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The night Jane's computer crashed three times in a row running algorithms, Darcy suggested—out of the goodness of her heart—that their time might be better spent looking for the wormholes at the bottom of tequila bottles and:

"So you don't really strike me as the kind of person who goes for the sensitive meathead type," Darcy slurred, immediately regretting bringing it up when it garnered a garbled sob-like sound from where Jane was lying with her face pressed up against the cool kitchen tile.

"Not a meathead," Jane mumbled. She lifted her head. "Thor is not a meathead. He is very..."

"Sensitive?" Darcy supplied.

"Yes!" Jane said, then: "You don't know me."

"Please," Darcy said, gesturing expansively, which Jane apparently took as her cue to scramble into an upright position and dig around in another part of the apartment for a—Jesus Christ—scrapbook which she flipped open to a photo labeled "Donnie and Me at His Condo." Donnie seemed to be about seven feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to David Beckham in a sweatervest.

"This asshole was a doctor," Jane started, launching into a rambling diatribe about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and how obviously both intelligence and empathy were important, but relatively, she just wanted someone who was emotionally accessible something something something, and also someone who hadn't spent his entire undergraduate career in board shorts and Sperries. Darcy lost the thread of reasoning about five minutes in.

Bitching about Donnie Blake turned into bitching about Larry Lieber the French pastry chef turned into bitching about Joe Sinnott the naked painter turned into bitching about God knows who else; all their photos started to blur together into one handsome, depressing mass. Jane was perking up, though, like talking through all this shit was helping her solidify some kind of internal resolution.

Then she squinted in Darcy's direction.

"Do you have a significant other?" she asked after a long moment.

"Oh, no," Darcy said.

 

***

There had been times Darcy wished that Jane could have been more like a normal scientist, the kind that traded all their social skills for their PhDs, but even Jane's multiple fancy degrees couldn't hide the fact that she was fundamentally a Crazy Hot Chick. Which wasn't a bad thing; Darcy knew a lot of Crazy Hot Chicks, and she was even friends with some of them, but sometimes they could be a real pain in the fucking ass.

"No," Darcy said for what was probably the fiftieth time, "I'm not really interested in dating right now."

Darcy tried not to begrudge Jane her new fascination with Darcy's (nonexistent) love life. It had the advantage of distracting Jane from the impossibility of opening—and navigating—a wormhole to Thor's magical planet of chainmail and magic without scrambling all their atoms and possibly releasing Cthulu from the depths of the abyss.

"That is extremely unlikely," Jane said.

"Four weeks ago, you ran over the actual Norse god of thunder in your camper," Darcy pointed out. Jane meant well. It was just that, like most Crazy Hot Chicks, she didn't have a very firm grasp of reality as it played out for most people.

Fortunately, their location in the middle of Buttfuck Nowhere, New Mexico on a super secret government base precluded a lot of the socializing that Jane would have undoubtedly forced onto Darcy had they been back at UCLA. As it was Jane had nonetheless developed the unfortunate habit of introducing Darcy to all the suits and lab monkeys in their general vicinity like that awful scene from the first Bridget Jones movie: "Darcy, this is Alan from the security detail. He likes dogs and Nicholas Sparks novels," or "Darcy, this is Bill from records. He likes motocross and flower arranging."

"This is Darcy, she likes being left the fuck alone," Darcy muttered, but under her breath.

Luckily, after a few days of this, Tony Stark decided it would be funny to Facebook-marry Pepper Potts and everyone freaked out, starting from TMZ all the way up to MSNBC. Darcy had met Pepper when they'd been trying to get Stark Industries to build them a particle accelerator, and when the status update popped up on her feed she texted Pepper with it, getting a reply an hour later that read only WHYI S THIS MYY LIFE. Darcy felt a little bad for Pepper, but mostly glad, because it had been enough to feed the lab rumor mill and—more importantly—Jane's inner romantic for at least a week.

