A group of highly specialized people were brought together by the government to infiltrate and disable an enemy base.
However their mission was declared an act of war and the government disavowed all knowledge of the mission.
The team was convicted as criminals and sentenced to life in prison.
They escaped from military custody.
Now they survive on the fringes, working where they can and unable to go back to their previous lives, each of them hoping that someday, they will get their lives back.
“Something has got to be done, Phil,” Darcy said surveying the mangled engine that once powered the nursery’s irrigation system. “This has gone past the friendly warning stage and well into asshole territory.”
“Darcy’s right,” Maria said, hands on her hips, her brown eyes narrowed. Darcy recognized that look. That was pure Do Not Mess With Maria. It took a lot to get Maria pissed off, but when she was? Well. Jimmy from the gas station on the edge of town still avoided her after getting that particular look. “And you know that the police aren’t going to do anything apart from hem and haw.”
“Literally,” Darcy added, picking up a bit of metal and then dropping it back to the ground. “As in Dave will just say ‘Hem’ and then ‘Haw’ when told about this. The man has a very limited vocabulary.”
“He might take offense at your stereotyping him,” Phil said standing straight, hands loose at his sides. Honestly, the guy was just too much. In a good way. It had been an incredibly lucky day when their mayor had sidled over to Darcy after a town meeting and quietly recommended her "old friend" after Old Albert had retired. And while Darcy had been a little puzzled and put-off by the man's formal demeanor, Sadie had taken one look and hired him on the spot. It had been one of the only good bits of luck Green Thumb had managed in the last year. “But I take your point. I should have been here-“
“What?” Darcy said side-eyeing her security guard. “When? When you were making sure that the York brothers didn’t drive off without paying or while you were making sure Jane didn’t die when her ventilation fan conked out?” She shook her head. “You’re a badass dude, but you can’t be everywhere at once. So don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”
“Darcy’s right,” Sadie, Darcy’s grandmother, said. “We did not hire you with the intention of you having to defend us singlehandedly against every bit of bad luck. You chased off the fellows who were messing around in the greenhouse just yesterday, so cut yourself some slack.”
Maria nodded in agreement when Phil looked over. He gave them both a tight nod.
“Thank you. The fact remains that we need to be more pro-active about this,” Phil said. “What did Ms. Fontaine say when you spoke to her earlier?”
Darcy sighed and turned to head back to the main house. Spring evenings settled in slowly in central Florida and the sky was just turning a deep ocean blue.
“Val said there wasn’t much she could do,” Darcy said looking out over the plant nursery that she’d grown up on and the old house she’d grown up in. The paint was beginning to peel on the eastern side and the winding drive that led up to the nursery could use a re-pavement, but the canopy of trees was still lush and green, and the new coat of paint on the shop made it shine. “Legally, Connor is well within his dumbass rights to buy up as much land as he wants.”
“Surely it isn’t legal to threaten people?” Maria asked drily.
Darcy snorted and gave her adopted cousin and nursery’s site manager an eyeroll. “It’s not.”
“He’s been very careful to distance himself from any of the illegal activities,” Phil said. “Any offers he’s made to people have all been in plain sight with credible eyewitnesses. Very clever.”
“Oh, the guy’s smart,” Darcy said. “I’ll give him that. He’s just a jerk in every other respect.”
“He won’t stop until your family sells,” Phil said.
“Which we will not be doing,” Darcy growled through clenched teeth, her fierce love of the place swelling up inside of her. “I will go Scarlett O’Hara on his ass if I have to. He’s not getting this land.”
Sadie smiled fondly at her. “I’ve taught you well, my little steel magnolia.”
“I was born in Indiana,” Phil commented mildly.
“We know. You’ve been forgiven for that,” Maria said deliberately letting a bit of drawl come through.
Darcy snickered. Maria had started work at Green Thumb when Darcy was a senior in high school. Her ability at making things grow, along with her complete and utter acceptance of all things Lewis made her an honorary member of the family.
“On that note,” Sadie said. “I’m going for my walk.”
“Really?” Darcy asked concerned. “Are you sure that’s…” She shook her head. “Know what? Never mind. Have a nice walk.”
“Don’t worry so much, sweetie. Gives you wrinkles.” She kissed Darcy’s cheek, smiling fondly. Darcy bit her lip at the dark circles prominent under her grandmother’s eyes. As frustrating and hard as this was for her, she knew it was that much harder for her Grandmother. A woman who’d poured most of her adult life into these fields and this business. “Stop fretting, Phillip. We’ll figure this out.”
“Yes ma’am,” Phil said giving her a small smile.
Darcy was unable to shake off the uneasy feeling in her stomach as she watched Sadie set off on her evening stroll along the edge of the field, a freshly rolled cigarette in her hand. Sadie had walked along the edge of the Lewis property every night since she moved here back in the early 60s with Darcy’s grandfather. The only exceptions had been the night she gave birth to Darcy’s father, the night Darcy was born, and the night that Darcy’s parents died and Sadie had driven up to Atlanta to get Darcy and bring her back home.
Connor Dewsey and his hired goons were not driving her off this land. No chance in hell was Darcy going to let that happen.
“Look, shoot me down if this is taking things too far and I’m being a big worrywart, but Val also mentioned calling in some old friends of hers. Back from when she was all military-lady. The Avengers? I think that’s what they were called,” Darcy said. She looked over at Phil. “She said they were your friends, too. Once upon a time.”
