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Darcy first meets Jane at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop just off campus. Darcy’s getting up for a refill as the barista calls out an order and Darcy runs smack into the girl who steps up to claim her drink.

Oh no,” the girl says, trying to hold onto her drink, laptop bag, a pile of notebooks, and an enormous blueberry muffin. Darcy steadies her and rights the papers that threaten to scatter everywhere. “I'm so sorry, I–” She glances at Darcy's fallen cup apologetically.

It's fine,” Darcy says. Everybody with any sense is running around like the proverbial chicken, with finals coming up. Darcy’s a little frantic herself, trying to pass all her classes and find a job prospect for the summer. “It was empty anyway.”

The girl apologizes again as Darcy helps her navigate the door. Darcy very carefully does not say what she’s tempted to, which is: you're gorgeous and I want your phone number but you're probably straight and we're both going to be busy for the next couple of weeks and I'll probably never see you again after that because my scholarship's running out but do you want to have dinner sometime anyway?

Darcy doesn't say any of that because she hates rejection more than anything else in the world. Rejection is terrible, all the more so because Darcy knows she's awesome and funny and has a great rack, but she keeps falling for straight girls (or, occasionally, guys working on their MBA who who think Ron Paul is the man - ugh, gross). At a certain point, Darcy wants to give up or shout, “Oh my god being bi is fantastic, come home with me and let me show you how!”

Plus, she only has forty-seven dollars and seventeen cents in her bank account, which isn’t enough to buy some random hottie a nice dinner and keep Darcy running on coffee and ramen for the next month.

I hate being a grown-up, Darcy thinks to herself, watching the girl leave. I miss being a freshman, when the worst worry I had was whether or not I was going to fall asleep in my 8 am Intro lectures.

She sighs and goes to get another coffee.

***

Darcy gives in and applies to the internship listed under 'Theoretical Physics.' It’s a long shot, but she hasn't gotten anywhere with any of the other options, and there’s an outside chance that it’ll take care of her science credits. Plus it includes room and board, even if she has to go to the ass-end of New Mexico for it.

When she gets an email response within the hour, she does a little dance in her chair.

***

Dr. Selvig makes sad faces at her resume, but lets it slip that she’s the only applicant. Then Hottie From The Coffee Shop bustles in, railing about the department head until Selvig clears his throat pointedly.

Hot Girl – who's apparently smart, too, god, how unfair is that? - stops mid-rant and blinks at Darcy, confused.

She applied for the internship,” Selvig explains. “Jane, this is Darcy Lewis. Darcy, this is Doctor Jane Foster; she's running the project.”

What do you think of spontaneously manifesting Einstein-Rosen bridges?” Dr. Foster asks immediately.

I don't have an opinion one way or the other,” Darcy responds, adding, “but I remember you like a double shot of espresso on ice with three sugars.” Inwardly, she curses herself for sounding like both an idiot and a creepy stalker, but instead of being properly wigged-out, Dr. Foster gives her a brilliant smile.

You're hired,” Dr. Foster says. “Call me Jane.”

***

Jane tries to explain what they’re doing out in the middle of the desert, but Darcy has a hard time keeping up. Between the advanced technobabble and the way Jane's hair keeps falling over her shoulder as she draws particle diagrams on random pages of her notebook, Darcy is completely lost.

After half an hour of this, Jane tears out the last page of her notebook with a sigh. “Okay, let's try a different approach.” She starts sketching a standard distribution curve.

Darcy perks up. “Oh! This I know!”

Yeah, it's a grading curve, but-”

Darcy waves her off. “No, no. I aced my statistics prereq; I can do this stuff in my sleep. PoliSci may be a soft science, but we still need to know math.

Jane stares at her. “Oh. Well, I've been doing this all wrong, then.”

Yeah, you have,” Darcy laughs. “Hit me with the numbers, Doc; I can keep up.”

***

The numbers make their own kind of sense, Darcy figures out quickly. She has trouble knowing the exact significance of them, but she can filter out interesting deviations from white noise handily enough. It’s up to Jane and Erik to do the really complicated math.

Between sorting through raw data, organizing the files, and making sure they're all properly fed and caffeinated, Darcy earns her keep. It doesn't even suck half the time, between listening to Erik's crazy old-school science stories (half of which Darcy is firmly convinced he’s making up) and Jane's tangents about the Profound Meaning encoded in the structure of the universe.

Not to mention the desert sunsets are spectacular.

***

The first time they make a breakthrough – objectively, it's not a big deal, but after weeks of squinting at data and kicking the walls in frustration, any progress is still progressthey break out the booze. Erik zealously guards his bottle of vodka, and they take turns poking at him to share.

Jane steals his glass first. “Eugh, that's awful,” she says. “You could peel paint with it.” She passes it off to Darcy.

You don't have a refined palate, my dear,” he says airily, gesturing towards the paper cups Jane and Darcy are holding. “I can't possibly expect you to appreciate good vodka.”

Darcy takes a sip. “Shit, no,” she says. “Jane's right. I know booze, and that stuff's terrible. You can keep it.”

He takes his cup back with a wounded expression. “Fine. You two can have your box of wine-”

“–
cheap wine, sure,” Darcy interjects. “But we’d drink better if we could afford it.”

Which we can't, despite the fact that we are geniuses,Jane says, raising her glass on the last word, and they all lose track of the conversation as they toast to their collective brilliance.

Erik slinks off in shame when they start singing off-key from the roof. He’d probably join them, but they’re mangling Pink lyrics and he doesn't want to be seen with them anymore.

Darcy is just coordinated enough to pull Jane away from the edge of the roof as they’re dancing. Not sober enough for them both to stay upright in the process, however. They tumble down to the concrete, limbs tangling, laughing as loudly as they'd been singing.

It’s been a while since undergrad, and Darcy’s forgotten how cheap a drunk she is. Cheap, affectionate, and completely stupid.

So of course she kisses Jane.

