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recycled soul

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Darcy had not given much thought to her past lives for some time. Where was the relevance? She was living in New York, working in Stark Tower, and assisting some of the most brilliant minds in the world while she toiled to finish her own degrees. Sand, blood, magic, death, betrayal – these were things that haunted her nightmares and sometimes, even worse, her dreams. But she didn’t allow them to intrude on her waking life, she didn’t want to give them that much power over her. She had been born into the 20th century with a new face that didn’t match up with the soul or the memories contained within, and it was the single greatest undeserved blessing a higher power could have granted her.

So, no, Darcy did not think much about her past lives during this life, because she didn’t have to.

Until the Avengers decided to recruit a magic user.

It made sense. Loki was still out there, having escaped Asgardian custody within months of the Chitauri Invasion. The Avengers were slowly coming together as a team as more and more deeply weird things popped up around the world. The team was pretty heavily weighted towards science and smashing (handily represented by Bruce Banner and his alter ego) rather than magic. The softest art any of the Avengers were capable of bringing to the field was diplomacy, and even that could be hit or miss – quite literally – depending on whether or not Captain America was feeling especially displeased by the villain-of-the-week.

Hawkeye could deal well with children and animals and the Black Widow was excellent with any sort of slimy politician, but Captain America was still the face of the team. When he got frowny, things got smashed, either with distinctive curved-edge shield marks, giant fists, or Mjolnir.

They needed a magical element on the team or, at the very least, a consultant they could call on when necessary. Darcy knew this, and it was why she was not entirely surprised to feel a special sort of static in the air when she entered the labs one frosty Thursday morning. She shivered, this stranger’s magic felt smooth and… sort of sharp. She had the vague sense of geometric shapes and cool, clean precision. The feeling of magic in the air was somehow comfortingly familiar, though she had never encountered it so strongly in this lifetime, with this body. At the same time, the sheer difference between this practitioner and Imh - Him - was enough to make her skin prickle and her nerves jump.

Darcy made a beeline straight for Jane, ignoring the section of the lab where Tony and the rest of the Avengers were discussing something with a strange man. She flicked a glance their way, just long enough to establish that the man was shirtless, wired with electrodes while Tony took readings, and –

Staring directly at her.

Shit.

She turned back to Jane. Ignore, ignore, ignore, she thought to herself, beginning to gather up the various notes, readings, and calculations her boss had been working on for the last few hours. He’s not there and you’re not here and you’re going to be okay.

Flying completely in the face of her comforting mantra, Darcy could hear slow, deliberate footsteps coming closer. She spun on her heel and looked up at the stranger. He hadn’t stripped the electrodes, and they were all that covered his torso. His hair was black save for the streaks of white painting each temple, and his eyes were a vibrant green. The pants he wore were loose and soft looking, his feet were bare, and Darcy had never felt so threatened in this life.

“You are older than this body,” he said, coming to a halt a few feet away. His bright eyes were narrowed with suspicion and she could feel his magic expanding, reaching for her with Greek keys and tiny labyrinths, trying to suss her out.

Darcy nodded sharply, once, but said nothing.

“It’s not stolen, though,” he continued, thinking aloud. “Reincarnation, then?” he asked rhetorically. “Who, though… I taste sand, and death, and – “ His eyes went wide with shock, he backed away a step, and when he spoke this time it was in her first birth language, “~The Creature’s Consort!~”

If he had tried, she didn’t think he could have said something more offensive to her, in any of her lives. “~I belong to no man,~” she hissed at him. “~I am my own, and no one else’s, so if you must call me something you will call me by names I have worn, or titles I have earned.~” Absently, she was aware that the Avengers had gathered, along with Jane, and were watching this little scene. She was too upset to care, though she knew she’d regret it.

He quirked a brow at her, “~What, then, would you like to be called? Betrayer? Murderer?~”

Darcy bared her teeth at him and began to advance, unconsciously falling into a rolling, predatory gait she had not used since her last life. “~I was given unto Seti at an age when most children still had the luxury of clinging to their mothers’ skirts. I was brought to his chambers a week after they considered me woman enough for his pleasures. I was not allowed to be girl, woman, wife, or mother. That was taken from me. My body was the temple where he spilled his nightly offering. My soul, my mind, my heart, my loyalty… these could not be given to him, nor bought so cheaply as with lavish food and a soft bed. He did not take the time or care to try and win them. I killed him, yes, and myself too.~” She smiled viciously, because for all her regrets, the death of Seti had never been a part of her nightmares. “~After thousands of nights receiving him, was it not proper that he should receive me?~” she asked, savoring the crude words.

The magic user had gone pale under his tanned skin, but his eyes were still sharp and intent. “~What of your lover? If the stories tell true, you left him to his death. You chose him, with everything you had, and yet you left him when he needed you most. Does that not count as betrayal, or will you claim that he never earned any part of you either?~”

She froze and, for the first time, looked away from him. Jane was there, off to the side, looking concerned. Thor was at Jane’s shoulder, watching them closely, but his expression was much harder to read and made even more difficult by the tears beginning to blur her vision. Darcy scraped them away with the heel of her hand, swallowing hard past the lump in her throat. She wrapped her arms around herself in a parody of a hug, knowing that her shoulders had rounded, that she had made herself smaller instinctively. It was a habit from this life, from memories of more recent betrayals.

