When Darcy was five, she went with her dad to the roof of their house where they sat up his telescope. They stayed up far to late while he named stars and constellations, and she asked question after question. In the end she had fallen asleep in the folding chair, with a blanket tucked around her and woke up in her own bed the next morning without knowing how she got there.
It's the best night of her life.
Darcy knows enough math to get by, but not enough to keep up with Jane. She knows how to build the perfect playlist for any occasion. She knows swearwords in fifteen different languages. She knows a lot, Darcy Lewis. But she also knows the thick, wet slide of a knife reaching it's target. She knows the sound of a gun going off. She knows what it's like to have blood on her hands, and it's not a feeling she wants back.
The Darcy Lewis she has built and cultivated during four years at Culver is unassuming, chatty, harmless and quite frankly a little bit stupid. Darcy is good at a lot of things, but not all of them fit in with the person she needs to be; the bubbly student who no one looks at twice. Because most of all she is good at pretending, she is good at compartmentalizing and hiding away what she isn't proud of, and that she doesn't want.
She is good at surviving.
So when a storm isn't coming anymore, when the storm is upon them and a man is screaming things that doesn't make sense, she does what she does best: she protects herself, she lashes out and she doesn't let another man frighten her ever again. She is not about to let one crazed man ruin the life she had build herself, the life she has fought so hard to get.
The first time she meets Phil Coulson she is afraid. He takes stock of a room and everything in it just like her, she knows he can see what's not there, and she is fucking terrified that he will see through her. She won't ever go back to what she was, and this man reminds her too much of things she would rather forget.
She covers it up with bravado, curses and a flippant nature she has cultivated. And she can see him dismissing her, she can see it working and she knows she's fooled him.
When she meets him again, she knows she was wrong; she never fooled him at all.
The room around her is stark white, a reflective window on one side that she doesn't take her eyes off of. Other rooms flit behind her eyelids, all different, but with one common denominator: they make her feel trapped, they all bring that tight claustrophobic panic in her chest that will never go away and the fear of armed men coming in the door with their promises of pain and a limited freedom in exchange for what they want. It is a freedom that is never really free, but the offer is always one she can't refuse.
This room is no different, its clean white surface just covering over the underlying threat. The unassuming man that steps through the door is the same, his suit may hide his weapons, and his smile may hide his threat, but he is still a man with hold over her, someone who might hit her just to hurt her. Darcy doesn't trust a smile anymore, she doesn't trust a promise. What she does trust are actions, time and herself. She knows what lurks in the heart of men and she will not fall for their charms again.
She fights to keep the panic at bay, the blood rushing in her veins seem to want to burst out of her and she builds her walls up for the inevitable hit as she tries to match Agent Coulson's bland face.
"Miss Lewis, I'm here to make you an offer you can't refuse." He says, and the walls comes crashing down.
Two weeks ago in that white room, she had asked him why. And he had answered in the same even voice Because I think it's time for you to use the abilities you posses for something good. She still doesn't know if that's something she can do with SHIELD, or at all. But she keeps her head down, puts on her cultivated masks, for all she knows this is just another gang, another army, making her do something she doesn't want.
But she thinks that she would be willing to do this, to work here if the exchange rate is a sense of purpose that she has sorely missed.
Shield is better and worse than her old new life. It's infinitely better than her old old life. No one hurts her just to hurt her, no one asks her to kill anyone (at least not yet) and there is always enough food. Her days follows the same pattern, waking up in a one room apartment in Queens. Subway to work early to avoid the huge masses, always careful so she doesn't get caught in a situation where she might get hit with a panic attack. Then there's morning training, intelligence gathering, lunch, shooting range and lectures to sit through before taking the subway home again. The training is easy enough, but she plays at being worse than she is and letting herself slowly improve as weeks bleed into months. The instructors approve of her, but she is not anyone's favorite.
Darcy Lewis is in the middle of the pack, just as she likes it. She learned the hard way never to stand out. She's not like the Black Widow or Maria Hill, playing on fear and intimidation to keep people at bay. She uses her own tactics, just as effective. She puts on her old open and flippant self, laces it with enough of her own steel to work in SHIELD and invites people in by jokes and smiles. She makes everyone underestimate her. Nobody notices how she never reveals anything important about herself, and that she learns a lot about them.
She has nightmares, but then she always has, and there seems to be less of them after joining Shield. Maybe it's the fact that she is more tired now when going to bed than she is used to, or maybe it's the training and the way she feels slightly more n control of her life now. She doesn't quite know, but she will take it for what it is: a blessing.
When they have simulation training, she begs out, she tells them that she doesn't go in because of light claustrophobia; she laughs as she says it like it's no big deal. But what they don't understand is that claustrophobia isn't the fear of the small spaces themselves, it's the fear of being trapped, of never feeling the freedom of an open space again. It's the closest name of the fear that spreads through her body until her knees buckle, her chest constricts and her vision swims of possibilities of how the situation can go out of her control. She craves the control of her own life more than anything, she wants the security she must have once had, but that she no longer remember. Darcy has an constant anger burning under her skin, stretching her tight and holding her in place. She has seen too much, knows to much to go back, to just let go. And she's not sure she wants to.
