A Harris and a Half.
The guy walking the cup of coffee and muffin into the lab got a funny look. "Who're you?" he demanded.
"Darcy sent me." He held up the items. "She said you haven't eaten in three days," he said, mimicking her voice and inflection pretty well. Then he grinned. "And if you don't eat and drink and then go call your boss, she's going to call said boss herself because you missed something yesterday while she was out on vacation with me at the museum." He put the items on a clear spot on the table. "So please don't piss off my sister, I don't need to listen to the bitching about you, Stark." He walked off, going back to where Darcy was nagging her Jane. He walked in grinning. "Wow, you do that better than the girls I ran away from. Did you take lessons?"
"Hell no!" she snorted but smirked at him. "I didn't need lessons from more than my own grandmother." She stared at Jane. "You're taking me away from time with my brother, Jane. Would you do that to Thor?"
"Thor hates his brother," Jane huffed. She glared at the guy. "Why are you here?"
"I'm presently running away from my last job before I went on a murderous rampage against the bitches I used to work with who think I'm helpless, normal, and useless even after I had just saved their asses again." He stared at her. "So I came up to visit my sister for a bit while I figure out where I'm going to hide from the bitches and find a new job."
Jane blinked. "That's very blunt."
"It you ever met the bitches I worked with, you'd agreed with me," he said dryly. "Darcy does."
"Darcy nearly grabbed one's sword off the wall to beat her with it," Darcy agreed with a nod. "Before I girl-fought her and kicked her ass over the way she treated my brother."
"Treats. I found a voicemail when I turned on my phone," he admitted. Two guys stomped in and he nodded. "I'm just here having a vacay with my big sister, guys." He grinned. Another woman stomped in and he smirked. "Didn't expect to see you here, Woofing Whore of Battle."
Maria Hill stared at him. Oh, shit. This was a very bad thing. "Why are you here?"
Darcy got between them. "Leave my little brother the fuck alone, Hill. You aren't immune to being tazed."
Hill blinked at her then over her shoulder. "I should have realized. She reminds me of you, Harris." He grinned. "Total siblings?"
"Half if you must know," Darcy said dryly. "My daddy had a fling he regretted."
"So did my mom." Xander shrugged. "It made her marry the alcoholic asshole she was already flirting with and drinking with." He leaned on Darcy's shoulder, giving her a hug from behind. "I'm on vacay after I walked away from the bitches before I went on a murderous rampage after Kuala Lumpur."
Hill moaned. "Oh, God, I heard," she muttered. "So you're...."
"Retired," he said firmly. "I'm catching up with my sis. We've been doing touristy things since Jane never lets her out of the lab. We've went to the good museums yesterday and some of the other touristy spots the day before."
"You've been here for two days and we didn't know," Hill said. "How?"
"Not like she runs into your type usually. I've been on her couch."
Hill nodded once. "Guys, back down. He can do you a lot of damage and then quip something stupid." She looked at him. "Are you making future plans?"
"Perhaps. I'm going to figure out where I want to settle while being retired first."
She nodded. "Give me a final list and I'll make sure you hear about any standing problems there."
"Thanks, Hill." He grinned. "That's real sweet of you. Does that mean you're going to send more victims to the girls to nag them?"
"Yes I probably will suggest it to some." She sighed. "Including some women since they'd probably support them more." She rubbed her forehead when Stark stomped in.
"Are you two dating?" Stark demanded.
"Eww, I'm not into incest," Darcy said dryly. "He's my little brother, Stark. Mind out of my panties and various online sites that have us fucking like weasels." Jane moaned at that. "Did you eat and call Pepper? She left me a text message of 'have. Him. Call'." She stared at him. "Apparently you missed stuff while my brother and I were out doing fun stuff."
Stark blinked at her. "You're mad."
"Fuck you," Xander said with a grin. "Quit picking on my sister before I have someone I know eat you." Darcy elbowed him, making him groan. "Yes, Sister."
"Thank you." She grinned up at him. "You give good cuddles."
"They're rusty from disuse so sorry if you need a tetanus."
"I don't." She turned to hug him. "You're a great brother, even if you an overprotective boob."
"Hey, it worked in my last job," he said dryly. "Otherwise I'd still have two eyes." She snorted but patted him on the cheek beside the eyepatch. "Ow, still sore from last month's cracked orbital bone." She sighed and pressed gently, letting him duck away from her. "It's healing. It's nothing they can fix, Darce."
"Fine." She looked at the two heroic types again, smiling at the one in the doorway. "Hey, Clint. Have you ever met my little brother Xander?"
"Once in Africa," he said quietly, staring at him. "I should've realized you two were related." Darcy burst out giggling. "Just visiting? I can tell some people to leave you alone."
"I quit after Kuala Lumpur before I turned around and killed every single one of the bitches I used to work with. But please don't scare off any possible dates I might find?"
"Yeah, I don't need to talk to that sort anyway. I'll...go distract some people." He walked off hurrying while calling a few people to meet him in the kitchen. He looked at Natasha as she walked in. "Harris quit." She stiffened. "He's Darcy's younger brother. They're doing touristy things and he's in the labs."
She grabbed the countertop. "I will stay up here," she decided calmly and quietly. "And keep others from him."
"He said he quit because he was going to kill them all."
She nodded. "I wish he could have done that to a few of them. They deserved it in many ways."
"Something happened in Kuala Lumpur."
She looked it up and stared at the battle footage, grimacing as she showed him. It caught the battle and the bitching afterward when he tossed down his sword and walked off with a 'bye, bitches'. "Do we believe he'll be going back to helping the ones in Africa?"
"I don't know, he didn't say that. I heard him say he was going to kill them all."
She nodded. "We should ask in case someone else needs to go handle their battles." She cleared the history off her phone and looked at her partner again. "Do they know?"
"No. I don't think so. Go ask Steve? I'll go talk to Bruce?" She nodded, hurrying to talk to him. He slipped down to Bruce's apartment, he was off today because he had a headache. He knocked and got the doctor himself. "What do you know about a guy named Xander Harris?"
"Way too much for my own peace of mind."
"He's Darcy's little brother, he's here to visit her, and it appears he quit his last job."
Bruce grimaced. "That's going to suck for the girls," he admitted. "Probably better for his sanity though." Clint nodded quickly. "It does figure that he's related to Darcy though. They're mouthy in the same way." He considered it. "I don't have a problem with him, or his past job. I'm thankful they handled it so we didn't have to."
"Okay. We're just making sure. From what I saw, Stark didn't know about anything."
"Aw, crap," Bruce muttered. "He's going to look and freak out. I'll stop Tony."
"Thanks. Nat's talking to Cap."
"That's going to be a weird talk." He went to find Stark to talk to him. He was yelling at Darcy for daring to have her brother in his labs.
Xander looked at him. "I have a security clearance rating that the president admires," he said impatiently. "I've seen worse than your little suit and your little plans, Mr. Stark. I have a 17 security rating." Stark flinched back. "So, please, let me and my sister finish my two days left of vacation so I can leave the day after that. I promise I won't let her send me to nag you again. Okay?" He smiled at him. "Because you're not worse than bitchy girls and you're not my type to flirt with so why would I bother you." He nodded. "Hey, Doc. How's it hangin'?"
"Better. That clinic's still standing," he said with a small smile. "You retired?"
"No, I walked off before I committed mass homicide."
"I remember meeting a few of the reasons for it. I feel sorry for them but not that much with the way they acted toward the people that helped."
"I got that for many years," Xander agreed. "The last one I just walked away from and I'm kinda proud of that."
"I would be too. I remember the redhead."
"Don't mention her, she'll show up and hurt people."
"Point. So two more days?"
"Two more days, then I have an appointment that last day before I leave for wherever. My last act before I change my number so they can't find me."
"Good. I hope it goes okay. C'mon, Tony, I'll tell you about him. You're really not his type, you're not dangerous enough." He walked Tony off by hauling on his arm.
Xander looked at Darcy. "Did you intend for that when you sent me to deliver him coffee?"
"No. I thought you'd shock him enough to get out of science mode so Pepper could nag him about whatever."
"Ah." He nodded with a grin. "That's cool. I like being a force of chaos sometimes." She grinned back.
"Go do sibling things," Jane ordered with a hand wave. "Please. Before I get sick from the sweetness."
Xander looked at her. "I'm not sweetness and light, Jane. I haven't been since I was six. Definitely not since I was sixteen. I'm only goofy around my sister. And protective if she ever finds a shitbag boyfriend I can threaten." He gave her a pointed look. "Don't do what they did and underestimate people like me." He looked at Darcy. "Grab stuff and we'll go eat off a hotdog cart and go play in the park?" he asked with a grin.
"Sure!" She grabbed her sweater and hat, putting them on, grabbing her phone and wallet to put into her pockets, and they left together.
Jane looked at Hill. "Who is he? She moped about him a few times but never with any details."
"He's responsible for the world continuing a few times and he's not like the team," she said. "It's a long, bad story, Jane." She walked off to make that report to the hidden SHIELD people. They had to know the Council was vulnerable. They didn't need them to fall in a battle.
Darcy and Xander came back with dinner that night, running into someone in the hallway by the apartments. "Hey, Steve. This is my brother Xander."
"Hey," he said, waving his free hand.
"I learned about you earlier," Steve said with a nod.
"Yeah. The source was probably biased since half of SHIELD thought I was a tagalong sidekick sort who only happened to fix things now and then so therefore was useless and able to be taken out of the way without problem. Pity for the agents who tried that. Is she still alive?"
Steve blinked. "Natasha?"
"Yeah, the redheaded one. She tried really hard to discount me too so she fit in with my former coworkers but she failed a lot. You should ask her about Bert and Aaron." Darcy got them into her apartment. He looked at her. "I'm sorry if they rag on you because of me. Maybe I shouldn't have come."
"No!" She swatted him. "No! You needed the happies and the vacay. I needed to see you too since I haven't gotten more than emails in years, Xander. They can deal with their own ideas on their own and they won't nag me about anything. Though a few may ask if I can use a sword." He hugged her. She smiled and hugged him back. "If you weren't my brother you'd be my bestie or boyfriend." He laughed, giving her a squeeze. "Let's sit and eat." They settled in to eat the takeout while watching netflix.
Steve went back upstairs. "He told me you tried to take him out and to ask about Bert and Aaron?" he asked.
Natasha shuddered. "Please do not ask that and I was sent to integrate his former job into SHIELD. It was a failure for many reasons, most of them being a lot of teenage girls with super strength. I discounted him, and I admit that freely, because I thought the girls had the right idea about him. I did not see at that time how a normal person could handle their duties. Then Clint yelled at me, again."
"Repeatedly for days," Clint assured him with a grin. "If Darce and I had a kid, it'd be Xander. Only he really likes bladed weapons."
Steve sat down, staring at them. "And he just up and quit?"
Natasha pulled up the footage from the battle, having to get it from the country's official files instead of online because someone had hacked them all to erase them. "As usual, one of their people hacked the files so no one else can see." She let Steve have the tablet so he could watch it.
"That's more nuts than we had with Loki," Steve muttered, frowning as he watched it. He got up and went to talk to Xander. He saw the last few minutes and winced. Darcy opened the door. He held up the paused footage. "Why didn't they have military people there?" he asked. "Or agents or us?"