Darcy let herself relax. Which was why she was unprepared when Jane turned to her when they were watching a body language expert analyze Pepper's fuck-my-life face for Ryan Seacrest while waiting for the computer to spit out some plots and said,

"So I know you said you don't want to date—"

"God damn it," Darcy said.

"But this wouldn't technically be a date!" Jane said.

"What?"

"I think you should consider expanding your horizons a little," Jane said sagely. "Moving out of your comfort zone. Take a look around, you never know what you might see."

"If it's not a date, then what is it?"

"You'll just have to find out," Jane sing-songed, and Darcy thought about giving her the finger but just sighed.

 

***

After deciding that humoring Jane was probably the best tactic to get her to lay off in any kind of permanent way, Darcy found herself staring at the mirror in her own SHIELD-supplied apartment and wondering if jeans and a TED NUGENT 2008 t-shirt telegraphed "fuck you, I don't really want to be here," too obviously. Then she wondered what the hell her problem was, but before she could try to figure it out someone knocked on the door.

"Hi," the guy in the hall said.

"Oh hey, you're the," Darcy snapped her fingers. "Arrow guy."

He looked pained. "Clint."

"That's right. Barton." There was a moment of silence before Darcy realized, "You're my date?"

"It's not a date," Clint said carefully, as if he'd been coached.

"Uh-huh."

"It's a morale-boosting experience," he added, making Darcy pause where she was scooping her bag off the floor to stare at him. There was the beginning of a shit-eating grin flirting around the corners of his mouth.

"That makes it sound like you're being whored out to me," she said finally.

"All undercover SHIELD operatives receive extensive rentboy training."

"Are you expected to spend a lot of time lying back and thinking of America?"

"That's more Steve's style."

"Yeah, all right, I'm not touching that one," Darcy said, shouldering her bag. She took another look at Clint and decided she probably wouldn't mind if he were being whored out to her, hypothetically: after a college career dating three economics majors, an engineer, and a future master of public policy, his biceps looked pretty good. So did his ass. But that wasn't the point. "Where are we going?"

"Paintballing."

"No, really."

They went paintballing, Darcy functioning through a haze of bemused disbelief up until the point that the anxious-looking paintball guy handed her a mask and a vest and made her sign a paper promising she wouldn't sue the establishment if her eyeballs burst. Clint declined a vest: reasoning, no doubt, that the paint would be repelled by the force of his sculpted physique.

"If I don't have like, your initials written on me in paint by the end of this, I'm going to be severely underwhelmed by the Avenger Initiative in general," Darcy said, checking her gun. She was kind of excited despite herself; it was nice to get out of the lab, and shooting things nonlethally was always therapeutic. "No pressure."

"Noted."

 

***

"So how was it?" Jane asked. Darcy shrugged.

"All right."

"All right?"

"It was pretty fun." Jane looked disappointed, probably by the lack of salacious details. Instead of his initials, Clint ended up painting a smiley face on Darcy's back; that, along with the dinner conversation, cemented her impression of him as one of the bigger superhero assholes she'd met so far—not quite as relentlessly endearing as Steve but slightly less douchey than Tony. It had been mitigated by the pink paint he hadn't quite managed to rinse out of his hair and the information that he'd been a carnie in Iowa before he got snatched up by SHIELD's black ops programs:

"I bet that unwashed Midwestern charm went over well with the ladies."

He shrugged. "Hello, I'm Special Agent Barton worked better. What about you, astrophysics?"

"I have three-fourths of a poli sci degree and the only reason I'm here is because I once wrote a paper about the uncritical treatment of socialist economic policy in the original Star Trek." His fork paused on the way to his mouth and she raised her eyebrows.

He'd been easy to talk to. It had been... fun. She'd even been prepared to thank Jane, except for:

"So what was this about me needing my morale boosted?" Darcy asked, crossing her arms.

"He said that?"

"I'm almost sure you said that," Darcy said. She had a vague recollection of something to that effect from end of the night of the tequila wormholes, but she had written it off as a hallucination.

"Well," Jane said. "You have been a little mopey lately."

