Actions

Work Header

Brevity is the Soul

Chapter Text

Chapter 02: “Band Aids Won’t Fix Bullet Holes”
Agent Carter, Peggy and Jack: He accidentally shoots her on a mission. She’s not convinced it was accidental.

Chapter 03: “On the Nature of Daylight”
MCU, Darcy x Pietro: For once, he’s still, and Darcy finds she can’t look away.

Chapter 04: Untitled
MCU, Bucky x Darcy: Bucky's the premiere knife thrower with Stark & Sons Circus. Darcy comes to interview to be his assistant.

Chapter 05: Untitled
MCU, Bucky x Darcy: Their first gifts to each other.

Chapter 06: Untitled
MCU, Bucky x Darcy: Bucky and Darcy run into Darcy's ex Ian on the street outside of Avengers Tower. It does not, of course, go smooth.

Chapter 07: “Of Angels and Fries” Part One
MCU, Bucky x Darcy: Bucky meets his guardian angel.

Chapter 08: “Of Angels and Fries” Part Two
Continuation of Chapter 07

Chapter 09: “Million Dollar Man”
MCU, Clint x Natasha: Finding Natasha wouldn’t be a problem. He had her number. Hell, she’d probably drop by his place tonight just to gloat. No, the problem would be convincing Natasha to relinquish the necklace.

Chapter 10: “Satan in a Santa Suit”
MCU, Bucky x Darcy: That wasn’t Santa standing before Darcy, though it should have been. Her shift as resident helper elf for the Pine Point Santa started in fifteen minutes, but that wasn’t Santa standing before her. No, that was Satan.

Chapter 11: “Good Times Gonna Come”
MCU, Loki x Natasha: “So,” Loki says, drumming the fingers of one hand against her knee, “it seems that something is wrong with my magic.”

Chapter 12: “One Worth Knowing”
Daredevil, Frank x Karen: Almost eight months after Frank Castle disappears from Karen's life, a plain white envelope shows up on her desk. Without even opening it, she knows it's from him.

Chapter 13: Untitled
VM, Veronica x Logan: Veronica doesn't check up on Logan, even when she does.

Chapter 14: “It’s Like ESPN or Something”
SPN, Sam and Dean: “Keep laughing,” he grumbled, “and I’ll make your head explode.”

Chapter 15: “Sinnerman”
SPN, Sam and Dean: He asked his brother once what church was like, and Sam said big and left it at that.

Chapter 16: “Pieces of You”
VM, Wallace and Veronica: Wallace knows he’ll never have every piece to the Veronica Mars puzzle.

Chapter 17: Untitled
MCU, Bucky x Steve: “Come home with me.”

Chapter 18: Hot Pink Spun Sugar
BTVS & SPN, Faith/Dean: In the black of the night, Dean tracks her by the pops, by the flash and collapse of hot pink spun sugar as she builds bubbles between blows.

Chapter 19: Safe Behind the Falling Sea Line
SPN, Sam and Dean: The smell of the ocean makes Dean gag. It smells too much like dead fish, which smells too much like dead demon, which reminds Dean of what he wants to forget.

Chapter 20: Strength in Numbers
VM, Logan and Veronica: In the three months, two weeks, and five days since the Lilly video hit the ‘net under Keith Mars’ oh-so-not careful watch, and in the three months, two weeks, and four days since Logan officially transferred Veronica from the friends to enemies column, the only responses to his taunting- no, to his punishment- have been tear-filled glances and tight-lipped silence. Two things that almost make Logan stop.

Chapter 21: A Sample of Death and Murder
Angel, Lorne: Lorne saw the gritty squeal of an electric guitar in the flare of Spike’s coat as he swaggered around Wolfram and Hart. Saw pounding bass and drums in the flash of Gunn’s axe and synthesized electro-pop in Cordelia’s smile.

Chapter 22: Love Is
Smallville, Pete and Lex: Pete and Lex talk at Chloe's grave.

Chapter Text

"Band Aids Won't Fix Bullet Holes"

The bullet skims her hip, deep enough to gouge a furrow through her dress and into her flesh. Peggy slaps a hand onto the car before her to steady herself then she tenses, realizing that the shot came from behind her rather than from before, from an unknown enemy rather than from the Russian sniper on the roof that she’d been sighting who desired to kill Howard Stark. Ducking for cover, Peggy whips around and lifts her gun expecting a second Russian agent to be locking onto her, only to find Jack, his gun up and aimed at the sniper. He fires two quick shots, and Peggy knows by his smile that he hit his mark, both the first (her) and the second (the sniper).

Standing slowly, she watches as he holsters his gun and reaches for his radio. “Boris is down,” he says, his eyes on Peggy. “Someone let Stark know that his show can go on.”

The affirmation from Sousa sounds and, seconds later, the band resumes in the Plaza Hotel. Jack approaches her then, still smiling. As he passes beneath the street lamp, Peggy sees that he’s not in his customary dark suit, but rather a crisp tuxedo complete with a dewy white boutonnière.

At that, Peggy cocks a brow. “A bit overdressed, wouldn’t you say, for a late night typing reports?”

His smile widens, but he says nothing to her comment. Instead, he glances down at her hip. “Sorry about that, Carter. Slipped on the curb back there. You okay?”

“Yes. Your aim being as abysmal as it is.”

His smile doesn’t diminish beneath her mockery. “Lucky for you. Damn lucky. And a damn shame too,” he adds, meeting her eyes again. “Being injured just minutes before Stark’s party. I know how much you were looking forward to it.”

Peggy freezes. Her eyes slide past Jack to the brilliantly lit entrance to the hotel. She hadn’t wanted to attend the ridiculous gala, Angie’s opening night that same night, but Howard had insisted, and insisted again, and insisted again, claiming the benefit to her both professionally and personally, particularly personally as Howard knew an absolutely rock-solid fellow, a genuine war hero, Carter, an all around good guy, someone with substance and morality and, my hand to God, Carter, my hand to goddamn God, a jaw carved straight out of granite.

She had caved at the fourteenth insisting.

But now her eyes slide back to Jack.

“Yes,” she says slowly. “Yes, it is. A damned shame.”

“Particularly,” Jack adds as he leans in, “given all this fuss with the Russians. Someone from the SSR should really stay and make sure Stark’s not in anymore danger.”

Peggy arches a brow at him. “And I suppose you’re just the man for the job?”

Jack shrugs, his sly grin back in place. He glances down at his tux, at the perfect gleam of his dress shoes in the overhead light.

Peggy stares at him another moment, a sliver of guilt at abandoning whatever man Howard had shanghaied into being her date rising within her, but then the sliver dissipates, Angie’s face swimming into view. Opening her purse, Peggy sets her gun inside before clasping the elegant cream invitation. She barely has time to extend her arm toward Jack before he’s plucked it from her hand.

“You see to that wound, Carter. We’re gonna need you in the office bright and early tomorrow to type up your report.”

“I shall be there.”

Jack nods at her as he turns away. Peggy watches him amble towards the entrance then he stops and says back over his shoulder, “And Carter?”

“Yes?”

“You tell that firecracker of a roommate I said break a leg.”

*

Chapter Text

On the Nature of Daylight

 

For once, he’s still, and Darcy finds she can’t look away.

Pietro lounges in the grass of the gardens behind the new Avengers complex, shirtless of course, his face tilted up toward the sky. He calls to mind her childhood, her mother’s cat in their kitchen soaking up the warmth from the early afternoon sun. Those were the only moments he allowed Darcy to pet his belly, bestowing upon her a few slow blinks as he stretched luxuriously beneath her hand. She wonders if the same would be true of Pietro now, or if he’d narrow his eyes and lash out at her before zipping away.

“You don’t have to be shy. I won’t bite.”

Of course he knew. The only person that Darcy could ever sneak up on around here was Jane, and that’s because she was oblivious to everything in the world except Thor and her telescope. “I’m not shy,” she says as he twists his head to look at her. “I haven’t been since the fifth grade. I just wasn’t sure if you wanted me here.”

“Of course I do.”

The simplicity and surety of the statement stun her. An hour ago, he’d sneered at her as she got between him and Tony, as she stopped yet another of their fights with each other. Now, she sees no trace of the harsh lines that twisted his face, his expression instead stripped open and raw.

Breathing in, Darcy starts toward him. She abandons her sandals as she crosses into the grass and sits beside him, her knees drawn up next to his shoulders. Pietro says nothing at first, so neither does Darcy, instead tilting her face up to mirror his pose, to bask in the warmth of the sun and to let herself hope that maybe, maybe, someday…

“I should not have yelled at you,” he says after a few moments.

The soft admission draws her attention back toward him. “No. You shouldn’t have.”

“I am sorry.”

Darcy sighs. “I know you are. I know. But it’s every time, Pietro. Every time that he’s here, you pick a fight with him.”

His eyes go wide and he thrusts out a hand toward the facility. “He started it.”

Darcy restrains a second sigh, but Pietro must read the desire upon her face; he retracts his hand and his body too, hunching over into a sulk as he mutters, “Well, he did.”

“I don’t doubt that. If there’s one thing that you two have in common, it’s the ability to annoy the shit out of someone until they snap. Lord knows you two do it often enough to me.”

Now he sighs. He expels his pride with his breath and looks at her with remorse once more. “I am sorry. I am. Old habits are hard to break.”

They are. She knows this better than anyone, spending, like Pietro and Wanda too, the better part of her childhood hating Tony Stark. Of course, she hated Tony because he chose partying over parenting, abandoning her to her mother and a generous trust fund established by Jarvis shortly after she was born. They’d made progress recently, since Tony had tracked her down in London, and, chastened by what happened in New York, asked for a second chance.

She reaches out now and draws her fingers along his hair. Pietro arches back into her touch, as though he hadn’t just turned from her a second ago. He nuzzles her palm before twisting so he can place a soft kiss there. Darcy soothes her other hand over his shoulder, feeling the knot in her gut loosen as he curls around her knees, as he throws his arm over her legs to clasp her to him. If only every moment were like this, just him and her and the sunshine, no world to save, no past fraught with death and loss to gingerly navigate.

