Clint wakes and snaps to full awareness with a speed honed by a lifetime of black ops missions and triple hazard-pay situations. He catalogues everything he knows about his surroundings in less time than it takes him to blink twice: Darcy is no longer draped over his chest in her usual aggressive starfish sprawl, the blanket is tucked around his body instead of tangled around his ankles, and the space next to him has already grown cold.
He sits up. “Lights at half strength. Please,” he adds, remembering the last time he’d asked Jarvis to do something without exercising “at least a pretense of civility, Agent Barton.” They still occasionally find dried coffee stains in odd places all over the kitchen.
The lights flicker on immediately, but as he expected, the room is empty. He glances at the clock on the nightstand. 3:47 AM. Jesus.
“Yes, Agent Barton.”
“Ms. Lewis is in the lower basement, utilizing the shooting range.”
“At this time of night? What’s she doing there?”
“Ms. Lewis is shooting targets.” Jarvis’ posh tone implies the ‘obviously, dumbass’ he would never voice out loud while still being perfectly polite, with a side helping of withering disdain that he reserves specially for Clint. It’s quite impressive and a bit unnerving. Clint is under no illusions about how and why Stark’s AI and Darcy get along so well. Once in a while, he considers trying to end the (mostly) harmless feud between Jarvis and himself, but always dismisses the notion as a lost cause. Sneaking up on Stark and scaring the crap out of him in his own mansion is way too much fun to ever give up, even if Jarvis ensures his success rate is only a measly 3% most of the time.
This week's clean laundry is still sitting in a teetering, haphazard pile in a corner, unfolded. Clint grabs the first pair of jeans he finds and pulls them on.
“Should I inform Ms. Lewis that you are looking for her?”
“Nah, thanks anyway, Jarvis.” He finds one boot outside the bathroom door and the other under Darcy’s side of the bed.
“Ms. Lewis is handling a loaded weapon. If you approach her in your usual manner—“
“Got that part, thanks. Shooting range, guns and bullets, sort of a hand-in-hand thing.” He pulls a T-shirt over his head, one of Darcy’s oversized free college shirts that she usually wears in place of pyjamas. He briefly considers changing into something a little less tight around the shoulders, but he pictures the look on Darcy’s face when she sees “Beer pong is too a real sport” across his chest and leaves it on. “No stealth tactics that might cause unfortunate accidents.”
“A wise decision, Agent Barton.” Coulson’s polite condescension when dealing with anyone who irritates him (incompetents and Stark topping the list) has nothing on Jarvis’.
Clint resists rolling his eyes but only barely, as he leaves the apartment suite and heads for the elevator.
He can hear the shots even through his earmuffs before he rounds the corner. Darcy, dressed in a black T-shirt and dark cargoes that hug her gorgeous legs, is using the booth closest to the far wall. She hasn’t seen him yet, so he slides into a chair a few feet behind her to wait and observe. The gun she’s using is a Walther PPK; her stance is fine, if a bit stiff, and she’s consistently hitting the target’s center mass. Clint would bet good money on Natasha’s involvement, and not just because Darcy's using the grip Tasha favors when she instructs new agents. There'd been a noticeable upward spike in Darcy's lightning quick text conversations in the past few months. The increased flurry of messages that he'd thought was highly enthusiastic attack planning for Pepper's birthday party has now taken on a whole new context.
Darcy’s movements are steady and smooth; she’s still clearly a beginner, but she knows what she’s doing. Clint carefully adjusts his jeans and reminds his body that it already got a thoroughly enjoyable workout earlier that evening. It doesn’t really help.
Darcy pulls the trigger one last time, puts the pistol down, then presses the button that carries her target forward. She examines it closely, tracing its edge with her fingertip, before removing her safety glasses and sliding her earmuffs back to rest around her neck.
Clint pulls off his own earmuffs and coughs slightly. Darcy doesn’t jump; she’s gotten unnervingly good at either concealing her surprise whenever he sneaks up on her or knowing exactly when he enters the room, he’s not entirely sure which since she’s been rapidly absorbing Coulson’s many tricks for dealing with SHIELD field ops specialists. She turns and shoots him an amused look, one corner of her mouth tilting up. “Hey. Hope I didn’t wake you.” He sees the moment she notices what he’s wearing, as her smile widens, her eyes darkening ever so slightly.
Clint gives her a lazy smile and a wink. “You didn’t.” He stands and walks to her booth, drops a light kiss on her lips before sliding an arm around her waist as they both scrutinize her handiwork. “Not bad, babe. How long have you been coming down here?”
