After having seen Clint’s immaculate (though perhaps sparse was more accurate) apartment, Darcy was feeling a little self-conscious in spite of the whirlwind tour through her apartment to “tidy up” a bit; throwing away pizza boxes and picking clothes off the floor. She arranged Einstein’s dog bed in a cozy corner of the living room and set his bowls with food and water on the floor in her kitchen. Einstein went about the apartment, smelling everything.
“I think it may be a few hours while he explores everything,” Darcy said absently in between kicks she was giving a pair of shoes to get them into her bedroom and out of the living room. Clint said nothing, but his eyes seemed to follow her and the pup and there was no question in Darcy’s mind that he was able to keep up with them both. Darcy got extra sheets and blankets out of her little linen closet (slash storage closet) and took them to the couch. She started pulling the pillows off the couch, but Clint stopped her.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said.
“It’s one of those pull out sofas.” Darcy pointed to the couch.
Clint smiled. “I can manage.” He stood up from the chair he’d been sprawling in to walk to her and take the cushion from her hands. “Thank you for the blankets, honestly, nothing else is necessary.”
It wasn’t that Darcy was looking to win some sort of hostess award, but she was still finding it difficult not to continue to fuss over the bed and the blankets. She couldn’t shake the overwhelming nervous energy that kept propelling her to keep her hands busy and it left her feeling flustered and out of sorts. With her hands empty, she thought she might actually begin wringing them. Clint set the blankets down on the couch with the cushion. His notorious half-smile reappeared as he stilled her hands with her own. “Have you eaten?”
“Uh, no?” Darcy answered.
Clint seemed to be amused by her answer but he didn’t comment on it, only glanced around and asked another question. “Pizza?”
Clint chuckled. “I’ll call it in. You got a preference?”
“I was thinking Dutch,” Clint retorted.
Darcy huffed. “Hawaiian style pizza, you know, it’s got pineapples on it?”
Clint considered her briefly, but she could see amusement still in his eyes. “Actually, I’m into meat myself.”
Darcy snorted. “Are you going to need time alone with the pizza boy?”
“I don’t know. Do you think it would get us the pizza for free?”
Darcy frowned and looked like she was considering the question. “Maybe I’d better answer the door,” she told him finally.
Darcy was finally starting to feel more relaxed. Clint put his hand over his chest, as if he was wounded. “Don’t you think Einstein is a little young to see his mother having an affair with the pizza boy?”
Darcy smacked him. “Oh, so it’s okay for him to see his dad having an affair, is it? Such a double standard,” she berated him.
Clint smiled in a way that Darcy could only describe as ‘dangerously’ before saying, “I wouldn’t really have done anything with the pizza boy. I’d have just said that I did to see if I could make you jealous.”
Darcy felt her face flush and her whole body heat up. She wasn’t sure if he was flirting with her or not, but she realized she sure as hell wanted him to be. “I…” she started but she wasn’t sure what to say.
“I know, I know. You want Hawaiian style pizza. I’ll see if they can do half and half,” he said like he was exasperated with her choice, but he kept a playful undertone.
“Thank you,” she said.
No one made time with the pizza boy and they did get half-Meat Lovers and half-Hawaiian, if you counted having the toppings from both styles on the whole pizza. Darcy picked the beef off a few slices and Clint poked at the pineapple chucks on his before shrugging and eating it anyway. This was when Darcy discovered that Clint wasn’t much of a TV person while she tended to keep it for the sound. Without it, sometimes she felt like she was drowning in the empty space of silence.
“What’s eating you?” Clint asked between bites of pizza.
“Do people really say that?”
Clint shrugged and continued to chew.
“Eh, well, anyway, I was just wondering who I’m supposed to give the pet deposit to.”
Clint made some sort of grunting dismissive sound and then scoffed, “we don’t pay pet deposits.”
