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The thing about Darcy Lewis, Natasha thinks as she stares at the closed door, is--

She thinks back.

***

Natasha was just getting off the subway when her phone buzzed gently. She frowned at it as she fished it out of her coat pocket--she was already on her way in to work, could Sitwell not wait the five more minutes it was going to take her to make it from the subway stop to SHIELD HQ--and stopped in her tracks when she realized it wasn't her work phone that was grumbling at her. She dodged two angry commuters purely on reflex and stepped into an alcove, out of the flow of traffic, to pull out her personal phone.

There was one blinking notification on its screen, from the secure messaging app she'd helped Darcy install on her own phone before taking her to the airport yesterday, the app Natasha habitually used for non-SHIELD phone-based communications. (It's not that she didn't trust SHIELD, but old habits, and besides, work-life balance was a weird concept to try to enforce when you had a job like hers.) It was her compromise, her way to keep being the person Darcy wanted her to be--the person Darcy wanted, the person Natasha wanted to be for her. Both of them knew that Natasha's schedule would make it impossible to guarantee where or when she would be able to see Darcy next. What she could do instead was give them a safe avenue of communication and see what happened.

She swiped her phone open. The app displayed one new message.

DARCY: good morning :)

Natasha hummed thoughtfully to herself, her fingers hovering over the application's keyboard.

*

NATASHA: Good morning

She waited a moment before sending her next message.

NATASHA: :)
DARCY: where the hell are you
DARCY: it is not morning here
DARCY: well it is technically the AM, but
DARCY: no

Natasha looked up from her phone and past the pilots out the front windshield of the quinjet. They were flying over someplace she couldn't tell Darcy about and had just watched an objectively pretty sunrise, and Natasha had thought she ought to message Darcy. After all, Darcy had been sending Natasha good mornings for weeks now.

NATASHA: Work
NATASHA: Can't tell you
DARCY: should've guessed
DARCY: well, good morning to you too
DARCY: I'll let you know when I'm actually awake
DARCY: let me know when you're home :)

Natasha frowned at her phone.

NATASHA: you in town?
DARCY: no
DARCY: sometimes it's just nice to know that you're safe
DARCY: you know, crazy super-spy and all that
DARCY: :)

The pilot announced that they were approaching the drop zone. The rest of the strike team were already eyeing Natasha suspiciously for her phone usage, so she typed one last message before stowing it in one of the pouches on her belt.

NATASHA: Will do :)

*

It's not like she'd never texted anybody before Darcy. Back when she'd first joined SHIELD, she'd been part of a group text that the other female operatives used to organize their get-togethers, a semi-regular ladies' night. She and Pepper Potts occasionally traded favors by text. She and Clint swapped the same kind of teasing insults they did in person. (She used to do the same with Coulson, back before, before.) Clint also would not stop sending her photos of his dog. Banner pinged her when he traveled--he knew that SHIELD was still tracking him, but she got the friendship and trust implied in the gesture, how he was actually saying should the worst happen, I trust you to come get me, which was its own kind of terrifying.

But those were texting as a matter of course, an extension of relationships of varying impersonal degrees; what she was doing with Darcy was texting, and it made her feel like a fucking teenager, from the way she had stolen Darcy's phone to install the app and program her contact info into it, to the way she'd fretted over what she was actually supposed to do with this new avenue of communication with this girl that she likes.

Natasha sent her good morning and this briefing is dull and I thought of you tonight, when I went to that place we had dinner, and once or twice, when she means it, I miss you. Darcy texted a lot more, good morning and sleep well and I watched a Tom Cruise movie today and thought of you and Jane's doing a guest lecture and god help her this is so boring I'm going to literally die.

Clint teased her, in that way that only Clint was allowed to, that maybe this was her chance to be a teenager. Natasha hit him in the arm genially and smiled to herself.

*

DARCY: you around?

Natasha glanced over at Clint and then back at the TV. A mid-season episode of something from Clint's DVR was coming up on a commercial break. "Am I around?" she asked him.

"Probably? Why? Who wants to know?" Clint shrugged and hit pause on the remote.

