Clint and Darcy's friendship started so slowly and so naturally that if pressed, she wasn't sure if she could even describe how they'd met or pinpoint exactly when they had become friends.
When Agent Coulson had shown up after the whole Thor debacle and offered Jane a job at SHIELD as a way to continue her research while still keeping it under wraps, she'd agreed to go with. And why the hell not? They'd told her there was a job in it for her too, if she wanted one. Darcy figured working for SHIELD was probably a better offer than any she was likely to get even after finishing her college degree. That was the point of college, right? Go to school in the hopes of getting a good job? But when Thor and SHIELD had swept in and changed everything, Darcy had realized that she had no reason to wait for a college degree - they were offering her the chance of a lifetime.
Who wouldn't want to go work with real life superheroes?
Only as it turned out, Thor was stuck in Asgard for a while, Iron Man was living off in his mansion, and it was a little while before they found and defrosted Captain America and the Avengers truly formed.
So Darcy had plenty of time to get to know other members of SHIELD during her first few months there.
In the early days Jane and Darcy would be having lunch in the SHIELD cafeteria (the conversation would inevitably start drifting back to science-y work-related things until Darcy would get Jane to snap out of it and talk about something else - at least during lunch) and random strangers would join their table.
There was a lot of "Welcome to SHIELD" and "Nice to have you on board", and "Stay away from the tuna... just trust me", but soon enough the random strangers became familiar faces.
Assassins were surprisingly friendly people, it turned out.
Natasha would join them occasionally and they'd chat about random things like the weather in New York, the weather in wherever Natasha had just come back from, Agent Andrews and his strange collection of ties, or even just things like nail polish and hair products.
Clint would join them sometimes, too. Sometimes with Natasha, sometimes alone. The conversations were much the same, except that Clint was less interested in things like nail polish, and had a lot funnier things to say about Agent Andrews and his tie fetish. Clint, Darcy found, was just pretty funny in general - not to mention hot-as-fucking-hell. Still, Darcy was wise enough to know that looks alone didn't make the man, and she wasn't about to throw herself at some hot SHIELD agent just because he was hot. And funny. And nice.
Other people joined them from time to time, and it wasn't long before Darcy knew most of the faces around SHIELD and felt pretty at ease there.
Once Thor came back, and Captain America and Bruce came along, the Avengers Initiative actually came to fruition, and things changed a bit. There were a few new faces, a lot more activity, and oddly, downtime activities that often included Darcy.
Natasha and Clint had introduced her and Jane to the rest of the Avengers as friends one day, and the next thing they knew they'd been invited to dinner at Stark's mansion one night along with everyone else.
Actually, Thor had taken Jane along with him as a date, and Darcy had been invited by Clint because apparently Clint was cooking. Clint, as it turned out, was the only Avenger that could actually cook, and since he knew from random conversations that Darcy had some kitchen skills of her own, he'd asked her if she'd come help.
And surprisingly, after months of eating mostly cafeteria food, cooking was a lot of fun. So fun, in fact, that it became a Thing. It kind of became Their Thing. Any time there was significant downtime, and everyone was in town, Clint and Darcy would invade Tony's kitchen and make something awesome.
It wasn't long before Darcy found that she actually really looked forward to cooking with Clint. He was fun to hang out with, he knew his way around a kitchen, and they just really seemed to click - as friends.
Which was good, Darcy supposed, but in the back of her mind she couldn't help but wonder why Clint seemed so damn unapproachable on any other level. Darcy wasn't stupid, she could tell that Clint had something else going on, she just didn't know what. Whatever it was, though, it made Clint a great friend, but absolutely nothing else.
It made Darcy sad, in a way, because if he had even given her a hint that he might want something more, she would've been all over that. He was hot-as-fucking-hell.
Still, whatever else was going on, (or not going on, as the case may be), she wasn't going to complain that her hot friend with the amazing biceps regularly asked for her help in the kitchen. In addition to all their normal banter she got to witness those muscles get sweaty as they rippled and flexed while getting a pot full of spaghetti off the stove, or putting a huge casserole dish into the oven. Life was good.
Until out of the blue during one of their dinners, Clint got a phone call.
It was right as they'd been sitting down to eat. Darcy watched him answer his phone, tell someone he'd be right there, and then excuse himself just like that.
A mission, she assumed. It was a little strange that Fury would call him away during dinner... usually something that urgent required the full team, but it wasn't unheard of, so Darcy let it go.
Until Clint didn't come back.
Nearly two weeks later Darcy was having lunch with Natasha.
"So have you heard from Clint at all?" Darcy had waited this long to ask because, yeah, she knew that he was a super secret agent, or whatever. Missions happened.
"Nope. He'll be back soon, though."
"You haven't heard from him, but you know he'll be back soon? Is that one of your special abilities? Future prediction?"
Natasha smirked. "That'd be useful, but no. Fury gave him two weeks off, and his two weeks are almost up."
"Wait, so this wasn't a mission? He left in the middle of dinner to take a vacation?" Darcy wasn't sure how she felt about that. It seemed kind of a dick move to abruptly leave without saying, "By the way, I'm heading off to Hawaii for some R&R. Aloha!"
Natasha raised an eyebrow as if she could read Darcy's thoughts. "Not a vacation - personal time. Something came up that he had to deal with. That's all I know."
Darcy huffed. "Well if his 'personal time' took him to Hawaii, he better bring me back something, that's all I'm saying."
Sure enough, exactly two weeks later Clint was back at SHIELD. He dropped into the seat next to her during a coffee break.
She held out a hand without looking up from the trashy novel she was pretending to read. "Souvenir from wherever it was, please."
He snorted. "You want a souvenir from Pittsburgh?"
She looked up. "Pittsburgh? What kind of vacation is that?"
Clint rolled his eyes. "Personal leave, not vacation. I know Natasha told you that much, I asked."
Later, upon reflection, Darcy would wonder just why Clint had decided to ask Natasha what she might have told Darcy about his away time, but for now she found herself distracted by his appearance. He looked tired. More tired than he usually looked after missions.
"What's wrong?" she asked before she could help it. "You look like shit."
He chuckled. "You're the best, Darce. You do wonders for my self-esteem."
She gave him her best 'Natasha Stare', which, despite how much she'd privately been practicing, still needed some work.
He conceded with a sigh, probably more out of consideration for their friendship, than because the Stare had worked. "It's a long story - too long for break. Come up to my place around 5? I'll cook."
Standing outside Clint's apartment, Darcy couldn't help but feel a little bit nervous. They'd been doing the friend thing for a while now, but they hadn't been in each others apartments yet. Not in an awkward must-avoid-this kind of way, it just hadn't happened.
She knocked before she could over-think it too much.
"Hey," he said, opening the door, "come on in."
The apartment was small, as she assumed all SHIELD apartments were. In fact, it looked a lot like her place: a small living room area with an attached dining room and kitchen, and a door leading back to what had to be the bedroom with an attached bathroom.
"Nice place you got here. It looks just like mine. Except for the Avengers poster..." she trailed off as her eyes took in the poster adorning one wall of his living room. It was the standard publicity photo of the team made poster size.
