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i now clench the fists of hands (to limbs that aren't my own)

Chapter Text

It’s the strange and abrupt quietness of the house after the loud yelp that alerts her to the unsettling feeling in her stomach. She’s running her fingers over Jane’s equipment, which is somehow both homemade-janky and high tech all at once, when she realizes she can’t hear Jane’s mom continue to make lunch or at least call for help from the front of the house.

Following Jane to London had been a no-brainer for her. Graduating after her last year of undergrad made the decision even sweeter and when she arrived in London just to meet Jane’s across-the-pond mom Sophia, she knew she was right where she wanted to be.

The house was big, expensive and cozy (turns out Jane got her physics smarts from Mommy Dearest—who actually was a sweetheart) and had enough room for Jane, Darcy, and a sizeable lab dedicated to Jane’s two biggest loves: Thor and the crazy science coincidentally needed to retrieve him.

Spending the next nine months with them had been both easy and hard, depending on which phase of the Thor Cycle Jane was at emotionally. If she had reached the I-really-think-I-can-fix-the-bridge-I-mean-it phase of the cycle, they were golden, but increasingly Darcy had been watching her spiral into her it’s-over-forever-okay-so-just-drop-it-Darcy phase faster and much more often.

Darcy could see all the fight leaving Jane and knew just enough of the equipment she was working on to be able to spot significant changes in their measurements and understand they meant that she needed to fetch Jane immediately—which is the point she’s at now until the absolute silence catches up to her.

“Miss Sophia?” Darcy calls out, having felt uncommonly polite to Jane’s mother since she’d met her.

Looking around the lab, it occurs to her how much delicate equipment and sensitive information is being housed in an unprotected suburban area.

A nervous smile quirks her lips as she repeats, “Miss Sophia? Did Jane leave half her PB&J in the sink again? I can talk to her about that,” she huffs, trying not to grind her teeth tensely, and mutters, “Not that it’ll do any good.”

A fidgeter by nature, Darcy’s rhythmically scratching her nails against her palms as she listens for a reply.

She glances around the lab again, the walls a mint green and the floor under her bare feet warmly tinted dark wood.

“Miss Sophia,” she whispers to herself, knowing something’s wrong and grappling to keep her wits about her, “I think shit just got real.”

She doesn’t have a PhD, but she’s got good instincts.

Right now they’re screaming at her.

Suddenly, the most important thing she can do is level out her emotions as her eyes track the room around her and the sliver of hallway visible from the cracked door. She keeps looking, needing something to do, planning her next move.

What would Jane do? Her eyes flick to a hard drive Darcy knows has all of Jane’s notes from what she's taken to calling the "Thor expedition," a right she fully earned by painstakingly typing all 253 pages of them from Jane’s five separate notebooks a few months back.

Jane’s got the hard copy with her no matter how much she’s refusing to go back to work, Darcy thinks as the twisting in her gut intensifies, silently thanking her boss’s obsessive tendencies.

Darcy gives into impulse and rushes over to it. If nothing’s wrong, Jane’s going to blow a gasket, but she doesn’t think about her boss's potential hysterics as she picks up the drive and throws it to the ground with as much force as she can muster.

What happens next slips past her, but their results don’t: the hard drive is in pieces on the floor and she’s staring at her hands, shaking with adrenaline, and the hand that’s facing the doorway has a knife through the center of her palm.

The noise she makes is beyond her description and she’s not alone, a man in tight leather making his way to her seemingly from out of nowhere, ripping the knife out and drawing a yelp from her, and wiping both sides of the blade on his pants.

“I think you’ll live to regret that,” he says pleasantly, gesturing to the drive as his knife disappears somewhere she isn’t quick enough to identify.

Her unwounded hand is pulling her bleeding one to the hem of her sweater and wrapping the heavy folds around it.

Gasping and whimpering, she snarls, “Watch where you throw that thing, will you?”

It’s not nearly as sharp when she’s so clearly crying.

The man tuts, looking her up and down, replying in a low accented voice, “They make all of you so soft.”

She doesn’t have time to reply when he grips her left bicep and starts pulling her through the lab door out into the hallway.

