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“Jane, I’m going to marry him,” Darcy announced on their first full day at SHIELD.

“Which him?” Jane asked, unlocking the door to their lab. “Steve?” Several members of STRIKE Alpha had just walked by, accompanied by Captain America. Steve had introduced them to Jane and Darcy.

“No, no, Commander Rumlow,” Darcy said, as if this was obvious. “He’s my ideal, like Barbara Stanwyck says in The Lady Eve. Did you see his forearm tattoos when he shook your hand? All those tats are belong to me. I got dibs, Janey.”

“Oh, okay,” Jane said absently. Truth be told, Jane didn’t take it seriously. Darcy also vowed to marry Shemar Moore whenever she saw him on television. Jane couldn’t have told someone who Commander Rumlow was. The tall Australian one? The blonde one? Darcy would forget about it, probably. Jane certainly hadn’t noticed anyone special. Once you’d been to Asgard, regular guys tended to recede into the woodwork, even if they did have tattoos or work with Captain America.

Two weeks later, Jane had totally forgotten about it and Darcy had baked “test” mini pound cakes for her and Thor the night before for unexplained reasons. Jane, mid-theorem, had forgotten to ask what the test was. Thor had been too busy eating the results and getting crumbs in his beard.  “Jane, I refilled your coffee and I’m going down to floor twelve!” Darcy said. She was carrying the bag of cakes.  

“Huh?” Jane said, looking up. It was eleven-thirty-four.

“I’m delivering my test mini bundts to his hotness,” Darcy said.

“Prince Harry? He’s married now–” Jane said, frowning.

“Please, I’m so over that, Jane,” Darcy said, rolling her eyes.

“All right,” Jane replied. She was briefly puzzled. Who was His Hotness if it wasn’t Prince Harry anymore? Where was she going?

“Floor twelve,” Darcy supplied, seeing Jane’s expression of confusion.

“With decorated bundt cakes for–?” Jane said. She’d wrapped the pound cakes and decorated them with ribbon. Had Darcy seen it in a movie? Darcy was always going on baking binges after she saw something online or in a movie. That was why it was dangerous to let her watch Chocolat, unless you were craving soft, cocoa-dipped truffles or oodles of hot chocolate. Steve had developed sort of a fixation about suggesting it during their movie nights. He was nursing a minor hot chocolate problem.

“For my future STRIKE husband, hellloooo, Midgard to Jane! Midgard to Jane!” Darcy joked before she bounced out of the lab. Then Jane remembered the future husband thing. STRIKE Alpha’s offices were on floor twelve. Darcy was still on that? That could be why she’d spent all night cooling mini bundt cakes and drizzling them with liqueur. But which one was he? Jane had forgotten to ask. Commander Whatsit. Rollo? Rimbaud?

***

“Hellooo, gorgeous, are you free?” Darcy said, sticking her face around the door to Brock Rumlow’s office and doing her best Barbra Streisand. It wasn’t The Way We Were, but Rumlow was behaving frustratingly like a diffident male lead in one of Streisand’s movies, stubbornly refusing to actually ask her out. “Can I tempt you with equally gorgeous pound cake?” she said, holding up the amaretto cakes. They were fluted in pretty shapes and slightly larger than donuts. Rumlow looked up and smiled. It was a good smile. Improved by his tortoiseshell reading glasses.

“Hey, sweetheart, that’s nice of you,” he said. He was working on paperwork. She’d had to go to the techs for assistance when he’d seemed oblivious in response to her inquiry about weekend plans on Tuesday. Cameron Klein had told her when he had office hours to do paperwork and meet with the probie field agents he trained.

“I didn’t know if you like amaretto or lemon, so I picked amaretto now, but I could always make you lemon later,” she told him, stepping into the small office. She’d made sure to undo an extra button on her snugly-fitted cardi before she walked in. He couldn’t miss the girls, right? She was taking her dress cues from pin-ups and Nigella Lawson during this op.

“I like both, actually,” he said. “And I’d never turn down something from you, Jane might portal me to Jotunheim,” he said, grinning at her.

“That’s right, I have all the power here, Commander,” Darcy said. “You have to listen to me.” She walked around to lean against his desk, so that her leg was just brushing his desk chair and placed the pound cakes gently on the stack of paperwork. He would get that it was ‘Pound me’ pound cake, right? Did she need to label it naughtily?

“That really looks good. Do you cook a lot?” he asked. Pleasantly, but not flirtatiously. What in the world, Darcy thought.