Again, as if he knows what she’s thinking, and maybe he does, maybe he’s starting to know her, or maybe Wanda imbued him with some of her telepathy, he says, “I will try. For you, I will try.”

Her hand drifts from his shoulder to his face, Darcy, like the sun, unable to refrain from touching him. “Not just me,” she murmurs as she pushes a stray curl behind his ear. “Wanda—”

Pietro makes a sound of disgust. He closes his eyes, but he doesn’t pull away from her and Darcy counts this as a small miracle.

“You know,” she says, smiling at him, “most people would be over the moon about this. Vision is, literally, the best person on the planet. Mew-Mew says so.”

Pietro waves his hand, as if the judgment of a magical hammer from an eternal god planet was not worth noting.

“She’s happy,” Darcy adds after a moment.

“Oh, I know,” Pietro says. He opens his eyes now and looks at her, and she nearly laughs at how annoyed he looks. “Trust me. He is all that she speaks of. I know more about the Vision than I know about myself. ‘Pietro, he showed me starlight yesterday.’ ‘Pietro, he has decided he likes apples.’ ‘Oh, Pietro, did you know that his gaze is like a duckling’s and his eyes match the light within my soul?’”

Darcy laughs now. The annoyance fades from him as she does. He reaches up and cups the side of her face, his eyes soft again and sweet like the gardens. The embrace holds for a beat and then Pietro is tugging her down for a kiss. This he does slow, either slow and deep until her toes curl or a fast peck as he whizzes by, off to annoy Tony or annoy Clint or avoid Vision. Languid heat unfurls within Darcy, matching the sun above and the man below.

Pietro pulls back then but he doesn’t pull away. He traces a finger against her still slick lips. His eyes linger there, but rather than kiss her again, he murmurs, “Lay with me. The sun is nice.”

The sun was nice, but the storm would come again, as it always did, the passion that had Darcy moaning in his bed and wondering maybes also driving her and everyone else up a wall. But she nods now, easing down beside him, following his nudging until she laid sprawled upon his chest, his fingers in her hair and his heart racing beneath her cheek.
*

Chapter Text

When Darcy steps into the tent, her bag in hand, she shivers and then stops, the shiver a sign of possibility. Of a crossroads. The big top stretches high above her, disappearing into shadows, the spotlights not yet lit. They would dazzle tonight for the show. They had the night before when Darcy attended, sparing some of her last few dollars for a ticket. Erik had told her this was the place for her, but she’d needed to see first. And she had, seen perhaps the greatest show she’d ever seen, the sights both in and outside the big top confirming all she’d heard about Stark & Sons.

“Are you lost?”

Darcy whirls at the sound of the voice. In the entrance to the tent stands the animal wrangler, the lion tamer from the night before, a six-foot tall sculptured god who filled a pair of khaki pants better than any mortal man had a right. The Captain, according to the Ringmaster. His blue eyes bore into her, but Darcy senses distraction, his thoughts elsewhere, someplace dark.

“I’m Darcy Lewis,” she says, holding out her hand. “Erik Selvig sent me. I’m here to interview with—”

“With Bucky,” he finishes, focusing on her entirely now. The dark doesn’t vanish though, and Darcy begins to understand why Erik directed her here.

“Yes. Do you know where I can find him?”

The Captain nods, but he doesn’t move. He continues to inspect her, his brows drawn together in a faint frown. When his eyes alight on her still outstretched hand, they widen and he mutters a curse, swiping one callused palm against his pants. “Sorry,” he says as he takes her hand. Darcy squashes a smile at the tinge of red to his cheeks. “I’m not normally this rude. I’m just…”

“Distracted?”

“A bit.” His eyes flit past her for a moment, and the darkness deepens. Then his gaze returns to her and he smiles. “Steve Rogers. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Both the gaze and the handshake linger. Darcy tenses, memories creeping in and pushing past the longer they hold. She sees two boys in an alley and a slinking black leopard. Snow White come to life and a kiss behind the big top. Bucky can’t know—

Darcy rips her hand away, her heart racing.

Steve’s frown deepens. “Ma’am, are you—”

“Fine,” Darcy says, too quickly to be convincing. She grips her bag with both hands and tries for a smile. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired from the journey. Can I see Mr. Barnes now?”

Steve retracts his hand and rubs the back of his neck. “Right. Sorry.” His blush intensifies, and Darcy feels her smile grow a shade more genuine. “This way.”

He leads her back out of the tent. Darcy follows, taking in the hubbub around her. Smaller tents circle the main one, interspersed with food stalls and carnival games. The whole lot expands in perfect concentric circles to the four entrances, each facing a cardinal direction. Steve heads for a tent in the second row, a testament to the skill and showmanship of James Barnes, knife thrower extraordinaire.

Darcy senses none of this as she steps into the tent. She only feels a roiling dark which clarifies that clouding Steve and threatens to overwhelm her. Darcy halts a few feet inside. She presses her lips together and runs through an exercise, one of the first that Erik had taught her to help her stay calm.

Steve continues on, oblivious to her, focused solely on the partition beside the stage. “Buck? The girl from Selvig is here. You up?”

Anxiety pierces the darkness around Steve, blinding white and blurred with love. Darcy grits her teeth against it and considers turning tail, but she trusts Erik, though perhaps not his faith in her or her control.

“Bucky?” Steve asks again as he stops before the partition. “Ms. Lewis is here—”

“I heard you the first time.”

Steve’s shoulders tense at the sharp retort. Darcy waits, but she senses nothing more from him, only seeing his irritation, and she looses a soft sigh.

Her relief, however, lasts just the moment for the partition snaps aside then and James Barnes steps out. He wears a dark suit sans jacket and a black glove on his left hand. He clenches his jaw and holds his head high, and he avoids looking at Steve as he steps past to look at her. When he finds her across the distance, she feels heat and rage, screams raw in her throat and strong hands at her back, and Darcy nearly staggers and falls from the force of the trauma. She calls upon the scent of her mom’s cherry pie and the breeze in the field behind Erik’s house, and the sensations dull the blaze in her mind, allowing her to hold her ground. James narrows his eyes at her. His posters hadn’t lied, the simple lines and stark coloring capturing entirely his intensity. The man before her, though, lacks the gleam of charm depicted in his advertisements. He stares her down, and she thinks this is the test, at least the first concerning her qualifications. Lifting her chin, she holds his gaze, and he tilts his head to the side, the anger around him subsiding, superseded for a moment by curiosity. Then he lowers the gaze, severing the connection.

“Well, Ms. Lewis. Let’s see what you can do.”

*

Chapter Text

Drabble: First gifts to each other

 

The first item Darcy gives to Bucky is a pale blue blanket that she knits when she’s not banging her head against the wall trying to decipher Jane’s handwriting or running interference between Jane and Tony about Jane’s consistent refusal to trade her handmade tech for shiny Stark Tech. He lurks about the new Avengers complex decked out in layer upon layer, a hoodie over a long-sleeve flannel over a tee, and the sight of so many clothes melds with what she knows of his past with Hydra into the persistent belief that he’s always cold. So she knits.

She finds the softest yarn she can, for baby blankets but Bucky needs softness, his life as hard as it was cold for so very long. A soft blanket, something large enough he can burrow in, is something her brain tells her he desperately needs in his life, even though she’s only exchanged a few words with him since he arrived. The knitting takes her longer than she likes, only the last dregs of winter remain when she’s finished, but Darcy still finds him in a quiet corner of the common room one rainy Sunday morning, the blanket folded as neatly as she can make it in her arms. She feels herself start to blush as she explains, as his eyes widen when she tells him she knit it herself, then she thrusts it at him and walks away, wondering if she can convince Jane to leave Thor for the wilds of Norway again so Darcy can hide forever.

...

The first item Bucky gives to Darcy is a flash drive filled with music from ‘Before,’ as he calls it with his therapist, the time before Hydra and the war. Sam helps him think of the idea, Bucky at a loss after she gave him the blanket, his hands capable of many feats but making gifts not one of them. But as soon as Sam mentions music, Bucky knows this is it, all of his memories of Darcy around the compound of her with her ear buds in, bopping along to music as she chases after Foster and Stark. Sam offers suggestions, to give Bucky a crash course in contemporary music to help him find something Darcy might like, but Bucky says no, needing this to be his, from him as much as the blanket was from her. So he gives her himself, what he can share, what part of him isn’t drenched in blood and pain, scouring the Internet for songs from his past.

He finds Glen Miller and Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire in “The Way You Look Tonight” and Benny Goodman in “I Got Rhythm.” He adds in Billie Holiday and the Andrews Sisters and Judy Garland because he and Steve had seen The Wizard of Oz six times when it was released. He includes four from the Dorsey Brothers and Bing Crosby, which bring back memories of dance halls, of soft dresses and red lips and bright eyes under the lights. Bucky saves them on a USB shaped like Steve’s shield. He considers for a moment repainting it to match the star on his arm, but he doesn’t want to associate that with this so he leaves it as it is, propped by a chocolate muffin on her desk in Jane’s lab. He may or may not hack the surveillance feed in the lab to watch her reaction, and when she stops by his quarters on her lunch break to say thank you, he’s finally worked up the nerve to ask her inside.

Chapter Text

“Is he going to kill me?”

Darcy looked back over her shoulder. Bucky leaned against the lamppost a few feet away, his arms crossed over his chest, his best scowl in place as he stared at Ian. Jane had mentioned that Ian might be around, their former intern and Darcy’s former boyfriend crossing the Atlantic to apply to some grad programs. And he had been, on the street outside Avengers Tower as she and Bucky returned from lunch. Ian had apparently come to ask Jane for a recommendation.

The piercing death glare from the infamous Winter Soldier was an undesired bonus.

Darcy arched a brow at Bucky, but her silent plea for him to chill went disregarded. Like a true sniper, his gaze never deviated from his target. And, like a true prey, Ian was about three seconds away from peeing his pants in complete and utter terror.

“No,” Darcy said as she turned back around. “He very rarely kills people anymore.”

