Darcy has always prided herself on not scaring easily.
She barely flinches at jump scares, doesn't react to horror movies and that guy in Lecture Hall Three that thought it was funny to hide behind the door and leap out at any girl coming in regretted his life decisions after Darcy kicked him so hard he actually squeak-talked for a week afterwards.
It takes something extraordinarily startling to get her and that turns out to be a guy propped into the join of wall in her mother's kitchen just below the roof clearing his throat when she's getting ready to cook pancakes while she's wearing her Felix the Cat pajamas.
"What the fuck?" Darcy screeches, holding onto the fry pan she has in hand although she'd nearly thrown it in surprise. She's happy to have kept a grip on it because she basically has a weapon that she now brandishes, trying to ignore the way pancake batter is sliding down her forearm.
At least the guy had surprised her before she'd put the fry pan on the heat.
"It's okay," the guy says, holding out his hands in a placatory manner and Darcy tries not to be distracted by the way that he's now braced with only his legs and that there is some unholy thigh strength.
"It's okay? It's okay? Really Mr Intruder guy? It's okay?" she scoffs, waggling the fry pan.
"You don't recognize me?" he asks with what looks like a disappointed downturn of his mouth.
"Buddy, if I'd seen you before I'd remember," she says and then when his mouth quirks back up she rolls her eyes. "Oh my god, don't be flattered. I'm about three seconds away from rearranging your face so even your momma won't recognize you." Darcy waggles the fry pan again, splattering her pajamas with batter and managing to get some in her eye. "Oh goddamn son of a bitch!"
"Are you-?" the guy starts to ask but Darcy aims the fry pan in his direction again, a little less vehemently this time, with one hand while feeling around for a dish cloth with the other. She misses the first couple of times she tries to grab the towel hanging from the faucet because her depth perception is affected by having one batter-filled eye squinched shut.
"Can I-?" the guy tries again and Darcy finally snatches the towel up and wipes over her face, throwing him a speak and you'll get a fry pan to the face glare when she's done.
"You wanna get down from there and tell me just who the hell you are and why you've broken in here?" Darcy says.
The guy basically puts his legs together and drops lightly to the floor. It is not impressive, dammit. He's still holding his hands out like he's indicating he isn't armed but he's wearing a black t-shirt and pants with way too many pockets for her to be sure that he doesn't have anything on him so she keeps her own blunt instrument held high.
"I was in New Mexico," he says, surprising her for the second time that day.
Darcy gives him a dubious frown. "You don't look like Thor, a giant death robot or the suit-y guy that stole my ipod so try again."
"Coulson," the guy huffs with an amused shake of his head and finally Darcy lowers the fry pan a couple of inches.
"How did you know that?" she asks slowly.
He gives her a bland look. "Because. I. Was. There," he repeats slowly, which, rude.
"Are you SHIELD?" Darcy asks.
The guy pulls a complicated face at that. "I... was," he finally settles on. "Before we discovered that SHIELD was like one of those harmless-looking logs in the forest that you find a whole bunch of spiders and worms underneath when you turn it over with your boot."
"Okay, weirdly specific metaphor man," Darcy says, pulling her own face. She lowers the fry pan all the way and tilts her head. "Still doesn't tell me who you are now or why you're here."
"It's kinda to do with that," the guy says. "I'm Spec-" his eyebrows furrow and he corrects himself. "I'm just Clint now, I guess. I'm trying to lay low."
"You do something that means people are looking for you?" Darcy asks.
"Not secretly be a Nazi, pretty much," Clint says with a shrug.
"Uh, good?" Darcy says and sets the fry pan aside. She knows it might be a mistake, that he might have just been waiting for her to lower her guard, but he could've jumped her from behind when she was unaware of him. Instead he'd sort of announced his presence so Darcy decides to give him a very grudging benefit of the doubt. The last guy she'd given the benefit of the doubt to had been Thor and that had worked out pretty well.
He doesn't do anything overt when she sets her weapon down, just relaxes the tiniest fraction and she hadn't even realized he was tense until his shoulders visibly drop a few inches.
"Okay, so, I know who you are, kind of, but that still doesn't explain what you're doing here."
"A friend of mine had to dump a bunch of information onto the internet when the whole SHIELD is secretly evil thing went down and that included any safe house locations they had or any aliases I had. I'm pretty boned right now."
"Yes, but, why here? How do you even know about me?"
She watches Clint resist the urge to roll his eyes and perhaps repeat that he'd been in New Mexico and instead waits patiently for him to settle on what he is going to say. Finally he slumps and says, "Thor mentioned this place, said your mom makes a mean meatloaf." Clint's stomach growls at his words and he grimaces, embarrassed.
"Thor told you where my mom lives?" Darcy asks in disbelief and Clint ducks his face.
"Not exactly. I extrapolated the area based on a couple of things he said and, uh, tried about a dozen farms before I found the right one."
"Not as impressive as I was imagining," Darcy says and Clint actually looks affronted at that which is pretty funny. "So, why were you doing an impression of a wall spider?" she adds, curious.
"Oh, uh, I guess it's just my way of fidgeting. I climb things. Then you came in and didn't notice me straight away and it was getting to a point where it was getting awkward," Clint says, rubbing at the back of his head.
"So, how is Coulson?" Darcy asks, turning back to the sink so she can scrub the pancake batter from her arms. "Steal any personal music devices lately?" Her pajamas are a lost cause, but she's not quite at the place where she's willing to leave Clint unattended in her mom's kitchen yet so a change of clothes will have to wait.
There's silence behind her and Darcy turns when it stretches. Clint's got his face ducked and his fists clenched and Darcy swallows hard. "Oh no, he wasn't one of the secret bad guys, was he?" It would be horribly disappointing to find out that he was. She'd liked Coulson and she was usually a pretty good judge of character.
