Darcy generally isn't the type to pick up strangers in bars, but she feels the extenuating circumstances of the day (i.e., a) the entire Norse pantheon apparently being alive and well and living in space; b) said pantheon having access to giant, killer, fire-breathing robots; and, c) really being into settling their differences with armed combat) combined with the fact that the guy she is currently contemplating leaving with isn't exactly a stranger (i.e., a) he spent the entire day working next to or near Darcy to clean up after the previously mentioned giant, killer, fire-breathing robots from space; b) he is apparently on not just speaking, but snarking terms with the head honcho of the Men in Black, which at least means he has a job, and one that he probably is pretty good at because Darcy has a feeling Coulson wouldn't put up with shit like that otherwise; and c) they've already been introduced by the Head MIB himself, so technically, he is not a stranger but more a friend of a friend (if you stretch the meaning of 'friend' to include government agents interested in your boss's life's-work, which Darcy is willing to do this evening).)
The way said not-quite-stranger fills out his cargo pants and t-shirt isn't hurting, either.
But, yeah, no, Darcy assures herself. She could have, under normal circumstances, resisted the aesthetics (however awesome they are, and holy crap are they awesome), but there's an itch under her skin—apparently, nearly dying by giant, fire-breathing robots from space in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico will start you questioning your life choices. Who knew?
Also, she reassures herself, she still has standards. She has a very short list (of one) for which she's considering breaking her long-standing rule, and, as previously mentioned, Agent Clint Barton, Codename Hawkeye, does have at least a fair amount going for him. She could just be rationalizing things (she's kinda good at that), but when she leans in close and asks if he wants to get out of there, he doesn't jump all over her, only tilts his head and looks at her with a smile in his eyes. "Not that I'm saying I'm not interested," he tells her, "but it's been kind of a crazy day. You sure this isn't just a reaction to all of that?"
"Oh, hell, yes, it's a reaction to the day," Darcy says, and she likes him even more when he laughs. "Dude. Giant, fire-breathing robots from space." She arches an eyebrow at him and grins when he shrugs in a whattaya-gonna-do way. "I am definitely in a not-normal head-space right now, but I'm also way less not-normal than I would have thought, given all the weirdness."
Barton blinks a couple of times while he's clearly trying to figure out how to parse what she just said. He gets extra points for not calling her crazy and just saying, "You know I work for the 'jack-booted thugs', right?"
"Yeah," Darcy sighs. "I do know. It's the major point against you, but you've been down here on the ground working your ass off with all of us regular people all day. That counts for a lot, even before I add in karma points for how every dog in town managed to work the sad-puppy-eyes and get treats from you. I like guys who like dogs. Plus, I also heard you bitching out the rest of the Men-In-Black, and the sense of humor kinda does it for me."
"You mind if I share that with the suits?" Even if Darcy hadn't already decided Barton was in the Yes column, the way his eyes light up when he really smiles would have catapulted him over any and all competition. "They don't agree."
"I will agree that Suits are generally idiots," Darcy says, shrugging. "But…" She waggles her beer glass thoughtfully."As much as this pains me to admit, I kinda think Coulson not only has a sense of humor under that whole G-Man-Robot façade, but I'm pretty sure he uses you to troll everyone else." It really does almost cause her physical pain, because she is still hella pissed at Coulson's high-handed tactics, but he's been down on the ground, too, coordinating with the people who got their lives flattened and sending his bully boys off to help out all over. Plus, Darcy hadn't been too annoyed to notice how the ones who complained generally ended up doing things like hanging upside down out of second story windows getting harassed for not working fast enough or how often the guy in front of her had been the one to be harassing the jerk in question. "Look," she adds. "I'm going to go now and you're cordially invited to come along with me." She waves to Tommy behind the bar and starts searching through her pockets for some cash. "I'm kinda amped up, as you noted, but I'm in full possession of my faculties and most of them are all for blowing off a little steam and celebrating that I'm still alive. You're cordially invited along for that, too."
"Well, now." His mouth quirks up in a smile that does more completely unfair things to Darcy's insides, but he adds a twenty to the one she's shoved at Tommy, so there's at least a chance he can make good on all that it promises. "Can't be turning down the best offer I've had in forever," he says. His hand settles low on Darcy's back and he threads them through the bar, steering Darcy around everyone who's doing their level best to forget all the crazy shit that had happened that day by being even crazier.
His hand is big and warm on her back, even through all the layers she's wearing in deference to the desert night chill, and his touch is light. Darcy is not letting herself think about any of that until they're someplace a little more private. More power to anyone who gets off on exhibitionism, but it's not her thing. They skirt the dance floor (which has sort of spilled out into the rest of the tables, and yeesh, even onto the tables in a couple of semi-tasteless incidences) and dodge a shoving match that's about to start throwing punches, and get to the door without further complications.