This was shocking enough to jerk Ian’s gaze away from Bucky. “What?”

“Nothing,” Darcy said, deciding on the fly to push past the whole ‘former brainwashed assassin’ story. This might actually make Ian pee his pants, and while Darcy felt no lingering affection for him, not with the way he ended their relationship, she wasn’t so much of an asshole that she wanted him to suffer an embarrassing urine-related nervous breakdown.

Bucky, however, was, if the clinks and pings of his moving metal arm was any indication.

Ian blanched at the sound. He gaped at Bucky, his eyes wide, then, quietly to Darcy, he said, “Is he…?”

“Bucky Barnes?”

Ian nodded.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

Darcy resisted the urge to sigh. “Yes, really.”

Ian gave her a jerky nod. “Right. You… You’re… You’re dating the Winter Soldier?”

Bucky responded to him before Darcy could. “Yes, she is.”

“Yes,” Darcy echoed, trying but failing for a reassuring smile. “I am.”

“Right,” Ian said again. He blinked at Bucky and then at Darcy before easing a step back.

“He’s usually much nicer than this. I swear.”

“No, I’m not.”

Ian blanched further at that. He stumbled back another few steps and pointed blindly over his shoulder as he said, “I should go. I— I’ve got… stuff. To do. Away from here. I…” He paused then, both in his retreat and his stilted explanation, before emerging far enough from his fog of fear to say, “Tell Thor I said hi.” Then he spun on his heel and ran away.

As he did, Darcy spun on hers to face Bucky. “What the hell was that?”

Bucky shrugged at her. “He deserved it.”

Darcy tilted her head to the side and gave him a look.

“He did,” Bucky said as he pushed off the lamppost. “He made you cry.”

Ian had, dumping Darcy four days before Valentine’s Day only to be spotted by Jane one week later kissing someone else. It wasn’t the worst break-up Darcy had experienced, she and Ian hadn’t been together that long, but Darcy still felt the sting of being dumped for someone else and so had chosen to drown her bitter sorrows by splitting a pitcher of margaritas with Jane.

“That was a long time ago.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Bucky said as he moved toward her. “He treated you like shit, so he gets treated like shit. Simple as that.”

“No, not as simple as that. Or yes, that simple, but from me, not from you. In this corner of the superhero world, he’s my foe to fight.”

Bucky arched a brow at her. “Partners help each other fight.”

Her stern demeanor softened like sugar in water at that. “True. But you, sweet talker, are not my partner. You’re my love interest.”

Bucky stared at her a moment, his brow still arched, then he gave her a slow nod. “Damn right I am.”

Darcy grinned at him. “Thought you’d like that.”

He returned her grin. “I do,” he said, reaching for her. “A lot.”

As Darcy clasped his hand, she felt her smile turn dopey. Whatever. She could dope. Vengeance was hers. Ian had dumped her for a fetus with a bad dye job; Darcy had followed him up with a genuine superhero.

“And lest you think Jane remiss in her partner-ly duties,” she said now, “she did help me fight. Our vengeance was both swift and bright.”

“Oh yeah? What’d you do?”

“We kinda, sorta, and by that I mean we totally broke into his apartment and set up sixteen glitter bombs in various strategic locations. And not just normal glitter either, although there was plenty of that. We used dick glitter too. You know, the kind used for bachelorette parties.” As Bucky started to laugh, Darcy shrugged. “We were drunk. Seriously so. Margarita Me thought it was hilarious.”

“Where’d you put ‘em?”

“Everywhere. In his closet. In his shower. In his bedside table and chest of drawers. In his fridge. On his ceiling fan. Jane was able to jimmy them so that he couldn’t remove them without them exploding. It was glorious. Ian texted a picture the next morning with an apology and a plea for mercy. ”

“And were you?” Bucky asked as he ran his thumb over the back of her hand. “Merciful?”

“Of course. I can superhero with the best of them, you know. Jane took a little more persuading though. I think she really got a taste for vengeance when she slapped the shit out of Thor’s brother.”

Bucky laughed again. He pulled Darcy in close, wrapped his free arm around her shoulders. “So what you’re saying is I should be careful?”

Darcy nodded as she peered up at him. “Jane may be tiny, but she packs a mean punch.” Her grin turned cheeky. “Good thing you’re so nice.”

Bucky stared down at her, his eyes turning dark and heated as the seconds pass. “I’m not a nice man.”

“No?” she asked as he leaned down to kiss her. “Good thing I like the scoundrels then.”

*

Chapter Text

Of Angels and Fries:

 

“You’re my guardian angel?”

“Yep.”

Bucky watched the young woman sitting across from him shovel four of his French fries into her mouth. He narrowed his eyes and she shot him a broad, but thankfully closed-mouth smile.

“Who are you really?” he asked after she finished chewing.

“Your guardian angel.”

“Bullshit.”

Now she frowned at him. “Why bullshit?”

Bucky stared at her for thirty full seconds before he said, too loudly for the crowded diner, “Are you fucking serious?”

The woman glanced down at the visible sliver of his left arm between his glove and the end of his jacket. “Okay. Point. But,” she added, reaching for his Coke, “I only just started being your guardian angel, like, three months ago.”

He eyed her, unsure of whether to continue pursuing the ridiculousness of the guardian angel statement overall or whether he should press her on the fact that, in three months, he’d been shot at by the remnants of Hydra forces no less than four times and he accidentally crushed his shiny new Stark phone upon waking from a nightmare.

“But,” she said, wagging her brows at him, “you got a replacement the next day. If I hadn’t been around to untangle the clusterfuck that is the U.S. postal system, it would have been at least two. Maybe even three.”

Bucky just lifted a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. Some guardian angel.

*

end

Chapter Text

Of Angels and Fries
Part Two

“Why are you here?”

“To help you.”

Bucky restrained his sigh of frustration. “No. I mean now. Going on the assumption that you’re actually what you say you are and not some crazy broad sent to torment me, why now? Why not—”

“Seventy years ago?” she asked him, arching a brow.

“Yes.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I only died, like, five months ago, so I don’t—”

“Wait a minute. You’re dead?”

She gave him a look. “Well, yeah, I am an angel. Or, okay,” she continued, reaching for another helping of fries, “so I guess I’m not technically dead. I don’t really know what you’d call me. I exist, but I won’t get old, so am I alive? I don’t know.” She shoved the fries into her mouth. Her eyes went contemplative as she chewed. “I probably should,” she continued after a moment. “I haven’t really processed everything yet. One minute, I’m all ‘Hey, Jane, maybe you don’t want to open that portal to the weird world with the two moons,’ and then the next thing I know I’m sitting in front of Howard fucking Stark and he’s saying he needs my help.”

Bucky eyed her, inching back to his prior theory of insanity. Or maybe Hydra plant. “Howard Stark.”

She nodded. “Yep.” She paused then and scrunched up her face. “Kinda thought he’d go to the other place, you know, what with how scandalous his life was. Shows what I know.” She shook her head then, as if to banish the thought, before straightening and sending him a broad smile. “So, how can I help you? Need any more packages delivered on time?”

Bucky said nothing in response. Instead, he stared at her, taking her in. She was young. Pretty, too, with big blue eyes, but Bucky brushed past that fact as quickly as possible. She wore a grey jacket and purple scarf and tiny diamonds in her ears, and she looked nothing like the pictures of angels he remembered learning about in mass.

The smile slipped from her face as he stared. “You don’t believe me.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Maybe not out loud, but your scowl said it perfectly.”

Bucky shrugged. “Would you believe you? You pop up out of nowhere, steal half my fries, and spin me this cockamamie story of being my guardian angel? You do know who I am, right?”

Her mouth went flat. “Yes. I do. I’m not that useless.”

He almost balked then, a sliver of sympathy winding through him at her bitterness, but he didn’t, this point too important to avoid. Leaning forward, he looked her right in the eye and said, “You seriously expect me to believe that someone like me would get a guardian angel? After all that I’ve done?” Bucky shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “That’s the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever heard.”

To her credit, whether random crazy, Hydra plant, or actual guardian angel, the lady didn’t back down. Instead, she held his gaze, eyeing him as he’d eyed her. Bucky felt himself start to breathe fast under her perusal, feeling her stare penetrate far past the surface. Right before he broke, she too leaned back in her chair and said softly, “I think if anyone deserves a little extra help and protection in this life, it’s you, James Barnes. But if you don’t believe me, fine. I’ll prove it to you.”

And with that, she disappeared.

Chapter Text

You got the world, but baby, at what price?
Something so strange, hard to define
It isn't that hard, boy, to like you or love you
I'd follow you down down down
- Lana del Rey- “Million Dollar Man”

All it takes is one look and Clint knows who did it. And he knows why too, the Mayor’s wife in histrionics behind him, squawking about lawsuits and justice and ‘do you know how much that necklace was worth’ and ‘have you checked the cook’ and ‘see, this is what happens when you let foreigners in—’

“Ma’am,” Clint says as he turns around. He tries his best to smile at her, but misses the mark by a mile, landing closer to a brittle grimace. “If you’d wait outside please.”

She doesn’t. She narrows her eyes at him instead and at the evidence unit uselessly scouring for fingerprints, as though she suspected all of them for wanting to jack her gaudy jewels too. “I—”

“Ma’am, please. The faster we can get to work, the faster your necklace will be back with you.”

She presses her lips flat and gives Clint a hard stare, but, miraculously, she cedes to his request and leaves the room without another word. Clint hears her call for a drink out in the hallway. He lifts a hand then and scrubs it over his face, knowing she’d be back once the drink took her. He wishes a drink would take him. He needed one, or hell he needed seven, if he was going to close this case. Finding Natasha wouldn’t be a problem. He had her number. Hell, she’d probably drop by his place tonight just to gloat, not at him, but over the wretched woman Clint’s supposed to help. No, the problem would be convincing Natasha to relinquish the necklace. It’s not that Clint wants to return anything to that awful shrew. He just wants a future free from her hounding, and he needs the necklace and needs it fast for that to happen.

