"Think of it as a vacation," Maria Hill says. She smiles in a hopeful, unconvincing way.
Natasha Romanov does not smile back. "I don't want a vacation. I want a nap."
"You've more than earned one," Hill agrees. "But--did Thor not talk to you about this? He specifically requested your presence on the team that watches over Jane Foster at the Tromsø observatory. He's not convinced that we've--" (here, Hill casts her voice low and puffs out her chest, a lazy imitation of the Asgardian) "--'thwarted all of Loki's mischief' by sending him back to Asgard, and he wants to make sure that Dr. Foster and her team stay safe."
Natasha really wants to complain, and she knows she's earned it. She just spent the longest day of her life taking out a bunch of alien motherfuckers who wanted to conquer the planet, followed by less than four hours of sleep before Hill came and tasked her with babysitting. Still, it's the job. It isn't her bed, but she'll be more useful in Tromsø than she will be with the helicarrier cleanup. She takes the briefing folder from Hill and turns to leave.
Then she turns back. "I... will I miss the service for Agent Coulson? When is it?"
She's been with SHIELD long enough to know how this thing goes: there's always a sort of informal closed-casket wake for the organization before the body is released to the family. That's why it's weird that the question makes Hill's face close up in a dark, unreadable expression. "I'm sure that when something happens, you'll be one of the first to know," Hill says carefully.
Natasha's eyes narrow. That does not sound like simple calling hours.
"I wish there was more I could tell you," Hill continues. That one, Natasha believes.
"You're not Thor," the intern says to Natasha. Dr. Foster tries to shush her but the intern protests, "She's not!"
Natasha offers a handshake. "Natasha Romanov."
"Jane Foster," Jane says. "And this is Darcy Lewis," she continues, gesturing exasperatedly towards the intern. "It's nice to meet you, Agent Romanov, and it's good of SHIELD to finally own up to this place. We were expecting Erik Selvig?"
"Dr. Selvig is... sleeping off a headache." That is the mildest way to explain the mental hangover that Loki's mind control results in. "And to answer your other question, Thor and Loki have gone back to Asgard. Loki's got a lot to answer for, and the Asgardians are the ones who'll make him do it. I've been asked by Thor to stay here and look after you until we're satisfied that all of the dust of New York has settled."
Darcy looks her up and down and nods, smiling widely, as though in the absence of a handsome and muscular thunder god Natasha will be a suitable replacement. Dr. Foster is not so easily swayed. "Well, we're not staying here. We saw on the TV what happened in New York, and we want to go home."
"If that's what you want, I can't stop you," Natasha says, although this is technically not true. There are lots of things she could do to stop Jane Foster from leaving Tromsø, a few of which she's actually authorized to do. "But we'll have to go via New York. You need debriefed just like the rest of us, and then we can let you and Dr. Selvig return to your lives."
Natasha lets one of the other agents she'd brought pilot the quinjet on the return flight, opting instead to ride in the rear of the jet with the women she's tasked to protect. As they prepare for departure, Jane straps herself into one of the seats, but Darcy stands next to Natasha, obviously trying to act like she does this all the time.
"Ma'am," Natasha says, "I'm going to need you to buckle in for takeoff."
"Ma'am," Darcy repeats to herself, making a goofy face at the sound of the word. She doesn't argue, not exactly--she just plops down into the seat, straps herself in, and asks why Natasha doesn't have to do the same.
It's easier to just sit down and strap in than it is to argue about so many away missions parachuting out of so many jets just like this one, so Natasha sighs and drops into the seat next to Darcy. She can't help but notice how pleased the other woman looks.
Jane and Darcy spend the trip back grilling Natasha on the Battle of New York. She's been drilled on the official story and that's what she tells them, mostly. It's all still very bright and raw for her: the colors, the sounds, the dust, the desperation, the fear.
"I knew I didn't like that Loki guy!" Darcy says, scowling.
"That sounds awful," Jane says. She looks horrified. "We watched the coverage on TV, but I never imagined--" She trails off, obviously trying to imagine it and trying not to think about it at the same time. After several long moments, she looks back up at Natasha. "Are you okay?"
And Hill, fuck, Hill doesn't make any arguments about the multitude of highly-trained agents surrounding them, just shrugs helplessly at her. Natasha understands that the combination of suits and ties and the mess that Loki left of New York despite SHIELD's best efforts may not inspire confidence, but there is no shortage of capable agents who could babysit while Natasha catches up with her pillow. Instead, Hill ushers Jane away for discussion, and Natasha is left with Darcy.
"So, what do you guys do for fun around here?" Darcy says after approximately no time has passed. When Natasha doesn't answer, she continues, "Sorry, I guess I'm just nervous about this whole thing. Last time I was around this many self-identified SHIELD agents, Jane's life's work got taken. At least you're asking this time, I guess?"
"We aren't the bad guys," Natasha says.
"Right, but of course you'd say that," Darcy says, stifling a yawn. (Natasha must be more tired than she thought as well, because she lets that slide.) "Do you guys have a Starbucks or something? I'm, like, crazy jetlagged right now."
