Darcy sighed as she dropped her keys in the bowl by her apartment door. Another day wasted, tapping away, mindless data entry in the S.H.I.E.L.D. NYC offices. She’d been here in the city for almost 6 months, following Jane and Thor, upon the strong suggestion of Agent Coulson.
‘Suggestion’ she laughed weakly as she thought about the word. ‘More like threat.’
The agent had been there as Jane packed up her labs in Albuquerque in preparation for the move to New York. Darcy was still working as Jane’s assistant, though she’d graduated several months prior. Sure, astrophysics wasn’t what she’d studied, but she felt at home with Jane and the lab and couldn’t imagine trying to find a job away from them. She’d been sad when Jane had excitedly told her about the invitation to work in the S.H.I.E.L.D. labs, but was at the same time extremely happy for her friend. Jane’s transfer would leave Darcy here in New Mexico house-sitting.
Coulson had pulled her aside as she was helping carry a box out to the waiting van in front of Jane’s. He’d offered her an opportunity to continue assisting Jane at her new facility. The government would even foot the moving expenses and provide her with housing in the city, close to the offices. As he rattled off the S.H.I.E.L.D. benefits, he’d dropped little hints here and there about the alternatives to the job offer, none of which sounded particularly freedom-rich. It was obvious that they felt she had seen too much, but they wouldn’t be able to just make her disappear without finding themselves left with a very disgruntled Dr. Foster.
Not that it would have been particularly hard to convince Darcy to go. She had no family that she kept in contact with, and really no ties to Albuquerque, outside of Jane, to speak of. New York City was a prime location for a new start, especially with government funding. It had taken her less than six hours to pack her few belongings and secure them with the last of Jane’s shipping crates.
Everything had seemed so exciting then. Half a year later Darcy found herself slogging daily through mountains of data. Manila folders brimming with sheafs of hand written notes littered her desk, occasionally collecting in little piles around her chair as well. When she’d been promised the job, she had envisioned Jane and herself in crisp white lab coats, efficiently taking notes on important looking experiments with a breath-taking view of skyline of New York just over their shoulders. Nothing had prepared her for the disappointment that she had walked in to.
Her cubicle, if one could call it that, barely had enough desk space for her monitor and mouse. She was sandwiched between filing cabinets and a support pillar. Her shoulders brushed both each time she left and returned to her desk. The broad expanses of floor to ceiling windows were also noticeably absent from her space. Located in the third level of sub-basement, Darcy felt as if she should don mining gear each time she stepped into the elevator in the morning.
In all seriousness, she could have dealt with her bait-and-switch job a lot more easily if Jane hadn’t been almost completely absent since the relocation. Between fawning over her newly returned Space-God and whatever experiments S.H.I.E.L.D. had her engrossed in, Darcy had only seen Jane a handful of times in the past six months. Even then, she was normally so wrapped up in Thor or calculations, the visits hadn’t really been all that fulfilling.
Darcy dropped her messenger bag next to the love seat as she made her way through the small apartment. It was a plus she supposed. She’d heard all manner of horror stories of young twenty-somethings living in what would equate to a small closet just to be able to say that they lived in the city. Her government appointed digs weren’t deplorable. She had a small living area with a window that looked out onto a park, a serviceable kitchen with a bar that looked into the living space. Her bedroom that could hold a queen bed and she had managed to solve the lack of closet with some inventive shelving from Ikea. It was more than the average young adult with a job as mind-numbing as hers could afford, and for that, she was thankful, but it still wasn’t enough.
Clothing dropped in a trail behind her from the door as she made her way to the bathroom. She passed through the space like a ghost, quietly navigating the small expanse, leaving the lights off as she did. The bathroom had a small window above the antique claw foot tub that let in some light from the street. Still in the diffuse glow of the lamp outside, she turned the taps on and plugged the tub. As the water rose, Darcy sat quietly on the lid of the toilet, staring into the pooling water, her expression flat as her mind wandered.
It didn’t take long for the tub to fill and she reached out, stopping the water. Steam rose from the water as she set her towel down within arm’s reach. She didn’t stop to test the water as she stepped in, slowly submerging herself. The water reached the tops of her shoulders and she let her head loll to the side against the lip of the tub. Her skin had gone rosy from the temperature and a few beads of sweat had broken out on her forehead, but she took no notice, instead staring into the dark hallway as she soaked.
She had only recently started to notice heaviness in her shoulders and chest each day as she left for work and returned in the evenings. Like the heroes that she technically worked with, it felt as if she had a mask of her own when she stepped inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. building. Perky and carefree Darcy obscured the leaden girl that Darcy felt taking over within. It slowly became obvious that this was as good as it was going to get for her. She couldn’t leave S.H.I.E.L.D., not without finding herself tucked away in a secluded cell in some nameless facility. Coulson had made that much clear.
So it was that every morning Darcy turned the key and dropped the tumbler into place, her disguise wrapping itself around her, slowly tightening each day, suffocating her. She almost didn’t seem to mind anymore, as memories of how she was, before she wore it every day, became ever more fuzzy. Even when she was once more safely behind her apartment door with no need to hide and she could finally let the mask drop away, it felt as if there was another just beneath it, gently pushing down the person she was just months ago.
Darcy bent her legs and let her body slide further into the tub, its waters brushing the bottom of her nose. It felt so strange, foreign even, to see herself changing. It was as if her soul had disconnected from her body and she was watching as her form clicked over into some kind of drone-like auto pilot.
‘That must count for something. If I can recognize that something’s wrong, then I can’t be that bad off, right?’ She waited patiently as she posed the question in her mind. Nothing came back, not as if she thought something would though. Frustrated with her own silence, she let the rest of her head slip beneath the still hot water.