In the last six months that Phil had been working for Green Thumb Nurseries, Darcy had only seen him look apprehensive twice. The first time was when he was handed a homemade mojito, the second was when old man Turner showed up to pick up his mulch and had forgotten his pants. Again.
If the slow blink and slight hesitation in his walk were anything to go by, this marked the third.
“Ah,” was all he said though.
Darcy and Maria exchanged a look.
“Care to elaborate?” Maria asked, her eyebrow quirked.
“Not at present,” Phil said, calmly drifting to a stop near where the path split off between the main house, the green house, and the little shop that also functioned as the office. “But if Ms. Fontaine is considering calling them in, then she’s worried that things are going to escalate.”
“Escalate how?” Darcy asked. From where she was standing, things were pretty escalated.
Phil didn’t answer, which just freaked Darcy out and she had to count to fifteen in Pig Latin before saying, “Thanks, dude. I’m feeling totally reassured now. I’m going to go make sure Jane’s still alive.”
“I’m going to check on the greenhouse,” Maria said adjusting her baseball cap and tucking her ponytail through the back.
“I’ll come with before my evening patrol,” Phil said.
“See you both at oh twenty-three hundred o’clock,” Darcy said.
Maria chuckled while Phil said, “That isn’t actually a time, you know.”
“Semantics,” Darcy said waving a hand in the air before heading towards the small lab on the other side of the house.
As she walked along the edge of the field, Darcy drew in a deep breath, and let herself just feel for a minute. Pride at what her family had built, duty to protect it, frustration at how everything seemed to just be going wrong, and finally, fear that she couldn’t fix this. Couldn’t make it better. It was a weight that she welcomed because it meant something. And while this burden was heavy, it was one she was proud to shoulder, but damn, it was still heavy.
She breathed in and let her shoulders slump and reached her hands out to trail along the lavender plants the bordered the path to the small lab. She held her fingers to her nose to smell the fresh scent left on her skin.
In all honesty, she hadn’t really planned on still being at the nursery a year and a half after she’d graduated with her BA in Political Science. A subject no one else in the family had attempted. When she’d told Sadie her major, Sadie had stared at her and then laughed while saying, “Well, if you’re going to buck family tradition, commit.”
“Not that I’m not happy to be here,” she muttered. “Just…” She blew out a breath. “God, so much for not spending the summer here.”
Darcy had promised herself that she’d work at the nursery and figure out what the hell she wanted to do with the rest of her life and then try out something new over the summer. Her projects at the nursery had been running smoothly for ages and Maria and Sadie truly had everything in hand.
“Connor freakin’ Dewsey, you ass,” she said loudly, her voice bouncing off the wall of the lab. The second she’d seen the damaged seedlings two mornings ago and then the irrigation system tonight…
Darcy reflected on the stack of grad school brochures and volunteer opportunities collecting dust on her desk and all the bookmarked links in her browser. There were so many possibilities, and the part of her that wasn't pondering homicide-by-shovel on Connor was itching to get started on something... else.
Just as well I didn’t start applying anywhere, she thought glumly. Immediately feeling guilty for feeling glum, she shook her head. This is your family, don’t be selfish, Lewis.
It wasn’t like she even knew what she was restless for. She had no idea if grad school was even the answer. She just knew that there was something just out of reach and if she could put her hands on it, everything would settle into place.
Maybe you’re PMS-ing, a snarky voice said in her head.
“I’m not PMS-ing,” she muttered. “I’m just antsy. And anxious. Not hormonal.”
Although maybe she was. It had been a stupidly long time since Darren the Graphic Artist and his talented hands and terrible conversation skills.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “Stop whining and deal with the problem at hand. Worry about your future and sex life later.”
When she got to the front door she could just see Jane switching her glare from her notebook to her slides. Darcy shook her head, entered in the passcode on the keypad and opened the door. Jane. Predictable, predictable, Jane.
“You still breathing noxious fumes?” she asked going inside.
“Not since Phil got the shaft properly situated,” Jane said, not even looking up from the microscope in front of her. Darcy liked Jane. Like, really liked Jane. She had this ability to just immerse herself into her work that Darcy found awesome. They’d been thrown together as roommates in college, even though Jane was working on her Masters and Darcy was in her undergrad. Through a shared love of Pop-Tarts, bad sci-fi, and libraries they’d totally hit it off and had been really sad to leave each other when Darcy graduated. But Jane emailed Darcy six months ago looking for a lab and access to plants and Darcy had told her to come on down and be part of the family.
“That’s what she said,” Darcy smarmed. Jane threw her a Look. Darcy just waggled her eyebrows and threw herself onto the second lab stool, which creaked dangerously under said treatment.
“How’s the irrigation system?” Jane asked, absently scooting back from her table and shifting her slides a few inches away from Darcy.
“Borked,” Darcy said with a sigh.
“Is that the technical term?”
“No. I think the technical term is ‘completely fucked’,” Darcy said leaning against the newly cleared lab table, and letting more than a little morose into her voice. She could be more open with Jane than she could with Maria, Sadie and Phil. As much as Green Thumb was Jane's PhD project, if pushed, she could probably track down new lab space. Her Gran and Maria, though. Well, yeah she couldn't really picture either of them anywhere other than Green Thumb. She didn't want to either. But, whatever. Jane was a better pity-party sounding board, if just because her brain was really still on plant mitochondria, and she probably wasn't really paying attention. “I don’t know how we’re going to get it fixed. It’s not like we’ve got the money. Or the manpower.”
