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The Space Between Feathers

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When three black SUV’s pull up outside of the lab, Darcy doesn’t really have a reaction except to lift her hands in the air. She is surprised how calm her voice is when she speaks to the agent walking into the building, but she is not surprised by the snarkyness that drips from her words.

“I swear to god I purchased every single song legally this time.”

Her iPod is still a sore spot for her. It wasn’t returned to her, and her whole iTunes account had been deleted from her computer. She had to build her discography back up again from scratch, and that had cost time and money. The agent smiled at Darcy, and she felt herself going on high alert because agents don’t smile. Like at all. Coulson didn’t even have facial expressions (except annoyed and more annoyed, and that was what she got from his scrunching eyebrows). Darcy was like 99.7% sure they all had the muscles that turn their frowns upside down removed during basic training or super secret agent school or something. She tries to thinks about why SHIELD would be here. Erik was still with them. She feels her shoulders tense and her stomach twist itself into knots. Jane had been gone a week. She had literally just talked to her 30 minutes ago right before she left for work.

“Oh god, Jane’s gotten into an accident didn’t she!? You’re here to tell me that she’s dead! Fuck. I told her not to talk and drive! FUCK!”

The agent rushes forward and puts a hand on her arm to steady her on her feet. The agent that she fully recognizes as one of Coulson’s protégés. Crap.

“Miss Lewis, Dr. Foster is unharmed and is still enroute to her lab in Tromso as we speak.”

“What about Erik? Is he okay?”

The agent gives her a kind smile. Panic swells in Darcy's chest.

“He is completely fine, Miss Lewis.”

Darcy takes a deep breath and forces herself to relax. She shakes off the pretty agent’s hand.

“They why are you here? No offense, but storming up, guns blazing, isn’t the best way to make an introduction.”

She nods toward the muscle out in the parking lot scouting out the perimeter with gun holsters clearly in view and yeah, that one guy had a sniper rifle. The agent gets her meaning and is probably aware of what happened here barely a year ago. The agent smiles again and extends a hand.

“I’m Agent Maria Hill. I’m here on Colonel Fury’s behalf.”

And just like that, Darcy starts to panic again. Because Fury’s the one you never want to meet. If you're meeting with Fury, you are screwed because somehow or someway you fucked up. That’s what Erik told Darcy the few times he actually got to call them to check up on Jane and her while he was away doing sciencey things for SHIELD. From the look on her face, Agent Hill must know that she understands who Colonel Fury is. She pulls a sleek little laptop from nowhere, opens it, and places it on Darcy’s abandoned desk. She motions for her to sit in the chair. Darcy sinks heavily into it trying hard to figure out what Fury wants with her. Suddenly, he is there in all of his eyepatched and black leathered glory, virtually at least.

“Ah, Miss Lewis. I hope we aren’t interrupting anything.”

She knows that she should keep her mouth shut. The rational part of her brain is telling her that this dude means business and could probably make her disappear off the face of the earth with a single phone call. But she was just scared out of her mind, and there are agents outside of her home, with guns, and she is not in the mood to cater to the government right now.

“Actually, you are.”

Fury has the gall to smile at her.

“That’s unfortunate.”

She smiles right back at him.

“It really is.”

“This takes priority over your school work, Miss Lewis.”

She is about to tell him that he can take his priorities and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine. She isn’t an agent. She isn’t even connected to SHIELD in anyway except SHIELD is funding Jane’s research, and Jane is funding Darcy's bank account. Agent Hill is handing her a folder with photocopies of her research, pictures of her at the observatory and the echo-locations lab at her school, using Jane’s equipment for her research, her in the lab, in the field where they drive miles away from any living human being to get data and chart stars and chase fucking storms, and pictures of her at the 7Eleven down the road....

“The fu-”

Fury cuts her off.

“You have been conducting experiments in Interstellar Sound Localization and Radio Astronomy, and you have been using Dr. Foster’s name and connections established through SHIELD to gain access to sensitive equipment and information to continue on with said research.”

Darcy sits ramrod straight in her chair. Because how he’s phrasing it, he makes it sound like she’s stolen Jane’s identity and hacked into secure government resources. He’s fucking playing with her. She feels her blood rise hot in her veins. She has to bite her tongue to keep from cursing him out. Darcy doesn’t like being manipulated or threatened.