NATASHA: Why?
DARCY: you didn't tell me this thing did video chat
DARCY: I want to try

Natasha was pretty sure Clint wouldn't mind, so she pushed the "video call" button and was rewarded with Darcy's smiling face.

Clint rolled his eyes at her and went to the kitchen, presumably to make some coffee.

"Hi!" Darcy chirped. "I haven't seen you in forever!"

Natasha made an apologetic face. "You know how it is. Work."

From the kitchen, Clint touched his thumb to his chin and raised his eyebrows, signing WHO? at her.

D-A-R-C-Y, she signed back, out of view of her phone's camera.

"Yeah, you'd think I'd know how it is," Darcy said, sighing exaggeratedly. "But we have not done a whole lot of work recently here at La Casa de Jane and Darcy's Science Lab. Jane is too busy being sad to do any science--well, it's like she's alternating between 'too sad' and 'too distracted'." Darcy swiveled her phone to the side; there was Jane, wearing an overlarge sweatshirt and looking miserable. Jane moved her fingers in what might generously have been called a "wave".

"See?" Darcy said from slightly off-camera.

"I'm right here," Jane complained, but Darcy had already turned the phone back to face herself.

"So what's going on with Jane?" Natasha asked.

"Hello, I'm still right here."

"Her muscley space boyfriend is still missing. I know you can't really talk about work, but I thought maybe you might have heard something you could share."

SHIELD wasn't really set up for her to know things like that, but Natasha ran through the last few months of briefings, just in case, and came up blank. "You know anything about Thor?" she asked Clint.

"Shit, are you at work?" Darcy looked apologetic and confused and a little bit annoyed. "You didn't have to answer if you--"

Natasha cut her off. "That's Clint. We're at his apartment."

"Oh, Lucky's owner?" Natasha did not stifle the snort this question caused. Clint had not stopped sending her photos of his dog, and Natasha had sent one or two (or maybe more, now that she thought about it) of them on to Darcy. Across the room, Clint rolled his eyes so hard that it looked like they might fall out of his head.

"Yeah, Lucky's owner," Natasha said, her tone of voice teasing. "That's him."

"Right, that's what people know me for," Clint said, "Especially after New York: my dog." He stalked over to Natasha and grabbed the phone away from her so he could frown into it straight-on.

On Darcy's end, Jane said, "Wait, is that Hawkeye?" and grabbed for Darcy's phone so she could get a look. "You were in New Mexico with SHIELD when we were, when Thor showed up. Right?"

"You never told me he was Hawkeye!" Darcy hissed, presumably at Natasha, and then repeated, sweetly, "She never told me that you were Hawkeye."

"We, uh, we work together. It's not exactly the kind of thing that's supposed to be common knowledge." Clint handed the phone back to Natasha. Once she had it back, he stuck his head back into frame with her. "I haven't seen Thor either, sorry. As far as I know, dude hasn't been around since New York."

Darcy sighed. "Alright, thanks." She smiled at Natasha. "It's good to see your face, though. I'm sorry I haven't been as chatty recently. With Jane like...this, somebody has to do the work required to keep us funded, and it certainly hasn't been her. It'd be easier if I knew what the hell half of this stuff did." Darcy turned the phone away from her face and back, letting Natasha take in the jumble of lab equipment. "This is not internship shit."

"Sounds like you might need an intern yourself." Natasha had meant it as a joke, but Darcy's eyes lit up at the suggestion.

"That would certainly leave me more time to text this girl I like," Darcy said, grinning.

*

Natasha sent Darcy a photo, all her belongings sitting in cardboard boxes in her apartment. She was being relocated, working out of the Triskelion in DC. She didn't think Darcy would come looking for her without warning again, but just in case--and besides, she didn't have a lot else to do while she waited for the L-is-for-Logistics branch of SHIELD to show up with moving vans.

DARCY: oh no are you moving?!
DARCY: where are you moving?!?

