It’s hard, she knows, to have a secret so important that keeping it is the only way to stay safe. The only way to keep others safe.
But every now and then it threatens to spill over her lips, threatens to break free.
Then she remembers his final words to her and she stops it short, catches it before it can leave her mouth. No one can know the secret. No one can know where she came from.
Until of course, they do.
The couple of days leading to Darcy being in the tower were quick, confusing and hard to follow. Honestly, Darcy’s not really sure she would be able to explain it, but one minute she was sleeping on a fold out in London trying to ignore texts and calls from a certain Intern’s intern and the next she’s on a plane travelling to New York.
They had barely touched down before Darcy and Jane were whisked into a dark car with tinted windows, shuttled through the city via backroads, tunnels and side streets. But whenever she can, Darcy finds her faced pressed against a window, staring with awe at all that surrounds her.
Her Papa always told her stories about New York, made it seem magical, it was going to be their safe haven one day, and so she had never been before, wanting to preserve the magic and the stories.
The car pulls up underneath Stark Tower. Darcy and Jane find themselves in an elevator, their bags of personal belongings at their feet (the equipment was being shipped separately). The voice of JARVIS in the elevator coupled with the presence of Pepper Potts sends Darcy’s brain into overdrive, not know where and who to focus on for too long, trying to absorb all the information she can.
For as long as she can remember ‘People Watching’ was a Sunday Lunch event. Walking to the local park, hand in hand as her Papa quizzed her about her surrounds, scolding her if she moved her head to obvious or took too long to answer.
‘Observing’, he would mutter in her ear as they walked, ‘is how we stay alive’. Before tickling her sides and starting a game of Tag that always ended with her as the victor and ice creams as prizes.
Pepper drops them off at their floor, letting them know that a tour of the facilities was scheduled for the next morning and that dinner was served in the common rooms at seven, if they felt up to it.
All Darcy wanted was a shower, and sleep, and maybe some grilled cheese. So she decided to leave Jane to be the social butterfly for the night (knowing that as soon as the labs were open for use Jane would become a recluse like never seen before).
After a shower that left her smelling like vanilla (a scent which always reminded her of safety), Darcy made sure to unpack her few essentials and place them strategically around the room like she had been taught before turning down the bed and climbing in.
She slept long and deep.
He would sing her lullabies well past the age of what would be considered normal, but she didn’t mind. The Russian that he used had a lilt to it that always made her comfortable enough to fall asleep, no matter the sleeping arrangements of the night.
He made sure to teach her Russian, and Spanish, and French and Mandarin, on top of the English lessons he gave her. ‘Needing to know was important’ he would say, ‘knowledge was important’. ‘When we learn we grow, become stronger’. She never had a conventional classroom as a child, but he taught her everything.
In the first week Darcy had to complete a physical examination to assess the nature of her stay at the tower. Basically if she would be a liability or a hand in the case of emergency.
Barton and Rodgers both watched her studiously in the private gym as she moved through the tasks set up for her. Push ups, running, upper body strength, she tries not to over exert, knowing that too much would lead to questions she cannot answer. They take her to the gun range in the basement, giving her different weapons to see her capabilities. It’s the first time in years she has held a weapon that is more than her Taser, and while part of her misses it, most of her wishes she could stay away from them all together.
Apparently she is deemed ‘hopeful’, because the next day she is required to take classes with Barton to ‘improve her skillset’. She doesn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
Her training was never talked about as training. She took dance lessons with the other girls her age whenever they were in a big enough towns for a studio to exist. 24hr Gyms lead to 3am sessions on the mats with her father in pads as he taught her moves. Weapons training came through breaking into farm houses and ‘borrowing’ guns to practice shooting. He gave her her first blade only after she had shown him how she could manipulate the piece of wood she had without hurting herself. Games of hide and seek became more impressive and extreme as she was tasked with making it to certain places without getting caught.
He taught her how to cut and dye her hair in a public restroom. How to break and enter houses without leaving a trace. How to climb and drop and jump and roll all without injuring herself. How to bandage wounds and how to give yourself stiches. How to forage for food and how to salvage drinkable water. How to shoplift and how to hotwire.
All his lessons were difficult and tiring, but she learnt and he was never harsh. Giving the gentle touches to direct rather than punish wrongdoing. She knew he loved her, and that’s why she learnt, why she tried, why she succeeded.
Tony’s lab was so similar and different to Janes that it took Darcy by surprise. Rather than whiteboards filled with tiny cramped equations and diagrams, holograms floated above every benchtop. Rather than printout and statistics covering every flat surface, robotics and tools did. The smell of old food and coffee still hung in the air, but it was mixed with motor oil, rather than the vanilla candles that Darcy liked to burn.
All she was supposed to do was drop off some forms that Jane needed signing to request new parts for her equipment. But Darcy had been distracted by the moving metal parts, and when Tony had seen her interest he had quickly jumped into telling her all about the latest Suit and its upgrades. Darcy sat in wonder and took it all in.