There's a bite to the wind coming down from the mountains; after the stuffy, overheated bar, Darcy can't help shivering at the first touch of it on her skin. Barton moves closer, which hell, yes, Darcy is all for, but before anything can really get started, a shadow detaches itself from one of the MIB cars and resolves into Coulson. "Agent Barton. Ms. Lewis."
"Boss-man," Barton answers. He doesn't look surprised or embarrassed or anything, and Darcy is kinda happy to notice that he doesn't step away from her either. He just looks over her head to where Coulson is standing, like it's not actually his boss he's talking to, more like a friend. "Looking for me?"
"Yes," Coulson says, holding out a cell phone. "Talk your partner down before she ends up putting a certain genius former-weapons-manufacturer in traction and causing me untold reams of paperwork."
Barton does step away at that, taking the phone and saying, "Wait, you want me to be the voice of reason? Are you sure that Destroyer didn't drop something on your head or anything?" He's already punching numbers into the phone, though, and Darcy is seeing her night unravel before her eyes. She spins around and glares at Coulson.
"It wasn't enough that you stole my iPod, now you're cock-blocking me, too?"
Coulson looks ever-so-slightly pained and there's a choking noise coming from Barton's direction. Darcy counts both as wins, but the fact remains that the guy with the nice eyes and even nicer arms is not next to her anymore. She crosses her arms and ups her glare at Coulson.
"Sorry to, ah, interrupt," Coulson says, and for a wonder, he actually sounds sincere. He rubs hard at base of his neck in the universal sign of impending migraine. Darcy is not mollified, though. Yes, he's had a craptastic day, too, but hey, handling crazy shit--that's why they pay him the big bucks. Darcy does not remotely get paid the big bucks (or anything, really) and she'd been looking forward to a little fringe benefit to make up for that. "I was looking for you, as well. Dr. Foster isn't answering her phone; I was hoping you might be able to check on her."
"Why?" Darcy demands. "So you can clean out her trailer, too, just in case you missed something at the lab?"
"Ms. Lewis," Coulson says. "Please understand that Dr. Foster is quite possibly the only person on this planet who can identify the possibility of incoming, extraterrestrial dangers. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether those dangers are also cognizant of this fact and, if so, might choose to target her in an attempt to mitigate the advantage she presents for us."
As much as Darcy wants to dismiss him, he probably does have a point. She doesn't have to like it, though.
"Fine," she mutters, digging through her messenger bag for the keys to the trailer. One thing about Puente Antiguo is that it's so freaking small it's only going to take her two minutes to walk over and make sure Jane's just heads down in her notebooks cross-referencing all the observations she made in between the moments of heart-stopping terror during the day. Bless her heart, it's the only way she knows to blow off steam. Darcy had shoved a fried egg sandwich and a bowl of grapes at her before she'd left to begin her own steam-blowing-off process; Jane could crunch numbers all night on that much nutrition.
Coulson follows Darcy, and Barton tags along behind him. From how hard Barton's laughing, Darcy's not sure he's talking anyone out of anything--egging them seems like a much more likely option--but Coulson doesn't seem bothered by it. They all straggle around the back of the old filling station/lab and Darcy fights with the glitchy lock on the trailer's front door. When she finally gets the stupid thing open, all the lights are on inside, but there's no Jane, only Erik snoring from where he's sprawled out on the fold-down bed in the living area.
This wouldn't normally be a big deal. Jane has a tendency to flip her schedule and work through the night--except that there still isn't any equipment in the lab and it'd been pitch black when they'd just walked past. And her phone is sitting out on the counter.
"I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation," Coulson says. Darcy still blames him and his need-to-check-in-for-possibly-scary-reasons for the sudden uptick in her pulse as she considers where else Jane might be. It also doesn't really help when her pick for a night of fun ends his call with a "Gotta run, Nat. Coulson's eyebrow is twitching and you know he only saves that for the weird shit," and does some kind of a subtle shift where he ends up less the distractingly good-looking guy who'd been throwing darts blindfolded at the bar and more the who-do-you-want-me-to-take-out professional badass.
"Okay," Darcy says, pleasantly surprised when her voice sounds steady and calm. "There are a couple of places I can think of…"
She heads back out the door, her little entourage of men in black trailing behind her as she considers her options. Really, there's only one place that's likely, because Jane ate before Darcy left, so the chance of her going to the diner is pretty low. If Jane isn't where Darcy's thinking… Stop it, Darcy scolds herself. Just stop. She manages not to run, but she's definitely walking quickly as she crosses over to the back door of the old building that had housed their lab and offices until all the weirdness started.
