She awakes in the dark, sweat-soaked and trembling.
Darcy reaches over for her iPod, the small screen lighting up and making her squint as she scrolls the wheel for a playlist. This one is entitled 'Bad Reputation' but really it's a misnomer. This playlist was created on the second night of her insomnia, nearly sixty-four hours after her rescue. She's now on hour ninety-eight. All the songs have a deep bass line, the steady drums beating in time with her heart. It's about survival, because that's what Darcy does.
After Darcy listens to the entire playlist and realizes she isn't getting back to sleep anytime soon, she decides to try something different. There surely must be a reason everyone says warm milk is a bedtime routine in all the children's stories; Darcy think it sounds disgusting but at this point, it's worth a shot. She finds her slippers when she swings her feet over the side of the bed, the worn fuzz soft on her feet.
It's a welcome change from the cold metal of the shipping container that haunts her dreams.
Darcy heads to the kitchen, shuffling along the dimly lit hallway and not jumping at shadows. She stops short a few feet away from the kitchen door, hearing the clink of ice in a glass. Tony Stark sits on the kitchen table, swirling the ice in the two fingers of alcohol as he stares at the amber liquid. He looks up when she enters and opens the fridge.
“You're up late,” Tony comments, lifting the glass to his lips. “Can't sleep?” Darcy pulls the milk from the refrigerator door and glares. She knows her hair is a tangled rat's nest and the circles beneath her eyes blend in with the bruises on her face. The answer should be obvious.
“Going to try a classic,” Darcy replies, pouring some of the milk into a mug. Tony snorts and slides off the table as she starts the microwave and stares at the mug going round and round.
The bottle of whiskey makes a thump as it's set on the counter next to her arm and Darcy jumps. She opens the microwave just before it beeps, wrapping fingers around the now-warm handle of the mug. Tony doesn't even ask before he tips the alcohol into the liquid, mouth pursed as they both watch the amber swirl into white.
Darcy can feel the heat of his body against her right arm and for a moment she's tempted to lean against the older man. Tony makes the decision for her, slipping an arm over her shoulder. The edge of the arc reactor is hard and almost painful where it rests underneath her cheek on a bruise but Darcy doesn't say anything, just breathes in the smell of engine oil, grease and metal. He squeezes her shoulder gently before letting go many heartbeats later.
“Drink up,” the man instructs, draining his own tumbler. “It's helped me once or twice.” He smiles at her, a gentler version of what Darcy usually sees, and leaves the room.
The young woman takes an experimental sip of the drink in her hand before she takes a seat at the empty table. Tony's added enough alcohol so that the bite lingers on her tongue in a not unpleasant way; the drink is finished before she realizes it.
Darcy steels herself for the courage to ask Natasha a question over two days. The older woman is gorgeous and graceful, seemingly gliding everywhere on silent feet; if you even see her move at all. But Darcy's looked in her eyes and even that fleeting glance was glacial, screaming that she was unapproachable. She can't deny that the female Avenger is the right one for this plan though, so Darcy walks up to her in the living room, steeling her nerves.
“I want you teach me how to fight.” The words come out in a rush and Natasha turns away from the window, green eyes assessing. Darcy almost takes a step back when she sees the small dagger in her hand but after she blinks, the pale hands are empty. The redhead's expression isn't soft but it's still in a way that Darcy hasn't seen before.
“You're free tomorrow afternoon, three o'clock.” Darcy should probably be afraid that the superhero apparently knows her schedule but she can't find it in herself to make a fuss. She nods instead and the redhead dips her head curtly in return, walking past on silent feet.
Darcy walks down to the gym at three the next afternoon and Natasha just appears a step behind her as she steps off the elevator. Darcy is so used to this behavior from the woman, she doesn't even jump, even though Clint dropping from the ceiling a few hours earlier made her scream in fright. There's something about Natasha that makes Darcy feel not exactly safe but, in capable hands. Darcy is pretty damn sure no one can kidnap the redhead on what's supposed to be a routine coffee run.
They change in the locker room, silent and then make their way to the mats. The room is empty and Darcy doesn't know if it's Natasha's design or just the hour of the day, but she's glad regardless.
Natasha positions her hands and straps pads onto her own hands. “Hit me.” She instructs, the first time Darcy has heard her speak all day and Darcy does. She takes out her aggression over her capture, the remaining bruises that linger on her pale skin, the fact that she didn't learn this before despite the fact that she works next to superheroes and the feeling of not being able to do enough.
Two hours later, Darcy is breathing hard and knows how to hold a punch. She thinks maybe next week she can ask Natasha to share the secret of her thighs of death, because Darcy thinks that is one wicked move.
Sometimes she curls up on the couch with the television turned to childhood cartoons when sleep won't come. Or when she doesn't want to sleep. Darcy's watched a lot of the Roadrunner outsmarting Wile E. Coyote lately.