Natasha held her phone for a moment, staring at Darcy's message. She knew that she could tell Darcy, but she shouldn't, should she? (Why shouldn't she? Darcy knew about her place in New York, and even though she was using SHIELD movers, Natasha was renting the place she was moving to on her own--) It's not like it was a secret, not really, and not telling her would reinforce the wrong ideas Darcy seemed to have about Natasha's work life.

NATASHA: DC
DARCY: what's gonna happen to your cat?
DARCY: well, your cat that's not your cat
DARCY: you know the cat that I mean
NATASHA: Downstairs neighbor will look after her

She'd talked to Ana, made her promise to leave food out. She knew she couldn't take Liho with her, no matter how fond they were of each other; New York was Liho's home, far more than it ever was Natasha's.

Darcy sent her a list of places she had to visit in DC--a lot of national monuments, a couple Smithsonian museums, and a ramen place that she "absolutely has to try"--along with a list of senators that, Darcy said, could use a little roughing up because of their "Wrong Opinions about Science Funding".

DARCY: you know
DARCY: if you ever see them in the street or something
NATASHA: I'll keep an eye out ;)

*

DARCY: is this you?

Natasha clicked on the link Darcy had included; it was a news story about an assassinated Middle Eastern leader. She scrolled through the story. She hadn't done it, of course, but it's an interesting read--pretty standard dictator stuff. Natasha wasn't sure that she was the best judge of these things, but it sounded like he'd gotten what he deserved.

NATASHA: What do you think I actually do at my job?
DARCY: idk, spy stuff? that seems like it might be you
DARCY: plausible at least, right?

Natasha sighed.

*

DARCY: is this you?

Natasha had to admire Darcy's tenacity and the attention she paid to global sociopolitical events. The link included in this text was about a Central American drug lord found face-down in the lavish swimming pool at his even more lavish villa. She paused for a moment to admire the obviously professional handiwork of the hit, then texted Darcy back.

NATASHA: You know that if it was, I couldn't tell you, right?
DARCY: or you'd have to kill me!
NATASHA: Something like that.

*

DARCY: is this you?

Natasha did not even bother clicking on it; it was something like the twelfth day in a row that Darcy had sent her some variation on that message along with links of varying closeness to what Natasha actually did for SHIELD on a daily basis.

NATASHA: Yes, you caught me. That is definitely me.
DARCY: I KNEW IT

Natasha clicked on the link now, to see what exactly she'd just admitted to. It was a video of a cat that drew ever closer to the camera, but only when it wasn't being looked at. It was adorable, and it made Natasha feel a brief pang of sadness for having left her cat that definitely wasn't her cat in New York. It also was a much better thing to have admitted to than the twenty anti-EU mercenaries who turned up in a ditch just on the other side of the Ukraine-Russia border, which Darcy had sent yesterday and which Natasha may actually have had a hand in.

NATASHA: That's too cute.
DARCY: YOU'RE too cute

Natasha smiled at her phone.

*

One guarantee that Natasha couldn't make to Darcy was that she'd always be attentive to her phone. She was an undercover agent, and sometimes undercover meant going for days or weeks without contact. It wasn't usually a problem; she'd emerge from the op and find a couple of messages from Darcy, telling her to have some good spying and text when she was home.

This most recent op, though... Natasha came out of cover to a frantic SHIELD and approximately one hundred messages from Darcy over the course of a couple of days. She wondered what the odds were that those two things were unrelated--probably not so good.

DARCY: hey
DARCY: I really hope you're around
DARCY: because I may need some help
DARCY: shit is going down in London
DARCY: and SHIELD isn't calling me back
DARCY: I probably shouldn't have called Agent Hill's special line all those times
DARCY: now they're just going to ignore me
DARCY: guess that's my bad

Natasha scrolled down through the messages, skimming them in growing horror, until she made it to the bottom.

DARCY: nvm, we figured it out
DARCY: Thor helped out with the aliens
DARCY: everything's fine now
DARCY: oh and I may have kissed my intern
DARCY: I told you I have an intern right
DARCY: it was a heat of the moment sort of thing
DARCY: (the kissing, not the intern hiring)
DARCY: you know how these things go
DARCY: hope your work stuff is going well
DARCY: I bet SHIELD's really unhappy about all this
DARCY: good luck with that

Natasha flagged down a passing agent. "What the hell happened in London?"