"Because the Council refused to let others help," Xander said, looking back at him. "They're women and they're like that. If you jump in they'll thank you, nag you, and then put you down behind your back while warning the girls about it. All but the African and South American teams. They're thankful for any help that won't kill them and told Buffy to fuck off a number of times about that stuff because they know a few special women can't handle saving the world all by themselves." He ate a bite of lo mein. "I almost went back to Africa but I'd end up doing the same job without pay and without backup. It's really not healthy."
"That's only one battle," Steve said.
Xander let out a bitter sounding snort. "Captain, I've been doing this since I was sixteen. Which means I have more battle years than you do right now." He stared at him. "I may have quit for my own sanity but it was a damn good idea before I told the girls about reality and other good things. Okay?" He smiled a bit. "You have a great night and I'll make sure nothing in my life goes near Darcy, like usual."
Steve stared at him. "I didn't mean it as an insult."
"Then you'd be the first," Darcy said dryly. "Just ask Hill." She shut the door. "Night, Steve."
"Night, Darcy and Xander." He went to talk to Natasha and Hill. He found her in the elevator and pulled her up there to talk. "He was doing that since he was sixteen?" he demanded.
"Doesn't shock us any," Clint admitted with a nod. "Their former town was a pit of hell. Kinda literally now."
Hill sat down and pulled up the file for them. "This is SHIELD's file on the group and it is very biased. The old Council hated that their special, mystical warrioress had helpers and got saved by him." She looked at Steve as he read it. "It's very biased and we've made notes in places where it was wrong."
He read through it. "He said something about Africa."
Hill winced but pulled up that file. "It's under a different name. We don't know why he was there, but we're pretty glad he was and he had sense to train them."
Steve read it, blinking hard. "What is that?" he asked, pointing at a section. She got into the film for him. He watched, going a bit pale and gagging. "That's nasty."
"Yes it probably was. The country was hiding it," Hill told him, getting comfortable. She pulled it up again when Stark stomped in looking pissed off. "It's a biased account. We took others' words for it without doing any investigation. Steve has the one from later on."
"I was on a mission to take out someone Harris was dating," Clint told them. "And found out that he was dating him to get help with an incident I had to help with. That was after Natasha bombed with the girls. We had no idea that Harris had sense, skills, and higher weapons if he could find a nice source." Hill shook her head with a sigh. "SHIELD failed so very hard with that guy's profile and history. He and I talked after I got recaptured by the boyfriend of the moment.
"The boyfriend decided to let me go and I decided he wasn't a target even though he was a problem. Because I wasn't about to let Africa fall to a battle like those. Fury hated that and yelled for days, threatened to bring me up on charges, and then Harris had a demon invade his office and nearly kill him for thinking that one guy was more important than the fate of a continent. The demon said so when he nearly ripped Fury's head off; I was handcuffed to a bolted down chair so I couldn't help."
"I ran in to help the director," Hill told them. "And got knocked out within two seconds by being shoved through a bulletproof metal wall. Thankfully not the window since we were in the air on the helicarrier."
Stark spluttered, staring at her. "Excuse me?" he demanded. She nodded. "Fury managed to kill it?"
"We had managed to talk a slayer into a SHIELD staff position. Mostly so they could keep an eye on us and we could hear anything from her. Her parents had been agents and we promised to protect her from the people that were trying to capture a slayer so they could rip her apart like they want to do to Dr. Banner. She ran in and killed it then sneered. Barton told her why and she swore at Clint for sticking up for Xander so he showed her why and she burst our crying, called Buffy, and got nagged for not making Xander retire. They're presently bitching about him having retired even though they tried to force it for years."
Steve looked up from his reading. "He needs a uniform."
"He'd never work for SHIELD because he considers the world a higher priority and he has the gift of talking ...not real helpful groups into helping him save it. He got a few militias in Africa to help him with battles."
Stark stiffened, staring at her. "Seriously? That's that guy?" He pointed. "The one that got the guys from Ten Rings?"
"Yeah," Hill said with a nod and a small grin. "That's him. He talked them into it and begged another group to help them. And they mostly died. One of the remaining ones put a contract out on his life but no one's going to take it at this point because they don't want the world to end if the girls lose. He has seven prices on his head right now."
"Six," Clint said. "One died at the last battle down there, while complaining he didn't see how Xander did this every few months. The demon that ate him supposedly purred about Xander because she'd like to own him as her own personal slave and couldn't do it. His second-in-command took out the demon before she did more than bite his boss's head off and then the local military came to clam up the battle by killing people they hated anyway."
"Fuck," Steve said, staring at him. "Seriously?"
Clint pulled up the file on that battle, letting them see it. "I saw it when it got filed." Steve watched the battle. Clint pointed. "Bad guy who had the contract right there."
"By the slayer reports they were a sorority group at a demon college off plane that came here to party," Hill said. "The girls were not amused. The local military escorted them back to their home to make sure they made it there, and reminded them that they were an evil necessity as the girls reported to Buffy."
Steve grimaced. "I would've helped them."
Hill looked at him. "They won't accept that. They hate that anyone helps because they hate it when people get hurt. They were always nagging Harris that he was getting hurt and he was normal and he wasn't as good as the girls. Which is why we're all so shocked he didn't stab Summers on his way out. Or the other one who you mention and she shows up." She pointed behind her.
"Why are you in Xander's files?" the redhead demanded.
Clint threw something at her and she froze it in midair but the building's defenses caught her in a light beam and froze her. Stark looked at Hill. "Let me guess, she uses *magic*," he sneered.
"She does, and has a slight addiction to her power," Hill said with a nod. Bruce walked in and paused then walked off. "We'll make sure she doesn't come near you, Dr. Banner," she called after him.
Xander walked out and stared then reached in and hit something on Willow's neck, sending her off. "Great. She found me already. I really need to have someone stop her," he muttered as he walked off. He came back and got into a set of files. "Lot less biased by people who know I'm not an idiot savant, Hill. At least use the real files instead of trying to get them to nag me like the bitches did." He walked off again. Maybe he'd go to a hotel. Though Willow would show up and destroy the hotel. Darcy and he warded her apartment so she didn't have to deal with the stupid witches of the world before they went to bed.
Hill looked at the source of those files. "A group of agents rampaging around Africa handling problems. Interesting sources." Steve got them into those and they all read them.
Stark sighed after a few, looking at Hill. "Is he going to be staying up here?"
"He'd never get Lewis involved. Almost no one outside this group knew they were related until today. Some of his boyfriends will hate that he's retired and think he's not as exciting or as useful to them but they shouldn't come after her."
Natasha nodded. "We'd hear if those sort show up in this city, Stark. They don't tend to be quiet about their travels." She looked at Hill. "There is a worry if he goes to one of them for work."
"I doubt he would. It might endanger more people," Hill said. "I'm trying to figure out who I could refer him to as a career."
"He could bodyguard," Clint suggested.
"He isn't known to have good focus," Hill said. "And I doubt he'd want that sort of stress in his life. He seems like he's tired."
"Teaching degree?" Natasha suggested.
"That might be good for him and he certainly has patience with teenagers," Hill said, texting that suggestion to Darcy's phone. She got back 'Xander hates classroom education'. "He's anti-college. Remembering anything about his former town's school system, it probably figures." She rubbed her forehead again.
"Why is it a former town?" Stark asked. She pulled up a single file for him to read the paragraph long report. He stared. "I remember when that happened. They said it was an earthquake."
"Not like they could tell people it was a battle for humanity," Clint said sarcastically. "You should see the remains, it's creepy. I went to look it over to find the old National Guard base. Which was mostly sucked into the portal to hell."
Stark glared at him. "What portal to hell!" Hill texted Darcy so she sent Xander out. He sighed as he walked in. "Portal to hell?" he demanded.
"Which one?" Xander asked. Stark was spluttering.
"He wanted to know why your town was former," Clint said.
"Yeah, that thing. Well, the hellmouth seal, which was not the hellmouth itself, got opened by the First Evil and sealing her back in sucked in the town." He looked at Stark. "Did you want to talk about hellmouths, which are thin spots that can be opened so you can get to a hell dimension or realm? Or one of the area specific gates to a hell realm or dimension? Because I've seen both," he said dryly, crossing his arms over his chest and canting his weight to the right. Something appeared and he punched it, knocking her out. He looked down. "I know Willow sent you, that's pathetic of her." He looked at Hill then at Natasha. "If you really want to get in with them, you can drag her home. They're going to need people with sense since I'm not there and most of the slayers with sense are on the DL so in Hawaii."
Natasha got up to look at her. "She's young."
"She's probably seventeen." He looked down. "That's Mirin, she's seventeen and Buffy's her goddess." He nodded a bit. "She tried to stab me for daring to tell her how to kill the demon that was going to kill her, and nearly did kill her because she didn't listen. She's a slay them all sort of slayer as well so pathetic for that as well." He looked at Stark again. "Which type of portal to hell did you want to talk about, Mr. Stark?"
"They can't be that common."
Xander pulled up things on his phone, smiling some. "Willow tried to hack my phone. That's sweet of her. Thankfully it's on a locked micro SD card." He let Hill have his phone and she read it over before Stark snatched it from her. "The list was at the end," he told Hill.
"I saw. I'm horrified."
He nodded. "Yeah, I was my first few times too. Then it was spring again." He shrugged. "They always seem to like the spring," he sighed.
"You could become a teacher," Clint said.
"I can't stand a classroom thing, but thanks, dude. I suck at classroom learning. I liked working construction but missing an eye means I can't be hired for that anymore. Or any of the associated specialty trades from what I've learned." Stark was making growling noises at his phone. Xander took it from him. "At least you're not in Cleveland. This city's demon underground is quietly uptight and stays out of everyone's way." He stared at him. "They aren't causing any harm and have helped a lot of things get calmed down. Even after your invasion thing because they operated shelters and food banks to help things get back to normal.
"They'd like respect but they know that humans aren't built that way for the most part." Steve cleared his throat. "Don't even, you sneered at a young one who was carrying his mother's purse and called him a purse snatcher, then broke his leg trying to bring him down for it," he warned. "We heard all about it as soon as we got into town. They warned me a lot to stay away from you." He looked at Hill again. "They're going to come looking for her."
"Probably," she admitted. "Go hide, Harris." He got his phone back and left them to handle it. Hill got her team to come grab the young slayer. Anyone looking would find her in the security office instead.
"The guy I stopped was being yelled at to stop," Steve said.
"My mother used to yell at me to stop too," Hill admitted. "I used to run ahead of her all the time." Steve winced. "We issued an apology but they're not going to be less than wary because you bring attention and them getting attention would mean they could die, Steve," she said quietly. "It's not your fault." He nodded, relaxing again. She looked at Stark. "A lot of people would like it if you found a way to heal those rips, Stark, but no one can figure that out so far. You can frustrate Richards by showing him about them."
Stark stared at her, then shook his head. "I'm not that mean, even to Reed Richards," he admitted. "Because that's evil." She smiled at him. "What do we do about all this?"
"Ignore it like you have for years," Hill said bluntly. "Until it happens around you."
"Does Lewis know about all this?" Stark asked.
"No. She probably has very little idea and he kept her out of it for her own safety and sanity. I'm fairly certain she can't stake or use a sword. Or Harris' battle axe."
