While it was nice and all that SHIELD had offered to hire Darcy as Jane’s assistant once her internship was over and Darcy had graduated, in the end, Darcy had turned the offer down, because one, there was only so much science Darcy could take and after her internship she was pretty much scienced-out, and two, Darcy was pretty sure that working for the Men In Black would only lead to trouble.
Darcy was smart enough to know that information about the Einstein-Whatever Bridge was something a lot of people would want (especially if they found out that real live aliens were using it to travel around the galaxy and occasionally exile people to Earth), and while SHIELD might consider the assistant position to be low-risk by their standards, Darcy wasn’t sure she was cut-out for any cloak-and-dagger stuff, not on that low a salary. If she’d been doing something she really wanted to do, then maybe she would have agreed, but as it was, the assistant job seemed like it was taking a risk to do something she didn’t really want to do anyway.
So Darcy had gone ahead and graduated, only to find out that the job market for freshly-minted political science graduates wasn’t so great. In the end, desperate for any work she could get, Darcy had gotten a job as a barista at a coffee shop. It didn’t pay all that much, but it was enough to cover rent and groceries, and in the meantime Darcy kept sending out resumes and applying for interviews. While she didn’t want to be a barista for, like, forever, in the meantime Darcy found that she enjoyed it. She got to meet a lot of people, and it kept her busy, and the environment of the coffee shop was bright and warm.
Sometimes Darcy felt a pang of regret when she thought of SHIELD’s offer, but mostly, she was content with winging it and doing things her way. Besides, SHIELD probably would have had her under heavy surveillance or something, and while they probably still kept an eye on her since New Mexico just in case, Darcy really didn’t want to be watched 24/7 by the faceless and kinda sinister organisation who had the power to just march in and take whatever they wanted. Best to stay off their radar as much as possible.
It was a bit of a slow day, by the coffee shop’s standards, which for Darcy meant that she could comfortably keep track of orders without being rushed off her feet. Darcy was manning the counter when the door to the coffee shop opened, and she glanced up from the drink she was pouring to see a gorgeous redhead walk into the coffee shop.
Darcy grinned at the sight of her girlfriend.
Natalie Petrova was a bone-fide bombshell, with tousled red curls, a full mouth, and big, speculative eyes fringed by long dark lashes. Today she was wearing a leather jacket and tight jeans that hugged her figure, showing off every tempting curve, much to Darcy’s appreciation. She and Darcy had been dating for four months now.
Technically, Natalie was Russian, but you wouldn’t know it from her accent – Natalie sounded as American as Darcy herself did. Darcy had first met Natalie when the woman had come in and ordered a Vienna coffee. Darcy had been dazzled, and after flirting outrageously, had written Hi Natalie, my name is Darcy on Natalie’s to-go coffee cup, along with her phone number. Natalie stopped at the coffee shop three more times before Darcy finally talked her into going on a date.
Darcy still didn’t know exactly what it was that Natalie did for a living – only that Natalie was some kind of consultant, and travelled all over the world as part of her job. Darcy was fine with that. After all, being a consultant couldn’t be that interesting, right? If Natalie didn’t want to talk about it, then Darcy wouldn’t push her. Besides, it wasn’t like Darcy didn’t have things she didn’t talk about – like meeting alien princes in the New Mexico desert, for one. Darcy had only been dating Natalie for four months, so it wasn’t like they were at the ‘share deep dark secrets’ part of the relationship yet.
“Hey babe, what’s wrong?” Darcy asked, as Natalie approached the counter. Her girlfriend’s expression was impassive, but Darcy knew her well enough to note the little worried furrow between her eyebrows, and the slightly strained look around her mouth.
Natalie hesitated, another sign that something was wrong.
“We need to talk,” she said finally. “Not here.”
“Oh my God,” said Darcy. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“What?” Natalie looked confused. “No. I just – we need to talk, okay? Now,” she added urgently.
“Okay,” Darcy agreed, feeling bewildered, but a little reassured. “Just give me a second, and we can go out back into the alley, okay?”
Darcy waved to Georgia, who was also working behind the counter today. Georgia was delivering cake and coffee to a customer, but a moment later she returned to the counter.
“What’s up?” Georgia asked, dumping the used tray on the counter near the sink.
“Listen, I need to talk to Natalie out back for a second, so can you cover?” Darcy responded.
“By myself?” Georgia frowned.
“It’ll only be for a few minutes,” Natalie promised, breaking into the conversation. Georgia wavered, and gave in.
“Okay, but don’t be long,” she said. “I’m only agreeing because it’s pretty slow right now, but if things speed up I’m going to need you back here, Darce.”
“Thank you so much,” said Darcy, and lifted part of the counter so that Natalie could walk through to the staff-only side, and tugged her out to the back of the coffee shop. The two of them walked out into the dingy little alley that backed onto the coffee shop.
“So what’s going on?” Darcy asked, turning to face her girlfriend.
Natalie hesitated again, looking uncharacteristically nervous.
“There are people coming after me,” she finally said slowly, which took Darcy’s worry in a totally new direction.
“People? Like, bad people?” Darcy asked, and Natalie gave a nod.
“Bad people,” she confirmed. “I… I haven’t been honest with you, Darcy.”
“What do you mean?” Darcy asked warily.
Natalie took a deep breath, and met Darcy’s eyes squarely. A moment later she spoke, and Darcy’s world tilted on its axis.
“My name isn’t Natalie Petrova,” she said bluntly. “It’s Natalia Alianovna Romanova, and I’m not a consultant. I’m an internationally wanted assassin, and the people who are after me work for a crime syndicate. I took out the wrong person, and now there’s a price on my head. People are coming to collect.”