The agent gave her a frazzled look and simply said, "Thor."

NATASHA: Sorry I missed all the fun
DARCY: haha, it's all good
DARCY: shitstorm there?
NATASHA: Seems like it
NATASHA: You guys doing ok?
DARCY: yeah, everything's good here
DARCY: Jane's in a great mood
DARCY: I'm gonna bet that she got laid
DARCY: did I tell you she went to Asgard?
DARCY: bc I guess she went to Asgard
DARCY: and I gave the intern a stern talking to
DARCY: that kissing business won't happen again
NATASHA: I'm torn between "don't worry about it" and "see that it doesn't" ;)
DARCY: I like the latter
DARCY: I picture you steepling your fingers and telling it to James Bond
DARCY: Sexy Evil Natasha
DARCY: it's a good look for you

Natasha took a slow breath and tried to come up with an appropriate smiley face to respond with.

*

Maria Hill eyed Natasha suspiciously. "You're asking to take personal leave, Agent Romanov?"

"I was under the impression that I was entitled to it, Agent Hill," Natasha said evenly, "Along with my salary and my health plan."

"Certainly," Hill said. "And you've taken full advantage of that health plan. But this appears to be the first time you've requested vacation time, which is why the SHIELD system flagged your request as suspicious and redirected it to me for approval."

Natasha said nothing, waited to see if Hill would make her say it out loud.

"Is this about London?" Hill asked after several long moments.

"That is where I'm going, yes," Natasha said, which both was and wasn't an answer. In her pocket, her phone buzzed.

Darcy greeted her at the airport, catching her up in a big, sweeping embrace that ought to have embarrassed Natasha but didn't, not even a little bit. "It's so good to see you," Darcy said, breathlessly, into Natasha's shoulder.

"As good as you remember?" Natasha asked, forcing a cheerful teasing quality to her voice.

Darcy grinned. "Even better."

*

DARCY: you work with this guy, right?

Natasha sighed, wondering what Clint had gotten himself into this time, and clicked on the link Darcy had attached. Her browser opened a yamblr post, a series of photos of Steve Rogers addressing a crowd of reporters after New York, a line of text on each one. Rogers' hair was tousled and his uniform still ripped. Natasha remembered that very crowd; there had been a number of pertinent questions about aliens and the cleanup of the city, and then one of the reporters had asked the text that's super-imposed on the first picture of the post: "Captain America! Are you seeing anyone right now?"

Over the series of photos, "Steve" "responded" something to the effect that Captain America only dated Lady Liberty, and that they used a variety of patriotism-themed marital aids. Whoever had put together the set of photos had done a good job selecting them. Rogers looked proud and patriotic at first, then a little panicked, and finally embarrassed by what he'd said. In the last photo, "Steve" admitted I messed up. It got away from me, and I messed up. Natasha couldn't help but snicker to herself.

"What's so funny?"

She looked up. Steve Rogers was seated across from her, strapped into one of the quinjet seats, staring intently at her. Damn, his hearing was good. His question wasn't accusatory, and in another context she'd welcome it; one of the things she'd been tasked with, when she'd been assigned to Rogers' team, had been bringing him into the world--getting him out of his shell, helping him to make some friends.

"Internet." Natasha closed the phone's browser window.

"Really. The whole internet." Captain America, it turned out, was a lot more sarcastic than the history books had made him out to be.

"Yeah, it's just full of funny photos of cats." Rogers made a thoughtful noise, and Natasha stared him down. "What?"

Rogers gave her a long look and then shrugged. "I just wouldn't have thought you were a cat person, that's all."

NATASHA: You're an asshole
DARCY: what?!
NATASHA: He's sitting RIGHT HERE

*

Natasha showed up on Sharon's windowsill with a bottle of wine, and was rewarded with a gun in her face for her troubles. "This is not what I meant when I said to come in the back way," Sharon said, lowering her gun as Natasha vaulted gracefully into the apartment, carrying a bottle of wine.

