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On the first day of Darcy’s new job as Phil Coulson’s assistant, he gives her a very nice translation of “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, and advises her to read it until she understands it. It takes a dozen re-reads, twenty-six margaritas, and an entire weekend spent shopping with Pepper and Natasha before she feels like she has a handle on it, but she was a poli-sci major, so it's a pretty good handle. For Darcy it’s still mostly theory, but then Pepper guides them into a downtown pizza kitchen where nobody recognizes them, and Natasha pours Darcy a glass of beer from their pitcher, looks her in the eyes and says, “It won’t be only theory for long.” This is a little unsettling.

The next weekend Clint and Steve take her to the S.H.I.E.L.D. shooting range. Clint teaches her how to shoot a compound bow without bruising the inside of her elbow with the string, and the best way to hold a knife during a fight (That's a little unsettling). Steve teaches her to load a Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm magazine with 12 rounds, blindfolded, and then how to breathe out when she aims so that her hands don’t shake. She clusters seven out of twelve shots mid-mass on the paper target. Clint whoops and twirls her (which is unsettling in the best way), and Steve grins at her like the proudest big brother ever.

Three weeks later Phil sends her to Director Fury’s office with a handful of paper files - which will remain paper files, because Tony Stark cannot hack paper files - retrieved from the startlingly tidy bowels of S.H.I.E.L.D. Records. She stops short before she gets the chance to knock on Fury’s door.

"...even one hair of Dr. Banner's chinny chin chin," Fury's voice rumbles smoothly, "and I will personally fuck your shit up."

Fury's office door is open a little, and Darcy can clearly hear the general’s low, angry reply. "Director Fury, are you threatening me?"

Darcy should leave, she really should, just turn on the worn heels of her high-tops and slink off 'til the all-clear, but instead she clutches the old manila files against her chest and tries to blend in with the wall. Darcy has never met General Thaddeus Ross, but she's seen him on the news. She knows who he is, and she is fully prepared to not like him at all.

“You see this,” Fury explains, "is why you keep getting good men killed, General. You can't tell the difference between fair warning and an imminent threat, and you push the one into the other, and then you run around like Chicken Little, yelling, 'See, I told you so!' Now I am telling you so. Lay off the nice scientist, or your life is going to get fucking dire."

General Ross growls, "You have people you answer to, Director. If you won't cooperate with me, I can go to them."

Darcy hears the smile in Fury's voice, pictures it growing toothy and wide, like a shark scenting blood in the water. It’s his favorite agent-scaring smile, and unsettling doesn't begin to cover it.

"I'm sorry, were you under the impression mine is an elected position? 'Cause you know, out of politeness and a sense of order and wanting to play nicely with others, and all that shit, I report to the Council, and to Congress, and I fill out the forms, dot the i's cross the t's, all that bullshit, but when push comes to blunt force trauma, all the best weapons are mine."

"You mean the Avengers."

"I mean the Avengers."

"I could make a case before Congress to take Banner. Hell, I could still make a case to take Captain Rogers from you. He's an officer in the US Army. The US Army created him. I think sometimes you forget that."

Darcy feels something inside her turn cold with fear, and then hot with rage, and she entertains a lurid and satisfying fantasy of tasing the living crap of the paranoid old bastard, but she keeps still, waits for Fury's response.

Fury's voice comes out low, dark and dangerous, and Darcy strains a little to hear him clearly. "First of all, we both know Cap’s rank is retired, so please quit trying to convince me that I’m stupid, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that you succeed in making the case against Banner. Say Congress authorizes you to take Doc into custody. What do you think is going to happen then? He's an Avenger now. He is not some lonely misfit of science trying to make it on his own anymore. He's got a team behind him. They like him. They'll fight for him."

"The Avengers are--"

"The Avengers are," Fury warns sharply, "every bit as goddamn dangerous as you're always running around telling people, General. And if you mess with one of them, the rest of them will turn on you, and render you unto the dust from which you came."

General Ross snaps, "You think the Avengers can take on the entire United States Army?"

"They don't need to deal with the entire Army," Fury says. "They only need to deal with you. You’re the one with the raging hard-on for Banner. The rest of the Army’s just caught up in your crazy. Listen carefully. I'm talking family, here. The Avengers are strange and fucked up, and any given day a huge pain in my ass, but they have woven themselves together into a chosen family, and for good or ill, I am their daddy. Here, have a cigar.”

Darcy hears the sound of a desk drawer opening and closing, and something small landing on the desktop, and she has to stifle a nervous giggle.

“Now if it’s all the same to you, I have requisition forms to sign. Agents to terrify. My life is complex and filled with wonders to behold, and your presence is harshing my vibe."

"You can talk about team loyalty all you want, but you are not above the law," General Ross insists.

Fury sighs, "Do I have to call up the X-Men and get Professor Xavier to make you believe you're a wee bunny? Do I?"

Darcy can hear when Ross lurches out of his chair, threatening, "This is not over, Fury."

"Take some time off," Fury suggests. “Go to a spa. Get drunk. Get laid. Get that stick yanked out of your ass.”

And then Darcy has to duck around a corner quick, because General Ross strides out of the office, red-faced and radiating rage, and maybe Darcy’s just scared, but she imagines she can feel him plotting revenge.

She makes sure to get a look at his face as he passes by her hiding place. She's risking him catching her there when she steps away from the wall a little bit so that she can see him better, but she wants to make sure she remembers what he looks like in the flesh.

The first thing Phil Coulson taught Darcy when he hired her as his Girl Friday is that it is not her job to fetch him his coffee (She does it anyway, just to make him smile). The second thing he taught her is that it is crucial before a battle to understand who her enemy is, and why. The third thing is that it is totally okay to fight dirty in defense of the people she loves. As it happens, Darcy knows some folks who are really good at that.

 

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