“Jane!” Darcy yelled walking into the lab. When her friend’s head popped out of her office, she let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I was worried you were off with tall, blonde, and studly. I need you to distract me.”
Her friend stepped all the way into the lab, putting her hands on her hips. “Why didn’t you just call?”
“I did. Like ten times.”
Jane’s eyes narrowed in doubt as she began patting her pockets, but when they turned up empty she repeated the process, and then smiled sheepishly. “Guess I left my phone at home again.”
“Apparently.” Darcy rolled her eyes. “Now, distraction. Are you able to provide this or do I have to go track down someone else?”
“Why am I distracting you?”
“It hit me that I actually have finished my final paper and now just have my meeting with Coulson in two days and it’s time for me to actually ask him to be my thesis advisor and I’m freaking out.”
“It’s not like it’s prom, Darcy. I highly doubt that he’d turn you down.”
“Dude. Prom was so much easier. I had that one in the bag months in advance.”
“And you don’t think this one is the same?”
Yes. No. All of the above.” Darcy whined, hopping from foot to foot with an exaggerated grimace. “I don’t know what I think; hence, the freak out.”
Jane took pity and stepped closer to hug her friend, squeezing for a long while before stepping back, holding onto Darcy’s shoulders as she looked in her face.
“Is this one of those times that anything I try to say about your situation won’t make a difference, so we just have to pretend it doesn’t exist?”
“YES.” She nodded emphatically, the movement shaking her entire body. “Preferably with food. Lots and lots of food. And eating of said food at a location that is not within five miles of the university.”
Jane shook her head with a laugh. “Okay, let me just save some stuff on my computer really quick and we can go. I vote we go to that Indian place you discovered last year.”
With a squeal, Darcy pulled her back in for another hug. “Best former professor ever!”
And because she was the best former professor ever, she also let Darcy pick the music and talk about the merits of almond vs. mint M&Ms the whole ride over. But once they’d ordered and the virtues of non-peanut chocolate candy had been fully explored, she figured it was time to ask her friend to pick a topic she could actually engage in.
“What about and the fair viking Prince of science!?” Darcy suggested with an eyebrow waggle. “I hear he's extended his visit yet another week.”
Jane nodded, replying to the question and ignoring the tone while she broke off a piece of papadum. “Yes, we found some interesting anomalies in my numbers and he's going to help me work on them.”
“Anomalies,” she paused to snort. “And this makes what, three and a half weeks since he was supposed to leave? Something tells me that those numbers are not all he’s going to work on?”
Jane took a delicate nibble and chewed with a sniff. “And just what are you implying?”
“I don’t know,” Darcy teased leaning forward. “You tell me, Miss ‘I let my TA catch me making out in a supply cabinet like a randy teenager.’”
The fair doctor sputtered for a full ten seconds before she could form a response. “Ian told you!?”
“Of course he told me. He knows where his loyalties should lie.”
“But he's my TA!”
“Listen doc, you may pay him, but I am the one that hired him. Ipso facto, I get all the good tidbits.”
“Whatever,” Jane muttered, folding her arms in a petulant pout. A position she held for a couple minutes as the food arrived.
Once the waiter was gone and they’d both begun digging into their entrees, Darcy continued the subject. “I’m sure you’re very upset that I know about your little Scandinavian conquest. Now spill. If it supposedly isn’t to literally and metaphorically rock your bod out of this world, what’s he staying for?”
She once again went for the literal approach to the interrogation. “Well, we’re working on developing the theory I wrote about in that journal article you helped me publish last year.”
“The one about gravitational fields possibly affecting the pull of wormholes, right?”
Jane paused, eyes lighting up in both pride and appreciation that her friend remembered. “Yes, that one. He's got these amazing ideas that add to mine and he's always trying to get me to expand on my own. Not to try and disprove me like the assholes in wannabe astronaut science either. But to see where I go with it and how he can help.”
“Aw. Adorable.” Darcy had set her fork down to fawn over the cuteness. “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to handle your guys’ nerdmance.”
“Two nerds plus romance equals nerdmance. It’s now a thing. It’s happening.”
Jane shrugged, not bothering to try and stop the teasing. It was obvious by her smile that she was actually enjoying every minute of it. Which was good, because Darcy wasn’t gonna stop any time soon as this was the perfect distraction she needed. “So, he’s staying, you’re making the brain love, and you’re disgustingly happy. Especially since you want to jump his bones.”
“Oh...so much.” Closing her eyes on a whine, Jane whimpered. “So so much.”