"Uh... yeah. Tony bought each of us a full set of Avengers merchandise."
"Are you blushing?" Darcy had turned and was now gaping at him. "Are you seriously blushing?" She started giggling uncontrollably. "Oh that's the best. The absolute best."
He tossed a kitchen towel at her face and turned back to the stove.
Halfway through dinner, Clint put his fork down.
"So... okay, this is going to sound..." he trailed off. "Shit."
Darcy nodded. "Going to sound shit. Gotcha."
Clint stared down at his plate, one hand moving to rub the back of his neck. "I... I had a girlfriend. We were together a while... I saw her when I could...but right when it started to get serious, she dumped me."
Darcy wasn't sure what to say. Was he trying to tell her that he'd spent his personal time tracking down an old flame? Before she could open her mouth, he continued.
"She knew I worked for the government, and that it was dangerous. She said she didn't want that kind of relationship. Her father had been a cop, and she'd spent most of her childhood worried that he wouldn't come home one day."
He looked up at her. "He didn't, you know? Her father ended up dying on the job when she was 14, so she wasn't worried for no reason."
His eyes left hers and started meandering around the room. "So she dumped me. She didn't want to live with that kind of worry anymore. But... she called me a couple months later to tell me she was pregnant."
"I wanted to be involved. In fact, for the first time ever I was actually willing to drop everything and go do the right thing. I wanted to."
Darcy winced as his voice broke.
"She said no, though. She didn't believe I'd be happy - and maybe she was right... I don't know. But she promised she'd keep in touch for the kid's sake. She let me go to one of the ultrasounds - found out it was a boy. I wasn't there when he was born, though - I got back from an assignment and found out he'd come a week early. Saw him for the first time when he was 2 days old."
Darcy had put her fork down and was just listening, unsure what to do or say. So many things about him were beginning to make sense now.
"So we kept in touch. I went to see him as often as I could."
After several beats of silence, Darcy prompted, "But something changed..."
He gave a jerky nod. "She was killed two weeks ago. Car accident. He was with the sitter. I went out there as soon as I heard - I'm all he's got now, you know?"
He breathed out slowly then muttered, "Poor kid."
"So what are you gonna do?" she asked quietly.
He was quiet, and just when Darcy thought he wasn't going to answer, he looked her straight in the eyes.
"The best I can."
Darcy wasn't sure what to say. She felt like he hadn't really answered the question. 'The best I can' didn't really tell her anything, but at the same time, it kinda told her everything. And anyway, she was pretty sure that right now what he needed was reassurance, not someone prodding him for details.
"You'll do great, Clint. You'll be a kick-ass dad."
The tension seemed to drain out of him at that, and suddenly he was standing and pulling her up with him. "Come on," he said.
He led her back to his bedroom where he opened the door to reveal a room that was just like hers, except that it had a crib wedged against the wall next to the bed. There was just barely enough room to stand sideways between the crib and the bed, but he led her over and the two of them looked down at a little sleeping form.
"That's him," he whispered.
It was difficult to make out the details in the darkened room, but Darcy could definitely see a tiny human in the crib. He was laying on his stomach, with his head turned to the side and she could see one tiny round cheek and a closed eye. It looked like he probably had hair, and it was probably blonde, but there wasn't a whole lot of it, and it was hard to make it out in the dark room.
"What's his name?" she asked quietly, because it seemed like the logical thing to ask.
"Daniel Barton." Clint smiled.
"Wow he's..." Darcy wasn't sure what to say. He was small - smaller than she'd thought possible. He was cute... she supposed. She'd never really given much thought to babies, actually. She'd never been the type of girl to coo over people's kids or to get all gooey at the thought of having some of her own. In fact, usually when she saw anyone this small, she was reaching for her ipod to drown out the inevitable sound of crying.
"... small." she finished lamely. Oh god, she hoped Clint didn't hate her for not melting over his kid.
"Yeah," he agreed. Then he led them back out of the room.
She helped him clear the table and put away the food in companionable silence. At least it seemed companionable. Clint looked relaxed; like a weight she didn't even realize he'd been carrying had been lifted off his shoulders. Which was ridiculous, really, because it's not like Darcy finally knowing what was going on would make much difference in the situation.
"What are you gonna do with Daniel when you're working?" she asked at one point.
"I'm still working out the details. For now, there's a sitter here at headquarters that can watch him when I'm busy."
It sounded to Darcy like he wasn't entirely pleased with the arrangement, so she prodded him. "Sounds like there's a 'but' in there somewhere."
Clint shrugged. "But, I'm not sure I want SHIELD raising my kid."
Suddenly Darcy had this image of a tiny baby wearing a suit and sunglasses a la Coulson, and she couldn't help but chuckle. And when she described the image to Clint, and he laughed too.
Darcy had no idea if the "Daniel Situation", as she'd privately dubbed it, was a secret, so she decided she'd keep her mouth shut on the topic until someone else brought it up.
She didn't have to wait long, though. The very next day she and Jane were eating in the cafeteria when Clint walked in with Daniel strapped to his chest in some kind of a baby harness. Several heads turned, and a few people came over to Clint making cooing noises at the baby who seemed to enjoy the attention. The kid was facing outward against Clint's chest, and Darcy could see his tiny legs kicking and his little arms flailing around... not that she was looking.
In fact, she immediately went back to her sandwich because she was definitely not going to stare. She'd already met the kid. Sort of.
"What are you smiling at?" Jane wanted to know.
Darcy looked at her friend. "What? I'm not smiling."
"You are. Smugly. You've got a smug smile. Why are you smug?"
"I'm not smug."
Suddenly Jane gasped. "You already knew, didn't you. That's why you don't look surprised."
"Knew what?" And okay, now she was feeling a tad smug.
"When did you find out? Clint just got back yesterday!"
"Oh, about Daniel? I was over at Clint's last night."
Jane's eyebrows shot up. "Oh really?"
Before Darcy could deny whatever strange and sexy scenario Jane might have conjured up in her mind, Clint arrived at their table.
"Hello, ladies. Mind if we join you?"
"Not at all," Jane answered, and Darcy could see the wheels turning in her head. She'd have to talk to her later and remind her that Clint had never shown any interest in being anything other than a friend.
Clint sat down with the baby still strapped to his chest, and pushed his tray out of reach of the little flailing arms.
"He's adorable, Clint," Jane said. "How old is he?"
"Seven and-a-half months," Clint answered between bites of sandwich. He was either very hungry, or he was worried that the little person strapped to his chest wasn't going to tolerate his eating for very long.
Darcy knew nothing about babies, but last night she would've guessed that the kid was a lot younger than that. Then again, she had no idea what the differences really were between a newborn and a seven-month-old. The kid seemed intent on reaching Clint's plate, though his efforts were clumsy. He was definitely flailing in the right direction, though.
"Does he eat any solids yet?" Jane wanted to know. (And when exactly had she become an expert on babies? Darcy didn't even know what to ask.)
"He eats baby food, and just about anything else that's been pureed. But he doesn't eat much yet. Most of it goes down the front of him."
Darcy watched as Daniel gave up on flailing for Clint's food. His little face scrunched up and he started making those little noises that babies made right before they were about to wail.