Her shock at her own total idiocy registers right around the time Jane pulls away. “Darcy,” she says, in a loud, slurred whisper. “You kissed me.”

No, I didn't,” Darcy says promptly, because maybe they're both drunk enough that it'll work.

Yes you did!” Jane starts waving an unsteady finger in her face. “You totally did!” She gasps, realizing, “Are you a lesbian? Why didn't you tell me? But you tell me everything!

Which is true: they've spent long nights swapping horror stories while waiting for predictive analysis visualizations to render. They've talked about TA's that hit on them, catastrophic blind dates, ex-boyfriends who hated women who were smarter than them, parents who don’t understand what they're doing with their lives, and terrible roommates. But Darcy’s been cagey in regards to the whole 'bi' topic, because it’s complicated. Or, okay, people think it’s complicated, but it really isn't and she doesn't want to handle the barrage of inevitable questions.

Especially not from Jane, who asks questions like it’s her job (which it kinda is) and might cotton on to the fact that Darcy thinks she’s hot. Like, 'Jodie Foster in Contact' hot, except without the interstellar daddy issues.

(Later, Darcy will remember this thought and laugh and laugh. And maybe also want to cry.)

I'm not a lesbian,” Darcy says. “I'm just not picky. Well I am but only about the insides and not the outsides, okay?”

Oh,” Jane says. Darcy realizes that Jane is giving her one of her 'complicated math' expressions. Specifically, the one where she’s only half a step away from figuring out the last piece of the puzzle, and she’s willing to sit there for three days until it clicks into place.

Don't overthink it,” Darcy says, getting up on one elbow, ready to move. “You're cool and smart and funny and smokin' hot and I'm kinda drunk right now, so can it not be weird, please?”

Okay,” Jane says agreeably, and pulls her back in and wow, all right, Darcy can work with this.

Jane kisses rougher than expected, the insistent glide of her tongue punctuated by sharp nips against Darcy’s lower lip. Her hands are tentative, though, moving from Darcy’s elbows to shoulders in fitful jumps, finally toying with the trailing ends of Darcy’s hair.

Darcy knows better to point it out, but she does smile into the kiss, locks her arms around Jane’s waist, and rolls them together till Jane’s on top, staring down at her. “Oh no,” Darcy says in her most deadpan voice. “I’m pinned. Whatever shall I do.”

This earns the giggle she’d hoped for, the one that makes Jane’s eyes light up as not-quite-dimples bracket her bright smile. “Oh, Darcy,” Jane says, attempting the same serious delivery and failing miserably, “Do I have to draw you a diagram?” Then she frames Darcy’s face between her hands and they laugh until they’re too busy kissing again to accomplish both.

Jane’s hands figure out where to go, one braced against the concrete and the other molding against Darcy’s waist. It sneaks under the hem of her sweatshirt, letting the cool night air in but the warm pressure of her palm counteracts the chill. In retaliation, Darcy shoves at Jane’s pilled, garishly-patterned fleece pullover and the t-shirt beneath, infuriating layers between their skin.

Jane pulls back, looking hesitant. Too fast, Darcy thinks, but Jane says, “We’re outside.

Really?” Darcy asks, “Never fooled around under the stars? You’re kidding.” She tugs at Jane’s sleeves, coaxing her down.

No,” Jane says, looking scandalized, “I don’t– We’re in the middle of town.

Darcy keeps herself from rolling her eyes, but just barely. “Fine, I won’t turn down the option of someplace warmer. And softer,” she adds, as a sharp piece of grit painfully makes itself known beneath one elbow.

Jane helps her to her feet, and they traipse down the narrow stairwell in the dark, used to the uneven fifth step and the wobbly railing. They start to cross through the former kitchen - now mostly storage space with a small cluster of tattered old couches and a makeshift table made from a board and some cinderblocks, its surface covered in the usual chaotic mess of printouts - when a low snore stops them in their tracks.

Oh, Erik,Jane says fondly, and looks at Darcy with a wordless plea.

Yeah, all right,” Darcy says. “We won’t want to deal with him tomorrow if he sleeps here all night.”

They poke and they prod until he jolts awake, the seams of the couch imprinted on his face. They help him stagger to his bed in the converted office, the only room in the place with a proper door that doesn’t lead to the outdoors. Then Darcy and Jane are too exhausted to do more than drag themselves to Jane’s camper, where they curl up together in the narrow bunk, hands entwined over Jane’s hip.

***

Even though they don't talk about what happened, things don't get weird the next day. Or the next. Or three nights later, when Darcy gets tired of watching Jane tear out her hair over readouts. Darcy’s tried turning off the overheads, but that usually only has a fifty-fifty chance of Jane even noticing. Then she turns off all but the essential systems, but she knows better than to kill the power strip of a computer Jane’s working on, in case of file corruption. Calling Jane’s name gets a frown and a muttered, “I know, I know, just a minute, sorry...”

If you let me go to bed right now, I will go down on you until you cry,” Darcy says as a last-ditch effort.

Jane straightens up in her seat. “Are you kidding me?”

I'm sorry; was that inappropriate?” Darcy realizes that she can still get fired. Maybe. She's crossed lines before without any fallout, but not this line.

Absolutely,” Jane says. “But I'll take that offer.”

***

Jane occasionally glances at Darcy, smiling a little. And Darcy, warmed by each look, smiles back. But it isn't a big deal. It’s just something they do, sometimes, to unwind or to celebrate or to pass the time when the numbers refuse to cooperate.

It lasts a month before Naked Hot Guy drops out of an impossible celestial event and Jane runs into him with her car. Twice.

And then things get really weird.

***

The night Thor leaves, Darcy joins Jane on the roof. Jane doesn't acknowledge her presence, which isn't terribly unusual, except this time, it's an alien god preoccupying Jane's thoughts and not erratic energy fluctuations that refuse to conform to Jane's carefully-calculated predictions. Still, for a moment, it feels exactly as it did before, their shoulders brushing as they stare up at the stars.

Then Darcy closes her hand around Jane's, ready to suggest that they get some sleep. Jane looks at her, eyes wide and sad.