He was studying her and his discerning looks always made her feel like he could read her mind. She pushed that aside and focused. “Awesome,” Darcy said, genuinely enthused about not having to pay for having a pet in the apartment. “Are you going to split all the costs with me?”
“Right down the middle,” he said.
“Who shall we have as godparents?”
Clint paused with the pizza in his mouth to look up at her in confusion. “What?”
“You know, we’ve got to christen him and announce his godparents.”
“I’ll leave that up to you.”
“Come on, you must have some thoughts on it,” she said and nudged his shoulder with her elbow.
“The only person I’d choose is Nat though I don’t know how she’ll feel about having a dog as a godchild,” he told her finally. “But if you’d like me to pick someone then I guess my choice would be her.”
“Hmm, you know now that you say that about how she might feel about having a dog, I suppose we’d better at least introduce him to people before we start telling them that they’re one of his godparents.”
Clint smirked. “Will we also be getting some of those bumper stickers that say things like “Proud Parent”?”
“I want one that says ‘My Dog will eat your Honor Student’s Homework.’ Do you think they make those?”
Clint snorted. “We will need those. I can make that happen.”
“Really?” Darcy asked sounding pleased and a little impressed.
Clint grinned. “The trick is to frighten the right people,” he said.
It was Darcy’s turn to snort. “Teach me your tricks, oh wise one.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Clint said. Darcy’s stomach flip-flopped and her heart seemed to lose its rhythm temporarily. She was probably screwed (and not in a good way), but she couldn’t seem to help herself either, at least not for very long.
They had a surprisingly easy evening together though Darcy still felt awkward going to bed when Clint was still on the couch. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do about that but she was far too thankful for the help housetraining to tell him to leave. Unfortunately, with Clint right in the other room, Darcy had trouble getting a wink of sleep the whole night.
Clint had to wonder if Einstein had had an owner at one point because he didn’t seem to need much house training. Clint had used his own natural sleep cycle which involved only sleeping a few hours at a time to let Einstein out, but he found that when the dog did actually need out, he sat at Darcy’s door and yipped.
About seven in the morning, Clint felt something wet on his face and he sat straight up. Einstein had been sitting on his chest with his nose pressed against Clint’s nose and he was now on the end of the couch snuffing.
“Alright, alright, come on, man,” he told the dog as he shoved his feet in his boots. He probably should’ve put the dog on a leash, but Einstein seemed happy to stay with him so he decided he would grab the leash just in case but otherwise leave the dog free to roam a bit. They wondered down together, taking the stairs as Clint sometimes liked to do to get himself going in the mornings and to give the dog an extra bit of a run. This was about the time Clint discovered that Einstein was going to make a pretty good jogging partner, because in spite of his tiny legs, he seemed to have nearly boundless energy and a love for running.
It was very quickly a part of Clint’s routine to spend time running with the dog. That wasn’t the only thing that was becoming a steady part of his life either. Clint found himself spending most of his spare time in Darcy’s apartment. With the exception of two nights spent on a rooftop waiting on a mark and four days on a mission with Natasha, Clint spent every night on Darcy’s couch since Einstein came into their lives. Actually she made him feel welcome without making him feel pressured to stay. She asked surprisingly few questions and she always made him feel like she was glad to see him.
When he came back from one of those few trips, he discovered that Einstein would no longer sleep in his dog bed. He insisted on sleeping on the couch with Clint.
“Darcy, where has Einstein been sleeping?”
“Why do you ask?”
Clint laughed. “You know I’m trained at this sort of thing. You can’t get around my questions with other questions.”
Darcy grumbled and then mumbled something under her breath.
“It is possible the dog heard that, but I couldn’t quite understand you,” he told her.
“With me on the couch,” she said.
“I thought we said no furniture?”
“Yes, well, I caved,” she confessed.
Clint chuckled. “Well, then he can sleep in your bed with you.”