Clint does this kind of whole body wince, but he also shakes his head. "No, we uh, lost him, when Loki..." he trails off, looking extremely uncomfortable and worryingly sad and Darcy wants to hug him, but knows they don't really know each other well enough for that.
"I'm sorry," she offers instead. "He seemed like a good guy."
"The best," Clint agrees and seems to shake himself, rallying. "So, please tell me there's more pancakes to be had."
"I'm making you breakfast now?" Darcy snorts, but she's already turning to the fridge to retrieve more eggs.
She's dithering between whether to give him her brother's old tennis shoes to wear or a pair of battered combat boots when her mother leans into her line of sight and says, "Why did I just walk in on a young man in the shower?"
"See anything noteworthy?" Darcy asks, waggling her eyebrows and Donna Lewis huffs and flicks Darcy on the forehead.
"He's someone I met in New Mexico," Darcy says, which, yes, is technically a lie but close enough to the truth for plausible deniability later if needed.
"And he... followed you here?" Donna asks, a worried line appearing between her brows.
"I told him to drop in if he was ever in the area," Darcy says with a shrug, hoping she sounds as breezy as she's aiming for. She'd never been good at lying to her mother but after Jane and that whole thing, necessity made her learn the knack fast. She couldn't exactly tell Donna about rainbow bridges and smoking hot gods falling from the sky, not if she didn't want her mother to lock her in the basement and throw away the key either for her sanity or her safety.
"A head's up would have been nice," Donna says and then she stands, wipes off her hands and smirks. "Almost as nice as that young man's behind."
"Mom!" Darcy squeaks. She can't decide whether to be thrilled or appalled or maybe a little of both at the same time.
"Where do we keep the brain bleach again?"
"You haven't seen it?"
"The brain bleach?"
"His butt, dear," Donna says, because normal social and parental boundaries have never been Donna Lewis' bag.
"He's a friend," Darcy asserts and her mother gives her a slow and disbelieving, Uhuh.
"Is this friend staying long, and in a different bedroom?"
"I'm not sure and yes, geez," Darcy groans, deciding on the boots because she figures that's more Clint. Admittedly, she's only seen him in the one outfit he'd arrived in but the other faceless SHIELD agents scurrying around like thieving ants she can remember were either in black and boots or suits and shiny shoes and Clint doesn't strike her as the shiny shoe type.
"He has a nice singing voice, too," Donna muses out of left field.
"How do you know that?"
"He was singing in the shower."
"Wait, you heard him singing and you still walked in on him?"
"I have a right to check out strange men using my hot water."
"You're such a perve," Darcy says with a shake of her head, knocking the heel of her palm against her temple.
Darcy and Clint both freeze and Clint swallows the huge mouthful he'd taken audibly. "Uh..."
"You related to any of the Dollards? You look just like the oldest, Jimmy," Donna adds, head tilted and eyes shrewd.
"No ma'am," Clint says, using a napkin to wipe a smear of gravy from the corner of his mouth delicately. He'd become this kind of Leave It To Beaver wreck of manners and shuffling when Donna had appeared and Darcy is trying not to find it completely adorable. The guy is still firmly in the might have a hidden agenda category and Darcy wants to remain aloof and clear-headed and not be turning into a mushy pile of goo every time Clint does an aw shucks level of head-duck whenever Donna asks him a question.
"How about that bow case in our entryway?" Donna asks.
"It's... not a bow case?" Clint tries, the words sounding more like a question than a statement and because Donna is focused on Clint, Darcy can get away with mouthing pathetic at him. He's SHIELD, surely they taught him how to lie to mothers better than that.
"Hon, my daddy was taking me bow hunting when I was three. I know what a bow case looks like."
"He's on the Olympic team," Darcy blurts, because it seems when she decides to lie to her mother, it's either go big or go home.
"That must be exciting," Donna says slowly, shooting a glance at Darcy that says, okay, you're up to something, it's just a matter of time before I know what.
"Very," Clint manages through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"That doesn't pay enough to be full time does it? Do you do something else?"
"Yes," Clint says, not elaborating. Apparently he thinks if he keeps his mouth full he can get away with one word answers.
"Did you ever meet Geena Davis?" Donna asks and it seems like a huge non-sequitur, except then Darcy remembers that yes, there is something vague about Geena Davis and archery bobbing about in the back of her brain.
"No ma'am, she didn't make the team in ninety-nine," Clint says, looking a little more confident with the subject matter. "She was a wild-card entry in the Sydney Golden Arrow competition but I didn't make that one."
"Hmm," Donna says and stands, picking up the cleared plates from the table. Clint makes to help but she waves him off and gives him and Darcy a dismissive flick of her chin. "You kids go occupy yourselves elsewhere while I clear up in here."
Clint follows Darcy out to the living room but grabs onto her elbow as soon as they're out of ear shot of the kitchen. "You got a laptop and wifi?"
"Why? You need to make an update to the Geena Davis fan page you run? What the hell was that? How are you spouting off Geena Davis facts like you're her Wikipedia page?"
"Darcy, as soon as your mom is finished, she's gonna Google me so I have about five minutes to hack the USA archery homepage and insert a picture of myself thanks to you so you wanna make with the laptop?"
"Fine, sorry," Darcy grumbles. Her mother's laptop is in the living room set on top of a pile of folders and loose paperwork and Darcy figures it'll slow down the Google-bust if they use that one and Darcy can tell her mom she was letting Clint check his email.
Clint plucks the laptop out of her arms and heads outside. She hears him push through the screen door and then the squeak of the porch swing and Darcy follows outside, intrigued. Clint is bent over the laptop wearing a frown of concentration. He's not exactly doing the hunt-and-peck typing style but it's not as fluid as Darcy has come to expect from hacking montages in Hollywood movies.
"You can just hack someone's homepage?"
"I have a friend who showed me a few tricks," Clint says and then smirks and types in, sounding out, "H-A-C-K."