This lock is a pain in the ass, too--the normal, day-to-day dust plays havoc with anything that has to move, let alone all the extra stuff that got kicked up when everything started exploding earlier--but she gets it open and flicks on the lights. It's sad and empty in the big main room--Darcy doesn't know when her whole yeah-no-it's-just-a-way-around-the-hard-science-requirement turned into something way more important--but at least with no equipment in the way, she can see right across to the corner where the ladder/steps that go up through the ceiling for access to the roof are down.
"Yes," Darcy hisses, rushing across the floor and scrambling up the ladder. The hatch at the top is unlocked, too, and Jane, when Darcy finally gets up onto the roof, is curled into one of the chaises, a blanket tucked around her. All the air goes out of Darcy at the familiar sight and she sits down right there on the roof.
"All clear?" Barton's head and shoulders pop up through the roof hatch. Darcy doesn't trust her voice so she just nods and he disappears to presumably consult with Coulson. Darcy could follow--if only just to yell at them about scaring the crap out of her--but everything from the last few days is suddenly dumping down on her and not moving seems like the better option. So, she sits and looks at the stars and the familiar sights of Puente Antiguo in the night. She can hear a couple of cars and the thump of the bass line from the band jamming back at the bar, but it's mostly quiet. A lot of town hasn't gotten electricity back and people have only started trickling in after the mad exodus, but the town's still (mostly) standing, and Darcy can admit that's not something she had much hope for when she'd first seen the Destroyer blasting down the street.
"Sorry," Barton says from the ladder, and Darcy realizes she doesn't know how long she's been sitting and staring out over the rooftops. "The boss says he didn't mean to freak you out."
"Really?" Darcy finds enough to snort her disbelief. "Not that we're all that close, but that doesn't sound like Coulson."
"I might be paraphrasing," Barton says. "The sentiment was there, though." Darcy rolls her eyes, but he's reaching out and laying something--oh, yay, Darcy thinks, it's her iPod--on the roof between them. "The big stuff is coming back tomorrow, but he gave me that for right now."
It's just a stupid iPod--half the town is in shambles and lots of people don't have houses to go home to--but Darcy almost wants to cry when she picks it up. She fights her voice back to something really close to normal and says, "So, the iPod is back to me. Does this mean the cock-blocking is rescinded, too?"
Barton shrugs and waggles his hand in the universal sign for eh, maybe. "Technically, any time I'm out like this, I could get called up, but, yeah, I'm kinda in stand-down at the moment."
He stays where he is, half-in/half-out, and watches Darcy watch him. He's relaxed and easy, even when Darcy asks, "Yeah, and how likely is that to last?"
"Seeing as how you're actually a civilian and Coulson's always bitching about me being poorly socialized outside of the job, I figure I'm clear unless there's serious weirdness." Barton grins at her again. "I think he thinks you could be a good influence or something."
"Oh, that is… disturbing," Darcy says.
"Welcome to my life." He says it all light and easy, but Darcy thinks there's a lot of seriousness under it all. "Mostly I just roll with it, but every now and then, I have to seriously wonder if I shouldn't be doing something differently."
"Giant fire-breathing robots from space definitely qualify as life-questioning moments," Darcy says.
"Oh, yeah," Barton agrees. "Especially when it's your first go-round at the CrazyTimes Rodeo." He shrugs. "You end up with a lot of why-the-hell-nots that sometimes don't really make sense later."
"As was being so eye-searingly demonstrated by all the unfortunate table-dancing back at--oh," Darcy says, finally putting together how he's still standing on the ladder-stair, halfway across the roof from her. "Are we counting us in that not-making-sense activity?"
"Not on my end," Barton says. His voice trails off, though, and Darcy fills in, "But?"
"But you're looking like the day finally caught up with you," he says.
"That good, huh?"
"Darlin', you're still standing. After a day like today, that's pretty damn amazing, but it was still a hell of a day."
"Not really standing," Darcy says, since she's not sure she's going to be able to make it back to her feet.
"Not losing it, either," Barton says.
"I think I passed right over losing any grip on reality and went straight into Bizzaro World right about the time things started blowing up." Darcy lays back on the roof and looks up at the stars. "Inviting you along doesn't count as losing it, by the way. It just seemed like a good way to celebrate not being dead."
"It's not bad," he says, and Darcy is not imagining how he definitely sounds like he knows what he's talking about. It's another tick in the column that says she really had known what she'd been doing when she picked him.
"I feel like we kind of lost our momentum, though." Darcy doesn't bother sitting up, but when she turns her head to look at him he doesn't seem insulted. "I mean, as far as having what could be seen as ill-advised—but probably really freaking excellent--sex against the nearest unoccupied wall goes."
