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All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia

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'You're the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time' / 'The story of my life.'


Darcy was going to change banks, goddamnit.

For two weeks she’d been playing phone tag with the call center about a totally bogus insufficient funds charge on her last statement. Everyone she talked to “didn’t have access to that” or was “not authorized to remove that fee, Ms. Lewis,” and she was sick of it. She worked for Agent Phil Coulson, paperwork ninja, and spent every Thursday night watching movies with Natasha Romanoff, an honest-to-god Soviet spy (okay, former Soviet spy), and Steve Rogers, the world’s first superhero; by god, she could intimidate some lowly bank teller into wiping a measly $50 overdraft fee off her account.

So here she was, wasting her lunch hour standing in line at the Bank of America branch just a few blocks from SHIELD Central. Apparently, she wasn’t the only New Yorker with the same idea; the line was long and moving slowly. She checked her watch and groaned. Her lunch break was almost half over, she needed at least fifteen minutes to walk back to the office, and she still hadn’t eaten. Maybe she should call Agent Coulson, and see if she could be late--

“Everyone on the ground, this is a robbery!”

Like the rest of the patrons, Darcy hit the floor at the sound of gunfire. Four men, dressed in black fatigues and ski masks, stood just inside the doors. Two held automatic weapons pointed at the patrons, who were all scrambling toward the walls, while the other two jogged around the room, closing the blinds and disabling the cameras. As soon as they’d finished that task, another pair of men entered, each carrying two bulky bags. She’d spent enough time around military and former military in the past year to recognize the precision and economy of movement; these guys weren’t amateurs.

Son of a motherfucking bitch.

As soon as she got out of this, Darcy was definitely changing banks.


The thin fabric of her skirt suit did little to protect Darcy from the cold marble floor, where she sat huddled with the other bank customers. Two of the robbers were guarding them, while a third went around with a bag, collecting cell phones. He stopped in front of Darcy, and she begrudgingly gave up her iPhone. It was mostly a useless gesture; the thing wasn’t getting service anyway. Odd; it had been working fine when she walked in. “Keys too,” he said.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “There’s nothing in my apartment worth stealing.”

“You have mace.”

She blinked, startled. “How’d you know?”

Though she couldn’t see his expression, she got the impression the bastard was leering at her. “Pretty girls always carry mace in the city.”

“Gross,” she muttered as she fished around in her purse for the aforementioned mace. She dropped them into his bag with a huff of disapproval. “Didn’t your mother teach you stealing was bad?”

He didn’t answer her, just went on down the line, and Darcy’s hand closed reflexively on the prototype StarkPhone at the bottom of her bag. Tony had given it to her just last week, and she’d hadn’t bothered to use it since. She swallowed hard, trying to school her expression into a blank poker face. She needed to think like Steve right now, figure out what she had going for her and going against her, and formulate a plan that was better than ‘sit here and be terrified.’ (Though, honestly, that plan had its perks. Right now, she was totally rocking that plan.) Because of her age and gender, the robbers probably had already categorized her as low threat, which could work to her advantage. She had the StarkPhone, which probably had some crazy modifications no one outside of Tony Stark would even think of putting in a phone. She didn’t have her taser or her mace, or any other weapon, for that matter, and she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Oh, and there were six paramilitary assholes with automatic weapons, and a bank full of hostages. That was definitely a big check in the “con” column. She took a deep, calming breath, and let go of the phone. Sit here and be terrified it was.

The same two robbers--Thing 1 and Thing 2, she dubbed them--herded the bank customers and the tellers to the corner farthest from the front doors. Creeper Bill, the one who’d taken her phone and keys, had disappeared, along with the other three. She found herself sitting by a woman in her early thirties, who was holding a crying ten-year-old girl. She smiled wanly at her. “I’m sure the cops are on their way,” she whispered, hoping Things 1 & 2 couldn’t hear.

The woman nodded. “I’m sure. There’s a silent alarm system in almost every bank now. Any teller can trigger it,” she whispered back, her English lightly accented. She petted her daughter’s hair as the girl continued to sob.

She snuck a look at their guards. Only one was watching the prisoners; the other had stepped away and was talking on a radio. “I’m Darcy,” she murmured.

“Ana. And this is Marisol.” At the sound of her name, Marisol looked up. She was a beautiful girl, with dark brown eyes and caramel skin. “Say hola, Marisol,” her mother admonished. Marisol swallowed a sob and buried her face in her mother’s chest again. Ana shrugged, her smile watery and fake. “She’s usually more polite.”

“And there’s usually no one holding a gun on us,” Darcy countered. “It’s okay; if my mom were here, I’d probably be doing the same thing.” She leaned back against the wall and watched the guards through slitted eyes. Thing 1 was back, and he and Thing 2 were having an intense discussion that she couldn’t hear. “Hey, Ana, question. Did your phone work when you first came in,” she asked, not taking her eyes from the robbers.

She frowned, then nodded. “Yes, Marisol was playing a game, I remember.”

Darcy nodded, tapping her finger on her knee. “When you gave it to the guy, did you notice if it had signal?”

Ana paused and cocked her head to the side. “Um, I didn’t notice, I’m sorry.”

“Mine didn’t,” the man to her left murmured. Darcy turned to look at him full in the face. “Probably about two minutes before they came in, the network went out. I was playing Words With Friends, and I all of a sudden I couldn’t get a signal. Then these guys busted in...” He trailed off.