"Do we need to know how to do those things?" Steve asked her.
"It might not harm things if you learned but I doubt it'll be a major skill set you'll need often," Hill said. "They've been hiding battles since time was invented. They've managed to hide two invasion level events in the last five years. So unless someone like Loki calls on demons you should be all right to just casually figure out how to use a sword."
He nodded. "I can do that." He looked at the others. "Stark, anything we should plan on needing weapons wise?"
"How would I know?" he demanded. "I had no idea that any of this was more than some tacky fantasy novel ideas."
"Okay, is there anything that might become easier if we have a sudden demon invasion show up?"
"Beheading," Hill said. "It's the most typical for any problem."
"Not many beings can work without their heads," Natasha agreed.
"Yeah, I..." Stark got up and walked off. "I can work on how to behead things if I have to. Apparently it'd be a really good idea." Too bad the doors in his tower didn't slam, he really wanted to slam something and throw a teenage girl fit right then.
Steve looked at Hill. "Can you get us some sort of manual that the slayers use to train about the various types of demons?"
"We have one stolen from them but I'm not sure where it ended up," Natasha said.
"In my office," Hill said. "I'll make it available to the team." She stood up. "Harris is a goofy, nice guy until you get into his face," she told them. "He has been before. Never underestimate him because he seems like a goofy guy; we made that mistake and the former director nearly lost his life for that. Harris is competent but not vocal about it thanks to the nagging he went through for years. Nearly ten years," she realized. "Don't think he's helpless because he lost an eye, don't wonder who he's dating because there might be a reason, or they're just fun, but if you see him heading for a problem, it's a big one. He doesn't run for anything short of a huge problem. If you see him with his battle axe and he's running, report in." She left them to talk.
Steve looked at Natasha. "How can I best help?"
"Jump in. They won't allow for anything else. Also, don't talk to Summers. She has an airhead act that's a bit too good. I've seen her giving people headaches with it."
"We can do that," Steve agreed. "Can you train with me?"
"I can. Though I don't know much about swords, I can learn with you." He smiled and nodded, going to lay down and think. These things had been around all along and he had never noticed them. How could a threat this big have gone on around him without him noticing?
Xander knocked on the door about five minutes before his appointment time, stepping in when the butler opened the door. "I'm Xander Harris and I have an appointment," he said quietly.
"Do you have a card, sir?"
"I need to talk to him about the group I just left, not my present life." The butler showed him into a sitting room and left him there until the master of the house walked in about a half-hour later. Xander stood up, holding out a hand. "Sir."
"Why are you here, whelp?" he demanded, not shaking it.
"Because I'm no longer with the Council but there's problems brewing that aren't my business any longer." He stared at him. Then he smiled slightly. "Think of it as fair warning if someone, who didn't want to talk to me, doesn't handle her."
The man winced. "It figures." He sat down. "So what has went on?"
Xander sat down, staring at him. "Sixteen Council related magic incidents that aren't exactly on the side of the light. Including our witches, the coven, and a few that we've found. They're warping the young ones as well."
The man winced. "Normally that one you said wouldn't see you would handle it."
"Yes but he won't. Then again, he's a stuck up asshole at times, especially about those who could sneeze and destroy him."
The man snorted. "She cannot."
"Yes she can. She nearly did it once but someone used a wish to cancel the earthquake. Someone really should thank Dawn for that some day soon considering she lost her blood innocence to stop the deaths."
The man sat up straighter. "Excuse me?" Xander pulled up a file and let him have his phone to read it. "This was not noted."
"And the redheaded menace hacks," he quipped. "She's the one who removes all the battle films and notes from the internet with a magical imp that holds a computer virus."
"Crap," he muttered. He handed the phone back. "I will intercede so you two can talk."
"Please. I leave later tonight to go to France. My last boyfriend wanted to talk to me and bought the tickets. I fly out of Kennedy at 7pm."
"I'll let him know. Sixteen events?"
"Bad enough that someone needs to hear, yup." He nodded slightly. The man winced. "We're kinda happy that she changed the VP back from a puppy last night as well."
"Why is she changing people?"
"I have no idea. I just really hate it. Especially since the last time she got me I was in a village that was having a drought, while training the local slayer, and the minister was praying for a relief from the lack of food. Two minutes later I was a goat." The man winced. "Want to see the knife and fork marks from where I had to get away from 'em?"
"Is that in that sixteen?"
"No. It didn't make the cut for bad enough."
The man nodded. "Let me call him." He got up and went to his office to call his friend to see this one. He came back. "He has time right now to see you if you can do it in under twenty-five minutes."
"He only lives three houses up," Xander said. "Thank you for your time and help." He shook his hand. "I hope you never have to deal with these problems." He was shown out by the butler and walked up there, knocking and being let in. He nodded at the butler. "I'm Xander Harris, former watcher."
"He's in his study, sir." He led him that way. "Mr. Harris, sir."
Xander walked in and put the envelope in front of the guy behind the desk. He turned and caught the weapon that came flying at him, petting it. "Hi, baby. Were you bored?" he asked, sitting down to pet it. "Sixteen events bad enough that she's abridged her white light vows and brought the coven and her students with her. Nothing as minor as changing the VP to a puppy for a week, but these are all big things."
The man behind the desk grimaced. "I do not like dealing with her."
"You should thank Dawn for losing her blood innocence by making a wish to undo Willow sneezing and opening the hellmouth three meters wide in a way that meant it couldn't be closed."
The sorcerer stared at him. "When was this?"
"Six months ago. Dawn cast a wish." He went back to petting the sword since it was wiggly. He snapped his fingers. "By the way, by the visions, the things that're coming to kill all magic and destroy it by eating it, you have the cure but it's locked in your basement."
"There were visions?" he demanded. Xander smiled and nodded. "Who?" He wiggled his fingers. "How correct are you?"
"Off time only."
"Damn," he muttered. He opened the envelope to look at the noted incidents. It had reports on what happened by agents and others. He stopped at the second one. "No one handled her after this?"
Xander looked then shook his head. "That was one I debated including for being too fluffy."
The sorcerer stared at him. "Could not someone stop her?"
"Don't even encourage me to go kill her. I nearly did when I walked away and I'm still at that point since she tried to hurt my sister recently." He stared at him. "Not to mention turning me into a goat in front of a minister that had just prayed for help with their drought and food problems."
"She did what?" Xander pulled up his shirt to show the scars. "Is that a fork mark?"
"Yes. It was. I managed to get away before someone made her change me back. Apparently Willow was complaining that I had led a battle that meant Africa wasn't invaded and she was going on and on and on about how the girls should've been doing that since they were five, six, and eight in that area."
The sorcerer grimaced. "Someone must handle her."
"Which is kinda your job, right?" Xander asked with a grin. "Since I walked away there's no one there to yell 'bad witch' at her and the coven. The slayers with sense are all on the disabled list and healing in Hawaii right now."
"Oh, dear." He went back to reading, eyebrows climbing a few times. The next to last one made him crumple it and glare at the paper. He went onto the last one and was happier it was less than the one before but it was still horrifying. "Someone really should talk to the young woman and the coven that supposedly mentors her." He looked at him. "Which is why you came to my compatriot and then me."
Xander nodded. "I'm not going to be there to do it. I've had to put on protections so she can't fealty curse me again. Twice."
"Are there worse than this list?"
"Yes," Xander said with a nod. "But that would get her final striked and destroy a lot of places, including this city when she fought back." Dr. Strange nodded once, leaning back and making himself relax. "I have no idea where to turn about her problems. I know why. I grew up with her so I realized when she was growing into the magic addiction. I've seen it up close and personal at times. I saw it when she was using magic to remove memories on her girlfriend, who was a native born witch and trained right."
"That's magical domestic abuse."
"Which they broke up for," Xander assured him. "She nearly destroyed the earth in her grief when they managed to get back together, without coercion, but Tara was killed a few minutes later in front of her."
"I feel sympathy for that but someone has to handle her." Xander nodded. "I could lock her powers up." Xander shrugged. "You don't think so?"
"I think she's tending toward chaos sorcerer honestly. Some of what she's done is outside wicca style magic."
"Oh, this makes more sense."
Xander nodded. "Someone's got to handle her or teach her or whatever. I can't be that person. I don't want to be that person, and honestly I'd like to never see her again at this moment. Honestly and truthfully, you're a method of last resort. The coven isn't reining her in. They've joined in a few times. They didn't even yell at her about turning me into a goat. It was one of the students she's training in magic that yelled at her about turning me into a goat and made her change me back. My trainee slayer called Buffy to yell at her and Buffy wouldn't. They cover each other's asses and weak spots plus validate each other." He stood up, handing back the sword, that seemed to pout at him. "Baby, I can't have you right now. I've got to fly to France later tonight and they won't let me take you with me."
The sorcerer took the sword from him. "I'll make sure you can visit him in the near future." He looked at the boy. "What are you doing now?"
"I don't know. I'm resisting the urge to go back to Africa and handle problems without authority but that'll just give me more problems and I wouldn't have the money to travel since I'm not being paid for it. Plus it'd give them hope I'd come back. Which..." He shook his head. "If humanity is endangered I'll jump in but otherwise no. I can't take it anymore. Yesterday made ten years of nagging, bitching, telling me I'm normal and useless, helpless, and in the way. I suggest that they adopt some agents but I know they won't." He sighed. "I don't want to unload on you. Just letting you know you have a problem that could seriously hurt someone soon." He nodded. "Thank you for your time. Have a great life." He left.
The sorcerer looked over the incidents again before going to scry the young witch. She clearly felt him doing it because she tried to block him and flipped off the air where she felt the magic coming from. He sneered, looking at her misdeeds through the Eye of Agomoto. She was definitely a problem. The coven members around her all carried spells on them clouding them to others' deeds. Perhaps he could have them removed somehow. He knew some of the demon species he had learned about ate magic so perhaps one could help.
Xander looked up from walking away from his boyfriend, who wanted him to become his full time concubine. That was not the job he was wanting right now. Maybe in a few years, when he was more sore every day, but not yet. He felt the magic coming in and moved out of the stream of the sidewalk traffic, looking around. Yup, there was the redhead. She shrieked and sent magic at him. He picked up a nearby trashcan to block it. "What are you doing?" he demanded. The people were wisely fleeing.
"You told people that I'm evil!"
"You're proving it right now," he shot back. "Attacking with magic around normal people? Really? You and the coven must really love having to hack footage to keep out of public sight." She blew something at him again and he blocked it with the trash can again. She was stomping towards her and so was a police officer. "Dude, don't," he called. "Just don't, she'll hurt you!" The officer scowled at him. Willow ignored it. Until one of the civilians wanted to help by knocking her out. She sneered and hit magic at him. The officer pounced her and ended up floating but a large lizard. She was stomping toward him again. "Sure, I have to deal with this," he decided, dropping the can. He pulled out his collapsible staff, walking out there. "What is your problem this time, Rosenburg?"
"You told him to take me out."
"No, I told someone who could be your behavior monitor since you spelled the coven to ignore your misdeeds. Your addiction is showing again," he sneered. "This proves it." She sneered back and tried to hit him with a spell. He swung at her with the staff.
She burst out crying. "How could you! You're evil!"