She doesn't exactly mean for things to come out quite so bluntly, but, well, it's not really a surprise when they do. It happens like that a lot, especially when she's tired (or comfortable around people, but she's not thinking about that right now.) He looks a little taken-aback--which is not an unusual reaction--but then he laughs, and wow, that's even better than his smile.
"Yeah, we kind of have lost that momentum," he agrees. "This is good, though."
"Yeah, it is," Darcy says. She closes her eyes and focuses on her breathing. She's pretty sure she's not yoga and/or meditation material, but the breathing stuff helps now and then. "You can come all the way up, by the way."
"Sure," he says, and when she looks, he's at least sitting on the edge of the hatch. She frowns at him and he shrugs. "We already freaked you out once—I didn't want to make it any worse."
"We are cool," Darcy says. She kinda likes the thought that went into that attitude and hey, her radar really getting fine-tuned because she's pretty sure there weren't a lot of guys in the bar who'd have even had the presence of mind to realize they could be threatening, much less do anything about it. That all seems a little heavy to be putting out there given that they've only just met, so she looks back up at the stars. She knows way more about them now but all the math and stuff hasn't really ruined how much she just likes looking at them. "Considering that you're in town in a professional capacity I feel like you can tell me if I should be more weirded out about the whole alternate dimension thing?"
"Seeing as how you work for the woman who's been trying to prove that it exists, I don't see why you should be."
"Oh, good point," Darcy says. "I was a little worried it was just denial, but that's actually true. Go Team Jane."
She's not talking really loudly, but Jane must hear her name, because she stirs and mutters irritably. Darcy holds her breath and stays super-still. She shoots Barton a quietquietquiet look that he acknowledges with a nod. The last thing Darcy needs right now is a cranky, sleep-deprived genius, but somebody--Thor, maybe?--must be looking out for her, because Jane just yanks the blanket up over her head and settles back down.
"Okay," Darcy sighs. "Good. She's been running non-stop since even before things started getting super-weird and it's not like she has normal sleeping habits in the first place. If I'm lucky, she'll just crash out up here for the rest of the night and not start off the morning totally delirious from lack of sleep."
"And if she doesn't?" Barton asks, and Darcy shrugs.
"We'll fight about how super-geniuses do too need to sleep and then, because she's the boss, we'll take the truck out into the desert and see what we can see. At this point, I'm guessing it's about even odds that something new falls down out of the sky, which will be a total drag, but if it doesn't, she'll hit the wall around sunrise and I'll catch a nap when she does."
"Which means you should probably sleep now, too," he says.
"Yeah, but where's the fun in that?" Darcy leans up on her elbows and gives him her best Life Is Good grin, which, she is happy to see, he returns. He's right, though, and not only does she know it, she knows that he knows that she knows it. "Yeah, fine," she sighs. He rolls to his feet--Darcy does not whimper at the smooth bunch-and-flex of all those glorious muscles, but it is a very near thing--and comes over to offer her a hand. She lets him pull her to her feet, but when he goes to let go of her hand, she keeps holding on. She looks up at him, chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip. He doesn't say anything--which she doesn't blame him for, they'd walked out of the bar with a very clear intent, one that didn't include actual conversation, much less time spent together--but he doesn't pull away either. The day really is crashing down on her; she decides that's a plausible enough reason for finding herself towing him over to the lounge chair that's generally acknowledged as hers. The fact that he's letting her drag him along behind her is not lost on her. In fact, it sort of encourages her to not wuss out.
"Stay?" Darcy asks, hurrying on (before he can voice the sensible objections she knows they both kind of have) to add, "See, if Coulson hadn't shown up, we could have had some fun and parted amicably. You'd have gone off to do whatever secret-agent-spies do at night and I'd have ditched the trailer and Eric's snoring for sleeping up here. So, I'm here anyway, which is fine, but I feel seriously cheated and so should you, so you should stay." She manages not to wince when she hears herself babbling. "If, you know, you have the time."
She wishes she could have ended stronger, but she's been trying not to lie to herself, so she can acknowledge that she'd be better off hearing him take an out she'd given him rather than having him turn her down flat. He looks down at where they're still holding hands and it might just be that she's really, finally losing it, but she swears she's caught him off-guard. When he looks back up at her, he isn't smiling, but he looks like he's happy somehow. Maybe it's something to do with his eyes and how they're relaxed all of a sudden.
"I have the time," he answers, and lets her get them settled on the second chaise. It's a ways away from Jane's because they've needed their space lately, but close enough that Darcy will still be able to keep an eye out for any strange, astrophysicist happenings. She drags her favorite fuzzy blanket out of the cooler they use to store stuff and leans back against him.
