"Hey, that's me," Darcy says. She's been summoned into an Avengers meeting which is pretty damn exciting and now she's looking at a projected picture of herself from two nights ago and... "Hey, that's me," she repeats, puzzled.
"Good morning Darcy," Fury says, appearing at her shoulder without a sound.
"Why are you all looking at a picture of me? Why do you have a picture of me? What other pictures do you have?" she demands, starting to feel a little invaded. Fury leaves her side and moves to the front of the room. She's never actually spoken to him before and had always been amused at the way people around her would practically scuttle at his approach but now she kind of understands.
His unwavering attention is unnerving.
"Do you know the man in the photo with you?" Fury asks, raising a finger to point. Darcy glances at it and half shrugs.
That gets everyone practically gaping at her which is not something she was ever expecting. Stuff like that doesn't happen every day. "You do?" Tony Stark says in a tone that indicates that none of them were expecting for her to say that.
"Yes," she says slowly. "Some Bolero guy that was trying to buy me a drink. He was really pushy," she says.
Tony's eyes go round and he clamps a hand over his mouth. If she didn't know any better she would swear he was stifling giggles. He jerks in a way that makes Darcy think that someone has kicked him under the table. She's pretty sure it was Natasha even though the woman doesn't bat an eyelid or look like she's moved at all.
She's totally blogging about this, using fake names of course but still.
"Benicio Amro," Fury corrects her and she shrugs again.
"Yeah, that was it," she says, eyes them all. Then she claps a hand to her mouth, nearly knocks her glasses off her nose by doing it. "Oh my god, is he a bad guy?" she says. "I wasn't consorting or anything, I didn't know I swear, I'm not some kind of spy."
Tony looks like he's having trouble staying on his chair and he's gone red now from the strain of trying to hold his laughter in. Steve Rogers clips him on the back of the head and he subsides with a sideways glance. "No one thinks you're a spy, Darcy," he manages to squeak out.
"I would not let anyone sully your reputation thus, dear Darcy," Thor intones from the other side of the table. Darcy grins at him. He's Jane's best boyfriend to date by far and his fierce protectiveness of Jane seems to extend to her which is really quite endearing.
"That man is one of our High Priorities."
"As in, take him out priorities?" Darcy asks making a gun with her hand and holding it against her temple. Tony spits coffee across the meeting room table. Clint and Natasha elegantly sweep sideways out of the spray but Bruce Banner isn't as fast and looks resigned about wearing most of it. He dabs at himself pathetically before huffing and giving it up for a lost cause.
"See, this is what I was talking about," Clint snorts, taking his seat again and everyone in the room gives exasperated looks at each other like Darcy's missed a very lengthy argument that he's trying to restart.
"You've had your chance Agent Barton," Fury says coolly. "I'm all ears if you've come up with an alternative." Fury actually cups his hands behind his ears which gives Darcy a new appreciation for the level his sarcasm can reach.
"She's not field rated," Clint says, waving a dismissive hand at Darcy that makes her scowl even though he's right. She keeps putting off the hand to hand combat and small arms training that's required of all SHIELD office personnel. She knows on any given day an insane genius criminal type can storm SHIELD HQ with some kind of doom machine but Darcy really wants to have an excuse to cower and let other people take care of it. "She's not trained at all."
"We don't need someone trained," Coulson says. "We need someone who's his type. Having someone who's already caught his interest is an opportunity we can't pass up just because you have concerns."
"Concerns," Clint grunts.
"Does someone want to tell me what's going on instead of just talking about me like I'm not in the room?" Darcy asks, raising an eyebrow. She's always found that a snippy attitude is great at hiding when you're freaked out of your mind. Darcy lets her gaze settle on Coulson because technically he's the one she works for and also seems the most reasonable.
"Amro runs a large, multinational pharmaceuticals company. We think he may be developing bio-weapons as a fun little side project. He has a lab we can't find."
"Can't you scoop his ass up, press him until he gives it up?" Darcy asks.
"Not in any official capacity."
"How about unofficially?" Darcy asks. "I would think you guys would be all about the unofficial."
"If he gets wind that we have the location, he'll destroy the place."
"Isn't that a win-win?" Darcy asks and Coulson smiles at her patiently like she's a particularly dim student.