“Hey! Shut up!” Thing 1--she could tell because he was taller than Thing 2--waved his gun at them. “No talking.”

Darcy bit back a retort. As good as it might feel, mouthing off to an asshole with a gun was a good way to get shot, and by the way Thing 1’s finger was twitching, he was eager to shoot someone, and he didn’t much care who it was. She closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath. When she let it out, she focused on exhaling all her negativity with it; it wouldn’t help her right now. She was still scared and angry—furious, even—but she felt more centered. She could use that. Bruce was right; this zen shit did work. If only she could channel the giant green rage monster right now; that would probably be more helpful than a breathing exercise.

She wondered if it made her a bad person to hope that these guys would get what they came for and get out before the cops came. Hostages weren’t much use if there was no one to bargain with; maybe everyone would get out of this without bloodshed.

Just then, sirens sounded outside the bank. Darcy sighed. It looked like they were all in this for the long haul.


Phil frowned at the empty desk outside his office. It wasn’t like Darcy to be late; for all her faults, she was always prompt. He didn’t like it. He had an itch between his shoulder blades that was far too familiar. It was the same feeling he got before an op went totally FUBAR, and his instincts were rarely wrong.

He shoved his chair back and marched out of his office. The cubicle farm was oddly empty, so Phil followed the sounds of chatter to the break room. The majority of the staff was gathered around the television, which had ‘Breaking News’ flashing at the bottom of the screen. He blocked out the employees and focused on the newscaster. “...unfolding situation at the Midtown branch of Bank of America. We have unsubstantiated reports that several armed gunmen have taken the patrons and staff of the bank hostage. Police spokeswoman Captain Janet Callahan, has, so far, been close mouthed about any demands the alleged gunmen have made, but rest assured, Channel 7 News will be here if anything changes.”

Phil pulled out his phone and dialed Fury as he headed toward a conference room. “Director. We may have a situation.”


“WHAT?!?! Held hostage? How the fuck does SHIELD let that shit happen?”

Tony was the one who said it, but it was clear from their faces that the rest of the team shared the sentiment. Clint was rolling an imaginary arrow in his fingers and Thor’s big hands were clenched into fists on the conference table. Natasha’s expression was tight and blank, but Phil knew her well enough to see the fear and anger in her eyes. Bruce was breathing slowly, in and out on counts of five, an exercise he used to keep the Other Guy under control. Steve looked the worst, his body drawn tauter than one of Barton’s bowstrings and his jaw clenched too tightly.

“We have no reason to believe that the current situation has anything to do with her employment here at SHIELD,” Phil countered. “It looks to be an unfortunate coincidence.”

“Unfortunate isn’t the word I’d use, Agent Coulson,” Steve bit out. “She’s a civilian, and she’s in there, being held at gunpoint. I’d say that’s a bit worse than ‘unfortunate.’”

Phil sighed and ran a hand through his hair, slumping forward slightly. “As much as I’d like to send you, we can’t go in there and save her, Captain. Domestic bank robbery does not fall under SHIELD jurisdiction, and the NYPD has the scene under control.”

“Under control, my ass,” Tony muttered, fingers flying over his phone. “The NYPD couldn’t find their collective asses if they had their hands tied behind their backs. They don’t even have eyes in the bank; the assholes took out the cameras first thing.” A few more taps, and a grainy video started playing against the white wall. The bank looked perfectly normal, crowded with people. Then, all of a sudden, chaos. Four men dressed in black fatigues and ski masks burst in through the front door. Two began herding the customers in one direction, while two more started systematically closing blinds and disabling cameras. Tony switched the video as each successive camera went black. At the very last one, two more men entered the bank, each carrying a large black duffel bag.

The final camera went blank with an ominous click, plunging the conference room into silence.

“Professionals,” Natasha observed after a moment. “The last two meant to enter after the cameras were disabled, so the cops wouldn’t know their true number, but they timed it wrong. This is no smash-and-grab; they want something specific. The bags are probably filled with equipment to open the vault or lock boxes.”

“Have you tried calling Darcy?”

Phil nodded in Thor’s direction. “Her phone went straight to voicemail.”

“They took their phones,” Clint guessed. “Or have a cell-jammer.”

“Probably both. Less chance of identifying photos that way.” Phil sighed. “There’s not much we can do but monitor the situation.”

“That sounds like an order to me,” Tony said. A few more taps on his phone, and the static crackle of police radio filled the room. “If they fuck it up, I’m warning you, Agent, we’re going in.”

Steve nodded sharply. “Agreed.”

Phil steepled his fingers and nodded slowly. “I believe that can be arranged.”


They’d been sitting on the hard floor for over an hour now, and Darcy’s butt was numb. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were pacing nervously; the cops showing up so quickly had clearly rattled them. She guessed that hadn’t been part of the plan. From her vantage point, the police hadn’t made any progress getting them out of this, which was disheartening. She wondered if anyone even knew she was here, or if they all thought she’d just flaked out and was off drinking margaritas somewhere.

She sighed. That sort of thinking wasn’t helping. She turned to her neighbor. “So, Ana, why are you here today?”

“Marisol turned eleven last week.” She smiled down at her daughter, who had stopped crying and was now sleeping fitfully. “Her abuelita sent her some money, and I thought it would be a good time to teach her about a savings account.” Her smile faded. “I should have just let her buy that doll she wanted,” she murmured sadly.

