clean-up." He ended the call and stuck his phone back in his pocket. "I've got a couple of friends who just landed on the roof. They're coming down the fire escape. Don't shoot them," he said, then added, "Or me." Bucky yanked a knife from the wall, then strode over to the bulky man's body and retrieved his other one. He wiped the knives on his pants, leaving bloody streaks, and made them disappear into the pockets of his cargo pants. "Yes," he said, before Darcy could say anything. "I lied. I like to carry weapons because people attack me."
"Well." Darcy folded her arms over her chest. "You could've said."
"I didn't want to scare you." Bucky looked around the apartment at the bodies strewn across the floor, the shattered window, the bloody carpet, the broken coffee table and the lamp with the bulb smashed and the cord torn. "They're not supposed to attack me here," he said in a plaintive voice. He found his own gun by the remains of the coffee table and gathered the bullets scattered on the carpet. "I told you to stay in the kitchen," he said.
"Oh! Is that what you said?" Darcy asked. "I don't speak Russian." She picked her way across the carpet towards the kitchen, carefully stepping around the broken glass.
Bucky stared at her. "Russian?"
"Yiddish? Portuguese?" Darcy asked. "I don't know, I took Spanish."
Bucky shook his head, eyes wide. "No, it was Russian." His breathing sped up and he sucked in air in shallow gasps.
Darcy gave him an astonished look. "You just took down five bad guys by yourself and you're freaking out over-" He curled his right arm around his gun and held it close to his chest. "Maybe you should sit down," Darcy said. She took hold of his elbow and guided him to the recliner. "You're hyperventilating. Do you want a paper bag?"
Bucky sat down, gun still tucked in the crook of his arm. "No," he said and then, "Yes." Darcy found a paper bag in the kitchen and brought it out to Bucky. He held it over his nose and mouth and sucked in air, the bag inflating and deflating with every breath.
Someone rapped on the window frame. A red-haired woman in a tight black jumpsuit poked her head into view. "I hear we missed all the fun." She kicked a few large shards of glass from the bottom of the frame and stepped gracefully into the apartment. A man followed her. He wore a tight, armored vest and had a quiver of arrows strapped to his back. He hooked his bow across his chest and stepped sideways to keep the ends of his bow from catching on the window frame.
"You're Black Widow and Hawkeye!" Darcy's eyes dipped down to Hawkeye's arms, then back up to his face. "Welcome to Captain America's place. Sorry about the mess."
The Black Widow frowned when she spotted Bucky cuddling his gun. "You okay there, Barnes?" Bucky gave her a thumbs up and continued breathing into the bag.
"He accidentally spoke Russian…?" Darcy offered.
"Ah." The Black Widow and Hawkeye nodded as if this explained everything. Darcy waited, and raised her eyebrows significantly, but they didn't offer any further information. All right, then. "You must be Darcy, the catsitter," the Black Widow said. "I'm Natasha and this is Clint."
"When did Steve get a cat?" Clint asked. He walked past the kitchen, propped his bow up next to the front door and hung his quiver on the coat rack.
"Couple of weeks ago," Natasha said.
"She's hiding in the bedroom," Darcy said. "Probably traumatized, poor thing. I hope this isn't a setback. She was just starting to get friendly."
Natasha sniffed the air. "Was something on fire?"
"Popcorn," Darcy said. "His fault." She pointed at Bucky, who shrugged. "Are we going to talk about the unconscious bodies? Because that guy's bleeding on the carpet." She gestured at the man who'd had two knives stuck in his feet. Blood slowly dripped from his shoes and a dark, wet spot was spreading out from his heels.
Natasha tapped a message on her phone. "We'll have someone here to collect them soon," she said. "Can you grab a towel? It's best to soak up the blood before it dries. Otherwise it's hell to get it out of the carpet."
"Sure," Darcy said. She went into the master bedroom for the towels and on the way, she looked around for the cat. Meow Meow sat under the bed, just out of arms' reach, looking very displeased with the world. Darcy clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and held out her hand. Meow Meow gave her a skeptical look. Darcy withdrew her hand and said, "Come out when you're ready, then." She snagged a couple of towels from the bathroom and returned to the living room.
"… and two Garlic Extravaganzas," Clint said into his phone. Bucky waved three metal fingers. "Make it three. Yeah, five total." Clint said.
"Is this a good time for pizza?" Darcy wondered.
"We skipped dinner," Natasha said. She picked up the net gun and inspected it. The ICERs were collected on the kitchen table. Darcy knelt next to the bulky man and poked his boot with her index finger.
"Should we try and stop the bleeding?" Darcy asked.
Natasha knelt next to her. "The towel should soak it up until the crew gets here." She took a towel from Darcy, slid her arm under the man's ankles, wrapped up his feet, tugged the body a little to the left and set the towel-wrapped feet down out of the puddle of blood.
Darcy pressed a towel into the blood to soak it up. "I mean, can he bleed to death from this?" All three of them gave her slightly puzzled looks. "Wouldn't it be bad if he died?" Darcy pushed on. Bucky shrugged indifferently. Clint started picking up the pieces of the coffee table.
Natasha said, "We'd do more damage trying to take the boots off than we would leaving his feet alone. The paramedics can cut them off when they get here."