“I bake a lot,” she said. “Thor eats in quantity, so I always have a taste tester.”

“Yeah?” he said. The man was pretty, Darcy thought, for about the millionth time. She’d taken to peeking out Jane’s lab windows whenever his quinjet landed, just to see him stroll around the nearby helipad in aviators and black tactical gear, being all pretty and whatnot. Sometimes, he was pretty in short sleeves. She was looking forward to her first DC summer now.

“I wouldn’t mind a backup guy, though. You interested in volunteering?” she asked. Instinctively, she reached out and toyed with the ends of his dark hair. He looked up at her and smiled gently, then scratched his jaw. His expression turned sheepish.

“I would, but, uh, I’m a paleo guy, been doing that for years. This”–he patted the wrapped cake gently–”is a special treat for me, really.”

“Oh,” Darcy said, momentarily flummoxed. Of course, he’d be the only one not devouring the damn things. All the STRIKE Alpha guys in the main office adjoining his had practically lept on her big shopping bag of wrapped and beribboned cakes. If she listened, she could hear them chewing and talking happily like they were fourth graders on someone’s birthday and she was the mom who’d brought the sheet cake. Still, she’d have them on her side in future field exercises for Operation Seduction.

“I really appreciate it, though,” he said. “My whole family’s in New York, so nobody bakes for me, except at Christmas. I mostly live on protein bars and, uh, steak and chicken breasts,” he said.

“Yeah?” Darcy said, wheels turning. She was determined to get through to him. Maybe Jack had a key to Brock’s apartment? What if she snuck in and cooked him a protein-rich dinner? Was that too stalkery? “I do a really good chicken paillard,” she told him. That was technically true. She’d learned to cook a few balanced meals so Jane wouldn’t die of vitamin-deficiency in Norway. Serious Eats were her people now.

“Really?” he said. “Could you send me the recipe?” Oh my God, Darcy thought. It’s like I’m not even registering as a woman. What gives?

“Of course,” she said. “But I’d be happy to give you an at-home cooking demonstration, too. I don’t know about you, but I’m a hands on learner.” She winked.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, sweetheart,” he said mildly. He patted her arm gently and Darcy felt herself blush. He was so tanned and warm. “I’m sure you’re busy.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said, half-archly, half in frustration.

Darcy walked out of his office feeling wildly perplexed. She practically ran into Jack Rollins’ tall frame in the hallway. “Whoops, I’m sorry, Jack,” she said, apologetic. He was pinkly tanned and relaxed-looking. He’d just returned from visiting his family in Australia.
“That’s all right, love,” Jack said. “Those mini cakes are bonzer. You could crack me on the head, I’d still forgive you.”

“Thanks, but I’m striking out with a certain STRIKE Commander,” Darcy confided. “Does he not date women? Or is there somebody?” she asked, frowning and huffing out a sigh. Rumlow was so nice, but resolutely not getting it, unless he had a person already and was too polite to tell her, for whatever mysterious reason. Jack chuckled at her.

“Uh, no, he does date women and he’s not seeing anybody,” Jack said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking particularly homicidal in thought, “they’re not usually as young and pretty as you, though.”

“Bullshit, Jack. Flattering to my ego, but total Aussie bullshit,” Darcy said, wagging a finger at him and moving to walk away. “That won’t get you more cakes, pal.” Jack grinned at her.

“I ‘ppreciate the cakes,” he called.

“If you want more, you’ll get me a date, Jack,” she said. “I’m not above bribing federal agents to get laid.”

“Noted, love!” he called back, laughing.

***

Jack found Brock in his office. “Mate, what are you doing?” he asked incredulously.

“Yearly reports,” Brock grumbled. The ARs were the worst part of the job. “These fucking questions. Would you say you feel appreciated by me as a boss?” he asked. “On a scale of 1 to 10?”

“I can tell you who don’t feel appreciated,” Jack said, swiping a hunk of the amaretto cake that Brock had opened and laid out on a napkin on his desk. “Darcy Lewis.”

“Hey, that’s mine–” Brock began. “What?”

“Woman’s crazy about you,” Jack said, popping the cake fragment into his mouth. “Wants to date you, that one does.”

“C’mon, Jack,” Brock scoffed. “You got sunstroke or some shit? I’m twice her age and it’s Darcy.” What was she, twenty-seven? Maybe thirty, max? There was no way someone that young and gorgeous would want a fifty year old triple agent who’d barely survived the HYDRA Uprising and had to have his burns patched up by Helen Cho, Brock thought. He was too damn old. She probably had dozens of men at her beck and call. He couldn’t imagine her spending a night alone unless she wanted to. That red sweater she’d been wearing this morning had been distracting. Also, he liked the way she wore her dark hair wavy and the way she kneaded her upper lip with her teeth when she was thinking….