"Sorry," she says after a few minutes. "I know this is probably way boring, but…" She wants to say that after the day they've had, boring is sounding pretty good to her, but he probably deals with stuff like this all the time and she'd really rather not sound any younger and less-experienced than she already has.
"Darlin'," he says, low and amused, and, oh, yeah, Darcy's brain purrs. Niiiiiiice. "You called Phil Coulson, the guy they call the Agent's Agent, the guy who scares the shit out of all the junior agents--you called him a cock-blocker, to his face and I got to see it. That didn't just make my night, it probably made my year."
"Excellent," Darcy murmurs. It's always nice when someone appreciates her utter disregard for tact, even before you add in the arms and abs and eyes. The quiet settles into Darcy's brain and she can feel everything unwinding slowly. Given how tight her shoulders are, she thinks she probably would have been better off if she'd gone looking for quiet earlier rather than replacing the crashing and yelling of the Destroyer with the noise of everyone trying desperately to forget the whole nightmare. Then again, even the thought of quiet had been unsettling earlier. You do what you can, Darcy reminds herself, and right now, what she can do is steady her breathing and maybe sleep a little.
It's still dark when she jolts back awake, gasping for air, a low, hurt whine in the back of her head and a fading vision of nowhere to run and the fire raining down on her, pouring over her skin and her hair and her eyes.
"Easy," Clint's saying, his hands rubbing up and down her arms, soothing her. "Easy, Darce, easy. You're safe; it's just a dream."
"Okay," Darcy pants, but she can't stop shaking and she doesn't think she's getting enough oxygen, which only makes it harder to breathe. "Dream, right." She guesses it's not all that big of a surprise that her subconscious is freaking out, but holy shit, that had been one exquisitely-detailed nightmare, especially since the fire hadn't really ever gotten that close to her.
"Breathe," Clint says. "Nice and easy, nothing to worry about." He breathes with her, superfast and right in sync at first and then just a little slower, and then slower still. She knows he's doing it on purpose—it's probably covered in Dealing With Hysterical Civilians 101—but she follows along like a good little girl and it works like a charm. She goes from almost hyperventilating to steady, even breaths in way less time than she would have ever believed. "Better?"
"Uh, yes and no?" Darcy says. "I mean, yeah, not completely terrorized anymore—" She holds up her hand to show how it's stopped shaking. "But, you know, I'm not all that excited about how the hot guy I managed to talk into spending the night got to see me scare myself so stupid I forgot how to breathe."
"Not a problem," he says, and before Darcy can mentally chalk it up to the Way Too Good To Be Remotely True column, he adds (like he knows what she's thinking), "Seriously. Nobody deals with shit like that without a little fallout. You think I was in that bar because I like the ambiance? Or that Coulson having a case of the vapors over the doc not answering her phone is normal?"
Darcy takes a deep breath and lets it trickle out slowly. She's not entirely sure whether she's happy the pros are a little jumpy, too, or if that's just scarier all around, but at least she doesn't feel like a total wimp in comparison. "Okay. So, yeah, everybody's a little freaked out."
"Oh, yeah," Clint murmurs. "The real trick is to remember to breathe. Nice and easy, just like you're doing right now. No matter what's going on, keep breathing."
"Very Yoda," Darcy says, but she keeps breathing slow and steady and the dream fades more and more with every exhale. She decides it also helps to have somebody solid and warm at your back and she promises herself she will look a little more closely at that feeling, especially at how she's applying it to a virtual stranger, but later. Somehow, fighting her way free of her overactive subconscious didn't wake Jane, which is really the first break Darcy's caught all night (well, okay, second because she thinks she has to count the guy with her as a really solid break in her favor.) Working with Jane is kind of like babysitting really tiny babies: you sleep when they do, so Darcy gives her imagination a very stern talking-to and lets herself drop back off to sleep.
* * *
Not surprisingly, her imagination isn't impressed with anything she has to say to it, so she wakes up twice more during the night. Neither time is nearly as bad as the first, and both times, she's remembering to breathe even before she's all the way awake. After the second time, though, Darcy gives it up as a lost cause. She's not cold, not with the solid wall of heat Clint's putting out at her back, but she's a little stiff from being scrunched back into him. She eases herself upright and turns to look at him over her shoulder.
"You good?" he asks, and she guesses it's not a surprise that he's already awake and alert. Secret-agent-ninja-types probably have a hair-trigger that's calibrated to something much less than an intern wriggling out from under their arms.
"Yeah," she answers. "Yeah, I am—thanks. I think I'm giving up, though."
Clint glances down at his watch and nods. "Six hours isn't bad after all the shit that went down yesterday." He rolls his shoulders and winces.
