“Your song player's broken.”
Darcy's head whipped around so fast she almost gave herself whiplash. “It's what?”
Bucky/James/Steve's friend/The Guy That People Kept Telling Her To Stay Away From Because Of Reasons stood not three feet from her. She was pretty sure he wasn't allowed to do that, but that wasn't important right now. Important was her iPod—her baby—cradled in the palm of his hand.
He gestured. “Broken.”
“I heard what you said, but broken how?” Ignoring caution and common sense, she snatched the precious right out of the deadly assassin's hand.
No cracks, screen was lighting up, wheel was turning. Was the problem internal? Could his spidey-senses detect electrical issues? Was it communion between his slightly, you know, cybernetic arm thing and her iPod? “Natasha just bought me this!” she half-wailed.
His brows shot up. “Natalia?”
“Don't look like that.” Darcy waved the purple player under his nose. “Explain!”
“Says you got four thousand songs on it.”
“Four th--” Wait. “So?”
He looked at her in a way that suggested she wasn't too bright. “Doll, four thousand songs?”
There was a message here she wasn't getting. Darcy lifted the iPod a little higher. “It can hold sixteen thousand.”
Very impressive eyebrows drew together in consternation. Then, “You sure?”
“I'm sure.” She turned a little in her chair. “Look, I realize it's a lot to take in, but you are aware that it's been seven decades since the big band age? A lot of music got made between then and now.”
He grunted like he'd taken a bite out of a rancid lemon. “So I'm told.”
Darcy's lips twitched. He reminded her of her grandpa whenever he saw the price of gas, like he was going to bear with it but pray for strength the entire time he was at the pump. “How old are you?”
Blue eyes narrowed. “Why?”
The suspicion didn't let up.
“Thirty?” she threw out. “Thirty five?”
Well, now he was insulted. “I was twenty-five.”
“What're you, nineteen?”
“I'm twenty-four, thank you very much.” What a trip. Twenty-five? That made him, what, twenty-seven or eight now? In dog years, at least?
Wait. Dog years worked the other way.
And, oh god, she'd just realized—She sat up with a gasp. “Steve's my age.”
“Captain America is my age.” WUT?
“I'd say he's more of a symbolic icon made up of American values and a touch of good old fashioned marketing.”
Darcy frowned and looked up, startled out of her spiral into comparison hell. “What?”
Bucky/James/That Guy shrugged. “Been readin' the internet.”
“You're reading things on a digital network of information, but you thought my iPod couldn't possibly have four thousand songs?”
There were the narrowed eyes again.
“Ha, nice try, buddy, but I am a survivor of Steve Rogers' wrath. Assassin glares don't scare me.”
“What'd you do to Stevie?”
“Let's just say I've learned never to try and take a bite out of Steve Rogers' cake. I'm pretty sure he nearly stabbed my hand with his fork.” Which earned him a lot of points in her book. Anybody willing to defend their goodies with physical violence was A-Okay with Darcy Lewis. Sharing was for suckers.
Except when it came to music. You know, it was kind of sad that Bucky/James/Hotness Over There didn't realize four thousand was a credible number of songs.
Darcy's fingers drummed on the desk while they stared at each other. She knew what she was thinking, of course, but why he was staring was a mystery.
He shifted on his feet like he was considering turning around and walking out right then, until Darcy stopped him. “Have you ever heard of Johnny Cash?”
He looked at her blankly.
Okey dokey, decision made. “Funny story,” she said as she scooted her super-duper wheelie chair over to another desk. “I worked in our university bookstore for a couple of semesters before I became Jane's gopher. The textbook manager was, like, the dadliest dad guy you could ever meet, and he loved introducing me to new music.”
She pulled open a drawer and snagged the extra headphones in there—the kind that went over your ears instead of in them. Dude was hot, but not hot enough to share ear wax with. Ew.
“I am about to continue that great tradition.” Headphones plugged in, she patted the chair for him. “Prepare to be amused.”
She didn't comment when he sat down like he was settling down on a bomb. She also chose not to remark on the fact that he left one ear free so he could hear his surroundings. After seventy years of who knew what kind of shit happening to him, Darcy figured he'd earned the right to paranoia.
She cued up her Johnny Cash playlist and selected “A Boy Named Sue”. “Enjoy.”
She wanted to stay. She wanted to stare at his face to watch his reactions. Then again, what if he didn't like it? She hated when people didn't like the stuff she liked.
Darcy made herself roll back to her awesome desk and her not-so-awesome work. Seriously, Jane's handwriting? Did not get more fun with familiarity.
She was starting to get a headache when she decided to glance over her shoulder.