“It’s an action figure, mama,” Marisol whispered, blinking awake. “They don’t make dolls of Captain America.”

The girl sounded so offended at the suggestion that Darcy couldn’t hold back a laugh. She’d have to tell Steve about this when she got out of here. “Is Captain America your favorite?”

“Hey, kike bitch! Shut the fuck up, this isn’t funny,” Thing 1 barked. “And you, mamacita, keep your spawn quiet. Fucking wetbacks taking over the goddamn country,” he muttered and walked away.

Darcy clenched her teeth on a nasty reply, contenting herself with picturing the Hulk smashing the racist bastard into a pancake. Marisol reached over and touched her shoulder, shooting a meaningful glance at their guards. “I don’t like bullies.”

“Me either, sweetie. Me either.”

Another uncomfortable half-hour passed, with no end in sight. Creeper Bill came out and chatted with Things 1 & 2, gesturing to the group of hostages with his gun. The careless way he treated the weapon and they way he was eyeing their group made Darcy distinctly uneasy. It seemed like he wanted to shoot someone. She looked over at Ana and Marisol, and saw the same fear and realization in the other woman’s eyes.

“Hey, you!” Creeper Bill stalked over to them, his combat boots echoing loudly in the mostly-silent bank. He pointed at Ana and crooked his finger in an unmistakable 'come here' gesture. “‘Spic bitch, I’m talking to you.” Ana’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “You need me to shoot your kid to convince you? Get your ass over here!”

She looked at Darcy, tears welling up in her eyes. “Keep my baby safe?”

Darcy held her hands out. “I promise,” she whispered.

Ana whispered in Spanish to Marisol, whose terrified gaze kept bouncing from Darcy to her mother to Creeper Bill and back again. The asshole took a threatening step forward, and Ana shoved her daughter at Darcy. “Stay strong, mi corazón,” she murmured and stood as Darcy wrapped her arms tightly around the little girl. The other hostages moved silently out of her way, scooting to one side or the other to clear a path. When Ana reached Creeper Bill, she stood straight and tall, her chin tilted up slightly, and looked him in the eyes. “What do you want from me?”

The robber’s smile was terrifying. “We need an example,” he stated, and backhanded Ana so hard she fell to the floor. “Get up, whore.”

Marisol tried to scramble out of Darcy’s grip, but she just held her tighter. “Don’t look, sweetie, please don’t look,” she whispered, turning the girl’s face away from the scene of her mother struggling to her feet.

As soon as Ana was standing steady, Creeper backhanded her again. This time, she was ready, and only rocked back on her heels. He pulled his pistol from its holster and pressed it against Ana’s belly. Darcy’s fingers dug into the back of Marisol’s head, pressing the girl more tightly against her chest. She willed herself not to watch, but seemed unable to look away. “It appears the cops need to be reminded who is in charge here, and I think you’ll do nicely. What’s one less illegal, anyway?”

Horrified, Darcy and the other hostages watched as Creeper dragged a struggling Ana toward the front door of the bank, his pistol digging into the soft skin of her belly. As soon as Ana was in view of the window, but before he exposed himself to a sniper, he stopped. Darcy squeezed her eyes shut at the sound of him cocking the gun.

When he fired the shot, she screamed.


Darcy wouldn’t let Marisol turn her head. Her blouse was soaked through with the little girl’s tears and snot, and her suit jacket was probably completely ruined, and she didn’t give a damn. When the bastard had shot Ana--shot her in the stomach, to drag the pain out as long as possible--all her terror had crystallized into white-hot rage. Ana didn’t deserve to get shot for taking her daughter to open a savings account. Marisol didn’t deserve to lose her mother because some racist assholes were low on cash. And these racist assholes did not deserve to get away with it.

Creeper Bill had disappeared into the back of the bank, dragging a bleeding and moaning Ana with him, and Thing 1 had his gun trained on the other hostages. But Thing 2 looked... spooked. Darcy narrowed her eyes and studied him. He was smaller than Thing 1, and held his gun far more carefully. She’d put money on the fact that he was younger, less experienced, and had probably never seen someone die before. His gaze kept flicking over to the trail of blood that streaked from the front door to where Ana lay bleeding out somewhere past the teller stations.

Slowly, a plan started to form in Darcy’s mind. Thing 2 was a weak link in this chain, and she could use that. She continued to pet Marisol’s hair and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Marisol, I don’t want you to answer out loud, okay? They might hear us. Do you understand?” The girl nodded slightly. “Good, good. Now, I have a plan that might help your mom, but I’m going to need your help. Can you help me?” Another short nod. “What I need you to do pretend to get sick when I tell you. Then I can take you to the bathroom.” Marisol raised her face, and nodded once. Darcy let herself smile a little and moved her bag so it was pressed between their bellies, hidden from view.

After a few more moments, Thing 1’s radio went off, and he walked away to answer it, leaving Thing 2 in charge of the hostages. “Now,” she whispered.

The realism of Marisol’s gagging surprised even Darcy. Thing 2 turned his attention to the two of them, and the other hostages moved away. “Oh my god, she’s gonna puke all over me!” She met Thing 2’s gaze and turned on the full-force puppy-dog eyes. “Can you take us to the bathroom, please?” Her bottom lip wobbled a little, and she counted it a victory when Thing 2’s eyes widened. Score one for chauvinism; that would make this much easier.

