The storm comes up as Darcy’s trying to get back to her dorm, and she ducks into the physics building to wait for it to go away and the ground to dry back out—she’s heard stories about people getting completely swept away by what looks like really shallow water, and that’s not on her to-do list for today. It’s Friday. She’s going out tonight. She’d rather not, you know, die.
She flops down on a chair in the office, because it’s better than standing in the hallway, and digs her iPod out of her pocket. She’s kind of chairdancing a little—trying not to because for some reason the college is actually protective of its furniture, even though it’s really crappy furniture, and she doesn’t want to get kicked out of the nice dry office—when someone says, loud enough for Darcy to hear, “You’re sure nobody’s applied?” and Darcy hits pause because she’d rather wait for the shouting to end.
“Dr. Foster,” the departmental secretary sighs, “I’m sure. Your work is—controversial.”
“My work is groundbreaking,” Dr. Foster says. Darcy looks up and, holy shit, she’s gorgeous. “I don’t understand—”
It’s about here that Darcy’s brain switches off and she hears her mouth say, “I’ll do it.”
The secretary, who probably realizes she’s never seen Darcy before in her life, looks extremely skeptical. Dr. Foster brightens, the lines of frustration around her mouth fading—optimism makes her look even more ridiculously beautiful, which is completely unfair to Darcy and possibly also the rest of the world—and says, “Physics?”
“Your major. Or math?”
“Political science,” Darcy says, and Dr. Foster blinks like that’s going to change Darcy’s major and possibly her entire brain. “I make really good coffee, though?”
The thing is, Darcy can use the three-credit internship over break, and it turns out that what Jane—she tells Darcy to call her Jane—really needs is more of a personal assistant than a co-worker. It’ll look good on Darcy’s résumé, especially if whatever Jane is working on is as important and weird and new as she says it is, and, well, Jane likes her coffee.
Darcy has always known she’s terrible at math, and Jane does the kind of science that’s more math than anything else, equations and strange graphs and conversations that are almost more numbers than English, and half the English doesn’t make sense without knowing which sets of numbers go with which words.
Jane likes to talk her way through things, slim fingers jabbing at her laptop’s keys and talking a mile a minute—no, that’s too normal, she talks in, like, light years per decade or something, Darcy doesn’t know—and it makes absolutely zero sense but Darcy listens anyway. Sometimes she catches bits of something that actually sound vaguely familiar, usually because they remind her of stuff from Star Trek, but the rest of the time it’s just word soup.
Jane gets really enthusiastic when she talks about spacetime, cheeks flushing and fall-brown hair tumbling around her face, and Darcy would actually listen to her read the phone book—well, no, the phone book would probably make more sense. But.
So she watches Jane talk instead of listening, and learns basically nothing about astrophysics, but she’s getting a lot of practice at filing and running errands and other things which are probably actually going to be useful after this particular internship, because God knows she’s never going to actually do anything with, what, exotic matter, what is that, it sounds like some sort of drink. Or maybe a strip club.
Darcy is, not that Jane probably realizes this, good at political science, and she’s even better at putting pieces together when she can actually see them and has a surface to put them on.
She’s pretty sure Jane thinks she’s a complete idiot with some sort of magical talent for remembering Jane’s favorite kind of pastries and when to pick up the laundry from town, but that’s okay. People underestimate Darcy a lot, which means she gets to surprise them with sudden bursts of awesomeness, and also as long as Jane thinks she’s a complete idiot she isn’t going to realize that Darcy’s occasional moments of, okay, really stupid babbling are sometimes more connected to the fact that she kind of has this problem where she forgets how to stop talking around really hot people especially when they’re also as generally all-around great as Jane is, and so then they won’t have to have The Conversation.
(The Conversation would go something like this:
Darcy, you’re a great—well, not too bad an—intern, but it would be inappropriate for me to get involved with you, even if I were interested in women, which I’m not.
No, of course, Dr. Foster, I realize that.
There might even be pity. Darcy hates pity. She might be kind of a disaster, but she can deal with this, thanks.)
They eat a lot of takeout when Darcy puts her foot down and says, no, human beings cannot actually subsist on cereal. (Jane looks surprised. Darcy gives herself points for a sudden burst of awesomeness.) Apparently this is the kind of thing that Jane needed an intern for.
Jane likes the kinds of salads that are also meals, and because she—unlike Darcy—is a responsible adult she gets them with grilled chicken instead of fried chicken. Darcy usually gets pizza for herself, because it’s practically health food in that it has tomatoes involved, right?
It’s sort of a relief to be reassured sometimes that Jane is human, and by “human” Darcy means that she sometimes orders fries and a chocolate milkshake with her salads, and then dips the fries in the shake before she eats them, which Darcy thinks is a terrible thing to do to innocent fries but is still nice in its own way because, yeah. It would be kind of creepy working for Jane if she were actually perfect.
Jane also, Darcy discovers one day when she’s running around the printouts that blew all over the place when the window got left open by someone who was totally not Darcy, reads romance novels. There are two of them crammed between her bed and the cabinet, swooning maidens in long dresses being clutched to the bare and manly chests of mighty warriors.
Darcy doesn’t let Jane know that she found them, not even when Jane starts in on her for enjoying Star Trek despite how completely terrible the science is. Hello, she’s a normal college kid, not someone who expects her science fiction to be completely accurate and involve equations.
But it’s like—it’s weird, realizing that Jane actually has a life that has nothing to do with being Dr. Amazing Science Person, even though she apparently spends her entire life trying to pretend that that’s all that she is so that people take her seriously? Which really kind of sucks. Darcy’s even gladder than usual that she never wanted to be a physicist, because if she had to convince people she was a serious professional with no actual life she would basically crash and burn immediately and then get fired.
So, you know, the least she can do is pretend Jane’s got her fooled, too.
Most of the time Darcy’s pretty happy doing this, running Jane’s errands and reminding her that she needs to eat and trying to talk to her, to find the person instead of the doctor while not actually saying that’s what she’s doing. It’s not really glamorous but she’s pretty sure now that she could get into politics starting as a volunteer or an intern or whatever, if that’s what she decides to do after college. She’s got time.
Sometimes she gets a smile, or a “well done” or something, and she tries not to show how ridiculously pleased she is that for a second the real Jane popped out and made an actual human connection, and also that it was with her.
And then Jane finds something, something she talks about in numbers and letters and other things that fly right through Darcy’s head, but whatever it is it’s absolutely huge. Jane’s predicting these events and Darcy doesn’t understand, can’t help her, and it’s seriously important and right now, right now like never before when it was laundry and takeout and filing, it is actually hurting Jane that the stupid dicks in the physics department refused to take a risk on her, and that makes Darcy really mad because it’s just not fair, okay. Jane deserves someone who can actually talk about this stuff with her instead of slowing her down.
“You should call someone in your field,” Darcy says.
Something flickers over Jane’s face, sharp and quiet and regretful, and she nods and says, “Thank you, Darcy. You did—surprisingly well,” and pulls out her phone.