“I could look at it?” Jane asked looking extremely unsure. Though, bless her, completely sincere.
Darcy shot up an eyebrow and wagged a finger at her. “Do you know anything about engines?”
“Stick to the plant genes,” Darcy said. “But thanks.”
Jane shook her head. “I’m really sorry, Darcy. I’ve tried to see if the university will help out, but they, um…”
“Something like that,” Jane said. “I keep getting the impression they were glad to get rid of me.” She frowned at her notes. “I don’t think they believe in my work.”
(Which, yeah, Darcy really didn't understand what could be controversial about plant research. Weren't plants kind of sorted? It wasn't like Jane was trying to discover new and different uses of marijuana. Actually, Darcy didn't really understand much of Jane's research at all, so maybe her bosses didn't either. Still, screw Jane's bosses. Jane was awesome.)
“Well, they’ll eat their snooty hats when your stuff turns out to revolutionize farming across the world. Don’t worry about it, science-girl,” Darcy said giving Jane a smile that she only half-felt and echoed Sadie’s earlier words, “We’ll figure this out.”
Jane opened her mouth to say something, but a hoarse cry came from outside the lab.
Darcy and Jane froze, staring at each other.
There was only one person who could scream like that, and everything in Darcy went cold.
“Gran!” Darcy yelled before bolting for the door.
Frantic, Darcy dashed into the yard, looking first left, then right. In the distance, Sadie was struggling with a figure in black, smacking hard at narrow shoulders, and generally screaming herself hoarse. Darcy took off towards them at a dead run. The attacker was grabbing at Sadie’s flailing hands, seemingly in an attempt to subdue her. The figure finally caught Sadie's forearm, and swung her to the ground with a hard jerk.
“Gran!” Darcy shouted and pulled out the taser she had taken to keeping in her pocket. “Back off, asshole!”
“Darcy!” Phil’s voice came from too far away and Darcy knew what she had to do, once she was close enough, she pulled the trigger.
The prongs shot out from the taser and hit the bastard directly in the kidneys. He grunted and let go of Sadie, who did her best to kick him in the shin. Then he grabbed the sparking prongs and pulled them out of his side and turned and ran.
That should have taken him down, Darcy thought absently, but pushed the thought to the side. She had better things to worry about than the fleeing man; Darcy dropped to beside her grandmother as Phil shot past them in pursuit of the man in black. Jane and Maria joined Darcy on the ground.
“Gran?” Darcy asked frantically, her heart beating fast and her hands shaking. “Oh, God. Are you okay?”
Sadie nodded, flapping a hand to get the girls out of her space a bit, her face pale in the late evening light. “Just…winded, baby. He was…lurking…by the lab. Sonofabitch.”
She moved to get up, but Darcy kept her still on the ground for a moment longer.
“Easy, easy,” Darcy said swallowing angry and scared tears. “Just give it a sec. For me?”
“Okay. Okay, baby,” Sadie said as she closed her eyes and leaned into Darcy. Darcy felt her eyes burn. An irrigation system was one thing, but this was her Gran. That asshole'd put hands on her Gran.
“Let’s get you inside, Sadie,” Maria said gently, breaking the moment and letting both shaken women pull themselves together a bit. The three women helped Sadie to her feet, keeping hands on her as Sadie limped in between them towards the house.
Phil joined them as they reached the door, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. Darcy knew what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth. The lack of black-clad asshole and the perfectly prim frown of annoyance said everything. “I lost him. Mrs. Lewis, are you all right?”
“Fine as frog’s hair, Phillip,” Sadie said when she was clearly not. Darcy frowned and wrapped her fingers around her wrist, using the distraction of steering her towards the kitchen to check her pulse. Sadie's color hadn’t come back and, yeah, just like Darcy thought, her pulse was far too high. Sadie's hands shook as she pulled out her silver cigarette case.
“Was this the escalation you were referring to?” Maria asked, her voice tight and prissy, which totally meant she was ready to start kicking things. Phil just nodded.
It was actually Maria's reaction that made up Darcy's mind. Her cousin was a lot of things, and most of those fell under the heading of "unflappable". Maria'd taken her adoption, old man Turner's nudity, and pretty much every trial that'd ever been thrown at her with grace, aplomb, and a practicality that bordered on terrifying. To see her this shaken...
Shit. This changed everything. Darcy felt sick. This wasn’t just some asshole being dumb, this was personal. Hell, this was criminal.
“I’m calling Val,” Darcy said, her voice steadier than she felt. “We’re getting these Avengers in here pronto.”
Darcy’s eyes met Maria’s who paused briefly and then nodded. Darcy then moved her gaze to Jane who was handing Sadie a glass of water. Jane nodded vehemently.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if they’re on our side, bring them in,” Jane said, her hand bracing Sadie's arm.
Darcy then turned to Maria who looked thoughtful, but nodded eventually.
“Phil?” Darcy asked, saving him for last. He had experience with these people, and if he thought they could help, even a little, it was settled. “You know them, should we do it?”
Phil stared back steadily at her and then nodded. “Yes. Call them in.”
