The cold registers first - a low, aching sort of chill that's wet and cuts down to the bone. Chirping follows -high pitched and uneven, the kind of sound made by big, green and brown bugs found in the backyard after the sun goes down. Growing up, the neighborhood kids loved to catch them, sealing them in glass jars with punctured tops, the bottoms lined with strands of grass ripped carelessly from the ground. That was a long time ago, though, back when Darcy had an actual yard. There've been multiple homes since then: cinder block college dormitories and mobile homes in the desert, and now her tiny studio in Red Hook with its whopping 450 square feet of disorganized chaos. Sure, it may look like a bomb went off, scattering clothes and magazines everywhere, but it's dry and warm, with absolutely no cicadas around to drive her crazy.
Darcy sits up slowly, unprepared for the pain that roars up her spine. It slams into the base of her skull, shattering into tiny, razor sharp shards that rip through her skull, blinding white dots of pain that are ice cold. For a second, they glimmer like stars, brilliant white, then soften and fade behind a veil of tears.
Every motion is agony, muscles stiff and sore. Her mouth is dry, her tongue swollen and fuzzy. It reminds her of a night in the not too distant past, where ridiculous drinks like mind erasers and kamikazes had gone down all too easily.
The room is dark, and she squints, struggling to make out familiar shapes in the dim light. A light, far above, lets in a weak wash of light, just enough to illuminate the room.
In the far corner, a large mass moves, muted blues and browns swirled with white.
"Where am I?" she asks.
"Don't move too fast." It comes from the dark shape in the corner. "You've been out for a long time. It took me a good thirty minutes to shake off the fog. It may very well take you longer."
Darcy gently probes the base of her neck, the muscles giving easily under her cold fingers. The images that come back are fuzzy- a bus, packed as always, and then the street meat vendor on the corner, just like always. The usual Friday night order - a Coney, extra mustard and onions, along with a coke, all while surreptitiously glancing at the man on her left. He was polished and sparkling, preppy in that expensive catalogue kind of way, his blonde hair golden in the late afternoon sun. He took the same bus home with her most days, always staring out the window with a faraway look on his face.
"I'll have the same as the lady," he says, a's drawing out like a good Brooklyn boy. "Extra onions, please."
After that, all is dark. A flash of teeth, the tang of spicy mustard, and then nothing.
"Please tell me they didn't taint my meat," Darcy groans, squeezing the base of her neck again. "I can't afford eating out, and that's my only perk."
"Afraid so," the man says. He leans forward into the light, hair spilling across his forehead. There's a hole in his shirt where a button had once secured the collar to the body. Streaks of dirt and creases mar the usually impeccable cotton. "To be honest, I think I'll be swearing off franks for a while."
"Fucking assholes." Darcy leans back slowly, willing herself to ignore the rolling gurgles in her stomach and the musty smell of old cotton. "Where are we?"
The man turns his face away, but she imagines the corners of his mouth are turned down. It's her mother's favorite expression when she expresses disgust. "Far as I can tell, we're in a basement of some sort. It would explain the cold."
He stays in the corner, arms draped casually across his knees. Details are easier to discern now. There's a streak of grease along the man's left cheek, and a nasty cut on the bridge of his nose. He's a large man, easily a foot taller than she is, shoulders broad like a football player. Men this size should be able to take care of themselves, fending off attacks easily.
"What the hell do they want?" The words roll off her tongue, uncensored and raw. "I'm not anyone. I don't have any money!"
The images come unbidden from bad movies viewed too late at night. Women drugged, wearing cheap lingerie and high heels. Men in the dark bidding ridiculous amounts of money based on the perceived purity. Her lungs burn, fear bubbling up so fast it's impossible to get the air deep enough to make a difference.
"Don't worry," the man says. "I somehow doubt they had that in mind when they grabbed you."
The words should be reassuring, but they aren't. They sarcastic, cold, and they cut deeper than the pain and chill can go. These types of digs are familiar. Not good enough, never serious enough. Always a joke and never anyone's first choice.
"They're real, and they're fabulous," she mumbles. It's ridiculous and completely nonsensical, but she's too tired to fight back. She's been fighting for so long, and it never makes a difference, why should she care with this man thinks.
"We both work for Stark Industries, Miss Lewis." His voice is closer now. Darcy lifts her head to find him staring at her, his features hidden in shadow. "I've noticed you on the bus before, and in the lobby. I don't think this was a random snatch and grab. They knew what they were doing."
It's all too jumbled and illogical to process. Tainted meat, strange men wearing plaid, and cold, dark cells with crickets. This isn't how the night was supposed to go. Hot dogs, reality TV, and the last of a horded bottle of wine. Maybe a bath. Not God knows where, locked in a room one tenth the size of her studio.
"I don't suppose they left us a TV or a stack of books," she asks plaintively. She's never longed for the place that substitutes for home. Suddenly, the old scratched porcelain in the bathroom seems like a luxury.
"Jug of water and a box of crackers. Would you like one?"
He's stilted and formal, maybe over compensating for the strange situation they've been thrown into. Darcy stops short of together, as there is no together in this. He's a stranger, and there's no guarantee that he didn't have something to do with her ending up in this mess to begin with. For now, it's better to keep arms distance, literally. At least until she can get a better handle on what is really going on.
"Water would be great, thanks." Darcy sits up, turning slowly so that she can swing her legs over the edge of the cot. It takes a few minutes to stabilize, fighting down the bile that churns dangerously in her stomach. Only once she's sure that whatever remains of her hot dog won't come up, she leans forward, arm extended with her palm up. "I'm Darcy, by the way."
"Darcy Lewis, I know," the man says, then quickly amends. "You still have your bag hanging from your sweater." He leans forward, balance a small cup in his hand, but he never breaks her gaze. In the direct light, his eyes are a piercing, stormy blue. "I'm Steve. Steve Rogers."
She accepts the water, drinking slowly. It's cold and slightly tangy, like the stream that ran through Girl Scout camp when she was in elementary school.
"Thanks, Steve," she says, drinking slowly. "Sorry they tainted your meat, too."