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It was so wrong. Darcy figured if they ran a Google search for "worst date in history" her picture would be the first link to come up. And the guy sitting across the table from her wasn't even the problem. A friend from college had set them up and the guy... Darren... was well mannered and remarkably easy on the eye. The small, intimate restaurant was known for its fantastic modern cuisine and Darren proved he wasn't a cheap date by ordering their wine by the bottle. And Darcy knew she looked great. A few hours of being scrubbed, polished and blow-dried in preparation (a belated 'recovery-from-heartbreak' salon trip her boss had donated, along with the afternoon off) plus one new tight red dress equalled hotness.

But no matter how shiny she was on the outside, Darcy's insides felt like they'd gone a few rounds against the Hulk. Though for the first week after Clint had broken it off with her, her heart and stomach and lungs felt like they'd been beaten up by a really, really, really angry hulk. So maybe I am getting better? Maybe I owe Darren a chance. Be nice, try to smile... talk about the weather, politics, sports. Make it through the meal in pleasant conversation. Yeah, I can do it. Darcy sat up a little bit taller and rather than just poking at her entree, lifted her delicate fork and took a real bite of her truffle oil salad.

"Ah, excellent. I was worried they'd served wilted lettuce for a moment, they way you were avoiding actually eating anything," said Darren, flashing a smile that had probably put his dentist's kids through Yale. Darcy managed a small upturn of her lips in response as she swallowed down the food. Tastebuds said yes. Stomach however was still very unsure about this whole situation. But Darcy was determined to push through. Be like Pepper. Be just like Pepper when she has to take a meeting with Mr Bikham. Envisaging her boss when dealing with the head of accounting at Stark Industries, Darcy took a breath and forced what she hoped was a more 'yay for puppies and dates' expression onto her face.

"So...Darren... tell me what it's like working for Senator Woodman." With the prompt, Darren began explaining the current campaign goals and what Senator Woodman was like in person. Obviously keen on the subject, he carried the conversation which left Darcy free to take frequent sips of her wine while only having to nod her head now and again. See... it's working. I can get through a date with a new guy. I am awesome. I am hot. I don't need an Avenger in my life and if Clin... Darcy's inner pep talk ground to a halt. Just thinking the name brought up a swell of memories she'd spent the last three weeks pushing down

~"Hold the lift," Darcy yelled, seconds away from being late for her interview at Stark Tower. The hand that kept the door open for her as she lunged inside was attached to a ruggedly handsome guy. She smiled in thanks. He smiled back. Darcy was almost bummed when the elevator 'binged' only a few seconds later and she had to leave him. Bummed slid to 'zomg' when she stepped out into a sea of other applicants; ridiculously poised, calm and collected applicants that obviously hadn't been forced to sprint from the subway and run the last three blocks in heels. Her heart began to sink. "Hey," the man called softly. Darcy spun around. He was leaning out of the lift to stop the doors closing on him. "You wouldn't be here if you weren't smart. But what they really look for is guts. You got that... they'll love you." With a wink, he stepped back into the elevator. "Hope I see you here again," was his last words as the doors whooshed shut. "Damn right you will," muttered Darcy as she straightened her glasses, lifted her head high and prepared to decimate her way into this job~

No no no. No thinking about our first meeting. Or any firsts. But the memory was now playing on repeat in her brain and Darcy felt that familiar burning hint of a tear scratch at her eyes. She dabbed her mouth with the napkin and pushed away from the table. At her date's slightly started expression, Darcy tried to smile. "Um.. nose. Powder. I mean... would you excuse me for a minute?" There was an awkward silence before he nodded and Darcy could then grab her purse and make straight for the ladies.

It was so wrong. Clint knew he was being the stalker ex-boyfriend from hell. Even if Darcy couldn't see him, the restaurant was all trendy floor-to-ceiling windows and the secluded fire escape across the street gave Clint a perfect view of her. And the back of her date's head. Clint was an assassin and even with all the discipline and self restraint that entailed, his fingers itched to reach for his bow and at least pick a nick into that guy's overpriced suit or overly gelled hair. The only thing saving Mr. House-in-the-Hamptons was Darcy. This was her night out. Her time to shine after the hell he'd put her through.

