It’s a common enough sight in the living room; Darcy on the phone, barely getting a word in. It’s the sort of conversation that tends to draw out anyone within earshot. When you live with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (trademarked by Stark), earshot has a very wide radius.
“Mom, no, I’m not going. No. Because Abigail hates me. Yes she does. Remember when I was fourteen and she and Ronnie took me out shopping? I was so excited and they stole my clothes out of the dressing room then ran off, and I didn’t have enough money to buy new clothes and get home? Yeah, they hate me mom. They think…yes, they think the same way Aunt Therese does. Yes…yes mom.” Darcy has stopped pacing the room and has stopped at a mirror on the wall. She checks her hair, moving a few pieces around nervously, “I know she’s having it there, Mom. I’ve been there for a SHIELD banquet. It’s very nice. I’m pretty sure she only invited me because I live in the city. I don’t need…I know I’m doing very well, anyone would say so….even Aunt Therese. Yeah, I have something I could wear. Yes, mom, it shows off the girls.”
Darcy looks in the mirror and watches herself capitulate as her mother says something about showing some Lewis pride, “Okay, okay, I’ll go. No, no, he’s out of town. Business trip, yeah mom, he does go on a lot of those. It’s the life. No, I’ll go to Abby’s engagement party. I still have the RSVP. Yeah, love you too Mom, bye.”
She ends the call, sighing while rolling her eyes, “Okay, whoever is there can come out now.”
Pepper peeks from behind the couch, and that one is a surprise. Natasha appears out of nowhere directly behind Darcy, and okay, that one was not a surprise. Because Natasha has a sixth sense for whenever Darcy is on the phone with her mother. Says it’s the best familial relationship she is aware of. Which is really pathetically true once you look over the people that SHIELD employs and worse when you look at the Avengers.
Pepper walks over to a rather large painting and pulls it sideways to reveal an inset. She reaches in blindly and pulls out a bottle and says, “Hey, would you look at that, whiskey,” before returning the painting to it’s original position.
“I knew there was a reason you were my favorite.”
“I mostly keep them around for when Tony gets impossible.”
“I’m amazed you can keep them in stock,” says Natasha from the kitchen, glasses clicking together. They both converge on Darcy, twin expressions of dangerous concern. Natasha hands out the glasses and Pepper pours shots.
Well, if an opportunity shows itself at, good lord, three in the afternoon, Darcy isn’t stupid. She’s going to do shots of very fine alcohol with two badass women. It’s just all that is right and natural in the world.
Two or three shots later and Darcy starts explaining today’s phone call. “My cousin Abigail is getting married to some Investment banker or something. I was invited to the Engagement party. You know who still has engagement parties? Rich people, that’s who, and it’s at some club…”
“Which one?” Pepper asks, and Darcy unfolds an invitation from her back jeans pocket and hands it over. Darcy owns a weeks worth of jeans, all in various states of hole development. These are the nice ones. Holes are just developing. Pepper gives a whistle, “Ahh, society types. I think Tony got one of these too.”
Darcy snorts, “There’s the Lewis family for you. The only good part of being in this family was the college fund, which was the only way I got to go to Culver.”
“What, was your father disowned?” Natasha asks.
“Close. He decided that instead of following his brother’s lead and going to work for whatever startup Grandpa was heading at the time, he’d become a math teacher. And then he met my mother, and married beneath himself.”
Of course, Darcy’s mother isn’t exactly the definition of class, but that’s pretty much why Dad fell for her. Darcy’s mother is authentic and devious. She owns who she is, and Darcy owes a lot of herself to that role model. But even that falls flat against Uncle Patrick’s wife, Therese. She’s the only person that makes mom lose herself. Everything she’s worked hard to accomplish, from raising Darcy, who was always a handful (“All adventure and backtalk and skinned knees, my little girl”) and the volunteer work at the Rotary Club and the VA, and getting her first full-time job as an office manager when she’s 45. All of that means nothing to the rest of the Lewis family.
