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sweet on the tip of my tongue

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Across the street from SHIELD headquarters, there's a small, easily overlooked bakery that's been quietly chugging along for over three quarters of a century. The stores on either side of it have changed almost too many times to count—hardware, toys, clothing, a gym, books, and so on—but even as the facade fades and cracks, through a great depression and several smaller ones, as the world around it changes, the Broken Bread Bakery stays the same.

“It's about tradition,” Marty Lewis tells Nick one day while she's bagging up his order. “We keep things in the family here, from management to recipes. My father opened the shop, I've worked here since I was a girl, and one of my grandkids will take over when I'm gone.”

“Hopefully that won't be for a long time,” Nick says with a grin that would probably make more than a few of his agents shit themselves with fear; Nick Fury isn't exactly known for his warm, fuzzy personality. Marty just pinches his cheek and gives him an extra blueberry muffin.

“Such a sweet boy,” she says. There's an oxygen tank tucked behind the counter that neither of them acknowledge and Marty's hands tremble when she clasps one of Nick's between them. “My Darling's rather high spirited, which is no fault of hers. She takes after me that way.”

Nick glances at a picture amid a sea of family photos on the wall of a much younger Marty, radiant and laughing in a star spangled USO outfit, and winks at her. “Lucky her.”

Marty twinkles up at him, blue eyes still bright, and squeezes his hand. “She's off at college right now and it's not a done deal that she's going to want to take over, though she's my first choice. But if she comes, you'll look after her for me, won't you?”

There's really nothing Nick can do but bend to kiss her cheek and say, “For you? Of course I will.”

Less than five months later, Marty's gone and Nick meets a cursing, sweating Darcy, glasses slipping down her nose and ripped jeans too tight for decency, as she tries to haul a desk up to the small apartment above the shop. He wrangles up a few agents who needed to be taken down a peg or two and has them take over the heavy lifting while he and Darcy eat half the display case and trade stories about Marty.

It's not the same as before, not even close, but Darcy has her grandmother's mouth, eyes, and banana bread recipe.

Two Years Later


Darcy is standing at the front counter drizzling a lemon glaze over a batch of blueberry crumble squares when the bell over the shop door dings. The guy standing there is fit, handsome without being memorable, with the barest tip of a scar peeking out from under his shirt collar. Darcy's never seen him before in her life, but the nervous, squirrelly darting of his eyes is so instantly recognizable that there might as well be a flashing neon sign over his head saying 'NEW SHIELD AGENT, PLEASE DON'T HURT ME.'

“Phil's order is right there,” Darcy says, tipping her head toward the box of cheese danishes and oatmeal toffee cookies—Clint must be back from whatever 'business trip' he was way on this time—and wipes her hands off on her apron to pour two cups of the house blend.

“Phil?” The guy edges closer to the counter. It looks like he's casing the place for threats, and Darcy wants to pat him on the head. The younger agents are always so cute, thinking every errand Nick and Phil send them on is a trap. (It's a whole other story on the rare occasions when someone in HR gets drunk and assigns an agent or two to Clint, but Nick and Phil are pretty safe. Usually. Sometimes. Whatever, if you're part of an organization called something like SHIELD, you'd better be prepared to watch your back.)

“Coulson,” she clarifies. She eyes him for a moment, then bags up a blueberry crumble square and adds it to the box of treats and coffee cups on the counter. He looks like a blueberry crumble kind of person. He blinks, probably confused since he didn't actually order anything, then starts to reach for his wallet. Darcy waves the money away. “You look like you could use the pick me up,” she says with a grin. “And I can add it to Phil's tab.”

That startles a small laugh out of the agent, his mouth jerking a little like he isn't used to doing the action. His smile is a little rusty and a lot wry when he says, “Most of us were starting to think he only had the one name.”

“Yeah, our Phil's a regular Cher,” Darcy says.

Another laugh, this one over almost before it's started, and the junior agent clears his throat and looks away. He tries to put on one of Phil's poker faces, but it doesn't quite make it. “If you say so, Miss Lewis.”

“Darcy,” she corrects. “The only person who gets away with calling me Miss Lewis is Nick.”

That gets her another blank look.

“Nick. About this tall,” she says waving her hand over her head. “Looks like he just stepped out of The Matrix and lost a fight with a newly sharpened pencil?”

The agent blanches. “You mean Director Fury? You call him Nick?”

Darcy laughs and does go up on her toes to pat his head this time. “Go forth, little agent, and save the world from giant, radioactive lizards before you sprain your brain.”

You're insane,” he says, equal parts awe and dismay coloring his voice, and when Darcy winks at him, he takes a half step back.

So I've been told. I think I get away with it because of my brownies.” She stacks box, bag, and cups in the agent's hands and starts steering him toward the door. “Top secret recipe.” A pause to look at him sadly and pet his shoulder as she opens the door. “Sadly, you just don't have the clearance for it.”

Right,” the agent says slowly, and Darcy smiles brightly at him and lets the door swing closed in his face.

Natasha, who's tucked into a dim, easily overlooked corner near the back of the shop, snorts into her coffee and flips to the next page of her magazine. Darcy refuses to look and see what she's reading, because she doesn't want to squash her firm belief that it's something awesome like Assassins Monthly.

Darcy leans back against the counter and pulls her phone out. She says, “I give him two weeks. He looks like a screamer,” and taps out a text to Phil that says, Stop tormenting the rookies. You're going to make one of them jump in front of a train one of these days, and that would just make an awful mess.

“He has a training session with Clint this afternoon,” Natasha says. She takes a dainty bite of her muffin. “He'll be lucky to last the rest of the day.”

“Put it on the board,” Darcy says, nodding toward the white board stuck behind one the display cases that tracks most of SHIELD's underground betting, and goes back to glazing her blueberry crumble squares. The shop is warm and fragrant and quiet except for the slight squeak of a dry erase marker, and Darcy smiles, her smile only getting bigger when her phone buzzes in her pocket.

I am not 'tormenting the rookies'. I've just been letting Clint borrow them.

Darcy laughs, replies, Same difference, Madonna , and settles in for another busy day.