“So?” Jack said, interrupting his fantasy of what she would look like with her dark hair pooled across the pillows on his bed.

“So, I’m not some creepy old man like Gregorovich,” Brock said. Agent Gregorovich was a balding fifty-something in Tactics who always talked about his “crush” on that sad-eyed Sokovian girl that Cap knew, Wanda Maximoff. It made Brock’s skin crawl. Wanda Maximoff was practically a child and these middle-aged weirdos seemed to sense her vulnerability and hover. Like vultures. He might think about Darcy sometimes, but he wasn’t gonna vocalize it in front of Maria Hill and make jokes about celebrating the day a cute girl turned eighteen as a national holiday, like a damn freak. Cap really needed to put Gregorovich through a window, come to think of it.

“Darcy made you the best of these,” Jack said, raising an eyebrow.

“I saw her talking to some of the techs the other day,” Brock said, frowning at his paperwork, “guys her age. That’s probably who she dates. Some guy like Cameron Klein who understands whatever it is Foster’s doing upstairs.”

“Sure, sure, it’s not that she collects intelligence on your whereabouts from Klein,” Jack said skeptically. “So, she can find you and hug you.”

“She’s young,” Brock insisted. “People her age joke around and are, uh, touchy-feely, or whatever. It’s platonic, I’m sure.” He’d worked hard–ironic pun–not to let his attraction show whenever she touched him.

“Right-o,” Jack said, with evident sarcasm, swiping another piece of cake as he stood to leave.

“Hey, asshole, cut it out,” Brock muttered, “that’s mine.”

“You should take Darcy to dinner sometime as a thank you, mate,” Jack said.

Once he was alone again with his paperwork, Brock sighed. He needed fucking reading glasses and flecks of gray had started to appear in his hair. All his damn hair. Pretty soon, he’d be one of those old men from his Bronx neighborhood who sat around Domenico’s and whined about how expensive everything was now and needed to trim their fucking nose hairs. There was no way in hell that Darcy Lewis viewed him as anything more than one of her sympathy cases. Cap had mentioned that she liked to nurture people, feed them. She was a hugger and a feeder. He ate a piece of the amaretto cake. It was damn good cake. Did those kids in tech know how lucky they were? If he was fifteen years younger, he thought glumly. Then he could respond differently when she ran a palm up his forearm and complimented his Thai tattoos. Or caught him in a hug because someone had told her it was his work anniversary as a STRIKE commander and she thought “occasions should be celebrated–wildly and often.”

He’d really wanted to make a teasing joke about doing things wildly and often. But he wasn’t gonna be that guy. Fuck no. The last thing he wanted was to see her eyes flash creep when she looked at him.

***

“I do not get men,” Darcy said to Jane, back in the lab. “I’m hella cute. How could he not think I’m cute?” She scrunched her nose and looked at her reflection in a shiny piece of equipment. She was a little wavy, but the hair was good, the boobs were great, and she knew the cake was fantastic. Thor had eaten eight of them last night and she’d had to put the others behind a bag of canned goods to hide them in the kitchen.

“You’re hella cute,” Jane said firmly. “This guy is ridiculous.”

“Do you even know who I mean?” Darcy asked.

“The blond barista at that coffee shop?” Jane said, guessing wildly.

“Ahhhhnt!” Darcy said, making a no buzzer sound. “But thank you anyway,” she said, patting Jane affectionately on the head.

Darcy had gone for coffee when Jack Rollins came to see Jane. “Can you help me?” he asked the scientist.

“Who are you?” she said.

“I work with Brock. She’s got a thing for him, he’s mad about her. I want to get them together. I’ve got a plan,” Jack said. “But I need help.” He passed her a blueprint and a plan of action.

“Security codes for the elevator?” Jane said. “Wait, who is she?”

“Darcy,” Jack said patiently. He’d worked with Brock for years. His patience was fairly infinite.

***

Jack was behaving bizarrely, Rumlow thought. He’d told his boss that STRIKE Alpha’s latest bullet model—made to go through the scales of those Chitauri flying worm bastards, Jotunheim frost beasts, etc.—was stuck in R&D and that Rumlow’s signature was needed to get them. So, Brock was headed upstairs. The elevator doors opened and Darcy got on. “Hi,” Darcy said. Something was off. She lacked her usual brightness.