“Good,” Sadie said decisively. Then she poked both Darcy and Maria in the stomachs. “Now, who the hell are they?”
Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, former agent for the United States Government, had a plan.
It wasn’t an elaborate plan. It consisted of nothing more than ‘keep your head down and don't get caught.’ Simple in its terms, difficult in its execution. It meant that he'd spent the last six months doing odd jobs and blending into the background. It also meant he had no idea why he was sitting in a tree. Next to a boathouse. In Florida.
Actually, that wasn’t true. Phil Coulson had gone to the wall for Clint, too many times to blow off. Besides, when Cap had called, Clint had been North Dakota, and spring in Florida over North Dakota snowmelt was a no-brainer.
Ears open and eyes moving, Clint let his mind slip back to the last time he'd seen Phil; the day his country had declared him a traitor. He normally had an excellent memory, but for once in his life, they were clouded by emotions making his memories a series of images blurred by rage, grief, and disbelief. The dark panel of the wood behind the judge. The weight of his uniform. Stark's conspicuous absence. Steve and Thor, tall and angry, all the more intimidating in their silence. Natasha, a slim line between him and the others, her bored annoyance terrifying and heartbreaking. The defeated curve of Bruce's back when the sentence had been read.
Clint hadn't even been able to look at Phil, sitting in the front row, his own face impassive, even belying the passion he used to defend the team.
Mostly, he remembered the weird feeling of almost-relief when the whole sham ended with the judge's monotone declaring the whole lot guilty.
Clint blinked out of the memory, once again thanking god that Stark had seen the writing on the wall, first by avoiding the trial, then the arrest, then breaking all their asses out from various and far-flung federal prisons. He'd been the last of the group to be 'liberated', so by the time he'd been handed a drop-bag with a few thousand dollars, a few id's, a burn phone with six numbers, and his good leather jacket, all he'd had to do was disappear. Which he did; because he was good at it. Circus living, had assured he could live pretty much anywhere, and do all types of odd jobs. And he had, all the while missing being a part of a team of people that had taken him seriously. Taken him seriously. As a person and not just a skill set.
But then Cap called him with info that Phil needed help. So…here he was. In Florida. Jesus.
He’d arrived the night before, parked his truck in a grove half a mile away, and scouted a secure observation point.
One thing was very clear; the small city of Palmetto Springs in central Florida was not Miami. Sure there were sand and palm trees, but there were also pines, live oaks, bugs, and serious lack of beaches and bikinis. Clint decided to just be thankful they were in the middle of nowhere, and not stuck in Disney World.
That place gave him the creeps.
He shifted slightly in his tree, and scanned the immediate terrain. Steve, Natasha, Thor and Bruce had slipped in earlier, and he could see them moving around through the grimy boathouse windows. It had been nearly six months since he'd seen them all together, and he was having a really hard time not storming the place and doing something stupid like giving them all hugs, masculinity and pride be damned. Especially since Stark wasn't around. Though, Clint had no idea if Tony was even going to show.
Probably will if only to be an ass, Clint thought. I just hope he brings the good stuff.
On the lam and Tony Stark still had access to the best scotch. Some guys.
Clint lifted his head at the sound of a car turning down the dirt track masquerading as a road to the lake. Not thirty seconds later, a large blue Cadillac convertible rumbled into view. Clint grinned brightly.
“I knew she got the car,” he said under his breath, nearly laughing. The Caddy rolled to the stop and a gorgeous woman in a steel gray suit got out. “Hello, ma’am,” he muttered lowly, with more than a little appreciation.
Valentina de la Fontaine, the ex-girlfriend of Clint’s late boss, looked incredible. Clint shook his head. If only Commander Fury could see you now. In the middle of Florida, getting jobs for his wayward team.
The only time Clint had seen Commander Nick Fury grin while he was yelling was when he was with Val. She was a tiny thing, with big, warm eyes and smile that could go from sexy to sharp in a heartbeat. Smart, capable, strong, beautiful…the whole package. Not to mention she had better aim than most of the guys he’d worked with. Her knowledge of weaponry was unbelievable. He never knew what it was that made her quit the program. One day she was there, the next day she wasn’t and Fury was both furious and sad and that made him even scarier than usual.
Clint had heard she’d moved back to her hometown. She looked damn good. What a hell of a reunion this was going to be.
God, what the hell was he doing here?
He hadn’t seen anyone in the team since they’d split up, apart from Bruce. They’d met up in Missouri by accident, shared an uncomfortable beer and went their separate ways. Which had hurt. They’d always gotten along Before.
Before the verdict. Before Fury had been killed. Before. When they’d been a team that shouldn’t have worked, shouldn’t have been so much…fun to be a part of. He’d honestly thought Fury had lost his mind when he’d brought everyone together. No way in hell was the group ever going to work together.
But they did. And they did it well.
Then Fury was dead, they were framed for it, tried, convicted, and on the run. Fuck.
Clint shoved that to the back of his mind as another car made the turn off the main road and trundled into view. This one was an old, red Ford pickup. Practically an antique, but still running, and well from the sound of it. It pulled to a stop next to the Caddy, and a gorgeous pin-up of a girl hopped out of the driver’s side.
Clint blinked. Took in the hour-glass figure, gorgeous legs poking out of denim shorts, and blinked again.