Only Bucky/James/Hotness wasn't there.
Neither was her iPod.
Wait a minute.
Didn't she leave her iPod in her room this morning? How the hell had Bucky/James--
Son of a bitch!
When someone knocked on his door at four o'clock in the evening, Steve was willing to admit that he tensed. Nobody knocked in the tower. Nobody. Clint barely tapped on ceiling tiles before he dropped out of them. Natasha just showed up on his couch. Sam texted him when he was on the way up and Jarvis usually let him in quietly.
And Tony...well, the less said about that the better.
So when the knock echoed in the room, Steve slowly put aside his sketchbook and wiped his palms on his sweatpants. He tried to tell himself there was nothing to worry about.
He wasn't expecting Darcy to be standing on the other side.
A nail file, pointy end out, was jabbed in his general direction. “The only reason I'm not storming over this threshold is that I respect the sanctity of the—well, sanctum. Unlike some people,” she added loudly, throwing an accusing glare over his shoulder. She had to stand on her tiptoes to do it.
He leaned away from the nail file. “Uh...”
“Listen up, Rogers. If you don't get your thief friend his own music and give me my tunes back by the end of the day, this--” again the waving of the file-- “is going to do interesting things to that shiny star on your shield. Also, I will replace all your cake with vegan versions.”
She leaned in, grabbed the door handle, and started pulling it closed.
The only thing that came out of his mouth was, “I like vegan cake.”
“Not the way I make it.” Slam.
Steve prided himself on being quick on the uptake. He always knew when a punch was about to land, even when he was too slow to get out of the way. He stared at the door just long enough to sort out the pieces in his head, then turned to look at the couch with a knowing smirk.
He sauntered over to kneel on the cushions, folded his arms on the back, and looked down. “Been makin' friends?”
Bucky lay on the rug, snuggled up something pink that looked like a blanket with arms, headphones on and purple iPod in hand.“You gonna say somethin' about me being dangerous?”
He ought to. Sam would, but nicer than that. “I'm gonna say something about you taking a dame's things.”
Bucky kept his eyes closed. “I...like it.”
“The music, the stealing, or the dame?”
Bucky didn't answer. Hell, he probably didn't know himself.
Steve arched a brow. “I dunno, Buck. I can't help but wonder what your ma'd say.”
Bucky's eyes popped open.“You bringing a man's mother into this, Rogers?”
“I like my shield.”
“My ma, Stevie?”
“Give the dame her iPod back, Bucky, and maybe I wouldn't have to.” He scratched his chin. “Strange. You didn't use'ta have to steal a girl's things to get her attention.”
“It wasn't like that.”
Sure. “Think she's got a boyfriend, anyway.”
Bucky stiffened, then visibly forced himself to relax. “That's nice,” he snarled.
Steve didn't bother hiding his smirk. They were gonna have lots of things to talk about with Sam next session.
“What's vegan cake?”
“Cake that don't use animal products, like eggs or milk.”
“Sounds like the cakes your ma would sometimes make.”
“People these days, Stevie.”
“I know, Buck. I know.”
Silence. Then, “So she bakes?”
“Yeah.” If he sighed in pleasure when he said it, well, Darcy's baking skills deserved it.
“You gonna tell me to give her the iPod back?”
Steve made a tactical decision. “Nah. I'm gonna let you decide what you do next. Get you back in the world.” He was pretty sure his shield could take it.
When Darcy walked into the living room, fresh out of the shower and her pajamas, there was no iPod to be had. There was, however, two new somethings on her counter.
She stared at the picture. It wasn't Steve's—she knew his style—which meant that it had been drawn by the Metal Armed Music-napper. Her iPod was on a plank, the screen turned into a crying face, a sword edging it toward shark-infested waters.
Bake or the iPod gets it! was scrawled across the bottom, like one of those headlines you saw at the beginning of B-movie trailers.
Next to the picture was a recipe for—she squinted—Chocolate Layer Cake.
Chocolate freakin' Layer Cake, without an egg to be had.
“You've got to be kidding.” She picked up the card, torn between tossing or tearing it, but then she read it, and it looked kind of good, and maybe it wouldn't be so--
No, no. She would not give into these tactics. That was her iPod. Ransom was not an option. It was against her morals. No, this required stealth. Or if not stealth, then really, really devious counterplanning.
She tapped the card on her lips. “You want chocolate cake? I'll give you chocolate cake.”
The next day, Steve got a text. All it had was a picture of the most beautiful baked confection he'd ever seen. Look what I found in the common room, Darcy sent a second later.
Mother of Mercy.
