After everything that’s happened that summer, Darcy supposes it would be silly to expect life to go on as it had before her internship.
Except that’s exactly what she does.
Certainly, when the summer is over she’s two college credits richer and bidding Jane a tearful farewell, insisting that “I’ll call all the time, it will be like nothing changed,” before hoping back on a plane to California, she’s expecting that things will be the same.
She’ll see her friends from her classes.
They’ll cram into a dorm room and listen to Top Forty music playing out a cracked iPod while talking about governmental structures of lesser developed countries and bemoan moronic politicians and that will be that.
Darcy will be back at school where that the most exciting thing will be a weekend kickback with friends, beer pong on a makeshift table out on one of her friend’s front lawns, where she’ll show her prowess in bouncing ping pong balls into Dixie cups, while some lucky guy or gal draped over her shoulder. And the most stressful thing will be when she procrastinates on yet another research paper and is stuck in the library until four in the morning.
No aliens, giant robots, or scientific phenomena.
Everything will be as it was last spring when she was jokingly applying for a science internship and not realizing how much her life would change.
Somehow though, two weeks into the new semester, Darcy ends up on the roof of her apartment complex staring up at the sky with a bottle of wine in one hand, cursing the stars that seemed to keep calling her back to them, at two in the morning when she can’t sleep. California doesn’t seem appealing anymore, not when she could be in a small town in New Mexico, living on a pullout couch and getting dragged into the back of a shitty van at odd hours of the night in order to stare up at this very same sky, looking for celestial anomalies and alien gods.
She drunk dials Jane when her bottle of wine has finished and she’s moved onto her housemates bottle of Jack Daniels, she curses when it goes to voicemail though figures that was probably for the best. Not that that stops her from calling two more times before finally giving in and rambling into her former boss’s voicemail.
“You ruined my life,” Darcy starts without thinking about what she’s saying, “I’ve been thinking about you, and fuck Jane, it’s not even fair, you and your outer space shit, you ruined me. I used to like PoliSci, but now,” she curses into the phone fumbling as she loses her balance for a moment, “all I can think about is you and it fucking sucks.” She’s not sure why she’s admitting all of this into a voicemail that she’s not even sure Jane will listen to, but it feels sort of relieving in the end. “I hate you,” Darcy says finally, like a normal person would say I love you, “you and your science.”
The next morning she wakes up with a killer hangover and no missed calls, the only text messages she has are from classmates asking if she’s done the readings yet or if she want to get nachos for lunch.
She ends up getting those nachos, but spends the entire time staring at her phone waiting for it to ring.
It never does.
December rolls around and in the middle of winter break, which doesn’t feel like winter at all, Darcy gets a call from her old freshman dorm mate, a physics major, who excitedly babbles into Darcy’s ear about a paper that just got published by a certain Doctor Jane Foster. A paper that gives authorial credit to two other people, one of which is a political science undergraduate.
Darcy reads the paper, with the sounds of How the Grinch Stole Christmas playing in the background, and she finds that after everything that has happened this summer she actually understands some of the science mumbo jumbo.
Impulsively she calls Jane again, even though she got no reply before during any of her previous attempts to contact her, she still holds onto a little hope that this time the older woman might pick up, when she doesn’t Darcy tries not to grimace too obviously, “Merry Christmas! Or whatever generic holiday you celebrate,” she shouts into the answering machine with as much enthusiasm as she can muster, “I just saw the paper! Holy shit, Foster Theory, kudos to you girl! And thanks for the credit not that I ever did much more than make you and Selvig coffee, fucking good coffee might I add, but seriously this is the shits Jane, have a good new year!”
On New Year’s Eve when she hasn’t heard anything back, she says fuck it and turns her phone off for the night, let’s somebody cram a paper party hat on her head, and kisses a pretty girl with red lips at midnight.
The new semester starts much like the last one, without any aliens or giant robots messing things up.
She barely has time to remember to be relieved for that moment of normality, before classes start up again and she’s drowning in school work.
All her friends start applying for law schools and graduate programs, internships at the senate or jobs with non-profit groups and Darcy just sort of doesn’t.
She misses the moment when it passes by and doesn’t even notice as everybody starts remarking about where they got into or what they’re going to do the next year.
Her parents call and ask what her plans are for the summer and for the next year, if she’s started looking for apartments, and it all sort of hits her at once that this is real life, that she’s supposed to have this figured out by now.
There’s a number saved onto her phone from when SHIELD took it, a straight line to her least favorite (and favorite, at the same time) government agent and one night in a midst of self-pity and self-discovery she calls up the number and is greeted with Coulson’s slightly exasperated voice a second later.
He picks up the phone, unlike somebody else she knows.
“How do I get a job with SHIELD,” Darcy asks without preamble, “figured I’d ask, since there’s now website on how to apply to secret government agencies.”
Coulson’s relaxed laugh fills her ears as he quickly agrees that there isn’t, that would be too easy, and that SHIELD normally finds people they want, not the other way around.
“So no chance of me getting in,” Darcy says, a hint of desperation in her voice.
