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and sharp as a tack

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“Darcy, what do you think you’re doing?” Jane says at the exact moment Darcy swings her legs over the window ledge.  Her shoulders droop and Darcy shuts her eyes tight.

One, two, three, four-

“Darcy!”

Oh, right…

“Um, I was escaping?” she replies, shoulders drooping.

“It’s your birthday party.”

“Yeah, well, they aren’t exactly my friends,”

“That’s because you don’t have any friends.”

“I do too have friends…they just aren’t here.”

“You haven’t had friends since you dropped out two years ago.”

“That’s a matter of opinion,” Darcy says easing back into her room. She does have friends, work friends, who are more than acquaintances but maybe not friend-friends.

"Darcy I have invited real live men here for you. Nice men.”

‘Nice men’ in Jane speak meant doctors. It always meant doctors, Jane being one and married to one, or possibly that one male nurse that was gorgeous until he opened his mouth. And Darcy, well, she had a tendency to make a terrible first impression, whether she wanted to or not.

….

Click, click, scroll.

She really should have gone to bed an hour ago, but five more minutes won’t kill her. Or forty if she was being honest with herself. Darcy was mostly always honest with herself.

She checks email one last time. Junk, junk…James? An email from James. Oh, God.

James was…awesome. He was smart, gorgeous and they could have had something. Maybe they would have if Darcy hadn’t been painfully awkward in college, or you know her whole damn life, and they didn’t end up becoming friends

With no little bit of trepidation she opens the email.  

the terrible troll raises his sword

What?, she thinks, racking her brain for the right response. There was a game, a game she hasn’t thought about in the two years since Darcy failed at life and dropped out. Go big or go home, and she went home. Home to her perfect sister and a crappy job fixing computers at the local Buy More. Shut up, brain.

It takes a few attempts before she finds the words in her head and her fingers fly across the keyboard.

attack troll with nasty knife

The screen flickers and images flood the screen. She cannot move. Cannot blink.

“You’re going to be late,” Jane shouts.

"Urgh," Darcy winces, cradling her head in her arms as she sits up on the floor. Everything hurts, but her head hurts worse. “Ow, ow, ow.”

"Darcy, are you even listening to me? You’ll lose your job."

"Shut it, Jane, my head hurts," Darcy moans. She scrambles across the bedroom to get her shirt and tie off the hook. It smells fresh enough when she sniffs it. Good enough.

Work sucks more than usual the next day.

Her head won’t stop pounding no matter how much aspirin and coffee she downs.

…General Ross will be arriving here later today.

“He’s already here,” Darcy says, waving a vague hand at the news playing on flat screens displayed behind the Nerd Herd desk. Nobody listens to her. That isn’t anything new.

….

"Please hold."

"No, no, no…damn it," Darcy says, rolling her eyes at the tinny Muzak playing in her ear.

“I like ‘em big and stupid,” Clint mutters low.

“I like ‘em big and real dumb, I like ‘em big and stupid. What kind of guy does a lot for me. Superman with a lobotomy,” Darcy sings, short pink nails tapping on the keyboard in front of her, phone held between head and shoulder.

“Excuse me, I hope I’m not interrupting,” rumbles a low voice.

Darcy jumps, hands tangling in the cord of the phone, “Oh, my God.”

“Sorry, I, uh, need some help,” says the same deep voice. Darcy looks up, and up. Holy crap, he was beautiful. Tall and cut. Unfair.

Tight white t-shirt, blue motorcycle jacket, baseball cap, dark jeans. Bright blue eyes hidden behind hipster glasses that Darcy would have mocked if not for her propensity for wearing them herself. Soft pink lips, strong jaw with just a hint of stubble.

“Its a song, Julie Brown, totally 80s,” Darcy says, face hot. Kill me now.

“Yeah.”

Clint snickers beside her and says “Welcome to the Buy More, I’m Clint and this is Darcy.”

“Steve,” he says with a half smile, which was half adorable and seventy five percent gorgeous and roughly ninety seven percent panty melting. “Didn’t think anyone named their kids Clint any more… or Darcy.”

“Well, my mother is a member of the Jane Austen Society, and carnival freaks found him in a dumpster.”

“But they raised me as their own,” Clint says dryly.

“I’m here about this,” he says, pulling a starkphone from his pocket. It’s an older model, practically paleolithic. 

“Dude, that’s ancient.”  

“I’ve only had it a few years,” Steve says defensively, phone cradled in the palm of his hand.

“Ancient,” Darcy nods. She plucks the phone from his hand, absolutely doesn’t think about the jolt down her spine when her fingers brush against warm calloused skin. She unscrews the back of the case to check the battery. It’s in place but there is a screw loose. She tightens the screw and assembles the phone again.

“There you go, Steve,” she says, lips curving in a wide grin as she holds the phone in the cage of her fingers. Chipped nails painted neon pink. Steve’s eyes sweep over her slow and the rough calluses of his fingers linger on her skin as he plucks the starkphone from her grip. He smiles again. Slow like honey, her brain sings softly, which is ridiculous as the honey in the bear bottle is fast as anything. Darcy’s belly gives a traitorous flip.

“Thanks, Darcy.”

“Ask him out already,” Clint hisses beside her nudging her with his elbow.

“Uh…”