"You just tried to kill me four different times, Willow, and got two civilians. I'm not the evil one and if I have to stop your ass it's my duty. Not like anyone else will. Apparently I was mistaken that someone who had the responsibility to stop magic addictions would stop yours."
"He's already been blinded," she sneered. "You won't stop me. You're *normal*."
"Not really. You just never looked because you were more important to you than anything else. Including your lovers." She tried to hit him and he punched her. "No. You won't get to do that, Willow. I know better than to let you touch me." She sneered and pulled up a lot of magic. She was glowing with it. He readied himself. "I stopped you from ending humanity, you're not going to win now.
"Even if you kill me you won't win." She threw that spell at him and he shifted, letting it hit his arm. She was smirking but he fought off the spell and punched her again, knocking her down and out. He rubbed his arm with a sigh. "I'm going to fuck up your life, Rosenburg. Your magic addiction has gotten *way* out of hand." He looked to the side when someone was sneaking towards him. "She's Council," he said bluntly. "And has a magic addiction."
"You're American," the officer said, pausing in his sneaking up on them. Xander nodded. "Is she?"
"Yup. I grew up with the brat. Earlier I told someone who should have helped her with her addiction problem that she was a huge problem he had underestimated." He twisted the pole's center, letting it collapse again. He tucked it into his front pocket. "You need something to nullify magic."
"We have a set of restraints specially made for this, sir," the officer said, moving toward him. "Who are you?"
"Former Council. I walked because of the sneering I got after almost ten years." He looked at the officer. "Don't ever turn your back on her. She's been helping us hunt for a decade. The anniversary was a few days back." He moved the officer when the chanting was heard, getting them both out of the way behind a car. The magical explosion made him wince. "At least you'll get her with a migraine. If you can't get her, she'll either be in Devon, England, or in Cleveland with the new Council." He looked at him. "I told the guy who's over problem witches to look at her due to her doing things like this."
"All right. Are you all right? Need medical help?"
Xander rubbed his arm, shaking his head. "I can find someone to take the spell off my arm and ER's are creepy. Thanks though." He looked. "I should go. It might make her stop."
"Why did she start?" another officer demanded.
"Because I quit the other day after a decade of hell thanks to her and our other friend," Xander said bluntly. "Then I told someone who should have been watching how bad she actually is. This is her reaction to that," he said with a hand wave. "I need to get this spell eaten. Thank you for clearing the civilians." He spotted his boyfriend and shrugged, heading off to the local demon community. They were hiding but one of them let him in and he let the demons who could eat magic eat that spell to kill him slowly.
He rolled his neck muscles around a few times. "Guys, I quit the Council," he noted. "Because of the bitches. So if you hear about someone who could use me, let me know? I could use a new job that paid me actual living wages." They nodded. The eating ones let him go and he tipped one. "Thank you." He snuck out the back, heading back to the airport. His boyfriend picked him up to go to the hotel for the night. Xander could like the babying. He could really use it.
Darcy was watching the news. "God damn Rosenburg," she complained quietly. Steve was walking behind the couch and paused to watch it, grunting in displeasure. "Yeah, that's the redheaded menace that made my brother leave." She looked up at him. "At least one of those spells would've destroyed my brother or others."
He leaned on the back of the couch. "How do you fight magic?"
"You can duck sometimes but otherwise you have to stop the witch while casting. Distracting her somehow. Sudden pain, sudden mental distraction, however. Xander threw a rock at one to stop them."
Steve nodded. "Yeah, that's a good way. Thanks. Is he all right?"
"Yeah, he limped off and probably went to find someone to eat the magic that caught him." She grimaced. "Some demons do eat magic and I'm sure France has some of those. Plus his former boyfriend wanted him over there so maybe they'll make him eat and rest."
"That's a good thing that boyfriends can do for you," Steve agreed. "Let me know if something happens that I can help, Darcy." She nodded. He went back to his trek to his rooms. Xander had seemed goofy when he wasn't instructing them on something. Clearly he was a warrior like Thor was.
Darcy kept watching, ignoring the emails she was being sent by one of the slayers. That one was bitching about Xander telling on Willow. Darcy finally got fed up and wrote back that Xander should have turned in Willow sooner since she was misusing her magic and that sort of misuse was not only wrong but warping and evil. Did the slayers want to be associated with evil? She left it there even though the young one screamed back at her that Willow wasn't the evil one, Xander was. She texted Xander that maybe he should tell others, including the press, so they had to leave him alone. It would cause some stress, and a lot of public screaming, but it might protect the normals from Rosenburg and Summers.
Darcy decided she was going to help her brother. Who was injured this week thanks to the slayers siccing something on him. She had sent him a warning but he had just groaned back. She walked into Pepper's office, looking at her desk. "Got ten?"
Darcy tossed down four books. "Xander's patrol journals and," she said, tossing down another one. "His hunting journal. The first is facts and reports for official types. The other is his personal journal. I told him I was going to help but he just groaned." She smiled. "Can someone use that?"
Pepper looked through the patrol journals, blinking at some things. "When did we have that invasion?"
Darcy looked then at her. "They called it a movie stunt."
Pepper winced. "You could've went to Hill."
"Hill is scared of my brother and wouldn't be able to let those be spread. Agents would hide it, Pepper."
"Probably true. This could hurt those young women."
"Who sicced a great, evil, summoned demon on Xander. He's in the hospital for the next two days so I'm going to go hang out with him."
Pepper licked her lips. "I can ask if anyone's interested in seeing it."
"Congress wanted to hold a hearing after the LA invasion like they did with the one here locally but the Council somehow got them stopped."
Pepper smiled. "We'll see about that. Was he there?"
"They refused to recall him." She picked up one journal to flip through, coming to a bookmark. "That's what he was doing instead." She let her have the book.
Pepper winced. "That's sad."
"All right. I can see if others would like to know."
"The only way to keep them from turning the girls back into solitary little warriors again is to shine a lot of light and to get them a lot of help they probably don't want at the moment. The old ways, the ones that died when they were exploded, were horrible. Now...it's less horrible but sliding back slowly."
"I can ask some people and Hill," Pepper said. Darcy smiled and left her to make some calls. She paged Hill and then her PR department. The PR department was on site so they got there first. "This is from Darcy Lewis' brother, Xander Harris. He was part of the Council."
"The what?" one asked. The other one stiffened, staring at her.
Pepper stared at her. "Relative to one or were you sent here to spy?"
"I didn't want to patrol. They do let us choose."
"They also kept up on Xander until he quit and walked away before he killed Summers and the redheaded one we were warned not to mention the name of."
The young woman nodded. "Yeah, she does. Where is Harris?"
"In the hospital after those ones summoned something to kill him." She winced. "I'm pretty sure he defeated it and someone somewhere knows." Hill walked in. "These are his patrol journals and his personal journal." She handed them over. "Darcy said they're backsliding to the old ways and the only way to stop it is to get them even more help."
The almost slayer nodded quickly. "Yeah, it could help. They're all battle worn."
"Xander got nagged for his nearly ten years with them," Hill told her. "He walked for a very good reason. The film of that battle got pulled by the FBI."
"Can we undo that?" Pepper asked with a smile.
"Congress wanted to talk to the Council and they stopped it somehow, Hill."
"I'm aware, Pepper, but it could cause a lot more problems for the slayers. There's idiots who would try to take out the girls for being female."
The slayer nodded. "Yeah, we've already had those. That's why Buffy suspended dating." She looked at Hill then at Pepper. "I agree, it could both help and hurt."
"That's a matter for PR," Pepper said simply with a smile. "You have fun with that."
She nodded. "I can do that. Thanks." She looked at Hill. "Are you going to get in the way?"
"The remains of SHIELD would like not to endanger humanity any."
"The slayers getting help would only help humanity. Especially in some areas." She walked off with her coworker, going over the journals. They could make even Stark cry with how noble they could make the slayers appear. And how dirty some of the watchers were. Plus put out information on magic addictions. It was clearly a necessity before Willow destroyed a city the next time.
Hill looked at Pepper. "That's going to cause a lot of hell."
"It might get the girls protected and helped, Hill. Yes, some people will complain that women are protecting them. Yay."
"Fine. I can agree with that reasoning. Let's hope it has a mostly positive outcome."
"Rosenburg tried to destroy Paris to get Xander," Pepper told her. "How much worse can it get?"
"True." She went to warn the teams. This was going to get messy.
Darcy took her phone back from the guard who had snatched her purse to go through. "Sorry, I have to call my boss so she knows I won't be at work today. And possibly not for a few days." She hit the speed dial button. "Great, voicemail," she muttered. "She's in science land. Hey, Janey, it's Darcy. I can't be in today. Someone snatched me and Xander from his hospital room and are insisting we're staying with them for a bit. I'll let you know when he's better and all." She hung up and put her phone back into her bag. Then glared at the smirking guard. "You're damn lucky it isn't next week, when I'll need girl things and have clothes in there." She was let into a room. "Hey, Xan-Xan."
"What're you doing here?" he asked quietly.
"I have no clue, dear." She kissed him on the forehead. "I was visiting you when some thugs decided they wanted our attention turned on them."
He blinked, looking around the room. "Borgi."
"Well it's good you know them. I'll assume they're not that big of a problem or threat to me then." She settled beside him on the bed to cuddle him.
An older asian man walked in and smiled at them. "We don't mind that Xander has a lover outside of me, miss."
"Eww, I'm not into incest," she said firmly, glaring at him. "Xander's my little brother, dude, and I'm highly overprotective of him."
He smiled more brightly. "Even better!" He clapped his hands and leaned down to kiss Xander on the temple. "Good morning, Xander."
"Thank you for saving me from the slayers," he said. "But her bosses are going to be pissed and they're not easy sorts."
"Really?" He looked at her. "Who do you work for? We can send them a note."
"I called Jane myself and got her voicemail but you might want to send one to Stark telling him it's not a serious kidnaping so they don't get stupid."
"You work for Tony Stark?"
"No, I work for Jane Foster, who works in Tony Stark's lab and is Thor's girlfriend." She smiled.
"We'll gladly send a nice note saying you're not in trouble, we just took you to make sure the icky little bitches don't bother you while you're making your brother feel better." He nodded at Xander. "Hungry?"
"Not yet. Hurts." He shifted and winced. "Fuck."
Borgi looked at his back and grimaced. "I'll have my personal doctor come check you over, Xander. He should be here in an hour." He kissed him on the lips this time but very gently. "Try to rest, dear." He left, going to call his personal doctor.
Darcy looked down at him. "At least they can't attack the hospital now like Willow tried to have Paris destroyed." He cuddled her. She cuddled back. He needed it and she was happy to hand out cuddles anyway.
Pepper Potts came down to meet with the man in person. "Yes," she said with a smile. "Is there a problem?"
"Mr. Borgi sends this with his regards, Ms. Potts," he said, holding out the letter. "He did not want anyone to panic and made sure I was to tell you that the lab assistant is just helping her brother heal. They're safe and Mr. Borgi has had his personal physician in to come look at his lover."
"I can let others know that. Is this about Darcy?"
"I was not told her name, ma'am," he said respectfully, nodding at the big, blond guy stomping toward him. "Lord Thor, my boss told me to make sure that you knew the one he took to safely rest is all right and he has no intention of harming her. He thought she was dating his lover and was happy that he had someone softer than him but is just as happy with her being his sister."