Darcy,” she says, “we probably shouldn't...” And then she trails off, because no matter how much polysyllabic scientific gobbeldeygook is crammed in her brain, Jane still has problems adequately articulating basic human interactions. Darcy gets it though. She's spent more time here in the desert learning how Jane works than how the universe does.

Yeah,” Darcy says. “I kinda figured.”

Jane nods, a quick uneasy jerk of her head before she turns back to the sky. Still, she doesn't pull her hand from Darcy's, and Darcy can't bring herself to move away.

***

The next few days are spent unpacking all the boxes SHIELD sent back – they couldn't spare a flunky or two to help undo the damage? Christand setting everything up again. Jane spends most of the time agonizing over residual readings that are probably fading by the minute, while Darcy just grits her teeth and settles in with their database, making sure the Men In Black haven't surreptitiously deleted any key bits of data. Erik, for his part, is torn between rewiring the equipment and reassuring Jane; every so often, he’ll send Darcy worried looks from across the room.

She ignores the latter, and gives him shit about the tech. The sooner they get everything running at full capacity, the sooner they can get back to work. And then she can finish out the goddamned summer the way she was supposed to, without all the complicated (amazing, scary, mind-blowing) shit that cropped up in the middle.

***

After a week, they've settled back into familiar routine. Except Darcy and Erik have to watch Jane work herself into an entirely new kind of frenzy, alternately optimistic and despondent in a way that has everything to do with her work, and yet more intense.

No one else on Earth could possibly have a life where intellectual passion somehow manifested into actual romantic entanglement, so that both can break her heart simultaneously.

(This is another thing Darcy will find funny in retrospect.)

***

Some mornings, Darcy wakes up to find Jane in her bed. She doesn't know whether to be angry or disappointed, whether she feels these things at Jane or with herself. All Darcy knows is that she can still see tear-tracks on Jane's cheeks in the morning light, and something in her chest constricts when she smells Jane's shampoo.

When she tries to leave, Jane's face twists up and she makes a small, hurting noise in her sleep, so Darcy settles back down and holds her close.

When Darcy wakes again, Jane is always gone.

They don't talk about it.

***

Darcy considers locking her door, but doesn't, and she starts waiting up at night for Jane to visit. Darcy finds herself staying awake later and later, snapping indiscriminately at Jane and Erik in the mornings, running on too much coffee and not enough sleep.

Erik frowns at her, and Jane gives her a guilty look as if she deserves it, which makes everything worse.

Darcy focuses on the numbers.

***

Sometimes, when she's supposed to be on a supply run or doing laundry, Darcy will drive out to where the imprint of the Bifrost is still faintly etched in the ground. Remembering Thor looking up expectantly, as if they'd been watched by an unseen guardian, Darcy shouts at the sky.

I thought we were friends! I let you eat all my pop-tarts!” she'll say, her voice cracking. “You promised you'd come back!”

Or: “Have you forgotten how time moves down here? Have you forgotten her?

Darcy doesn't care how unwise it might be, to make such accusations of a super-powerful, ageless alien god. She doesn't know what else to do.

She's not the kind of girl you fucking forget, assclown!”

***

It's not that Jane wanted to nail some random stranger. Darcy has eyes. She wouldn't have turned Thor down, either, though she might've been tempted to tell him to double-bag it, what with the possibly-crazy. And the whole situation was exciting and oddly fun, even when they were running for their lives from the robot that shot lasers from its face.

The part that bugs Darcy is that Jane fell in love – universe-spanning, star-crossed, impossible, capital-L Lovewithout a second thought, with a guy she knew for less than a week. Only Jane could find the perfect man while chasing cosmic phenomena out in the desert.

And now she's pining, crawling into bed with Darcy at night as if, what? Nothing's changed? Except now, god forbid Darcy actually try to talk about it.

Jane tenses up every time Darcy says his name, for crying out loud.

I always fall for the straight girls, Darcy thinks bitterly, playing solitaire on her laptop while waiting for the next batch of data. When am I ever gonna learn?

***

Erik corners Darcy one night as she's coming back from a grocery run. He's having one of his infrequent illicit cigarettes, and she wrinkles her nose at him. “Those things are gonna kill you,” she says.

You girls are going to kill me,” he says, his voice low and serious.

I don't know what you're talking about,” Darcy lies easily. It's not even a total lie. They’ve been discreet; sure, things aren’t the same, but neither have they dissolved into unproductive hostility.

I didn't say anything before, because, well, it wasn't my business. I know you think I'm old and oblivious, but secrecy doesn't suit either of you. I noticed.” He holds up one hand as she tries to speak. “Now everything's different, and we all know it. I have to sit in the same room with you two, watching you watch each other like hawks, doubting each other, tearing yourselves up on the inside, and I can't stay quiet anymore. She misses him, sure, but she misses her friend, too, and if you miss her for another reason, you're overlooking the fact that you're the one pushing her away. You were friends first, before anything else, weren't you?”

You're right,” Darcy says when he's done talking himself out. “It wasn't your business before, and it sure as hell isn't your business now.”

She drops her eyes and walks past him, unable to handle the weight of his concern. She wants to talk about this, she really does. But it’s such a mess she doesn’t even know the right words, and besides, he’s not the one she wants to be saying them to if she found them.

***

The semester starts soon,” Erik says. “We've been given leave to continue our work here, but... are you staying, Darcy?”

Darcy takes a deep breath.

Across the room, Jane is still hunched over her keyboard, so Darcy doesn't know if she's aware of the conversation.

I don't know,” Darcy says, trying for levity. “D'you still need me? I mean, you must have figured out how to use the coffee maker yourselves, right?”

Erik's forehead knits into dismay, and she realizes that was the wrong thing to say as the typing stops from Jane's corner of the lab. Then Jane throws the keyboard against the wall in a sudden burst of violence that makes Erik jump. Keys skitter across the floor.