They see a woman with big hair who lured Daniel to the backwater of Virginia to settle down and teach in a small school district, and not even try to be at least an administrator. They don’t see the proud mother, because as much as Darcy bitches about her mother, mom’s her cheerleader. She’s the first girl on mom’s side to finish college. And Darcy hates that her aunt and uncle can make her feel so small.
“And all of my cousins have inherited my aunts attitude and applied it straight at me. I’m low-class, cheap, not that bright and backwater,” she ticks off on her finger, ”Family reunions are tense.”
“Why do you even go?” asks Pepper, “They sound terrible.”
“Most of the rest of the family is okay. Grandma Lewis is lovely. And Abby can occasionally act like a human being. But Ronnie and Patricia haven’t a kind bone in their body.”
“Wait, Ronnie Lewis thinks you are a low-class?” Pepper laughs into her hand, “Someday, I will write you a book of stories.”
Grinning, Darcy holds her to that promise, adding, “I’m sure I’m only invited because I live in the city and even they can’t snub me like that.”
“But they won’t expect you to actually attend.” Natasha states. Because Natasha likes saying the obvious from time to time to keep everyone else on their toes, “So why go?”
“Mom thinks I should be proud of myself.”
“You should be proud of yourself,” Clint says over the spotty phone connection. There’s a not-very distant thunderstorm audible, and he’s been cutting in and out over the last few minutes.
“I am proud of myself,” Darcy repeats for like the fifth time today, Jesus, “I’ve got a one of a kind job, I’m quite often in bed with an Avenger, if you were ever home, and yes that is where my brain is today, and I have the same shoe size as Pepper, which has seriously changed my life.”
“You know, I never see Pepper walking around in your scuffed up Doc Martens.” Clint points out.
“I’m just saying that two out of three of these things are things I am not allowed to talk about. And you know who made these rules? Me. Because I handle the covers.”
“And all I’m saying is that your shoe relationship is entirely one-sided.”
Clint’s working some field op, someplace cold and wet if the slight chattering sound she’s hearing is accurate. She’s not sure where that is right now, because the actual op is above her pay grade, but she knows enough. He’s the handler this time, not the asset, and he doesn’t have to maintain radio silence. It’s a nice change of pace to hear from him every few days.
“It’s that…I spent a month with them when I was fifteen and it nearly destroyed me. Voluntarily spending time with them is not my idea of a good time.”
“So go and eat all of their food.” Clint suggests.
“This does not solve a problem.” Darcy says, slowly.
“Walk in with confidence and act like they’ve never wronged you. It should be easy for you because of all that you are and do, even if you can’t say it. Inhabit that.”
“Super spy tips from Clint Barton?” she teases, “I wish you were home. I could use some eye candy to walk around with at the party.”
“That’s not a tip, that is a life skill,” he lofts back. “I wish I could, you’d be great to show off. Cute little dress, Pepper’s shoes, every inch of you…”
The phone cuts out. She knows he won’t try to call back, most of the calls have ended this way, and the signal just leaves and doesn’t come back for a while. What’s unsaid is important, but it’s known well enough.
It’s not like Darcy feels ashamed of where she came from, because she doesn’t. She had a good roof over her head, and good teachers. She can ride a horse, take care of feral cats, and she’s not squeamish about much, because once you have to help field dress a deer a few times, nothing much phases you. And thinking back, maybe watching Tommy pull back his fathers hunting bow in the eighth grade, and sees the beginning of well-made shoulder muscles, was an unholy influence on what she thinks is hot.
The cousins didn’t see all the good stuff. They saw rusty cars and empty spaces, and people in patchy jeans and flannel. They didn’t see Darcy through her dusty knees and tree climbing. City girls, mom called them, and just waved them by when they were forced to visit. They couldn’t deal with her world. So maybe now as an adult, she can make it in theirs.