"There's a chance he's already marketed some of his product. We need samples, his research. We need the place as intact as possible."
"We need a location without tipping him off," Fury summarizes, sneaking up on her again. Darcy jumps, wishes he would quit doing that.
"How can I help?" Darcy asks, surprising not only the people in the room, but herself.
"He's approached you already. He's initiated contact. It's an opportunity-"
"You said that already," Darcy interrupts Coulson, making a get on with it gesture.
"We've lost agents trying to infiltrate his ranks. He always seems to be able to sniff them out."
"So you think someone he's approached at random will be a lot less suspicious?" Darcy asks, getting it.
"Exactly," Coulson nods.
"Except for the part where she is completely..." Clint starts, kind of winces without finishing the sentence. Darcy's not sure where he was going with it, but she can guess. Unprepared would be amongst the kindest.
"The cover we've created will allow for protection," Coulson says, picking up a file from the conference room table and flipping it open. "He's already been trying to get information on her."
Clint spins in his chair, looking surprised. "You didn't mention that." Darcy sees Natasha touch his hand and he slumps back in his chair.
"He didn't get anything other than what we fed him," Coulson says.
"Hang on, isn't it going to look weird if I suddenly pop up somewhere he is, be all like, hey, I'm that chick that blew you off the other night. I've changed my mind, and by the way where do you keep your secret lab?"
"I really like her," Tony pipes up.
"Amro tends to like the unattainable. Artworks, cars, women. You already showing disinterest couldn't have put us in a better position."
"He's going to come to you," Fury adds. "He's found you on the guest list for a museum opening and already made inquiries about attending."
"I'm on the guest list for a museum opening?"
"Not you exactly," Coulson corrects. "We want him to know that you're not his typical... girl. He likes to show off and usually he'd do it with wealth. We need him to think that he's going to have to show off to you in another way."
Darcy's picked up the file while Coulson was speaking, her eyebrows climbing steadily as she skims it.
"This is such a bad idea," Clint groans.
Darcy's trying to thread a dangly earring into her ear when there's a knock on her hotel door. She'd been taken shopping by two fairly untalkative agents who'd had instructions about what she needed. Darcy had tried to point out that Benicio had tried to pick her up in a ten dollar dress she'd found at an outdoor market and Fury had said something about her character slumming it and that it wouldn't do for a repeat performance.
Apparently her look was a little too bohemian for what they were attempting to pull off.
She adjusts the halter neck of her dark blue dress that cost more than six months rent on her first one-room apartment when she was seventeen and opens the door, finds Clint standing on the other side in a simple black suit, no tie.
"Huh," they both say at the same time.
"Are you dapper for a reason?" Darcy asks, leading the way back into the hotel room.
"I'm your guard dog," Clint says, following her, eyes flicking like he's checking the room for exits.
"I thought I was going to have Natasha," Darcy says.
"We didn't want Amro getting distracted," Clint says, still not looking at her and Darcy sighs. She doesn't enjoy being told that she's not up to scratch in such a flat, factual way.
"How about Steve?"
"He's been on eight different magazine covers just this month," Clint says. "I think Amro might recognize him."
Darcy opens her mouth, but the only other options are Bruce and Tony, both of which are wildly inappropriate for different reasons.
"So, you've been forced on me by Daddy, right?" Darcy says and Clint nods.
"You're the only daughter of the third largest arms dealer in the world. He's a little protective of his princess."
"It scares me that you guys can fabricate this stuff so easily," Darcy says. "You can make people disappear just as quick, right?"
"We have," Clint confirms with a slight nod.
"Look, I know you hate this idea-" Darcy starts but Clint cuts her off with a quick swipe of his hand. She bites her bottom lip, tamping down on the curl of resentment she feels to be dismissed but also not really able to argue the point. As far as Clint knows, Darcy is the weird little friend that Jane made SHIELD take on as one of her requirements to continue her research exclusively with them and hold off going public.
When not keeping Jane fed, watered and out of trouble, Darcy bounces around departments at SHIELD, not having found anywhere that really fit as yet.
She's starting to feel pretty useless so she doesn't blame Clint for having that impression.