Below him, the woman pushed her sunglasses up on her head, pulled her wavy, brunette hair away from her face, and Clint’s mouth went dry as she smiled at Val. The girl’s mouth was a work of art and Clint had to swallow hard. He watched the two women hug each other.
Shaking off that view, he shifted his gaze, grinning as Coulson slid into view, helping an older woman with platinum blonde hair out of the truck.
“Always the gentleman,” Clint muttered.
No sooner had he finished speaking, Clint watched Phil's lips move and suddenly the women, plus Phil, were all staring in his direction.
“Thanks, sir,” Clint muttered before dropping out of the tree. He bent his knees as he landed, and walked lazily towards the group, letting his eyes scan the horizon.
“Oh my God, seriously?” the curvy brunette exclaimed, her voice strong and clear as Clint walked over to them. “Are they all ninjas?”
“Yes,” Coulson said, his eyes still on Clint. “In their own ways.”
“We learned from the best,” Clint said, stopping next to Coulson's elbow. Gave him a polite nod. “Sir.”
The two men stared at each other for a few moments, and then shook hands.
“Good to see you, sir,” Clint said, letting his voice warm. Because it was. More than he really wanted to admit.
“Well, I feel all warm and fuzzy now,” the brunette said looking between Clint and Coulson.
“Darcy, hush,” the older blonde show-whispered, her eyes dancing. She was digging out a lighter for the cigarillo dangling from the corner of her lip. She took a second to light it, and take a deep drag before blowing it out and continuing. “They’re clearly having a moment which we should respect.”
“We could leave you gentlemen alone, if you’d prefer,” Val said, her lips curving into a smirk and raising an eyebrow. “After all a reunion between former colleagues is a beautiful thing.”
“Especially if they start kissing,” the brunette said. “Feel free to start kissing.”
Coulson’s mouth twitched and Clint bit off a laugh. Yeah, he liked them already.
“Interesting group of people you’re running with these days, sir,” Clint said, wry amusement bleeding into his tone.
“You truly don’t know the half of it,” Coulson said, eyes projecting fondness. Then he turned his head towards Clint, his business face sliding on. “Everyone else here?”
“Everyone except Stark,” Clint said, feeling his back straighten into a simulation of parade rest. He looked over at Val. “Ma’am. I always wondered what happened to that Caddie.”
Val smiled, throwing a glance that was equal measures fond and evil over her shoulder at the car. “It’s been in good hands, I promise you, Agent Barton.”
“It’s just Clint these days, ma’am,” he said.
“And I’m only called ma’am when I’m in court,” Val said patting his arm.
“Shall we go inside?” Coulson said gesturing to the other two women who were watching everyone with identical scrutinizing looks.
“Definitely,” the brunette said. “I’ve moved past ‘Intrigued City’ and am well on my way to ‘WTF Town.”
Coulson gave her a smile and Clint raised a brow. Yeah, he liked this girl. Which was new. He didn’t tend to like people at first sight.
You’re too used to judging people by their dossiers, Hawkeye, he told himself. Out in the real world, people just like each other. Don’t make it so complicated.
As a group, they headed towards the boathouse, Clint giving a final scan of the surrounding areas; he smirked when he saw Coulson do the same thing.
“Old habits, sir?” Clint asked.
“Hardest to break,” Coulson said. Clint grinned and he followed Coulson inside.
Darcy glanced around the old boathouse as she entered. It had been the first place she could think of when Val'd asked her for a meeting place. It was on the edge of the national park, and no one but a few local families had come here for years. It was quiet, private, and inaccessible, barring the old track outside, or tromping through quite a bit of swamp. From the smell of tree-guy, he'd probably stomped through the bog -–or ninja'd his way through – before climbing up that oak. Not that tree-guy smelled bad. Okay, yeah, definitely not somewhere she wanted to go right now, even if he'd looked really hot jumping out of that tree. And male-posturing with Phil. Darcy drew in a quick breath, letting the familiar smell of weathered wood and lake water settle her a bit, before eyeing up the crew in front of her.
She had to give Val one thing, she knew some terribly attractive people; and that wasn’t counting the ninja with the biceps from the tree.
“Ma’am,” a very tall blond man said to Val, his nice smile bringing to mind all sorts of wholesome things. “It’s very good to see you.”
“Thank you, Captain Rogers,” she said shaking his hand. “It’s good to see all of you.”
Darcy pressed her arm to Sadie’s. Her Gran was still pretty shaky on her feet, and while the woman was too proud to use the cane Maria'd fished out of the attic, she definitely needed support. Quietly, she glanced around at the people lounging around the room, all in various states of alert. Apart from the blond talking to Val, there was another blond guy – one who looked like he might be even taller than the first – leaning against the far wall. A still and striking young woman with copper hair was doing something... interesting with a piece of old driftwood, and a man with fluffy brown hair, who looked like he’d be better suited to a classroom than a boathouse, was absently staring out the window.
“Shall I do a quick introduction?” Val asked her blond.
He nodded. “That might be easiest.”
“Very well,” Val turned to Darcy and Sadie. “Ladies, these are the Avengers. They were a specialized covert team brought together to perform a task for the government. This gracious young man here is Captain Steve Rogers. The other young man over there is Thor.” Val smiled. “I won’t ask for your full name.”