He glanced back at Thing 1, then nodded once, sharply. “Stay there,” he commanded, his voice hard. Marisol continued to gag as the two robbers had a quick conference. From what Darcy could tell from their body language, Thing 1 didn’t like it, but Thing 2 apparently had more power than Darcy had given him credit for. He overruled his friend, who came back to stand guard. “Come on,” Thing 2 said, waving them forward.

Darcy stood, a little unsteady on her feet after being on the floor for so long. Marisol wrapped her arms around Darcy’s neck and her legs around her waist and kept her face turned away from the robbers, pressing close so that Darcy’s bag was invisible between them.

The bathrooms stood on either end of a short hallway. Thing 2 preceded them into the ladies room and did a cursory check, ducking down to check in the stalls. Finding nothing of interest, he held the door open for the two of them, and Darcy stepped in. It was a large room, with a wall-sized mirror above a bank of five sinks, and probably ten stalls. The ceiling was a standard drop-ceiling with banks of fluorescent lights, and a small, frosted window let in some sunlight. It was too small for Darcy to crawl through; she thought it was probably barely large enough for Marisol. Good thing that wasn’t part of her plan.

She knelt at the middle sink, and set Marisol down, putting herself between her and the robber. The brilliant girl kept a hold of the bag, doing her best to hide it from Thing 2, and Darcy squeezed her shoulder in encouragement. She turned around and stood, meeting his eyes and blocking his view of Marisol at the same time. “I have,” she motioned at her ruined shirt, “do you mind, um, I can just wear my jacket,” as she indicated him turning around.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t do that,” he said, and he actually sounded apologetic. In fact, his tone reminded her of Steve, and that was a disturbing connection to make right now.

“I, um, okay, I understand.” She bit her bottom lip and turned her back to him, eyeing him sideways through the mirror. She took off her suit jacket and laid it carefully on the sink. Thing 2 was doing his best to look like he wasn’t looking, turning his gaze up to the ceiling. She started to slowly undo the buttons on her shirt, making the soft popping sounds as loud as possible. He was getting more and more uncomfortable, she could tell, and when she slid the soft cotton off her shoulders and down her arms, he turned around, facing the stalls.

Darcy wouldn’t allow herself a small, triumphant smile--but, God, she wanted to. Instead, she placed her shirt on the sink next to her jacket. Using the mirror to judge the distance, she used the sound of untucking her tank top to cover the sound of her step. But instead of pulling it off over her head, she turned and grabbed his sidearm from its holster and slammed the hilt into the back of his head.

Thing 2 dropped like a stone, and it took all her strength to keep him from hitting the floor with a thump. “Thank you, Natasha,” she whispered, never more grateful that SHIELD insisted all its employees be trained in hand-to-hand combat. She never thought she’d actually have cause to use it. She checked to ensure the safety was on and shoved it in the back of her waistband, then relieved him of his automatic weapon and his radio. “‘Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho,’” she muttered to herself. Her hands shook as she removed the magazine and the strap from the gun and slid the empty body in one direction and the ammunition in another.

Marisol helped her use the nylon strap to tie Thing 2’s hands behind his back, and they shoved Darcy’s ruined pantyhose in his mouth as a makeshift gag. He started whimpering as they dragged him into the handicapped stall, so Darcy pistol-whipped him in the temple. He crumpled like cheap paper. “I hope I cracked your skull,” she bit out.

The whole process had taken less than two minutes, but Darcy knew they wouldn’t have much more time before someone would come to check on them. She pulled the StarkPhone out of her bag and grinned maniacally at the sight that greeted her: full bars. “I could kiss you right now, Tony. Right on the mouth.”


“Are you a cop?”

Darcy looked up from the phone to see Marisol staring at her, her eyes red-rimmed from crying, but her expression serious. She shook her head. “No. I’m a personal assistant.”

“Then how’d you know how to do that?”

“My friend Natasha taught me.” Darcy could hear the quiver in her own voice and she took a deep breath. “I’m gonna get us out of here, and we’re gonna get you mom to a hospital, okay? You just have to trust me.” When Marisol nodded, Darcy scrolled through the contact list on the phone. Tony had programmed the numbers of all the Avengers, him first, of course. Her finger hovered over Steve’s name for just a second, but she shook her head and called Agent Coulson instead.

He answered on the first ring. “Coulson.”

“Hey Phil! Sorry I’m not at the office, kinda got held up at the bank.” She was proud of how little her voice shook.

“Darcy!” In the background, she could hear Steve, Tony, and Thor, all yelling questions. “Are you hurt? I’m putting you on speakerphone. Are you okay?”

She took a deep breath. “I’m not hurt. I’m in the bathroom, and I don’t have a lot of time, so please, just listen to me. There are six robbers--well, five now, don’t ask Tony, I’ll explain later--with machine guns and semi-automatic pistols. They’re well-trained, I think they’ve done this before, and if I had to guess, they’re some sort of home-grown, anti-government, racist paramilitary group. They had a cell-jammer so we couldn’t call for help, then took our phones and my mace. They had two guys guarding the hostages, one guy working as a go-between, and three that disappeared into the back as soon as they got here with big duffel bags. I haven’t seen them since; they’re working on something back there, I know it.

“About ten minutes ago, they shot Ana, one of the hostages, in the stomach. I don’t...” She paused to look at Marisol, swallowed, and continued. “I don’t think she’s received any medical attention, and she needs it. There...there was a lot of blood.”

“What do you need?”