Darcy finally gets the damn earring threaded and lets it go, taking a moment to balance on one foot to adjust the strap of her completely impractical shoes. When she looks back up, Clint still has eyes on anywhere but her, but for some reason she gets the feeling that he'd stolen a glance when her attention was diverted.
"I'm just trying to help," she says, spreading her hands in a helpless gesture. She doesn't really relish the prospect of Clint's impatient attention all night, waiting for her to mess up.
His shoulders drop and he sighs, finally meeting her gaze. "Look-"
There's two quick taps on the door and then another agent, dressed exactly the same as Clint pushes open the door and leans in. "Car's here."
Darcy takes a second to adjust again, highly aware that in a dress like she's wearing her cup runneth over and fights the urge to smile to herself when Clint's eyes follow her hands and then skip away, guilty.
Not made of stone then.
"As I'll ever be."
Clint drills her in the car, and not in the fun way.
"Yes, I know, I don't bring it up," she says, "No matter how leading his conversation is."
"Don't feel compelled to slip it in there just to get the ball rolling. We don't want to spook him."
"It's not like I'm going to say, so, I hear you have an awesome evil lab, want to show me," Darcy says dryly and watches the corner of Clint's mouth twitch while he fights a smile. Clint's someone she's only ever seen from afar, this is the most time she's spent up close and personal and she's finding he's someone that she would love to like her, even a little bit. "Hey, maybe if I said it while leaning over like this," Darcy adds thoughtfully, bending forward at the waist till she has to cross her arms over her chest to stop her boobs falling out of her dress.
Clint's eyes widen, only fractionally, but it's a start.
"Maybe save that for the second date."
"So this is a long haul plan, huh?"
"Like I said-"
"We can't spook him, right." Darcy taps her fingers on the center console of the car for a second. "Hey, you guys don't expect me to put out, right?"
"What? No!" Clint splutters, sounds like he's choking. "Hard to get, remember? Jesus."
"'Cause I would need a massive raise," she adds, enjoying the hectic color blossoming on Clint's face.
"No! Under no circumstances."
"Relax, I'm just yanking your chain."
Darcy doesn't need to pretend she's bored. The fourth guy to approach her with a flute of champagne in hand and a hopeful expression gets her just rolling her eyes and snorting before he scurries away. "Where are all these guys when I'm not being bait?" Darcy complains, knowing Natasha and possibly Coulson are listening to her. She'd had to squint to see the tiny microphone Clint had pressed behind her ear.
Stark tech was crazy.
"You look familiar to me," a voice says behind her and Darcy turns, recognizing Amro immediately. He's certainly handsome, voice accented lightly with something she can't place but he has an edge to him, something that made her instinctively shy away last time, with good reason it turns out.
This time Darcy turns on him with a smile and a flick of her hair, accepting the drink he offers her. Darcy can't see Clint but she can feel his eyes on her and it's more reassuring than she would have ever believed it could be. Amro takes the hand that's not holding a drink and kisses her knuckles.
"Didn't I tell you to get lost?" Darcy asks sweetly.
"Yes, still charming as I remember," Amro says with an indulgent smile. Darcy takes her hand back pointedly and makes to turn away but Amro follows her pivot, ducks his head to capture her gaze again. "I know your father, I think."
"I doubt it," Darcy says, arching an eyebrow.
Amro reaches for her again and suddenly Clint is just there, appearing out of nowhere and insinuating himself between Darcy and Amro so smoothly that Darcy doesn't even really see him move. "Miss Darcy-"
"I'm sorry, did I ask for you?" Darcy demands, calling on every reality television show about spoiled rich girls she's ever seen as a reference to try and get her tone right. "I don't remember saying, here boy."
"It's my fault," Amro says smoothly. "I obviously intruded."
"You didn't," Darcy says, narrowing her eyes at Clint, stepping around him deliberately.
"Can butt out of my life," Darcy snaps. The foot stomp she throws in might be a tad too much considering Clint blinks a little but she's not going to waste one semester of drama by underplaying it. She slips a hand into the crook of Amro's arm and doesn't miss the way he smirks to himself. "You can't just appear like a goddamned nightmare whenever you want."