“You are most kind, madam.” Then Thor grinned, making Darcy feel a little faint and Sadie mutter a ‘Goodness gracious’ under her breath.
Holy Hannah, Darcy thought watching Thor’s arms flex and his smile practically light up the place. He doesn’t need another name. The name of a lightning god suits him. Sweet damn.
“This is Natasha Romanova,” Val indicated; the woman in question inclined her head slightly, but Darcy noticed a quick glance at Phil. Plus, his hands twitched and Darcy totally knew there was a story there. Awesome.
“And the gentleman in the corner is Dr. Bruce Banner.” Dr. Banner gave an awkward wave.
“A doctor of what?” Sadie asked. “Better tell me now or I’m liable to start asking embarrassing questions.”
“Ah, not that kind of doctor, I’m afraid,” he said with a very sweet smile and shrugging a little. “I’m a biochemist by training.”
“You’ll love Jane, then,” Darcy said. “She’s a bio-geneticist.”
“You have a bio-geneticist?” Natasha asked, eyeing Darcy with something like suspicion. “I thought you sold flowers?”
“Amongst many other things, Miss Romanova,” Sadie said. “Green Thumb Nursery also has a functioning lab on its premises. It’s not unheard of in this state for students to do their research away from the university in a more informal setting, close to their subject of study.”
“Oh, and last but not least, the young man we met outside,” Val said. “Clint Barton.”
Darcy turned her head to see the ninja from the tree situated in the corner closest to a window and door. He touched his fingers to his brow and gave a small salute, with the hint of a smirk on his face. Dammit. Smirking men who jump out of trees were not fair. They just weren't fair.
“Everyone may I introduce, Sadie and Darcy Lewis, the current owners of the Green Thumb Nursery,” Val said.
“Call me Sadie,” ‘Sadie’ said smiling at everyone. “I still look around for my mother-in-law when someone says Mrs. Lewis.”
“I believe you all already know Mr. Coulson,” Val continued.
“Good to see you, sir,” Steve said to Phil with an amount of gravitas that really made Darcy want to know more.
“Son of Coul.” This was said with a great smile from Thor and Darcy was so using that later. Anything that made Phil's face do that extra-stony-but-amused thing was worth putting in the mental vault.
“Well, I suppose we should tell you all why we’ve asked you here,” Val said.
“You said something about threats?” Steve said all business as he looked at Darcy and Sadie.
“Well, to set the stage, a few months ago we were approached by Connor Dewsey, a local boy turned property developer,” Sadie said, pulling out her cigarette case and offering it to everyone. No one accepted. “He offered to buy my land. We refused and thought that was the end of it.”
“Spoiler alert – it wasn’t,” Darcy said, frowning and crossing her arms.
“He kept coming back and coming back, offering us ridiculous sums of money that we are positive he does not have access to and we kept turning him down,” Sadie said. She paused. “You have to understand. The Lewis land has been in the Lewis family for generations. Darcy here, and her cousin, Maria back at the nursery, are the last of the Lewis family. And while I do not expect the girls to keep the land, I certainly do not wish to sell the land that we have worked so hard on, just so that Dewsey boy can turn it into a heartless sub-division.”
“Aren’t you…” Steve trailed off.
“Oh, I’m not a Lewis by blood. I married into the Lewis clan,” Sadie dismissed, waving her cigarillo in his direction. “I was Sadie Darcy before I was Sadie Lewis.”
“Hence the name,” Darcy said waving her hand. She'd always loved that her father had done that.
“And you know that’s what he wants to do?” Natasha asked. “He wants to build a sub-division?”
“Definitely,” Darcy nodded. “About fifty years ago, we had a sinkhole appear on the back of our property. That sinkhole taps right into the Florida Aquifer, which means we’ve got the best access to water for miles. Of course, Connor wants our land. He’ll be able to market the sub-division as some kind of idyllic Florida Springs. ‘Come here and have fresh water, right from the source!’ The jerk.”
“So, you’ve said no,” Dr. Banner said. “I’m guessing he doesn’t like that answer?”
“He really, really doesn’t,” Darcy shook her head.
“Especially since he’s somehow managed to convince a number of other people in the community to sell ,” Val said. She put her hand on Darcy’s arm when it looked like she was going to argue. “Which isn’t illegal, Miss Thing. And no, I can’t do anything to his dumb butt, even if I am the mayor.”
Darcy sighed and slumped. What good was it to have friends in high places if they wouldn't shirk their oath of office and do you favors. Stupid Val being awesome and incorruptible. “That is so not fair. I thought being mayor meant you got to make unreasonable demands on your citizens.”
“I think that’s called fascism,” Dr. Banner said, his voice dry and more than a little amused. Well, at least she was giving the new guys a chuckle or two.
Sadie opened her mouth to say something but Clint said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and held up a hand. He looked at Steve. “Stark’s coming.”
Steve nodded, his shoulders tensing.
Darcy shot Clint an incredulous stare. She didn't hear a damn thing, and who was this 'Stark' person? The only Stark she knew was that famous dude with the money and the tech stuff. There was another member of the group? Yeesh, where were they all staying? This many new people in town was going to cause a ruckus. Palmetto Springs was decently sized, but newcomers and tourists were not very common. Mildred over at the Sleep-n-Stay would probably have a lot to say about this group. Thor would be fearing for his rear end by the end of the night. "Are you half bat?"