Clint started digging around in a bag that Darcy hadn't even seen him carrying earlier. He quickly produced and empty bottle and powdered formula. He filled up the empty bottle with water from a water bottle, and then mixed in the powder and started shaking the bottle.
"He doesn't need the bottle warmed or anything?" Darcy asked.
"Nah, he's old enough to have it room temperature."
It didn't look like the kid cared either way. Clint had to shake the bottle out away from him to keep Daniel from grabbing it before it was ready.
The kid was like a grabby little octopus, flailing all over trying to get ahold of anything and everything in reach. Darcy wondered how Clint got anything done with Daniel strapped to him like that.
"Want me to hold him so you can finish your food?" she asked, and immediately felt like an idiot because out of everyone in the entire cafeteria, she was probably the most likely to drop the kid or accidentally screw him up somehow.
Clint (the dummy) actually looked relieved. "You sure you don't mind?"
Darcy shrugged, trying to appear more casual and less I'm-too-much-of-an-idiot-to-hold-your-kid. "If you don't mind that I have no idea what I'm doing."
Clint set the bottle down and went about releasing several straps, pushing buttons, turning knobs... and doing whatever it was he had to do to get the baby harness off, and then he brought Daniel to her.
He sat the baby in her lap, and guided her arm to wrap around his little middle. Then he gave Daniel the bottle.
"Just lean him back against your chest a little. You don't have to hold the bottle for him."
Darcy leaned back and Daniel's head immediately settled onto her chest while he sucked happily on the bottle. At least he was quiet. His legs had stopped kicking, and his hands had a tight grip on the bottle as he calmly regarded the rest of the room.
Clint went back to eating, a little slower now, and other than a couple more baby-questions from Jane, their conversation was pretty normal.
Clint's kid was the talk of the office, at least for a little while. It was kinda funny to suddenly be surrounded by people who were closet Baby Experts. Except for a couple agents who acted like kids were radioactive, and shied away from even their mention, most people seemed to think they knew a whole lot about babies. In the last few days Darcy had heard things like, "I hope Clint knows to keep that boy on a schedule." and "He should be starting with veggies - never fruit!"
Darcy had no clue how much of what she heard was actually true, so she decided she should probably do a little research of her own. After all, she did not want to be the village idiot when it came to Clint's kid. It was embarrassing. And besides, Clint was her friend; it only seemed right for her to learn what she could. That kid was a part of Clint, so that made him Darcy's tiny friend by extension... or something.
She didn't really want to advertise that she was studying babies, though, so rather than buying a bunch of parenting books at the local bookstore, she downloaded several to her e-reader.
By the time the next Stark dinner came along, Darcy felt like she was practically an expert - in theory, anyway.
Clint and Darcy were in the kitchen at the Stark mansion, working their culinary magic while everybody else was doing whatever it was they did while waiting for dinner. Tonight, she thought they had a table tennis tournament going on.
As it turned out, most of the Avengers were absolute shit with kids. Darcy felt like a friggin' graduate from Baby University compared to the rest of them.
Part of the problem was that babies were loud, messy, and quite often smelled bad. They were also good at pissing people off, which definitely meant that Bruce had to stay away. Thor and Steve both preferred their friends full-sized, probably because either of them could accidentally crush the poor kid playing patty cake. Tony didn't really have the patience to put up with any baby but himself most of the time, and Natasha just preferred not to deal with them - Daniel, (or Tony most of the time).
That meant that the baby was with them in the kitchen, watching them work from an Iron Man high chair.
"How the hell did Tony get an Iron Man high chair, anyway? Do all of you have a line of baby merchandise now?"
Clint glanced back at Daniel and the chair before returning his attention to the stove. "Actually, I think Tony made that one himself."
"Egomaniac," Darcy muttered. On closer inspection, Darcy could see that the chair wasn't covered in drawings of Iron Man, it actually had photos of Tony in the suit all over it.
Tony wandered into the kitchen while Darcy was still bent down marveling at how large an ego it would take to create your own line of kid-gear when you didn't even have a kid.
"My kitchen, my decor!" Tony declared, noticing what she was looking at.
"Hey, you can make a Darcy chair for your own kitchen."
He opened the fridge and grabbed a couple of beers then turned toward Darcy and the Chair of Incredible Ego. He spread his arms and started singing.
"Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling..."
Daniel, who had already been less-than-happy, chose that moment to start crying.
"And I'm outta here!" Tony was gone before he'd even shut the fridge door.
"Good boy!" Darcy told him. "You chased that man and his inflated ego right out the door!"
Rather than appreciating her praise, Daniel continued to cry.
"Crap, I know this one... I know it..." she muttered to herself.
"Do you want to eat? No, that's not it. You just finished eating. Are you smelly?"
Darcy leaned down to check, only to have Daniel grab a fistful of her hair. "Oh shit... I mean shoot. Damn it, that hurts. Let go, Danny." She had to reach down and pry his little fingers out of her hair one at a time.
Clint sauntered over in his "Caution: Extremely Hot" apron. "He's probably tired," he offered.
Too bad the kid was covered in goop. She'd taken his uneaten food away, and washed his hands, but the front side of him was still covered in what allegedly had been pureed green beans. She supposed if she took off his bib that would take care of most of it.
Daniel continued to cry while she reached around his head and unsnapped his bib. "You're loud, you know that?"
Daniel cried in agreement.
"Want me to take him?" Clint was at the sink, washing his hands. And Darcy had to wonder why in the hell he always seemed to cook in sleeveless shirts. He wore an apron, but his shirts didn't even have sleeves. God, those arms would be the death of her.
He raised his eyebrows at her in question.
Oh yeah - the kid.
"I'll get him. Just keep flexing - I mean cooking. Over there. With your arms. I hate you."
Clint, the bastard, winked at her and flexed his biceps once before going back to the stove.
Life eventually went back to normal - or at least as normal as things around SHIELD ever got. Clint still went to work, but now he had Danny with him whenever he had meal breaks, and Darcy still rescued Clint from the grabby little octo-baby whenever she noticed that Clint was trying to eat while dodging the little flailing arms.
Making dinner at the mansion was still Their Thing, but now they had a little "helper" in the kitchen with them. (Darcy had started thinking of him as her helper since the time he'd spit up all over Clint's shirt. Clint, never one to let a little thing like puke stop him, had simply removed his shirt, thrown on a new apron, and resumed cooking. Shirtless.)
Darcy was beginning to love that little monster.
Everything was going great until a stupid Super-Scientist accidentally created some kind of monster that was attempting to eat Canada - or something to that effect.
Clint and the rest of the Avengers had left early in the morning, intending to be back before nightfall. They'd gotten pretty damn good at dispensing justice. It should've been easy: fly to Canada, defeat monster, go home.
Apparently though, it wasn't quite that simple. Darcy's cell phone rang around 7 that night, and when she saw Clint's number, she knew it wasn't anything good.
"You'd better not be calling me to tell me that thing has a brother, and he's trying to eat New York."