The mornings after a nightmare Darcy would go on a run. The sun was just peaking it's top over the horizon and the city was quiet around her. The shadows were long and where she could, she avoided the smaller alleys, sticking to the wide streets and parks that were normally crowded, basking in the early morning sun and the freedom of movement. She let the cold sweats from her short night blend in with the honest sweat of a workout. She always left her iPod behind and instead she focused on the sound of her feet hitting the ground, working on matching her rhythm to the erratic beating of her heart until they both evened out.
On her way back the morning commuters would join her, blearily making their way to subways and buses, with the same dead look in their eyes and firm grips on coffee's or newspapers.
After a quick shower she would join them, and the day would begin anew.
(There would always be a fresh cup of coffee in her locker those mornings)
"Agent Romanov will observe our training session today." Agent Banks normal calm is disturbed today, Darcy can see that his hands are slightly white, like he wants to clench them and that he has slight tremors around his eyes. The woman standing with a straight back next to him must know as well, because she doesn't dignify him with a single look.
Darcy wants to hate this woman with her perfect bland expression and flaming red hair, wants to hate her like she once did. She is the reason that Darcy is the person she is, she is the reason for everything she went through. But looking at her now: a real person, not a concept in her mind, she doesn't think she can. The Black Widow is the perfect outcome of the Red Room, a weapon of mass destruction that served as an inspiration for Hydra, for men with grand idea's, but without scruples. Natasha Romanov isn't any of those things. She is a woman who, just like Darcy, is a survivor.
Agent Romanov stands to one side and observes the whole session without showing a single emotion on her face. Darcy can see the others try not to look at the woman watching them, but most of them fails. Darcy doesn't, and later she'll realize that's her first mistake. She should have played it like the rest, not stood out in any way. After tirty minutes Agent Romanov takes a step forward.
"Stand on a line, everybody close their eyes. Do not open your eyes until I tap your shoulder." Her voice is not loud, but it seems to ring inside Darcy's head. She closes her eyes, takes a breath and listens to the darkness. She filters out the sounds of feet shuffling and the breathing of those around her, confident that Agent Romanov is not the one making them. It's been 9 minutes when she knows something is happening, and training takes over.
Incoming hit. Brace yourself. Impact. React:
"You hit me!" Darcy takes a step back while putting her hands up to her throbbing nose.
"You should have blocked it."
"I had my eyes closed! I didn't know it was coming." The others are starting to turn and look at them now, even a few with their eyes still close are shuffling their feet.
"Lie." Agent Romanov's voice is cold and Darcy can feel her old fears creeping up her back. But Darcy can't stop now, she can't, she's come to far, and now it's sink or swim.
"You didn't hit anyone else."
"With everyone else I stopped right before I hit them. None of them knew it was coming. You did. But instead of defending yourself you let yourself be hit." Then Agent Romanov's fist is moving towards her again, and it hurts, it's hurts so fucking much that Darcy knows that she held back the first time.
"I want you to defend yourself." Her voice is still cold, impassionate.
And Darcy, Darcy can feel the fear bleeding into anger, gaining momentum from the hate she thought she'd let go of. And when the fist comes flying again, she fights back. The fight isn't long, but Darcy knows she holds her own for a while, even gets in a few shots. She isn't deluded enough to think that they are anything but lucky, but for now it's something. It ends with Darcy lying on her back, looking up into Agent Romanov's calculating eyes. And somehow that is what gets to her most, the fact that the woman above her is currently reading her, is trying to find a use of Darcy, Darcy who has promised herself that she will never be used again.
And it's this look that makes her say it: "This is your fault." She wants to say that she doesn't recognize the hissing, dark sound that is her voice, but she is also done lying to herself. Some emotion seems to play out behind Agent Romanov's eyes, but Darcy might be imagining it.
"Clear the room." she barks, and Darcy can hear the sounds of feet on the floor, a muttered comment that is being cut off from Agent Banks, the door closing and finally silence. Agent Romanov rolls off her and to her feet in one motion, but Darcy stays down. Her anger is starting to disappear, leaving behind a bone deep weariness. Agent Romanov sits down with her back to the wall, all the time looking at her.
"I've turned off all surveillance in this room. It's just you and me. Talk."
Darcy turns up and looks at the ceiling, she thinks that she shouldn't trust Natasha Romanov, but that she does. She thinks about all the things she's never told anyone, but that she wishes she could. And she thinks that this might be the only person who would actually understand. So she starts talking.
"I was seven when I was taken, kidnapped, whatever you want to call it."
The story is this: Darcy was seven the last time she saw her parents. Back then her name wasn't Darcy Lewis, that is not her real name. But it is a name and it's hers now. But she was seven, she didn't know about Darcy Lewis and she was with her parents at the mall doing some last minute shopping before their summer holiday's. The mall was stiflingly hot, and Darcy just wanted some air. Her dad was busy with a salesman, so she figured she could just go outside for a few minutes, no harm done, right?
She stupidly remembers the blinking lights in the shop window and her new flowery shoes that she was so proud of. She remembers the wonderful summer air hitting her when she steps out and then there is only darkness and pain.