“Not that long. Dad went through a brief hunting phase before Mom decided he was a vegetarian, so I knew some of the basics. Natasha gave me a refresher and some of the baby agents have been giving me pointers.”
“Hmm.” Clint glances at Darcy’s face for a moment. “And is there a reason why you’re down here in the middle of the night?”
Darcy stiffens slightly. “Not really. Just couldn’t sleep.”
“Right.” Clint removes the earmuffs from Darcy’s neck and puts them next to her pistol, then turns her around until they’re facing each other, his hands on her hips. Darcy’s fingers restlessly pluck at the fraying hem of his borrowed shirt, her eyes glued to a spot somewhere around his fly, which would normally be hella distracting, if they weren’t also standing in Tony Stark’s basement shooting range at four in the morning. “You’ve been hanging around Steve too much. His boy scout aura has sucked away your ability to lie convincingly.”
Darcy’s head snaps up and she glares at him. “I’m not—Steve isn’t—“ Her eyes narrow and Clint resists the urge to put his hands up in surrender. “What’s with the interrogation, Barton? Maybe I just wanted to shoot at something because I find it soothing and therapeutic. You think watching all day Law & Order marathons is soothing. Don’t judge me.” She lets go of his shirt and tries to take a step back, but Clint grabs her hands and she stops. Darcy stares at his feet; Clint frowns.
“Hey, hey, Darcy, look at me.” Her gaze remains steadily pointed at his toes. “I’m just worried about you, Darce. Look, if something’s bothering you, you can tell me.”
She flicks a glance at his face. “You’re going to think it’s stupid…”
“Stark wearing Ray-Bans in a SHIELD basement briefing room is stupid. You suddenly developing an interest in firearms? Not stupid.”
Darcy huffs (it’s adorable), and gives him a fondly exasperated glare. Her eyes linger on his chest--on the left lower side of his chest, actually, and Clint narrows his eyes.
“Does this have anything to do with what happened in Chicago?”
Darcy scowls and pulls one hand free to poke him in the side, hard. “’What happened in Chicago’ is that you almost died, Clint! You were so—but I couldn’t—“
She throws herself forward and hugs him, her body tense and trembling. His arms automatically come up to return her embrace, and it takes a few minutes before he realizes she’s crying silently, her tears starting to soak through his shirt, face pressed tightly to his sternum.
He runs a hand through her hair the way he knows she likes, tracing a path from her ear to the nape of her neck; he drops kisses on her forehead, the top of her head, any part of her face he can reach while she’s still pressed tightly against him. “It’s okay, baby, I’m right here, I’m okay.”
He’s not sure how long they stand there, ten minutes, twenty, until Darcy stops sniffling and pulls back slightly, mumbling apologies for getting snot all over him.
“It’s your shirt anyway,” he says smirking at her, brushing a quick kiss to her cheek.
“Ass.” She glares at him, the effect significantly diminished by her red eyes and the smile tugging at her lips. “Look…I just…I didn’t tell you I was doing this because I was worried you’d think I was being silly. I know I’d be next to useless out in the field. I don’t have thighs of ninja death or super speed or a magic hammer. And you’re Hawkeye—“ Darcy flaps a hand at Clint’s face and then makes vertical up and down movements indicating his whole body—“You’re you and you can handle yourself, you don’t need protecting. Not like me.”
Clint makes an outraged noise. “What the fuck are you talking about, Darcy, you’re not helpless, you don’t need protecting--“
“Shut up and let me finish. Yeah, sure, I’m scrappy, I have a taser, I will not go quietly into the night, but that’s all defense. It’s great but it’s not SHIELD or Delta Force training. Clint, you’re the best at what you do, and I know you and Steve and Tony, Natasha, Thor, Bruce, you’re the Avengers, you’re not going to stop saving the world, and I would never ask you to. I’d never ask you to quit.”
Clint has never heard Darcy sound like this before, choked and ragged and sad. He wants to push her against the wall and kiss her until she forgets everything else, wants to wipe the fear out of her eyes, but he doesn’t want her to stop talking, either. “I know.” He strokes under her jaw with his hand, lets the calluses on his fingers drag over her soft skin, and she gives him a wobbly smile.
“You don’t need me out there. I can’t guard your back and you don’t need me to protect you. But when you go out there and come back with this…” She brushes her hand over his side. She’d traced her fingers over every ridge of his new scar at least once a day since that disastrous mission in Chicago eight months ago.