"The boots?" Darcy asked doubtfully. They were Captain America's friends, right? They must be the good guys.
"Of course." Natasha smiled sweetly.
Darcy lifted the towel, which was now soaked through. "'Kay, I'm going to get another towel."
The ambulance arrived first. Paramedics brought in stretchers and strapped the attackers down securely before carrying them out of the apartment. The pizza delivery girl showed up just as the last stretcher went out the door. She stood in the doorway and looked around at the damage, her eyes finally landing on Bucky. His right hand still held his gun, though he had the trigger guard pressed against his palm and the fingers wrapped around the barrel. He had red-brown smears on his cargo pants and, Darcy suddenly noticed, he had a smudge of blood under his chin. Bucky noticed the pizza girl staring and quickly stuffed his left hand in his jacket pocket.
Natasha moved swiftly forward and handed the girl several folded bills. "Keep the change," she said, accepting the stack of boxes.
The pizza girl took the money between her thumb and forefinger, counted up the total and gave Natasha a cheerful smile. "Thanks!" she said. "Enjoy your pizza!" She tucked the money in her pocket and Natasha closed the door.
Natasha put the pizza boxes on the kitchen counter. Bucky reached for a box and realized he was still carrying the gun. He tucked it into his waistband and picked the first box off the pile. He flicked the cardboard lid up to check the topping, then reached into a drawer and pulled out a marker. He wrote DARCY'S PIZZA across the box and put it in the fridge.
"Aw, that's sweet," Darcy said. "I'll really appreciate it if it's still there in the morning." She got a stack of plates from the cabinet and put them next to the pizza boxes.
"We got four other pizzas," Clint pointed out. He opened the top box and piled three slices of pizza on his plate.
"Have you seen him eat?" Darcy asked, helping herself to a piece of Garlic Extravaganza.
"I've seen him and Steve tackle a buffet together," Natasha said. She yanked the bottom box out without disturbing the others and set it on the top of the stack. "You know how piranhas can devour a cow in minutes? It was like that with more croutons."
"We'd been living off dried beef and Gatorade for three days," Bucky protested.
"You could have at least left some deviled eggs," Natasha said. She slid a slice of Hawaiian pizza on a plate and licked a bit of sauce off her fingers. "I like deviled eggs."
Darcy took her pizza out to the living room and sat down on the couch. "Should we do something about the window?"
"I've got a guy on the way," Natasha said. The others brought their pizza to the living room as well. Bucky took his usual spot on the recliner. Natasha took the other end of the couch and Clint sat on the floor in the center of the couch and rested an arm on Natasha's knee. Bucky found the remote and woke up the TV. Natasha groaned when she saw what was on the screen. "I'm not watching Dog Cops again," she said.
"Oh, come on," Clint said. "It's a great show!"
"It's an adequate show and I've watched it enough. Pick something else," Natasha said.
"I like Dog Cops!" Darcy protested.
"Sorry, you're outvoted," Bucky said to Natasha. He lifted the remote with his right hand. Her fingers snaked around his wrist.
"If you press play," she said in a low, deadly tone, "I will make you regret it."
Bucky's answering tone was just as dark as hers. "And what do you think you can do to me?"
Natasha leaned in, just a little. She spoke in a tone so quiet it should barely have been audible, but they all heard every word. "I will tell you the fate of every character through the end of season three," she said.
Bucky faltered. "Only two seasons have aired."
Natasha smiled. "I know."
"She's not bluffing," Clint warned. "I blew up her Ducati once and she told me the ending to Schemes of Kings."
Darcy's eyes widened. "Nobody knows how Schemes of Kings ends."
Natasha's smile showed a glint of teeth. "I do."
"So do I," Clint grumbled.
Darcy and Bucky exchanged worried looks. Darcy nodded, just once, and Bucky relented. He handed over the remote. "Good choice," Natasha said.
The building shook. Everyone froze.
"Earthquake?" Darcy asked in a small voice.
"Probably not," Natasha said. She had her gun out. Bucky checked the clip on his. Clint was halfway to his bow. When they heard the footsteps on the the fire escape, there were two guns, an arrow and an ICER pointed at the window. The footsteps grew louder.
"Darcy?" Bucky asked.
"Where's your taser?"
The footsteps hit the landing two floors above.
Darcy looked at the ICER in her hands. "This is better."
"Not from my side of it," Bucky said. He kept his gun trained on the window and sidled toward Darcy. The footsteps hit the landing on the floor above. "We got it covered. Give me the gun." He held out his left hand.
"No," Darcy said firmly.
"Let her keep it," Natasha said, both eyes on the window.
"That's a really bad idea," Bucky said. "Darcy, give it to me."
Darcy turned on him. "You know, I get that you have reason to be paranoid, but it's not always about you." She swept her arm at the damaged apartment. "I've got to take responsibility for my own safety and you've got to accept that I'm capable of-"
"Hello," said a voice at the window. Darcy jumped. Her finger squeezed the trigger. The gun went off and Bucky fell to the ground, unconscious.
A naked Bruce Banner stood on the fire escape, one hand up in surrender and one hand attempting to cover his crotch. "Could I borrow some pants?"
* * *
"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.
* * *