Darcy is still pretty fuzzy on how this all happened, but at some point when she wasn't paying attention she and Clint became the official SHIELD lab rats.
At first she'd been psyched to be working for SHIELD – she was recruited right out of college after she finished her PoliSci degree, since she already had "relevant experience" – which Darcy took to mean "God-tasering" – and now she's officially working as a junior analyst under Agent Hill.
Now and then she gets a chance to actually analyze things that have some relation to politics; more often, she's down here in the gym with Clint, trying out all the bizarre inventions that the science nerds dream up in the labs. Agent Hill had nominated her for the duty originally as part of her training; Darcy had protested, at first, that she had no intention of ever being in a situation where she would have to dodge bullets or engage in fisticuffs, but Hill had insisted. "Every SHIELD agent is a potential field agent," she had said, and proceeded to beat Darcy up twice a week until she got better at not getting hit.
Around that time Jane, Bruce, and Tony were looking for someone to test the new personal quasi-invisibility shield they'd developed, and so it was only Darcy's sixth week at SHIELD when she found herself running around the gym, her arms and legs blurry and translucent even to her own eyes, as Agent Barton shot at her with nerf arrows.
"Come on, you can do better than that!" Barton had called, and Darcy, out of breath, muttered a bad word and threw herself into a roll on the mats, then bounded upwards and ducked behind a piece of the obstacle course; that time the nerf arrow actually missed her, though she wondered whether Barton had just missed on purpose to reward her for trying.
Eventually Darcy got tired enough that she gave up and laid down on the cool plastic mat, and Barton, who Darcy had only ever met briefly before the training exercise but who was obviously a complete asshole, strolled up to her casually and shot her six times in the torso.
"Gotcha," he said, grinning, and Darcy rolled her eyes.
"Fine, you win," she sighed, and turned off the not-all-that-invisible-actually invisibility device.
"Oh, hey!" His grin got wider. "You're the new kid."
"Darcy Lewis," Darcy said, and held out her hand. Barton grasped it and used it to pull her to her feet.
"Oh, I know who you are," Darcy said, and flashed him her most disconcerting smile. Barton looked appropriately disconcerted.
"That was great!" came Jane's voice from across the room. "Really fabulous, you guys!" She had just come through the far doors, tablet in hand, with Bruce and Tony trailing after her. Tony was trying to do something on Bruce's tablet while Bruce batted him away ineffectually.
"Plus your radiation levels are within acceptable limits," Bruce added.
"Uh, was that a danger?" Darcy asked. Tony waved the question away like it was a mosquito.
"No no no. The real problem is integrating into different environments, Foster, I'm telling you, Stark Industries played around with this concept for years – "
"Stark Industries didn't have me," Jane interrupted.
"Whatever, we're going to have to tailor the field closer to her body, which means – "
As an argument broke out among them that shifted quickly into utterly-incomprehensible-to-humans territory, Darcy coughed pointedly. No one noticed, so she clapped her hands a few times while yelling "Hey!" over and over. Darcy has had experience dealing with scientists; subtlety doesn't work.
Everyone turned to look at her.
"You're done with us, yeah?"
Jane frowned and looked at her tablet again, Tony started yelling at her about radiation again, and Bruce looked vaguely embarrassed.
"You two can go," he said, while Jane, behind him, shoved her tablet in Tony's face and started pointing emphatically at something on the screen. "Just write up a comprehensive report on your experience with the technology. The more detailed the better."
"Check," Barton said, and they had both hustled out before anyone could change their minds.
When they passed through the doors of the gym, Barton faux-wiped his brow with his arm, even though Darcy had been the one running around.
"That was some good scientist-wrangling back there," Barton said.
"Oh, I have experience. The trick is to treat them like toddlers. Well. Toddlers with weapons of mass destruction."
He laughed. "I'll remember that. We'll see how Tony reacts next time he gets cranky and I tell him it's naptime."
Darcy turned to Barton and took in his sarcastic eye-rolling, his weird little muppet face, and his arms, which were really pretty excellent arms. She smiled at him, making a decision.
"Wanna get coffee and do our homework together?" He looked surprised, but agreed, probably because Darcy was a total fox who was pretty good at dodging nerf arrows.