“~I would claim that your stories, while not wrong, were not entirely right. In the end, I think, we betrayed each other. We were not strong enough to overcome our old wounds. He, because he never had a chance to heal them, no rest between lives, and I…~” she smiled wryly. “~I was not born to that life by chance, it was not a true reincarnation. You can guess, I think, as to the purpose I was raised for, and the atrocities committed to ensure I was close enough to the real thing for him to recognize me, but pliant enough for them to guide me. I do not try to excuse my past selves,~” she said firmly. “~But,~” Darcy looked back up at him with fire in her eyes and new starch in her spine, “~if you will come at me with titles and tales from others’ lips, you must be prepared to hear my side of the story.~”

She unfolded herself a little, looking around the room from Steve’s thoughtful frown to Tony’s frantic typing on one of the holoscreens as he split his attention between their debate and whatever he was coding. She pushed her hair behind one ear and slipped back into English, pointedly not offering her hand as she introduced herself: “My name is Darcy Lee Lewis. I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but that would be a lie.”

“Dr. Stephen Strange,” he responded, then looked up at the crowd. “I wonder at your needing me, you have a magic user among you already.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I was magic adjacent and magic victimized at best,” she exclaimed. “I only ever used it a little. And read some of the books. And I don’t think anybody wants me using anything I read in His books.”

He looked something between intrigued and alarmed by that. “Regardless,” he said, “you have great potential. Whether it is because of your past experiences or a facet of your newest incarnation, to remain untrained would be a waste.”

“Who’s going to train me?” Darcy asked incredulously. “Anybody who knows their stuff will probably recognize me like you did and that’s going to go swimmingly, I can totally tell.”

“I would not be averse to instructing you,” Strange told her.

What the fuck. “What the fuck?”

“You are… not what I would have expected, and an excellent reminder that I do not know all there is to know about magic, or the world. And, as you said, everything I have offered you recriminations for was done in other lives. In this life, you appear to be a model citizen, or – at the very least – a decent person, to have earned the trust of so many heroic individuals.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, eyeing the impatient-looking group surrounding them. “Let me get back to you on that later. Since, you know, you just outed me. Asshole.” She turned back towards the Avengers, but mostly Jane and Thor, with a tremulous smile. “So… I guess I have some explaining to do, yeah?”

“Well, maybe,” Tony said absently, “depends how quickly I get this translation program written. You were speaking Egyptian? But not quite. Older. Give me a few more minutes and I’ll have this cracked…”

Thor swept forward, then halted where normally he would have yanked her into his arms. “May I?” he asked, reaching out tentatively.

“Of course, big guy, I’d never turn down one of your hugs.”

He grabbed her up, holding her tightly. He gave the best hugs. “~I do not know everything that you have experienced, my friend, but if ever you need someone to speak to, please know I will lend a willing ear,~” he whispered.

Darcy buried her face against his shoulder to hide the fact that she was crying. Again. “Thanks, Thor… I may take you up on that.”

“You have been holding out on us in training,” Natasha said, voice coming from somewhere on her right. Darcy looked up to see both Clint and the redhead giving her speculative looks. “You have never moved like that in our lessons.”

Darcy grimaced. “I haven’t actually used any of that training in, like, almost a hundred years. And I’m more used to weapons, not hand-to-hand. And neither of you were actually trying to kill me. And I had a completely different body and body type, not everything I learned then will work for me now. I think.”

“Hn,” Natasha said speculatively, and considered her for a moment. “You will tell me what weapons to provide and you will show us your skills. We will help you adapt what you know.” She took a step forward, wrapping her hand around Darcy’s ankle since Thor did not appear to be in any hurry to release her and giving it a gentle squeeze. “I may not have recognized your words, but Darcy… some language is more or less universal. If you ever need to speak – "

Stupidly perceptive assassins. “It’s ancient history. Literally.”

“But not for you,” Nat said quietly. “Think on it, the offer stands.”

“Daggers,” she said abruptly. “Spears, bladed pole arms, axes, but. Daggers, mostly.”

Clint grinned, “You just made Nat’s week.”

Jane chose that moment to come up on Darcy’s left. The scientist was giving her an intense, penetrating stare, almost like she was looking through her. Like she was looking at my soul, Darcy thought whimsically, but that wasn’t likely. She doubted Jane would have ever accepted her, befriended her, if she could see just how stained and tattered Darcy’s recycled soul was.

“Ice cream and,” Jane paused, squinting at her. “Ice cream and take out and bonbons and a movie marathon or two,” she said decisively. “We are going to hole up in my rooms and eat until your feelings don’t feel anymore.”

Darcy’s mouth dropped open. “Janey…”

“If nothing stupid comes out of your mouth in the next five minutes, I will even let you pick the first marathon.”

She shut her mouth. I don’t deserve you, but I’m going to keep you, she looked around at all of the Avengers, none of whom seemed particularly concerned by recent events. I’m going to keep all of you and I’m going to keep you safe. By whatever means necessary.

Strange was watching her while he buttoned up his shirt, ignoring Tony and Steve who were either yelling at the magic user or bickering with each other. He arched a brow at her when he caught her looking. Well? his expression seemed to say.

Darcy gave him a single, sharp nod. She would become his apprentice. She would learn magic.

She didn’t pray for the gods to help her (they never had before), but for a moment she hoped.

Let me learn quickly.

Let it be enough.