Natasha shrugged. "None of the other options guaranteed I'd actually make it here." She'd snuck in the apartment building's back door last time (she hadn't brought wine that time, thankfully) and gotten caught in the hallway by Rogers, who'd assumed she was there to see him and invited her in for the evening. It hadn't been a bad time--she'd introduced him to the tasty ramen from that place Darcy had suggested--but she'd expected a girls' night and instead she'd gotten a slightly mopey Captain America. "Hence the window," she said, closing it behind her. She handed the bottle of wine to Sharon.

"He is mopey, isn't he," Sharon agreed, heading toward the kitchen. "I think he needs to get out more."

"I'm doing my best! I can talk to Fury, see what he can do?" Natasha offered, schooling her features into a serious look as Sharon returned from the kitchen with two glasses of Natasha's wine.

Sharon ignored her suggestion, making a face at her. "I keep putting up notices on the bulletin board downstairs, for classes and meetups and things he might be interested in--cooking lessons, a swing dancing club, yoga, even a knitting circle--but no luck so far." She took a long sip of her wine. "And I know he looks at the board, because he bought that record player from Mr. Slimani downstairs less than a day after the sale notice went up."

"It's probably not easy going out and doing things when you're a national icon," Natasha said. She gently swirled her wine around in her glass. She couldn't imagine what life would be like if everybody knew her face and had expectations of her.

"You'd think he could try, though. He doesn't have to wear the uniform or anything, and it's not like anybody's going to begrudge Captain America a cooking class." Sharon sighed. "Just one dumb night out at a club somewhere, trying to be anonymous; is that too much to ask?"

"From our Steve Rogers? Uh, yeah."

Sharon snorted.

"So who is it you're texting in all those briefings?" Sharon asked, several glasses of wine later.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Natasha answered primly. She had not had nearly as much wine as Sharon, but Sharon also didn't have to climb back down the side of a building at the end of the night.

"I hear that Agent Hill wants to revoke your phone privileges."

Natasha snorted. "I'd like to see her try." She took a long sip from her wine glass. "And how do you know? You haven't been in to the office in months."

Sharon laughed. "I'm a spy. I know things." She grinned at Natasha, a little sloppily.

"Do you now." Natasha offered Sharon a tight smile; Sharon was not as drunk as she was pretending to be, Natasha knew it, and Sharon knew that Natasha knew it.

"Don't look at me like that--gossip and secret trips to the gun range while 'Kate' is supposed to be at the hospital are all that I have right now." It was true; Sharon was taking a risk even asking Natasha over like this. Natasha probably shouldn't have accepted the invitation, especially after that first near-miss, but she was a little bit lonely herself--the move to DC had severely disrupted what little social routine she'd had, and texting Darcy somehow made her more lonely, not less, reminding her of just empty her social calendar was. There'd been a time in her life when she'd been entirely self-sufficient; she hadn't been better off then, not by a long shot, but it had certainly been simpler, and safer.

"Her name is Darcy," Natasha said aloud, because that was what people who were friends did. Besides, if Sharon was going to report that back to Maria, it wasn't something Maria didn't already know (or at least could have guessed, all things considered).

"SHIELD?" Sharon asked. Natasha couldn't tell if she sounded more sober or just more somber.

"Nah--and before you ask, I'm not enough of an idiot to tell her anything about the briefings I'm texting her from, besides 'this is boring' or 'this guy is an idiot, who let him plan this'."

"C'mon, give Sitwell a break," Sharon teased. "And congratulations, I guess. It's hard to do relationships in this line of work. Tell her I said hi."

Natasha fished her phone out and held her glass up in front of it. She took a photo that managed to focus on the mostly-empty wine glass but still had Sharon outlined in a fuzzy, unrecognizable way in the background.

NATASHA: Sharon says hi.
DARCY: HI SHARON
DARCY: who is Sharon
DARCY: is she nice?

"Darcy says hi," Natasha told Sharon.