"Your father had very strict instructions on who was suitable-"
"If you say one more word, I'll scream," Darcy threatens. She turns her face up to Amro and smiles. "My father's a little... overzealous."
"I wouldn't want to cause any trouble for you," Amro says graciously. "Perhaps we can continue this later." He presses a card into her hand and extricates himself, offering a little bow as he disappears back into the crowd.
"I am the bomb," Darcy says, fanning herself with the card that has a number on it and nothing else.
"Don't get a big head," Clint says but he pinches her in the side before he also melts into the crowd.
"I don't like it."
"You have jam on your forehead."
"Don't change the subject," Jane complains, swiping at her temple and scowling. "I hate video phones."
"You'd prefer we were still using Morse code?"
"At least I wouldn't have to get dressed up for it," Jane gripes. "I've told Thor I don't like this so he's ready to come over there and carry you home over his shoulder."
"Fury would be pissed," Darcy says to Jane's frowning face. She's touched that Jane's so concerned, frankly amazed Jane noticed she was missing. "And I'm fine. I have Natasha and Clint watching my every move."
"Why can't Thor come and be your bodyguard?" Jane demands.
"The first time that Amro guy touched me Thor would punch him into the stratosphere, maybe?" Darcy says and Jane makes a face but concedes the point. "It's... I'm doing something important for once."
"You're important here," Jane says.
"I know I... it's just that with your work getting... I just feel like I'm out of my depth and while I'm completely badass at toasting a poptart, it doesn't really feel like a calling."
"This is better? You're happy?"
"I'm scared out of my wits."
"So, come home then," Jane says, like it's that easy.
"This is something I can do that'll make a difference. I'm fighting the good fight, stopping a sleaze bag from giving everyone like, monkey flu or something."
"I don't like it," Jane says again and Darcy can hear the epic pout in her voice. "It sounds dangerous. There are people trained for dangerous things there. They don't have to use you."
"I promise to run like a mofo if anything even remotely dangerous happens," Darcy swears and hears Jane make a discontented noise. Darcy's pretty sure her next call is going to have to be to Coulson to get him to talk Thor out of whatever rash action Jane will puppy-dog eye him into.
"Front doors are for amatuers anyway," Clint says when Darcy tells him and she can't help but grin.
"Are you going to be hanging from the rafters like Batman?"
"Ugh, Batman is overrated," Clint says with a raised eyebrow and a grin. "You hang out with actual superhero types and you still go to comics for your references?"
"Can't beat the classics," Darcy says. "I bet you guys have long and involved discussions on which fictional capes you could beat up."
"There's a fantasy league," Clint admits and Darcy laughs, clapping her hands.
"Oh my god, I knew it."
Clint's smiling at her in this fond way and it makes butterflies do the rumba in her stomach. She watches him as he seems to catch himself, his face closing down as he clears his throat. "Okay, you're going to be technically on your own so how about we-"
"Ground rules, yes," Darcy says.
"You didn't attend the seminar on their proper use."
"I was busy."
"The seminar that was because of you," Clint says and he's smirking at her. It's a good look on him. "This is a proprietary Stark formula, trust me it'll put someone on their ass. It's still only technically in the development stage though so please don't need an excuse to field test it."
"I'll do my best agent Barton," Darcy says, saluting with the canister and Clint rolls his eyes.
Darcy knows she'll only be out of his sight for bare minutes at most but it still gives her a bad feeling, especially when she almost knocks a guy she recognizes over on her way to the roped off VIP section. Chris Savvis, who she knows works in weapons storage at SHIELD because he was the one she'd had to hand her taser over to when she was banned, startles badly when he sees her.
Darcy fumbles her bag when she goes for the standard issue panic button Clint had made her show him three times before letting her out of his sight and Savvis darts a hand out and snatches it from her just as Amro materializes at her elbow.
His grip on her bicep is bruising and there's no hint of his usual smarmy charm on his face. "Come with me," he growls into her ear.
Amro is sitting in the only other chair in the room, close enough that his knees are almost touching hers. Darcy fights the urge to move her chair back because proximity really isn't her biggest problem.
"It's nice to know I merit a real professional," Amro jeers, lip curling up. His hands are clenching and unclenching, making Darcy nervous because it looks like he's just itching to hit something and she's pretty sure it's her.