There’s a hesitation in her to struggle, which annoys her even more and makes her fight even harder to get away, digging in her heels and hissing at the carpet burn she’s experiencing on them as he just grunts and pulls her more forcefully. Where is this guy going to take her? Where’s a bandage for her hand? Does she get to put on shoes before she’s spirited away to a leather emporium where this guy models or something?

She can’t even remember where her sneakers are and it is this thought that has her throwing her full weight backwards, jerking at his hold on her.

“Wait,” she wheezes, palm white-hot with the electricity of pain, “Fucking wait.”

The op in leather—because what else is he supposed to be at this point, seriously, leather model jokes aside—seems to be at the end of his rope with her because he shoves her into the kitchen and she’s staggering to find balance when she catches sight of Sophia.

She’s face down in a pool of slowly expanding blood, the hair on her scalp undisturbed except for an awful bullet wound. Executed, Darcy thinks blindly, panicking. She was executed like a criminal.

The history of international war crimes is an overlapping parallel that’s not lost on her. It was her major after all. Jane might not have understood why Darcy was so interested in political science, but Darcy’s looking right at it in Jane’s dead mother as still and mute as a felled deer.

The impersonal nature of the kill makes it all the crueler and she can feel Sophia’s killer—but maybe not maybe there’s more god of course there’s more start thinking Lewis you fucking cheeseburger—sidle up close to her back and tug lightly at the end of one of her curls and say, “Rethink struggling, girl.”

There’s another moment of mortifying fear when Darcy considers gentling herself for the sake of self-preservation, considers making the smart, strategic decision any defenseless civilian could justifiably make to stay alive and—relatively—whole.

But then impulse seizes her—as it always does doesn’t it—along with a memory of Sophia passing Darcy a carton of shrimp lo mein during an impromptu I Love Lucy marathon after Jane started looking distinctly mopey last week.

She turns completely, a body at her back, and scans the man’s face. He has green eyes and a nice jawline. Fuck him.

Darcy can’t think of anything cool to say, which might have to do with the sheer amount of blood being absorbed by her sweater, so she snipes weakly, “Yeah, well, those leather pants make you look fat.”

And then she spits in his face.

She doesn’t have long to take satisfaction in his shocked anger because she feels something get pressed against her stomach and a rippling buzzing pain spreads from her torso to her toes and fingers until everything goes black.

-

There’s a light weight tapping her cheek almost patiently. The weight isn’t in a hurry. The weight is content to wait her out. The weight must understand how tired and sore Darcy is from whatever horrible instrument, likely a fancy fucking Taser, dealt damage to her middle and the throbbing in her right palm from where leather guy tried to turn her into Jesus Christ and stopped midway through.

Without warning, the weight isn’t so sympathetic anymore and the light taps turns into a single harsh slap.

Her eyes snap open with a gasp and sure enough she sees leather guy in the background and a woman of indeterminable age and chin length blonde hair peering down at her chair-bound body in indifference.

“Do you know what Hydra is most fond of, Darcy Lewis?” the woman asks her cordially, flicking her eyes back to leather guy and sending a firm, “Dismissed, agent,” behind her.

Unphased by the immediate retreat of the agent, the woman clasps her hands behind her back and awaits a reply.

Darcy licks her dry lips and responds, “Crank calling.”

The woman gives her a quick unamused smile.

“No,” she says, “The answer is opportunity.”

Swallowing hard, Darcy takes in the room and is unsurprised to see how plain it is. She looks down at her feet and wiggles her toes. Still bare. The nails are a deep, shimmery blue, making her think of whales and hammerheads. Things in the deep blue sea—and she’d give anything to be on a ship in the middle of nowhere instead of a place she can only think of as an interrogation room.

She clenches her fists, surprised to find the wounded one bandaged.

“Is this discussion,” she begins shakily, “ending in the opportunity to receive medical attention for my hand?”

The woman chuckles and berates, “Now, now, we stopped the bleeding. What do you want, a kiss to make it better?”

The woman—hasn’t introduced herself that’s gotta mean something right either she’s not in a hurry and we’ll be here a while or there’s no need to give a name to someone about to die fuckballs—keeps a little smile on her fine-boned face and waggles a faux-friendly finger at Darcy.

“Don’t distract me, Miss Lewis,” warns the woman, playful if not for her big blue laser eyes, “Or I’ll be forced to distract you.”