She wanted to cry with relief at the sound of Steve’s voice on the line, so calm and in control. Not yet, she promised herself. She could break down when this was over. “Tony, can you send the blueprints of the bank to this phone? I don’t want to be in this bathroom when this guy’s buddies come looking for him.”

“Sending now,” Tony said, his tone unusually serious. “Hey, Darce, that phone, I modified it just for you. There’s a single-charge stun gun built in. The electrodes are on the top; flip the cover off, hold the down volume button for three seconds to charge, and just press it against skin. He’ll drop like a rock. But it drains the battery down to nothing, so don’t use it until you have to.”

“Thanks, Tony. I knew there was a reason you were my favorite.”


She closed her eyes and took a breath. “Yeah, Steve?”

“Be careful. The police have the bank surrounded; don’t try to be a hero, okay? Please, stay safe.”

“I’m not a hero, Steve,” she choked out. “I’m just their secretary.” She checked her watch; they’d been in the bathroom a full five minutes now. “Gotta go,” she said, and hung up, sliding the phone into her bra for safekeeping. She looked at her little sidekick with a grim smile. “Alright, Marisol, let’s do this thing.”

Marisol nodded sharply. “Let’s.”

Darcy stood up and pressed the button on the hand dryer, using the noise for cover and to indicate to anyone listening that they were almost finished. “Even though I have a gun, I don’t want to use it,” Darcy murmured. “Gunshots are loud, and I don’t want the others to know we have a weapon. But pretty soon, someone’s gonna come check on Thing 2 over there, and we’re going to need to incapacitate him.”

They were silent for a few seconds, thinking. Then: “Soap! Pour some soap just inside the door, he comes in, he slips, you do your thing,” Marisol mimed a punch, “and we’re down to four.”

Darcy grinned. “You’re a genius, you know that?” The two of them went to work, unscrewing the reservoirs from the soap dispensers. Thirty seconds later, the hand dryers still running, anyone who rushed into the bathroom would be on his ass on the floor. Darcy indicated to Marisol to stand far back from the door, but in plain sight, while she pressed back against the wall next to the door, pistol in hand. “Ready?”

The girl nodded, then let out a scream shrill enough it could probably shatter crystal. Within seconds, footsteps indicated someone--probably Thing 1, Darcy guessed--was headed their way. She took a deep breath, and braced herself.

The door opened with a whoosh of air, and Thing 1, just as she suspected, came barreling in, focused completely on Marisol standing in the center of the room and unaware of Darcy behind him. The soap on the floor caused him to lose his balance, and he windmilled his arms in a futile attempt to regain it. He skidded for less than a foot, until Darcy brought the hilt of her gun down on the back of his head with a sickening crack. He went down like a sack of bricks, his scalp bleeding profusely.

Between Marisol and herself, they made quick work of stripping him of his weapons and radio and tying him up with his nylon gun strap. For safety’s sake, they put him in the first stall, as far from Thing 2 as possible, and secured him to the base of the toilet. From the look of his head wound, Darcy was fairly certain he wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon, but she didn’t want to risk it. She knelt next to the robber. “Cover your eyes, Marisol,” she warned, and slammed the heel of her palm against his face. Thing 2’s head rocked back, and blood flowed from his now-broken nose to splatter on her white tank top. “Consider this a military funeral, asshole.”

When she turned, she realized Marisol had watched the whole thing and was now staring at her with wide eyes. “I know who you are," she whispered. "You said you had a friend named Natasha who taught you to fight, and you were talking to Tony and Steve on the phone. You said... you said you were the heroes’ secretary. You... you work with the Avengers, don’t you?”

Darcy tried to smile, but couldn’t. “You’re really smart, Marisol. I do.”

The girl grinned shyly and offered her hand to help Darcy up. “After we save my mom, can I meet Captain America?”

Darcy wiped the blood off on her skirt and took Marisol’s hand with a shaky chuckle. “Sweetheart, after we save your mom, I promise I’ll make the whole team take you and your mom to Chuck E. Cheese for pizza. You haven’t seen anything until you see Hawkeye play carnival games.”

Marisol tugged her to her feet. “Deal.”


“So, there’s an access panel to the ventilation system above the sink here,” Darcy said, studying the schematics Tony had sent her. “After Creeper Bill shot--” she stuttered over the word and looked at Marisol. Though her skin was far too pale, she looked resolute. Darcy took a deep breath. “After he shot your mom, he dragged her back where he and the other three guys are working on something, but probably not all the way to the vault.” She looked up at the ceiling, squinting. “We can get back there through the air shaft, but it’s loud and slow. They’ll hear us coming.”

Marisol tapped her lip with her forefinger. “So you’re saying we need a distraction?”

“I am,” Darcy agreed, then grinned. “I think I know just the thing.” She started rooting around in her bag until she produced a crumpled and near-empty pack of Marlboro Lights. “Don’t ever start smoking, Marisol,” she lectured as she opened the lid and shook out a lighter. “It’s a filthy, disgusting habit. And it’s ridiculously expensive, especially in the city.” She tucked the pink Bic into her bra strap and dropped the cigarettes back into her purse.

Darcy helped Marisol climb onto the sink and followed her up. Between them, they removed the correct ceiling tile, which fell to the tile floor with a soft thud. “There’s the vent cover. Can you reach it if I hold you up?”

Marisol cocked her head at the grate. “I think so, but it’s screwed in.”