"Sorry," Darcy says. "This," she waves vaguely at herself and the roof and Jane and the creaky old chaise she basically guilted him into sleeping on, "can't be all that conducive to getting actual rest."
"I've slept rougher," he says, but when she gestures at him, he untangles himself from her and gets himself turned around so she can work at the knot she finds just offset from the base of his neck. She's very, very aware of the warm skin under her hands and how one muscle flows into the next, but she keeps her brain focused on actually trying to help and files the rest of it away for later alone-time. "Thanks," he says, his voice low and soft.
"It's the least I can do," Darcy says, her fingers working hard against the last, stubborn remnants of that knot, "especially since it's mostly my fault."
"Nah," he says, reaching both arms up over his head and stretching hard before he grabs one elbow with the opposite hand and twists back around so far that he's almost facing her. "This is all Coulson's fault for keeping me up in a blind for the last couple nights."
"Oh," Darcy says, firmly keeping herself from being rude and staring (not that she blames the lizard part of her brain, because, wow with the flexible), "okay, we can blame him. I'm good with that, at least until he gets Jane's stuff back."
"Today," Clint says, sure and solid.
"If you say so." Darcy will believe it when she sees it, and she is fine with him hearing her dubiousness, but it is heartening to hear it said out loud.
"I do, and I should probably go find out if any weirdness showed up overnight that might pull resources off making it happen." Clint stands up and pulls Darcy up after him when she holds out her hands. She can, of course, manage to stand up on her own, but where's the fun in missing out on the flex and pull of a gunshow like he's got working? "Thanks," he says.
"For what?" Darcy cocks her head at him. "Not having sex with you?"
"I was gonna say for looking past the jack-booted thug thing and hanging out, but, yeah, I guess that's kinda the same as not having sex with me. Not everybody would have done that."
"Well, then, you're welcome," Darcy answers airily. As noted before, he has a really nice smile, one that's practically impossible to resist, even if Darcy is pretty sure he works that unmercifully. She feels her way down the creaky, rickety ladder-stairs and absolutely does not squeak when he skips the traditional route and just swings down, letting go of the open hatch and hitting the floor right behind her. She might choke a little, but that's all.
"Sorry," he says. "Wasn't thinking."
"No, no, you're fine," Darcy manages in what's only a slightly breathless voice, part of which she is attributing to watching all those muscles she'd felt when she'd worked on his shoulders in glorious action. "I'm usually not this jumpy, it's just been a hell of a week."
He shrugs in a self-deprecating kind of a way. "Coulson wasn't kidding about the whole poorly-socialized outside of the job thing."
"You know, I'm pretty sure my life's work is going to include disagreeing with Coulson whenever possible, so don't expect me to back you up on that." Before she loses her nerve, Darcy reaches out and cups his jaw in her hand. Clint goes still and quiet against her, not moving even a fraction of an inch as she leans into him. He can't miss where she's going with this, but he stays still and lets her set the pace, and even when she's kissing him and he's kissing her back, he still moves slow and easy. That doesn't mean she doesn't find herself pressed up against him with his hands buried in her hair; it just means she gets to enjoy every last second of the build.
She hadn't really meant for it to be anything serious, but that good intention goes flying out the window approximately .02 seconds after he opens his mouth against hers and she falls down into his kisses, lazy and unhurried, like there's all the time in the world, his beard a little rough from where he needs a shave and his hands careful and deliberate where they hold her. She finally has to pull away--really, she has to, oxygen is good--but he doesn't stop, just drags his mouth along her jaw until she turns her head and catches him again, and again, until his phone rings, loud and demanding, and they have to stop for real. He slides his hands down over her shoulders, holding her close for a second longer while they both try to catch their breath, and then digs his phone out of his jacket and flicks it on.
"Yeah, Barton," he says into it, all business except for his voice being a little uneven and hoarse and how he doesn't seem to object that Darcy hasn't stepped back and has, in fact, wrapped her arms around his waist and tucked her face into the crook of his neck. "Right. Yeah, I'm on it; tell Coulson I'll be there in five."
Clint drops a kiss on the top of Darcy's head as he hangs up. "Timing is everything," he murmurs, and Darcy tips her head back to look at him.
"Especially when you don't have it," she gripes, but there's not a whole she can do about the situation, so she smiles and starts to ease back from him. He catches her face in both hands, though, drawing her back into him and his kiss is anything but slow and easy this time. Darcy meets him on equal terms, one hand digging into his hip while the other slides up his back and her heart is pounding when he finally pulls away. He brushes one last kiss across her mouth and that's it.
"Oh, my god, I hate your boss," Darcy mutters as he disappears out the door and leaves her to go deal with the day.