"Ha, funny," Darcy snorts and pulls herself up onto the porch railing. It wobbles underneath her and she grabs for the support beam, hoping Clint was too busy concentrating to notice her flail.
"I gotta make the updates but I also have to write in an untraceable termination that means they disappear in a few hours and also make sure some buttmunch can't right click and save my pictures."
"It's the internet. Nothing's ever really gone."
"There's better ways to hide stuff."
"How many people would really be looking at the USA archery website anyway?" Darcy snorts and at Clint's look, she swallows and corrects. "Hundreds or... uh, thousands? Probably thousands because archery's really interesting."
"It is interesting," Clint grumbles, sounding peeved and Darcy grimaces at the top of his head.
"Darce! Have you seen my computer?" her mom calls from inside and Clint gives her a smirky told you so.
"I'm just letting Clint check his email," Darcy calls back. "He'll just be a min-" Clint holds up a hand and Darcy corrects mid-sentence. "-five minutes. It'll just be five minutes."
"Why couldn't he use yours?"
"I didn't want to expose him to that much porn," Darcy sing-songs and she's not sure how because Clint has the laptop resting on his lap, but he manages to bobble it and swears. There's a snort from inside and then the sound of her mother's footsteps retreating deeper into the house.
"Is Clint here?" the red-haired woman in the hallway just outside her bedroom asks calmly when Darcy is done screaming.
"Hey Natasha," Clint says from above her and Darcy screams again and then smacks him in the forehead with the flat of her palm when he outright giggles.
"What are you doing up there?" Darcy demands, because Clint's head is hanging from the roof, or more accurately, from out of the access hatch to the attic.
"I sleep better higher up. Your attic is really clean, for an attic. I was expecting cobwebs and spooky treasure chests. A-plus on the housekeeping."
"Uh, thanks and also, you're inviting your friends now?" Darcy says, flicking a thumb in the woman's, Natasha's, direction.
"He didn't tell me where he was. We're just good at finding each other."
"Well, that's nice for you I'm sure," Darcy says. "You here to relieve me of my uninvited house guest?"
"Um," Natasha says and actually shifts a little, looking less assured of herself.
"Seriously?" Darcy groans. "I mean, Clint I can explain because my mom just assumes we're boinking." Clint makes this hilarious choked noise while Natasha's eyes curve up in amusement, even if she's yet to crack a smile. "Clint's girlfriend though?"
"I'm not his girlfriend," Natasha says levelly.
"Still, this is not a halfway house for non-evil members of a now-evil organization."
"The entirety of SHIELD was not evil, just about five-eighths," Natasha corrects. "Enough to tip the balance in an unfortunate way but there are still good-"
"That's super keen and all, but I still need a way to explain you to my mom," Darcy interrupts, holding up a hand.
"We hung out more just before I left, before I headed to New Mexico. She was-"
"In the area?" Donna cuts Darcy off and then sighs. "And you're saying those two don't know each other?"
"Just a weird co-inky-dink," Darcy says, wishing she had just told her mom Natasha was a jealous girlfriend come to check up on Clint. That would have been a lot more believable than claiming they were strangers. When they're next to each other it's obvious that they're comfortable in each other's space and there's a history there. Darcy feels a little stir of jealous longing not because she believes that they're together or anything, but for that kind of closeness. Jane is awesome, but also super busy and hard to get a grip on because her mind is usually about fifteen stratospheres above everyone else. It doesn't help that the last Darcy had heard, Jane was in Minsk which Darcy would have trouble even finding on a map if she were pressed.
"You know you can tell me anything, right?" Donna says, resting a hand on Darcy's shoulder and squeezing. "Ever since you took that internship I've..." Donna drops her hand to make a helpless gesture. "Something's going on that you're not telling me."
"I'm just here on my break and a couple of friends dropped by to stay. What could be more normal than that?" Darcy says, although her voice is troublingly flat even to her own ears.
"I want to believe that's all it is," Donna says, giving Darcy a narrow-eyed look. "Just tell me you're not into anything dangerous."
It's probably the biggest lie of them all, Darcy remembering death robots from other planes of existence turning up in downtown Puente Antiguo when she says, "I'm perfectly safe."
Darcy had been planning to make waffles because it was only really nice to go extravagant with breakfast foods when you had people to cook for. Her mother was long gone since she works in a dentist's office in town three days a week and this is one of her on days.
Darcy's abandoned the waffle idea and is contemplating her cereal choices when she hears a shriek from outside. Darcy immediately makes for the door, unmindful of being only in a long t-shirt, robe and bunny slippers but sparing the precious few seconds to grab the baseball bat her mom keeps near the door inscribed in magic marker as Ol' Faithful along its length on her way.
Darcy pauses on the porch, straining her ears and hears another yelp, muffled a little with distance and coming from the direction of the barn behind the house. Darcy thumps around the wraparound porch and skips the back stairs with a jump, kicking her bunny slippers off as she goes so she can approach the barn at more than an awkward shuffle. She swings the bat around a few times to warm her arms up as she jogs.
She slows when she gets close enough to see three figures clumped outside the barn with cans of different sizes puddled around their feet. Two of the people are recognizably Clint and Natasha and the other one has a familiar enough face to allow Darcy's heart to climb back down from around her throat and stop the parade of flickering images across her mind's eye of her friends being hustled into nondescript black vans at gun point.
"-are not my clothes, Nat," Clint is complaining loudly when Darcy gets close enough to hear him and also see that there is a splash of very white paint across his chest. Natasha, for her part, is holding a paint brush and smirking. The other figure, a man with what looks like perpetual bed hair and clothes that look equally slept in, is standing a little away from them wearing a half-smile.
"Yeah, Emma's going to kill you," Darcy comments as she reaches them.
"Who's Emma?" Natasha asks coolly when Clint turns to her with a guilty expression.
"My brother," Darcy says with a shrug.
"You have a brother named Emma?" Clint asks, rallying.