“He likes the couch better.” Darcy wasn’t wrong. Clint found the dog curled up on the couch with him every single night. One night, when Darcy thought he was asleep, she came out into kitchen he presumed for water. On her way, she stopped at the couch to scratch Einstein’s head and whisper that he was the finest, cutest dog in the whole of the world and that she loved him very much. Clint was pretty sure Einstein licked her nose in response. He fought to remain still and not give himself away by chuckling.
“I know,” she said, “I miss him when he’s gone, too.”
Clint didn’t let on that he’d heard what she’d said, but the connection between them was growing. If he had any sense in his head he would run away from her and whatever was happening between them as quickly as he could, which was pretty damn fast.
Instead, he brought more go bags to her apartment. He even let her hit her with the popcorn she was launching at him from the other end of the couch. When she hit him in the face instead of the chest as she swore she’d been aiming for, he announced, “Alright, that’s it.” Darcy immediately launched into a stream of apologies, but he quickly cut her off, “What do you want to learn to shoot first?”
“Really?” she asked dropping all the remaining popcorn in her lap where Einstein happily grabbed what he could and ran. “Dammit, Einstein, no! Drop it. Drop it right now!” Einstein reluctantly dropped the popcorn to the floor though he continued to look at it forlornly. Darcy gave him a bite sized piece of one of the soft treats which cheered him up.
“Yes, your aim is terrible.” Darcy threw another piece of popcorn at him, but he blocked it easily.
“You’re going to teach me how to shoot…” Darcy started, but she was interrupted when Einstein found a piece of popcorn Darcy missed in her clean up and she stopped midsentence to yell, “Einstein!” who at least had the good sense to drop the piece and look abashed.
“You’re not allowed to shoot the dog,” Clint told her.
Darcy looked at Clint confused. “What? I don’t want…” When his comment clicked she launched another treat, this time at him and while her aim wasn’t much better than the last time, it did cause Einstein to shoot after it which proved a very effective method of smacking him with a projectile. Clint managed to awkwardly grab the dog, hold him, and give him the treat so that he settled down again, curling into Clint’s lap.
“You’re really going to teach me?” she asked. “Like a bow and arrow?”
“Sure, if that’s what you decide."
Darcy’s lessons were not going too badly though Clint continued to be confused about his own motivation for giving them to her. No, that was not true. He understood exactly what his motivation was, but he was absolutely not admitting to it, hell he wasn’t even going to formulate the thought into words in his own head. As much as he teased her, her aim was not nearly as bad as he made it out to be and she was actually doing rather well, though she complained constantly about how sore her body was.
What people didn’t understand about being a very good archer was that you really should be fit to be good at it. It took a good deal of strength and balance to do what he could do with an arrow. He was making Darcy get her whole body in shape as part of her lessons. She didn’t whine about anything as much as she whined about running. Einstein helped with that though by running with her and barking at her when she started to give up. Darcy would growl back at him but she would pick up her pace again and go a little farther.
Einstein chewed away on a rawhide braid Darcy had brought him to help keep him occupied while Clint helped Darcy work on her stance. “You’ve almost got this right, your stance is just a little,” Clint paused because telling her wasn’t going to do it. “Do you mind if I show you?” he asked Darcy as she stood holding her bow and aiming the arrow. Her feet were almost right and her positioning was so close it would only take a tiny bit of tweaking.
“Sure,” she said and began to relax and release the tension from the bow, gently as he’d taught her.
“Ah, I meant a little more hands on than you just looking at what I do,” he said, hoping this would better convey what he meant. “I’m going to, um, adjust you.”
“Oh. Oh! Fine, yes, that’s fine,” she babbled. Clint thought he saw her blush, but she went back to the stance she’d been holding and she looked very intently at the target so he thought maybe she was just embarrassed because she hadn’t understood. He then began to berate himself because he hadn’t been clear and he felt bad for making her feel embarrassed since making her feel uncomfortable was the last thing he wanted to do.