“From what?” Darcy asks, the muscles in her everything pulsating with a fathomless ache, “From being kidnapped by leather guy? Brutalized and kidnapped? Seeing an innocent woman’s corpse?”

She chokes on that last one, stomach heaving with nausea and grief.

Because the thing is, Darcy knows she’s not important in the scheme of things. Hydra or whatever fucking name these creeps chose to name their two-bit mother-killing organization had to have known from the start they were entering a Jane-less-for-the-afternoon house occupied by an aging physics professor and a recent college grad who spends most of her days looking up words Jane says to better understand even a little of the brilliant work taking place in front of her—when she’s not hitting up Facebook or making their little household of workaholic science gals Eggo waffles for breakfast.

She should be just as dead as Miss Sophia and she’s not.

“Leather guy,” the woman emphasizes, droll, “Could have easily killed you and been done with it, but then he saw you destroy a hard drive and realized you could be an opportunity. And I, for one, am glad he did. It’s in our best interests to extract whatever information you have to offer on Thor and the events surrounding his arrival and departure.”

Sly and cold, she tilts her head very slightly to one side and says, “You were a witness, after all.”

Darcy knows no one’s coming any time soon because she has the feeling these people have accounted for their loose ends, even kidnapped one, and she feels them—tears, pushing at the backs of her eyes, terrified and angry and frustrated at the helpless defiance she can’t bring herself to toss to the wayside.

It’s not even a choice to look up at her, lick her lips, and ask, “A witness to what?”

If they take it—when they take it they’ll take it they’ll break you remember those fucking PBS documentaries about POWs and the papers you had to write about them—and when they’ll take it, her defiance, she doesn’t think there’ll be anything of her left.

The woman takes a single step closer.

-

A cell would feel safer than the box she’s looking at. She’s been led to another room, larger and filled to capacity with machines and white boards. There's too much to take in, too many big metal things with buttons and levers to register any of them in a single, shocked once-over. What she does notice for how out of place it seems: a small, wooden box, elevated by a sturdy looking pillar. The woman is auditioning to be Vanna White with her winsome expression and her exaggerated gestures clearly meant to present the box as if revealing the last letter to a thousand dollar phrase.

Darcy can’t help but think of phrases: Keep what you kill.

“You’re spunky, aren’t you, Darcy?” asks the woman like she has any right to, “Your knit caps, your fuzzy socks, your teasing sarcasm. Yes, Miss Lewis, I’ve practically got a scrap book of you and your quirky style and sound bites of your snappy dialogue.”

The woman is beautiful, but the kind of beautiful people would give sacrifices to worship, not the kind you fall asleep beside. She’s probably speaks like eighteen languages and has never experienced a breakup where she wasn’t the one ending it. She’s got a Grecian beauty, like someone wrote the verses of her with sea foam instead of ink. And she keeps looking meaningfully at the box.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

“So you know what I look like and sound like,” Darcy scoffs, “But so does anyone with a Vine account, a Facebook, and a basic understanding of the Internet. So you know about me. So what? You know who else knows about me? Taco Bell. Because I follow them on Twitter.”

Famous last words, Lewis.

The woman purses her lips and narrows her eyes as if deep in thought. “You know, Darcy, you haven’t been here long and I realize you aren’t used to…proper etiquette.”

Darcy mumbles, “Just show me a soup spoon,” before she can think better of it.

In a jarring blur, the woman backs her into one of the new room’s walls. One firm hand is applying firm and agonizing pressure on the Taser bruise on her stomach and the other hand holds Darcy’s wrists above her head.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” the woman hisses as Darcy gasps through the pain, “No one is coming for you. No one knows where you are. They never will. You’re a ghost. You’re never leaving. We are going to drain you of any useful information you have and then you’re going to becoming another of our lab rats.”

Keep a stiff upper lip. Loose lips sink ships, Darcy thinks, but everything hurts and her body knows what she doesn’t because it’s shaking and shuddering and shattering apart in this spider bitch’s web.

Full of piss and vinegar, Lewis, she thinks and closes her eyes as a few stray traitor tears slip out.

She’s released and stumbles forward as the woman opens a small drawer attached to a desk a few feet away. The room is sizable, but looks tiny with so much scientific equipment crammed inside it. There’s an intimidating seat in the corner directly across from her, complete with thick straps and shackles and connected to scarily looming machines that look about ready to send bolts of lightning into someone’s face.