"My mom was going through a bucking gender stereotypes phase at the same time as her Austen phase so yeah, I have a brother named Emma. It drives my mom crazy that he had it changed to Tad as soon as he was legally able to but around here he's still Emma."
Clint gives her an inscrutable look before he flicks a glance at the new guy and then back to Darcy and says, "What, no screaming greeting for our buddy?"
"Funny," Darcy says dryly. "And no, him I know."
"You do?" the man asks and he looks like he's disappointed, his expression going hunted.
"Well, know of," Darcy corrects and when he starts to look even more disheartened, she adds, "Jane made me read like, a bunch of your research papers."
"Oh, really?" the guy, Doctor Bruce Banner if she remembers right, says, brightening.
"You don't recognize him for any other reason?" Clint presses and Natasha kicks him in the shin and also swipes his cheek with her paintbrush. "Hey!"
"I googled him because his stuff was interesting and I didn't feel like I needed twelve different degrees to understand it, which was refreshing. You also don't forget someone that looks like that."
"Looks like what?" Clint asks, eyebrows hitched together in consternation while Natasha looks more amused by the second.
"Well, in his photos he's all rumpled and sexy, like a Granpa sweater come to life."
"When is a Granpa sweater sexy?" Clint scoffs.
"When I wear it to bed and nothing else," Darcy practically purrs and Clint's mouth drops open.
"Um, thank you?" Bruce says, looking both pleased and uncomfortable and Darcy gives him a grin and offers her hand.
"Darcy Lewis," she introduces and he shakes.
"I figured," he says, nodding.
"Laying low from the baddies too?" Darcy assumes. She might have to start charging rent.
"Somewhat," Bruce agrees. "Your place is also far enough away from any densely populated areas for me to... relax."
"Huh?" Darcy says, blinking and Natasha swoops in on her, taking her by the arm and turning her back to the house.
"Do you think I could borrow something to wear? I'm pretty sure my clothes will be able to stand by themselves if I'm in them much longer."
"We'll raid my mom's closet. That's what I do when I'm here," Darcy says, poking Natasha in the ribs to indicate that she knows when she's being distracted and she's allowing it just this once.
Darcy rolls the blanket out over a patch of trodden-down grass near the barn doors after handing off the tray to Bruce and as Clint sits at a corner he pats his stomach forlornly and says, "Goodbye washboard abs, it was nice knowing you."
Natasha snorts indelicately and rolls her eyes, elbowing Clint as she gracefully lowers herself to a cross-legged sit while still holding everything she'd been carrying.
"What are you guys doing out here anyway?" Darcy asks when everyone has loaded their plates and have settled back to eat.
"I told your mom I flip houses in my spare time from all my Olympics training," Clint says through a full mouth, cheeks bulging like an adorable cartoon chipmunk.
"Oh god, I should have warned you against letting my mother know you had any kind of useable skills," Darcy groans.
"Painting the barn is the least we can do for your hospitality," Natasha says and Darcy gapes at her.
"She asked you guys to paint the barn? I thought you were just out here getting paint to maybe touch up a room in the house or something."
"Nope. The whole barn," Clint says, making an expansive gesture to encompass the entire structure.
"You don't have to do that," Darcy says, planning out the stern talking-to she's going to give her mother when she returns.
"It's fine. It'll be fun."
"Do you even know how? You don't actually flip houses, do you?"
"Uh, no, but it's painting. How hard can it be?" Clint asks.
"I plan on contributing to the painting in a purely supervisory capacity," Bruce offers. "Although before your mother left I'm pretty sure I agreed to fix her tractor. I'm really not sure how that happened."
"She's relentless," Darcy says. "You definitely don't need to do that."
"I could tinker, make it look good. You'd probably need Tony here to get any real results though."
"Wait, my mom saw you already? Who did you tell her he was?" she directs at Natasha and Clint.
"She didn't ask, just kind of waved us off when we tried to explain which was good, because I had nothing," Clint says.
"Yes, she just asked us what practical skills we had and then set chores," Natasha says, smiling enigmatically. "I like her a great deal."
"Most people do until they realize she's run them over," Darcy says, a note of longing in her voice. She's never had her mother's knack for getting her way. Darcy had to come up with her own arsenal of skills for getting results which are admirable, but not nearly as effortless or ninja-like in their stealth as her mother's.
"I'm thinking purple and black," Clint says, making a show of looking over the barn and stroking his chin in contemplation.
"She'd kill you, but it would be really entertaining so I say do it," Darcy laughs.
"I think traditional red with white trim will suffice," Natasha says with a shake of her head, putting a pin in their fun.
Darcy sighs heavily and goes back to making a grocery list that will feed two super ninja spies and a rumpled doctor as well as herself the next morning. They'd been out of the house before she woke up again, the only evidence of their passing an already brewed pot of coffee and a neatly folded blanket on the couch. Darcy scrounges together fixings for breakfast, figuring she can feed them with what she has before she goes to resupply.
She's in desperate need of Oreos and apparently someone is a night-snacker because she'd found nothing but an empty box in the cupboard that morning.
Darcy heads out to the barn with another loaded tray, this time with buttered toast and a couple of jars of different spreads. She pegs Natasha as someone who enjoys a thin scraping of Nutella and Clint as a crunchy peanut butter guy. She's wondering how close she'll be in her culinary guesses as she approaches the barn, when she spots a guy on a ladder propped against the barn wall carefully unscrewing the storm shutters, who is definitely neither Bruce or Clint.
"What, are you guys breeding now?" Darcy comments when she locates Clint futzing with paint cans a few feet away, sorting them into colors. Bruce and Natasha are a little further off where the tractor has been cajoled out of the barn, both standing back from it and looking contemplative.
The guy who'd had his face turned away and is wearing a plain, dark blue baseball cap so Darcy hadn't been able to see any distinguishing features, turns her way when she speaks and Darcy drops the tray.