He shook his head. “Half bloodhound.”
She grinned, and felt something tug at her insides when he grinned back.
Oh, hello, she thought, and yeah, that grin may have notched up from silly to stupid.
“Are you two finished?” Sadie asked giving her granddaughter an amused look. “Or are we waiting for someone else to arrive?”
“We may as well—“ Steve was cut off by the sound of an engine pulling up to the boathouse very quickly and then being shut off. Steve sighed, looking more than a little put-upon. It was not a good look for him. “It appears the last member of our team is here. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”
The door to the boathouse banged opened, and Tony Stark stepped in, radiating confidence, wealth, and boredom in equal measures. Clint shook his head. A year living rough and the man looked like he'd strolled off a men’s wear catalog. To be fair, he probably had stashes of cash all over the world. Possibly even central Florida.
“Well, thank you, captain for inviting me to the armpit of crazy town, USA,” Stark boomed. Clint saw Darcy’s eyes narrow and let himself grin. “Why oh why are we here? Oh, wait, it’s Phil! Hey, Phil. So this is where you escaped to.”
“Mr. Stark,” Coulson said, voice impassive. It was a tone only reserved for generals and Tony Stark.
“Wow, I just got chills,” Stark said. “I’d forgotten how much I’d missed the sound of your dulcet monotone. So, what’s the story?”
He looked at Darcy and Sadie. Blinked. Then looked back at Steve.
“Really?” he asked, incredulous. “We’re helping the helpless now? Let me guess. Big bad dudes want their land and they’re not letting it go without a fight?”
“Tony, come on, don’t,” Bruce sighed, shaking his head.
“Oh, Cap got you, too?” Tony asked. “Nice. Did he get all puppy-dog eyed? It’s bad enough that I can’t, you know, have access to my company and have to accept handouts on the down low. But having to come all the way to Florida for it? I mean, Miami, sure. South Beach is always a hoot. But central Florida? Really? And meet with random unhappy people to see if I want to solve their problems for them? Not really in my five year plan.”
“No one is making you stay, Stark,” Steve said straightening up and Clint was reminded just how big the other guy was. Phil shifted, hands loose at his side, while Natasha had tensed up. Darcy Lewis looked about ready to explode.
This was really beating the heck out of North Dakota.
“Look, this was fun when it was, I don’t know, another country that we were bringing down,” Tony said. “But being reduced to this small-time stuff is the final kick in the head. What a waste of time.”
“Hey!” Darcy shouted. Everyone looked over at her, Clint saw her hands clenched into fists at her side.
“Now, look here,” she said. “We called you on you because we were told by an extremely reliable source that you guys could help us. But if this case is too small for you, then fine. Say so. But don’t you dare stand there and belittle my family’s legacy, Tony mother-fuckin’ Stark. It may not build skyscrapers in New York, but Green Thumb is mine and we’ve worked hard for it and now it’s in trouble and I want to fix it and that means outside help. Which I was told was you guys. But, if it’s not.”
She shrugged and went on, “Whatever.” She took a step forward, poking Stark in the chest. Hard. “But if you do want to help us, then help us. Check your manpain at the door, suit up and help us. Or get the hell out.”
It was utterly quiet in the boathouse when Darcy finished. Clint felt the corners of his mouth lift upwards when Tony’s wide eyes narrowed. Instantly a bright, genuine smile flashed over his face, and he morphed effortlessly into the human being Clint knew he actually was.
“Well, I’m in,” Tony said, and shot a curious look over at Steve. “When do we start?”
Darcy’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me?” Clint sympathized. Tony was such a bastard to new people. She turned to Coulson. “Did he just test me?”
“He does it to everyone,” Natasha said before shrugging. “Don’t take it personally.”
Darcy’s eyes widened and she turned to Tony. “Do not pull that shit again.”
“Darcy,” Mrs. Lewis said putting her hand on Darcy’s arm. “I’m sure it wasn’t a test. And if it was-” She looked straight into Tony’s eyes. “I’m sure Mr. Stark is too much of a gentleman to do it again.”
“Mr. Stark definitely is,” Stark said putting his hand on his heart, going so far as to lower his eyes and look up at her through his eyelashes. Clint rolled his eyes just as Mrs. Lewis snorted.
“I had a son, cutie-pie,” she said, smiling in amusement and flicking the ash off her cigarette. “And I know that particular look. Never kid a kidder.”
Stark just smirked and shot Mrs. Lewis a lewd wink. The resulting laugh was loud in the small space.
“What made you decide to call in outside help?” Natasha asked getting everyone back on track. “Did something happen?”
“A part from a number of our independent suppliers pulling out without any warning?” Darcy asked, still glowering at Stark. “And someone taking a blunt instrument to our irrigation system?” She took a deep breath, and wrapped her arms around herself. Clint absolutely did not like what that body language implied. “Someone attacked Gran the other night.”
Sadie patted her granddaughter's arm and made eye-contact with everyone, one by one. "We – Phillip, Maria, Darcy, and I – had been talking outside after closing. I left them to go take my evening stroll. As I approached the lab, I saw a figure all in black lurking near one of the windows.” She looked sheepish. “I’m afraid I did the silly thing and rushed at him, yelling.”