With a few last orders to his team, Clint steps onto the balcony. He closes the door behind him. He knows up this high, both literally and in social class, that no one inside will hear him when he talks, the soundproofing too efficient. Clint shifts out of eyesight though, leaning against the wall by the doors. He doesn’t immediately reach for his phone. He needs a moment, one to help wake himself up, to prepare for the conversation to come. The crisp October air helps alleviate some of his exhaustion, but not enough to tangle with Natasha and win. Not with his dignity, such as it is, intact. Still, he needs the necklace, so, drawing in a deep breath, he fishes his phone out of his pocket and types in a number he’d memorized long ago.

She answers on the second ring. “How mad is she?”

Clint closes his eyes. Her voice always got to him, wry and knowing, slinking like a goddamn cat around his ankles. “She’s furious, of course. Shrieking like a harpy and calling for blood.”

Natasha says nothing, but Clint can see her smile, always more in her eyes than her lips. The first few he got from her felt like gifts from on high, like cool rain on a parched field.

“Good,” Natasha says, and he hears something on her end, a clink of a glass perhaps. “Serves her right.”

“It might, but I need it back.”

Silence greets his request. Clint expected it, Natasha never enthusiastic when he asked for her to return whatever it was she’d stolen. Usually, she acquiesced, either satisfied at getting one up on the detestable prick she’d stolen from or from whatever promise she had finagled from Clint in exchange. But this silence stretches, grows brittle and thin.

“Tonight,” he adds, desperation making him push. “If you can.”

Her response is immediate now. “No. Not a chance. Not this one.”

Clint grits his teeth a moment before continuing. “Natasha—”

“No. Did you read her last interview? What she said about refugees?”

Clint sighs at that. He had and he figured that was why Natasha targeted her, exacting vengeance for herself and for other refugees. She’d never said much to Clint about her past, just that she’d fled the violence contributing to and resulting from the fall of the Soviet Union. Occasionally, he gets the urge to pry, to use his resources to learn more about her, but she’d never forgive him for that violation of trust so he keeps his curiosity to himself.

“I did read it,” he says now. “And I get it. I do. She’s a heinous bitch, but she’s the heinous bitch who’s going to make my life a living hell until I get her shit back, so I need her shit back.”

Natasha says nothing, but she doesn’t need to. He can hear the refusal in her silence. He grits his teeth and barely resists the urge to bang his head against the wall. He could give up, hang up the phone and walk back inside, continue the sham of an investigation and deal with the outcome of his failure, both from the wife and her husband, from his C.O. and maybe the Commissioner too, if the woman complained loudly enough. Which she would. So he could, he could, he could, for Natasha.

“I can’t,” he says instead. “I can’t do this.” Natasha inhales sharply but Clint continues, the stress of the past few weeks pouring forth from him. “It’s too much. Everything… Natasha, I— It’s too much,” he says again, but the rest sticks in his throat: his asshole brother bailing on his daughter again, leaving Clint to pick up the pieces; the goddamn mob tormenting his neighborhood; the bills he has to pay, the vet and the car and the hospital too; everything a wreck, his apartment, his job, his life. Clint lifts his free hand and rubs it across his face, but his body still shudders as he tries to breathe and he knows Natasha can hear it.

He gives in then and bangs his head against the bricks, hard enough to feel the bite of pain. “You know what,” he says, his voice thick and harsh. “Just forget it. Forget I called. Forget—”

“I’ll mail it tonight.”

Everything within Clint goes still. “What?”

“I’ll mail it to the precinct. If that’s okay.”

Clint blinks, momentarily thrown by her acquiescence. “I— Yeah. Yeah, it’s okay. Natasha—”

“I have to go.”

His mouth snaps shut at that. Only now does her carefully modulated tone register. Clint’s sharp enough to know there’s something beyond the blank façade, but he can’t suss out what. He never can with her, not even when he has more than two hours of sleep.

He considers saying something, anything, to right this tilt, but nothing comes, only a soft “Okay” that he barely gets out before she hangs up the phone.

*

Nine hours later, Clint flops onto his couch, too tired to do anything more than remove his gun from his holster. Lucky pads up as he groans into the cushions and licks his hand. Clint reaches for him blind, bumping up against the soft fur of Lucky’s chest. Lucky exults in the attention, his tail thwacking against the coffee table in delirious ecstasy. Guilt pricks at Clint. He needs to take Lucky out, play with him as well as feed him, then call Kate back and listen to her mourn Barney once again, maybe pay some bills and eat something so he doesn’t pass out and die, but all Clint can do is groan again, louder when he hears a knock at his door.

He contemplates just staying where he is, though the timing of the knock so soon after his arrival spells that the encroacher knows he’s home. Then the thought that it’s one of his neighbors come about the mob takes root in his brain and refuses to let go. Clint had told them to come to him if they were in trouble, if they needed help. He can’t linger on the couch, can’t fuck up someone else’s life just because his is so shitty, so pushing upright, he shuffles past Lucky to the door.

No neighbor stands on the other side, of course. Natasha does, and the sight of her in the hall, so crisp and cool in clothes he knows cost more than his rent, sends a jolt through him. She holds the handle to a brown paper bag, and as soon as Clint spots it, the scent of pasta and cheese wafts up to him, making his mouth water and stomach rumble.

A faint smile passes across her face. “I thought you might be hungry.” She holds up the bag then as she drops her eyes. “Here. It’s from Mama Luigi’s.”

Clint frowns at her outstretched hand. “You don’t want to come in?”

Natasha hesitates, the pause barely discernable but still there. “I wasn’t sure,” she says. “Before, on the phone…”

Now Clint frowns at her. Natasha never stumbled over her words; she wielded them with a grace that took his breath away most days. He tries to recall their conversation on the phone, to figure out what he said to make her doubt him and them. The remembrance takes too long, the silence sending another flash of uncertainty across Natasha’s face. His heart clenches at the sight, at the thought of her believing he wouldn’t want to see her after this morning, after pushing, perhaps, too far.

“I didn’t mean you. I meant the case. I can’t do the case. Not now. Not when everything’s…” He shakes his head again, unable, as before, to continue. Clint sighs instead and slumps against the doorframe, feeling every inch his old age as he stares at Natasha. This thing between them defied his understanding; it had from the start, from the first time he interviewed her and she followed him home, digging her nails into his side as she kissed him up against his bedroom wall. Shaking his head again, Clint says softly, “I think you’re the one good thing in my life right now.”

Relief flutters across Natasha’s face, tremulous yet clear. She quickly covers with a smile, one so gorgeous that Clint feels his body stir despite his fatigue. “Well, then,” she says as she lowers her arm. “Can I come inside?”

At that, Clint nods. He steps back and opens the door for her to enter. Perhaps he shouldn’t, this thing between them sure to end in disaster. All his relationships did, Clint the master at finding and pressing the self-destruct button. And for this, for them, the line of the law that lay between them was sure to wind a noose around one of their necks. But Clint still steps back and opens the door for her to enter, the risk worth it, the feeling confirmed when Natasha stops before him to lean up and in and press him back against the door with a soft, sweet kiss that says what neither of them can say.

*

Chapter Text

Satan in a Santa Suit

 

That wasn’t Santa standing before Darcy, though it should have been. Her shift as resident helper elf for the Pine Point Santa started in fifteen minutes, but that wasn’t Santa standing before her.

No, that was Satan.

Only Satan tempted souls the way hers was being tempted now. The man stood half-naked in the break room by the coffee table, her destination in this most desperate hour, his hands on his hips and his eyes on the fuzzy red hell that comprised the Santa suit. He’d shed his shirt and coat, but still wore his jeans, and the fluorescent lights above captured both his growing despair as well as the broad expanse of his back. He wasn’t quite as big as Steve, her usual companion in capitalist Christmas misery, but he came close, close enough that Darcy knew he’d have no trouble filling out the Santa suit, though it had been ordered special for Steve.

Darcy considered saying something, but then the man tilted his head to the side for a better view of his velvet misery and his hair tumbled dark and windblown over his forehead, making her bite down on her bottom lip instead. Scruff covered his jaw, the edge of a tattoo peeked at her from the back of his left shoulder, and if that weren’t enough to make her lust and long, the man who should have been Santa let loose a long string of curses then that would get him banned from both the mall and the North Pole if anyone else heard.

“Well, that’s gonna put you on the naughty list,” Darcy said instead.

The man whirled as she spoke. Bright blue eyes met hers, wide at first then narrowing as he took her in. The saving grace of her elf costume was that she didn’t have to wear a fake wig or beard, but that was its only grace. The rest was forest green damnation that stretched too tight across her chest and ass and earned her at least three depraved leers per shift.

The man merely gaped at her. “You’re my elf?”

Darcy arched a brow at him. “I’m the elf, bucko. I belong to no man.”

His shock gave way to a hint of a smile. “Well, that’s good to know. And it’s Bucky, not bucko.”

Now Darcy gaped at him, blinking once before she blurted out, “You’re Steve’s roommate?”

“Uh, yeah.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why? What’d he say about me?”

“Nothing. Just that his roommate was a history nerd named Bucky.” She stopped then to shake her head. “You’re not really what I expected.”

“No?” Bucky tilted his head back to peer at her. The hint of a smile returned, sprinkled this time with a dash of smug. “What did you expect?”

“Uh, a history nerd named Bucky, not… this.” Darcy flapped her hand at him, taking in his hair and tattoo, a black star in the center of his shoulder that extended to a set of minimalist wings, as well as the motorcycle helmet by his feet.

The hint of a smile on Bucky’s face bloomed into a full grin. “Yeah, well, Steve wasn’t exactly accurate about you either.”

“No?”

Bucky shook his head. “‘She’s a swell dame, Buck, that Darcy. Loves coffee and computers.’”

Darcy crossed her arms over her chest. “So? I do and I am.”

“Yeah, but you’re gorgeous, too. Steve conveniently left that out.”