"I'm just letting you know that I don't know anything and I'm not, in anyway, a ninja of any type so you don't have to-"
"Keep talking," Amro says in a flat voice, eyes hard. "See where that gets you."
"I babble when I'm frightened, it's a character flaw."
Amro reaches a hand out and Darcy leans away, as much as she's able to before her spine is flush with the seat back. He rests a sweaty finger against her lips and says, "We're just going to wait for your little guard dog to be brought here. I don't like violence without an audience, it feels a little impotent."
At least there's hope that Clint's still alive which is more than Darcy could have hoped for.
Amro turns away from her for a second to bark at his henchmen to give them a little privacy. Darcy uses that moment to dig into the pocket of her skirt and close her fingers around the reassuring weight there. When the henchmen slink out and Amro turns back to her with a grin she definitely doesn't like, she says, "There's something else I do when I'm frightened."
She feels like she's waiting in the principal's office.
Coulson enters after about ten minutes, holding a tablet and a pile of folders. She's surprised to see the tablet, she figured him for the paper shuffling type. Before he can say anything Darcy blurts, "Look, I didn't mean to get made."
Coulson takes a moment to blink down at his folders and if Darcy didn't know any better, she would swear he was fighting off a smile. "Get made?" he finally manages with a voice that sounds oddly strangled.
"That's the lingo, isn't it? I blundered right into some dickwad SHIELD employee that Amro had on the payroll. It could've happened to anyone." Darcy taps her lip for a second. "Well, maybe not Clint or Natasha and Tony would've talked his way out of it plus Bruce could just kind of go green and stomp everyone flat and-"
"I think I get the picture," Coulson interrupts her, holding up a hand.
"What I'm saying is, it could've happened to anyone without special, like, powers or training or that's not Tony Stark," she settles on.
"What do you think is going on here?" Coulson asks, looking puzzled.
"I'm about to be grounded?" Darcy hazards, a little confused herself. Coulson looks far from angry.
"Miss Lewis, this operation was a complete success."
"We actually owe you an apology. I'm sure that won't be the official line but I'm going to go out on a limb and apologize on behalf of SHIELD anyway."
"Um, that's okay?"
"You don't understand. I thought we were sending you in to get the location of Amro's labs." When Darcy just stares at him, Coulson clears his throat, looking the most uncomfortable she's ever seen him. "It was in fact merely a ruse to flush out the lower level SHIELD employee that was, for lack of a better term, the leak."
"The person tipping off Amro."
"You mean Savvis?" Darcy says slowly. "This whole thing was about him?"
"Whenever we tried to infiltrate Amro's ranks or insert people above him because relatively speaking Amro is a fairly low rung on a much bigger ladder, he would always be a step ahead. We couldn't figure out where he was getting his intel and we'd ruled out all upper level operatives and agents. That only left support and admin staff. As you know, Savvis was in the weapons locker. It was quite ingenious in its simplicity really. All agents and operatives are required to sign in and out their field weapons and munitions."
"Why didn't you just tell me that?"
"That was a decision from higher up than me, Miss Lewis," Coulson says, wearing an apologetic half-smile.
"How am I going to be able to trust you guys again?" Darcy asks, feeling thrown.
"We don't expect you to. Luckily a transfer has come up that will resolve that problem."
"You're firing me?" Darcy demands, aghast. She'd started thinking maybe she would skate through this little misadventure with her previous life intact, but it seems not.
"It's a transfer to a much-"
"I know bullshit sugar coating when I hear it," Darcy snaps, angry at the unfairness of it all.
"Believe me, Miss Lewis, you are not going to want to pass up-"
"I can't believe you guys are trying to pull-"
"-this unique opportunity and being-"
"-this bullshit on me when I did everything you asked-"
"-an ambassador to Asgard is an amazing-"
"-and didn't even complain about the shoes... wait, what?"
"-chance that others would literally kill for."
"Um, repeat that part about being an Ambassador?"
"We had agreed with the Asgardians that it was necessary to appoint a number of... ambassadors to deal with treaties and ongoing relations. There were eight positions available. Thor and his people were only too happy with the suggestions we had for the first seven but had a long, long list of what they didn't want for the eighth. It was very hard to find someone to meet with their exacting standards."