“Jane and I ran outside,” Darcy said quietly, her hand tightening over Sadie's. It warmed Clint to see such obvious affection between the two women. His family situation had been anything but pleasant, and he was glad to see that wasn't the case for Mrs. Lewis and Darcy. "We saw her struggling with someone. He threw her on the ground. I heard Phil coming up behind us.”
Darcy’s voice had gone terribly serious and she was looking at her grandmother with a pained expression that Clint really wanted to erase.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry,” Steve said concerned, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes,” Sadie said waving a slightly shaky hand in the air. “Darcy tased him and he ran off.”
Clint frowned. “Are you sure she tased him? He shouldn’t be able to run if she tased him.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Darcy said her voice firm. “I got him. But he was wearing some kind of vest and the prongs didn’t actually touch skin.”
“So whoever it was knew that you might be around and that you’d be armed,” Natasha mused, eyes distant as she thought it through. “Who knows that you have a taser?”
Darcy twisted her lips to the side and Sadie coughed delicately and smirked widely.
“It is entirely possible that the entire county knows that Miss Lewis owns a taser,” Coulson said, his voice about five degrees drier than normal. Which, honestly was a trick.
Everyone but Val and Sadie eyed Darcy and she glared back. “What? It was self-defense; the guy was being a jackass! He would not take no for an answer and kept groping my ass. How was I supposed to know he was an undercover cop?”
Clint blinked and gave himself a moment. He really, really liked this girl.
“You tased a cop?” Tony clapped delightedly and bounced on his toes. “Oh, we are definitely helping these people out.”
“In purely practical terms,” Steve said rolling his eyes. “What would you like us to do?”
“I know that I’m in the minority here, but I truly believe that Connor will eventually let go of this idea of his and leave us alone,” Sadie said. “However, our sales have suffered due to lack of supplies and now our own crops are in danger due to the broken irrigation system. Ideally…” She took a deep breath and looked at Darcy.
“We’d really like someone to watch our backs,” Darcy said looking Steve in the eyes. “That’s what we’d like.”
“I think we can do that,” Steve said nodding.
And there’s the earnest Steve Roger’s smile and comfort, Clint thought. Nice.
“I think we can go one better,” Tony said, making a face that Clint recognized. It was one that generally preceded hour of swearing (Stark), holding of tools (Bruce), and a power outtage or twelve. “I’ve never tried my hand at irrigation, I wonder what I can come up with.”
“Now, hold your horses, sweetpea,” Sadie said holding up a hand and looking mildly alarmed. “We should probably emphasize that we are broke. We’ve had to let go of most of our staff and do not have the money for a new system.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Thor said. “Items can always be acquired.”
Clint stifled a snort.
“And that doesn’t sound illegal at all,” Darcy said.
“Coming from the girl who tased a cop?” Tony asked, eyebrow ticking up.
“Touché,” Darcy nodded, smirking. “But no means no, no matter who the hell you are.”
“Wise words,” Natasha said and Clint had a brief flash of fear at what she and Darcy might be capable of if they put their minds together. He wasn’t sure what Darcy’s skill-set was, but he suspected she was lethal in her own way.
“So, does this mean you’re interested in the job?” Val asked everyone.
“Well, I’m fairly sure I can make time for some do-gooding in my rather packed schedule of evading the authorities,” Tony said. “Cap?”
“It would be a pleasure to help you,” Steve said while Natasha, Bruce and Thor nodded.
“Beats North Dakota,” Clint said.
Both Coulson and Darcy threw him a look. He returned it with a smirk.
“Thank you,” Sadie said, her voice sincere and her hand clasped with Darcy’s. “I mean that. Thank you so much.”
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Natasha said.
“You’ve already given me a bit of a little bit of hope, honey,” Sadie said while Natasha blinked at the endearment. “That goes a very long way.” She checked her watch. “And we’ve got to get back, Darcy. I don’t want your cousin to have to deal with the afternoon crowd on her own.”
“Maria would never forgive me if I let her manage the Junior League alone,” Darcy agreed, and let go of Sadie’s hand to hook it on her elbow. “Those ladies are vicious.”
Coulson opened the door to the boathouse, letting the ladies - including Val - walk out before him. Darcy turned around and said, “We do breakfast, by the way. And there’s plenty of room on the property if you need places to crash.”
“Thanks, Miss Lewis,” Steve said with a smile, his eyes warm and a far cry from that defeated look Clint remembered in the courtroom.
“Oh, God, it’s Darcy,” she said with a wave of her hand.
“In that case, it’s Steve,” he said his smile growing brighter. Clint side-eyed him and squashed the urge to punch his team mate. He should not want to punch Steve. Steve was not punchable
Darcy winked at them all and gave Clint a tiny salute before guiding Mrs. Lewis towards the pickup truck.
Coulson moved to follow them, but paused in the doorway. When he turned back, his face was solemn and tone serious.
“This was not how I imagined seeing you all would go,” he said. “But thank you for coming.”
“We owe you, sir,” Natasha shrugged. “How could we not?”
Clint felt the truthful weight of Natasha’s words settle in the air and he just gave Coulson a nod. Which was returned before he left the boathouse.
Clint watched everyone look around at each other in an awkward silence.
“So…who needs a drink?” Tony said. “I saw a great dive bar on my way in and I am dying for a something extremely strong and bad for me.”
There was general assent and they headed out of the boathouse; Clint still wondering what the fuck he was doing here, but not about to miss a thing.