Darcy pursed her lips and stared, caught between pleasure at the compliment and a perverse need to deny him the satisfaction of knowing that his smug flirting succeeded. She was spared the need to decide at the sound of footsteps approaching. Turning, Darcy spotted Clint halfway down the hall. He wore his own elf suit, along with a jingle bell hat and a look of such abject misery that Darcy knew this shift would be hell.

“How bad?” she asked.

“Bad,” Clint said. The bells on his head jingled as he walked. “Steve here yet?”

Darcy shook her head. She turned back toward Bucky, only to find him, naturally, sans pants and in a very snug pair of black underwear. Whirling around again, she said, face flushing, “No. His, uh, roommate is.”

Clint frowned at that. “Bucky?” He stopped beside Darcy and looked past her into the staff room. “Where’s Steve?”

Bucky grunted once before responding. “Trying to finish a portfolio piece that’s due tomorrow.”

Clint cocked a brow. “And he couldn’t send Sam?”

“Hey! What’s wrong with me?”

“So many thoughts come to mind,” Darcy murmured.

Clint looked at her and grinned.

“Hey!” Bucky said again. “What’d she say?”

Darcy narrowed her eyes but refrained from looking back over her shoulder. “She asked if Satan had put on pants yet because she needs coffee before being puked on by manic eight year olds.”

Clint cocked a brow at her. “Satan?”

“I think you mean Santa, sweetheart,” Bucky said from behind her.

Darcy shook her head. “Nope. Sure didn’t.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder and asked, “Is he decent yet?”

Clint glanced back at Bucky and grinned. “Rarely. But yes, he’s dressed.”

“Finally.” Darcy turned around and strode into the room, heading straight for the coffee. Bucky was, at least, wearing the Santa pants and boots along with an undershirt, but he grimaced at the fat belly vest that went under the jacket. Steve had complained on more than one occasion about that being the worst part of the suit, even more than the wig and beard.

“You think people’ll complain if Santa’s thin today?” he asked as she reached for the coffee pot.

Darcy snorted. “Uh, yeah. It’s Christmas, otherwise known as the season of complaining.”

Bucky looked at her and arched a brow. “Not the season of giving?”

Darcy shook her head. “Not unless what’s being given are headaches and a pathological desire to avoid humanity for the next eighty-seven years.” She heard Clint snort behind her. Bucky said nothing as she grabbed one of the Styrofoam cups beside the pot and poured herself a cup. When she replaced the pot, she glanced up at him and found him gaping at her. “What?”

“You. You’re a Christmas Grinch.”

Darcy lifted her brows. “I’m the Grinch? You’re the one who cursed up a blue streak at the sight of his Santa suit.”

“Because it’s made of polyester and is, according to Steve, hot as hell.” Bucky paused then and tilted his head at her. “Is that why you called me Satan? Because of the suit?”

“No.” Darcy turned without explaining further but stopped at the sight of Clint in the doorway, his arms folded and a broad, shit-eating grin upon his face. “What?”

“Nothing,” Clint said. His gaze shifted from Darcy to Bucky, where his grin turned asshole.

“Barton, I will make you eat your goddamn jingle hat if you say one more word.”

Clint held up his hands, but the grin didn’t leave his face. He gave them both a cheery wave as he started to back out of the room. “See you two in five. Don’t be late.”

He turned and sauntered back down the hall, his dumb jingle bells jingling with each step. Darcy shook her head at him then took a sip of her coffee, grimacing at the burnt taste. She turned for the coffee table, hoping to doctor the disaster with a metric ton of cream and sugar, but she drew up short at Bucky looking at her. He dropped his gaze as soon as their eyes met, down to the fat belly vest, where he started pulling it on.

“Is it, uh, as bad as he says?” he said after a moment, glancing at her sidelong as she returned to the coffee table.

Darcy shrugged. “Sometimes. Why? Steve didn’t say?”

“He did,” Bucky said as he straightened the vest. “But I thought he was being dramatic.”

Darcy shrugged again. She dumped a bunch of sugar into her coffee and swirled it with a stirrer. “He probably was, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.” She lifted the doctored drink and took a sip. Lowering her cup, she snagged a creamer and peeled off the top. “You have any experience with kids?”

“Yeah. I got three younger sisters.”

“Then you’ll be fine,” Darcy said. She poured the creamer into her coffee. She could see Bucky slide into the Santa jacket from the corners of her eyes. “Better than me anyway.”

“Why? You don’t like kids?”

“Not on Christmas.”

Bucky glanced at her as he grabbed his gloves. “You like anything about Christmas?”

She tried, really she did, but her eyes dipped down to his waist and her previous lecherous ogles resurfaced in her mind. Darcy felt her face grow hot at the remembrance. She tried to lift her cup to block the incriminating evidence, but she wasn’t fast enough for she spotted a slow and sinful grin spread across Bucky’s face.

“Shut up,” she said eloquently.

“No, no,” he said. “I get it now. Satan.” He tilted his head back again to peer at her. “I’m the one who’s hot as hell.”

Darcy shook her head, but she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her mouth. “You will be in about five minutes.”

He leaned back to grab his final few accessories from the table. “Good thing I have my trusty elf here to keep me hydrated.”

“Yours?” Darcy shook her head again. “Need I remind you, Satan Claus? Darcy is a free elf.”

Bucky sauntered toward her, still smiling. “Is she free tonight? Say for dinner and a movie?”

She laughed at the smooth twist of words. He stopped before her, a holiday Sphinx, the wicked head of Satan, all dark and tousled, atop a fat, crimson Santa. Darcy took another sip of coffee as she contemplated, eyeing him again and the temptation he proffered. She had no reason to say no other than her distrust of all things Christmas, and this, a date with Bucky Barnes, hot history nerd and willing volunteer for underpaid mall Santa, certainly qualified as a Christmas miracle.

“Will there be drinks?” she asked after a moment. “Because we’re going to need a whole hell of a lot of them in about eight hours.”

Bucky nodded. “That I don’t doubt. So there will be drinks.” He paused then and his expression softened. “Is that a yes?”

Darcy nodded. “That is a yes.” She took a step toward the door as he grinned, as light snowflakes and peppermint sparks danced along her spine. “Now suit up, Santa. Your puking public awaits.”

*

Chapter Text

Good Times Gonna Come
(Or Else Death and Dismemberment Will Follow)

 

How did Loki do it? Natasha doesn’t know.

The problem is neither does Loki.

One second they fought in Times Square, dozens of enemies surrounding them, giant insects that bled acid when they were hit, an invasion courtesy of a HYDRA weapon that somehow ripped a tear in the fabric of the universe as it exploded. The next second Loki raised his hands to ward off one of the bugs, his hands gleamed green, and then they stood in a vast plain, the two of them alone, save for the pride of lions that lay beneath the lone tree one hundred feet to their right of course.

The lions turn toward them, their afternoon nap interrupted by the sudden arrival. Natasha holds her guns steady on them, but after a moment, the pride turns away, disinterested in the skinny duo. When they do, Natasha turns toward Loki and raises a brow.

He glances at the lions and then at her and then smirks. “A remarkable similarity, wouldn’t you say?” He reaches out and tugs one of her curls, the color as red as the lion’s mane.

Natasha bats his hand away. “If you don’t get us back to New York, you’ll see just how similar I am.”

His smirk widens into a grin, Loki amused, as always, by her consternation. But he complies, raising his hands once more. His fingers glow green. Natasha glances at the lions to ensure their continued disinterest, and when her eyes flit back to Loki, she finds that they now stand in dense forest exploding in autumnal haze, though when they left New York, it was high summer.

Loki frowns at the scenery. He resumes the spell, green light flares again, and they find themselves beside a pyramid in Egypt covered in snow. The frown deepens, light flares again, and they stand now on a sidewalk in a quaint suburban neighborhood. The frown becomes a scowl, Natasha holsters her guns, and the neighborhood becomes a beach, becomes a farm, becomes a mall, becomes a swamp, becomes Rio, becomes Tokyo, becomes Berlin. More locales pass by, appearing and disappearing so quickly that Natasha can barely follow, but none of them New York, none populated by drooling bugs from outer space. Natasha pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs, accepting what Loki has yet to accept, the unfortunate fact that they were well and truly fucked, lost somewhere in space and time.

Twelve more places flash by before Natasha breaks, tackling Loki as he moves to try again and bringing them both down to the ground. They land in a huff on a crowded city street. People dart out of their way, muttering curses in French. Natasha twists her head, sees Parisian architecture, but period clothing, the time, it seems, somewhere in the 1920s.

She grits her teeth and tries not to sigh again.

“So,” Loki says, drumming the fingers of one hand against her knee, “it seems that something is wrong with my magic.”

Natasha tries, yet fails. The sigh wells within her as she pushes off of Loki. He lifts a hand, expecting her to help him up, but instead she turns away without a word.

She needed a drink.

*

They sit on the roof of a building in Montparnasse, Natasha unwilling to risk a café in their current attire, she in her fighting uniform, Loki in his golden armor. Normally, his magic could conceal them, but in its current workings, he might accidentally transform them into toads or elves or actual 1920s Parisians who had no idea that they were supposed to be fighting giant insects from outer space in New York City in the year 2014 with the rest of their band of misfit superheroes who had only just now come to accept Loki’s place on the team and probably thought that their disappearance was the beginning of some dastardly scheme of his to continue where he had left off what seems like so long ago now: conquering the world.

Natasha swallows from the bottle of cabernet she swiped from a table in a quaint street café. Trying not to grimace, the wine cheap and bitter, she says, “Any thoughts on what went wrong?”

Loki nods. He stares at the Eiffel Tower, hazy in the approaching twilight. “The tear. It’s disrupted the normal flow of space and time. Apparently so much so that I am unable to break back through.”

“So we’re stuck here?” The thought sends an unaccustomed dart of panic through her. The last thing she wants to do is live through the twentieth century again. There were too many ghosts, most of them caused by her.

Loki shakes his head. “I didn’t say that.” He reaches for the wine, swallowing and then grimacing as she did at the taste. Natasha smirks as he thrusts the bottle back at her, the scowl almost a pout, moments like this her clearest reminder that he grew up a prince, accustomed to the finer things in life.