* * *
Clint's right; there are trucks and SHIELD goons at the door almost before Darcy gets the coffee going. Lucky for them, it's only almost, because a pre-caffeinated Jane is not who you want to deal with even when she isn't supervising the return of her confiscated lab, and a pre-caffeinated Darcy is inclined to sit back and let the fireworks fly. Erik doesn't actually function without caffeine, so there's not any help coming from that quarter.
It's still mass chaos as Jane is very, extremely detail-oriented and she knows exactly how each piece of electronics needs to be set up and doesn't let up until it's perfect; and Darcy is of the opinion that SHIELD created this particular Jane-Monster, so they get to deal with her. It could have been worse, but Coulson actually makes an appearance early on and it is super-crystal-clear to everyone that whatever Jane says, goes.
Piece by piece, the lab gets put back together. Fortunately for everyone, none of the equipment seems to have been damaged during its little vacation, but it still takes a ridiculous amount of time to get everything re-calibrated and humming along properly. Jane blows off Darcy's attempt to get food in her both in the morning and again later at midday, so by the afternoon, Darcy goes for the never-fail strategy of chocolate plus salt plus crunch. She has to make a quick run back to the trailer to fetch her bait, but Jane doesn't notice and the SHIELD team is just happy there's one less person to snarl at them.
Casually, oh-so-casually, Darcy wanders back into the lab and over to where Jane is under a table, taking the opportunity to re-wire the oscillo-whatever that hadn't ever worked at the level she'd designed it for.
"Jane," Darcy says, making sure her mouth is full. It's one of Jane's little triggers, and sure enough, she pops up to glare at Darcy. "Oops, sorry," Darcy says, swallowing. She considerately holds the tin she's carrying out, and Jane automatically reaches to get some of Darcy's food of the gods. "I was just wondering if you'd had time to double-check the inventory…?"
Darcy walks as she talks, holding the tin out again and very carefully not dancing the dance of righteous satisfaction as Jane follows along with her.
Erik looks at her with his old-guy, you're-feeding-her-what? glare of disapproval, and hey, Darcy gets that it's not exactly healthy, but it's not like it's all she intends for Jane to eat, or that she does it all the time. The point is: it works and right now, that's all Darcy cares about.
"I went over it, and it looks okay, but you should definitely check it, too, because we are not letting these bozos out of here if even a single thing is missing," Darcy says. Just as she says that, the front door opens and Barton walks in, smirking at the 'bozo' part. Darcy rolls her eyes at him, and is very proud of herself for not letting the little eye-crinkles distract her from her mission. She hands Jane the tablet with the inventory from Coulson on it, and nudges her to sit at a small table, sweetening the deal by putting the tin down in front of her. Jane eats another chip, but then gets sucked into the inventory and Darcy neatly tucks a grilled veggie burrito in Jane's free hand and swaps out the tin of chips for a plate of sliced apples and pears.
She stays super-still until Jane bites into the burrito and doesn't notice the swap, then backs away as silently as possible. Barton follows her, eying the tin with a certain level of disbelief.
"Are those--" He shakes his head, like he can't actually believe what he's about to say, a reaction Darcy gets a lot, cf. Erik, but then he looks up at her and grins. "You lured the woman who just had her theory of trans-dimensional travel proven beyond a shadow of a doubt away from her equipment with chocolate-covered potato chips?"
"I totally did," Darcy confirms. His grin turns into a strangled laugh as he tries to keep quiet, and Darcy adds, "I made them, too. Want some?"
She holds out the tin and looks on with satisfaction as he scarfs down a handful and makes appreciative noises. "Oh, shit, this is so much better than MREs I can't even tell you," he says.
There's still a fair amount left, so Darcy takes a couple and then hands the rest over. "Take them," she says. "I can always make more." Even tiny towns in New Mexico have Ruffles and chocolate chips; that's the beauty of the entire concept. Plus, Darcy kind of likes watching people enjoy things she's made, so it's a definite win in her book, even before she gets to watch him lick the last bit of chocolate off his thumb.
To distract her brain, which is .02 seconds away from skipping down some visual pathways that are completely inappropriate for the lab, Darcy clears her throat and asks, "So, is there any reason you're here? And by reason, I mean, impending disaster?"
"Nah, I'm just here to make sure everything's okay. Coulson's been on one video conference after another, and Sitwell's dealing with all the electronic shit on our side, so I figured I'd stick my head in and check that nobody forgot that Coulson will take it personally if you and the doc slip through the cracks."
"Well, we'd be better if we hadn't had all the stuff taken in the first place," Darcy points out, "but I think we're almost back to where Jane can start running data again."