Darcy snickered and reached across the table to pat her friends hand. “Okay, my dear Lusty McLustface, settle down while in public at least.” Once some composure had been regained and Jane had taken a long drink of ice water, Darcy moved on to her next question. “What happens when he goes back?”
Jane set down her glass of water, stalling as she picked up her napkin and lightly dabbed at the corner of her mouth. “About that.”
“Oh oh oh,” Darcy crowed quietly. “This is gonna be good. Yes?”
“He's been thinking of doing a sabbatical.”
“And he might do it here because my work fits so well in conjunction with his.”
“Well damn. You can conjunction that function all the way to the bank, missy.”
“Nope. Not likely.”
“Then I guess I'll just have to bask in it.” Jane laughed and wiggled in her chair, preening.
“As you should,” Darcy laughed before sobering slightly. “But really. You’re in support of it? And not just because of the hot bod and ridiculously amazing smile?”
Jane took a deep breath and nodded, not able to hold back a small smile. “Yeah. I'm not saying I'm in love with him or anything, but I think I could be. One day. It'll be nice to have him around long enough to find out.”
“I like this. No. Scratch that. I love it. And we're going out to celebrate.”
“Does this not count?” Jane asked gesturing to their dinner and the restaurant.
“No, we’re going somewhere where we can find plenty of alcohol and are not likely to run into anyone from campus.”
“I'm good with that.”
Decision made, they asked for the check. While waiting for it, Darcy’s phone beeped, and she picked it up, not able to stop the smile when she saw who was texting her.
“Speaking of nerdmance…” Jane leaned forward to try and peak at the screen, “Let me guess, Steve with another pun?”
Darcy scrunched her face and set the phone aside, trying to avoid answering. She’d told Jane about the motorcycle ride he’d given her. And after thoroughly dissecting the interaction and rehashing the party and the day at the frisbee match, Jane had declared Steve was just as into Darcy as she was him. And while on some level it made sense, she wasn’t quite able to accept it as truth just yet. So instead of trying to convince Darcy about her awesomeness, Jane chose to tackle a different point.
“Okay, so I know I'm not just your sometimes boss.”
“Drafting me for TA work makes you my boss?”
Jane continued on, ignoring the interruption. “I would like to think of myself as more of a friend by now. And since you two seem to be hitting it off, I think you should stop freaking out about that too. Just go for it.”
“You’re just saying that because you’ve got Thor and his massive... brain on your mind.”
She rolled her eyes at the euphemism, but didn’t let it derail her. “That may be part of why I’m actually paying more attention to all this for once, but that’s not what’s making me think this is a good thing for you. It’s clearly more than just his body that's got you so wrapped up. I’ve seen you in pure lust, and this isn’t it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Please. I’m not forgetting your momentary lapse of judgment with that french exchange student.”
She couldn’t help trying to defend herself on that charge. “Georges Batroc was only a terrible mistake when it came to the whole underground fighting ring. And how was I to know? Besides, this is totally different.”
“Exactly. So stop being a dork and just give it a shot with your artsy lumberjack.”
“There’s gotta be a double entendre in there somewhere.” Jane opened her mouth, no doubt gearing up for another pep talk, so Darcy cut her off. “But I hear what you’re saying and I'll think about it.“
“Good. Now that that’s out of the way. Alcohol and celebration as further distraction?”
Someone very important makes an appearance
“Do or die, Darcy. Do or die.” Her muttered words were each accompanied with a bounce as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. Taking one last steadying breath, she clenched her hand tighter around the strap of her messenger bag and headed away from the elevator and towards her destiny.
All too soon, she came to the door. Nameplate clearly marking she’d arrived.
Philip J. Coulson, PhD, JD, MS, MBA
The door was open, so she took one last breath for leaning her head in.
“Ah, Ms. Lewis. Please come in.” He clicked something on his mouse, and turned to face her, his perpetual half smile in place as he clasped his hands in front of him.
Darcy took a seat in the chair across from his desk. It was probably supposed to be comfortable, but seemed designed to get the sitter out as quickly as possible. Or that might have just been her current interpretation. She couldn’t bring herself to set her bag on the ground, and instead held it in her lap, keeping it as a touchstone. Within thirty seconds, she was grateful she had something to fidget with as she ran her thumb over the sloppy stitching she’d used to fix the strap that had torn earlier.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me.”
“Not a problem. I wanted to speak with you as well.”