“So if we’re not stuck,” she asks, reclaiming the bottle, “why are we still here?”

“Because I need more power. With it, I can close the tear from this side and then return us mere moments after we vanished.”

Natasha takes another drink. The plan is sound, or as sound as any plan concerning magic, in particular magic from Loki, can be. Still, a sliver of unease worms its way into her gut. Or perhaps that was the wine. “How do you intend to get more power?”

Loki looks at Natasha and grins, and, at the sight, the sliver of unease grows, the grin indicative of an undoubtedly crazy scheme that actually could transform them into toads or elves or Parisians from the 1920s. She waits and, after a moment, Loki lifts a hand and points. Natasha follows his finger, frowning at the needless ambiguity of the gesture. “What? You need clouds? Birds? Space?”

“The moon.”

Natasha drops her gaze, expecting to see Loki’s telltale smirk, proof that the claim is just the next in an increasingly long line of ridiculous statements designed by him to test her patience, but he stares at her, his gaze perfectly serious. “The moon?” she says, arching a brow. “You need the moon.”

“Yes.”

“Seriously?”

“Of course.”

Natasha narrows her eyes. “How?”

The smirk comes at her question. “An astute question, Agent Romanov. You continue to prove why I desire to kill you the least of all your comrades.”

“And yet you’re the one I desire to kill the most. Strange how the world works, isn’t it?”

Loki laughs at her retort. The sight is strange, Loki still new to the Avengers and thus her life again, only a few months into his agreement with the team. Natasha feels her lips twitch in response. She lifts the bottle and drinks again to cover the smile.

“So I don’t exactly require the moon,” Loki says, glancing up at the sky. “I need the moon to be in full. The gravitational pull it exerts upon this planet will be at its height, disrupting the energy sufficiently for me to take us to where I need to go to acquire more power.”

It takes a moment for the implication to set in. When it does, the bottle drops. Natasha looks up at the crescent snagging the darkening sky. A full moon. He needed a full moon. Which means he needed… “Three weeks. We’re going to be here for three weeks.”

“Yes.”

Natasha closes her eyes and pinches again the bridge of her nose.

“Let me guess,” Loki says, and she hears the hint of amusement in his voice, the delight in her frustration, as he moves to stand. “You’re going to require more alcohol.”

She nods. She needed all the alcohol, bottles and cups and glasses and flasks, if she were going to survive three weeks in Paris in the 1920s without one cent to her name, blood and dirt and pus covering her fighting uniform, and the infamous God of Mischief with his unfortunately timed malfunctioning magic as her only companion.

*

Three weeks later, Natasha and Loki arrive back in New York mere moments after they left, she now in crisp trousers and a silky top, he in a three-piece suit, and the two wearing matching gold bands on their left hands.

How did Loki do it?

Only Natasha knows and that’s a story she has no intention to tell.

*

Chapter Text

The message arrives in an innocuous envelope, a plain white one marked only with her name and the address of The Bulletin, the two scrawled on the front in thick black ink. Karen doesn’t even have to open it to know it’s from him, from Frank, though almost eight months have passed since she last saw him. Eight months since ninjas besieged the city, since she saw Frank perched on the edge, literally and figuratively, his gun in hand.

Eight months since she told him he was dead to her if-

Karen closes her eyes and shakes away the thought. The thought, though, remains, lodged beside her others about him, with those about Matt and Wesley and her brother, too, all of them resistant to any and all forms of repression, no matter the amount of alcohol involved.

Ellison claims this is what makes her so damned good as a reporter. Her refusal to let things go.

Foggy says it’s the source of the grey hair he’s found sprouting from his head in recent months.

Karen- well, Karen just sighs and opens her eyes.

The envelope still lies on her desk. She picks it up and flips it over. No return address, of course. No identifying marks of any kind. So it hadn’t been mailed or delivered. Frank brought it here himself. The thought of him entering the building without anyone seeing should make her afraid, who else could enter without detection, but her brain zeroes in on the fact he brought it himself, that it hadn’t been mailed or delivered, because if it had been, she could find him. She could track him those ways, and she could find more than rumors or the careful evasions from Brett in their weekly coffee session.

But he hadn’t. Because he didn’t want her to find him.

She drops the envelope at that and turns away. She shouldn’t want to find him. Jesus, she still had nightmares about the diner. And any whiff of smoke still reminded her of his house, charred and crumbling when she arrived the next day with Ellison. There had been no witnesses to the fire, of course, so Karen doesn’t know if it was the cartel or the military or the Irish or anyone else Frank crossed in his crusade.

She refuses to entertain the possibility that he set the blaze himself, though he had told her, he told her as he shut the door to that shack, that he was already-

She pushes up from her chair and strides away from the desk.

A storm brewed over the city beyond her window. The weather wasn’t as hot as it had been last year, but it was hot enough, hot enough that someone should have noticed the big man clad in the black coat, but no one wanted to notice, not anymore, not after the last few years. Looking meant knowing, and knowing meant death. But not knowing did, too. Karen had learned that the hard way. Fisk and the Hand operated in the shadows. So too had Reyes and the Colonel, all those that tried to sweep Frank and his family under the rug so they could thrive.

Her jaw clenches then and her breath starts to come fast. Ellison claims this is the other thing that makes her so damned good as a reporter, her righteous rage, her refusal to cower to fear, even in the face of grave danger. And that was Frank. Grave danger. He wore it like a brand on his chest, the spraypainted skull that also haunted her dreams, superimposed on his face when she told him he was dead to her if-

Karen turns from the window and eyes the envelope. He pushed her away, told her to stay away, he shut the door and left her out in the cold, and for him to open it again... He wouldn’t do that, not unless he had a reason. This, more than anything, has her moving from the window back to her desk where she lifts and opens the envelope.

Inside she finds an index card, plain white like the envelope, this too bearing a scrawl of black ink. A look tells her it’s an address; a quick search tells her it’s for a diner in Queens. Her breath stops at the realization. The last time she sat in a diner with Frank… Karen drops the index card and closes her eyes. She runs her hands through her hair, tightening her fingers on the ends. He saw her, more than anyone ever had, even more than Matt. And he pushed. He cut to the quick, laid himself bare before her and demanded from her the same. He would again, she knows, not from any malicious intent, or from any intent really, Frank just honest, as blunt as the bullets he dealt from his guns.

But then he’d shut the door and he’d walk away and he’d disappear again, maybe for months, but maybe for good this time, burning away the memory of her as he had his family when he-

Karen jerks her hands down and grabs the index card from her desk, nearly crushing it in her grip. No. Knowing may mean death, but knowing meant life too, and she wouldn’t be swept back into the shadows, not again. Not ever again. And she wouldn’t let Frank be either. He thanked her for it before, for helping him remember. He might not this time, but she refused to cower, not even to Frank. He wasn’t the only one who could push. He didn’t want her to find him, but he wanted them to meet. Whatever he had, whatever he knew, he could have mailed it or delivered it, but he didn’t. He had brought it to her himself. He had brought him to her himself, and Karen was going to figure out why, death and closed doors be damned.

Grabbing her purse, she strides from the room, down the hall and out of the building, into a taxi and to a diner in Queens.

*

Chapter Text

The door is open. Careless. But then Veronica doesn’t think Logan has a lot to care about these days. She peeks her head in, and the room- the room is in shambles. She’s seen it disarrayed before, thoroughly searched for the missing poker winnings. But this. Utter destruction fueled by pure fury. And grief.

Lots of grief.

She spies Logan, asleep, stretched out facedown on a couch along the far wall. He’s still in his Risky attire, sunglasses askew on his head, white button-up wrinkled and slightly torn at the shoulder. A blue blanket rests bunched up around his waist.

She enters the room, one step, then another, like a deer inching into an open clearing, testing the air for danger, danger, Will Robinson. Or like an enemy venturing into foreign territory, running the risk of pain, torture, and death upon discovery. Because even though relations between her and Logan had improved somewhat, from open seething hostility to something bordering on civil, almost an understanding, a detente of sorts, she doubts very much he’d want her, especially her, to seem him like this.

Vulnerable.

Again.

But she has to know.

She stops four steps into the room, far enough to see. The TV is on and frozen on the screen is the footage- the bridge, the car, the water. The dark, plunging shape that may (or may not) be Mrs. Echolls.

Veronica understands his compulsive need to watch. She watched the Lilly video so many times she has a frame-by-frame imprint of it in her mind. She told herself it was to search for clues, for something her father and the entire Neptune sheriff’s department missed. That’s what she told herself.

She lied.

Veronica understands, so she doesn’t try to steal the disc back.

Logan moves, but he doesn’t wake up. She wants to pull the blanket up, tuck it around his shoulders, smooth it over his back. But she doesn’t. She can’t. Lilly’s Veronica could. Could be at ease with those small, intimate gestures of caring and comfort. But not this Veronica. Her sharp edges would tear through the downy comfort, leaving nothing behind but feathery wisps of a useless gesture.

She turns to go; she has a plane to catch. One foot over the threshold and then she hears, “Are you checking up on me, Mars?”

His voice is thick and scratchy with sleep and liquor. Veronica looks back over her shoulder at him. He hasn’t moved; his crooked glasses still cover his eyes; and if he hadn’t spoken, she would have thought him asleep.

Had he ever been asleep?

“Well?”

Was she checking up on him?

Yes.

“No.”

“Good. I don’t need a fucking babysitter. That’s what I have Trina for.” There’s no sharpness to his voice, no cutting vitriol, no aggressive hostility. None of the usual suspects usually reserved for her. There’s nothing.

She pretends she’s not worried.

Logan shifts again on the couch and says, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

She doesn’t.

* * *

Three hours later her cell phone chirps as she waits in line for a rental car.

“Hello?”

Silence on the other end, but she can hear someone breathing, and her heart leaps at the thought that it might be Mom.

“Hello? Mo-?”

“Thanks.”

Logan. Logan calling her. Her brain stops, restarts, driven on by curiosity.

“For what?”

He doesn’t say anything, but she knows he’s still on the line. “Logan-?”