"I've been a little—" Darcy waved her hands. "You're the one who’s got the—"

"Kind of a Debbie Downer, actually," Jane said.

"Okay, one, who says Debbie Downer anymore, and two, this is how I am all the time! No, wait." Darcy pinched the bridge of her nose. "I am not being any more mopey than I am usually."

"I'm just concerned that you don't seem to be making many friends."

"I have over three hundred friends!" Darcy said, and oh sweet Jesus what was that expression on Jane's face.

"Oh, honey," Jane said.

"Gnrghl," Darcy said, and went to go check on the printer.

She was in the middle of giving up on trying to clear out the mother of all paper jams and just beating her head against the sides of it when someone cleared his throat behind her. She twisted her head around and glared.

"Uh, you've got ink all over your—" Clint said. "Never mind."

"Silence, manwhore," Darcy said, then looked at him more closely. He really was kind of stupidly attractive, in that check-out-my-guns-and-also-my-thighs-in-these-soldierpants way, and Darcy knew he had a pretty good sense of humor. Better than most of the Borg who worked for SHIELD, in any case. She could feel the beginnings of a plan percolating in the back of her mind. She was pretty sure it was a idiotic plan, but this was an idiotic situation.

"Okay, listen up, Barton," she said, straightening up and pushing her hair out of her face. "I'm in love with you."

"Okay," Clint said, with the air of a man who had just popped out to get a beer and run into Doctor Doom trying to hold up the Quik-Mart; which, you know, had probably actually happened to him once or twice.

"I just need to get Jane off my tits, please God, help me do this and be my fake boyfriend. She thinks I'm having trouble adjusting."

Now Clint was looking at her tits, so Darcy congratulated herself on words well chosen and pushed her shoulders back on the pretense of getting a crick out of her neck.

"Does this mean we get to make out?" Clint said finally, dubiously.

"Deal," Darcy said.

 

***

"—so actually, it was like, love at first sight," Darcy said. Jane's eyes gleamed. "I just didn't want to say anything because I know you uh, miss Thor a lot."

"But that's wonderful, Darcy!" Jane said, putting her hand on her chest. "Like a bolt out of the blue, into your heart!"

"Or a homeless swimsuit model, denting the trailer of your soul," Darcy muttered. Clint's shoulder twitched against hers. She tuned out the rest of Jane's waxing poetic about the magic of finding a man who understands, a man with a slow hand, someone with an easy touch, and entertained herself with images of Thor with a curly bouffant until she realized Jane had stopped talking a while ago and was staring at her expectantly. "Uh," she said.

"Absolutely," Clint said, and kissed her.

This asshole— Darcy thought, before she remembered, oh right, deal. She stopped trying to dig around for her taser and slapped her hand against Clint's ass, possibly slightly harder than necessary judging by the way he jumped, and kissed back. "Oh baby," Clint mumbled, smiling into it, and fuck, it was good, too: his thumb pressing against the hinge of her jaw and his tongue doing something totally fucking filthy to the inside of her mouth. She wondered if that was a carnie thing or a black ops thing.

"I need to go see Dr. Banner about something," Jane said, sailing out, and Darcy pinched Clint in the side to get him off her.

"Ow," he said, rubbing at it. "Kinky."

"God, is your face genetically incapable of producing a smile that is not shit-eating?" Darcy said, and it just grew wider.

 

***

So that was how Darcy ended up sleeping with a superhero, except there was no way to tell, really, because Clint refused to wear like, purple tights or anything.

"Come on," she whined. "Tony's got that robo-suit and even Steve wears those star-spangled banner spandex bell-bottom things."

"That's because it's the greatest tragedy of Steve's life that he missed the 60s and he's trying to soothe the pain in his soul," Clint said, palming her breast. Darcy sighed, but if she couldn't have 'purple cape,' 'naked' was an okay consolation prize.