With a slight grunt, Clint repositioned himself. Turned out the perfect view of his ex could be even more perfect from a slightly different angle. Darcy was always beautiful and tonight was no exception. That red dress was new and her hair shone in an upstyle of tight curls instead of her normal loose waves. Her pale skin almost shone under the soft restaurant lights and someone at the spa had dabbed a dark ruby gloss upon her lips. Lips that has so much history... Maybe it's time to abort this mission. Clint tried to push the recollection of Darcy's mouth out of his mind.

~Clint was walking her home from Stark Tower late one hot summer's night when the heavens burst open. At least it was water, not another invading alien army, which rained down on them. A drenching was unavoidable. But it had been a long day and the heat unbearable so he wasn't shocked when Darcy simply stood with her arms wide open and face turned upwards, embracing the cooling rain. She laughed and spun on the spot, her relief at the heatwave finally breaking obvious and joyful to watch. When she stopped from dizziness, he reached for her waist, steadying her as she found her balance. Her hands rested on his shoulders and she blinked up at him, her eyelashes batting the rain away from her large blue eyes. Her hair clumped around her face in wet streaks and droplets of waters slid in a tiny waterfall over her lips. She was beautiful. Weeks of flirting. Weeks of Tony being unsubtle and arranging for Clint to be around the tower. Weeks of saying no... just enjoying Darcy from a distance. All those weeks... and one storm broke him. He slid his rough fingers around her back and drew her rain soaked body to his... ready for her to maybe be the one to say no. That she'd flirted with the battered old man out of pity. But instead she melded her soft curves to his hard edges without hesitation. And then she was on her tiptoes and Clint was leaning down until their lips brushed together. The kiss was slow...tender... Darcy's mouth was gentle and caressing and as she curled herself around him, Clint's arms held her close and even with the storm beating down around them, they held each other tight until morning.~

The first couple of weeks without her had been manageable. The Captain had taken pity on him and kept an eye on Darcy, just to make sure she was ok. Ok travelling to work. And travelling back. Or going to get groceries. A couple of times she'd gone offline and Clint had suited up and gone looking for her immediately. He hadn't found her, but eventually Steve reported back and explained that Darcy had sacrificed her iPod to destroy the tracking bug installed in it. And the Captain, being the gosh-darn loveable hero that he was, had managed to talk Darcy into keeping a new bug on her. Clint had tried to thank him, but Steve simply said she'd only agreed so the rest of the team, who were all quite fond of her, didn't have to worry.

That's when it went wrong. Someone in the Avenger put their foot down and banned the rest of them from following Darcy around. Not that it had come out as a memo. But suddenly everyone was occupied. Darcy could've been walking around heroin alley at 3am in the morning and Banner and Stark would have been pre-booked to organise their lint collection. Turned out his teammates really did like Darcy and him together and had decided to be complete pains in the ass about supporting Clint. Maybe if a mission had come up, he could've distracted himself. But the world was against him and villains across the globe seemed to be on their best behaviour.

Clint tried to resist. He did. But word got back to him –

~"Don't worry, she's not around." Pepper said as she passed Clint sneaking through the back staircase at the Tower. "Hot date tonight."~

- and here he was. Turned out it was much more worrisome to have your girlfriend... or ex-girlfriend... wandering around the real world instead of buffering her in the middle of the Avengers.

Darcy had contemplated locking herself in a toilet stall and having a good cry. But really, she was over crying. So she leaned over the sink and stared at herself in the mirror until she was sure those tears had dried up and that her waterproof mascara was not going to be put to the test. C'mon Darcy Lewis. You made it to work every day and didn't cry there. Except that one time. Still. Move on. Hell, maybe make this some crazy rebound sex of a nigh... Her stomach heaved violently enough that Darcy had to grab the sink in case she threw up her wine and entree.