Coffee was surprisingly great; they ended up just going to the shitty SHIELD commissary, but she and Barton – Clint – had a lot of fun filling out the standard Experimental Technology Testing Results forms and making fun of Tony Stark. Darcy figured that Clint wasn't a complete asshole after all, or that, if he was, he was the kind of asshole she liked.
"Yeah, it's like, we need a sharpshooter to test this, get Barton for it," Clint said. "Never mind that there are like twenty people in the commissary right now who go well beyond expert marksman. They always get me."
"This was my first time testing tech," Darcy admitted. "But I've only been here six weeks."
"Really? What did you do before? Black ops? Experimental testing subject? Super soldier clone?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "You weren't in the circus, were you? You'd be surprised how many people were in the circus. Did you grow up on the streets?"
"I got recruited out of college. I did PoliSci."
There was a long pause, and then Clint asked, "Were your parents killed by a supervillain or something?"
"Not last time I checked," Darcy said warningly. "They live in Dallas. With a dog. Should I be concerned about them getting killed by a supervillain?"
He shrugged. "Not really. We just get a lot of orphans around here."
"Uh-huh. Well, I'm just a junior analyst, no tragic backstory."
"There's something not right about that," Clint muttered darkly, and Darcy laughed.
After that, Darcy finds herself volunteered to tech testing duty more and more often, because Hill tells her that everyone was "impressed with her work." Sometimes she's working with Clint, sometimes with other agents, but generally it involves pretending to be a civilian. Which she sort of still is. Sort of. Her hand-to-hand training is coming quite nicely, if she does say so herself. And she has to say so herself, since Agent Hill never will.
"Yeah, I'm great at running away from things, so I guess I don't mind doing it on a professional basis." Darcy tells her.
Hill smiles at her, that tight dangerous smile that always makes Darcy want to get her a smoothie or a backrub or something. "Then you'll make an exceptional SHIELD agent," she says, and hands her the briefing for their next test.
When Darcy gets to the gym, she finds Clint waiting for her; they haven't worked together in a couple weeks, since the disastrous thing with the tiny robots.
"I requested you specifically," he tells her, when they're setting up to test the portable force-field. He's sharpening an arrow and not looking her in the face. She rolls her eyes.
"That's so sweet. Because of my amazing physical prowess and dexterity, I assume?"
"Nah, just because I'm lazy. It's hard to hit Natasha when she doesn't want to get hit by things."
"I see. So I'm supposed to be the civilian in this situation, huh? The helpless damsel type?"
"Whatever works for you, Lewis. I just shoot arrows."
"I'm getting you a t-shirt that says that, Barton."
"I will wear it," he agrees.
The force-fields are mass produced and kind of cheap – the idea is to be able to issue them to civilians in the event of eg an army of creepy aliens invading midtown – so it actually takes a fair amount of work to get used to using one. It doesn't move like a physical object – there's a delay – and it doesn't cover her whole body, just a little square directly in front of the device. For the first ten minutes, more of Clint's arrows hit her than miss her, which doesn't prevent her from catcalling up to where he's presumably hidden in the rafters.
"That's the best you can do?"
"Watch me, Lewis," comes Clint's answer, which of course reveals his position; Darcy swings her force-field around laboriously and actually manages to block one of his arrows in time. It bounces off the field with a strangely satisfying thud. She laughs just out of the joy of it, and from the rafters she can hear Clint laughing with her.
The whole thing kind of makes her feel like Captain America, a fantasy that she will never admit to anyone but that she's happy to indulge in the privacy of her own mind, swinging the shimmer of air in front of her like a shield and knocking away the arrows that are coming increasingly quickly. She gets better and better as time goes on, but this time when the science dudes come out of the lab they're shaking their heads.
"What?" Darcy demands, "I thought I did pretty good."
"You have like sixteen nerf arrows stuck to your ass," Clint replies, dropping down from the ceiling to land next to her.
"Whatever, I was really getting the hang of it by the end there."
Jane sighs. "Not the point of the device, unfortunately, which is why we didn't have Rogers in here testing it. We'll have to make them bigger."
"Do what you need to do," Darcy says airily, tossing the device at Bruce, who fumbles it for a good four seconds before finally catching it and proceeding to glare at Darcy. "Clint and I will be here when you're ready for Force Fields 2.0."
"Sure," she elbows him in the ribs. "I'm going to request you specifically."