On their second not-a-date Clint took her to a shooting range, because you could take the man out of redneck country but you couldn't take the redneck out of the man, or something. It had been Clint's suggestion to continue the not-dates, and Darcy had agreed because it would help maintain the illusion for Jane and it wasn't like it was a hardship to hang out with Clint instead of squinting at graphs Darcy had no real idea how to read anyway. Darcy supposed they were technically in redneck country now, and tried to concentrate while she pulled the trigger and missed the paper target by a good five feet.

"On the exhale," Clint shouted, sounding pained. "And don't tense up."

"It's cute that you think your creepy sniper-school lamaze breathing is going to help me here," Darcy shouted back, and tensed up even more for a half-second when Clint pressed up behind her like a bad romantic comedy and lifted up her ear muffs on one side to pant heavily into her ear. She stepped on his insole and he yelped.

"No sex breathing in public," she said sternly, like it hadn't sort of made her hot anyway.

He was hot, okay; it wasn't a crime to enjoy fucking him. As fringe benefits went, it was pretty awesome, actually. Jane's nagging was reduced to just sighing dreamily whenever Clint showed up in the middle of the morning with a wink and a tray full of coffee-drinks from the closest approximation that this town had of a hipster coffee place. Thinking about the sex also kept Darcy from being visibly bored whenever Jane went off on one of her incomprehensible particle physics tangents.

It wasn't like Darcy was unaware that her main function here was as a warm body for Jane to talk theory at; she'd known that pretty much when she signed up, and while the whole Norse-gods-and-also-secret-cadre-of-superheroes thing had been unexpected, it also hadn't managed to appreciably change anything. Darcy didn't really mind. She liked Jane, more than she'd expected to, and it was good for Jane to have someone to remind her to eat every once in a while and that a little sunlight wouldn't make her burst into flames. Darcy would miss her.

On their third not-a-date, Clint took her to a "nightclub" that was actually someone's enormous fucking barn with speakers mounted on every corner and also on the slats, a disco ball, and more pink leather and sequins in one place than Darcy had ever seen in her life. Something about shaking it for the young bucks sitting in the honky-tonks piped through the speaker system.

"You don't get to pick our not-dates anymore," Darcy yelled at Clint. He handed her a dixie cup full of lukewarm beer. She chugged it.

"Do you want to dance?" he yelled back.

"I want to drink more," Darcy said, but let herself be pulled out onto the dance floor. Clint was wearing God's-honest cowboy boots for the occasion, after all.

"I would have thought your spook-sense would be too wigged out by places like this," Darcy said as Clint did his best to have sex with her vertically while simultaneously doing a strange sort of line-dance movement.

"No windows, good visibility," Clint said, right against her ear. She shivered at the puff of warm air. Then he threw his head back and started warbling, along with the music, "YOU'LL BE MY LITTLE LORETTA—"

"Oh my God," Darcy said.

"I'LL BE YOUR CONWAY TWITTY—"

"I knew you liked it, you asshole," Darcy shouted, elbowing him right in the middle of 'YOU'LL BE MY SUGAR BAB-urkkk.' "Keep going, see how much ass you get tonight."

 

***

The next morning, since Jane had given her the next two days off, Darcy booted up her laptop and stared at her class list for the next semester for a while, then logged onto Amazon and starting buying textbooks. She'd just opened up her resume when her phone buzzed; it was a text from Pepper that read, Fuck's sake Barbara Walters just asked me to do an interview about what it's like to run a Fortune 500 company while worrying about my fiance putting himself in the line of fire every day.

she's not dead? Darcy wrote back. dont you have an assistant to deal with this

My last assistant turned out to be the Black Widow and all the other ones I interviewed Then three seconds later: Just want to fuck Tony.

Darcy sighed. this should have been over four news cycles ago why don't you just deny it

This time the pause was much longer than three seconds and Darcy clicked out of her resume and powered down her laptop, giving up for now. She went to the kitchen with the vague idea of maybe finding some coffee and Bailey's and when she came back to her phone it was blinking with Have you ever seen Tony Stark sulk?

i have an idea. let me? Darcy wrote. At Pepper's lackluster I guess you can't make it worse she flipped through her contacts and poked one, bringing the phone up to her ear. "Hey, Abs," she said. "Weren't you always talking about how you used to masturbate thinking about hacking Tony Stark?"