The woman, now holding a strip of cloth in her hand, walks back toward Darcy. She takes her captive’s wrists and zip ties them, wraps and ties the cloth around her eyes before she can begin struggling in earnest, and leads her away from the wall by her elbow.

Before Darcy can scream, she’s being gagged.

The woman leans in close, breath hot on Darcy’s ear, as she says, “Shhh. This isn’t going to take nearly as long as you’re going to feel like it is.”

Something’s sliding over her hair—earphones no they can’t be earphones what’s she going to do let me listen to the Spice Girls until I crack—and two cushiony things cover her ears.

Stripped of sight, the ability to hear or make noise, and without her hands, she feels panic rising in her. She’s picked up and dropped unmercifully on a flat surface where she feels cramped and closed in by the wooden walls.

She can’t feel anything.

She can’t feel anything but panic.

She’s weightless and sensory deprived and something impacts the walls around her because she feels the minute vibrations run through her arms, makes the air hot and stuffy as if she's been sealed inside something, and it occurs to her exactly where she’s been stuffed like a fucking Barbie doll: the box.

The box.

The Box.

As nothingness impales her on its sharp and dizzying antlers.

-

Seconds or minutes or hours or days or years pass above her. Below her. Through her. She tries to remember awful Harry Potter pick-up lines (Can I Slytherin to bed with you?) and every sweater hanging in her closet at Jane’s, but her mind is too busy panicking to really focus on anything.

Darcy is incredibly uncomfortable, but the between the top of the box and the bottom of it is only room for her body without being able to shift position. She feels the first roll of a panic attack rush over her like a tidal wave, washing over her disintegrating skin because it has to be gone it must have dissolved she can’t feel it she can’t feel it her legs her arms her throat where’s her tongue she’s choking on it—

The second wave pulls her out to sea and everything around her feels deeper and stronger than her like she’s spinning in its force, as if a whirlpool has shaken up her stomach with its cold, salty water.

Her heart’s beating so fast, too fast, fast enough that she has to acknowledge some of her fading sense of physicality. She has a heart. It’s beating. It belongs to her. It has shape and weight.

The breathing coming out of her burns because of the cloth in her mouth and no Harry Potter pick-up line (a manic I’d like to put my basilisk into your chamber of secrets hiccups out of the abyss she’s been sucked into) is going to change the facts convulsing out of her.

No one is coming for you, the woman whispers.

No one knows where you are, she says.

You’re a ghost, she smiles.

If there were a moment for Darcy to begin doubting her chances of survival, it’s here. The death of Jane’s mother and her injuries and everything that she's seen of Hydra slams into her. It makes her feel hopeless, but she has a heart. She can feeling it freaking out, panicking, making her choke; but she has a heart.

There’s vomit rising in her throat and into her mouth, pushing against the cloth and seeping into and around it. It smells terrible and pools in a little circle by her face.

Darcy feels small and waterlogged, humiliated by the bile stinking up the box already.

Lab rat lab rat lab rat lab rat, the woman reminds her.

She sinks beneath the waves or the soil or the sand of vertigo again.

-

The Asset unfreezes, a statue come to life, the Gorgon’s curse lifted. For now.

He doesn’t gasp. He doesn’t panic. His center asserts itself immediately as he flexes his hands into fists, checks for the weight of the knives he keeps strapped on even during his shelving, and doesn’t wonder about his summoning so much as expects orders.

They come quickly.

A female agent hands him his first layer of armor, lightweight and soft, and as he slides it on, she says, “Suit up, Soldier.”

One other person is near: a slender man, leather clad, rifling through papers at one of the desks on the far end of the room.

This facility is different from the one he was in when they put him to sleep the last time. His chair is in the corner and the beeping machines produce the same low-grade humming as always as he straps his bulkier second layer on, scanning the room without turning his head away from his current task.

A scientist opens the door to the lab, leaving it ajar, as he comes closer to silently assess the metal arm. He grabs it like he’s handled it before. Maybe he has. The Asset doesn’t remember. It’s not important for the impending mission and he retires the thought.