She was never really bothered by his metal arm. He had always had it and it was just a part of her Papa, like his scruffy neck and his kind eyes. He used it to cuddle her when she was feeling sick. Used it to pick her up when she wanted to reach high things. Used it to carefully and gently braid her hair each morning. Used it to bandage her up whenever she fell over and hurt herself.
Every now and then he would open up a panel and fiddle with the bits inside. That had always interested her, how the wires and the lights made his arm work. She once asked if that was how her arm worked, and if they needed to open it up. Her Papa had laughed, but there was some pain in his eyes, so she knew not to ask again.
Over time she gets to know the Avengers.
Barton in charge of her training leads to a lot of snark, sass and attitude between them, but she enjoys the time spent together joking around. He acts more like a comrade than a teacher which only improves their friendship.
Tony is rarely still and likes to go on tangents whenever brought into a conversation. Most of the time Darcy finds that they end up sprouting pop culture at each other until someone else tells them to shut it. He is always willing to open his lab to her, but she never tinkers, watching instead.
Steve is rarely around, but when he is he is polite and well mannered. He is kind to her and while she doesn’t trust him, (Darcy finds herself trusting no one, aside from Jane, and Thor, just as her Papa said) she enjoys his company enough to hang around when he does his 21st century learning.
Bruce is often found working in his lab alone. His smells of spices and herbs allow for a pleasant aroma, and she hasn’t seen him turn into the Hulk yet, so she doesn’t fully understand all the hype. She joins him one morning for Thai Chi, and it’s not long before it becomes a regular thing.
Natasha likes to watch her. Darcy is aware of it, but tries to play it down, especially when Natasha is in a place a normal person wouldn’t notice. Often Darcy catches Natasha staring at her face, almost memorising it, before Natasha quickly turns and leaves with a word as soon as she is caught. Barton sees the interaction one day and tells her not to worry, so she doesn’t. Not much at least.
She never knew her mother. Never met her. Her Papa would tell her stories, of heroes and villains and how some little girls don’t have a papa to care for them. How some little girls aren’t allowed to be little girls. She knows he’s not trying to, but when she was younger most of the stories made her scared of her mother. Its only when he tells her more stories, a bit later in her life, when she has lived a bit longer and seen a bit more that she understands. Stories about skills and abilities and love that she begins to feel in awe of her mother. Who didn’t have a Papa, but still ma naged to be great. Still managed to survive. She knows her chances of meeting her mother are slim, but she holds onto the hope that when it happens, they will be on the same side.
The data drop that Black Widow lets out happens during a work day. Darcy is with Jane in the lab and quickly marches her into the sealed room instructing JARVIS to only open the door to a member of the Avengers, knowing it should keep them relatively safe and that if any of the Avengers are Hydra there is no point trying to escape.
Jane managed to snag some maps and data so she continues to work, and so Darcy sits in the corner on her laptop and begins to search. She tries her current name first, scrolling through the files from their interactions with SHIELD in New Mexico and London, and she is surprised to see the evaluations they had done on her (apparently she doesn’t rate as a risk, which she finds both insulting and pleasing, because at least her cover worked).
She checks Jane and Eric and Thor and Ian, and is kind of surprised when he turns out to be a Hydra mole. At least he was only in charge of coffee and not secret-y, planet-y, alien-y stuff.
Darcy tries to search for her Papa, but none of the aliases she remembers him using bring up any results. Her mind flicks back to their final day together and she tries a new search, some Russian words that she had tried not to dwell on too much over the past years. The code name ‘Winter Soldier’.
She was twelve when she first heard the name uttered. First saw her Papa truly scared.
They had been walking in downtown San Francisco, playing their usual game when they both noticed a shadow following them. Her Papa lead her into an alley, trying to discern the nature of the tail, knowing that if it came to it, it was better to have your back against a wall than a foe.
The two men following them were wearing uniforms, black tactical suits with insignia on the shoulders. Something about them set her Papa on edge so she made sure to focus. Orders were spat in quick Russian and while she tried to figure out what she was saying her Papa pushed her behind his bod, shielding her from the men.
When the men had advanced her Papa had pushed her back just enough that she stumbled and fell to the ground. By the time she had stood up and brushed off her pants the men were laying still and her Papa was rushing her out of the alley, towards the apartment where they had stored their stuff.
The moved quickly to the apartment. Often choosing to go up and over rather than around. Her Papa took on many turns, leading away before doubling back, all the while looking over his shoulder. She was frightened.
By the time they reached the apartment she was out of breath as she watched her Papa run around the room, throwing belongings into a backpack.
He thrust the back pack into her arms before stooping down to look her in the eye.
‘Remember’, he said in Russian, so she knew to pay attention. ‘Remember all you know, and run. Run and stay safe. Don’t tell anyone one, trust no one. Be safe and strong and sure. I will find you again.’
He kissed her on the forehead before running and jumping out the window into the street below. That was the last she saw of her father.
Steve returns from DC 3 weeks after the big Hydra Blowout. He looks exhausted and run-down, but there is a determination in his eyes. Steve introduces them to his new friend Sam, who Darcy finds hilarious, and explains his mission.