“I’m just going to stand behind you, and,” he let his actions finish his sentence and slid his hands along her arms, shoulders, hands, and hips tweaking things slightly to get her into the alignment he wanted her in. His fingers itched to linger and his skin was burning and there were a great many things he wanted to do while he had her in his arms. He regained his composure as best he could and said, “Release the arrow.”
She did as he instructed and let the arrow loose. It landed directly in the center of the target.
“Yes!” Darcy jumped in the air.
“Once is great, but you’re still going to need to learn to be consistent. You’re going to hate me, but if you want to be able to do that every time you let a bow loose, you’re going to have to spend hours in that stance, memorizing it, until your body knows what to do so well that you can go into the stance without thought.”
Darcy set the bow down on the table for resting weaponry, though it saw more guns than bows and arrows. “Why would you say that?”
“How do you think I learned the position so well?” Clint asked, surprised by the sound of her voice. Normally, she’d have sounded whiney but she wouldn’t have meant it. He’d learned that this was her way of dealing with things. It wasn’t that she wanted to quit; she just wanted everyone else to be as annoyed as she was. This time she sounded truly frustrated with his words and he couldn’t quite figure out why this request, after so many others that surely annoyed her, was the one that she couldn’t deal with.
“No, not the part about standing,” she said shaking her head. “I figured you’d say something like that. I mean the part where you said I’m going to hate you.”
Now Clint was really puzzled. “Well, you’re not going to be thrilled about standing that way. It’s going to hurt and worse, it’s going to be excruciatingly boring.”
“I asked you to help me do this. You’re doing something nice for me and you haven’t asked a single thing in return. How can you say I’d hate you? How could I ever hate you? If anything, it’s the op…” Darcy cut herself off and turned a very bright red. Clint couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I mean, you know I’ve always admired you and we’ve gotten to be friends and I… I mean…” Darcy looked like she might run away and Clint’s instincts told him he needed to take the shot.
Clint used his mouth to stop Darcy from running away. He wanted to anchor her to him. He felt her stiffen and for a second he thought he may have miscalculated but then her arms wrapped around him and her fingers laced into the hair at the nape of his neck. Darcy groaned and seemed to meld with him. Clint had a feeling that quite a bit of time had passed before the kiss ended. He was still cradling her head in his hands when he smiled and said, “So?”
“So,” she said, giving him a lopsided smile. Clint smiled back and adjusted his hold on her so that he could lift her up. She responded by wrapping her legs around his waist. Einstein woofed, but he didn’t get up. Clint thought maybe the dog looked a little bit pleased.
“So what were you saying about not hating me?” Clint asked.
Darcy smacked him lightly on the arm. She was blushing again when she told him, “I was saying maybe you don’t have to sleep on the couch tonight.”
Clint felt himself grinning like a fool, but he couldn’t seem to stop doing it either. Darcy’s legs unwound and he let her slide down his body to set her feet on the ground again. He didn’t let her go just yet though. He pressed a kiss against her lips. “I can’t say I’m planning on getting a lot of sleep tonight.” Before she could smack him again, Clint leaned down and kissed her. This time nibbling on her lips and drawing her to him in every way he could. He was very pleased with the dazed expression she wore when he pulled back. “Come on, let’s go home,” he said.
Darcy nodded. Einstein got up and trotted along beside them bringing what remained of his treat with him in his jaws and looking ridiculously pleased with himself. No, surely Clint was just projecting what he was feeling onto the dog. Clint looked at the dog again. Einstein sure did look like he was smiling with that chew in his mouth. Clint shook his head and did his best to dispel the feeling his dog played matchmaker. He glanced at the dog again. Einstein winked. Damn, Clint thought, I’m going to have to get him a really, really big bone. He looked at Darcy who smiled, before leaning onto his shoulder as they walked. Tomorrow, he thought, yes, tomorrow I will get him a ginormous bone.