"Darcy?" he demanded.
"Apparently," Pepper said, opening the letter. "It's not a ransom note at least." She looked at the guard. "She is to call one of us each and every single day."
"I can make sure of that but she didn't have her phone charger on her, ma'am. We'll try to arrange it. Mr. Borgi was quite concerned about the slayers and others having that hospital attacked to get at his Xander." She winced. "They had already tried that so he was being protective." He nodded at them. "Have a good day." He left.
Pepper looked at Thor, then they went upstairs together with the head of the security teams. Hill joined them in the elevator and got handed the letter.
Hill looked it over, nodding once. "I know that name, he's not a nice person but he does care for those he likes. He treats his minions well." She handed it to Stark as they got off the elevator in the Avengers meeting room area.
Stark read it, grimacing. "Who?"
"Borgi," Hill said, making Natasha huff but nod.
Pepper sat down at the table. "The minion he sent said that he evacuated Xander from the hospital before the slayers and others attacked it again. He thought Darcy was Xander's lover instead of his sister but he's just as happy about that relationship. Jane, check your voicemail?" She did and moaned at the message Darcy had left her. "Okay, so what are we doing?"
"We are going to make sure no one attacks a hospital," Hill said, sending out that text message to someone. "Otherwise...I'm not sure. The military is going to try to take over again. The last time Harris had the whole military team eaten for trying the girls." She looked up.
Natasha looked at Clint, who nodded to the right. "We can go help the girls defend themselves," she said. "They will at least remember me."
"Thank you," Hill said. "The two local ones are by the Balthazar Club." Natasha nodded at that. "I'll get you the actual address."
"Thank you," she agreed. She looked at Jane then at Stark, who was still fuming. "He will not harm her. He has only hurt one minion in a fit of rage and went on an immediate retreat to get a handle on his temper because of it. He is most generous and takes good care of his people. I would imagine he takes good care of his lovers as well."
"The one kid he has he spoils rotten from afar," Clint agreed. "She talks to him on the phone, on the video system, but not in person so he can't dirty her. An agent asked her mother about that and she told them that. He demanded they do it that way to protect her and the baby."
"So he's an ethical, nice guy who deals arms," Stark said dryly.
"To those who are fighting civil wars that are just," Natasha agreed. "He's very picky about who he sells to, Stark."
Tony rubbed his forehead. "That's great. Should we worry about anything Darcy might tell him?"
"She doesn't know anything to be asked about," Clint said.
"She knows the building layout," Steve said quietly. "She knows things about all of us. She's seen what Stark and Jane are working on. Could he be giving that information to someone if he gets it out of her?"
"First, Darcy would never tell anyone anything," Jane said.
"Torture loosens everyone's tongue," Steve said.
Jane stared at him. "Yeah, she'd know that." Hill flinched. "Thanks to some idiot in London actually." Steve winced. "She still didn't say a thing because she doesn't know anything, Steve. She compiles my data, she doesn't understand it. It was an unintentional security I didn't realize when I hired her as my intern."
"We would never blame someone for what they said under torture," Stark said bluntly, staring at Steve. "Even you." He looked at Jane. "I have no doubt that Darcy could bullshit her way into giving false information." She nodded. "Who was that one?"
"A scientist that wanted my work to validate his own. And his girlfriend who wanted so much to help him get on top of the field. He had her for about a day and a half. Plus I'm pretty damn sure that even if Xander's on his death bed he'll get up to help his sister. He's done it for girls he wasn't related to and he hated." She stared at Steve. Then at Sam. "Maybe you should help him with his delusions?"
"We can talk about his semi-reasonable paranoia later," he said dryly. "He had a point that someone could say something that might compromise the facility or the team but it's not a huge worry. They'd have more luck with a janitor because we'd never notice if they went missing." He looked at Stark. "That's not a reason to build more robots."
"Half the cleaning team is already robotic," he shot back. He looked at Steve. Then at Jane. "You've met Xander?"
"I talked to him twice on the phone," she admitted. "He stays away from her to protect her."
"How are they related?" Hill asked.
"Her daddy had an affair at a concert," Jane said with a grimace. "Darcy put it as shit men do while drunk." Stark nodded he agreed with that, sipping his coffee. "He's a strong guy, done things that I think belong in a comic book, but he'll protect Darcy."
"That's good, but what if the slayers or someone attacks there?" Sam asked, looking at Natasha and Clint.
"Borgi is nice, not a pushover and Xander would probably try to help then too by his profile."
"That's good to know," Sam agreed. "So she's probably very safe, just fussing over her brother."
"We hope so," Hill agreed. "I have no reason to think he'd lie about that. He did send a very polite guard to tell us she was all right." Stark nodded at that.
"I told him she had to call someone every day," Pepper told them. "He warned she didn't have her phone charger on her but he'd try to make sure of it."
"How injured is her brother?" Sam asked.
Hill pulled up the medical records. "An agent got them for the records." She let them see it.
"He...are those claw cuts?" Steve asked, looking a bit sickened at the medical pictures.
Hill looked then shook her head. "Knives." She pulled up film of the battle when she found it was uploaded. "Someone finally hacked the Council to get the files back." She let them see that. Steve was wincing as the fight went on. "He had to have been exhausted. He's usually more bouncy."
"Fuck," Stark muttered when Xander got back up to finish the demon even though he was bleeding. Then he fell to his knees and officers came over to help him. Xander waved a hand but couldn't stand up so they got him to an ER.
Clint reached over to pause it. "That one," he said with a point. "Is a minion of Herrick."
Natasha nodded, pointing at another one. "We knew he was meeting to trade with Perir. Who that one belongs to. That's Perir's personal assistant."
Hill made those notes. "I recognize this one," she said with a point at a woman on the other side.
"That's Henry's wife," Clint told her, giving her a look. "I have no idea if they know the kid or not."
"Not her. This one." She moved closer to point more directly.
Natasha squinted. "Bad video quality on the edges. That could be Helena DeOrtenic."
"The assassin?" Hill demanded.
"Harris has dated a number," Natasha reminded her.
"Point. Huh. Well, if we find her we can ask." She canceled the video out, looking at the team. "Yeah, the guy's like that all the time."
"Sure, he'll definitely be protecting his sister," Sam agreed. "The guy spent ten years defending people he hated so I have no doubt he'll help his beloved sister."
"Okay, so we don't worry about Darcy unless she can't call," Steve decided. "How do we keep this sort of problem from happening again?"
"Hopefully they won't want her again if she's not with him all the time," Jane said. "We can ask her when she comes back."
"Good," Steve agreed. "Should we put a tracker on her maybe?"
"We have one we can put on her," Stark agreed. "Both inserted and a wearable version if she's squeamish."
"She has the inserted version, it doesn't work," Jane said. "SHIELD had her stuck when we went to Tromso and after the attack on the facility to get the scientists." Hill grimaced, looking that up. "Did they figure out why?"
"They think it's something to do with her body chemistry," Hill said. "Can the external one be camouflaged?"
"We can put it into her favorite bracelet," Stark agreed. "They're less likely to be removed than a necklace or a watch. I can try to think up a ring with it but they can get in the way."
"It could help others as well," Hill said.
Jane's phone rang and she snatched it off the table to answer. "Hey, Darcy." She listened. "We did get into that film, an agent found it and took it back from them....oh, okay. I'll let Hill know he said that they probably boobytrapped the file somehow." Hill looked and nodded, sending a message to someone. "Yeah, she did, Darce. Are you okay?" She listened. "Is he okay?" She winced. "Yeah, that's gotta suck. No, we're watching to make sure they don't try the hospital anyway. Yeah, call us daily. I'll leave my phone with someone if I have to. Good. Tell him I said to feel better and I hope the ones that had him attacked don't attack there."
"Ask him if he knows Helena DeOrtenic," Natasha said.
"Natasha wanted to know if he knows Helena DeOrtenic." She listened to Darcy ask that and smiled at the laughter. "Yeah, he's giggling and they don't have pain killers for him." Darcy said something. "Awww. He said he nearly married that woman, she reminded him of his almost wife Anya, but she refused to do more than sleep with him and feed his chocolate habit."
"She was on the feed from the fight," Clint told her.
Jane repeated that. "Aww, she's already broke in to snuggle him and whoever has them said it was sweet of her but he wouldn't interrupt. There was enough Xander to go around. She's not sure what'll happen when they find out he quit...." She listened to the guy in there with them telling them that Xander had jobs waiting and they were all happy he wasn't being that injured any longer. A few of the other interested parties might mind that he retired but most of them had seen why already at least once. Jane repeated that for the group and they got back to asking about Xander's health since it was a monitored call. "Okay," Jane said at the end. "You behave and take care of Xander. We'll be here waiting on you. I'll leave my phone out so someone can answer if I'm busy, and we'll talk to you tomorrow. Yes, I'll water your plant, Darcy. Night." She hung up and put the phone on the table.
Stark shook his head. "He dates assassins and arms dealers on purpose?"
"They're the ones who like him," Hill said. "That one he mentioned, Anya, had been a vengeance demon before getting fired." She shifted in her seat. "She was the one that abused wives and girlfriends called, Stark."
"That's probably a nasty history," he decided, sucking in a breath to let out slowly. "Damn glad that's not me." He got up. "Let me know if I need to do more than come up with a pretty tracker." He went to his lab to not consider that guy.
Hill looked at Bruce, who had been quietly in the corner. "If we bring you blood and tissue samples, could you tell us why he's so unusual?"
"X gene?" he guessed.
"No. He tests negative but oddly. We could never figure it out and anytime we got a sample it melted."
"I can look at it," he agreed with a nod. "Do we have any idea which direction to look?"
"No. No one knows much of anything about him." Bruce grimaced but nodded. "All we know is the barest of history. He backed up Summers in Sunnydale until the town sank and then he went to Africa to train slayers. That is literally most of what we know about his history. That and his parents were drunks. We know his blood does not test normally, he doesn't respond to some meds normally. We have his records from when he had malaria."
"I'll need anything you have on his prior treatments. Do we have any from his youth?"
"We don't believe he went," she said. "He was noted as saying that stitches on the back were easier when the redheaded menace did them for him."
"That's harsh," Clint said. "He does his own stitches?"
"Apparently," Hill agreed. Jane's phone rang and Jane answered it. Hill looked at him. "You two seem to be alike," she said quietly.
Jane hung up. "They're having to evacuate Xander and Darcy to his main house instead of this rented safe house due to a demon wanting to take him out to up his status. So they're going to Greece."
Hill nodded, making that note to her former coworkers over that way. They could leave them both alone for now. She looked at Jane. "Any other good news?"
"A few of his other lovers showed up to help protect him. Apparently Xander is not known to be the sort that would let people protect him but he's not able to fight right now. He had admitted to the ones on his back and not that his wrist is broken or that he's got at least a bruised rib."
"He was fighting with that many injuries?" Natasha asked, considering it. "That's training."
"Drunk parents," Clint said. "It's how many agents learned to ignore injuries."
"True. Those aren't usually cuts though. Broken bones, yes. Cut up like his back was, not so often."