Darcy does not have a closet that others look at and sigh at the pretty. No, people look in her closet and sigh in frustration. She has a handful of dresses, but only one that she’s had to buy since she graduated, because one of her covers had her attending Stark Industries charity fundraisers with Jane. She can go to Pepper for shoes, but dresses are an entirely different and hilarious thing. But Pepper does assure her that the red v-neck bandage dress is still styling, and that Darcy does indeed rock every inch of it.
Darcy Lewis can play in the big leagues. She keeps the rest simple, because her curves are accessories enough, and Pepper throws a pair of shoes at her that make her weep and she didn’t even look to see who they were from.
She refuses to use SHIELD resources to get over there, so she calls a cab. She’s been there before and she’s been all over, now but beautifully decorated halls still leave her breathless, because when she was growing up, renting out the VA hall was the pinnacle of good taste, and you can only cover over so many pictures of old men. So at a beautiful venue, she always takes a moment to look and appreciate.
Here, she sees the hall decorated not in SHIELD’s typical minimalism, but on just this side of gaudy. Abby always was found of sky blue. A nighttime party that looks like a summers day is strange, but she likes the pale glow from the tables, and how it makes the tablecloth shimmer.
“Darcy, I can’t believe you were able to make it.” Aunt Therese says from behind her, laying a hand on her arm to get attention, “Your momma always says that you are married to your work.”
“Well, science doesn’t discover itself,” Darcy says through a smile.
“And look at you, why, I haven’t seen you in three years and you look so,” she struggles for a word, “like a woman ought.”
Like a woman ought? Aunt Therese is a rail post with implants, what does she know. Women ought to look so many different ways.
“Children grow up, Aunt Therese.” Darcy points out, but Therese moves onto the next new arrival.
“And some of us grew up more than others,” Ronnie comes from the other side, boho-chic and gorgeous as she’s always been. She has a couple of friends with her, women that Darcy recognizes vaguely, but she can’t remember if it’s from when they were kids or from gossip rags, ”Someone’s been generous to you. Do you have his card?”
“You know how they always tell you to drink your milk? That’s my secret,” Darcy quips, “Veronica, it’s a pleasure.”
“Janice, Sammie, this is my cousin Darcy. She works at…well that just popped out of my mind, what are you doing these days? You graduated, right? It’s okay if you didn’t, I know how things happen where you are from.”
“SHIELD, I work at SHIELD. I’m a lab assistant.”
Ronnie looks Darcy up and down, “Didn’t you have an internship like that?”
Darcy doesn’t remember telling that to any of her cousins, but figures it traveled down the family line from her mom, “Yeah, with Dr Foster. Apparently she couldn’t live without me.”
“It must be so hard to work so much,” Sammie says, “I mean, I’m just swamped volunteering at the Cancer Society. I couldn’t imagine having to go into an office everyday.”
“Oh, what kind of volunteering do you do at the Cancer Society?” It’s the first time she’s ever heard of any of Ronnie’s friend doing any sort of work. Ronnie certainly doesn’t.
“I do their interior designing,” Sammie gushes, “I just love being able to use my talents in such a useful way.”
Sammie makes small talk, and Darcy is grateful for not having to think for a little while. But she looks around and realizes that the women her age are all wearing that sort of boho-chic look that makes Darcy look like a tent. A big layered tent with ruffles.
Abigail comes by, and she’s sweet and distracted but says, “Are you here alone?” she glances around, “I did include the plus one on the invites, right?”
Darcy isn’t quite sure if this is Abigail just being distracted with the whole party or a jab, “My boyfriend couldn’t make it.”
“Oh, what a pity.” Ronnie says, and Sammie and Janice walk off together, chattering inanely, “Have you been together long?”
“A year, but he’s…away a lot, so it feels like less and more at the same time.”
Ronnie is smirking pretty openly at this point now, in-between taking sips of wine, “Sure he is. And what does he do?”
My boyfriend kicks alien ass, defeats crime, and can shoot that ridiculous feather off of your head without killing you, she thinks. But there are covers for a reason. Ronnie takes her silence for something else.
“Ah, so your boyfriend isn’t the working type?” Ronnie says, “Is he the existing type?”