Eight hours later Darcy's phone buzzed in the middle of yet another not-a-date, during which Darcy had elected to spend trying to convince Clint that ketchup really brought out the cheese notes of mac and cheese while watching Transformers on the ridiculously large SHIELD-supplied television in her apartment. When she dug it out of her pocket she had a private message from Absynthe Productions; it was a link to Tony's latest status update, a Youtube video titled simply "Iron Man Says: Drink Responsibly," that began with a bunch of artfully edited nightclub scenes and Tony in a voiceover saying, "Every night, millions of American men go out and do what I used to do: get drunk and try to score," and ended with Tony looking earnestly into the camera on a windswept beach saying, "So remember: drink responsibly. Avoid whiskey-dick."

perfect, Darcy wrote back, and Abia wrote,

anderson fucking cooper dude.

"Hey, turn on CNN," Darcy called into the living room, where Clint had retreated like a pussy after she'd busted out the hot dogs.

"—juvenile and insensitive, making light of the very real problem of irresponsible drinking, while some are praising it as a much-needed, refreshingly humorous new take on—"

"Anderson fucking Cooper," Darcy murmured, bowl in hand.

"Slow news day," Clint said, kind of strangled.

"—could not be reached for comment, but our team of experts has confirmed the authenticity—"

"Oh my God he's turning it into a commentary about the social responsibilities of superheroes in today's society," Darcy said. She put the bowl down on the table between the plates and flopped down on the couch next to Clint, swinging her legs up onto his lap while Anderson Cooper asked his production team to loop through the part of the video that had the sea breeze ruffling through Tony's hair a few times. Amazing what you could do with CGI these days.

"Anderson sure seems excited to be talking about Tony's—" Clint grimaced. "Dick."

"That's because he wants it in him," Darcy said. "This wouldn't have worked otherwise. Eat your mac and cheese."

"I ate before I came," Clint said. "He does not."

Darcy shrugged. "More for me. Haven't you noticed how he's been sulking all the way through Marriage-gate?"

Clint squinted. "That's because he's busy covering real news." Darcy just put her fork in her mouth and looked at him, and then looked pointedly at the television. Clint's face moved through a variety of expressions before finally settling on something close to resigned. "You're secretly terrifying, did you know that?"

Darcy smiled and pointed the remote at the Blu-ray player. "Why Mr. Barton, how kind. Now shut the fuck up, Optimus Prime is speaking."

About half an hour into the movie Darcy had abandoned the mac and cheese to let Clint sprawl out half on top of her, and her phone vibrated on the table. She held it up and saw that Pepper had written HOW IS THIS BETTER. Darcy pulled her other arm out from between Clint's body and the couch, bracketing Clint's head while she typed patience, grasshopper. Clint groaned.

"What about Optimus," he grumbled.

"This is just Shia, no one gives a shit," Darcy said, hitting send. Clint turned his face more thoroughly into her breasts and started making this low... noise, that was definitely not a groan.

"Clint Barton, are you trying to motorboat me?" Darcy asked, amused.

"No," Clint said unconvincingly, lifting his head. His face was bright red and his hair stuck up in tufts.

Fuck, he's adorable, Darcy thought with a sinking feeling, and decided a distraction was necessary so she took off her shirt.

 

***

Two hours later, when Clint was snoring into her shoulder and Darcy was about to drift off herself, she got two more messages almost simultaneously, the first from Abia which said jesus cylon christ tony stark just offered me a job. "That's one of us taken care of after graduation," Darcy muttered, and Clint shifted.

"Are you surgically attached to that thing?" he asked, half-heartedly licking her neck a little before he flopped over and started snoring again.

The second was from Tony himself, and it read WELL PLAYED, LEWIS.

stop fucking with pepper she's in love with you, Darcy wrote back, and put the phone quietly on the bedside table, before pillowing her head on Clint's chest and letting the sounds of his soft snores pull her under. The phone stayed silent the rest of the night.