"Ok, good." He's serious, suddenly, and draws her back to the corner that's half-blocked by the big whiteboards. "Look, I don't want to scare you or anything, but this--" he waves his hands out toward the street and the damage left by the robot-- "this is a game-changer. I know Foster's been saying all this has been possible for a long time, but now it's happened and she knows more about how and why than anybody out there." He digs in the pocket of what Darcy has finally figured out is a kevlar jacket and passes her a card. The SHIELD emblem is embossed on the front and there's a hand-written number on the back. "This is Coulson's direct line--he's gonna come by and talk to the doc, but you need to have it, too. Anything feels weird to you--anything, Darcy--you call it."
It's a more than a little scary, what he's saying, but pretending like there's nothing wrong isn't going to make it better, so Darcy nods and slides the card in between her phone and its case. "Should I memorize it and then burn it?" she asks, mostly teasing, but he's really serious, so she adds, "I'll call. Promise."
She wants to add something about how she'd rather have Clint's number, but that seems a little too flip given that he's actually talking about her (and Jane's) safety, but somebody must like her, because he hands her another number, this one scrawled on a torn-out piece of notebook paper. "That's mine," he says. "Not for emergencies--I go off-grid a lot, so don't count on me getting back to you in any kind of a reasonable time--"
"Oh, nice," Darcy says, arching an eyebrow. "'Here's my number, baby, but I probably won't pick up if you call?' Classy, Barton."
"Welcome to SHIELD," he mutters. His eyes flip from alive and animated to flat and shuttered, and there really are too many times when Darcy wishes her mouth might give her brain a nanosecond or two of warning before it goes and spouts off whatever it thinks sounds cool. Apologizing is probably going to make it all worse, because this is clearly a sore spot, and one that's probably been beaten on before if the tightness in his eyes and mouth means anything, so Darcy goes with a side-step.
"Well, then, you should take mine--I mean, I'm not going to be anywhere but here or at school, so we won't have to worry about anybody being off on a super-secret, black-ops assignment."
"Yeah, funnily enough, I am. You're not a bad silver lining to the fire-breathing-robot-from-space cloud." Darcy smiles and scribbles her number on a corner of the paper he'd given her.
Clint glances at it, then shreds it, grinning at her mock indignation. "I got it, trust me."
"I am," Darcy says, a little more seriously than she intends, but, hey, it's the truth, no matter how odd. Before things can go anywhere else, the door rattles open and Coulson, with more of his exquisite timing, walks in with the rest of his entourage. There's an extended discussion with Jane (who has more than a few questions based on the inventory Darcy'd given her, so score one for the poli-sci intern and her mad organizing skills) and then some semi-polite negotiations about staffing levels and resources. Darcy knows Jane wants to tell Coulson what he can do with his offers of assistance, but they have terabytes of data from Thor and Sif and the boys coming and going, not to mention all the stuff from the Destroyer and however Thor and Loki were communicating right there before the end. It'll take Jane and Erik and Darcy literally years to parse all of it, so Jane does accept the offer. Darcy's a little surprised Erik is okay with that, what with all the I-knew-a-gamma-radiation-expert-who-got-disappeared-by-SHIELD talk, but he's nodding along in satisfaction.
There's more back-and-forthing, and Coulson does give Jane his number and the call-if-there's-anything-strange spiel, but then Clint is saying, "Boss, we need to roll if we're not gonna keep the Ospreys waiting," and they all sweep back out of the lab almost as suddenly as they'd appeared the first time.
Darcy catches one last glimpse of Clint as the first wave of the SHIELD exodus heads out of town. He's at the wheel of one of the giant, black SUVs they're all apparently contractually obligated to use, with Coulson in the passenger seat, his phone pressed to his ear, already onto the next crisis, Darcy supposes. Clint grins at her and flicks a quick salute in her direction; impulsively, Darcy blows him a kiss, which gets her an even bigger grin, but then they're gone and it's time to figure out how Team Jane is going to function now that everything's been proven right.
At midnight, Darcy gives up trying to pry Jane and Erik away from their precious data and goes to take a shower and find her bed. Her phone pings while she's getting the conditioner out of her hair (the New Mexico climate is trying to kill her with split-ends, but Darcy isn't going down without a fight); when she finally gets her hair wrung out and her pajamas on, there are three messages, all unsigned and from a blocked number. The boss snores like you wouldn't believe, the first one says. The second one says, I stole the rest of your chips; dinner of champions, and the third one is just a little emoji blowing her a kiss, which makes Darcy smile entirely too hard.
Still, she has some standards, so she doesn't go all wibbly about the kiss, just sends a stern Don't text and drive back. She isn't sure what--or even if--she's expecting in reply, but it's not a Ma'am yes ma'am followed by a another emoji, this one with a cheeky little smile, and for whatever this might turn into (which is probably nothing) Darcy is going to enjoy the hell out of what it is.