"I... how is it me again?" Darcy swallows hard.
"I believe perhaps Thor and by not-very-subtle-extension your Doctor Foster wanted you to have...safer employment. You'll be responsible for entertaining any delegations that travel here."
"I'm the party ambassador?" Darcy says with a grin and Coulson sighs, before he finally says, "In a matter of speaking, yes."
She knows he was hurt, but it's still a little jarring to see Clint in the medical wing of SHIELD, lying in a bed with the sheets pulled up to his chest, one arm in a sling resting on top. He has dark purple smudges under his eyes and a drip attached to the arm not in a sling.
Darcy tries being as quiet as humanly possible, but Clint still cracks open one eye when she's settled into the chair Natasha vacated for her with a rare smile and a gentle fist bump to the shoulder.
"Hey, you," Clint croaks, wincing slightly. Darcy scoops the glass of water on his side table up and holds the straw to his lips. He takes a few sips and smiles at her, grateful. "Thanks. Tash is great but I could've been dying of thirst and she'd just raise her eyebrow at me and keep reading her magazine."
"We all have our strengths."
In a stronger voice he says, "I heard you nailed Amro with the pepper spray. I wish I'd seen that."
"Yeah, well, you shouldn't have been so occupied with being beaten to a bloody pulp," Darcy scolds gently.
"Meh, you should see the other nine guys."
"Nine, really?" Darcy says. "I heard it was a measly five."
"Lies," Clint huffs. "Is that what Tony's telling everyone?"
"Yeah well, he's jealous."
"Of course he is. I mean, take away his billions and his armored suit and his... you know what? I'm going to stop now before I depress myself."
"Look," Darcy starts, biting her lip. Clint's eyes had been sliding closed but now they open properly, fix on her. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry, you were right. This was all a big mistake."
"We got the bad guy, right?"
"Yeah, we did, but you got hurt because I didn't-"
"Hey, it was nothing you did, okay?" Clint interrupts, holds up his good hand and after a second's hesitation, Darcy takes it, mindful of the IV. "I shouldn't have let him separate us in the first place."
"Yeah, but I know what you think about me," Darcy says, grimaces because she thinks it's pretty poor form to be feeling sorry for herself when sitting next to a guy in a hospital bed.
"What's that then?" Clint prompts, frowning.
"What everyone thinks. Silly, useless, Jane's friend Darcy. I was always so sure of my place in the world, then I get here and I'm so far out of my depth that it's ridiculous. I don't even recognize myself anymore, I'm not this person."
"You're amazing. If you think otherwise, you're crazy."
"You thought this was a bad idea from the start," Darcy points out.
"Totally selfish reasons, I can assure you," Clint says and Darcy leans forward, can't believe what she's seeing.
"Fury wanted to put the girl I had a completely hopeless, pathetic, embarrassing crush on in immediate danger. I didn't... I wasn't at my best."
"You... crush... what?" Darcy splutters.
"I was... when Thor first touched down I was there. I was tasked with a lot of surveillance."
"Why didn't you say anything when we first got here?" Darcy asks. "You seem like a pretty confident guy. Why was there no moves made?"
"I must have been really pathetic because even Fury knew about it, told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to engage in anything that wasn't strictly professional."
"Why?" Darcy asks, mystified.
"We all kind of got the impression that where you went, so went Jane's country. There was a lot of worry that someone as... passionate as Jane would take off at the first sign of trouble."
"She's not that flighty," Darcy says.
"She's loyal though."
Darcy sits back, releasing Clint's grip on her and he looks worried right up until she rests a gentle hand on his knee. "Are you going to get over yourself now and ask me out already?"
"Fury might still have my ass," Clint says.
"I don't see how it will be a conflict. I don't work for SHIELD anymore."
"What?" Clint says, cheeks flooding with angry color instead of embarrassed this time. "Those sons of-"
"Hey, calm down," Darcy says, grinning and squeezing the knee under her palm. She leans up so she can press a kiss against Clint's temple, smiles against the skin when he makes a pleased noise at the contact.
"Let me tell you a story about how we should all be very grateful that Doctor Jane Foster has decided to use her powers for good instead of evil."