 

***

The next day, Jane had something of a breakthrough, except instead of opening a rainbow bridge and having it spit Thor out, it spit out something fuzzy and fist-sized. If Darcy hadn't known better, she would have called it a Tribble. As it was, she eyed it with no small amount of trepidation, because it still fucking looked like a Tribble, and everyone knew how that ended.

"Well," Jane said, "this is promis—"

Which was when the not-Tribble swelled up like a balloon and revealed three rows of razor-sharp shark teeth, unfolded nine thick, grotesquely hairy spider legs, and started scuttling across the floor in their direction. Darcy wasn't entirely clear on what happened next; all she knew was that there had been a lot of screaming and breaking of ridiculously expensive lab equipment, and at some point Darcy tased the thing and hit the conveniently labeled panic button SHIELD supplied every laboratory with. When she woke up Clint was leaning over her looking constipated, his hand covered in poptart-scented orange-colored goo that Darcy suspected had come from her hair. She closed her eyes again.

When she managed to drag her carcass home around midnight after the numerous tests to make sure she didn't have space rabies, her phone informed her that she had five missed texts from Pepper Potts, and one missed voicemail. The texts were, in order:

There's food and candles on the coffee table what did you say to him

Jesus he pulled out a box but it was only a charm bracelet that said sorry for being a dickhead love Tony

In diamonds

Now where's he going

sadfsdfui a

The voicemail was a few seconds of Pepper's panicked breathing before a door slammed and Pepper hissed, "Darcy Elizabeth Lewis you are fired so hard." Louder, she said, "Initiate override protocol PX-37 level five Pepper Potts, Jarvis, DO NOT let him in here."

"Yes, Miss Potts," a crisp English voice said, and then the dial tone.

Darcy blinked at her phone for a minute before deciding that if any of that needed to be dealt with it could be dealt with tomorrow. She turned the phone off and went to sleep.

 

***

At the lab in the morning Jane had left a note on the door that said, "Took Dr. Banner to original contact site; seeing if we can figure out recalibration specs from markings poss. map? Clint is looking for you! Jane" punctuated by a winky face between two hearts. Darcy found Clint on his little sniper platform above the complex and took a second to gird herself before he swung down.

"Hey," he said, smiling warmly. "I was about to send out a strike team to check up on you."

"We're breaking up now," Darcy said. His eyebrows drew together.

"You mean like, fake-breaking up our fake-relationship?"

"No, like for real breaking up. Let's not kid ourselves so you can keep thinking you're slick."

"Uh," Clint said.

"My three hundred hours are up today." Darcy crossed her arms. "Face it, I know approximately fuckall about quantum physics, so there's no real reason for me to stick around. I'll probably get a flight tomorrow after I sign what I'm sure will be about fifty more confidentiality forms and even then I wouldn't put it past Coulson to Men-in-Black me. Either way, I'm probably never going to see anyone from SHIELD again."

"Actually," Coulson said.

"And I like politics!" Darcy continued, throwing her hands up. "I like manipulating people! I might have been slightly burnt out by the Hillary campaign but—"

"Miss Lewis," Coulson said. "I just need you to sign these transfer forms if you're taking the job as Pepper Potts' personal assistant."

"What?" Coulson looked placidly back at her. "But I'm fired," Darcy said nonsensically.

Her phone buzzed again. Darcy looked down.

YOU'RE NOT FIRED

TONY TRIED TO PROPOSE

I AM STILL IN THE BATHROOM

YOU BETTER FIX THIS

UCLA agreed to count it as the public service credits you need to graduate.

"Oh," Darcy said.

"I'll just leave these in Jane's office, shall I?" Coulson said, disappearing as efficiently as he had appeared.

Clint coughed and stuck his hands in his pockets. "So I might be dropping by Stark headquarters Los Angeles soon; Tony said he's developing some trick arrows for me."

"Okay," Darcy said. There was a long pause.

"You voted for Hillary?" Clint asked.

"Don't even tell me who you voted for," Darcy said, smiling like crazy.