The guy, or more accurately, Captain red white and gosh darn blue America, darts down the ladder and across to her, looking worried. "Are you alright miss?"
"No, just...just, no!" Darcy blurts, waving at him in a shooing motion like she can maybe ward off his presence with hand gestures alone.
"Uh," Captain America says, looking torn and Clint ambles over, stooping down to retrieve the peanut butter jar out of the dust, unscrew it and stick a finger in to scoop some out into his mouth. If Darcy weren't currently having a stroke, she might have even been silently pleased about being right about his preference.
"We hoped you wouldn't mind," Clint says, voice mushy through the peanut butter.
"Clint, you didn't tell her I was here?" Captain America groans, smacking a hand to his face.
"This... may have been pushing it," Natasha says, coming over and patting Darcy on the shoulder.
"No," Darcy repeats again faintly and Captain America's face does something pinched and tragic.
"I should go."
"Wait," Darcy sighs, scrubbing her own hands over her face, because she would sooner punch a baby bunny in the nose than tell a guy who has a face that can do that to take a hike.
"Really, I don't want to make things difficult."
"Maybe we've all overstepped," Bruce contributes, grimacing.
"It's fine, really, just..." Darcy makes a helpless gesture with her hands. "I was kinda hoping to get through this without having to tell my mom, well, anything."
"Can't you tell your mom Steve's an old cheerleading buddy?" Clint asks, waggling his eyebrows.
"I was never a cheerleader," Darcy says, momentarily derailed from her internal meltdown.
"There's a photo of you in the outfit."
"How do you know that?" Darcy asks, narrowing her eyes, but then groans. "The box of old photo albums is in the attic, isn't it?"
"I was bored," Clint says, holding his hands out and pulling an innocent puppy face. Captain America elbows him and gives him a glare.
"It was a Halloween costume. You didn't notice my brother dressed like a zombie right next to me? Did you think he was in the undead pep squad?"
"I thought maybe he was just going through a hipster phase."
"My mother isn't some sheltered bumpkin. She's going to recognize Captain America."
"Steve," he offers almost shyly.
"Darcy," she offers back automatically and Steve smiles and nods.
"Thor's talked about you. Very warmly."
"Really?" Darcy says, preening.
"See, she's rallying," Clint says, screwing the lid back onto the peanut butter and hooking it over to Natasha. She hesitates for a moment, but then she's also uncapping it and scooping out a fingerful and Bruce pulls an awesomely disgusted face at her because Clint totally double-dipped.
"I swear, the minute this becomes too much for you or your mom, we'll make ourselves scarce," Steve promises earnestly. "I think we just all need... a little breather."
"We might just need you to flex in front of my mom, she thinks you're hot," Darcy muses and Steve blushes a glorious pink as Clint snorts and says, "Nice!"
"Or we very politely state our case and hope she doesn't toss us all out on our ears," Bruce offers, seeming to give in and snatch the Nutella from the ground when Clint stoops to grab it. He gives the jar a triumphant little shake in Clint's face and then blinks because it's suddenly gone from his hands and Natasha is holding it, victorious and smirky.
"O-kay. Before this degenerates further, I'm going on a food run. Any requests?" Darcy asks, pulling her phone out from her back pocket so she can add to her already pretty long list. She raises her eyebrows at Clint and Natasha and very pointedly types, "Peanut butter."
"Pasta. Like, a lot of pasta. Just when you think it's too much, double it. I would offer to go with you but I hear I'm recognizable," Steve says and is actually digging out his wallet from his jeans and offering money over as he speaks. Darcy takes it with a grateful smile and a pointed look at everyone else.
"You can definitely stay. The others, I'm not so sure," she says and Steve smiles at her winningly. If he can do that when her mother is around, they'll have it made in the shade. She'll be too dazzled to ask any questions.
"I'll go with you," Clint blurts.
"I don't know. You've been on TV," Darcy says, dubious.
"You had no idea who I was when I got here," Clint grumbles.
"Yeah, but now I see you in context," Darcy says, waving a hand to indicate his company.
Natasha crosses to Steve and pulls his hat off his head and then moves over to Clint and tugs it down over his. "There. Incognito," she says with a satisfied nod, while Steve runs a hand through his hair and it springs back, perfect. Apparently superheroes don't get hat hair which is patently unfair.
Clint slumps down in the passenger seat until his chin is touching his chest and pulls the hat over his face in the first ten minutes, snoring lightly within the next five. Darcy smiles, futzing with the radio and pulling up the single radio station she can get in the truck to play quietly. It's country music, of course it is, but there's something playing that's mellow and with plucky guitar and she figures it's nice enough for background.
The one thing she'd noticed about her guests is that they all look exhausted. Not just tired but with a pall of bone-deep weariness hanging around them, even Steve. She doesn't know whether it's physical, emotional or what but it kind of reminds her of those long weeks she'd spent with Jane after Thor left that first time, her friend determined to work herself to the absolute nub to try and reestablish a connection.
It makes her want to wrap them all in blankets and feed them never-ending soup.
A sad song comes on that's about Harlan and gravestones. Clint, who she'd thought was dead to the world, starts singing along. It's quiet at first, barely audible, but his voice picks up a little at the chorus, enough for her to be able to agree with her mom, he does have a nice voice. She thinks he may not even realize he's singing out loud, turned now to the window and looking out with his chin resting on a hand.
Dubuc is pretty tiny, one of those blink and you'd miss it towns if you were on your way somewhere else. There's a cluster of houses, a general store with an attached diner that has the dentist's office above it where her mom works and a Chinese restaurant that only stays in business because it's good enough that people are willing to travel there for dinner from out of town. They'd had a Starbucks for all of two months but it shut down because no locals were willing to brave Maude the diner owner's wrath by getting their coffee elsewhere.