“Oh my God.” Darcy stared at Natalie. “Tell me you’re joking.”
Natalie looked solemn.
“Holy shit, you’re not joking,” Darcy realised numbly. “You’re – not Natalie Petrova? You’re some kind of assassin? Who the hell are you really?”
“Natalia Romanova,” said – Natalia, Darcy thought dully. “Some people call me the Black Widow, because – it doesn’t matter why. You can call me Natasha. It’s, it’s sort of like a nickname, but for close friends and family. It’s a Russian thing,” Natalia added.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Darcy blurted. “You just told me that everything I thought I knew about you was a lie, even your name, and now you want me to use some cutesy nickname for you? Like nothing’s changed? I cannot even with this.”
“Darcy–” Natalia, Natasha – Darcy didn’t even know anymore – looked pained, but Darcy wasn’t done yet.
“And you said that people are after you because you killed the wrong person? Holy crap, are they going to come after me?”
“Hopefully not, but–”
“They are going to come after me, shit, shit, shit.” Darcy pressed a hand to her forehead. “Oh my God. All this time, and I thought I knew you. I thought we had something! I should never have taken the job here. I should have taken that stupid offer with SHIELD and just gone with it. At least someone would have told me I was dating a Russian assassin!”
“Wait, SHIELD?” Natasha looked incredulous. “You were offered a job at SHIELD?”
“It was an assistant position, okay, like an admin thing, I can’t talk about it – shit, why am I even telling you this? I don’t owe you anything. You’ve spent the last four months lying to me,” Darcy ranted. “How can I trust you won’t use this information against me?”
“Darcy, I won’t, I promise.” Natasha looked upset. “I never wanted this to happen.”
“Oh, you never wanted this to happen,” Darcy retorted. “You mean you never wanted me to find out the truth.”
“No, I mean – not like this.” Natasha gave a sigh. “Not with our lives in danger. I was going to tell you, I swear. But – I’ve never really been able to have a relationship before. It just never worked. But with you – I felt normal.”
“Normal,” Darcy repeated, and then laughed bitterly. “Right. The killer assassin wanted to feel normal. I’m your sense of normality. Jesus Christ. Is there any worse way to tell me that I’m average and boring?”
“You’re not boring,” Natasha insisted, with quiet intensity. “You’re wonderful and quirky and dependable, and everything I’ve never been able to have before.”
“Suddenly I know how Debbie in Grosse Pointe Blank feels,” said Darcy angrily. “Look, I don’t – I don’t care what you were thinking, okay? You lied to me. About stuff that was pretty damn important. You’re not the person I thought you were – literally. I don’t even know what to do with that, except that’s not even the important issue here, because there may be people coming after me because I’ve been inadvertently dating an assassin!”
“I’m sorry,” said Natasha, still looking unhappy. “I never wanted to hurt you.”
“That’s what they always say,” Darcy scoffed. “Come on, what did you think would happen?”
“I was thinking that I’d retire and spend more time with you,” Natasha said simply. “Go straight. Live a normal life. I don’t know how to do that, but I thought that with you, maybe I could learn.”
The sincerity in Natasha’s words hurt. Darcy turned away from her.
“Look,” Natasha said from behind her. “This life? Working as an assassin? It wasn’t a choice. I was raised this way from the time I was a small child. Just another starving orphan no one would miss. When I became an adult I got away from the people who had turned me into a weapon, but there was nothing else I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to be anything else. Being with you was the first time that I thought that maybe, there was a chance I could become something else, something other than an assassin. That’s the truth, Darcy.”
Darcy turned back to face her.
“I don’t care,” Darcy said, trying to keep her voice even. “This isn’t about your journey for self-actualisation or whatever, this is about you lying to me and the fact that I’m now in danger because I couldn’t make an informed choice. What am I supposed to do now?”
Natasha hesitated. She looked like she was thinking.
“What?” Darcy snapped. “Because seriously, if you have an idea, I’d love to hear it.”
“We go to SHIELD,” said Natasha. “Tell them I want to come in from the cold, and that my condition is your safety.”
“Love is for children,” said Natasha, “but you are important to me, and I don’t want to see you hurt. Do you still have someone at SHIELD you can contact?”
“Well, I think I still have Agent Coulson’s card, but–”
“Trust me, it’s the best option.” Natasha looked pensive. “The others are waiting here for someone to come after you, or going on the run with me, and you wouldn’t like either of those options.”
“You’re right,” said Darcy. “I don’t. But I don’t like the idea of going to SHIELD, either. What if they disappear us?”
“They won’t,” said Natasha, with certainty. “SHIELD have a reputation for dealing with people about as honestly as any intelligence and protection agency can. They might lock me up, and question you, but they won’t hurt either of us. It’s not their style.”
“And then what?” she asked, hating that she could hear the tears in her voice. “You think things are going to go back to the way they were? That’s not going to happen.”
“If they don’t, they don’t,” said Natasha, with a shrug, although Darcy could see the pain in her eyes. “But at least you’ll be safe.”
“Fine,” said Darcy. “I’ll ring Coulson. His card should be in my address book at home, under ‘Son of Coul.’”
“Stay in the coffee shop, and don’t go anywhere,” said Natasha. “I’ve got a key to your place, I’ll get the card for you. But basically, stay in populated areas where people can see you, understand? Don’t go anywhere alone until we sort things out with SHIELD for your protection.”
“Fine,” Darcy said again. “I’ll see you when you get back. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a job to do.”
She walked back into the coffee shop without looking back, her vision blurred by the tears she refused to let fall.