His reply is delayed a moment, before simply saying, “call me when you graduate, I’ll pull a few strings and get you into the Academy.”
Thankfully Coulson doesn’t laugh too hard at the triumphant noise Darcy makes, and thankfully she has no roommate to witness how her victory air punch turned into falling off her bunk bed.
She ends their phone call repeating her thanks over a million times and insisting that she will probably call him minutes after walking off the podium, laughs when Coulson replies that he’ll look forward to it.
Darcy never gets the chance to make that call, because by time her graduation rolls around there would be nobody to pick up the phone.
Because New York happens.
She knows that something is coming when she ends up in one of the study lounges staring at footage of something happening in German. It’s crappy cellphone camera footage, but she’s seen that style of dress before and there’s a sort of sinking feeling in her stomach that has Darcy running out of the room and dialing Jane’s number without a second’s thought.
Five rings before it goes to voicemail and Darcy has to bite down on her lip to keep from screaming out in frustration, “Jane, you need to pick up your phone right now. I need to know that you’re alright!” She’s verging on hysteria and, “You need to stop ignoring me, because I care about you, and,” her voice falters as the images flash on the screen again and she sees him, all muscly and manly and exactly what Jane wants. Though she’s far too good for him in Darcy’s opinion, Jane deserves somebody so much better, someone who will sweep her off her feet and always be there and stay up late at night with her cursing the sky and government agencies while splitting a bottle of cheap wine. When she speaks up again her voice is much lower, calmer, almost resigned, “if you need somebody to talk to, just remember I’m always here. I miss you…”
Jane doesn’t call her back.
New York sustains damages greater than the 9/11 attacks.
Life slowly goes on.
For a second she contemplates an offer to go be part of a cleanup crew in New York, after all, she has experience with aliens or whatever they are, but she doesn’t end up going, instead makes excuses about how she should be working on her senior thesis and preparing for graduation.
Darcy spends too many nights with her head pressed against a table top trying to remember how to be passionate about corrupt governments and lesser developed countries.
How she eventually completes her senior thesis is nothing short of a miracle.
By time her graduation rolls around Darcy sends off three of her invitations.
The first she receives back with expressed condolences over a loss she had not yet been aware of, signed by the Director of SHIELD. She gets spectacularly drunk for Coulson’s sake and ignores her classmates when they ask what’s wrong when she shows up for the next day of classes hungover with red rimmed eyes.
The second invitation she receives back with Selvig’s apologies, apparently he’s still wrapping up a project that’s taking him to Europe, but he does send a gift back and a postcard with a picture of the Tower of London on it that she pins up on her wall.
The third invitation receives no reply, not that she really expected one.
It’s not until she’s standing up on the stage shaking hands with the university’s dean that she lets her eyes scan the crowd and there’s a jolt when Darcy notices a figure out in the crowd, sandwiched between honored guests and the professors, a certain doctor that hadn’t been returning her calls or even replied to her invitation was there sitting among the crowd. If Darcy tripped a bit getting down off the stage, well nobody could really blame her too much.
She sat jittery for the rest of the ceremony, tossed her hat in the air and hurried to locate it. She had intended to make a beeline for Jane, but was stopped on the way by her parents, both so proud and so worried for her future at the same time. They pull her into a tight up, expressing congratulations, and she’s pretty sure her mom is crying, but that seems pretty typical of mothers.
“Congratulations, Darcy,” comes a voice soft and familiar enough to have her whirling around in a second told pull the other woman towards her into a hug. There are so many questions she wants to ask, so many demands she should be makings, but she cannot seem to care, not when Jane squeaks as she’s hugged, before laughing lightly and relaxing into it, “missed you too.”
Once they pull apart Darcy quickly realizes her manners, “oh my god sorry, mom and dad, this is Doctor Foster,” she says gesturing from her parents to Jane, “and Jane, this is the ‘rents.”
“We’ve heard so much about you,” her mom says embarrassingly quick, and just like that some wall seems to fall down, because it’s like everybody knows each other, and everybody is talking and Darcy is smiling and it feels amazing, like last summer. There’s no way to describe just how much she missed Jane’s presence.
“What are you doing next year,” Jane asks.
Darcy grimaces at the question, but settles for shrugging her shoulders in an all too telling way.
And then Jane says, “come to England with me,” like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Like it’s the appropriate thing to say after not returning somebody’s calls for a year. Like that’s what friends do, they stuff all that they can into a carryon bag and follow somebody halfway across the world just because they ask. Because that’s what they are, just friends, maybe a little more when they’ve both had too much to drink and the mood is right, but that was last summer, and it’s been months and things have changed.
Darcy should open her mouth and say, why didn’t you answer any of my calls, beg for explanations before she agrees to run away to Europe with her, but instead she just says she says, “sure,” like she’s not completely desperate for something to do.
There’s no backing out now.
Not that she would have considered it, not after the first thing Jane’s mother says when they’ve arrived at Jane’s childhood home in England and Darcy is introduced to her is, “I’ve heard so much about you.”