“Got you covered,” Darcy said, producing an eyeglass repair kit, the tiny screwdriver glinting in the fluorescent lights, and handed it to Marisol. “And Steve makes fun of me for having everything but the kitchen sink in here,” she said as she handed it over. It took a few moments, but eventually, Marisol was perched on Darcy’s shoulders, removing the screws from the corners of the metal grate. As Marisol undid the final screw, it dropped to the floor with a loud crash and both of them flinched. “Shit. Someone probably heard that. Get up there!” Darcy boosted her into the shaft. “Don’t go far, I’m gonna need a hand.”

Darcy walked carefully along the bank of sinks until she reached the closest sprinkler head sprouting from the ceiling. “Tony, you better not have been lying about this,” she muttered, and held the flame of the lighter to the metal. After a few seconds, she heard the unmistakable click of something small snapping, and the sprinkler dropped another inch. “Shitshitshit!” She backed up quickly, and managed to avoid the first, hard spray of water as the fire suppression system in the bank turned on. She still got plenty wet on her way back to the open ceiling, but with Marisol’s help and the upper body strength she’d gain from training with Natasha, she was soon above the water and into the air shaft. “That’ll slow ‘em down,” she said with a grin.

The pair of them shimmied on their bellies over cold metal, Marisol ahead and Darcy following, moving as quickly as they could away from the bathroom. It was a lot harder than Clint made it seem, and muscles Darcy didn’t know she had were protesting. They came to a T, and Darcy consulted the blueprints on her StarkPhone. “Left,” she whispered. Soon enough, they came to another grate, and Darcy grabbed Marisol’s ankle to stop her. She pointed at the phone, then at the vent cover. “We need to get it open.”

Marisol narrowed her eyes, then contorted her small body until she could press her feet against the grate. Two sharp kicks later, the cover fell onto the carpet with a wet squelch. Darcy raised an eyebrow at her, and Marisol ducked her head shyly, as much as possible in the cramped metal tube. “Clint is going to love you,” she muttered.

Climbing down proved much more difficult than climbing up since there was no conveniently placed sink to help. Darcy backed out on her belly until she was dangling half in and half out of the opening. She took a deep breath and dropped, doing her best to roll when she hit the wet floor. Wincing, she sat up and took stock of her injuries. One of her ankles was a little sore, but not sprained, and she’d caught the hem of her skirt on a broken screw and the gash it left behind was bleeding rather heavily. She shook off the pain--and wow, the water pouring out of the sprinklers really stung that cut--and stood up. Marisol copied Darcy’s actions almost exactly, and when she dropped, Darcy caught her around the middle.

They found a spot near the corner of the room where the water didn’t fall on them directly, and Darcy consulted the blueprints again. “I think, if we go right once we leave this office, we’ll be heading back toward the front of the bank. I can’t imagine Creeper dragged her farther than the teller counter.” She swallowed hard and pulled the pistol from her waistband. The sound of the sprinkler system muffled the distinct click of the slide as she chambered a round and flicked off the safety. She risked a glance at Marisol, whose wide eyes were focused on the gun. “Just because I don’t want to shoot someone doesn’t mean I won’t,” she whispered. “If I have to,” she added softly. The girl nodded, and Darcy edged the door open, peeking out around the corner as far as she dared, gun at the ready. Luckily, the hallway was clear.

The sound of their footsteps on the wet carpet seemed obscenely loud to Darcy, but they made it out of the back offices without seeing anyone. In fact, it was eerily silent.

The reason became quite clear when they snuck a look into the main bank area: the other hostages were all gone. Apparently they’d taken advantage of their guards going missing and the distraction of the sprinkler system and made their escape. Darcy had done enough paperwork on enough tactical assaults to guess what was coming next; without the hostages to complicate things, the SWAT team would be coming in, and they had no idea that the three of them were still inside. Fuck. “We need to find your mom right now, Marisol.”

The marble under their feet was slick, but they moved as fast as they could. Ana was lying on her back behind the teller station, both hands pressed hard to her stomach. Darcy flicked the safety on the gun and shoved it into the back of her waistband before kneeling and pressing her hands on top of Ana’s. “Marisol, go see if you can find a sweater or a jacket or something someone left back here. We need to stop the bleeding.” While Marisol did as she instructed, Darcy smiled down at the girl’s mother. “Hey, hey, how are you feeling?”

Ana’s answering smile was wan. “Better now.” Suddenly Marisol was by her side, a cardigan in hand. “Hola, bebé.” She reached up a shaky hand to tuck a lock of wet hair behind her daughter’s ear.

Darcy instructed Marisol to press the fabric against the wound and hold it there. “I have to call my friends, okay? You stay with your mom and keep pressure on the wound.” She scooted away to get a little privacy and hit redial.

Coulson answered on the first ring again, and a soft click indicated she was on speakerphone. “Are you out?”

“No. We made the distraction, but couldn’t get out with the rest of them.” Her gaze flicked to Ana, who was far too pale. “I have a severely wounded hostage and her eleven-year-old daughter still inside.”

“The one they shot?”

“Yeah.” She could feel the beginning of a panic attack curling in her chest; she quashed it ruthlessly. “You guys should get down here. The SWAT team is going to be coming in soon, and we’re still in here. I don’t think they know that.”

“We’ll be there,” Steve said, his calm voice an anchor for her rapidly devolving mental state. “When you get out, we’ll be waiting for you, okay?”

She took a deep, shuddering breath, and decided, what the hell, might as well go for broke. “I’m gonna need a drink when I get out of here, Steve. You know a place?”