I'll have to find those later, Darcy thinks uselessly before Jane's crossing the room, face twisted in anger. Erik has the good sense to stay quiet and back away, now that he's lit the fuse.

How can you say that?” Jane shouts. “After everything we saw, everything we...” She falters, but barrels on, “Everything we did, how can you sit there and act like nothing's changed? As if this is some ordinary summer job? As if none of this means anything to you except a few credits and a funny story you'll tell your next girlfriend?” She pauses, chest heaving, tears glimmering in her eyes.

Darcy sets her laptop aside very carefully and stands, pushing back into Jane's space. “I don't know how much good I'll be here,” she says, keeping her voice steady through sheer force of will. “You don't need me, you need someone else. A whole fucking team of science nerds who can keep up with your work and put up with your shit until you get your boyfriend back and your name on a Nobel prize. I'm just a crappy intern. I'm replaceable.

Jane opens and closes her mouth a few times. “You're right,” she says finally in a tiny, broken voice, “You aren't a very good intern.”

Well that makes us even,” Darcy replies, grabbing her coat. “Because you're a shitty boss.” And then she leaves before someone starts crying.

***

Darcy's on the phone with a spectacularly unhelpful car rental service when she gets a call on the other line. The number's blocked from displaying. She switches over.

You should get back to the lab,” a familiar voice says, with no preamble.

It takes her a second to place it. When she does, she snaps, “Fuck you, Suit, I don't work for SHIELD.”

Would you like to?” he asks smoothly. “Or would you rather go back to the school that just kicked you out on a technicality? Or are you going to apply to another school, farther away, only to find out that you won't be getting any financial aid anywhere?” Darcy doesn’t get what he means – what this means he’s done to her entire scholastic careerimmediately, and then it clicks.

She wants to find the nearest cliff and throw her phone over. “You fascist asshole,” she snaps into the receiver. “I'm going to go to the pet store to buy a kitten. Then I'm going to train it to pee on everything you ever loved.

I’m glad you don't know where I live, then,” he says, his voice oozing amusement. “You should get back to the lab.”

Why do you care what I do with my life?” Darcy demands.

Because, despite what you may believe, you're not replaceable. You're good at what you do, Miss Lewis, and I wouldn't trust anyone else with your job.” He pauses, then adds, “And maybe I hate listening to a pretty girl cry.”

Which leaves Darcy staring at her phone in confusion for a full minute after he hangs up.

***

Darcy spends half an hour screaming at the desert sky before she gives in and goes back to the lab. “SHIELD has our stuff bugged,” she announces when she arrives. Jane and Erik don't look up from where they're crowded at one of the monitors.

We got our funding,” Erik says in an awed tone.

Darcy can't help herself. “The grants? Which one?”

All of them,” Jane says, lifting her red-rimmed eyes to meet Jane's, her gaze guarded but Darcy can still see the disbelieving joy seeping through the cracks. “And a couple I’m not sure we applied for.”

Let me see,” Darcy says, having worked on most of them. Jane swings the monitor around. “Holy shit. Why is my name on these?”

You were listed as 'administrative coordinator' on one or two,” Jane admits. “To make it seem like we could handle a full staff if we had the resources.”

Darcy gropes for the nearest chair and sits. “Son of a bitch,” she says, thinking, I am totally going to find out where Coulson lives now.

Darcy...” Jane starts, then gives Erik a hopeless look.

He squeezes Jane's shoulder once, reassuringly. “I have some phone calls to make,” he says, transparent as glass as he fumbles for his cell and exits out the side door.

Jane,” Darcy starts, suddenly realizing that for all the shouting earlier, this is where it will really end if she's not careful.

No,” Jane interrupts. “Please, let me... just let me talk?” She wheels her chair around the corner of the desk to that they're sitting knee to knee. “I... I understand if you go. I do. I mean,” she sniffs, a heavy wet sound that should be gross but instead makes Darcy want to hug her. “I'm an awful girlfriend. It's the only constant among all my relationships: I'm awful, so they leave. But, y'know, I wish I had some slack, here, because this time, I didn't even know it was a relationship until it was too late.”

Darcy blinks. “Oh,” she says, “we've been doing this all wrong, haven't we?”

Jane laughs, regretful and unhappy, but a laugh all the same. “Yeah,” she says. “I think we have.” She reaches across and tangles her fingers with Darcy's. “I don't want you to leave, Darcy. But I understand if you do.”

Darcy stares down at their joined hands. “I should leave,” she says. “If only so I can track Coulson down and taze him until he loses bladder control.” At Jane's bewildered expression, Darcy says, “He deserves it; I can explain in a minute. Let's say our funding is not a random coincidence.” She sighs. “But I'd be lying if I said I wanted to go.”

If she thinks about it, if she considers going to class again, cramming for exams, pulling all-nighters to finish fifteen-page papers on the political ramifications of a global economy on developing countries, she kind of wants to claw her eyes out. Everything seems boring, now that she's watched intergalactic power struggles and fought against the indignities of a shadowy government organization. She doesn't feel the urge to tally up participation points to see how they'll affect her GPA anymore.

Not when she has Jane looking at her expectantly, and science to do – well, facilitate, but she's learning, and it's gotten to be a habit, staring up at the sky and picturing the cosmos wheel around this tiny planet with Jane's voice in her ear, explaining how it all makes sense.

I want to stay,” Darcy says. “But we have to figure this out.”

Jane lets out a relieved sigh. “Oh thank god. Yes. We really do. I just. Where do we start?”

Boundaries,” Darcy says. “Boundaries and expectations.”

***

This is how it works: Jane's waiting for Thor, because he promised he'd come back for her, and she doesn't want to be another person to abandon or betray him.

Officially, Darcy's waiting for no one and is free to date and sleep with anyone she likes. This is, of course, a complete fabrication and she only agrees to this to make Jane feel better. She's waiting for Jane, and no matter how pathetic she feels sometimes, she knows she isn't going to get over this that easily. Plus, there are like, no good prospects out in the middle of Bumblefuck, New Mexico, so she can't even find a decent rebound.