"True," Clint agreed. "So he's been cut before." Hill pulled up a film that got cleared of the boobytrap virus and showed it to the group. Clint stared, head tipped to the side. "What is that?" he asked too quietly.
"That was what he did for his birthday last year by the records."
Clint heaved at one point but kept it down. Bruce was snarling in his corner. "Someone needed to intervene," Bruce decided.
Natasha nodded. "I doubt anyone else would have stepped in. Even if they weren't discouraged." She looked at Hill. "Was it handled enough?"
"I have talked to agents who went down there to handle the problem for the slayers. The girls down there are much nicer to helpers and really would like them to make others quit using them as figureheads. The ones in Central and South America feel the same way. The asian ones have watchers that are uptight but protective of the girls so no one gets near them. Outside of one's husband and family. Including the Chinese government." She smiled some. "They guard her especially hard."
"Probably a good idea," Natasha agreed. "Let me go find the slayers to talk to them." Hill texted her the address, getting a nod back. Clint followed her. The others broke up and went to figure out how to handle Darcy's new relative being around sometimes. Not many people on the team could stand outsiders.
Darcy got driven back to the tower a few days later and smiled, waving at the driver. "Thank you. Tell him I'd send him a thank you letter but I doubt he'd be able to get it."
"That's fine, Miss Lewis. Be safe and well." She smiled and jogged inside while he drove off.
Darcy smiled at the guard at the check-in desk, running her pass. "Hi, Joe."
"Miss Lewis. The bosses wanted warned when you got back."
"Well, I'm here," she quipped with a grin. "So they can meet me by the labs." She headed up there, going to hug Jane. "Hi, I'm back," she said with a grin and a hug.
"You look like you got some rest."
"We did. Mel didn't let us do a single thing, even when the belly dancing troupe that came in for a private show turned out to be assassin candidates." Jane stared at her oddly. She grinned. "They all wanted to coo over Xander anyway." She shrugged. "I can't see as that's a bad thing. He's fine though. Hiding like a mofo in England at the moment." Someone else stomped in. "Hey, Stark."
"You're back?" he asked dryly.
"Yeah. It was a great vacation but Jane will starve sometime soon. Besides, Xander's now hiding with a different lover and that one had to move again because someone got mad enough at him to send assassin candidates to take his people out. Who ended up cooing at my brother instead of doing their jobs. I'd write Mel a thank you letter but I don't know where he moved to this time."
Stark blinked at her. "Who's Mel?"
"Our host. He said to call him Mel. He was named after Mel Torme. He said his mother was hoping he'd be suave like him."
Stark blinked at her a few more times. "So your brother's okay?"
"Yeah, just fine." She grinned. "He's going to be fine, just have a few more scars."
"Hill wanted a report," Jane told her with a pat on the arm and a smile back. "And you sound like you need a nap."
"I could so use a nap. We had a lot of fun on the plane ride back. His second-in-command was sweet to let me fly back with him so I didn't have to afford airfare."
"We would've come gotten you," Stark said.
"Yeah but that's a lot of trouble and I'd get yelled at for going to take care of my brother." She shrugged. "It's easier the other way."
"You didn't have a passport on you," Jane said. "I know it's locked in my safe."
"Yeah, and we went through a hidden airfield," Darcy said with a nod and a grin. "Apparently they use things like that."
"Great," Stark said with a smirk and a nod. "Debriefing, Lewis. With Hill." He pointed. She rolled her eyes but poured herself a cup of coffee before going to Hill's office to talk to her. Stark looked at Jane. "We'll make sure we can find her sooner."
"The guy had a belly dancing troupe show up but they were assassins," Jane said.
"We heard her brother likes to date dangerous people. Does it carry over?"
"No, Darcy has shitbag radar about that."
"Okay. We'll be on the watch in case he caused it to pick up." He went to listen in to the debrief. It was amusing. Her brother was a funny guy in many interesting ways.
A few months later, after a lot of long stares from the team and Jane freaking out a few times when demons showed up to talk to her, she was actually resting on a couch when Steve carried in a guy. "Hey, Steve, kidnaping?" she guessed. Sam followed them.
"No, this is Bucky. He got knocked out."
"Ah. Need help?"
"Not yet but I might later on." He grinned. "You good?"
"I'm fine. Xander's last email said he was hiding from a demoness who wanted to take him out for status points. This one you can actually shoot it seems so we should be good if she gets a stupid idea."
"We have a training manual for that," Steve offered.
She smiled. "You're sweet but I have a copy of all Xander's books. He made sure I got a copy to keep for him just in case. It even has his notes."
"Can I borrow those?"
"Sure. Sometime." She grinned. "He's awake."
"I can tell. He stiffened. Let me get him to my place." He carried Bucky that way, holding onto him even when he squirmed. "You try that and I'm going to tie you down and play opera," he warned.
"That's cruel," the deep, gravely voice grunted. "I can walk! I'm not some dame!"
"No, you were knocked out like some princess, like your hair suggests," Sam said, opening Steve's door for him. Steve put Bucky down and watched him stomp off. "You have fun with him." He clapped Steve on the shoulder and walked off to go to his own apartment. He changed his mind at the 'oh my fucking god' that came from Darcy's mouth. He went jogging back that way, staring at the picture on the tv she was staring at. "Is that your brother?"
"Yeah! And three of the slayers that aren't absolute twats and one that is." She watched, gripping her glass between her hands hard enough to make the glass squeak. "The demon just appeared. They cut into the show to note it. They can't hide this one. And oh, fuck, there's a second demon." One of the slayers shouted that at the others. Xander yelled they needed a higher, bigger weapon. That one could be blown up. It'd reform in about six weeks. That one had been done that way and taken in by Nigeria last year.
She winced. But yeah, there were police officers and they had a higher weapon somehow, and blew up that demon. The first one shrieked and lunged at them but the girls got the officers out of the way and Xander ran up the first demon to use his axe on it's back. It shrieked and flailed, smacking him into a building. He got up and went back to while the girls tried to kill it too.
"C'mon," Darcy muttered, then bit her lip when the girls got knocked down. Three more slayers showed up thanks to magic and Xander yelled that it sucked in magic, to move the witch. They snorted but the demon ate the witch, and her powers, and healed itself. "Gee, what a shock," she muttered. "That whole class eat magic."
"You don't have to watch," Sam said quietly, staring down at her. "I'll tell you if something huge happens." She swatted at him until he backed off. "Okay, just trying to spare you the stress."
"That's my damn brother!" she said with a point and a glare at him. "If he dies from this, I'm going to show up there and kill the bitches myself!"
"Sure, I get that." He patted her shoulder again and called Jane to come help Darcy. By the time Jane got up there, the new three slayers were down and Xander was down to a few military guys, a few guys in suits, and himself. He looked at one of the agents and said something, getting a nod they called in about. Soon enough, they had a bigger weapon that would kill the bitch.
Xander shot it at the demon, making her catch it and laugh but it exploded, taking off her face. She screamed and rolled around on the ground until an agent took Xander's axe from him and killed her. Darcy took a deep breath, resting against Jane's side when she sat next to her. Xander was wobbling hard but still on his feet. He looked at an agent and said something, getting a nod. They got the slayers evacuated and him to a different place for a debrief. He wasn't under arrest and a team of paramedics were already working on his injuries. She patted herself down until she found her phone to text message him.
On the screen Xander glanced at his phone and grinned, waving at the cameras. "I'm fine, Sis," he called. "Go bake something. I'll call later." He looked at one of the officers, who came to shoo the reporters off.
Darcy sucked in a breath and let it out slowly and carefully. "He needs to quit doing that. Before I have to learn science and go blow all those bitches up." The reporters there were listening to the slayers complaining he had been there and helped by handling the problem. Then they heard an officer tell them off for thinking that anyone shouldn't be able to help if they had the skills. After all, he was in better shape than they were and he had actually managed to damage the demons. They went on a hissy fit of the ages in front of the reporters.
Darcy nodded. "This is why my little brother quit." They could see Xander glaring from his spot but he only huffed and looked at an agent, who got him out of there before he went to beat their asses to show them they were pitiful and pathetic. The agent said that was why he was evacuating the former trainer for the slayers loud enough for the girls and the press to hear.
"Your brother needed to quit a few years back," Jane told her, giving her a hug. "Back in high school when he started to help the ungrateful cunt."
"Yes he did but then we would've all been destroyed." She looked at Jane. Then at Sam. "I'm going to go on a swearing fit. Do you really want to witness this?"
"I can do therapy sessions with you too," he offered with a grin.
"No thanks. I have tequila for that."
"Sure, I get that." He left them to talk. He winced as the swearing started and got louder and louder until Darcy finally threw the glass she had been holding at the mirror across the way and broke them both then went off again and kept going off for about five more minutes that he heard.
"God fucking damn it, I need to go destroy those bitches, Jane! We need to build stuff to destroy the bitches!"
"I know we do, Darce," Jane soothed. "We'll send Thor at them or maybe Lady Sif. She's a battle goddess and can tell them where they're lacking. Including the short skirts two were wearing to a battle. Where's the broom?"
"Kitchen." She huffed and growled. "I need to help destroy those bitches. I really do."
"We'll do what we can," Jane reminded her. "Xander might want some of them to live."
"Yeah, a few were good to him but the rest have got to go!"
Sam heard the elevator door open and Stark start to say something. Then he headed up the hallway. "Let me know when it's safe," Stark called. "I don't want to know. Is your brother okay?"
"He's fine but I *really* need to destroy the bitches." She huffed. "I'll clean up my mess in a minute and buy you a new mirror, Stark."
"Yeah, I don't care about the mirror," he said, spotting Sam, who shrugged. "Just clean it up before Barton walks around without shoes again."
"Yup, sure. Thanks." She huffed but did get the stuff to clean up the mess.
Stark winced. "I saw," he said quietly. "Is she all right?"
"Venting. A lot of venting. But it's reasonable in her situation." Steve opened his door to look at them. "Battle just now her brother was in and it was caught on international news."
"I caught the end of it. Darcy okay? Her brother was at least walking."
"Vented. Threw something. She's cleaning up the mirror," Stark said with a slight nod.
"I use a heavy bag for the same thing. I can teach her how to box if she wants. Darcy, would you like a boxing lesson?" he called. "The heavy bag's real therapeutic."
"No, thanks anyway. I throw a crappy punch." She leaned into the hallway, smiling a bit at him. "I'll be okay. He's fine and I just got the anger out. Let me finish cleaning up my mess." She went back to her sweeping.
Steve looked at Sam, who shrugged. "She's just stressed."
"Okay. Let me know if I can help." He went back to watching the replay. Bucky was now in the kitchen staring at it as he refilled the water pitcher to get a drink. "That guy's Darcy's little brother," he told him. "He showed up on vacation and creeped most of the team out for a few days."
Bucky blinked at him. "Why?"
"We didn't know a thing about that until then."
"Oh." He went back to watching while pouring a glass of water and drinking it. "He needs practice with that axe."
"From what I was told, he had to train himself."
"He's not bad," he admitted. He refilled the glass and put the pitcher into the fridge after refilling it again. He came out to sit down and watch the replay. Steve sat down to do the same thing. They had both heard Darcy venting in the living room area. Even without sensitive, hyped hearing. "I'm guessing those are the bitches?"