“For trying.”

And then he’s gone. The line shuffles one step forward, but she’s still standing still

Chapter Text

“Dude. Stop it.”

“I’mnotdoinganything.”

Dean gave Sam the Look, the one that said I’m older and smarter and have known you your entire freaking life so don’t even try to lie to me, and Sam squirmed in his seat. He tried his best not to look at the salt shaker by his right hand, but his eyes betrayed him and glanced anyway. Then they glanced at Dean, and Sam felt his face grow hot as Dean leaned back and raised an eyebrow.

Stupid eyes. And people wondered why he grew his hair long.

Dean still looked, all silent and smug, and Sam squirmed again. He contemplated crawling beneath the table so he wouldn’t have to look at Dean anymore or have Dean look at him, and said, “Shut up.”

Because he was twelve.

It was better than kicking his brother in the shin, Sam thought, which is what he really wanted to do. Even if Dean did have his steel toe boots on and would kick Sam twice as hard in return.

Dean laughed and then coughed, the fakest fake cough ever, and it made Sam want to chuck the stupid salt shaker at his head in addition to kicking him in the shin. Twice.

“I didn’t say anything,” Dean said, trying to smother his stupid fake coughing laugh with his hand.

“You didn’t have to. Jerk.”

“I’m sorry, man. I- Really. But you should have seen your face.”

Apparently Dean could see his face, or at least the memory of it, because he burst out laughing again, and Sam buried his head in his menu and tried to focus on the various breakfast choices before him and not on his idiot brother laughing his ass off in the booth opposite him.

Stupid Dean.

“I hate you,” Sam said, not at all like a cranky second grader, and Dean laughed harder.

Which is why Sam kicked him in the shin.

Dean jumped and cursed and laughed at the same time, and people in the restaurant turned to stare at the amazing bouncing Winchester and his fire-engine red brother. Sam slumped down as low as he could go, knocking Dean’s knees out of the way and kicking him again as Dean took a swipe at him from beneath the table.

The Belgian waffles looked good. Yes, they really did.

“Come on, Sammy. Don’t be mad.”

“I’mnotmad.”

“Yeah, and I’m the Queen of England.”

“You’re a royal pain in the ass, I’ll give you that.”

“And you’re-”

Dean didn’t finish. Sam lifted his head and eyebrows and tried to bore twin holes into his brother’s stupid, smirking face with the power of his stare. “I’m what?”

Dean shrugged and looked away, lifting his own menu to peruse the choices instead of answering Sam. Sam stared a couple seconds longer and waited for Dean to answer, but his brother stayed silent for more than thirty seconds, and Sam returned his attention back to his menu, thinking he was safe.

He wasn’t.

Of course.

“It’s just-” Dean said, and Sam sighed and laid his head down on the table.

“It’s just, you were squinting so hard, man,” his brother said, continuing on as though Sam hadn’t just banged his head against the Formica tabletop a couple times. “I thought your whole face was going to explode or something.”

Sam lifted his head and glared but stopped as Dean burst out laughing again. He needed a new way of conveying older brother displeasure aside from the squinty eyed glare of doom, which, apparently, had lost its effectiveness as soon as Sam had tried to play Spoon Boy this morning and move the salt shaker with only the power of his mind.

“Keep laughing,” he grumbled, “and I’ll make your head explode.”

“Yeah, whatever. You can’t do that.”

Sam just stared.

“You can’t.”

Sam leaned back, didn’t say anything, just leaned and looked, and Dean squirmed in his seat and buried his face in his menu and mumbled something along the lines of cranky college boys who needed to get a sense of humor stat.

Sam bit his lip and tried his best not to laugh. Maybe this whole ESP, psychic wonder thing wouldn’t be so bad after all. Especially if it meant that Sam could make his brother squirm and stammer like a teenage boy on his first date without having to do anything more than narrow his eyes.

“I hate you, you know,” Dean said and Sam leaned his head back and laughed.

Which is why Dean kicked him in the shin.

Hard.

Twice.

Sam jumped and cursed and laughed, and the people in the restaurant turned to look at them again but Sam didn’t care. He didn’t care because Dean laughed along with him, and they didn’t think about why Sam was chosen or what would happen to him when Dean wasn’t there or if there were any other boys out there like him and Max whose mothers died pinned to the ceiling. They laughed like they did when Sam was seven and Dean was ten and Sam tripped and fell over his own two feet just seconds before Dean tripped and fell flat on his face from laughing so hard at Sam.

They laughed so hard the salt shaker shook along with them, and Sam suggested Belgian waffles for breakfast.

Chapter Text

Dean believes in hell but not heaven. He’s not sure where his mother is now, but he knows it’s not somewhere with golden harps and sixties footwear, with clouds like cool whip and toga-clad infants. She deserves something better, early spring mornings and iced tea, Joni Mitchell on a never ending radio, and John and Sam and Dean, too. Besides, if there was a heaven, then there would be God, and Dean can’t believe in God. He won’t. No God worth believing in would let his mother die the way that she did, punished for nothing more than loving her son.

Dean sometimes wonders what would have happened if his mother hadn’t woken up. Would his father have found the thing in Sam’s room? Would he be dead now and Mary Winchester alive? Or would Dean have wandered in, a midnight stroll to look at the still strange presence in his home, his family, his baby brother Sammy with big brown eyes and a ready smile for Dean? Would the family mourn now the loss of a firstborn son and unknown brother instead of a martyred mother, missed and missing?

Sam went to church a few times when they were kids. Tense visits with their grandmother, their mother’s mother before she died and all links to Mary Wilson Winchester vanished into tombs and urns. He’d come back quiet, sit and stare out the window, sometimes read a book, the pages still for hours, and Dean would have to wait for him to be Sammy again. He asked his brother once what church was like, and Sam said big and left it at that.

Now Dean goes to church and Sam stays away, Dean to steal holy water, Sam to steal peace. He understands now what Sam had meant, church being big because they were big, usually, even if they only had one room and chipping paint on the white-washed walls.

The quiet there bites into his skin, clogs his throat, floods his ears. Dean steps across the stone floor with feet hushed, boots made humble by the ambience. His grandmother said that the quiet was God, and Dean knows that it is. Empty with absence, oppressive, ever present. The quiet clings to him long after he leaves and he quells it with killing fucking drinking, with dreams of his mother and late nights with Sam. He wonders if God hears the prayers in his shotgun, in his midnight gazings at the still strange presence in his life, his family, his baby brother Sammy, and then he remembers that God doesn’t exist for people like him and he puts his faith into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Mother Ghost.

Chapter Text

Wallace knows he’ll never have every piece to the Veronica Mars puzzle. He doubts even Veronica herself will have every piece. The girl’s probably got things stuffed so far down inside even she doesn’t know about. So the possibility of him a) figuring out what those things are and then b) figuring out how Veronica feels about them are slim to none.

But not for lack of trying.

Because his fate as the boy man destined to attempt to unravel the twisted, prickly knot that is Veronica Mars was forever sealed that afternoon on the beach.

When she waved.

People wave everyday. Wallace knows this. Hello, goodbye, watch out for that pot hole over there, buddy. It’s a common gesture. Babies do it. Old blue haired ladies do it. So Wallace knows he shouldn’t be so affected by something as simple as 1) lift arm, 2) move side to side, 3) drop down.

But he is.

Because Veronica waved to him like she hadn’t ever done it before. Like the gesture was as complicated as Ulysses in sign language or something like that. It wasn’t even an entire wave. She lifted her arm and twitched a finger or two at him. That’s all.

He didn’t understand why that half of a half of a gesture struck him as much as it had. Not then. Not until later when he laid in bed, reviewing the crap day he just had (piss off scary biker gang? check; get taped half-naked to flag pole in front of entire school? check; get cut down by slightly unstable blonde girl with a big ass knife? check), that he finally understood.

It wasn’t the foreign finger-twitching wave.

It was the look.

The girl had looked at him like he’d grown an extra pair of heads when he’d waved to her. Like she couldn’t believe someone (him in particular? a boy (man) person in general? or just anyone at all?) would wave to her. But then there was that smile, a half of a half of a smile just like her wave, and a spark of hope in her eyes that (almost) made Wallace forget about the slightly unhinged, knife wielding Veronica of that morning.

And at that moment of realization, Wallace had to know. He had to know what had happened to Veronica to make something as simple as a friendly wave of hello elicit that sort of hopeful, ‘dying man sees magical, life saving oasis in the middle of the desert but won’t let himself get too happy or excited about it because he just can’t’ kind of smile.

He had to know, so he could make sure it never happened again.

Because Veronica cut him down when no one else would, when she had no idea whether he was the super-fly, pimp juice extraordinaire he was or some jackass like Echolls, when she knew that cutting him down would only ostracize her further from the masses at Neptune High and probably get her targeted by whoever the hell had stuck his naked ass up there in the first place.

So Wallace pokes and prods the tough nut exterior to Veronica’s marshmallow self and he waits. He waits for her next puzzle piece to drop, waits for what had happened and why and how Veronica feels about it and what he can do to make sure it never happens again and if he can’t do that, what he can do to help Veronica because she helped him and Wallace doesn’t turn his back on someone who helps him.

Even slightly unhinged, knife wielding, angry young marshmallow blonde girls.

Wallace knows that he’ll never have every piece to the Veronica Mars puzzle, but he also knows that he’ll never stop trying.

Chapter Text

Prompt from bookworm213: Bucky/Steve: "Come home with me."
Warnings: Just some cursing.

Finding Bucky was never in doubt. Steve knew that he would, someday, somewhere. Or that Bucky would find him whenever he was ready. Because that’s what they did. They found each other, whether in a Brooklyn alley getting beat all to hell or strapped to a cold table in the underbelly of a Hydra base. Steve figured that this time would be one or the other too. He would have placed money on the Hydra base more than the back alley though, Bucky on a righteous tear against Hydra since the fall of Project Insight, but instead Bucky surprises him, sliding into the booth opposite him in the tiny pizzeria half a mile from the Tower just as Steve’s about to eat dinner.