Jane's allowed to visit every once in a while if she's freaking out in the middle of the night, but she has to knock. Also required for sleepovers: pants. Darcy insists on this rule, because Jane’s bare legs drive her crazy.

Darcy can kick her out at any time (she never does). Jane can leave at any time.

Jane will not wait for Thor forever. They don't say this part out loud, but it's coded in everything else they say.

These rules are subject to change, pending discussion.

They find a new equilibrium. The funding helps; integrating the new equipment into their old patchwork tech while keeping the sensors running is a full-time job for a full staff, let alone three people. They still can’t find anyone crazy enough to join the team, but they don't look very hard, either. It keeps them all occupied until they’ve settled back into something closer to their old camaraderie.

***

Erik leaves one night, leaving a note about a 'quick consultation' he's been asked to do.

He doesn't come back.

Jane sleeps in Darcy's bed for a week.

Then Coulson shows up in an unmarked black SUV. As soon as she spots him, Darcy walks right up and kicks him in the shin.

He doesn't move a muscle except to smirk. “Good to see you, too, Miss Lewis.”

Die in a fire,” she says.

Get in the car,” he responds. “You, too, Dr. Foster. We'll transport your things as soon as you're clear.”

Clear?” Jane repeats, confusion giving way to ire. “Where are we going? Why would we agree to go with you?”

There is an imminent threat to your safety,” he says. “We've got a secure facility in Tromsø, Norway that's configured for your research requirements.”

Jane squints at him, processing what he's telling them. “You've had a backup facility running since you returned my stolen research.”

When we borrowed it,” he corrects, “we made copies, worked to replicate your results. Turns out, we don't have anyone on staff who can match your talents.”

Darcy snorts at this. It's not that she thinks that SHIELD could find anyone better than Jane in her particular field. It's just funny that they tried.

So why didn't you bring us there sooner? Is Erik there?” Jane is asking.

That's a different project, and part of the reason I'm relocating you now. Loki's here.”

Darcy can't help but look around, her hand clutching her taser. Not here here, she thinks, here on Earth. Still: fuck.Where's Thor? Is he okay?”

Unknown,” Coulson replies. “Please get in the car.”

They comply. Just this once, Darcy thinks.

***

Why are they fighting?” Jane asks, her fingers gripping Darcy's arm so tightly she might be leaving bruises. Coulson's set them up with a SHIELD feed of the events in Germany. It doesn't have sound, but it's better than the scattershot and conflicting news online and on TV.

Darcy's starting to realize that Coulson likes them. Huh.

Because Tony Stark is an egomaniac?” Darcy answers. She wants popcorn for this. “Is that the real Captain America? Are we supposed to buy that?”

I can't watch anymore,” Jane says, hiding her face against Darcy's shoulder.

***

Darcy turns the monitor off in the middle of the New York invasion. “Now I can't watch anymore,” she declares. Jane's still staring at the blank screen as if it's going to tell her something new, something different. Something that they don't already know.

We're completely boned,” Darcy says aloud, and Jane turns that stare on her instead.

Don't say that,” Jane says. “Remember last time, with the Destroyer, and the-”

One alien robot. One. This is Loki, in person with an army in tow, and what? An armored space whale? I don't even know what I saw there. But I did see SHIELD's super-team getting their asses handed to them, and that was more than I ever needed to see.” She goes to the fridge and pulls out the bottle of wine they’d bought when they'd deposited their grants.

Good wine, she thinks. For the next big breakthrough.

She tries very carefully to avoid thinking of anything else, like Thor’s broken figure flying through the air to land amid dust and rubble and flame. How he’d suddenly seemed so different - quiet and small and still - as the Destroyer turned its back and walked away.

Now there’s an entire army of invaders from the ass-end of the universe, pouring through a hole in the sky. Thor’s not alone, but there are only five others at his side (did that one guy seriously just have a bow and arrow?). Plus, he’s the only Asgardian among them, against a brother who’d almost succeeding in fooling their whole pantheon.

Darcy’s not thinking about that at all. She’s thinking about the wine, and where they put the corkscrew.

Jane's beside her, taking the bottle away, gently. She sets it aside, and Darcy sees that her hands are shaking.

We're saving that,” Jane says. “For a special occasion.” Then she kisses Darcy, swift and fierce.

Guess the rules have changed, Darcy thinks, and kisses her back.

They fuck right there on the linoleum, frantic and desperate, shoving their clothing aside to get access to what they need. Jane shudders and sobs beneath Darcy when she comes, Darcy’s hand cramped and twisted behind the fly of Jane’s jeans.

There’s a long couple of moments where Jane stares blindly at the ceiling over Darcy’s shoulder, catching her breath.

Then she shoves Darcy back, strips her pants off, and presses her mouth against Darcy’s cunt for the first time, sloppy and inexperienced but determined. She doesn’t go anywhere until Darcy’s come twice, fists balling, spine arching, screaming herself hoarse.

Then they get up, go to the bedroom, and do it all again.

***

The world doesn't end or get taken over. That's the good news.

They find out in the weird, pre-dawn hours after exhausting each other into fitful sleep. They turn on the television with a sense of morbid curiosity while Darcy’s just in a t-shirt and Jane’s got the sheet wound under her armpits. Darcy was surprised there was even a signal working, let alone full news coverage on every channel with reporters on-site in front of emergency crews.

Jane tries to call Coulson. “There's no answer,” she says. Darcy tries the main SHIELD line and yells at them until she gets hold of someone who can help.

Agent Hill,” a woman answers, sounding so tired that all of Darcy's anger exits her in a rush.

This is Darcy Lewis, trying to reach Phil Coulson?”

He's...” and the heavy pause tells Darcy everything she needs to know. “He's not available. How can I help you?”

I have Dr. Jane Foster here; she needs to speak to Thor Odinson,” Darcy says, putting on her best professional voice to counteract the shock trying to lock her entire body in place.

...one moment,” Agent Hill says. “You're cleared, Miss Lewis. Give me a minute.”