“Ronnie!” Abigail admonishes, “That’s not a nice thing to say.”
“What? I bet it’s true. I mean, didn’t you say that you addressed her invitation to Stark Tower? It’s Darcy, and she gets her mail delivered to work.” It takes real composure to not throw someone else’s drink into Ronnie’s face, but she manages it. She’s growing up. “And any boyfriend she can attract, is probably not the sort you could bring anywhere. If he even sticks around. Boys interested in that,” and she waves her hand around Darcy’s chest, “never do.”
Darcy hides a smile behind a hand, “Oh Ronnie, it’s not like you’d know from experience, would you? Excuse me, I think I see someone else I know.”
She’s walking away, making sure to exaggerate her hips just a bit, and decided to go with Clint’s other suggestion and eat their food. Abigail is practically scolding Ronnie, who doesn’t seem to care a wink for it. She grabs herself a glass of wine off of a waiter, and a smattering of little tiny desserts; she takes a break for the balcony.
There’s a small group out here too, a few smokers, but also a boisterous woman seemingly holding court. Cousin Patricia is the only of her cousins to hold something close to a real job after college but before having children, and Darcy occasionally considers her an ally at family reunions, being the working Lewis’s.
“Sometimes I think these Avengers do more damage than the things they are protecting us from. Rich has had to repair the facade on the office three times already, and our insurance can’t decide whether or not to cover it. They say something about Acts of God not being the same thing as acts of a god or something like that.”
If Thor were here, he’d be begging forgiveness and offering to make amends and fix the damn building by hand. But she can’t say any of that, so she keeps her mouth shut for a moment. The group is murmuring in agreement and telling their own stories, and really, she hangs out with Tony. She lives with Tony, she should be used to people who can buy and sell half of New York in a day, but it’s surreal when a good heart, genius, and a shiny metal suit do not back it up.
“Darcy! Don’t you work at SHIELD? Have you met any of these Avengers?” Patti says, almost good-naturedly, “Are any of them worthwhile?”
Darcy straightens herself out, having slumped a little bit, “All of the ones I’ve met have been excellent people.”
Patti laughs, “I think that’s my dear cousin’s way of saying she hasn’t met any of them.”
Darcy doesn’t want to create a scene. She’s in polite company, where she was supposed to be witty and confident and try to make peace with her family. But screw that, her family doesn’t have any use for her, so why should she have a use for them?
She’s about to walk out and report back to Mom that the Lewis family can eat a bag of dicks when she catches sight of a familiar hue of red hair. Pepper is mingling through the crowd, laughing and talking and she catches Darcy’s gaze and winks. She sees Abigail and Daniel stop Pepper, but only has time to feel the jerk as Ronnie sweeps an arm into hers and drags her over, saying in a faux friendly voice, “There is someone I absolutely have to introduce you to, Darce.” Ronnie leads her over to; yep this is predictable, to where Pepper, Abby and Daniel are talking.
“You really don’t need to do that, Ronnie.” She deadpans quietly.
“Pepper Potts! It’s so wonderful to see you again.” Veronica says enthusiastically, “Have you met my cousin -”
“Darcy!” Pepper interrupts, bending over to kiss Darcy’s cheeks.
“Oh, so you have met?” Ronnie says nervously.
“Of course I know Darcy. That dress is still amazing dear, but we really must go out again, we can bring Natalie too. She’s in dire need of retail therapy. I didn’t realize that you were a member of those Lewis’s Darcy. I would have dragged you along on more social functions sooner, instead of trying to get, well, you know.”
“That’s quite alright Pepper, I’m pretty fond of my already unique social group.”
“Tony!” Pepper calls out, hamming it up just a little bit, “Look who I ran into.”
“I expected to run into Daniel Parks here, Pep. It’s his party after all.” Tony says before turning around, and Tony forgets to act for a damn moment, his eyes sparkle at her. It’s very disconcerting, because usually that means there’s a lot of paperwork that she needs to do. “Darcy! Everyone, you should see this amazing creature.” He picks up Darcy’s hand and guides in a twirl, “These two women beside me here keep my heart and my head safe.”
