It's Okay to Have Relationships Outside of Work
"But would I have to, like, have a stash of amnesia pills or be prepared to shoot them if I said too much, or..."
"I assure you, Lewis," says Coulson, "It is 'okay' to have relationships outside of work. Don't talk shop, tell them your work is confidential for a bank, and buy them icecream when they're good. You'll be golden."
Darcy hesitates, "What flavour?"
The senior agent just looks at her, his face mild with the patination of his years. Then he smiles, and says, "I trust your judgement, Lewis. Go have fun. Shoo." He packs up the last of the folders on his desk into a briefcase and levers himself out of his office chair with a knobbled black walking stick.
"If only I could," mutters Darcy, watching him leave. SHIELD is still killing her social life. She seems to have gotten over some kind of hump in the extensive physical training regime they make her do or, to put it another way, went from bone-aching exhaustion to jumping out of her skin overnight - but the hours, the hours! Her supervisor might be getting off work early (the sly dog), but Darcy started her shift around sunset, and by the time she gets away the social scene will be reduced to people vomiting pathetically in alleys, pretty much. And Mrs Lewis's little girl has some kind of standards. Still has some standards.
Well. Had standards. The newfound energy welling inside with not enough to dip from it is pushing at those standards just a little bit right now. Man, Darcy hasn't had a good dipping in over a year.
She snugs down in her corner desk and tries to get interested in the personal phone traffic of Latverian dictators' personal assistants' assistants' best friends' aunties.
A while later, Senior Agent Hill (tall, elegant Agent Hill, with eyebrows like black wings - agh!) pokes her head in the door and says, "Coulson's already gone? I need him to sign off on these." She shoves some files in Darcy's general direction.
She looks at Darcy consideringly, then says, "Take your time. The courier doesn't leave until three."
Darcy stops her foot from vibrating discreetly under the desk, salutes Senior Agent Hill, and packs up for another round of Crosstown Confidential Document Gallop.
Half an hour later, Darcy has departed the small and bland building which houses SHIELD in New York City, laundered her route and shaken at least a few hypothetical tails, and remembered why CCD Gallop is so much more fun on a summer's afternoon. She's glad she has her grandma's cunning woollen hat. She's clumping glumly along the icy street when, from what she thought was just a shadow on the wall, hands grab her collar and haul her into an obscured nook.
Darcy is quick, that quickness has been honed in many gruelling training sessions, and alarm gets her taser out of her leg-holster very quickly indeed - but her assailant grips her weapon hand and twists, and she ends up pinned. The taser drops, the cunning hat knocked from her head is swept out of sight, and the man holding her pats at her shoulder and hisses, "Shhsh, hush, hushup Lewis, it's me, Barton. Now shush, she's coming."
Barton is short for a man, but even so, he has a good head of height on Darcy. She stands on tippy-toe to peer over his shoulder and eye up the woman approaching Coulson's apartment building. She is tall, walks with a graceful sway, and is clad in soft clothes of many bright colours. Darcy feels a brief, savage twinge of height envy. "That's an awfully big instrument case she's carrying," she breathes.
"Does it have, like, awfully big weaponry inside?" He shrugs, non-committally. Darcy pauses for a moment to savour the smell of wool and leather, and the heat radiating off him, even through the coat.
"Is she going to kill him? Is Coulson in trouble?"
"No," says Barton seriously, gazing intently out into the street. "He has a date."
"When you said, 'has a date,' I thought you meant some kind of SHIELD jargon for meeting a contact or something." Darcy looks down from the mezzanine of the family restaurant to the main floor where Coulson is chatting amiably with the woman at a table for two. "Instead, you really meant he has a date."
"Yeah," answers Barton. He proffers a wad of cash at a passing waitress and asks her to shift some of the ornamental trees (sightlines), and get some of those little candles in dishes for Coulson's table (so cute!). "What else would it be?"
Down on the floor, Coulson gently touches the woman's hand where it rests on the table. He's wearing a suit, but it's different from work (there's an elaborate code to his suit-wearage which Darcy has yet to master). The couple laugh gently together.
Murmuring in her ear, Barton explains: "Coulson always goes for musicians. Nobody understands a professional obsessive like a clasically trained muso."
Darcy recalls gossip of the salacious and entertaining kind, from her early days with the Avengers - "Barton," she says with gentleness, "do you want to be down there?"
"Hmm?" He shifts his focus from the couple on the floor to look at her gestures with bemusement. "That'd cramp the date a bit, don't you think?"