Bucky came up beside him, still a little sweaty from the workout. “I'll be damned. It worked.”
Steve had a feeling it had not worked. It had not worked at all.
He kept that to himself, though, as they rode the elevator up to the common floor. Darcy was waiting for them. Nobody else was in sight.
Even Bucky was starting to get the seriousness of the situation. “What's going on, doll?”
She sat at the brand new dining table, looking like heaven in her flour-streaked apron. “Oh nothing,” she cooed with a coy smile, locking her fingers together. They were painted blood red to match her lipstick. “Do you have the goods?”
This was starting to feel like one of those James Bond movies Clint made him watch that time.
“Which goods you talkin' about, doll?” Bucky sassed.
Steve gave him a look, but the mook has his back turned. He had Darcy square in his sights.
Darcy arched a brow almost to her hairline. “You know what I want.”
Steve had been in hostage situations with less dramatic tension.
“Gotta say, didn't think you'd give in so easy.” Bucky eased closer, some of his swagger back.
He really thought he had Darcy on the ropes. Maybe Hydra messed with more than just his memories. And his arm. And other things.
Point was—even Steve knew this was not going in his friend's favor.
Proof: Darcy's smile got bigger. “Who says I did?” She reached out and lifted the domed top next to her, revealing a chocolate cake so wonderful that Steve's mouth watered.
She set the dome aside and refolded her hands. “The iPod?”
Bucky reached into his pocket and pulled it out. He'd been listening to it for hours, even when he was working out. Steve didn't know how he'd figured out the dials and whatnot so fast.
He put it on the table but didn't let go. “How do I know that you didn't do something to the cake, sweetness?”
“Now why would I do that?” she asked, expression never changing.
“Why so untrusting? I followed your instructions. I baked Chocolate Layer Cake.” She smiled even wider. “Don't you want to try it?”
Mind games, Steve realized. She either did something and they were going to die of poison or worse, she did nothing and they were going to be too suspicious to enjoy it.
That was...well, Red Skull had his job, and Darcy Lewis had hers.
Bucky hadn't come prepared for this, and if Chocolate Layer Cake wasn't at stake, Steve knew he'd be enjoying the hell outta this for that reason alone.
Time ticked by.
Darcy got serious. “I met your demands, Barnes. Are you going to welch?”
Bucky stiffened. “Doll, I ain't never gone back on a deal in my life.” With that bit of bravado, he slid the iPod across the table's surface and stood back, arms crossed.
Sucker, Steve mentally snickered.
Darcy plucked the music player up and got to her feet. “Good. Glad we've cleared that up.” She rounded the table and breezed right past with an airy, “Enjoy!” called over her shoulder.
They both watched her go until the elevator doors slid closed behind her.
“You just had to try and play the game,” Steve said after a minute, looking at his friend. “Just had to bring cake into it.”
“Glad to know where I rank with you these days, Stevie.”
“Buck, I have chased you all over God's green creation. 'Til the end of the line, pal. But if this cake,” he pointed, “does to me what that one cake the Dernier made did, we are gonna have a problem.”
James made a face at the reminder of the one and only time dysentery became a real concern for Captain America. “Who says I'm sharing?”
Steve leveled a glare so fierce that it made the former Winter Soldier blink. “You wanna say that again?”
“Fine, fine.” He paused. “So which of us is going to try first?”
Fifteen minutes later, Clint Barton breezed out of the elevator and stopped. “Why are we staring at cake?”
They glanced at him in a way that suggested he turn around and never look back. “Barton,” Steve said with his arms crossed, “how would you like to make twenty dollars?”
"You're gonna pay me to eat cake?" Clint clarified dubiously. "You wanna share your cake?"
"It's not my cake." He indicated Bucky. "It's his. Darcy made it."
"I'm not as stupid as I look, Cap. Something's up."
"You know what?" Barnes suddenly burst out. "Fuck the both of you. I ain't sharing." And with that he picked up his cake and stomped off, muttering something about, "even if it kills me."
Clint cocked a brow at Steve. "What was that about?"
"Buck's decided to get into a war with Darcy."
"I thought he was smarter than that."
"He was smooth with dames, but never smart."
Ideas were turning in Clint's head. Big ideas. Hilarious ideas. Ideas that were inappropriate and probably worth dying for. "Cap, how far are you willing to go for cake?"
Rogers considered him. "Are you suggesting that I would sell my friend out to a dame just for baked goods?"
"If it makes you feel better, we might be able to get him a girlfriend out of it. If anybody can handle the giant ball of fuckery that the Avengers bring to the table, Darcy's the one to do it."
Steve pursed his lips in thought. "What did you have in mind?"