Darcy's mother had moved them to Dubuc when Darcy was ten, not old enough to understand that her mother needed the space after her father had left, only how it was ruining her life because she had to leave behind her friends, her school and everything she knew. Emma was more philosophical about it, mostly because at fourteen he was at the age where he hated everyone and everything anyway and a change in location was only a drop in the ocean of his ongoing teen angst. Darcy had complained that since Emma never came out of his room anyway he wouldn't even notice but she was the one who was dying.
Her mother had rightly ignored her.
Darcy ended up loving the farm, begrudging about it at first but embracing it fully when enough time had passed. Emma had similarly let it coax him out of his shell, finding a couple of kids his own age in town to hang around with and becoming one of those perpetually sun-kissed boys with floppy hair and a languid grace that giggling teenage girls would moon over.
Clint pushes upright more fully when they reach town, looking around with interest. She wonders if he's checking for danger or just curious, his eyes flicking around and never resting on any one thing for too long. There's a couple of older men sitting outside the general store on weather-white-washed chairs and Clint's gaze seems to catch on them more than anywhere else, but Darcy recognizes all five of them so she isn't worried.
That would be some pretty amazing forward planning if one of them was a bad guy.
"C'mon, I need a chocolate milkshake as big as my head to live," Darcy says, plucking at Clint before she slides out of the cab of the pickup. He follows more sedately, still with an eye on the seated men and doesn't relax until Darcy raises a hand and greets, "Hi guys!" brightly and they all return in unison, "'Lo Darcy."
"One banjo crack and I'll kneecap you," Darcy warns and Clint holds up his hands.
"Wasn't even thinking it," he denies, letting her tow him over to Maude's without protest. Darcy needs copious amounts of dairy and sugar energy to be able to lug the amount of food back that she's guessing Steve can consume.
They're seated in a booth when Maude herself comes out to pour them coffee and ask what they want. She's four-foot-eight of pure acerbity and Clint kind of just blinks at her as she scoffs and tutts her way through their order.
"Does she hate you?" Clint asks, picking up his coffee cup and then setting it down again like maybe he's worried it's poisoned. "Or maybe everyone?"
"Nah, that's just Maude," Darcy dismisses.
"Interesting," he says and pushes the coffee cup all the way to the wall.
"So, are the bad guys likely to... find you here?" Darcy asks. On their drive she'd had time to start worrying about it. It was one thing to have Clint, Natasha and even Bruce at her place, they all seemed like the under the radar types, but she wasn't sure Steve would be able to cross so much as a street without someone noticing him.
"I don't know if anyone's actively pursuing us. They're probably happier that we've all disappeared right now."
"You don't know, though?" Darcy presses.
"Nat and I can be pretty stealthy when we want to be and Bruce has perfected the art of disappearing."
"You'd be surprised. I've seen the guy walk through his own Smithsonian exhibit and no one know he was there, except a few kids and I know Steve is a sucker for kids. He would have let them see him on purpose."
"He went to see his own exhibit?" Darcy asks, scrunching up her nose. She can't imagine what that would be like, mostly because the Smithsonian exhibit is, yes, a history but also kind of a memorial, not to mention the actual memorial outside.
"I don't think he went to see his own stuff, more his friends. The way he woke up and everyone he'd ever known was dead? I can't imagine what that would be like." Clint gives a delicate shudder, his face serious.
"Well, that's a depressing thought, thanks," Darcy chides and Clint pulls a face at her as Maude brings over their shakes, chocolate for Darcy and vanilla for Clint. They drink quietly for a few minutes and Darcy feels the need to break the somber mood. "Do you think I should write to Penthouse about Captain America painting my barn?"
"I... can't... what would that even be a euphemism for?" Clint splutters, after recovering from swallowing his shake the wrong way.
"It wouldn't be a euphemism. I think that's sexy enough," Darcy says with a smirk. "I wonder if he's going to take his shirt off."
"Ugh," Clint says feelingly, burying his face in his glass.
It's Darcy's turn to smile when Doctor Kensitt then turns to Clint and offers his palm. When Clint goes to high five, he yanks his hand away and sing-songs, "Too slooooow."
"Ooh, burn!" Darcy says. "An octogenarian dentist has quicker reflexes than you." She smacks Clint on the bicep in glee.
"Mom, we're going to have an extra person staying," Darcy slides into the conversation, hoping to make it a non-issue.
"Another person, Darce? Seriously?" her mother says, her eyes flicking between Clint and Darcy. "Are you having some kind of very weird party where people turn up one at a time for months?"
"This'll be the last one, I swear," Darcy says and then flicks a stern glance at Clint.
"Yep, absolutely!" Clint says brightly.
"You need to tell me what's going on," Donna says. "Are you in some kind of cult? Is the farm going to become a commune? Am I going to have to start building bunk beds in the basement?"
"No, nothing like that. I'll explain when you get home, I swear," Darcy says and then throws Clint another exasperated look.
"Why not now?"
"When you get home," Darcy promises, tugging on Clint to let him know that they need to leave.
"Wait! I have four hours left. I'm going to die of curiosity!" Donna calls after them.
"You'll be fine. Oh, and the new guy is kinda well known so don't freak out!"
"I knew it! It is a cult-" Donna now starts full-out yelling but then they're through the reception door and back out into the stairwell leading down into the grocery store.
"How do you think she'll take it?" Clint asks.
"I'm not sure."
"How much are you going to tell her?"
"Don't know that either. I might leave out the death robot from outer space, the whole thing about all the different worlds nearly being pancaked into each other, eternal darkness, yada, yada."
"Good call," Clint says, then blinks. "Wait, what was that about eternal darkness pancakes?"
"Steve showed me his list. I'm helping."
"His list?" Clint asks, raising his eyebrows at Steve.
"It's only the most adorable thing ever," Darcy asserts and Steve ducks his face, in the process of tugging a small notebook out of his pants pocket when Darcy makes grabby hands at him.
"It's just a thing I do. People kept telling me about stuff I missed from the last few decades so I started keeping a list of whatever sounded interesting."