"But do you want to...?" Darcy tries to make her gestures more explicit. Or obscene.
"Oh, do I want to fuck Coulson? Hell no, that'd be weird." He goes back to his vigilance, adding a venomous glance to the noisy family party near the romantic couple.
"Uh, sorry." Darcy takes another sip from her glass.
He adds, holding up an explanatory finger, "Plus, when I play with myself, I think of women. With really -" His hands move to describe.
Darcy thinks, with longing, of the time when she was the one who made people splutter with just a little too much information. When did I get old? she wonders, sorrowfully.
"You two are both very stupid," says Natasha severely. Darcy jumps and wonders how long the red-headed spy lady had been sitting comfortably in the booth with them.
Natasha is wearing a soft white dress with red flowers printed on it that flutters softly as she takes the documents case and walks graciously down the stairs to the main floor. Darcy takes a moment to meditate again on the mystery of Natasha's Stealth Perfume, which only becomes apparent after she's gone, and tonight breathes of wine and strawberries.
Natasha looks impossibly young and demure as she approaches Coulson and his date. She gets him to sign the paperwork, talks a little with the pair of them, and then kisses the woman lightly on the cheek.
"Theodora Ramotswe," she says baldly when she returns. "On loan from the Cairo Philharmonic."
"On it," says Barton, tapping furiously at his dedicated Shield phone.
Natasha hands Darcy a little plastic baggy with a long, dark, springy hair inside. "Could you be a sweet and run this through the lab when you get back to headquarters? Standard tox screen, and get the dna on file. Thanks."
She turns to Barton: "Another cellist?"
"Bassoon," he replies.
"Good wind," she says approvingly, "I like that in a woman." Darcy pours her a margarita from the jug, and Natasha explains, "Coulson always goes for musicians: nobody understands 'married to your workmates' like an old orchestra hand."
Natasha seizes the phone and peers at the screen. "Initial background check looks good," she says doubtfully.
"They always do - at first," replies Barton sepulchurally.
"Remember Munich?" Natasha asks fondly.
"I don't remember doing this in Munich," says Barton. He frowns, "I had a date, though. She stood me up." His eyebrows scrunch together a little more. "... Natasha? What happened to Elise?"
"She went to live on a farm and is very happy," Natasha says mechanically.
"Seriously. Lots of cows and grass and fresh air. Some kind of machinery her cousin repaired." Natasha's dark eyes narrow. "It was suggested that her stash of rohypnol would be less troublesome, there."
The corners of Barton's mouth sag. "Oh well," he sighs, and holds out his glass to Darcy. "Another margarita?"
It's late, now, and Darcy is feeling a warm glow she probably shouldn't in what is still, technically, working hours. Across the table Barton has rigged a catapult out of spoons and string and is using it to toss ice chips in a high parabola to land in the collar of a woman with offensively strong perfume. Natasha gazes through green leaves at the happy couple with the inscrutability of a cat.
Darcy says, "So, super spy seduction secrets, huh?" and feels proud for managing all the sibilants in that sentence.
"No," says Natasha, "those techniques are more, 'whatever it takes to get the job done'." Her eyelids dip briefly. "It can be hard to gear down, to only... invite intimacy, instead of kidnapping it. Coulson's good," she says, with simple respect.
"Nat," interrupts Barton, "they're skipping dessert and going straight to coffee."
"Skipping the sweets? Ooh, he really likes her. Bags point!" she says, disappearing in another flutter of perfume.
Later, as she and the sniper follow Coulson and the woman discreetly down the street, Darcy realises, with a little horror, what being let into this friendly stalking party really means - because, face it, Natasha and Barton are both very pretty people and Darcy, as a healthy young woman, has had thoughts. And more thoughts. And some pleasant, if crowded, dreams. But no, they had to turn her into a buddy. Darcy's a buddy, now. And it looks like, in this crowd, buddies aren't getting -
"Grargh," she says, in lieu of bashing her head against the wall.
Barton puts a companionable hand on her shoulder as they walk. "So, Darce," he says, "any young man caught your eye? Or lady? Person of indeterminate gender...?"
"Grargh," she says, eloquently.
It's okay to have relationships outside of work. (Work has you covered.)
"Coulson, Coulson, Coulson," says Darcy, dangling a box of donuts just out of her supervisor's reach, "Why do you really go for musicians?"
"Attention to detail, good rhythm, and very strong hands," he says, lunging and plucking the box away from her with unexpected vim. "Mmm, strawberry frosting..."