NATASHA: Work friend
DARCY: look at you, hanging out with work friends!
DARCY: drinking with work friends
DARCY: I need work friends besides Jane
DARCY: and the intern
DARCY: godddddd
DARCY: don't mind me, go drink your wine!

Natasha put her phone back in her jacket pocket and looked up to find Sharon staring at her. It was Natasha's job to know and read body language; Sharon's look said oh my god, she really cares about this girl, and Natasha's face went blank without her even thinking about it.

"So," Sharon asked carefully, "How did you two meet?"

"Hill's fault. It was a work thing."

"So she knows you're--" Sharon stopped the question up short, finishing with a vague hand gesture that Natasha guessed was supposed to encompass that whole Black Widow thing.

Natasha responded with a gesture of her own, tilting her palm-down hand back and forth in an ehhh sort of motion.

Sharon gave her a skeptical look. "Because everyone you've been interested in has always known the whole truth about you," Natasha countered. She remembered the night Sharon's sort-of-boyfriend had shown up at one of the unofficial SHIELD Girls' Nights Out totally by accident and attempted to impress all of them by flashing a badge from one of the other alphabet agencies. They'd all been professional about it, which had meant not laughing at him until he was out of earshot, but the way he waved the thing around had made it obvious he hadn't known Sharon had one that was better.

The memory was so strong and so pleasant that Natasha almost missed the way Sharon's eyes flickered over to the wall she shared with Steve Rogers before she answered, "It's what we do."

Natasha would raise her glass to that.

*

 "Got any big plans this weekend?" Natasha asked Steve casually the next time they were out.

 He eyed her suspiciously. "No. Why?"

*

DARCY: hey
DARCY: I saw the news
DARCY: are you doing okay?

No, Natasha was not doing okay. The Winter Soldier had killed Nick Fury, and Natasha wasn't going to be okay until she had found him and killed him herself. Clint Barton may have been the one who'd brought her in from the cold, but Nick Fury had been the one who warmed her once she was there, who'd believed her and believed in her, who'd held her hand and kicked her ass in equal parts. Hill hadn't trusted her, still didn't trust her fully (and Natasha didn't blame her for that, not one bit--Hill was a very smart woman), but Nick Fury had trusted her, and there had been nothing she could do about his death.

NATASHA: Not really
NATASHA: Work is probably going to be weird for the next few days
NATASHA: It might be a while before I get back to you
DARCY: do what you need to
DARCY: I'll be here :)

*

"Are you ready for the world to see you as you really are?"

Natasha's fingers hovered over the keyboard for a long moment.

*

The files ended up on a SHIELD-themed version of WikiLeaks that was called, unimaginatively, ShieldLeaks. Everything was online, all of SHIELD, all of her, all of her covers, all of the things she'd ever done, good or bad or worse. She stayed in DC while Steve healed, through a mind-numbing amount of congressional hearings, but as soon as she could, she was gone, as gone as she could be when the whole world knew her name and her face and all the things she didn't have nightmares about anymore. Her safehouses were gone, though, and her aliases were flagged, and when she mentally sorted through her list of contacts, there were not many people on it that she trusted and even fewer she thought she could lie low with for a while. Clint, maybe, but he had his own shit going on, refusing to leave his apartment, sulking, since the tabloids had finally put it together that one of the guys who helped save New York a few years back had trained at the circus. It looked like Rogers and Wilson were going to head out together on a ridiculous manhunt--she really hoped one or both of them got laid--and Hill had been hired on at Stark Industries, which ruled out Stark and Banner and the Tower apartment Stark had been promising her for ages.

That basically just left Darcy.

She hadn't talked to Darcy since, well, since the SHIELD files had ended up on the internet. They ought to talk, but Natasha didn't know what to say.

(Darcy was in the SHIELD files too; the contents of her iPod, which had been inventoried by Coulson's team in New Mexico, had been turned into a fairly well-received BuzzFeed listicle.)