The moment he mentions the Winter Soldier, Darcy tries to tune out of the conversation. The information she had found on her Papa was not pleasant, and even if Steve were to find him, Darcy isn’t sure how much of her Papa would be left, if any is left at all. There is a part of her that wants to explain, tell them all everything, his likely movements, his favourite places to hide, their relationship. But she remembers his final words to her and keeps her mouth shut. She needs to protect him as much as she needs to protect herself, and if the only way she can do that is keeping her mouth shut, then that’s what she’s going to do.
Darcy is so caught up in her own head; she doesn’t notice Natasha staring at her this time.
When eight months of fruitless searching from Steve and Sam leave them empty handed, Darcy knows she needs to do something.
Sure her Papa had said that he would find her, but he never said anything about her helping.
The transmission she sends out is short, and is sent from a computer at the local public library, it’s done over the internet rather than radio, but she hopes he’s adapted enough to be able to pick it up. The coordinates, date and key word are all she knows to send, practiced from when she was six just in case they got separated.
(When she first lost him when she was twelve, she sent the signal every week for 10 months before she came to the conclusion he wasn’t coming back, and if he did he could send the signal and she would respond.)
Somehow she manages to contact a friend who manages to contact Sam with ‘anonymous information’ about a sighting of the Winter Soldier, and Darcy is pleased she is able to help, but is unsure how successful it will be. She holds her breath the whole time Steve and Sam are away.
It’s hard for a normal 12yr old to survive on the streets. But she isn’t normal.
She is smart and quick and filled with skills that make this easier. It is still tough, she has to sing her own lullabies now, but she survives. Like her mother did, like her Papa taught her too. She survives, she learns and she grows.
She is 15 when she first applies to a university, using faked papers and excuses about home schooling. She passes all required tests and enrols in as many classes as possible spanning a wide range of subjects. Her advisor may be confused, but he doesn’t question, just helps her squeeze more into her filled timetable.
She is 24 and in her 6th university when sees the ad for an internship and jumps at the chance. Staying in one place too long is dangerous, and she has been at Culver for close to 2 years now and needs to break up her location.
She never expects to build a strong relationship with the tiny scientist, to trust another person in a way she has not done in a long time. She never expects to meet an Alien, or a god or whatever. And she certainly never expects to run into a secret government organisation that bears a lot of similarity to the ones who chased her Papa away. (She is tempted to investigate, all her other looking hasn’t provided any information, but she remembers her Papas words and doesn’t. She had clung to the hope that he will find her.)
The day Steve brings him back to the tower was a normal day.
Darcy had woken up, gotten ready and headed to the lab, like normal.
She had gone to the cafeteria and ordered her lunch of a wrap and coffee, like normal.
She had knocked off at 5 to prepare dinner (enough for everyone just in case they decided to eat) just like normal.
The only not normal thing is what awaited her in the dining room when she brought out the pot of food.
Steve, sitting at the table clutching a bag of ice to his eye, bandages peeking out from underneath the sleeve of his t-shirt. Sam sitting across from him, butterfly bandages overing the gash on his cheek.
It’s the person in the middle that makes her drop the pot though.
The person in the middle that looks exactly the same as he did over 14 years ago. With his scruffy face and kind eyes, the metal arm resting on the table. His attention as on Steve who seemed to be whispering to him, but the sound of the pot making contact with the ground catches his attention.
His face whips to Darcy. Her Papa’s face staring right into hers.
Darcy’s breath catches in her throat and before she can right it, her Papa is standing, moving towards her with speed and finesse she remembers.
He clutches her to his body, his metal arm cuddling her close like she remembers, she scent of vanilla filling her nose, calming her instantly. Darcy tries to pay attention to his murmurings, but from what she can tell it’s a mixture of prays and lullabies in Russian.
Her Papa pulls back, using his thumb to wipe the tears from her eyes, leaning forward to kiss her forehead like he did the last time they saw each other all those years ago.
‘I found you,’ he got out, his words catching in his throat around the tears.
‘I think,’ Darcy whispers back, ‘I found you.’ And the smile on his face fills her heart with joy.
They both notice a the same time. The movement at the door setting of their instincts and letting them know someone new has entered the room and they break away to see Steve and Sam have left.
Natasha stands in the doorway. Her eyes filled with emotion as she looks between the two of them.
Darcy feels her Papa stiffen slightly beside her before he takes a step forward.
In the blink of an eye Natasha has leapt across the room, folding herself into Papa’s hug. Darcy watches them embrace and a small part clicks in her brain.
They break away and Papa turns back to her offering a hand in her direction. Darcy moves forward slowly and takes it, her eyes not able to stray from Natasha’s.
‘Nat’, Papa says his voice soft and filled with emotion. ‘This is our daughter.’
Natasha opens her arms and Darcy falls into them, the comfort that seems to exist covers her fuller when she feels Papas arm encircle all of them.
Her secret for so long is out, she is free from it, she has her Papa again, and a mother she never knew, and this, Darcy knows without a doubt. This feels like home.