The couch dips when Darcy's eyes are heavy lidded but she's fighting the sands of sleep. She turns bleary eyes to the intruder and sees Steve looking at her, blanket over one arm. He sets it down as he takes a seat.
“Hello,” she says because what else is there to say? He returns the greeting and leans back against the couch cushion, eyes trained on the moving pictures. Darcy realizes she's dozing off and pinches the skin of her inner arm hard.
“Don't want to sleep quite yet?” Steve's voice is quiet, breaking the comfortable silence.
“It's not like I end up getting much sleep anyhow.” Darcy confesses, stealing a quick glance at his face before watching Jerry run circles around Tom. Steve frowns in the colored light.
“I know I'm not a therapist but if you want to talk about what happened,” Steve's voice is earnest though it trails off when Darcy makes no move. She just curls against him and soaks in his warmth.
Steve seems to understand. Darcy wonders if Tony told him about their run-in a few nights ago in the kitchen but it doesn't matter. Steve's hand makes small motions on her back and Darcy is lulled into a doze that doesn't bring nightmares.
Natasha would be ideal to ask about how to fire a gun, but Darcy has already asked the assassin-spy for fighting lessons. They're going slowly, interrupted by the spy's covert missions and the ones she undertakes as a member of the Avengers, but Darcy thinks she's getting somewhere. That's why she turns to the other high-ranking female in S.H.I.E.L.D: Maria Hill.
Darcy admits she doesn't know the woman as well, but the brunette always stops by her cubicle on her way in and out of Coulson's office with a kind word. It's during one of those brief chats that Darcy blurts her favor out. Well, more like babble.
“So, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are obviously qualified to carry guns. And I was thinking, it'd be pretty swell,” Darcy really has to stop adopting Steve's 1940s terminology as her own, “that since I work here and all, it might be useful for me to know that sort of thing. Do you think you could?”
Maria considers for a long moment, brown eyes looking just beyond Darcy's small desk. Then she nods, eyes filled with warmth. “Meet me on the range tonight after you finish here.” Darcy manages to contain her mega-watt grin until after the agent has walked out of the room.
The first part of the evening isn't even about firing a gun, Darcy quickly learns. Maria is a hard taskmaster, making her take apart the Glock 17 and put it back together until she's satisfied. Darcy nods intently at every uttered sentence about gun safety and bad habits, smirking at the sly digs when Maria uses her fellow officer's habits as examples. Then they head to the underground range, Darcy barely managing not to skip beside the older woman.
Darcy is best friends with her taser – nothing can replace the familiar crackle of 2000 volts of electricity – but watching a bullet tear through the paper target and knowing she put it there is pretty powerful too.
Clint slides into the kitchen chair next to Darcy, coming out of nowhere as he usually does. She only flinches a little bit when the chair scrapes against the tile, announcing his presence.
“Hey Darcy.” he greets her with a wide smile. “Heard you're running around HQ, learning all sorts of things.”
“Maybe,” she says cautiously. Clint is pretty cool during the downtime, always joking around and planning pranks on Tony before Agent Coulson dismantles them – but Darcy's also seen him in action via the cameras and the man is scary intense. It's more than a bit intimidating to have that focus all on you, Darcy soon learns.
“Want to learn something new?” Clint puts a closed fist over the table and opens it like he's a magician revealing a rabbit under a hat. Darcy stares at the pile of locks, confused, before it dawns on her.
“Really?” She's more than a bit eager because picking locks has to come in handy. And she's pretty sure it's illegal to like, even learn if you're not a locksmith. Clint smiles at her and sets two flat pieces of metal in front of her along with a regular house key.
“Each bump in the key correlates to a pin in the lock. When you insert the key, it pushes the pins up to what's called the shear line. Twist the key and the lock opens.” He demonstrates with the key and one of the locks. Darcy nods because that's easy enough. Clint's eyes rove over the table and he picks up another lock. “I took this lock apart for practicing, so don't worry if you break it or something.” He sets it down in front of Darcy. It clunks on the scarred wood, metal dimly glinting in the kitchen's light.
Clint continues with the lesson, tapping his blunt fingers over the two slim tools. “These are your best friends and you really only need two. It helps to have others,” his mouth twists in a wry grin. “but you can make do with just these.”
Clint waves the 'L' shaped pick in front of her. “This is the torsion wrench. The movies usually forget this but Hollywood has little idea how we really work.” Darcy smothers a laugh because that's certainly true. Watching action movies and critiquing the fighting has become a favorite past time of the team. “Torsion wrench, don't leave home without it.” He pushes the smaller side into the lock and twists it sideways. “The lock itself is called the plug. Turn it slightly so the pins have a ledge to fall on.” Clint turns the flattened metal in the lock so it's no longer completely upright. He leaves it hanging in the plug when he puts the lock on the table again.