Steve froze the picture and pointed. "The redheaded one in the first group and these three are. There's a few others. We have a profile log of the slayers now so we know if we run into one. Those first two are both older, and less cranky slayers. Darcy said some of them were good to work beside and only nagged about big things." He let it play again as they watched what happened. "I'm glad we haven't faced that yet. I barely know how to use a sword." Bucky looked at him. "I learned after meeting him. Natasha and I take lessons with Thor."
"Good." He went back to watching while drinking the water. The kid wasn't bad, but had a few problems. "Eyepatch?"
"Eye was popped by a minion of the same bad guy that sank their town," Steve said quietly. "He went into a battle a few weeks after having it removed." Bucky shuddered. "I think they need to do _It's a Wonderful Life_ on him somehow."
Bucky shook his head. "HYDRA would never let humanity fall to demons."
Steve snorted. "One of their witches nearly destroyed humanity in her grief, Bucky. They couldn't have stopped her. They had no idea about Sunnydale at all from their records."
"Maybe. I wasn't informed." They both listened as Jane got Darcy back to her apartment to finish her hissy fit at the bitches who were trying to rip down her brother. They both winced. Darcy was in the mood to go get into a bar fight. That might be a bad thing.
"I'll follow her later if she goes out," Steve said. "Or Thor will. He's highly protective over Jane and Darcy."
"Good! Does New York have those?"
"The local community is quiet and mostly peaceful. Every now and then they get a problem but we have two slayers assigned to the city."
"Great." He drank another sip of water, staring at the weapons. "Who makes those?"
"They're both older."
"We can do better."
"Maybe. You'd have to ask Stark, and he'd never build it for the bitches to handle."
Bucky just nodded. The news report cut to another slayer thanking those who jumped in to help and they were sorry they got hurt doing the girls' jobs. They didn't want any civilian to get hurt but they were thankful they had the help this time. One of the reporters asked her about the one guy. She grimaced but admitted he had been their trainer in Africa but had retired recently. They wished him well in his normal guy life as she put it. Then she walked off. At least until a demon showed up and picked her up to cuddle her and she couldn't get free. Both guys smiled as it walked off cuddling her like a teddy bear and licking her cheek. Another slayer huffed but followed to get her head slayer free. "They're nuts."
"Yes they are," Steve agreed. "And they save the world a few times a year."
"Yup." Bucky laid down on the couch to keep watching while Steve went to make something to eat.
Darcy looked up from her transcribing for Jane when Sam walked into her lab, smiling at him. "What's up, Sam?"
"Steve and I wanted to ask you for a favor."
"Bridesmaid? I can do that even if you do put me into an ugly dress."
"Funny, not," he said dryly. "My mother would kill me." She just smiled. "It's Bucky."
"What's the man of murderous glare need?" She turned in her seat to face him more.
"He's seen how many people stare at him when he goes out for the last month."
"Yeah, that's because he's not trying to blend in." She nodded some. "Plenty of people might stare at his arm but there's a ton of vets with prosthetics these days so it's not that unusual."
"I told him that."
She smiled, waving a hand. "We can go have coffee and talk about normal people things."
"Thanks." He grinned. "I'll send him down later?"
"I should get off at five. Jane, I need off tonight at a reasonable hour." No answer. She looked over and smiled at the napping Jane, who was sleeping on her sandwich she hadn't managed to eat more than a few bites of. "Sure, I can do that." She smiled at Sam.
"I'll tell Thor to come down to pick her up and put her into bed."
"Thanks. I hate carrying Jane. I'm not that much bigger than she is. Thor has muscles for that."
He laughed but nodded, walking off to find Thor, who was resting on the couch. "Thor, Jane's asleep on her lunch."
Thor sat up, smiling at him. "That sounds like a good idea for this afternoon. I shall help her with that project." He went to grab his intended and carry her off to bed so they could both nap. They hadn't gotten much sleep last night. He could lick the jelly off her cheek when they woke up.
Sam went to tell Steve and Bucky it was set. "Darcy said she'd get off work about five. Thor just carried Jane off to bed since she was asleep on her sandwich." They watched as Thor carried Jane up the hallway nibbling on her sandwich since she hadn't eaten it. "Happy nap, Thor."
"You as well."
"I'm having James go out with Darcy later to talk about normal people things." Bucky groaned. Sam smirked at him. "You know Darcy. She's totally cool with you, Barnes."
"Yeah but she's still a civilian."
"Who has a way of getting through these sort of things. She's told a few reporters to quit panting about me because I wasn't the sort to cheat and sleep with sleaze for a fast night's fun." Steve looked at Sam and grinned. "She's a firecracker."
"Yes she is. My mom might not be totally impressed if I started to date her but that's only because she doesn't attend her church." He walked off. "Have fun, wear normal people clothes, Barnes."
"Whatever," he muttered.
Steve closed the door, looking at him. "You can borrow a shirt if you want. I know it's not a date but you haven't done your laundry in a few days."
"Okay. Just go ahead and snatch one if you need it, Bucky." He went to fiddle in the kitchen. If he seemed like he was hovering, Bucky would go hide. He really needed this to get more comfortable around people.
Darcy pulled Barnes into her favorite coffee shop near the tower, it sold Starbucks products but was an independent café that also did their own better coffee drinks. She paid for their drinks and brought them to the table he had taken. "No, by the window," she said. "It's safe. We're okay in here. The owner used to be NYPD." He nodded, following her to that table. He had decent enough sight lines around the area and the shop.
"So, Sam told me you needed help acting like a modern New Yorker. I'm not an expert but I do pretty good blending in." She sipped her drink, staring at him. "First, lose the stare." He blinked at her. "You're safe here. If they come in here, the guy that owns this place will fuck shit up. Not even Loki's alien playmates bothered here when they tried to take out this block. We are safe in here." He made himself relax. She pointed. "Watch the people for a few minutes. Tell me what you think they're doing."
He looked. "They're walking. Most aren't paying attention so they're potential victims."
She shook her head, taking another sip of her coffee. "Most of them would put down their phones if something started. Or use them to film it. A lot of that is an act to be left alone. Like on the subway. You're aware but look disinterested because giving attention is dangerous at times. There's a lot of psychos out there beyond the ones you guys handle. Most of them are pretty stabby or shooty in this city." He snorted but shook his head, sipping his coffee before looking inside the cup. She grinned. "Just sugar but the good beans so good coffee. That's one reason why I come in here. They sell lesser coffee to the plebes who think Starbucks is hip but they sell real coffee to those who can appreciate it." She grinned.
"It's not like military coffee or Stark's coffee."
"Stark lets his go stale and rewarms it," she said with a wave of her coffee cup. "It's where science has eaten his brain again." She stared at him. "What's your ideal outcome?"
"To make them quit staring."
"Okay. We can handle that. There's a few things we can work on to get to that point. One of them is how you walk." He frowned. She smiled. "Trust me, you walk like you're stalking someone in a dangerous way. People notice that." She pointed. "See them all, simple strides, no butt swishing like they have a tail curling in happiness at the hunt, steady rhythm." She looked at him again. "You strut so it gets attention." She pointed at a woman in very high heels. "You walk like a more manly version of that girl."
He stared at her walk and considered it compared to those around her. "She does walk differently. The shoes?"
"They encourage it, all heels do, but that's all her chosen walk. You can still stomp in heels like they're boots. I do plenty of times when I wear heels." She took another sip of her coffee. "If you want to blend in, you have to be more natural. Some people will stare at the arm but a lot of vets these days have prosthetics. Most of them look like claws but that's okay too, at least someone brilliant came up with something to help the poor people." He stared at her, flexing his metallic hand. "A few people are always going to look, Bucky, but I can help you so you blend in better. Some people stare as you walk off because you have a cute butt." She grinned. "Some people stare because they think you're hot. Can you stand those?"
"I...I don't know."
"Okay. We can see later. Right now we need to do a bit of retail helping." He scowled. "The hoodie makes you look like every creep on every wanted poster," she said quietly but smiled at the end. "We can do a few things to tailor your image for you. Think of it like armor. People will think of you a certain way because you're dressed that way."
"I've been taught disguises before, Lewis." He sipped his coffee slowly, still staring at it. "I've never had coffee like that."
"The really good stuff is expensive. I don't take you or Steve to be the sort to spend nine bucks on a coffee drink." He shook his head quickly, looking at the ordering board. "They're only six. I never go for the really expensive stuff. Mostly because I learned how it's created." She took another sip of her coffee.
"What's that type?"
"You know what a civet is?" she asked. He slowly shook his head. She looked it up on her phone and let him have it. "Which is why I drink Kona when I can afford it," she quipped when he shuddered and handed the phone back. "There's no way they wash that enough. By the way, Pepper drinks that instead."
"I'll keep that in mind." He finished his coffee. "What about this one?"
"It comes from Hawaii." She grinned. "Many great things come from Hawaii."
"I've never been," he admitted. "But we saw pictures about Pearl Harbor."
She nodded. "They have a nice monument there to the attack," she said quietly. "It's moving and painful and it hurts to see, but it's moving." She patted his metal hand. "You can go see it if you want. No one says you can't go places."
"Steve could take a vacation from everything in the tower. He'd escort you so you're not lost and alone."
"Yeah, maybe," he agreed. He finished his coffee, deciding he'd think about that later. "How do we figure out what I should wear as armor?"
"Well, what sort of person do you want people to assume you are? Do you want to be a hipster?" she asked, pointing at a few outside. "That'd go well with the man bun you sometimes use when you're tired of your hair. There's more uptight ones that wear suits. There's sports guys who walk around in tank tops and jogging pants, but they're usually creeps in my experience. Or douche-bros. You could be a more normal, average guy in jeans and t-shirts but you'd have to lose the hoodie until winter." She smiled at him. "You have options."
"I...I don't think I'd like suits. I hate it when I have to dress up. Too confining and you can't hide knives."
She nodded. "Okay, so not a business clone." She shrugged. "That's cool and I'm sure you have one good suit for things. Stark's like that." He nodded. "Do you like it when you wear jeans? I know you have a pair."
"They're comfortable now. They weren't when I bought them but they get worn out."
"Yeah, if you only have three outfits, they wear out faster because they don't have a lot of time to rest between wears. There's a way around that though." She grinned. "I can help there. The hair thing, do you want to keep it longer?"
He ran his human hand over it and shrugged. "I don't really think about it much."
"Okay. We can figure that out later, once you're comfortable. Let's hit a cab because the best shops are in the Village."
He blinked. "Why?"
"Because they're hipper down there." She smiled. "We're going to try on some looks, buy you a few outfits, then we'll go back to the tower after getting take out?"
"Yeah, I guess that's fine. Steve handed me his debit card."
"That's cool. Not that I go to the expensive places, Bucky." She patted his hand before draining her cup and taking the mugs back to be cleaned and reused. She and Bucky left, getting a cab to head to the Village area. She dragged him into a resale shop. "I know before they were practical but no one talked about it. Now it's fashionable," she said with a smile. He stared around, nodding slowly. "Here, guys jeans." She showed him the various styles. She found a few after trying one against his waist. "Find a few more you want to try on." He looked and found a few that interested him, taking them to the changing area while she grabbed a basket to put any accepted ones in. He came out in the first pair, moving uncomfortably. "Too tight, too loose? Too new?"