There is not a Starbucks, because SHIELD is a top-secret spy agency and their HQ is not a shopping mall or an airport, so they end up in Natasha's most-used break room, Darcy watching while Natasha goes through the steps of making her a cup of coffee from the communal coffeemaker. When she manages to find a mug for the newly-made coffee, Darcy takes a sip and every part of her seems to relax at once in appreciation. "Holy shit," she says, not taking the mug away from her mouth. "You're a ninja, you're gorgeous, and you make the perfect cup of coffee. I don't understand how you're a real person. What aren't you good at?"
Natasha bites back a smile and a snarky response about how it had taken years of training and more than a little brainwashing to end up here, a "real" person who's very good at a specialized set of things. Instead, she stares coolly at Darcy and says, "I never said I was a ninja."
"You work for some kind of fancy intelligence agency, aren't wearing a suit like the rest of these jerks, got assigned to a protection detail, and fought in the Battle of New York. You're most likely a ninja."
"I have a suit!" Natasha protests.
"Is it a skin-tight one you strap bandoliers to?"
"...I don't have bandoliers."
Darcy's face lights up and her mouth drops open. "Ninja!"
It would be really easy for Natasha to be mysterious and start spouting facts she'd pulled from Darcy's file, or to shut this whole thing down entirely, because this is kind of ridiculous and she's pretty tired. Instead, she gives in and pours herself some coffee from the freshly-brewed pot; she's not getting that nap anytime soon. Besides, she finds herself liking Darcy almost despite herself. It's kind of nice, to have some who knows just enough about her to be fascinated and not also terrified. "I thought you said I was one of the bad guys," Natasha teases, sipping from her own mug. Ugh, that is really good coffee.
"That was before the caffeine," Darcy replies, gesturing with her mug.
Natasha's phone buzzes. "They're ready for you," she says, almost regretting that they have to go.
"What's going on?" she hisses at Darcy, unable to keep the panic from her own voice as she orients herself.
"You were screaming in your sleep," Darcy says, her voice oddly calm. "I didn't know what to do. Please don't break my arms?"
Natasha remembers now, how Darcy's debrief had run long and the agent in charge had offered to let her and Jane stay overnight at HQ before sending them off in a rental car the next day, one last favor to Thor in his absence. Leaving turns out to be harder than Natasha had expected--among the other things she owes Clint Barton, she owes him a visit, helping him to process his grief, something that people who are like friends do. She had hardly been ready for it though, unable to work through her own shit, and so when Darcy had grabbed her arm and asked her to stay for a while, she'd had a multitude of reasons to do so. They'd just sat for a while and talked, Natasha and Darcy and Jane, about everything except what was important. Then...she must have nodded off. She's not sure why Jane and Darcy hadn't woken her.
There's an insistent pounding at the door, and Jane's voice filters into the room. "Darcy? Darcy! What's going on in there?"
Natasha drops Darcy's wrists and takes a step back. Darcy doesn't take her eyes off Natasha but says loudly to the door, "It's okay. Everything's fine in here."
"Are you sure? I heard some yelling--"
Darcy sighs and goes to the door. She opens it a crack, just far enough to poke her head out. "Go back to bed, Jane. Please." Natasha can see out the crack in the door to Jane's face, which looks concerned, but also a little bit like this is not the first time she's ended up at Darcy's door in the middle of the night investigating strange noises. This also means that Jane can see Natasha--she gives Darcy a knowing look, to which Darcy responds by insisting: "See? Agent Romanov is here! Everything's safe! Everything's fine!"
"Wait, did you say safe--?!" Jane begins, but Darcy closes the door on her.
Natasha begins to gather her things. She shouldn't be here, should leave as soon as possible, should get out while she can--
"Okay," Darcy says to her, "I know you don't look like a hugger, but I'm thinking that's because you haven't really tried it."
"I should go," Natasha says, picking the last of her things out of the chair and heading for the door.
Darcy steps between her and the exit. She has a look of determination on her face, and her arms are spread wide. "Hugs first," she says. Then, an afterthought: "Again, please don't break my arms."
And then Natasha is enveloped in a tight, warm hug. She wonders idly what she did last night that made this Darcy's first option (it was the staying, she decides, coupled with the sanitized SHIELD stories she'd told last night--although the waking up screaming surely didn't help) and says aloud before she can stop herself, "You're being very brave right now."
"You are too," Darcy replies. Natasha can hear her smile, and the other woman squeezes her more tightly. "Did I tell you I tased Thor?"
"You may have mentioned it." In fact, Darcy had brought it up at least four times last night. It's something she's very proud of.
Natasha is aware that this is a way that people can be manipulated, using physical contact; she knows that she's done it to a number of marks over her own career. But this feels genuine and safe--she's wide awake, but she's still so tired, and nothing she knows about Darcy makes her feel anything but safe, so she leans into the hug.
When Natasha finally withdraws (and it is Natasha who makes the first move to withdraw), Darcy looks at her and asks, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Almost never," Natasha replies automatically. Darcy sits down on the bed, and Natasha sits next to her. Instead of talking about the way she's feeling, alien motherfuckers and mind control, losing and almost losing people she cares about, she says, "You give great hugs."
Darcy grins conspiratorially. "I hear that my cuddles are even better."
This is how Natasha ends up curled up small in Darcy's arms. The kissing starts a little later, after Darcy asks politely. It's good kissing, even better than the hugs or cuddling had been. She wonders what else Darcy Lewis is good at, and she hopes to find out shortly.