She doesn't tell Natasha Romanov about all that. But she talks about everything that comes later. She talks about Hydra, about the stark rooms they kept her in. She talks about pain and longing and the impossible tasks, tests and missions. She talks about the recreation of the red room, and about the men that runs it.
She doesn't talk about the other girls. She doesn't talk about how many of them died and she doesn't talk about the ones that were her fault.
And then she is silent.
"And then what?" Agent Romanov's voice is quiet. And in a way she's not the person she was when Darcy started speaking. Darcy's story has changed something between them. She is the first person Darcy has told all of this to, and she feels lighter, but also like she has just run a marathon. She closes her eyes.
"I fought back. I escaped."
The truth is something she is immensely less proud off. And however much she tries to reason about her own survival, she still remembers the sounds of his neck snapping and the way the trusting look never left his eyes. But she became Darcy Lewis in that moment and left her old self behind with a broken man in a broken room. And she can't regret that.
Natasha is a constant presence after that. Darcy can't quite decide if it's because she likes her, or if it's one of those 'keep your enemies closer' things. But she finds it doesn't matter. Natasha, in all her scary glory, is the only person Darcy has told about her past, and that means something more than she can put words to.
Besides, if Natasha wants her dead she has the power to do so at any time, she doesn't need to be close.
Natasha and Darcy is having lunch when a man with what is some truly impressive arms drops down in the seat next to Natasha. Not that Darcy notices of course, because the very next thing she sees is that the man is clearly Natasha's. They have a shared intimacy that isn't obvious, but is there to the trained eye.
"What are you girls talking about then? How to get them boys?" He says and Darcy snorts and puts on her best sarcastic voice.
"Oh yes. They are so difficult to get, so we need to do extencive plan."
"Wouldn't think you would have much trouble with that." He leers at her boobs.
"Don't think I won't kill you."
At which point he grinned, wide and boyish. "I like her," he says turning to Natasha. "You can keep her."
"I think I will" she says and Darcy knows she means it. That she is Natasha's now, just as the man next to her is. And she likes the warmth that spreads in her chest at the thought of being someone's because they like her, not because they want to own her.
"This is Clint Barton. And yes, he is always like that, and it's always annoying."
"Aw come on. I'm lovable and cute." Barton says and steals some food of her plate.
"That is ridiculous on so many levels." Natasha answers, but Barton just steals some more food and winks at Darcy.
Coulson is often around, watching the recruits.
"Why is he always watching?" She asks Natasha one day, after a grueling training that Coulson caught the embarrassing end of.
"Director Nick Fury has always been good at the big picture; grand plans and grandiose statements. He is not good at human relations, that's why he has Coulson. Phil says it pays off keeping an eye on the recruits, that way he knows everyone's strengths and weaknesses and can give the director the right advise. He was my handler."
Darcy has never heard Natasha speak for that long about anything other than training and isn't surprised when she leaves abruptly a moment later.
She's made a full Agent soon after. She thinks Natasha had something to do with it, but the other woman is not telling and she can't be sure. She also jumps straight to a level 4, which is more surprising. The day starts out normal enough: jog in the park, the commute from her apartment to Shield headquarters, but when she enters the building she gets called over to reception.
"You have a meeting on the eleventh floor Lewis." The receptionist says without a glance at her. "If you need it I recommend you use the toilet before you go up. People have been known to regret not too." Darcy frowns at her, but when no other information is forthcoming she turns and heads for the elevators. Eleventh floor? She's never even been that far up, always keeping to the lower underground levels. She can't think of anything she's done that would require her to go that far up. There is a small coil of dread in her stomach that whispers that they know, that they want to use her, abuse her and break her down again. But she shuts it down. She's stronger now that she ever was, and she can face whatever is coming for her.
She walks out of the elevator with her head held high and her face impassive. Which is a good thing, because it turns out that the eleventh floor is basically just Director Fury's office and that the meeting she has is with the big guy himself.
It's a short meeting, Fury does most of the talking and she feels shell shocked when she comes back out again. The only thing she can remember clearly is "Level 4", Don't fuck it up" and with a surprising clarity: "You don't show up on Coulson's radar unless you have the potential to be extraordinary. Make sure you don't fucking squander that potential or the resources Shield put into you."
But apparently she manages to keep her emotions from showing because the woman that comes towards her smiles.
"Well done, Agent Lewis. Most people are white as a sheet and feel the need to trow up after that."
"How do you know I don't?" Darcy smiles.
"You haven't yet, so I'm taking that as a good sign." The Agent holds out a hand. "I'm Agent Santos, from human resources, I'll help you through the important part of becoming an agent; the paperwork."
"Nice to meet you." Darcy says, and she means it. Agent Santos seems a bit more relaxed around the edges than the agents she's been meeting during field training. Santos then proceeds to take her through three hours worth of paperwork and introductions, which leaves her dizzy. Then she leaves Darcy with the advise to sleep some extra, because it's not going to be too much of it going forward, and a brand new badge and access card.
Darcy looks down at the actual, real, shining shield in her hand and hopes it will be big enough.