"I - what? No. Look, I know this is really shitty of me, but is there any way you could pick Danny up from the sitter and keep him over night? He's never spent the night with the sitter, and-"
Darcy interrupted him. "Wait, haven't you guys opened a can of whoop-ass yet?" Darcy knew it was an overused term, but she loved the way it sounded.
"Darce, we opened a whole case. It's just gonna be a little longer. Please, I just don't want Danny to freak out when I don't come get him. I'm really-"
"It's okay, I'll get him. I don't know where I'll put him, though. I don't have baby stuff at my place." The idea of taking the kid for an entire night scared the shit out of Darcy, but Clint had never asked her to do anything like this. In fact, she couldn't remember a time she'd ever even been alone with Daniel. Darcy knew that there was no way Clint would be asking unless he were desperate.
"Stay at my place. Ask Coulson; he'll give you keys. I've got his crib and everything else there already."
"Okay, I'll go get him now. Don't worry."
Darcy hung up the phone with the beginnings of what had to be terror stirring in her chest. She'd told Clint not to worry because the last thing he needed was to be distracted by thoughts that Darcy was about to maim his kid. (Even if that was probably exactly what she was about to do.) If he could be brave enough to go off and fight super-villains on a regular basis, the least she could do was be brave enough to face his kid.
She went to see Coulson first. As soon as she reached the doorway of his office, he motioned to a set of keys at the edge of his desk without even looking up.
Either Clint had already contacted him, or Coulson really did know everything. According to the rumors, it was the latter.
"Do you know if Clint called the sitter? I don't know if I'm authorized to pick Danny up."
He looked up at her with that placid expression he always wore. "You've been authorized."
"Great, thanks." Darcy couldn't help but wonder if Coulson would be able to maintain that placid look while changing one of Danny's diapers. Then again, he could probably just stare the kid down and convince him not to crap. She really needed whatever superpower that man had.
Darcy collected Daniel from the SHIELD sitter, and made her way up to Clint's apartment. If she remembered right, Danny was usually asleep by 8, so at least she wouldn't have to worry about him for long.
She was pretty sure the kid usually had a bath before bed, but she wasn't sure it was worth the risk. Giving Danny back a little dirty was way better than drowning the kid in an attempt to make him presentable.
"So... Danny. It's just you and me. What do you want to do, huh? Ideas? I'm open to suggestions."
Danny was diligently working on making spit with his mouth, and not at all interested in helping.
"Fine. How about you go in this awesome playpen, then, and I'll read. That's sounds super fun, right?"
She put Danny down in a colorful cloth playpen to one side of Clint's small living room. Right under the Avengers poster.
She snorted, gazing at the Avengers. "Your dad's strange, kid. Very strange."
Apparently, Danny didn't appreciate the insult because he lost interest in the toy he'd been swinging around, and started fussing.
"I'm sorry, all right. I didn't mead bad-strange. There's a good-strange, you know?"
Danny still looked unhappy, and completely unsatisfied with any of the toys around him. Fussing was beginning to become full-on crying.
"Okay! He's not strange at all! He's totally hot! Your dad's dead sexy, all right?" And oh crap, what the hell was she saying? God, she hoped he wouldn't remember any of this once he started talking.
Darcy scooped him up out of the crib and brought him over to the stereo system. "Let's see what your dad listens to. That'll be fun, right?"
The machine was set to CD already, so Darcy just turned it on to whatever Clint had been listening to last.
A few chords in, and Darcy was appalled.
"Country? Your dad listens to country music? Oh kid, you poor thing." She turned the stereo off again.
And then she smelled the reason the kid was so upset. "Oh no, you didn't. Tell me you didn't."
Danny's crying confirmed that he definitely did.
Darcy had seen this done before, and she'd read about it, but she'd never actually done it herself. She decided to err on the side of caution, and she spread a baby blanket out over the small kitchen floor. Messes were easier to mop up than scrub out of carpet, she figured.
The whole thing turned out to be anti-climactic, though. She got Danny changed and re-diapered with minimum fuss and only a little gagging.
And afterwards she felt like a baby-changing ninja.
"I got me some skills!" she exclaimed, and Danny didn't argue so she took that as agreement enough.
The kid was rubbing his eyes, and a look at the clock told Darcy it was bedtime.
"Guess who's going to bed now? Oh yeah, that'd be you," she told him.
In Clint's room she had to step over a pile of crumpled clothes at the foot of the bed before making her way to the crib.
"Daddy's messy. No wonder he keeps the door closed," she commented.
She laid Danny down in the crib, and sat on Clint's bed, unsure what else she was supposed to do. The bed was unmade, with the blankets rumpled and piled up near one end, and the pillow was on the floor.
"He must've been in a rush this morning, huh?" she kept her voice low and what she hoped was soothing.
She grabbed the pillow, put it back on the bed, and pulled the blankets up into place around her.
"Your dad smells good, Danny. You may have a shot of beating this smelly thing once you're older. You've got genetics on your side, anyway."
Darcy laid back on the bed and nuzzled the pillow with a yawn. "He really does smell really good."
Darcy fell asleep.
Overnight turned into two days, and then three. Each day Darcy would take Daniel to the sitter before work, grab him for her lunch break, and then collect him again from the sitter after work. She kept as close as she could to the schedule she knew Clint had him on.
Sleeping at Clint's place had almost become routine now. She'd even brought some of her music over and had it queued up in his stereo. The only thing she refused to do was clean. She'd already somehow become Clint's live-in babysitter, but there was no way she was going to be his maid. Every night she stepped over the same pile of clothes he'd left on the floor, and every morning she left his blankets a mess just like he had. (And that was because of the statement she was making; it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was a real bitch to try to get herself and octo-baby ready on time each morning.)
Darcy probably should've been worried, and she was well aware that a lot of girls in her position would've been past "worried" and well into "completely-freaked-out" territory by now, but she wasn't most girls.
Besides, Coulson had e-mailed her that first morning explaining that the mission was going to take a little longer than expected, and that he would greatly appreciate it if she'd keep watching Daniel until the team returned.
Three days wasn't exactly a "little" longer in Darcy's book, especially when taking care of a baby tended to make days feel like weeks, but she spent her time daydreaming about how she would spend all the favor points she was racking up.
Hawaii here I come.
By the third night she really did feel like a pro. Sure, she was still slightly terrified that she was going to screw something up and permanently damage Clint's kid, but her meager skills had kept him alive so far. She figured a few mistakes here and there were fine as long as there was no harm done. Well, no harm to Daniel - Clint's carpet might have been slightly harmed...
"You're not listening to what I'm saying!"
Darcy murmured in agreement, speaking directly to the television screen. "She doesn't understand you, Derek."
"That's Dr. McDreamy," she explained to Daniel. "His wife doesn't understand him."
Darcy had learned that Daniel actually found TV a little more entertaining than the toys in his playpen. All she had to do was hand him one of his chew toy things and he'd sit with her on the couch and watch Grey's Anatomy.
They were currently in the middle of a Grey's Anatomy marathon.
The first time she'd tried this, she'd realized that the only thing Danny did better than cry loudly was produce massive quantities of spit. But, as long as she kept a towel on his lap it was fine.
God, she was developing serious baby skills.