The was a beat of silence on the line, and Darcy could picture Steve’s fond smile. “Yeah, Darcy, I know a place. Get out of there safe, and I’ll take you.”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” she whispered, and hung up. Hands trembling, she shoved the phone back into her bra, and crawled back toward Ana and Marisol. “Hey, the cops are going to be busting in any minute. Just stay down, okay? They’re going to come in hot, because they think all the hostages are out.”

The unmistakable sound of a gun cocking interrupted her. “But they aren’t, are they? You bitches are still here.”

Darcy closed her eyes and slumped forward as the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed against the back of her skull. “Fuck,” she sighed.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Creeper Bill said. The sound of his voice, deep and so, so angry, sent an involuntary shiver through her. This was a man on the edge.

She took a deep breath and straightened up as much as she could, holding her hands out to her sides. Marisol hunched over her mother’s prone form, eyes wide and terrified, but her hands were clenched into angry fists. Darcy tried to steady her voice before she asked, “Where are your friends?”

“Well, two of ‘em disappeared, and the others negotiated a surrender with the cops, and are sitting around just waiting to get arrested. But me, I don’t think I’m gonna go out like that.” He nudged her with the gun and her head bobbed forward. She heard him lean down and pull the gun out of the back of her waistband. “I wondered what happened to the boys, but I think I just figured it out. This looks like one of ours.” He shoved it into the holster on his hip. “Stand up.”

Darcy met Marisol’s gaze, and shook her head minutely. The girl didn’t move, but her hands relaxed enough that Darcy was fairly certain she wouldn’t do anything foolish. She flashed Marisol a tight smile.

Between her ripped skirt and the wet floor, it was difficult to climb to her feet without using her hands, but she didn’t want to spook Creeper Bill. As soon as she was upright, he wrapped his free arm around her neck and pressed the gun to her temple. “Come on, whore, you’re my ticket out of here.” He backed away from Ana and Marisol and turned so Darcy was between him and the door and started to march her forward, his very own living shield.

Though she knew it couldn’t be more than a hundred feet, the distance between them and the door seemed to stretch forever as they moved toward the glass. The feeling of Creeper Bill pressed against her back was nauseating, both their clothes soaking wet from the sprinklers that were still spouting water. Where his skin touched hers, it was clammy and damp, and the metal of the gun was cold against her skin. As panic started to overtake her, Darcy reached up and dug her fingernails into his arm, scrabbling for enough purchase to get away. He leaned close to her ear and growled. “I’m not afraid to kill you right now, bitch. Let go.”

Even though she was pretty sure he was lying--a dead hostage didn’t do much to keep the snipers away--she did as he instructed. But as she went to drop her hands, her fingers brushed the phone she’d tucked into her bra strap, and a tiny tendril of hope began to take root. She had one shot at this. Slowly, she began to tug it free. “Hey, you ever get the feeling your life is like a movie?” she asked, her voice high and bordering on hysterical.

He snorted. “No, not really.”

“Huh,” she said as she felt around for the edge of the plastic cap that hid the phone’s built-in stun gun. “See, me, I do, sometimes. Before this year, it was kind of, uh, a rom-com,” she babbled. “Some stupid Jennifer Aniston vehicle where people fall in love, and the worst thing that happens is a misunderstanding between the romantic leads, but everyone lives happily ever after, yadda, yadda, yadda.

“But recently, I think I’ve switched genres.” She found the tiny latch and flicked it open with her thumbnail. “Now, my life is more like an action movie, you know. I’m not the hero, of course, more like the mouthy sidekick, the comic relief.” She pressed the volume down button, but the awkward angle and her own trembling hands made it difficult to hold it. “I’m more like Short Round, or Al, the fat cop in Die Hard. Course, I’m better looking than both of them,” she joked, and pressed the button again, this time holding it tight.

“What the fuck are you talking about, you crazy bitch? Don’t you care that I have a gun to your head? Or are you suicidal?”

“Which sucks,” she continued, talking over him and wondering if the weapon was fully charged yet, “because the sidekick never gets the good lines, not like John McClane. I’ve always wanted to be able to say one and mean it.” They were nearly to the doors, and through the plate glass she could see what looked like the entire NYPD standing with guns drawn. Darcy took a deep breath; it was now or never. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” she spat, and let her knees buckle as she jammed the diodes of the stun gun into his arm.

As she collapsed, convulsing with pain, she promised she’d never make fun of Thor about the whole Taser situation again. That shit fucking hurt.


The first thing that Darcy became aware of was a loud ringing in her ears. The second thing she became aware of was overwhelming pain. She ached, like someone had taken a baseball bat to her entire body, and random muscles kept twitching. There was no way she could drink enough to cause spontaneous muscle cramps and temporary hearing loss, no matter what crazy drinking game Tony invented to try to get Steve drunk.

Oh right, the bank.

She opened her eyes to the sight of an NYPD officer hovering over her. He looked concerned, two deep wrinkles between his eyebrows as he frowned down at her, his bare fingers warm against her neck as he checked her pulse. His lips moved in what she was sure were words, but the ringing in her ears made it impossible to hear him. She watched, unwilling (or unable, she wasn’t sure which) to move as he waved at someone out of her field of vision.