“Thought you said it was sexy—“
“For reasons I have yet to determine, I find everything about you sexy—“
“Right back at you, baby—“
“—and cocky and impossible—“
“—careful, I might get a big head; oh, wait, he just needed a moment—“
“—oh my God, shut up—“
Darcy leans against him as they laugh together. She pulls back after a minute, her expression suddenly serious. “Clint, I know you don’t need me to protect you. But it helps me cope with things like Chicago, to know that if I really have to, I can do more than just tase the bad guy or kick him in the shin. I can’t keep you from getting hurt, not yet, maybe not ever, but I really, really want to. You don’t need me to, but I want to know that if I had to do something, I could.”
Clint stares at Darcy, letting his thumb draw circles under her left ear.
“Clint? Hello? Wow, I’m going to remember this forever, the day Clint Barton finally shut uhhwhoah—“
Darcy shrieks in surprise when Clint scoops her up and slams them both into the wall. He kisses her fiercely, her lips parting on a moan that makes Clint shudder. She wraps her legs around his waist and claws at his shoulders, trying to pull him even closer as their tongues tangle together. He sucks on her lower lip, enjoying the eager noises she makes as she rocks her hips forward. It’s intoxicating, like the giddy satisfaction of making that pitch-perfect impossible shot and the soaring adrenaline rush of a controlled tumble off a building into Iron Man’s waiting grasp all rolled into one. Clint’s chest feels too tight, like he’s unable to get enough air, but he can’t stop kissing Darcy, swallowing each gasp from her mouth greedily like they’re the only things keeping him alive.
He’s about to slide a hand under her shirt, gleefully determined to accidentally forget Steve’s earnest entreaties to keep “certain...things, I know you know what I’m talking about, Clint” out of the common areas of Stark’s mansion, when Darcy cups his cheeks and pulls away slightly, her eyes wide and dark as deep twilight. She’s breathless and flushed, her chest heaving, as she gazes at his face, her thumbs stroking lightly over his cheekbones. Neither of them move for a moment, staring at each other from less than an inch apart, their breathing gradually returning to normal, her warm, pliant body still wrapped around him.
When she leans back in and kisses him, it’s sweet and slow, tender and intimate. Clint closes his eyes, content just to hold Darcy and exchange lazy kisses until his arms finally start to tremble, and he lets her slowly slide down till she’s on her own two feet again.
He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re kind of incredible, Darcy Lewis.”
She leans upwards and kisses him gently on the mouth. “Don’t ever forget it, soldier.”
He laughs. “Not likely. So. You’ve been taking pointers from the babies?”
“Just Johnson--tall Johnson, not onion-breath-Johnson--and Mireille and Fuller.”
“They’re not...awful, I guess. But they’re not me.”
Darcy widens her eyes and looks him up and down in mock confusion. “Really? I thought all SHIELD agents were smug, toned former-carnie-turned-government snipers with attitude. I’m disappointed.”
“Hush. Keep doing whatever you’re doing with them, but I’ll ask Coulson to give us an hour together every other day, alright?”
“Ooh. The ‘tennis instructor’ shtick. How does that usually work out for you, Agent Barton?”
He winks at her. “My students always pass with flying colors, Ms. Lewis.”
“I’m sure they’re highly motivated.”
They stare at each other for a charged moment, before Clint looks away first. “Think you’re up for another round? There are a few things you could tighten up in your stance, and I want to get a closer look at the grip you’re using.”
“Yes, sir, Agent Barton.” Darcy’s mouth twitches with suppressed laughter, but she straightens quickly when Clint hands her a new mag and smoothly reloads the Walther PPK.
Clint whistles. “You have no idea how hot that is.”
Darcy smirks at him. “Natasha’s been teaching me Krav Maga, too.”
Clint twitches slightly and Darcy laughs.
“You’re totally imagining that now, aren’t you, the ninja thighs of death, rolling around on the mats, our sweaty bodies grappling as we strive for dominance...” She waggles her eyebrows, which should look ridiculous but is charmingly endearing instead.
Clint grabs their discarded earmuffs and hands her a pair, then pushes a button to bring up a new target. “If you’re too distracted to shoot straight, I’m giving you an F, Lewis.”
Darcy grins as she puts on the earmuffs and her safety glasses. “I guess you’ll just have to offer me some extra credit lessons to make up for it, sir.”
Clint swats her on the ass, mostly just to make her yelp, and dons his earmuffs, laughing silently to himself as Darcy lines up her first shot.