"We never really communicate anymore; all we do is argue," the fictional doctor was saying to his fictional wife.
Darcy nodded. "Communication is key. Are you writing this down, kid?"
He wasn't writing it down.
It didn't matter anyway. As soon as this episode was over, they were going to bed. Daniel had a habit of waking up earlier than she liked, and she hoped that by keeping him up a little bit later, he'd sleep in a little.
Or at least past 6. She really hoped he'd sleep past 6.
The doctor's fictional argument was interrupted by the apartment door opening, and Darcy's subsequent near-heart-attack. Her head whipped towards the door as Clint appeared.
"Holy shit - shoot! Are you trying to kill me?" She laid a hand over her chest, and glanced at Daniel, who was unimpressed by the commotion.
She turned back to glare at him, and he had the grace to at least pretend to be sheepish.
"Sorry... Um, should I have knocked?"
"On your own door? Don't be stupid. Get in here and say hi to your kid who, by the way, is still alive and not maimed in any way."
She was super proud of that.
Clint came around the front of the couch and stood over Daniel.
"Hey, Buddy. Miss me?"
Clint was obviously favoring one leg, and didn't crouch down to grab Daniel like he usually would.
"Why are you limping? Wasn't Steve supposed to keep you from getting maimed?"
Clint shrugged carefully. "He did what he could."
Now that he was standing right in front of her, Darcy was noticing a number of things wrong. He was still in his uniform, for one thing, and it looked like it'd seen better days. Even in the semi-dark room she could make out places on his arms and face that were slightly darker, whether it was bruising, dirt, or dried blood, she couldn't be sure.
"Did you come straight here?"
Clint reached up and pinched his nose as if he were in pain. "Apparently."
Darcy grabbed Daniel and stood.
"Here, give your daddy a big wet kiss." She brought Daniel's slobbery mouth to Clint's, and then wiped the baby dry with the towel while Clint protested in disgust.
"I'll put him to bed while you shower."
Daniel went to sleep quick enough, and Darcy decided to start packing up her stuff. She didn't want to leave while Clint was in the shower just in case the baby woke up, and she definitely was not going to straighten up Clint's room for him, but she'd get her own stuff out of the way at least.
She'd just gotten all her clothes into her bag when Clint's voice came from the bathroom.
Darcy came around the other side of the bed to stand near the bathroom door so she wouldn't have to yell. "What?"
"Could you, uh, help me?"
She frowned and turned the knob, slowly easing the door open. "If this is some kind of a weird-" She broke off when he came into view. "Shit."
"I got the vest off, but the neoprene part is giving me a problem."
Clint was standing in the middle of his little bathroom half dressed. The top part of his uniform was on the floor along with his boots and what looked like some leg armor, but his chest was still encased in a tight back undersuit.
He looked pale under the harsh light of the bathroom, and she could see the bruises on his arms, and a scrape on one elbow.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Could you just get the scissors from the kitchen and cut this damn thing off?"
Darcy was so startled by his appearance that she left to get the scissors without argument and returned a few seconds later.
She wasn't sure where to cut, but he immediately turned his back to her and said, "Cut right up the middle. Just be careful, okay?"
"Are you sure you want me to ruin your... under-the-uniform... thing?"
"Yep. I've got more where this one came from, and this thing isn't coming off any other way."
Darcy wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that until she started cutting the undershirt away to reveal dark bruises all along his ribs. Fuck, he probably couldn't even raise his arms.
"Shit, Clint, did you see a doctor?"
"For bruised ribs? Nah, I've had worse."
"This looks bad." Darcy blinked back tears because as much as she'd fantasized about taking his shirt off, this was not the way she ever wanted it to go down.
The undershirt finally fell to the floor and Clint turned around and gave her a gentle smile that made her heart ache.
"You should see the other guy."
Darcy sat on the couch in the dark while Clint showered. She didn't turn the TV on, having completely lost interest in the show she'd been watching. She wasn't going to freak out about Clint being hurt, she really wasn't. She knew it was part of the job, and she knew it was a job that he was more than capable of handling. Even the fact that the team had come back three days late hadn't really concerned her too much. She knew that if something really bad had happened, she would've heard about it. She wasn't the type to get all flustered and worried every time her bad ass friends went off to be bad asses - it was what they did.
Still, she couldn't deny that there was a heavy feeling in her chest. She didn't like seeing her friends hurt. The fact that she had a raging crush on Clint had nothing to do with it. She cared about them - all of them. And yeah, maybe she cared about Clint just a little more than she should. Which was stupid of her, because they'd been friends quite a while now and he'd never been anything other than friendly towards her, apart from some harmless flirting. But hell, he flirted like that with everyone.
Darcy sighed. Her thoughts were just spinning in circles now, and she was tired of wallowing in them. She was still wearing the shirt and shorts she planned to sleep in, so all she would have to do is go grab a blanket and she could crash out on the couch for the night. She didn't think Clint would be in any shape to lift Danny out of his crib in the morning, much less in the middle of the night if he happened to wake up. She'd stay one more night just to help out.
Darcy had a blanket all laid out, and had already positioned one of the throw pillows just the way she wanted it when Clint padded out.
"What're you doing?"
"Getting ready for bed. I figured I'd sleep here one last night just in case Danny wakes up. I didn't think you'd be able to get him out of the crib."
"Okay..." For some reason Clint sounded almost confused. "... but why are you out here?"
"I'm taking the couch, Clint. Don't even try to tell me that you're going to offer me the bed while you're hurt. There's no way I'm letting you sleep out here."
"Darcy, I have a double bed and we're both adults. There's no way I'm letting you sleep out here."
She huffed. It figured that he'd be noble in the worst way. He hadn't even put on a shirt. Come to bed with me, Darcy ol' pal! Let's sleep together like good friends! Never mind the fact that I'm half naked and dead sexy!
"Fine. I'm coming, geez."
And actually, seeing him limp back to his room and ease down onto his bed as if his bones were made of glass went a long way toward killing any sexy thoughts she might've had.
"Did you take anything for the pain, oh Heroic One?"
"Yep, and I'll probably be knocked out in about five minutes, so you'll have to nudge me pretty hard if I start snoring."
He didn't snore. In fact, he didn't make any noise at all. It felt like a long time before Darcy was even sleepy, and by then she'd already checked on Clint twice just to make sure he was still breathing. He just laid on his side of the bed, flat on his back. She wasn't sure if that was the way he normally slept, or if it was because his ribs hurt, but it gave her the creeps; he looked like he was laying in a coffin.
It was a different story when morning came, though. It had taken Darcy forever to fall asleep, so when the first sounds of baby-babble reached her ears, and she opened her eyes to see that it was already light, she groaned.
And then she realized that she was completely tangled up in Clint.
He had an arm around her waist, and his face was tucked against her neck, and somehow one of her ankles was tangled with his feet. She wasn't sure how they'd gotten that way, or why it was so damn comfortable, but she had to move because Danny didn't give a lot of warning before he went from happily babbling in his crib to screaming for attention.
Of course, since she wasn't a graceful assassin like some people, she couldn't untangle herself and get away from Clint without elbowing him in the ribs not once, but twice.