“Really?” She nearly winced at the nervous edge of her voice and only prayed he didn’t pick up on it. Being terrified of interacting with her field’s leading authority in a non-class setting was one thing. Having him know it was another. She needed to exude confidence and not let him find any reason not to be her supervisor. But knowing him, he could probably already sense her fear. Had probably recognized it the instant she got off the elevator.
However, if he did sense it, he didn’t acknowledge it, instead merely nodded to answer question. “But that can wait. What brings you to my office today?”
“Oh, well, it’s in relation to the topic of my most recent paper.”
“The impact of political influence and policy on the scientific world and publication of findings. I must admit I enjoyed reading it immensely and not just because so many students stick with exactly what is covered in the course or hat has already been explored extensively.”
His compliment and genuine smile had her fingers settling minutely, her shoulders relaxing slightly, and her breathing slowing gradually. “I guess that’s good. Because I was thinking about continuing to work on that for my thesis and wanted to see if you’d be my supervisor.”
“I see.” He said slowly.
Darcy waited for more, for any hope that he’d agree. But the seconds seemed to draw out and she could swear her heartbeat doubled its already faster-than-normal rate.
But then he smirked. There was no way around it. There was a smirk if she ever saw one. “I will on one condition.”
“Uh, and what’s that?”
“You consider extending your studies to join the PhD program.”
Her blatant relief brought out an exaggerated huff and got rid of what filter she’d had in place. “Man, you really like screwing with people don’t you?”
“Are you referencing my hesitation or my suggestion?”
He mere shrugged, not confessing to anything yet. “I was serious about my proposal. Your research is a new and refreshing angle that I feel would do our university credit. And if I can have a little fun while encouraging academic success, then why not?”
“Sadist,” she said on a laugh.
He spread his hands and grinned, no apology in the gesture.
Darcy shook her head and rubbed her hand down the side of her face, thankfully remembering to avoid her eyes and the makeup she’d decided to wear that day to try and look fancier and more impressive. Apparently it had been moot. “A PhD, huh?”
“Won’t it look bad if I have my two postgraduate degrees from the same university?”
“Perhaps if you were at a less prestigious school, once such as Pierce University.”
She leaned back in her chair, suddenly feeling more comfortable in Dr. Coulson’s office than she’d ever hoped she would.
“Ooh, trash-talking. Big stuff there, Professor.”
“Oh, please, if you’re going to be working with me for the next few years, call me Phil.”
She laughed quietly. “I never said I was gonna do it.”
“Are you saying no, then?”
“No. Not saying that. But I’ll consider it.”
He gave her an infinitesimal nod.
“If I do say no, are you really going to refuse to be my supervisor?”
His eyes narrowed and he clasped his hands once more. “As tempted as I am to draw out some anguish and lord my power, no. I want to see what you do with your research regardless of your future academic pursuits.”
“Awesome.” She let out a breath, finally able to relax fully, when a thought struck her. If she was considering extending her stay at Avengers University, and if she was finally gonna do something about a certain lumberjack-inspired Art History professor, she had need some input. “So, if I’m really considering signing myself soul over to academia here for a few more years, I have to ask. What are the rules on grad students dating faculty?”
Phil, as she was now going to call him, groaned and sat back, closing his eyes and shaking his head. It was restrained, but definitely a groan. “I don’t want to know.”
“You don’t have to. You only have to answer the question.”
After a couple of seconds and deep breaths, he opened his eyes to half-squint at her. “As long as they have no say in your academic career and are in another department you should be fine.”
“Really?” She couldn’t help the hope in her voice as she perked up. “Perfect!”
Phil sat forward, a somewhat judgy finger pointed at her “I would just like to state for the fact that I was only answering your question, not giving any sort of unofficial blessing or anything.”
“So no telling people you encouraged me to pursue my dreams, both academically and romantically?” His half-squint became a full squint and she held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, fine. Your plausible deniability is recognized.”
“I appreciate that. Now, since you seem to want time to consider your academic dreams, as they were, I will get back to dashing freshmen’s hopes of an easy A. Unless you had something else you wanted to talk about?”
“Nope!” She bounced up and out of the chair, giving him a mock salute. “Dash away, mon capitan.”
She took the sigh she heard as she made her way out the door as a good sign that he’d appreciate her humor for the next year as her supervisor. She wasn’t going to start thinking yet about the fact that they might be working together longer than that if she really gave the whole PhD program a go. He’d already agreed to be her supervisor. And she was holding him to no take-backs.