“Safe from yourself, Tony, only from yourself.” Darcy mutters between a tight smile, as Tony twirls her again.
Patricia has come in from the balcony to see what all the fuss is about, and Ronnie whispers something in Patricia’s ear.
“I’m sorry, speak up!” Tony says, “It’s uh…”
“Veronica,” Pepper says primly.
“Yes, Veronica, you look familiar Veronica, but that’s probably not for mixed company, what were you saying there about Darcy? You are family after all, I’m sure it’s something wonderful.”
“Oh god, Tony, you really don’t…”
“No, it’s important to let others speak in a conversation, Darcy. Natalie is always telling me to let her speak, so I should let Betty—”
“Veronica” says Pepper, the perfect straight woman in high priced shoes.
“Veronica, thank you Pep, speak,” finishes Tony.
Ronnie’s gone the full deer in the headlights. She’s also never been so dull-witted; “I was just saying that it’s amazing how our dear cousin has gotten so high in the world.”
“Ah, well, taser a god in the desert, and you’d be amazed what happens.”
Darcy says, “Tony! Ixnay on the asertay”
Pepper says, “Tony, not now.”
“What better time, Pep?”
“Classified!” Darcy spits out a little too loudly and throwing her hands up, let the whole party think she’s crazy, because really, Tony Stark.
“Why would a lab assistant be classified, Darcy? It’s fantastic that you’ve gotten to know these two, but you shouldn’t bill yourself higher than you are.” Ronnie derides with a smile.
“Lab assistant?” Tony turns to Darcy, “You mean that all this time you’ve been handling my press releases, you are really just a lab assistant?”
“I’m sorry, he’s really going to do this now,” Pepper says at the same time. It’s really unnerving how well they can do that. Say entirely different things at the same time, and you get this layered but unified voice.
“So what, she’s not a lab assistant?” Daniel says, bemused by the whole exchange going on in front of him. A little private show by the Stark Industry players, just for his engagement party.
“Darcy’s a handler for the Avengers.” Tony simply answers, “Really Darcy, you can be more creative with your covers than that.”
“The best covers are the ones people are most likely to believe.” Leave it to Tony Stark to blow her cover for her and make a giant scene at a family event where she is already being manhandled by her cousins in a way that makes her wish she was the one with a robot suit, “And now I have to do damage control on myself.”
“No you don’t.” Pepper says sweetly, “You were about to be de-classified, be the public face for the Initiative.” Her phone buzzes, “Excuse me, I need to take this.” And turns around and steps away from the fray.
Darcy considers this a moment, and the advent of yet another job responsibility sucks, but Patricia is looking at her with horrified awe, like she’s Dream Job Barbie. Even Ronnie shuts up and Abby….Abby hugs her, “Oh my god, Darcy, that’s an amazing job.”
It’s probably the most awkward hug ever, Darcy does not even know how to respond, she just lets Abby finish what’s she’s started before saying slowly, ”I enjoy it. When my assets aren’t being idiots. And between the lot of you, that’s not very often.”
“Who is your favorite?” Abby says, pulling on Darcy’s arm. Her life has slipped passed weird into surreal.
“Black Widow. She knows when to shut up.”
“Abigail, I hope you don’t mind an extra guest. Our friend just arrived back in the states. So we are plus two. Well, really, he’s more Darcy’s plus one.”
“Pepper…” Darcy says warily, “Pepper, what did you do?”
If Pepper ever decided that being on the side of good (or at least, the lesser of evils) wasn’t up to her standards and turn into a supervillian, the world would be screwed. The least of the problem would be that the Avengers would go with her, because really, Pepper fucking Potts.
Clint sneaks up on them, because he’s Clint and if he can make a dramatic entrance, he will do so, “Hey sweetheart.” He says, grinning like a loon and putting an arm around Darcy’s waist, pulling her in for a kiss on the side of her temple. For a man who lives in uniforms, he cleans up nicely in a tailored grey suit. Nondescript, but that is Clint’s style most of the time. Flashy is for ops where he needs to be seen, and if he needs to escort Natasha around.
“Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere I shouldn’t know about right now?” Darcy asks, and she can feel the blush go straight from her cheeks to her chest.
“Got bored, came home. Heard there was this party that I just had to go to.” He pauses a moment, and then, leaning forward, reaches out for Ronnie’s hand. His suit is more wrinkled than it should be, white dust on the one spot on his back that she knows he can’t reach by himself, “Hi, I’m Clint Barton, you have to be one of the cousins.” He looks over at Darcy to confirm, “Veronica?” he asks.
Darcy is more than a little sure that Clint’s already got all of her cousin’s life stories memorized, and that Pepper found all the information for him with Natasha and that her life should be made into a movie. Because she’s living the perfect romantic comedy right now.
“She goes by Ronnie, ” Abby says, because Veronica does not say a word, just takes Clint’s hand and shakes it nervously, “That’s Patricia,” she gestures to the oldest cousin, “and I’m Abby. And my fiancé, Daniel.”
“A pleasure to meet you all.” His eyes shine; charming smile, all a lie, but a lie for her and that’s just awesome.
“Will you excuse us?” Darcy says, trying not to push Clint along with her, but hey, physical comedy will suit this movie perfectly. She leads him to the balcony, where he has the audacity to dips his head and move from side to side. “So how long were you hiding?”
He mimics Aunt Therese’s voice, “ …look so like a woman ought.” He places his hands on the curve of her hips and Darcy wraps her arms around his neck, and they rest their foreheads together for a moment. The closeness is more intimate than a kiss would be right here, more solace then need and want could outweigh, “You look like my woman ought, I know that.”
Darcy laughs into his mouth, kissing the breath out of him. Let society balk at the impropriety of it all, because it would only take the four of them five minutes to destroy everyone in the room, if they felt like it.
“I can’t believe you all. I could have done it on my own.”
“You would have, eventually, but this was a lot more fun for me.” He shrugs, still holding tight on Darcy, “You don’t have to face bullies alone, I thought you would have figured that out now about us. Steve’s not the only one who hates them.”
“Momma’s going to be so proud, Darcy Lewis has a posse, bitches.”
Clint’s phone starts ringing. They haven’t gone so far as to give them a ringtone that just says Assemble over and over, but the insistent ring means only one thing; trouble.
“I swear to you that this wasn’t part of the plan,” Clint says, looking up from the text. They walk back in together, as Darcy fumbles in her little purse (no matter what size it is, she can never find a thing), and they exchange a look with Tony and Pepper. Tony is already on his phone, furiously typing and getting the details.
“Abigail, I’m sorry we need to leave. Business, you understand. Good luck with the…marriage.” Tony says, distracted and walking away, leading all three of them out of the room. Darcy and Pepper are on their phones in a hot minute, Pepper calling Happy and arranging rides, and Darcy,
“Yes, entering into record incident code 1809. Cause unknown, two with me. How are the rest? Good,” she covers the phone for a second, “Tony! ETA 10 minutes till takeoff!” and then it’s back to entering details, “Do we have a local team in place? Okay, I’ll scramble foxtrot and hotel; they should be nearest to the scene. No, I’m heading back to base, I’ll oversee from there.” Clint’s got her by the hand, a small touch, a reminder of everything to come back for.
They pass Aunt Therese, diminished and confused at the crowd of people craning their necks to watch Stark bicker with Pepper over where he left his suitcase, and Darcy rapid-firing instructions into her phone, conferring with the two men every so often.
“Aunt Therese, I’m so sorry to leave so early. I’ll pass your love onto my father. I know he wishes he could have come, he’s always loved seeing family.” Darcy says, now being pulled by Clint into the hallway.
She’s still in earshot when Aunt Therese says, “That part of the family, always so rude. Who does she think she is?”
Abby responds cheerfully, “She’s with the Avengers.”