Darcy picks up the hooked one and hands it to him. Clint winks. “This is the pick. They come in a couple different shapes, but hooked is probably easiest for beginners. Slide this in to find the pin and then press it up.” Darcy watches Clint push the hooked pick and jerk it up slightly. There's a very quiet click and Clint turns the torsion wrench further. The lock opens in front of Darcy's wide eyes.
The entire explanation and demonstration took less than five minutes.
“That's so cool,” Darcy breathes. “Let me try.” A wide smile covers Clint's face and he removes the two picks from the lock. The man hands her another lock from the table and leans back in the chair.
Darcy slides in the torsion wrench carefully, gently. The smaller flat edge rests on the lip of the lock and Darcy turns it as much as she can, which isn't very far.
“Yeah, that's enough. Now the pick,” Clint coaches. “Find where the pin is, you can feel it catch and push it up. There's only one in there.” Darcy pushes the hooked pick into the lock but doesn't feel anything scrape or push. There's no sound at all except the pick in the lock and she's frustrated.
“Draw it out, delicately now.” Darcy glowers at Clint, who's traded his focused look for one of near laughter. “It took me a while too, don't get angry.” Darcy listens and pulls out the pick slowly. There's a soft click and Darcy almost drops the torsion wrench in surprise.
“I did it!” She says happily, proudly.
This time, Clint does laugh at her. “You haven't opened it all the way yet, Darcy. Turn the wrench so the plug moves like a key's in it. Don't disturb the pick.” Darcy jerks the flattened metal in her left hand and the lock turns. Darcy and Clint high-five.
She spends the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen, surrounded by locks and listening for the soft sound of release.
Thor's long stride eats up the ground between them when he spots Darcy. He must have heard what happened to her, she surmises from his expression as he comes closer. He sets large hands on her shoulders and peers at her closely. The weight isn't uncomfortable.
“You are unharmed from your ordeal?” His voice is quieter than usual. Darcy manages to nod because she had been doing really well about not thinking about what happened last week, but one mention of it and Darcy feels like shaking. It must be obvious because Thor pulls her into a tight embrace, smooshing her against his chest. Darcy's happy he's not in his metal armor and snakes her arms around his waist. She times her breaths with Thor's strong heartbeat until she feels ready to stand on her own.
“Are you sleeping yet?” Darcy gives a shrug and Thor's thumb sweeps over a yellowing bruise. His eyes look sad.
“I'm all good, Thor.” Darcy reassures him, patting his chest. “Pop an Ambien or go out to the bars with Steve and Clint, sleep isn't a problem.” She says nothing of the way she wakes up once a night in a sweat, limbs heavy from the drug and heart pounding doubletime in memory.
“You are very strong for one so tiny,” Thor rumbles, looking at her with bright blue eyes.
“Yeah, I brought you down with the power of handheld electricity, remember?” Darcy cracks.
“You did indeed, but that was not all that I meant.” Thor's eyebrows draw together as he thinks and Darcy stays silent in front of him. “Darcy Lewis, you are possessed with a bravery and courage few know. You are so young and full of life,” his eyes stare into hers and Darcy is reminded Jane's boyfriend is super old even for all that he acts like someone her own age. “Let no one take that from you. You are being trained to fight because we have brought war to you. I am sorry for that, though I am certain you will be a most formidable ally.”
Thor puts his left fist over his heart and nods his head once. Darcy throws her arms around him again in thanks. She's not sure she sees everything in herself that he apparently sees, but it was an awesome pep talk all the same.
Darcy is kidnapped for the second time in her life on a Saturday between the meeting place and the rendezvous. She manages to knock out one of the men with a well-placed strike to his face that Natasha would be proud of but her body grows limp when the other one comes from behind and presses a really gross cloth to her face.
Loki sits on the ground next to her, dressed in battle armor that Darcy's seen from photos when she wakes up. She shies away when his hand reaches out, but it's not like she can go very far tied up as she is. Long fingers grasp her jaw gently and Darcy squeezes her eyes shut.
“Do you know they gave you as a present to me?” Loki's voice is smooth, like he's talking about the state of the weather outside the metal box and not that Darcy is apparently viewed as property. She doesn't open her eyes but winces when he grips her tighter.
“They thought you'd please me.” He continues, even though she hasn't said a word. Darcy can't help the whimper that escapes because seriously, this does not bode well for her. She's heard the stories that the God is crazy from his fall from the rainbow bridge, that he always has another motive – she wonders what's going on.
“Hush,” Loki croons, stroking a cool finger over her cheek. “I have no interest in children.” Her cheek tingles and then he releases her.
Darcy opens her eyes cautiously long moments later. The God has vanished and her cheek doesn't hurt quite as much. She looks around her and spies a sharp edge of siding against the wall. It takes a lot longer than it ever does in the movies but Darcy manages to tear through the rope binding her feet, then her hands.
The sounds of fighting reach her as the rope falls away. It's probably her kick-ass rescue superhero team. Darcy thinks she'll go meet them halfway.