“She gave me full permission to use her access and her name seeing as she is my supervising professor. I wasn’t prying into secure files and never went above the clearance level SHIELD gave me. I’m working on my dissertation which, last time I checked, allowed me to use the labs at my own university and whatever equipment and information my professors gave me access to.”

Fury nods congenially.

“Yes, that’s the point of this call, Miss Lewis. We allowed you access because we had a passing interest in the data you where gathering. We are very much interested in it now.”

Hill hands her another file. This time it’s filled with Erik’s research. She glances through it and feels some of her anger fade quickly into disbelief. She had known he was doing something big, but nothing of this magnitude. Is that a fucking portal?

“What you are seeing is above classified; in fact it doesn’t exist on record.”

Darcy snorts, “Well it sure as hell appears off record. That portal collapse took a chunk out of Arizona.”

Fury steeples his fingers and gives Darcy an unwavering stare. It doesn’t intimidate her at all. She’s been given meaner, sterner looks from Jane and, on occasion, her academic advisor. This just annoys her. She wants to poke him in his good eye. Manipulation never really worked well with her and threats only made her more uncooperative. Fury seems to finally recognize that as he relaxes in his chair. Or what she thinks is him relaxing.

“Miss Lewis, from the research you’ve gathered and tested, I feel secure in saying that you’ve proven your theories. What I am about to ask of you is completely confidential and is of the utmost importance to national and global security. If you agree to accept this mission, you will find that your past transgression concerning your transcripts will be erased. You will be allowed to continue with your research. Your choice of graduate school, if you choose to pursue further education, will also be expanded quite vastly and with full tuition coverage.”

Darcy narrows her eyes at the screen and folds her arms across her chest. She knows how it emphasizes certain appendages. She gives him kudos for not dropping her gaze.

“Let me guess, if I tell you to fuck off you’ll pull my minuscule clearance level. You'll take me off of Jane’s research even if she will throw a massive shit storm and trust me, she will. You’ll make sure I never see those science credits again, boot my ass back to Culver, and I’ll never be able to talk to her again or see Thor again if he ever comes back. Not to mention you’ll slap me with so many NDA’s I’ll give myself carpal tunnel from signing them all. You’re probably not above making my life even more miserable. So I'm guessing you’ll also blackball me from going back into my program. You’ll make it a bitch for me to get into any reputable grad school. Hell, you’ll probably charge me for all the government’s money I spent to keep Jane alive because when you want to take someone out you cripple them then crush them so they can’t get back up. Now, did I leave anything out Colonel?”

He laughs at her. Fury actually laughs at her. And it’s not a maniacal I am plotting your mysterious death laugh. It’s a genuine, that’s funny laugh. Whoa, Darcy is adding that to and scratching it off her bucket list.

“Miss Lewis, not many people comprehend the lengths we will go to secure the lives of billions let alone scoff at them.”

Darcy lifts a shoulder in a shrug.

“I’m not most people, Colonel.”

Fury’s lips twitch up into something that could be considered a smile if you squinted.

“That’s exactly why we need you, Miss Lewis.”

The thing is, Darcy doesn’t do well with orders. She is still the only person in her hometown to get detention in kindergarten because she refused to take a nap on demand. She’s never been one to let anyone else force her into something she doesn’t want to do. Call it oppositional defiance disorder or being bullheaded or whatever. Darcy doesn’t do ultimatums (ask her list of ex’s). But this is different. Yes, he is threatening her. Yes, he is stacking the deck. But Fury is being sincere when he says that they need her. She just knows he is. For all the persona, and leather, and super-spy credentials, he is asking her for her help. It’s not that hard to make a decision, not when billions of lives could be at stake. But it still rubs her the wrong way.

“All my students loans are paid off. My tuition is paid in full, including textbooks, housing, and a meal plan whenever and wherever I decide to go to school. Jane gets whatever equipment she wants, even if it is a stupid Walkman from ’97. Selvig gets at least one Swedish intern to yell at in his native tongue and to share in his weird food cravings. He’ll be happier and actually eat.”

Fury doesn’t even blink. He just steeples his fingers.

“Done. Pack your bags, Miss Lewis. You’re in the air in 30.”

Darcy stares at the black screen for a few seconds. She ignores the roll of dread in her stomach. It honestly has nothing to do with Fury and the possibility of her having to sign over her soul to SHIELD.

“I should have probably requested a seat in first class.”

Maria Hill smiles at her kindly. It's kind of confusing (and scary).

“You don’t have to worry about leg room Darcy.”

Definitely scary.