It takes a few moments for Steve to recover, caught as he is in gaping at Bucky and how much he’s changed since D.C. His hair’s still long and his face is still scruffy, but his gaze is clear and steady, this Bucky here before him a far cry from the lost and desperate man who faced Steve on the Helicarrier. He’s not, though, a far cry from the smirking asshole who grew up with Steve, Bucky using those moments to reach across the table and snag the largest slice of pizza from the sizzling pan, the slice, naturally, inches from Steve’s fingers.

Steve narrows his eyes as Bucky, his movements slow and his eyes bright, takes an enormous bite, downing nearly half the slice in one go. He lets loose a lush moan at the first heavenly taste, a loud one that echoes throughout the restaurant and sets Steve’s blood rushing through his body. Bucky’s eyes flutter shut and he leans back against the booth as he chews, but Steve stands firm against the sight, against the feel of Bucky’s legs brushing against his beneath the table, instead maintaining his glare as he says, “And to think, I was going to ask you to come home with me.”

Bucky swallows and opens his eyes. He sets his pizza on the edge of the pan. His knee grazes Steve’s again, and the contact, the reality of Bucky here, their held gaze, and the slow swipe of Bucky’s thumb against his mouth to mop up a stray drop of sauce, makes Steve’s head spin. “Guess you’re gonna have to come home with me then,” Bucky says as he leans forward to grab Steve’s beer.

Steve recovers faster from his shock this time, from the fact of Bucky having someplace to call home and his desire for Steve to go back there with him. “You got dessert?” he asks, arching an imperious brow.

Bucky grins at him, a slow one that unfurls like an incendiary fuse to set his body alight. “You’re lookin’ at it.”

He lifts the bottle then to take a long pull of beer. Steve feels his mouth go dry as Bucky tilts his head back, exposing the taut line of his throat. The urge to rip the table from the wall and toss it aside so he can close the distance between them, so he can press Bucky back against the creaky leather of the booth and kiss him, blows through Steve like a hurricane, but all he does is lift one shoulder in a cool shrug before reaching again for the pizza.

“And I have chocolate potato cake too, you walking stomach.”

Steve pauses, powerless to stop the smile that blooms across his face. He glances up and meets Bucky’s gaze, finds the same dopey grin on his face too.

“Real chocolate too. Some of that fancy Swiss shit that Dernier loved.”

Steve pretends to debate, glancing down at his pizza again.

“Ass,” Bucky says, swatting at Steve’s leg beneath the table.

Laughing, Steve reaches out and clasps Bucky’s hand. Bucky freezes at the contact, or maybe at the tenor of it, Steve’s grip soft and affectionate. Steve understands, their prior contact bruising and desperate, friendly and teasing, but rarely soft and affectionate. The fault had been Steve’s, his chip at the world too big to let himself soften. He intends to make up for it now. Heart in his throat and on his sleeve and in his touch, he strokes the back of Bucky’s hand with his thumb. At this, Bucky ducks his head. The tips of his ears burn bright, but he doesn’t pull away. Instead, he threads his fingers through Steve’s and holds on tight.

Steve feels the dopey grin return to his face. Bucky flushes harder when he catches sight of it and he rolls his eyes, but he smiles too as he tugs at Steve’s hand.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s grab a box and go home.”

*

Chapter Text

She chews sour cherry Bubble Yum when she slays. She keeps a stash in the glove box of the Impala, and she always pops a piece or two before they get to work. The bittersweet smell fills the car, the tart fruit mingling with the slick oil from Dean’s gun and the tang of the oak from her newly shorn stake.

In the black of the night, Dean tracks her by the pops, by the flash and collapse of hot pink spun sugar as she builds bubbles between blows. The gum glows fluorescent amid vamp dust and blood and guts, and when she kisses him after the fight, Dean tastes the glow sticky on his tongue.

Chapter Text

The smell of the ocean makes Dean gag. It smells too much like dead fish, which smells too much like dead demon, which reminds Dean of what he wants to forget.

He watches the waves crest. His toes sink another inch into the sand, and Dean wonders if he stood still long enough, if he stood and the waves kept crashing and the sand kept sliding, if he just stood, not moving, just stood and breathed and watched, would the world let him sink, swallow him down, swallow him whole, or would it discard him once again, throw him back out to the demons and the devils lurking always behind.

The sun slips behind the horizon; Dean watches the water recede again. Sam sits a few feet away, safe behind the falling sea line, a book in his hands. A real book, too, something about a Mexican priest. Or maybe that was the last one. Dean squints at the cover; a pair of up turned hands and a bowler hat meet his gaze. A Mexican priest in a bowler hat then.

Sam flips a page, catches Dean staring. He blinks and lifts a brow, and his eyes shine yellow in the sun. But then he shifts and smiles and Dean sees green again, the shadow sliding out with the tide.

Chapter Text

“Good golly, Miss Ronnie. What the hell happened to your hair? Close encounter with a weed whacker?”

Logan expects no response. In the three months, two weeks, and five days since the Lilly video hit the ‘net under Keith Mars’ oh-so-not careful watch, and in the three months, two weeks, and four days since Logan officially transferred Veronica from the friends to enemies column, the only responses to his taunting- no, to his punishment- have been tear-filled glances and tight-lipped silence.

Two things that almost make Logan stop.

Stop the snide remarks. Stop the cruel confrontations.

Because Veronica had been his friend, his first after moving to Neptune. God, he remembers seeing her for the first time like it had been today. Not even yesterday with the night’s darkness and cool breezes to dull the memory. But today, just five scant minutes ago, the memory was so crystal clear in his mind. It was his second day in Neptune- registration day at the local middle school. He remembers approaching the double front doors of Neptune Middle, remembers walking a respectable four and a half feet behind his mother because he was cool, damn it, remembers rounding the corner to the principal’s office and seeing her there in all her soccer glory. All long blonde hair lit by the late afternoon sun. All short shorts and knee socks. All California tanned goodness. She sent a shy glance and a welcoming smile his way, and he ambled over to say hello. Wow her with the Echolls charm.

Of course, all thoughts of macking on Mme. Mars vanished the instant she introduced him to Lilly Kane and Lilly’s sinful smirk. But Veronica remained his friend. Hell, he’d wanted her to be his friend, be a pure ray of sunshine-lit innocence in his crooked and corrupting world.

So it hurt; it hurt him; it hurt the memory of who he used to be, the memory of who he and Veronica used to be before Lilly’s death, to hurt her like he did with his harsh words and harsher glances.

But he did it anyway.

The memory of Lilly’s broken and bloodied body hurt him more.

The knowledge that the memory of Lilly’s broken and bloodied body didn’t hurt Veronica enough, Veronica who had seen Lilly with her own damn eyes lying by the Kane’s pool, for her to admit that her father had been wrong in going after Jake Kane hurt Logan more than seeing those tear-filled glances and hearing those tight-lipped silences.

So Logan keeps pushing. Keeps picking at the wounds he knows she bears because someone has to stand up for Lilly and the Kanes. Because Lilly was her best friend and Duncan was her boyfriend. Because the Kane family deserved her loyalty and Veronica turned her back on them.

“I know how you Mars women love the bottle. You didn’t go snip, snip during a drunken late night bender, did you?”

But it’s hard. Pushing. Picking. Keeping up that constant stream of vitriol and viciousness against someone who used to be his friend. And in that place deep down inside himself where Logan stores everything he hasn’t let himself feel since Lilly’s death, he knows it’s getting harder. He knows that if Lilly were here right now to see him treating Veronica like this, like absolute shit, she’d give him the worst verbal smackdown of his life, cold clock him one upside the head, and then dump his sorry ass right there in front of the entire school.

But Lilly’s not here.

And that’s the problem.

“No, wait, let me guess. You decided to pinch hit for the other team and needed an appropriately butch haircut to go along with it.”

Logan doesn’t expect a response, so he tries to steel himself for the tears and the silence.

Logan doesn’t expect a response, so when he gets one, he’s more than a little surprised.

“I just took in a copy of your eighth grade picture. My stylist warned me that it looked a little gay. I guess she was right.”

He’s thankful.

Because it means that Veronica doesn’t have her sunshine or her innocence anymore and nobody should have that now that Lilly’s gone. It means that Veronica’s world is now like his; everything’s crooked and corrupt and there’s nothing left but nastiness and pain and a few harsh words for the right person across the way. It means that he won’t have to fight to keep everything he’s felt since Lilly’s death and Veronica’s betrayal inside anymore, that he won’t have to be pulled between loyalty to Lilly and fond remembrances of Veronica, that he won’t have to find the strength to face the tears and the silences and the fact that they’re Veronica’s, Veronica who used to be his friend, because, most of all, it means that Veronica can be strong enough for the both of them.

And for that, he’s thankful.

Chapter Text

Lorne used to live in music. Breathe it. Feel it in every muscle, bone, and horn, in every moment of every day. He tasted big brass horns in the neon-colored cosmos made specially for him at Caritas. He heard tinkling piano melodies whenever Fred giggled at the Sunday comics.

She liked Foxtrot.

He saw the gritty squeal of an electric guitar in the flare of Spike’s coat as he swaggered around Wolfram and Hart. Saw pounding bass and drums in the flash of Gunn’s axe and synthesized electro-pop in Cordelia’s smile.

There is no music now. There’s only the soft swish-squish of silenced bullets and the last gasps of a dying man endlessly playing and replaying in his mind like a looped record, a sample of death and murder.

Chapter Text

Pete couldn’t believe it. The only other person to come to Chloe’s funeral besides him was Lex freaking Luthor. No Clark. No Lana. Chloe’s own cousin hadn’t even come.

But Lex had.

He looked like five kinds of shit, too. Too skinny, too pale, under-eye circles so dark it looked like he’d been punched in the face. Repeatedly.

“I knew you’d come,” Lex said as he stopped beside Pete. Pete didn’t look at Lex, staring instead at the slight mound of dirt covering the grave.

Her grave.

“Yeah? Why is that?”

“Because you loved her.”

Silence, then, “Yeah. I did.”