“You okay?” Brock asked.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. Two floors later, she sighed softly.

“Lewis,” Brock said coaxingly. “What’s bugging you?” He stepped closer. As he did, alarms began to sound and the elevator stopped with a violent jerk. Darcy stumbled forward, trying to save her coffee and her balance. Brock caught her, arms wrapped around her waist.

“Oh,” Darcy said, blushing furiously. She made to move away, but  the lights went out at the same time and it startled her so much that she wobbled again.

“You okay?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, sighing. He looked around. It was completely dark. No emergency lighting?

“This is the first time I’ve ever missed that damn glass elevator in the old building,” he said. “I don’t think I have a flashlight.”

“Oh, hold on,” she said. “I have a solution, please take my coffee,” Darcy asked. He took her cup–there was a lot of blind fumbling and touching, he tried not to find it erotic to feel her hands on his in the dark–then, as his eyes adjusted, it was clear she was fumbling in her messenger bag. “Ah ha!” she said. “Success!” She passed him something.

“What–what is this?” he asked.

“Glow stick,” she said, “just snap it. Snap and shake, hot stuff.” He heard a crack and her face was lit with a green glow.

“Oh, okay,” he said, glad she couldn’t have seen the grin when she’d called him hot stuff. Fucking tech analysts, he thought. “Why do you have these in your purse?” he asked. Why was he so old? Couldn’t R&D shave four years off his age or some shit?

“Oh, it’s the neatest thing. I’m learning how to twirl with them while Jane has her sixteen-hour science binges. Sort of a lab rave, but with coffee? We were in Germany and saw this artist at a science thing–she was the entertainment, basically–but she dipped these into neon paint and would swing them over canvases to make abstract art in the dark. It was really nifty, you know?” Darcy said. “Especially compared to the science arguments.”

“Yeah,” he said. He had no fucking clue about performance art, but he liked the enthusiasm she brought to everything. “How do you twirl these?” he asked curiously.

“You need shoestrings,” Darcy said. “Or fishing line.”

“I’ve got tactical laces on,” he said. “Would you show me?”

***

“I hear giggling!” Jane hissed into her cell phone, creeping away from the elevator. “It hasn’t worked.”

“It’s got to have worked by now,” Jack said. “They’ve been in there twenty minutes. How do you know it hasn’t?”

“Give me some credit, Rollins. We lived together in tiny, thin-walled apartments all over Europe. If she’s giggling, she’s not impressed by what he’s laying down. Giggles aren’t her good sex noise. Turn on the cameras,” Jane said.

“If I turn on the cameras, it reactivates the whole elevator,” he said. “We’ve got VIPs upstairs.”

“Do it,” Jane said. “You’re going to have to think of something else to get your sugar fix.”

“What do you do?” Jack said.

“I pay her, let her play on social media during the work day, and pretend I don’t know she’s really going to Sephora at noon when she says it’s her doctor’s appointment,” Jane said.

“Oh,” Jack said. “Bloody hell. I can’t do that.”

***

Darcy was mid-double twirl when the elevator’s lights came on and it started to move again. She realized Rumlow was smiling at her from the floor and was momentarily uncertain. “Ummmm,” she said. “This is it? It’s kind of dorky, but I think counts as lab cardio? I tried hula hooping, but I kept falling down.” She pulled a face and he laughed.

“Very cool–” he began.

Beside them, the elevator doors opened. “Miss Lewis,” Nick Fury said, tilting his head at her. Behind him were several Congressmen. Darcy tried to hide her glow sticks. She succeeded in hitting herself with them.

“Ow,” she said. Rumlow winced in sympathy.

“Commander Rumlow,” Fury said to the man on the floor as he stood.

“The elevator stopped, director,” Rumlow said smoothly. “We were demoing portable safety flares for enclosed spaces. As a training exercise. Impromptu.”

“Yes,” Darcy said, nodding.

“Commander Rumlow is the head of STRIKE Alpha–and you appear to have lost your shoelaces, Commander,” Fury said.

“Oh, I’ve got those, sorry,” Darcy said, wanting to melt into the floor in embarrassment as she untied them from the glow sticks.

“Why don’t you step off the elevator and give them back?” Fury suggested.

“Of course,” Rumlow said, guiding Darcy off the elevator, her coffee in his hand.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, genuinely upset that she’d embarrassed him in front of one-third of the Congressional Committee on Terrorism, probably. She handed him back his shoelaces and fled.