"Why didn't I know about this?" Clint demands, making his own grab for the notebook as Steve stands. Steve holds it out of his reach like a big brother teasing a little one in response and Clint actually jumps for it like an excited puppy before he realizes what he's doing and huffs, embarrassed.
"No one touches the book but me. I learned that lesson the first few times I let people write in it themselves and kept having to cross porn off the list."
"Too much for your delicate sensibilities?" Clint asks and Darcy throws a bottle of fish sauce at him that he deftly plucks out of the air and flips, catching it behind his back with a flourish because he's ridiculous.
"Clint, the internet is thirty-seven percent pornography. Even if I had felt compelled to have that on my list, I would've been able to cross it off the first day I touched a computer."
"Woah," Clint says, face contemplative, then he frowns and says, "I would'a thought that number would be bigger."
"I don't find that as surprising as the fact that the internet is also fifteen percent cat videos. That's probably the weirdest thing I've had to deal with since getting out of the ice."
"Did you see the one with the cat in the shark costume on the Roomba?" Darcy asks, returning to her dinner preparations and Clint and Steve both groan.
"What are we crossing off then?" Clint asks, "Apart from music that's an insult to-"
"Disco, Clint. Don't diss the disco," Darcy scolds.
"I'm more of a country guy, myself."
"That does not surprise me," Darcy says. "I'm also attempting Thai food tonight. Pad Se-ew is one of my favorite things to make and it ticks two of Steve's boxes. It's on his list and I can also make a lot of it."
"You can't just make that. With Thai food you gotta have a bunch of choices," Clint says, bustling over and shuffling Darcy aside to paw through the groceries they'd brought back.
"You cook?" Darcy asks, watching him sort through ingredients and make piles.
Clint just makes a shooing motion at her. "Leave this to me. You go grab me some limes from the tree I saw out the back."
"Unbelievable," Darcy huffs as Clint hip checks her when she obviously doesn't move fast enough. As she leaves the kitchen, she hears Steve ask tentatively, "Can I help?"
"You my friend can chop," Clint says agreeably.
"Do you think she's okay?" Bruce asks, brows pinched together in worry. Darcy had guided her mother to the table shortly after she'd gotten home and seen Steve in her kitchen wearing an apron and a shy grin and they'd kind of set up around her with Donna barely moving, other than her eyes following Steve around, transfixed.
"She'll be fine," Darcy says and pokes her mother in the shoulder with her fork. "Mom?"
Donna's gaze slowly tracks around the table and finally comes to rest on Darcy, her eyebrows arching more and more until they are almost touching her hairline. "Are all of those Avengers people sitting at my dinner table?"
"Now she recognizes us?" Clint asks, sounding put out.
"I told you, context," Darcy says, giving him a pat on the head. "Pass the fish cakes please."
"Not all of the Avengers. We're missing Tony," Bruce says and Donna's attention snaps to him.
"You're the uh, the uh..." She looks at a loss as to how to put it and Bruce's eyes drop to his lap.
"Sorry, yes. If you're worried I can go," he offers.
"N-no. That's... fine? Just, I wasn't really expecting..." Donna trails off again.
"I'm sorry, but haven't you met Thor?" Natasha interrupts.
"That nice Scandanavian..." Donna trails off again, blinking. "Oh. Oooh."
Darcy would kick Natasha under the table if she didn't think it would be the last thing she ever did.
"Mom, do you want a-?"
"Walk. I need a walk," Donna says, standing. Everyone else stands as well and she flails a little. "No, no. You all stay," she says firmly.
"Are you okay?" Darcy asks, staying up when everyone else has returned slowly to their seats.
"I'm fine. I just need some air." Donna walks out of the dining room on stiff legs without looking back and Darcy watches her go, worried. Thor and Jane and what came with all that all had been part of her life for so long that Darcy kept forgetting that people didn't really have to deal with it day to day. Her mother has always been rock solid with a spine made of steel but springing all of this on her might have been a little much, even for a straight-backed Lewis woman.
About ten minutes pass, everyone picking at their food with little interest until finally Darcy sighs and pushes back from the table.
"We should probably go," Steve catches her arm to say.
"Where exactly?" Darcy asks and Steve's eyes flick away and back, quickly but long enough to betray that he has no clue.
"We'll figure something out," he says firmly.
"Stay," Darcy says, making sure to meet every one of their eyes before she goes outside to find her mom.
"I thought you quit," Darcy says, approaching her carefully.
"I promised myself I would only smoke when I had a bunch of superheroes eating dinner in my house." Donna makes a tada gesture with her hands.
"I thought maybe you knew about Thor and was just being cool about it."
"I'm sorry I'm not cool when it comes to this, Darcy. I'm your mom and... you told me you were safe. These people... what happened in New York? Were you there?"
"No way," Darcy says but then Donna's eyes narrow.
"You were in New Mexico, weren't you? You said you weren't anywhere near that chemical spill."
"It wasn't a chemical spill," Darcy blurts, wincing. SHIELD had cordoned off the area they'd been in and Darcy later found out that was the story they'd gone with. She has no idea how they'd gotten that many people to stay quiet about it.
"Darce," Donna sighs, dropping her head onto her balled fist, cigarette still clenched between her fingers. Darcy feels compelled to pluck it away before her mother sets her hair on fire. She looks up then and says, "It's that Jane, isn't it? She got you into all of this. I knew she was trouble the moment I saw her."
"You love Jane," Darcy dismisses.
"I'm obviously a terrible judge of character."
"Jane is awesome, stop it."
"Wait, that means Jane is dating that Thor?" her mother says, raising her face and blinking.
"Hoo, boy. Girl can get it."
"That's one hell of a long distance relationship."
"Jane is working on that."
"I don't think I want to know what that means," Donna says.
"I had to make a choice when Thor dropped out of the sky. I could've walked away then but now..." Darcy makes a helpless gesture with her hands. "There's such a thing as knowing too much. I don't think I could go back to being in the dark."