When she hears the line click over, Darcy gives the phone to Jane. Then she goes to the bathroom to dry heave into the sink.

He wasn't supposed to die, she thinks. He was supposed to stay alive long enough for me to kick his ass, and then I'd get over it and we'd make jokes about it later. She wants to stick her whole head under the tap, but settles for splashing cold water on her face.

She can hear Jane crying in the next room. “–we thought you were going to die,she's saying. “Can I... can I see you? I need to... to talk to you.” Her voice gets faint as she paces. Darcy turns the tap open all the way so she can't hear anything anymore.

If she hears what Jane is saying, she’ll try to piece together what Thor must be saying in his stupid infectious triumphant baritone. He’s probably excited to see Jane again, the poor bastard, high on victory and probably composing some kind of epic ballad to recite so that she can be properly impressed by his courage. And then Jane will have to tell him that she cheated on him when she thought his team was going to lose.

Darcy’s not sure which part – Jane’s cheating or her lack of faith – will break his heart more.

He’s going to look like a kicked Labrador puppy, she thinks. ...a Lab puppy who can control the weather.

Aw, jeez.

Jane knocks on the door. “Darcy? SHIELD offered to fly us out to New York. Thor's at one of their facilities, taking care of a few things.”

Yeah, all right,” Darcy replies. Her voice sounds strange and raw, distorted by the echo in the bathroom. “When?”

As soon as we can,” Jane says, quietly.

Darcy suspects that SHIELD wants Jane on hand to inspect whatever-it-was that ripped a portal through the fabric of the universe, and that she's extra baggage. Jane must have insisted. Darcy can't imagine why, but hey, it's a free ride to New York. Maybe she'll visit her aunt.

She doesn't know how close the damage came to the building where her uncle works.

Darcy gags into the sink again.

***

When he spots them, Thor manages to wrap one arm around each of them and lift them up in the air. “It is good to see you, Jane, Darcy! Did you witness our glorious victory?”

We caught the highlights,” Darcy says, with what little breath she has left, “Oof.” He sets them down, beaming from ear to ear.

You were... quite valiant, Thor,” Jane says awkwardly. Darcy spots the little wince Jane tries to hide at her own stilted phrasing. How do you say ‘Boy howdy, you sure kicked that space-whale’s ass – too bad about all the skyscrapers that stand crooked now’?

Darcy rolls her eyes. “I'll go... find where they keep the coffee. You two can, y'know, catch up.”

Jane gives her a pleading expression, but Darcy ignores it and leaves them alone in the small gray sitting room.

***

I may have spotted Tony motherfucking Stark in the hallway,” Darcy announces when she comes back half an hour later with shitty government coffee. She finds Jane perched on Thor's lap. They are kissing really thoroughly, but break apart guiltily at the sound of her voice.

God damn it, Darcy thinks, this is a public space. She tries to ignore how good they look together. “I'm going to go see if I can figure out where they're keeping Erik. I know, they said he's in the infirmary, but-”

Darcy,” Thor interrupts. His voice is very kind, and that's just not something Darcy's prepared to deal with right now. He stands, and Jane hops out of his way as he advances on Darcy.

No, it's okay, you two lovebirds have been separated long enough,” she babbles, taking a step back.

Jane has told me of the great care you took of her while I was away,” Thor says gravely.

Darcy blinks up at him. “Um.” He is very, very tall. She keeps forgetting that when they're not in the same room together. At least he's not wearing his armor. Still intimidating.

And that you share a deep bond that I was unaware of when I claimed her affections for my own.” He takes her free hand between his. “I do most deeply apologize. I understand now why you were so fierce in protecting her when we first met.”

What?” Darcy says. “I mean, wait, what?

He’s looking at her with an imploring gaze, as if he’s the one who’s crossed a line, and that’s not how this is supposed to work. He’s supposed to be hurt, or accusatory, or angry, because Darcy slept with his girlfriend the other day and she’s kind of not sorry about it at all, even if she knows it’ll never happen again now that he’s back. Instead he seems almost wary, in a way that should not at all give her the errant urge to hug him.

If you are amenable, I would have us share a triumvirate union, that there be no cause for challenging each other for her hand,” he continues. Darcy spots Jane at his shoulder, grinning like a complete loon. “Of course, if you prefer, I would agree to any field of battle you choose.”

Darcy's tempted to blurt out, Dance Dance Revolution! but she bites her cheek and starts giggling instead. Possibly at the mental image, possibly at the whole situation, but either way, her brain's completely unprepared for any of this.

Darcy?” Thor asks, confused.

Darcy,” Jane says, coming around to take the coffee from her fingers before it spills everywhere. “He's serious. If you... if you want, we can...” She plucks nervously at Darcy's sleeve, where her sweater's unraveling. “You don't have to decide now, of course. It was his idea,” she adds defensively.

Darcy catches her breath. “Jane,” she says. “Only you could manage to find the perfect man.” She turns back to Thor. “So, how would this work?”

Jane says that you will want to carefully negotiate the boundaries of such a union,” he says. “I am amenable to any equitable solution if it means that there is no more unhappiness.” There is a hesitant smile playing at the corners of his mouth, relief and a hint of that self-assuredness she remembered best about him. Like he can do anything, anything he’s challenged to do.

And, okay, maybe every time one of her exes called her ‘challenging’ (or variants thereof), Darcy never understood why they thought it was a bad thing.

Darcy grins back at him. “Screw the negotiations,” she says, going up on her toes and tipping her chin up at an unmistakable angle. “We can make it up as we go.”

His smile flashes wider, bright and lightning-quick, before he takes Darcy's invitation and kisses her. He is gentler than she expects, firm but chaste, and she wraps her hand around his neck to pull him closer. On cue, he nudges her mouth open and takes over, all hot slick tongue in her mouth and a broad hand at the small of her back. He smells like sweat and rain and metal, and Darcy feels her knees go weak as he bends her backwards.