So she told Steve Rogers she was going to find a new cover, packed a bag, and headed to Darcy's last known address, a house that she and Jane were renting together. Maybe it would have been better to call ahead, but then she ran the risk of being turned away. Instead, she turned up on Darcy's doorstep and rang her doorbell. For the first time in she couldn't remember how many years, she felt nervous.

The door swung open, Darcy took one look at her, and the door slammed back shut in her face.

***

--the thing about Darcy Lewis, Natasha has to admit, isn't a thing about Darcy at all.

She takes a heavy seat on Darcy's front stoop, staring out towards the street. She'd been stupid to think that this was a good idea, stupid to think that--

In her pocket, her phone buzzes. Natasha pulls it out and thumbs open the messaging app. There's one new message, from Darcy Lewis.

DARCY: is this you?

Natasha clicks the link; it takes her to a ShieldLeaks page that details the carnage she'd wrought on Sao Paulo.

NATASHA: Yes.

Her phone buzzes again several times in succession, more links from Darcy to ShieldLeaks. Natasha clicks them all: two assassinations in West Germany, a series of murdered children in Madripoor, the hospital fire. She twists around, looking over her shoulder at the house, catching a glimpse of movement in one of the front windows.

NATASHA: Yes again. All me.
NATASHA: That's who I am
NATASHA: Who I was
NATASHA: I'm sorry I didn't tell you
NATASHA: But what could I have said?
NATASHA: I'm still the woman you've been texting for months now
NATASHA: That hasn't changed
DARCY: but you're also this weird murderous spy now

Natasha smiles to herself sadly.

NATASHA: I was her before too, you just didn't know

Behind her, she hears the door creak open. She doesn't turn to look. "What else don't I know?" Darcy asks quietly.

"I got you this," Natasha says, pulling a USB stick out of her coat pocket and holding it back over her shoulder for Darcy to take.

Darcy steps forward and sits ungracefully next to Natasha on the stoop. "What is it? More awful things you've done?" She sounds angry, but takes the USB stick anyway.

Natasha shakes her head. "I went through the songs SHIELD said you had on your iPod and made you a mix tape of other songs you might like."

"The murderous spy made me a mix tape?"

"No, that girl you like made you a mix tape. Well, not a mix tape, but as close as either of us is going to get without a cassette player." Natasha steals a glance over at Darcy, who is staring down at the USB stick.

"I think you're supposed to stand in the rain and play it on a boom box you hold over your head," Darcy says. It's the first hint Natasha's heard so far of the Darcy that she knows.

"I can check the weather report and come back, if you'd like," Natasha teases.

Darcy leans her head over onto Natasha's shoulder. "It's good to see you," she says quietly. "Even if." Even if. She doesn't have to finish that sentence; Natasha knows.

*

Darcy asks her inside, and texts Jane (who's at the lab) to ask for tomorrow off. "I told her you're here," Darcy says, half-apologetic, "I hope that's okay."

"She's not going to come rushing over here to save you, is she?" Natasha settles in on the sofa--she fully expects, if Darcy lets her stay at all, that she'll be sleeping in the living room.

Darcy's voice drifts into the living room from the kitchen. "Can I get you anything to eat? Anything to drink? You sort of caught us on a grocery day, so I'm not sure what all we've got."

"What are you having?" Natasha asks.

Darcy snorts. "After this last half hour? I'm thinking hard liquor."

It turns out that Darcy is pretty good at both mixing drinks and inventing mixed drinks based on what is available in the kitchen (Natasha distinctly remembers her asking "what if I throw in a bunch of frozen blueberries and a gummy shark?"), and they toast each other well into the night. Natasha holds her liquor better than Darcy does but just barely (I'm getting out of practice, she thinks) and she helps Darcy to bed at the end of the evening.

"Stay," Darcy says, grabbing her wrist.

Natasha stands beside the bed and doesn't move, doesn't try to extract her wrist from Darcy's grip, doesn't move any closer. "Darcy," she says quietly, "Who do you want me to be?" Oh, fuck, the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, she hadn't meant to--

"Is this a trick question?" Darcy asks from the bed. "Yourself, duh."

In the darkness, Natasha smiles.