"I guess none of us have that option anymore, not since there was a giant gaping hole in New York that alien monsters came through."
"True," Darcy says and clambers up indelicately onto the tractor next to her mother. She swings her legs and rests her head on her mother's shoulder. "I'd like to be able to come back here when it gets too much though."
"Always," Donna says immediately and fiercely.
"Sorry to spring this all on you."
"Still better than you being in some kind of cult."
"Always look on the bright side, huh?"
"She's a trooper," Darcy says and smirks. "She's playing Gin with Steve, Bruce and Natasha. I don't know who to feel more sorry for."
"Definitely Bruce," Clint says and Darcy nods.
"Don't judge me for any unfortunate wardrobe choices you find in there. I was young, there was a war on, etc," Darcy says.
"Very restrained, although I liked the goth phase. How long did that last?"
"I quit when I got liquid eyeliner on my eyeball."
"Yikes," Clint says with a chortle, his face sobering as he watches Darcy crawl over to his nest and flop down.
Darcy pulls one of the albums towards herself. She can see a photo of her and Emma mugging for the camera. They're all of about eight and six years old respectively, unaware of the directions and diversions their lives will take, although Darcy remembers being certain there would be aliens and that, at least, she was right about.
"You really don't remember me from New Mexico?" Clint asks into the stretched-out quiet.
"There were a lot of people and a crazy death robot if you'll remember," Darcy says, pushing the album aside and regarding Clint with her head propped on one hand. "I only remember Phil because he stole my iPod... and his suits fit very nicely." Darcy watches the reflexive way Clint's jaw tightens when she mentions Phil and feels a wash of sadness for him.
"I'm used to blending in. I guess I just... I gave you my last pop tart," Clint says and he sounds so cute and grumbly about it that Darcy is giggling before a memory hits her, clear and concise.
"Wait, that was you?" she asks.
"Oh, you don't remember me but you remember the pop tart?"
"No! God you're dumb," Darcy says and Clint blinks at her. Darcy pulls herself over to him awkwardly, using mostly her elbows and a kind of worm-like shuffling and then reaches up. When Clint leans away from her, Darcy makes impatient hands at him until he sighs and leans forward again. Darcy puts one hand across Clint's forehead and the other across his nose and mouth. "It was you. You're Hot Crinkles."
"I'm what?" Clint asks flatly, his voice muffled through Darcy's fingers.
"You, dumbass, were wearing a mask," Darcy says. "One of those, y'know, baclava things."
"Balaclava," Clint corrects automatically and then his eyes widen. "Oh my god, I was. I am a dumbass."
"I know right?" Darcy says jovially, wondering if it's weird that she's still basically holding Clint's face and feeling his words against her hand. She takes her hands away with a wry smile.
"Wait, what did you call me?" Clint asks, titling his head at her.
Darcy drags herself upright so she's sitting on her heels. "Hot Crinkles. Your eyes do that cute, crinkly thing when you smile and I was sure you'd be hot under the mask, like hot damn and not hot temperature although the mask kind of looked like maybe it was-"
Clint pushes upright and into Darcy's space and kisses her as she's rambling. It's kind of awkward because Darcy was talking so her mouth is half open and Clint is leaning over so he misses kissing her straight on and kind of catches the side of her mouth, but it's still lovely, although over too fast.
Clint pulls back, clearly embarrassed, ducking his face and rubbing the back of his head. "Sorry, just..." He makes a helpless gesture with his hands and crinkles his eyes at her like he knows what he's doing, which is driving her crazy.
"You should ask Jane. I was all about Hot Crinkles, but I never saw you again."
"That's kinda my job," Clint says, giving a half-shrug. "Do you, uh, like the rest?"
"Duh, yes," Darcy says, reaching out for Clint again and dragging him in by the shoulders. They only come up for air when someone clears their throat pointedly from the attic hatchway and Darcy would know that throat clear anywhere.
"It's not like you didn't think this was already happening," she says, turning to see her mother regarding them both with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but a man who I would swear is Tony Stark just parked his private jet in front of the house. You didn't hear that?"
"I'll have you know, young lady, that my jet is very stealthy," Tony says, popping up next to Darcy's mother, sunglasses, goatee and smug smirk all just like Darcy's seen on the news. "Quieter than a kitten's meow."
"It wasn't very quiet when you landed on the mailbox and part of the front fence," Donna says, seemingly unimpressed by Tony's swagger.
"Um, I'll pay for that," Tony says, cringing a little.
"Stark, what the hell are you doing here?" Clint asks, untangling from Darcy, but, she's pleased to find, not all the way. He just kind of shifts them so Darcy's pressed against his side but they're not so much on top of each other anymore.
"Come to collect my wayward chickadees. I have a villa on a private island owned by a shell company with your name's on it."
"Seriously?" Clint says, then glances at Darcy, expression going unsure.
"You should totally go. It'll be safer for you. Probably us too," Darcy says and Clint's face tightens up at that. Before Darcy can pull that last bit back though, Tony makes a dismissive noise.
"Bring the... Lewis'? Lewisi? What's the plural of a couple of Lewis women."
"Trouble," Donna and Darcy say at the same time and then grin at each other.
"I like it. C'mon. I've already got Jane and Thor on the jet. Family vacay awaits."
"We can't just leave. I have a job," Donna says, although she looks like she's one second away from dashing off to grab a bag, just waiting to be persuaded.
Tony makes another dismissive noise. "There's an SI temp filling in for you at the geriatric dentist office for the next two weeks and I know for a fact that Darcy is foot loose and fancy free. C'mon kids, no excuses."
Darcy turns to Clint and says, "We don't have to-"
"Is this a tropical island?" Clint asks, not looking away from Darcy but the question is clearly directed at Tony.
"Very warm. Dress code is bikinis, for men and women."
"I'll help you pack," Clint says to Darcy, scooping her off the floor and she laughs.