"Did you want to make out with me?" Darcy asks, as they're getting their now-customary post-lab-rats coffee. "I'm only asking because it seems like we could be making out."
"Uh," Clint says, eyes gone wide. "Yes?" Then he looks shifty. "Unless you're too young for me?"
"Okay then," he says. "Um."
"Let's say next Saturday?"
The sex is super great, which is pretty much what Darcy predicted – rough and tumble, talkative, teasing, and god they have fantastic sexual chemistry – and afterwards they take a stroll around Darcy's neighborhood, stopping to get gelato from the gelato place before walking on, bumping up against each other every now and then.
"So Hill's got me assigned to weapons training with Frederickson, who is such a complete schmuckbag that I cannot even deal," Darcy says, licking the tiny pink spoon.
"What? You're not doing weapons training with me?"
"Not that I've noticed."
Clint makes a sad-puppy face, and Darcy laughs at him. Some gelato dribbles down her chin, and he smirks at her and wipes it with his thumb.
"Shut up," she says. "And no, I'm not learning how to shoot a gun from you, Barton, when did you last even hold a gun?"
"I can shoot a gun," he says defensively. "I choose not to."
"I'm sure you can. But you'd be a terrible teacher, you probably don't even remember Beginner's Marksmanship. What were you, three years old at the time? Also I'm not comfortable with all the phallic stuff, a dude I have sex with teaching me to fire a gun."
Clint spreads his arms in mock-outrage, spattering a passerby with gelato droplets. "But you're comfortable doing phallic gun stuff with Frederickson?"
"Ew, no, it's not phallic with Frederickson! She's very no-nonsense."
"It's true that I am a lot more into nonsense," Clint muses.
"And see, that's what I like about you." She leans up, standing on her toes to reach his mouth, and they share a sloppy gelato-y kiss.
Clint pulls back, grimacing. "Ew, what the hell kind of gelato are you eating?"
"Sweetcorn," Darcy sighs happily. "Sweetcorn flavored gelato."
Clint shudders. "You're brushing your teeth before you kiss me again."
The following Monday, they're back in the gym, and this time Darcy's on the attack, using some kind of senses-enhancing tech to try to track Clint down in the dark, through an obstacle course, with tons of background noise masking his movements. Once she gets over the dizziness the device causes, she's able to find him pretty quickly, clinging – predictably – to the top of a jungle-gym thing. She shoots him with her water pistol, per the terms of the game, and apparently Clint is so surprised by this that he loses his balance and falls off onto the floor. She's never seen him look so ungainly – not even on Saturday night, when he was adorably awkward – and she runs to his side, half laughing and half worried sick.
"Hey, hey, Barton, you okay?"
He gives a weak wave from the floor, where he's crumpled with his legs pressed akimbo against the bars of the jungle gym.
"M'fine. I've fallen off lots of things."
"No shit," she says, getting to his side and checking him for head wounds, "that's why you're so stupid. Didn't you think I'd find you?"
"Didn't think you'd find me so fast," he protests.
Darcy sighs. "Well, you're not bleeding copiously that I can see."
"Doesn't mean you can't kiss it better," Clint says, sitting up on his elbows.
"Doesn't mean I'm going to, either," she replies, but does lean in and kiss him, hard, on the mouth. "Asshole, don't scare me like that," she says, and then kisses him again.
Just then the lights come up, the background noises stop, and Jane, Bruce, and Tony come into the room.
"Oh, whoops, shall we just come back later, lovebirds?" Tony asks. He strides towards them, uncaring, tapping quickly at his tablet.
"Darcy, seriously," Jane groans.
"Clint fell. He needs a doctor."
"Well, thank god you were here," Bruce smiles.
Darcy rolls her eyes and helps Clint up off the floor, then lets Tony and Jane pull the senses-enhancing device off her head.
"Ow, ow, ow, Jane, that's my hair, ow – okay, whew. Come on, big guy, we're going to the infirmary."
"Darcy," Clint says seriously, as she steadies his arm and they stumble for the door, "I hope you won't let this one little incident get in the way of our lab rat relationship."
"Don't worry, buddy," she sighs. "I'll keep shooting you with water pistols for as long as you want. At least until you learn not to fall down when I do."
"I'm a lucky man," Clint intones.
"You have a head wound," Darcy mutters, but drops a kiss onto his shoulder anyway, smiling.