That certainly woke him up.
"Ow! Oh shit. Fuck..."
"Sorry! I'm sorry! Crap. I was just trying to..." She looked down at Clint who now laid on his side with his eyes closed and an arm wrapped around his middle.
"Are you okay?"
"Mmm hmm," he hummed in the affirmative without opening his eyes.
"Hold on, I'll get you something for the pain."
She crawled carefully to the bottom of the bed and stumbled over to the bathroom. She found pain pills in the medicine cabinet, and filled the glass on the sink with water.
Clint took the pills and then resumed his fetal position while Darcy grabbed the baby and started his morning routine.
After she'd changed and fed him, she went back to the bedroom to find Clint asleep again.
Aside from that first morning, Clint was quick to compensate for his injuries. By lunch he had produced a stroller from who-knows-where, and he began using it to transport Danny in a way that wouldn't hurt his ribs.
Darcy watched him enter the cafeteria, steering the stroller between the tables toward the food line. Who knew a bad ass hero could be so practical about baby gear?
Darcy was glad she'd thought to get all her stuff out of Clint's place when she'd left that morning, because it was pretty clear he'd already gotten a handle on things.
In fact, Darcy was feeling pretty good about how she'd handled the whole situation. Keep his kid alive for a few days all by herself? Check. Manage to sleep in the same bed with Mr. Hotness himself without acting like a 14-year-old with a raging crush? Check. Erase all evidence of her presence in Clint's apartment and immediately set all systems back to "normal"? Check and double check.
Nothing had changed.
Or well, nothing had changed on the surface. Darcy was probably slightly more infatuated with Clint because she'd managed to get way up in his personal life and she still had yet to find the Thing. That one Thing that would be a complete turn off. Darcy knew there had to be a Thing. Some Thing.
He didn't keep his room very clean... but that was more of a thing with lower case letters. For it to be a Thing it had to be something that would really turn her off.
Maybe he was a womanizer... or he was super vain... or he kept the chopped-off fingers of his enemies in his closet...
Except that as far as Darcy could tell he wasn't really a womanizer, despite a healthy respect for flirting; and he definitely wasn't all that vain, judging by the way he'd shown up from his last mission without even showering; and there was nothing but clothes, a few pairs of shoes, and an old guitar in his closet - she'd checked.
Not that it mattered. Darcy really didn't have to find the Thing that would make her lose interest in Clint - it was pretty clear he only saw her as a friend anyway. This train wasn't ever leaving the station.
"You look like you're having some very deep thoughts."
Darcy looked up from her plate to see Jane settling into the seat across from her.
"What can I say? I'm a deep thinker."
"So what are you thinking about?" Jane's eyebrows suddenly lifted and her voice changed to a conspiratorial whisper. "Or should I say who are you thinking about?"
Darcy rolled her eyes and went back to her sandwich.
"Come on, Darce. You lived in his apartment for days."
Darcy leaned forward to whisper, mindful of the fact that Clint was just on the other side of the room inspecting the day's specials. "I was babysitting, Jane. It's not like he was there the whole time."
"But he's back now, so..." Jane trailed off and raised her eyebrows again.
"Does Thor know you're such a gossip?"
"Don't change the subject. I'm just wondering if anything has changed between you two."
Darcy scoffed - quietly. "We're pals, Jane. I'm his good 'ole reliable babysitter. I don't think any of that is going to change."
Now Jane scoffed. "Please, Darce. You guys have always gotten along great, and you did a great job with Danny while he was gone. It wouldn't surprise me if he proposed marriage."
Darcy laughed a little louder than she meant to. "You're kidding, right?" Not that she wasn't a good catch, because she totally was, but Clint was a real life superhero - if anyone was out of Darcy's league, it was Clint. Sure, sometimes she found herself forgetting his superhero status when it was just them in the kitchen making dinner at the mansion and bantering back and forth like old friends, but the reality was that Clint was part of a team that went around saving the world on a regular basis. He could have pretty much any girl he wanted at the snap of his fingers. Darcy figured he'd at least want a girl who could roll out of bed in the morning without elbowing him half to death like a klutz.
Jane just shrugged and bit into her own sandwich. "I'm just saying."
Then Jane's phone beeped, and she glanced at the screen. "Yes! Gotta run. The data I've been waiting for is ready!"
Darcy watched her flee the room, sandwich in hand.
She hadn't been gone thirty seconds when Clint wandered over, taking the seat Jane had vacated. "Is there a fire I should know about? An alien invasion? Giant beast...?"
"Science. She ran to go have lunch with science."
Clint nodded, and reached down to sprinkle a handful of what looked like cereal into the tray on the front of the stroller that was parked beside him. Danny seemed fascinated by it, and occupied himself trying to pick each one up and get it to his mouth.
A few bites of sandwich later, Clint spoke up. "Hey, so what're you doing Friday night?"
"Nothing that I know of. Are we doing another dinner at Tony’s? Because I was thinking we could do that spaghetti casserole again."
"Nah, most of the team will be out of town that night or otherwise occupied. Want to do dinner on our own though?"
"Cooking for two? I'm not sure I'd even remember how at this point." Plus, it seemed like a lot of trouble to go to if there were only going to be two of them. She could make herself some instant mac and cheese at home and catch up on Grey's Anatomy.
"Not cooking." Clint spoke with exaggerated slowness, as if explaining something to a small child. "I'm asking if you want to go out with me. To dinner. On Friday."
Darcy almost choked on her potato ship. "Just us? You mean like a date?"
"Just us. Like a date."
That threw her for a loop. Since when had Clint decided she was date-able? Hadn't she just been thinking about this? Clint had always given her the 'friends-only' vibe - Darcy couldn't help but wonder what had changed.
And then she remembered what Jane had said - was Clint suddenly interested in her because she made a good live-in nanny? She knew Jane had been joking, but what if it there was some truth to it? For months now Clint had been perfectly content to be her buddy - someone to hang around with in the kitchen, someone to join him in mocking people behind their backs, someone to sit with at lunch. And now that she'd shown she made a decent nanny he was suddenly going to ask her out?
"Is this because of my awesome baby skills?" she asked, almost afraid of the answer.
Clint threw his head back and laughed.
"Oh definitely. You got me."
Darcy smiled to hide the fact that her stomach had clenched at his answer. He'd asked her out, and then he'd laughed at her question like it was a big joke. Even if he mistook her serious question for their typical banter, he should've been ready with more of an explanation for his sudden change of heart.
Unless her suspicions were correct, and he really had decided that dating Darcy would be good for his kid, if nothing else.
"I don't think I can make it Friday, sorry."
The lingering smile dropped off Clint's face. "Seriously? I thought you said you didn't have plans."
"I forgot about something. I do have plans."