The police officer moved over to make room for a pair of paramedics. The man smiled at her, his teeth very white in his dark face, and said something she couldn’t hear. She tried to smile back, but even the muscles in her face hurt, so she wasn’t sure how successful she was. The woman, her blonde hair pulled back in a tight braid, probed Darcy’s body with firm fingers, and asked if she had any severe injuries. She wanted to tell her that her whole body was one big injury, but her tongue was thick in her mouth. She just shook her head.

When they were satisfied that she wasn’t going to keel over, they helped her sit up, and then stand. Her hearing started coming back in waves; she caught about one word in four, but it was enough to piece together what happened while Marvin and Powell, the paramedics, helped her to a waiting ambulance. As she’d zapped Creeper Bill, his gun had gone off; no one was sure whether he’d deliberately tried to kill her or fired involuntarily due to the stun gun. Either way, the close proximity was enough to cause temporary deafness, though the bullet had only grazed Darcy’s forehead. The police had rushed in and tackled him, sure that he’d just murdered a hostage in front of the NYPD. Another team of paramedics had found Ana and Marisol and rushed them to the hospital; Marvin didn’t know which one, but he’d do his best to find out for her.

While Powell cleaned the cut on her forehead and applied butterfly bandages, Darcy looked around at the chaos surrounding the bank. There were police officers everywhere, some taking statements from hostages and witnesses, some holding back the immense crowd of onlookers that was even now pushing at the barrier that surrounded the scene, and a few standing around drinking coffee. The blocked-off street was packed with police cars and ambulances and a couple unmarked cars that probably belonged to the higher-ups.

Darcy squeezed her eyes shut to block out the flashing blue and red lights. “You probably have a slight concussion,” Powell observed as she probed for tender spots, finding one that was already swelling on the back of her skull. Darcy wanted to say something snarky, but she was pretty sure if she moved her head she would get sick. “You should let us take you to the hospital to get checked out.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Coulson interjected, his voice as smoothly competent as ever. “We’ll take her from here.”

Darcy’s eyes snapped open and she turned to look for her boss. Unfortunately, the sudden motion coupled with what was very definitely a concussion caused her stomach to rebel. Only Coulson’s ninja-quick reflexes kept her from vomiting all over his expensive leather shoes.

Powell shot Coulson a dirty look, and moved to check on Darcy, shining a penlight into her eyes and discreetly handing her a paper towel. “This young woman has a concussion, at least, and needs to go to the emergency room. And the police need a statement.”

Coulson smiled his blandest smile and flashed his badge. “Miss Lewis is an employee of SHIELD, and with that employment comes certain...privacy considerations that the local hospitals are not equipped to deal with. She also has access to one of the finest medical facilities in the city, and I have already discussed this all with the chief of police. They know where to find her when she’s ready to talk.” If possible, his smile became even blander. “As I said, we will be taking her from here.”

Powell snorted. “Feds,” she muttered under her breath. Aloud, she said, her tone thick with sarcasm, “She’s going to need help getting to this facility of yours. You gonna carry her?”

“Unfortunately, I’m on light duty myself,” he answered smoothly, but Darcy could see the tightness around his eyes. Coulson hated being kept out of the field, and medical still hadn’t cleared him after the Loki incident. “But I brought help,” he added. “Captain,” he said, addressing someone just out of sight, “would you please help Miss Lewis to the car? She needs to get to SHIELD medical sooner rather than later, and if I carry her in, they’ll put me in the adjoining room. And nobody wants that, least of all Miss Lewis. I’ve been told I’m a terrible patient.”

As soon as Steve came in to view, Darcy burst into tears. He didn’t say anything, just wrapped her in his beat-up leather jacket and carried her, honeymoon-style, to the waiting SHIELD-issued sedan. Coulson sat up front with the driver, while Steve rocked her on his lap in the backseat. “Shhh, Darcy, it’s okay. You’re safe now. I have you, and I’m not going to let you go. You’re safe.”

“I’m not supposed to be a hero, Steve,” she sobbed, her shaking hands clutching at the white cotton of his tee shirt. “I’m not even a sidekick; I’m Alfred! I do Coulson’s filing, and answer phones, and make sure Bruce and Tony eat more than once a day, and try to get Clint to do his paperwork. I can’t do what you do. I’m not that person.”

Steve threaded his fingers through her hair, careful to avoid the tender bump on the back as he tilted her face up to his. “A real hero doesn’t have to try to be a hero. It isn’t the person who sets out to save the world.” He smiled. “A real hero is the person who does what needs to be done; the one who does the right thing, regardless of the cost.” He pressed his lips to her forehead, the warmth lingering on her skin even after he pulled back. “You have always been that hero, Darcy.”

A bubble of hysterical laughter escaped before she could contain it. “I’d kiss you right now, but I have puke-breath.”

Steve pressed a finger to her lips. “I’ll take a rain check,” he murmured, and kissed her forehead again. She leaned into him, letting the knot of tension in her stomach relax a little. “You did promise me a drink; maybe I’ll cash it in then.”

Darcy ducked her head and snuggled closer. “I did, didn’t I?” She inhaled deeply, breathing in Steve’s warm, spicy scent. “Can I plead near-death-experience and we can just ignore the fact that I asked you on a date?”

His answering chuckle vibrated through her body. “Not a chance.” His lips ghosted over her still-wet hair. “I’m not letting a dame like you get away so easy,” he whispered.

Maybe there were upsides to getting taken hostage, she mused, and nuzzled closer to Steve’s hard, muscled chest.

Then again, she thought, as a jerky stop set off waves of pain through her abused muscles, maybe not.