Is he dipping me? Darcy thinks, a little unfocused. She pulls back to breathe and yeah, the ceiling's canted at an angle above her. “Ha, all right, this could work,” she says, and Jane giggles next to her, crowding in to kiss Darcy herself. Thor holds Darcy in place, rumbling approval low in his chest.

There is a quiet cough from across the room. Shit, Darcy thinks, scrambling upright and swiping her thumb across her lower lip, right, public place.

There's a rumpled-looking man at the door, his expression cautious. “Uh, I'm sorry to- to interrupt, but we've got a briefing soon...?”

Banner!” Thor booms in welcome. “I thank you for the reminder, my doughty verdant friend.”

Banner?” Jane whispers. “Oh, no...

Yes, this is the physician Bruce Banner, my comrade-in-arms,” Thor says, stepping aside to sling one arm around Darcy's shoulders and Jane's waist. “Banner, these are my women, Doctor Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis.”

Call us 'your women' again and I'll find Jane a tank to run you over with,” Darcy says. Thor frowns at her. “We'll figure out appropriate labels later. Start with 'girlfriends,' okay?"

I'm so mortified, Doctor Banner,” Jane is babbling, “This is not how I imagined meeting you – I mean, I didn't ever actually imagine I'd get to meet you, but-”

Bruce gives her a lazy shrug. “I've met people under stranger circumstances,” he says. “If I'm not naked in a crater, this doesn't make the list.”

Jane blinks. “All... all right, then.”

Banner chuckles. “It's a long story. Are you the Dr. Foster working to create a stable wormhole? Because I'm fascinated by...”

Suddenly the conversation veers into territory that Darcy only partially comprehends, and she looks up at Thor with a rueful grimace. “This is going to happen a lot,” she warns him. “She won't leave the lab for days, sometimes.”

Then we must endeavor to find ways to distract her, if she is unable to allow herself rest.”

Darcy's mouth curls up in a smile. “Absolutely,she says, encouraged by the prospect.

You're coming to the meeting,” Bruce declares. “We need to talk to Stark about engineering a stable framework for any terrestrial anchor point you generate.”

I don't know,” Jane replies dubiously. “My calculations aren't anywhere near ready for practical implementation, and I don't have the equipment to run them all in less than... six months, minimum.”

Bruce laughs. “No, see, I'm going to say 'wormhole teleportation' to Tony, and he's going to throw money and tech at you like the science fiction nerd he not-so-secretly is. Sound like a plan?”

Um,” Jane says, taken aback.

She means 'yes,'” Darcy supplies helpfully. “And I'm coming along to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid, like sign away all the resulting patents to Stark Enterprises. Also, I want to meet Captain America and see if looks as much like a Ken doll in person as he does on TV.”

He does,” Bruce says, rubbing at his eyebrow with two fingers. “It's kinda... disconcerting. Yeah, okay, let's go.”

***

When Thor introduces them to Tony Stark, he says their names first and remembers to say 'girlfriends,' but they way Tony gives them an evaluative scan over the rims of his sunglasses does not make it any less embarrassing. He turns to the slender redhead next to him and says, “See, Pepper? We–”

No,” Pepper Potts says immediately, and he stops talking. Darcy decides then and there that she needs Ms. Potts to be her new BFF. Then Bruce says the Magic Words to Tony about Jane's research, and the prurient glint in Stark's gaze changes to that manic scientific intensity that she's all too familiar with.

Okay, they'll be here for a while,” Darcy says to Thor. “Introduce me to everyone else, before I overdose on technobabble?”

He is all too happy to oblige, steering her around the room with a proprietary hand in the small of her back. Darcy's not sure she wants to break him of this habit, but they are going to have a Talk regarding possessiveness at some point.

Steve Rogers is, indeed, a living propaganda poster, even in khakis and a plaid button-down. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Lewis,” he says with perfect propriety, shaking her hand. “Or is it Jane?”

No, Jane's over there, with the nerd herd,” Darcy says. “I'm Darcy.”

I thought-” he says, glancing at Thor in confusion.

It's complicated,” Darcy says, making a mental note to update her facebook status. “Are you the Captain America, or is that a title that gets passed down from guy to guy like James Bond?”

Now he looks more confused. It’s a good look on him.

He doesn't know what you're talking about,” a shorter man dressed all in black says, joining them. “I'll put 007 on the list for movie night,” he says to Steve. “Long story, but he’s the real deal.” He offers Darcy his hand and a wink. “I'm Barton. Clint Barton.”

And he is not as smooth as he thinks he is,” the redhead behind him offers. “I'm Natasha Romanoff.” She exudes such an air of casual intimidation that Darcy wants to get to her knees and beg, teach me your ways. Not, like, in a sex way. Darcy apparently has enough on her plate in that regard. She just wants to be able to scare people without even trying.

Darcy Lewis,” she says to them both. “I'm here with Thor. And Jane – she's the brunette with Stark and Banner. They might be plotting to take over the global scientific community.”

What do you do, Darcy?” Steve inquires politely, and for a moment, Darcy is stumped.

I help Jane,” she manages with a shrug. Inspiration strikes. “I'm her Pepper.” She glances around to make sure that Ms. Potts hasn't heard her, because okay, she doesn't run a multinational tech corporation or anything, but their roles in enabling absent-minded geniuses are probably very similar.

Ah,” Natasha says. “My condolences.”

It takes a moment for Darcy to realize that was a joke. She smothers a laugh as a very scary man in an eyepatch sweeps into the room, who immediately says, “Who the hell are all you people? If you're not on the team, get out. I have a meeting to run and don't need a peanut gallery.”

Darcy snags Jane and drags her out, following Pepper out the door. “You can have your little Mensa meeting later,” Darcy tells Jane. “I want to see if we can sneak into the infirmary to see Erik.”

You don't need to sneak,” Pepper says, not looking up from the really sweet tablet she's got in one hand. “I can let you in.”

Darcy cannot contain her glee. “Ms. Potts,” she says. “What's your favorite coffee? Because I am totally buying you one when we get a chance. And possibly ten more after that.”