Oh? Oh?! Darcy couldn't believe that was the best he could do. Oh what, exactly? 'Oh, too bad, that would've been convenient' - was that what he meant? She was waiting for Clint to ask her about Saturday, or some other day, but apparently it wasn't important enough to bother. In fact, it almost seemed as if he were pouting over being turned down. They really didn't talk much at all after that point, and after finishing their lunches, they went their separate ways with barely a word to each other.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Things definitely changed after that. Darcy wasn't sure if anyone but her could tell, but she definitely noticed that Clint was avoiding her. It was nothing obvious; he still had lunch with her sometimes - but only when there were other people at the table. He still joked around at the lunch table, but his comments were usually directed to the group in general, or to whoever else was with them; he no longer made little comments just for Darcy. In fact, he didn't even really make eye contact with her anymore. It seemed like he was always looking near her, but never at her. He still acknowledged her in the hallways, but now it was just a smile and a brief nod as he walked by, rather than a short conversation or a wink.
No one else seemed to have noticed, but Darcy did, and it pissed her off. Where did Clint get off acting like she'd somehow damaged his pride by turning down a date with him? It wasn't as if he was actually interested; she was just his free babysitting service. It almost made her sad to think about it, actually. She knew Clint and the others didn't have a lot of time for social interaction outside of work, but the fact that Clint was so desperate for companionship that he'd settle for the first co-worker who tolerated his kid was just pitiful.
It was sad, but it also pissed her off because unlike a certain archer, Darcy did have real feelings involved, and she hated the fact that her choices seemed to be either date him so he could continue to have free babysitting, or turn him down and lose his friendship.
A week after 'The Cafeteria Incident', Darcy was wading through a pile of paperwork when Tony strolled up and casually leaned a hip against her desk as if he did it every day.
Except that he'd never been by her desk once in the entire time she'd worked at SHIELD, which immediately made Darcy suspicious.
"So we're having another of our little shin-digs at my place Saturday. I hear you've been thinking about making the spaghetti casserole again, and I just want you to know that I heartily approve, and I will make sure the kitchen is stocked and ready to go for you guys."
"Wait, what?" Darcy had heard Tony engage in plenty of one-sided conversations, but she wasn't used to being on the receiving end of one of his word-vomits.
"Dinner? The Stark Mansion? Please tell me this is ringing some kind of bell for you because I don't deal well with people suffering from amnesia..."
"Yeah, but -" Tony talked so fast that Darcy could barely keep up, much less get a word in edgewise.
"Great. So I'll see you there Saturday. You know, barring work-related complications like terrorists, global disasters, alien invasions..."
"Sorry, what? You can't what? Make the casserole? Because it's fine with me if you want to make something else. Steve might pout, but I can have something shiny there to distract him-"
"I can't come, Tony. Not this Saturday."
That seemed to shut him up. He just looked at her like he was trying to figure something out, and it suddenly occurred to Darcy that Tony had never been the one to talk to her about one of their dinners; it had always been Clint. Apparently, Clint was even going to avoid her about this, and that only strengthened her resolve not to go.
Her resolve must have show on her face because after a few seconds Tony suddenly spoke. "Huh. All right. Too bad, though. We'll miss you, and all that."
And then he was gone.
Darcy was afraid that when she didn't show up to the dinner Saturday, people were going to start asking questions that she didn't want to answer. As far as she was concerned, whatever happened (or didn't happen) between her and Clint was nobody's business. Still, she'd never missed a dinner so she knew people were going to ask what was up. By Friday, Darcy had worked out a story about how an old college friend had asked for some help on a school project, and she was going to be Skyping with her Saturday night to help out. It was total bullshit, of course, and if anyone were to ask for details about the project, she'd be screwed, but she hoped that just having a solid reason for her absence would prevent further questions.
So when Saturday afternoon rolled around, and she got a text from Jane asking her if she needed a ride, Darcy sent back the excuse she'd prepared, accompanied by a little sad face and a request that she bring her back a plate.
She thought it was probably one of the best bullshit excuses she'd ever come up with.
It was slightly more worrisome when her cell phone rang that evening and she looked down at her phone to see Steve's picture grinning back at her.
"Steve! What's shaking?"
"Hi, Darcy. How're you doing?"
"Great. How's the dinner going?" Darcy thought it was a little adorable that Steve always asked how someone was doing before getting to the point of any casual conversation. He still hadn't progressed enough in the modern world to understand that most people no longer bothered with the pleasantries - especially on cell phones.
"Dinner's still cooking, I guess. I was just wondering why you didn't come tonight. Everything all right?"
Darcy had no doubt that Jane would've told all of them what was going on, so the fact that he'd called probably meant that he hadn't bought it. Either that, or it was just one of his weirdly polite quirks from the 40's - it was hard to be sure.
"Everything's great. I'm just going to be busy tonight helping out an old college friend with some work. I'll come next time, as long as the kitchen is still standing."
"It's a video chat, right? Jane said something about that."
Yep, Jane had definitely told him already, so this must be his polite check-in call.
"Yeah, we're going to be Skyping tonight."
"What time is that happening?"
Darcy froze. The team dinners tended to go for hours; he'd never believe she was going to be helping her friend the entire time. If she said she was starting soon, he'd tell her to come over when she was finished. If she told him she still had some time, he was going to tell her to come over and eat first...
Shit. This was a bad time for her to remember that Steve was a master tactician.
After what was probably too long of a pause, Darcy answered, "I'm not sure. Just waiting for the call to come in. It's going to take a while, though. Might end up chatting half the night."
She hoped that as long as she left it vague, he wouldn't try to make her promise to come over at a certain time.
"What's the project about? I mean... between Tony, Bruce, and Jane... we have a lot of knowledge over here. Maybe you could bring your laptop over and Skype from here."
Damn, he was good. Not only was he making it very difficult to keep up her lie, but lying to Steve when he was being all helpful and sincere kinda felt like kicking a fluffy puppy in the face. Over and Over.
She couldn't take it anymore.
"Listen, I'm sorry. There's no friend, there's no project, there's no Skyping, I just can't come tonight, okay? I'm sorry I lied; I just didn't want to deal with questions. Please don't mention this to anyone. Can you just tell them that you confirmed what Jane already told you and call it a night?"
She heard Steve sigh over the line, and she could almost see him rubbing his forehead and getting that concerned look on his face. "I'm not lying to them, Darcy. I - I won't tell them anything that you don't want me to, but I can't lie to them."
And now Darcy felt like a complete asshole for even suggesting that he lie to the people on his team. These were people who had to trust each other with their lives; there was no way Steve was going to give them a bunch of bullshit that he knew wasn't true.
Darcy felt her eyes filling with tears, as her stomach twisted in shame. "I'm sorry, Steve. I just - I'm not coming."
"Okay, it's okay, Darcy."
The sound of him reassuring her of - she didn't even know what - was enough to send the tears cascading down her cheeks.
It was a few days later before she saw any of the team. It was just after lunch and she was staring at a mountain of paperwork, trying to decide if taking a nap at her desk would be worth whatever write-up she'd get in her file, when Natasha suddenly appeared.
"Darcy, I need your help." she said in greeting.
"Hey, Tasha..." she answered uncertainly, visions of daggers and guns dancing in her head. She honestly couldn't think of anything Natasha could possibly need her help with.
And to her surprise (and dismay), Natasha didn't bother to clarify. She just raised her eyebrows and tilted her head toward the hallway in a "come with me" gesture.