"Too tight in the thighs," he said. He looked at himself in the three-way mirror, staring.
She giggled. "That's why women stare at your butt, Bucky." He shot a low powered glare at her. "Seriously! On my word! Even Sharon's stared a few times as you walk past her." He shook his head but went to change into another pair, coming out moving a bit easier. "Comfy?"
"I..." He moved around, shrugging some. "They're not bad, but they're a bit stiff."
She tested the material. "It's a bit newer. A few washes and they're going to be softer." He nodded. "You can actually put them in the washer and just restart it a few dozen times to get them softer."
"Yeah. That's how I do it with new jeans. It's hugely a whole day task sometimes for me but it works."
"Wastes water and electricity."
"Yup, but the tower's machines run on the thingy Tony built."
"Point." He went to take those off and put on another pair, coming out smiling. She grinned back. "These feel nice."
"They look nice too. You might get some butt staring but they look good on you." He looked at himself in the mirrors, nodding with a tiny smile. "Good choice. Bring me those for the basket and try on the last few." He did that, coming out with three sets to hand her and hanging up the others. They went to look at shirts. "Do you want plaid like Steve?"
"I used to be a nifty dresser," he admitted, looking at the selection. "He is not." She burst out giggling and nodded at that. "No plaid." He was looking at the good shirts, picking out a few.
"Hate to say it, but that won't fit you," she said.
"It's what size I wear."
She looked then at the collar of his present shirt. "This is an XL, Bucky." He groaned. "Muscles, dude, you has them." She put that one back and moved him down to his actual size. "Feel lucky you don't have to have everything tailored to fit you because you look like some freaky bodybuilder."
"I lift weights."
She pulled up a picture to show him. "You don't look like him. He probably has to have everything built specially."
"How did he do that to his muscles?" he asked, taking the phone to look at more closely.
"Steroids probably. Which means he's got no balls left. They shrink them." He handed the phone back. "Get a few you like to try on then look at t-shirts and other pullovers. It's nearly winter and you'll need something warm unless you go visit Hawaii or Florida."
"I forgot about the winter."
"You can layer. It's a great thing and it keeps you warm. I do it in the labs because Stark puts it on freezing for Brucie."
He nodded, looking at the other types of shirts to try on. She handed him a few she spotted, getting him back to the changing area to try them on. He came out in a sweater, wiggling. "It's itchy."
"Yeah, that's an itchy one. Take it off." He walked off taking it off. The shopkeeper was staring after Bucky, making Darcy smile. "He's crafting his normal guy image."
"He's cute. Very nice ass on him, you were right." Darcy grinned. "He yours?"
"No, just friendly. We work together, kinda. I was asked to help him shop because I know some of the nicer shops down here."
"That's sweet of you." Bucky came out in a polo shirt, collar up. The shopkeeper walked over to put it back down with a pat. "Always down. Only dumbasses who are pretentious jackholes wear their collar popped up." She smiled before walking off.
"Thanks," Darcy said. She smiled at him, making him blush. "She thinks you're cute."
"It's the jeans," he said. She giggled, smoothing down the collar. He looked at himself. "It's not a good shirt."
"That's actually considered casually nice. Not the same as a button up but the next step down." He considered it. "You can get more shirts."
"I know." He went to put it into the decision pile and came out in a t-shirt that was loose and comfortable. "I like this."
"I figured you would." She smirked at him. "And the graphic won't get you in trouble with anyone we work with." He looked at the beer graphic on the t-shirt and shrugged, going to put it into his yes pile. He found a few more and a few button ups. Darcy agreed and got him a jacket to try on. It was soft but heavy. "For winter, Bucky. It's loose enough you can put a sweater layered over a t-shirt under it but heavy enough it should do you most of the warmer parts of this winter."
He shrugged. "Should I get something warmer?"
"You can't wear those on the days it's in the low fifties. This is good from the sixties down to about the thirties."
He considered it. "It's comfortable but heavy."
"Leather can be that way. If you don't like that one, we can look around at other options."
"Yeah, I..." He looked at himself again, nodding. "Yeah, I like the leather and the color but it's got no pockets."
"Okay." She helped him take it off and hung it back up. "Go get things so we can check out. We can hit a few more places if you want. I've got nothing else to do tonight so I'm all yours."
"We can do that some other time." He looked at his watch then at her. "We should get takeout."
"Sure." She smiled. "There's some great places around here then we can cab back."
"Okay." He went to gather what he wanted and hang up the rest again while she took the basket to the check out. He came over to buy it and let Darcy tell him to go change. It helped. It showed off his arm but the woman just patted it with a smile and a quiet 'thank you for your service'. Bucky blushed some, ducking down so his hair covered his face.
Darcy smiled at her and took Bucky to pick out dinner once she had the bags and his old clothes bagged in with them. She looked up at him. "Feeling comfortable helps a lot to make you more confident of things," she said quietly. "Confident people walk easier and people actually make room for them on the street but not in the 'getting away from him' way that you usually get." She waved a hand around. "Look, food."
He looked at the restaurants around there, noticing how few people paid attention to them. He pulled his hair back and she handed over the hair thing from her wrist. He pulled his hair back into a small, low man bun. A few of the ones watching them quit and they picked a bar place that had a wing special tonight by their sign. They went back to the tower, going to eat in the gym. Darcy insisted. "We could eat at a table like humans," he joked.
She smiled. "An important lesson. Walk for me. Toward the mirror so you can watch yourself." He shrugged but did that while eating a wing. He paused and stared at his feet then at the mirror. "Yeah, that's why they stare. You strut. It's a nice murder strut and it makes your ass look fantastic when you do it with that swishy hip thing you do, but try to compare it to the earlier people we watched." She watched him walk around while eating her order of wings. He finally changed his stride to a more normal but forced looking one. "Relax." He looked over. "Relax. Think normal guy things and relax. Walk like you're with someone. I noticed earlier your walk changed after the store."
He grimaced but paced a few more times, nodding slightly as he quit strutting as much and just walked like a guy. "Much less noticeable."
"Yup." She stood up to give him a quick hug. "Use the murder strut swishy walk in your uniform. It'll make people scared of you." She grinned up at him. "That's part of who the Soldier is, not Bucky."
"We're the same person."
"Not totally. The Soldier's all training as it got explained to us. He was forced to be that way. Bucky has history before and after the Soldier and outside his training. Most of the time on the street you want to appear to be Bucky, even if you're in soldier mode but don't want people to know it."
"I understand," he agreed. "The Soldier is trained to get notice, to scare."
"And I was just a guy. Now I want to mostly be just a guy again but when I need to, I can go back to the Soldier's training." She nodded, giving him another hug and sitting back down. He considered that as he walked.
"Watch yourself," she said quietly. "You just instinctively went back to a normal guy walk while you thought." He did it again and nodded he did do it naturally. "See, you've still got it, hottie. Out on the street, you want an armor, something that people will ignore. Out there, be Bucky. Even telling jokes some people will only smile at you for giggling at things. Outside the safe areas, be someone that people can expect certain things from but not be the full package so they don't worry. In the safe areas, be yourself. In battles, be him."
"Yeah. I..." He frowned but let it clear up. "I get that point. I can do that. Thank you."
"You're welcome." She grinned. "If you want to go shopping again, let me know. I can go stare at you some more." He snorted but looked amused. She cleaned up her stuff and stood up. "Have fun and your wings are still in the bag with your garlic bread."
"Welcome, stud. Just let me know if you need more help." She winked and headed for her apartment to settle in for the night.
He went back to walking around while eating wings. Yeah, he could figure out how to put up a good front for everyone outside the safe areas to be himself.
Steve leaned in the doorway, watching him for a few minutes until Bucky spotted him. "That looks nice on you and comfortable."
"They are," he agreed. "She took me to a resale shop. Apparently they're fashionable now."
Steve came in, looking him over, nodding some. "I've seen that but I don't really have time to shop so I let Pepper's personal shopper friend do mine most of the time." He looked at his buddy. "What's with the strolling?"
"She noticed my walk was something that a lot of people stared at." He walked like he usually did and Steve blinked when it changed to a normal strolling down the sidewalk walk. "She thought some people stared because the strutting was worrying."
"I can kinda see that point, yeah." He grinned. "What else did she help you with?"
"She pointed out that being out there needed an armor, a persona, so people would ignore me as just the average guy."
"I do that but I just wear a ball cap and glasses. It works about half the time."
He nodded. "I tried that, I get funny looks like I'm homeless. She pointed out in the cab that I wore way too many layers, which was drawing attention to me since it wasn't cold right now. People wonder if I'm hiding weapons under all the layers."
"Yeah, they probably do. I have a few times," Steve agreed with a nod. "So one layer, and maybe a jacket?"
"I can handle that as long as I can hide knives." He looked at himself in the mirror. "Robot, away from my dinner," he ordered. The cleaning bot trundled off. He looked at Steve again. "She offered a leather jacket for wintertime but I wasn't feeling it."
"I forgot all about needing winter gear. Stark keeps the tower pretty warm but going outside can make you feel like you've dived into an icy lake. We could both use a good winter jacket."
"She suggested two. One for the bitterly cold days and one lighter one that would work with a sweater for the moderately cold days."
"Yeah, that could work," he agreed. "We have space for two jackets. Plus maybe a light windbreaker or light jacket for spring."
"She thought the leather one would work for those too."
"They can, depending on what you wear with it." He moved closer. "We can look at those options."
"Do guys really bulk up to look like they're a pile of rocks?"
He grinned. "She has a thing about hating bodybuilders who just do it to look like a pile of walking muscles. Neither of us will ever get that bad."
"No, I don't think I could." He picked up his dinner since the cleaning bot was coming back. Steve grinned at him. "We got wings before we came back. She goes to this coffee shop a few blocks up that has really good coffee. Doesn't taste like Stark's at all. Though I now know why I should never drink coffee after Pepper. She buys coffee that's eaten and pooped out first."
"Yeah, there's a type of coffee that grows in Asia that a big cat called a civet eats off the bushes and then craps out. They clean it up and sell it as something really special."
"It takes the bitterness out," Stark said from the doorway. "She hates bitter coffee and she ignores how it comes to be that way. Lewis prefers Kona, I know that."
"Yeah, she did. It tasted good. Not like military coffee. Is that coffee shop something special? She said even Loki's aliens didn't even bother it."
"The guy who runs it is a bear and stood outside the shop shooting at the aliens with a heavy gauge shotgun," Tony said with a small smirk. "He was not amused. They didn't get anywhere near his shop. He had one broken window but that was it."
"Wow," Steve said. "Sounds like a guy I'd like to meet."
"They can show you where it is. That way you can both take a breather outside the tower when you need to," Tony said, giving Steve a pointed look. "As for leather jackets, I know a few good places you can look up online to get styles to try on. I'll send you an IM with the addies." He walked off. "This gym and the one next door are getting electrical upgrades tonight."
"Sure, we can go upstairs," Steve said, looking at Bucky. Who was eating a wing so he only nodded. They went up to look at the leather jacket styles. They both liked a few so they made notes to go try them on somewhere. Darcy had an idea of where when they texted her for a real, physical store. Stark shopped online or in exclusive places. Darcy went to normal people stores.
You saw parts of this on the list's archives. Here it is finished for you so that one's been taken down.