That's not necessary, Miss Lewis,” Potts demurs. “I’ll put it on Tony's charge card. And you can call me Pepper. I have the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, if our partners are going to go ahead with their schemes...”

Jane arches an eyebrow at Darcy, who sticks her tongue out at Jane in return.

***

Erik is a little banged up, but that's all minor compared to how frail he seems, pale and exhausted with beeping machines attached to him everywhere. “I'm okay,” he says, attempting a smile. “Better now that I see you're both here.”

You're not allowed to leave us again,” Jane declares. Darcy can see her blinking rapidly, fighting tears. “Tony Stark's going to set us up with a whole new lab, with all the latest gadgets, and you'll never have to go anywhere. You can just teleconference with anybody who needs your input. Or they can travel to you. You're that... that important. They can come to you.” His hand finds Jane’s, and she hangs onto it as if it's a lifeline.

She's got the right idea, old man,” Darcy says. “And as her administrative coordinator, I'm here to make sure essential staff stick around.” She lays her hand on theirs. “You're the essential-est.”

He gives them a faint, whispery chuckle. “I'll have to be on leave for a while,” he admits. “They won't let me do more than take notes every now and then about what I... what I remember.”

We'll bust you out when you say the word,” Darcy promises.

***

When the nurse shoos them out so Erik can rest, they wander through the labyrinthine SHIELD facility, veering off to another corridor whenever they see guards, going in big circles and figure eights while they talk.

Mostly, it’s Jane talking. She explains how Tony’s going to give her her own lab in his building once it’s refurbished, full of equipment that isn’t five years (or more) out of date. He’s going to set up the power distribution so that they’re on their own circuit and their own sensor arrays on the roof and anywhere else she wants them, networked on encrypted channels with like five remote backups so no one can steal her research again and how when Erik is better–

Darcy can spot the exact moment when everything collapses together in Jane’s mind, all the good things she’s being offered and all the terrible, awful things that have just happened and could very well happen again because their lives are suddenly way, way bigger than they’ve ever prepared themselves for. Her crumpling expression is like a footage of a bomb or of a supernova, where everything pulls inward just before it’s going to explode outward again in something messy and uncontrollable.

They need to be somewhere that’s not public this very instant.

Excuse me,” Darcy says, stepping aside to address the nearest sentry. “We're Thor Odinson's girlfriends.” And she doesn't give two shits what this military jerk thinks of that, as long as she gets the answer she needs. “Can you tell us where his quarters are?”

He scans the barcode on their visitor's badges and gets someone to escort them while Jane tries to keep herself composed with little hiccupping breaths that imply impending hyperventilation. Darcy bites the inside of her lip so hard she tastes iron, because there is only room for one massive freak-out right now, and Jane has dibs this time.

Darcy closes the door in their escort’s face. She leads Jane to the bed, pulls her down, wraps her arms around her, lets her cry. If Darcy cries, too, no one else is there to see her, so it's fine.

Later, she wakes from a light doze to find Thor in the chair, watching them with concern. “It's okay, big guy,” she says. “We just got a little overwhelmed.”

He stands, and settles in at the end of the bed beside their feet. “I understand,” he murmurs. “This world is greatly different from my own, and I was in similar state when I thought myself abandoned here.”

Yeah,” she says. She looks down at Jane, who is still asleep. “Good to know we've got something stable now, though. Unusual, but stable. I mean... we do, right?”

Aye,” he says, leaning over to kiss her, reassuring and strong and oddly, already familiar. Sweat and metal and rain. “I will have to leave for Asgard soon with my brother, to deliver him to justice and for safekeeping, but I will be glad to know that you will be here for Jane, and that I will be welcomed back by you both upon my return.”

You have to leave again?” Jane asks, sleepy and plaintive.

Soon,” he says, curling one finger under Jane's chin, his thumb running along her jawline as if she is infinitely precious. She'd better be precious to him, Darcy thinks, a little of the old resentment surfacing in the back of her mind. She quashes it quickly, but knows it's something she'll have to watch out for in the future. “But I shall return. The ways are perilous, but I am willing to brave them.”

I didn't know it was... perilous to travel here. I thought the bridge was stable,” Darcy says.

It was,” he says. “But the Bifrost was lost to us. We must use other paths, now.”

Jane struggles to sit up, and Thor settles back at the foot of the bed. “What?” she says, alarmed. “So your bridge is... broken?”

Aye,” Thor admits. “'Twas my doing, to save a world from Loki's treachery.”

Oh,” Jane says, her voice very small.

Guess you'll have to take Banner's suggestion,” Darcy says. “Work with Stark to build one of our own.”

That will take years,Jane laments, brushing her knuckles against Thor's cheek.

If you believe Stark's PR, he built his first Iron Man suit in a cave in the desert,” Darcy points out. “Between your combined brainpower, this should be a snap.”

Jane looks dubious.

But hey,” Darcy says. “I could be wrong. So we can sit here and get bummed about it, or we can put what time we have to good use.” She winds her arm round Jane's waist and presses a kiss against her hair. “Up to you.”

Jane leans back against Darcy's chest. Her hand drops from Thor's face to trail down his chest, landing on his knee. “What do you think, Thor?” Jane asks, the uncertainty in her voice giving way to the promise of something more.

A half-smile creeps across his face, lighting in his eyes. “Among the stories my people tell, there is the tale of how our world shall end. When we wake every morning to the knowledge that we have another day of existence, we pledge to make the most of it.”

Darcy's had a comparative religions class. She knows what Ragnarök means. “Carpe diem,” she says aloud, and laughs with Jane when his brow knits. “Never mind.” She snags his wrist and tugs him closer, and he leans forward, bracing himself above them both. “It means 'seize the day.'”

That, I understand,” he says, and bends down to kiss Jane. It is quite possibly the hottest thing Darcy's ever seen up close.

So far, Darcy corrects herself, and kisses the side of Jane's neck.

 


- end -