Darcy wasn't afraid of Natasha, but she also wasn't in the habit of saying no to her for no reason, so she got up and followed.
Natasha led her through the hallways, into an elevator, and eventually down to the floor where Darcy understood the gym and various workout rooms were located. Not that she'd ever been there herself, but she vaguely remembered Coulson mentioning exercise facilities in her initial tour.
"Uh... it's not that I don't want to be helpful, but I hope you realize that I'm probably the least qualified person to help you with anything having to do with... pretty much anything on this floor."
Natasha simply glanced back at her with a single raised eyebrow. "You're exactly the right person to help."
They arrived at a solid-looking metal door, with a small window that Natasha's head was blocking now that she'd turned around to face her.
"Clint is an idiot," she said with a certain fondness, "but so are you, so it's fine. The problem is that both of you are too stubborn to see past yourselves long enough to figure out what's really going on with the other. As you've probably guessed, this is an intervention. You're going to go into this room, and you're going to talk to him. I will be here in this hallway to make sure that neither of you leave the room until you've figured this out. Clear?"
"Clint doesn't want to-"
"Clint doesn't get a choice, Darcy. Neither do you."
Darcy vaguely wondered why Natasha had even learned to fight. If she was this scary when she was trying to be friendly, how in the world could anyone face her when she was really pissed off?
She didn't dare protest again, so Natasha opened the door, ushered Darcy inside, and then closed the door solidly behind her.
It was a weight room. There were several different weight sets and various machines, but only one occupant of the room besides herself. An occupant who was currently facing away from her, using one of the bench press machines.
"Go away, Tasha." he called, after the door thumped closed.
Darcy thought about calling out to let him know that it was her and not Natasha, but it looked like he was right in the middle of a set, and she wasn't sure if it was a good idea to interrupt him.
Darcy sat on the mat-covered floor against the wall. The longer she watched Clint, the more the emotions she'd been trying to repress all week rose up and tried to choke her. For one thing, it was completely unfair that Natasha and whoever else was behind this would choose the weight room for an intervention. How was Darcy supposed to keep a clear head with Clint over there sweating in his thin white tank top, muscles flexing as he lifted weights that were probably heavier than Darcy?
It was a fantastic to watch - but terrible, too. It was so unfair that the one guy who seemed perfect for her only wanted her for her stupid fucking babysitting skills - skills she'd only developed for him. It made her feel stupid and pathetic. All those months she'd enjoyed all their banter, and she'd loved just being with him whether they were cooking, or eating, or just hanging out with the others. She could've been happy if she'd just been able to keep that - but no, he'd taken that away from her too. She'd been missing him so much. She missed his jokes, and his smile, and they way he'd look at her as if she mattered to him.
God, she wanted to matter to him. So badly.
But she hadn't. Because as soon as she'd drawn the line at dating as payment for babysitting services, he'd cut her out of his life.
"Tash, if you're just going to stand here - Darcy?"
Clint had apparently finished his set and turned around while Darcy was staring off into space. He jogged over and crouched down in front of her.
"Darcy, what's wrong? What happened?"
He looked almost afraid, but Darcy had no idea why.
"What do you mean?"
"You're crying... why are you crying?"
Darcy reached up and touched her cheeks, surprised, and a little embarrassed to find that they were wet. "Sorry, I didn't realize... Nothing's wrong."
Clint was still searching her face, almost as if he wasn't sure whether or not to believe her.
"Seriously, I'm fine. I was just thinking." Darcy scrubbed at her cheeks, and tried to rub her eyes dry with her hands. She was so glad she wasn't wearing makeup.
Clint went over to a bag against one of the walls, and grabbed a couple small towels. He handed one to her, and draped the other over his neck, dabbing at the sweat on his face.
"What're you doing here?"
Darcy took a moment to hold the towel against her face, both drying any residual wetness, and inhaling the smell of Clint. He still smelled good, damn him.
"Natasha sent me in here. Said it was an intervention. We talk, or we don't leave."
Clint dropped down to sit on the floor in front of her.
"I'm sorry she did that. I - I guess I haven't been handling this very well. It's not your fault - I'm just - I have a hard time with rejection. I - shit, Darcy, I've liked you for so long, you know? And I get that you're not interested. I respect that. But I can't just turn my feelings off, and I didn't want to push you, so I thought I'd give you some space... at least until I could get ahold of myself."
"What the hell are you talking about? I mean really, what the hell... is this - did you hit your head on a mission or something?"
"What? No... what are you talking about?"
Darcy took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm going to start from the beginning and lay out all the facts. That way we can speak logically. And make sense."
She waited for him to nod before continuing. "All right. I met you. We got along great. We became friends. You always made it clear that you liked me as a friend. Just a friend. Even though I was swooning over you left and right, you clearly weren't going to go there. So I respected that. And then Daniel came into the picture, and I bought baby books and tried to figure it all out... and then suddenly, out of the blue, you asked me out. You never wanted me until I became the babysitter."
"No, Darcy. Here are the facts: we met, and I liked you right away. You were funny, you were smart, and you really seemed to get me. Not many people get me. The more time I spent with you, the more I liked you, but I held back because I knew I had baggage. You may not have known about Daniel, but I did. I wasn't going to take the next step with you unless you were okay with Daniel - it wouldn't have been fair. And I was going to tell you about him, but his mother died before I could, and then he was with me... it was a lot for me to deal with all of a sudden. But you were still there, being your awesome self the whole time, and I swear I knew right then that I loved you. That's why I asked you -oomph!"
Darcy's lips crashing into Clint's cut off the rest of his sentence, and the momentum pushed Clint back to flop down on the mat, with Darcy on top of him.
Clint's lips responded right away, and once they were on the mat, Darcy felt one of his hands reach up to cup the back of her head, and the other curled around her back.
Darcy was completely oblivious to everything else for a few minutes until...
"Oh ew! Clint!" Darcy finally realized that Clint was completely wet with sweat, and it was soaking into her shirt, too.
She tried to pull back a little, but he pulled her tighter to him and held her with both arms.
"I've missed you so much, Darcy. You have no idea. I'm not letting you go."
Darcy lifted her head to stare into his eyes. "I love you, but if you don't let me go I'm going to hurt you."
Clint's smile was brilliant. "Say that again!"
"I'm going to hurt you."
He laughed. "No, the other part."
"I love you, Clint, and I've missed you like crazy, but please don't make me go back to work all sweaty."
Clint finally let go and sprung to his feet, pulling Darcy up too. "I'm pretty sure interventions get you excused from work."
He walked over to the door, opened it, and poking his head out called, "Hey Tash, Darcy's excused from work today, right?"
Darcy heard Natasha's voice float back from somewhere down the hall, "Of course."
Then Clint let the door fall shut again with a grin. In two strides, he was back to Darcy. "Looks like we've got all day, sweetheart."
Darcy reached up, wrapped her arms around Clint's neck, and jumped up, letting Clint catch her legs.
"I guess I can get a little sweaty, then."
That's it, folks. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. By the way, while writing this part, I took a break to make a little graphic for the story. If you want to check it out, you can find it at the top of part 1. Clint and Darcy are so cute together. :)
Thanks for reading!