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Learning Curve

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After the dust from Thor and the Destroyer clears from Puente Antiguo, a nondescript black van brings Jane and Darcy back all of the equipment, notes, and- yes, the iPod!- previously stolen/liberated by SHIELD.

In addition to their rightful belongings, they’re given 6 feds for various purposes- none of which are very entertaining (“Can they be called ‘feds’ if they don’t answer wholly to the US government?” Jane wondered one night, halfway into her box of wine. Darcy lowered her Sprite and Loopy at the question. “I think so,” she decided. “I mean, what other shorthand can we use? Anything else would have too many syllables.”)

Two of the feds stay in the lab, and make sense of the science Jane spouts at them. Three take turns patrolling the area, radioing in about new people who have rolled into town to fix everything that was broken. The last one just gives orders to the others and has a sixth sense for when a fresh pot of coffee has been made.

His name is Barton-comma-Agent, because apparently no one in SHIELD uses first names anymore. It’s like the Sigma Chi house in the lab these days, with all the “Bruneske, can you patrol the southeast quadrant this afternoon?” and “Aspras, what’s the reading on the atmos-blahblahblah?” that goes on.

But Barton doesn’t even get the last name treatment. She only knows it because that Coulson guy said it, once, upon introductions. He makes himself relatively scarce, there’s little reason Jane or Darcy has to bump into him and call him by name, and all the other feds just call him “Sir”.

 

“He gives me the heebie-jeebies,” Jane confided late one night in the RV. ”He’s just silent, and you know he’s filing everything we do or say or look at away, in the far back corner of his brain to possibly use against us someday. I just feel… unsettled when he’s around.”

“Yeah, but don’t you feel safer with him around? Like, he can kill four people with the toaster oven- that’s pretty security-inducing,” Darcy argued.

“We’re scientists, Darcy!” Jane countered, politely ignoring the differences between physics-science and political-science. ”There shouldn’t be a need for security. There shouldn’t be a need to kill anyone with kitchen appliances!” She blinked. ”Wait, how did you get four?”

“One gets his throat cut with the oven door, two get strangled with the cord, and the last gets shocked to death,” Darcy said, reaching for the 99 Bananas bottle.

“Shocked?”

“Oh, I forgot to say it’s raining.”

“Yes, okay, four then.”

 

Darcy won’t admit it to Jane, but she feels unsettled when Barton is near, too- just not in a gives-me-the-creeps way. Sometimes, she’ll turn around from whatever- laptop, coffee machine, sink- and she’ll catch him looking at her, studying her.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence- she’s experienced it since she was 14, guys like to stare at her chest. But most guys, when caught in the act of ogling, have the decency to blush and quickly look away.

Barton, though- dude just tilts his head to the side and looks her in the eye for a few seconds whenever she catches him, and then moves on to whatever else needs his attention. Darcy knows that he never does anything without forethought, and she gets chills down her spine when she realizes that he meant to stare at her, and he meant for her to catch him.

 

It took a few days before Darcy decided that if he was going to stare at her, getting his jollies off or whyever he did it, then she was going to stare at him, too. Turnabout being fair play and all.

Best decision ever, really. With the science-feds helping Jane with the technical stuff (and the theoretical stuff, and the actual, and so on), Darcy’s days consisted mostly of scanning, filing, and making fresh pots of coffee as often as possible.

He knows what she’s up to as soon as he gets his second cup of coffee that day, and she knows he knows, and she knows that he knows she knows, and (oh my god, is she stoned or something? Seriously) Anyway, she knows that he knows because he actually raises an eyebrow when he sees her, leaning against the desk with her spiked mocha, lips quirked. Agent I-Control-My-Face Barton has an expression, and Darcy takes it to mean “game. on.”

 

Barton takes his coffee black, unless none of his men are in the lab- then he raids the pantry for Darcy’s hot cocoa to mix in. He likes applesauce but not apples, and after Darcy whistled part of “The William Tell Overture” one morning, she finds one of his arrows through a Red Delicious in the fruit bowl.

She thinks he’s matching his never-ending array of sunglasses to her underwear choices each day, so one day she goes without. When she sees him at dinnertime, he’s shades-less and glaring at her like he wants to break her apart and put her back together again.

 

He learns that she loves fruit-flavors liquor- Three Olives Blank, 99-Everything, all the schnapps- and she has no compunction about adding them to her baking. (He won’t deny that Darcy’s Loopy Funfetti cake tastes like heaven on earth- Valhalla on Midgard? Maybe he had too many slices.) After helping to move equipment around in the lab one night, he discovers her fascination with his forearms, bared by the pushed-up sleeves of his sweater. Barton may or may not spend the next week sweltering by patrolling in his long-sleeved shirts, just to see her eyes glaze over every time he walks in the room.

He is definitely matching his sunglasses to whatever color scrap of lace she calls “underwear”, and he spends the entire day she went commando very crankily patrolling Puente Antiguo.

 

She catches him humming the theme from “Firefly” on his way to town. He spies her and Jane dancing to Taylor Swift in the RV one night.

She used his last Red Bull for a jagerbomb. He finished her secret stash of Lucky Charm marshmallows for his mocha.

She ordered him a bottle of chocolate liquer from Switzerland. He stole her Converses and returned them with a pair of perfect-fitting blue cowboy boots, stamped with a little silver “13”.

One day, she overheard him snap at the 3 patrolling-feds that there was no need for them to take the graveyard watch on the RV and perimeter, "I got a handle on it." That night, she used Barton’s watchful eyes, and Barton’s arms, and Barton’s abs, and, yes, Barton’s name as part of her

stress-relief routine.

A pack of batteries, with a little ribbon tied around it, showed up on her desk at lunchtime.

 

The sound of the door to No-Name Bar opening drew her attention. A hottie in the cowboy hat slowly crossed to the far end of the bar and settled in. Darcy grabbed her purse and made her way to the stool next to him.

“Hello,” she purred. ”I’m Darcy.”

The man tilted his head up and looked at her with eyes that she swore she could identify in her sleep. ”Clint,” he responded. ”Can I buy you a drink?”