The scientist ushers him to his chair. His armor is designed to be sleeveless on one side to leave his bionic arm free while fighting and to allow the scientist (Scientists? There have been more than one, he knows it. He can feel their frail phantom bodies moving around him if he closes his eyes and concentrates. But none of them have faces.)—to give his weapon a thorough evaluation and check how maintenance has held up after the end of his last mission.

His seating gives him a clear view of The Box. He doesn’t remember being in it, but he knows he’s been there. He remembers the big sinking push of surrendering to it the things he doesn’t know how to feel anymore. It is an adequate enough memory.

His awareness of other bodies, especially in proximity, heats up inside him as he narrows his gaze on it.

“Someone’s in it,” he says, staring at it before flicking his eyes to the agent who released him.

“Not to worry,” she replies, crossing her arms casually across her chest, “Not part of your mission. It’s more of a pet project, really.”

The slender man stops his shuffling and sends him a cold smile, adding, “Finally some new blood to test injections on. Work out the kinks, you know, Soldier.”

The woman scoffs, “Abram, you know we have to travel light. We don’t have room for more than one at a time.”

The two agents are turned toward each other, treating him like a banked fire when he’s just as likely to receive the order to kill them as he is someone outside the organization.

He’s the in-house cleaner and the outside killer.

He doesn’t say that lightly. He doesn’t say anything at all.

He files the information away and his instincts guide his eyes to the door a few seconds before it opens wider, revealing an older suited man entering the room, a solid red tie and deep wrinkles in his forehead. He gets a flash of the same face with smoother lines and an easier grace before refocusing on his surroundings.

“Abram, Victoria,” the man greets the room’s occupants with two slight nods.

“Agent Pierce,” Abram murmurs.

“Alexander,” Victoria says.

Alexander Pierce, with softening jowls and the leather-beaten skin of an old war dog, keeps his eyes on the Asset as he approaches him before coming to a complete stop a foot away from the chair.

“We’re in London, if you’re curious,” he says as casually as the female agent had, but his offhandedness is in the deliberate tone of a master to his berserker. “Been drizzling a bit. Don’t forget an umbrella when you leave. Wouldn’t want you getting wet.”

He stares at Pierce, awaiting instructions. (Responding to conversation with conversation means there’s too little room in him for the mission and the fight and the drive to finish what he was made for.)

“You have one target. Level-5 threat. I want it finished in 28 hours. Here’s the file,” Pierce finishes, handing him a folder with one slip of paper, the feel of it sandpaper coarse on his hypersensitive fingertips.

He’s touching it gloveless. It’s not a gun or a knife. He doesn’t remember being able to touch anything but a weapon without a slap on the wrist. 

They’re slipping in discipline. He isn’t in a hurry to remind them.

(The drive to finish what he was made for. But what was he made of?)

Pierce stays after he’s given his orders, typing on his cell phone with urgency. The Asset dons his fitted gloves, straps gun after gun after gun after knife on his person. He slips explosive discs and detonating balls into his pockets and a hidden satchel on his belt.

(I’m made of lead-filled fingers and the words “complete at all costs” and I wasn’t made. I was forged. Wasn’t I?)

Alexander waits until the Asset tightens the last strap. He looks at the permanent hangdog stubble, the placid expression, the shuttered eyes. The unsmiling lips and the unkempt hair—long enough to conceal his face, short enough to be an afterthought.

Alexander holds out the mask and the Asset accepts the muzzle, the press of it against his mouth like an injection of fire sealing him shut and keeping all that energy in.

(The raw material doesn’t matter except for supplying the means to produce a weapon. The raw material might have spoken. The weapon doesn’t.)

He stalks out of the room, unsettlingly aware of the box and its occupant. He has no memory of anyone being a place where he’s been. No one laid out on the table like him, no one in the chair. No one in the cryo chamber, no one else the possession.

A pet project, the agent’s voice sounds in his mind between the coordinates of the target and his victim’s face enhanced by light makeup in the professional headshot paperclipped to her file.

(But if the weapon could speak, it might look at the box and ask who. It might ask why.)

The Asset knows this: they are slipping, they are crossing wires with their possessions, they are tugging him from his sleep because they feel threatened and he is their ultimate threat.

But his mind clears as he readies himself for the mission, his mark a woman whose crimes against Hydra won't matter so long as he puts her down.

He will.