~"Why did they do this to me?" Darcy groaned, slumped next to the toilet, her PJs matted with sweat. It was 2 am and she'd been throwing up for hours. "I've always said such nice things about the sushi place down the road..." and then she heaved again.

Clint sat atop the bathtub beside her, gently rubbing her back and handing her a fresh washcloth when she was done. "Want me to take out the head chef for you?" he asked.

Darcy shook her head in reply."No. Just promise that even if I've ruined your bathroom, you'll forget all about this in a few days and find me sexy again."

He placed a light kiss on her forehead. "I find you sexy now."~

OK, obviously she was so hung up on Clint that the thought of sleeping with another guy made her as nauseous as bad sashimi. Not a great sign. Still. There may be no touching or groping in the near future, but poor Darren had been nice. She should try. Touch up the makeup and get back out there.

Darcy rummaged in her purse for her lipstick, though her iPod with its smooth, sleek coolness brushed her fingers first. Music. One song. I'll blast Barton out of my head. Excellent plan. She popped the small earbuds in and ignored the slightly confused look from another patron who'd come out to wash her hands. The other woman left quickly... Restroom all to myself now. Score... and Darcy hit shuffle and decided to rock out with whatever song came on. The melody that started wasn't one she recognised, but she sometimes went a little crazy with her paycheck and iTunes vouchers and forgotten impulse purchases had been known to turn up randomly.

What do you do when you're stuck,
Because the one that you love,
Has pushed you away,
And you can't deal with the pain,

Darcy almost flicked on to the next one... an angsty pop song wasn't the rock anthem she had in mind. But maybe this was her iPod talking to her. Some cosmic sign that would give her the answer. So she let the music flow over her. And it worked, a little. She followed the light beat of the tune and when the faster chorus started, she let her head swing... her shoulders roll... she closed her eyes, turned up the volume and let the unknown song drown out her brain.

Then the end of the chorus hit.

But his love is still in me,
Like a broken arrow.
Like a broken arrow.

And Darcy froze. The next few lines pulsed into her head...

He's the thorn in my flesh
That I can't take out
He's stealing my breath

... before she ripped out the earphones and tossed her iPod onto the ground. That wasn't a sign. That was some cruel 'fuck you' from the universe. Or... she crouched down and retrieved the device. She knew it was bugged; she could never say no to Steve and his puppy-dog eye. But was something else going on? Stark was known for hijacking other people's music systems and he'd been convinced that this was just a temporary break...

~"Sometimes, Miss Lewis, heroes feel the need to be ridiculous and tragic about love." Tony had slipped a glass of something potent in her hand while explaining this. "Let our Hawk brood some more about it and I'm sure he'll realise the error of his way."~

But Darcy had learned that Stark could be full of crap, especially about anything resembling actual emotion. He might be her boss's-boss and Iron Man but still. Full. Of. Crap. Because after two of those potent 'somethings' he'd plied her with, Darcy had decided she was done with any brooding. Clint brooding or her brooding needed to stop. So she took a third glass of potent 'something', sat outside his door and had either (a) sung a range of epic love ballads or (b) threatened him with Brittany and large parts of the Glee soundtracks until he came outside and talked to her. When she woke up the next morning in her own bed, her memory of the previous night was fuzzy on the details. Bruce turned up in the afternoon with coffee and bagels and sympathy. Turned out Clint had been off-site on a mission and missed her drunken tirade entirely. But the shame still burned.

Darcy's departure to the bathroom gave Clint a few minutes reprieve. It wasn't how insanely gorgeous she looked tonight; it was the tightness to her smile that really hit Clint in the gut.

He knew he'd hurt her. It had been hard - and just saying those words...

~No, Darcy, it is over. You're not what I want..."~

...had ripped at his soul. But it was better for her. A little pain now but she could at least hate him and then move on. One of the oldest and nastiest tricks in the book and it hadn't exactly won him any popularity points in the team...

~"You're an idiot," snapped Natasha. "Don't talk to me until you've realised that Darcy is a big girl and can make her own decisions."~

...but it had to be done. Clint was a SHIELD agent. He knew what self-sacrifice was. It was drilled into his core. And he didn't want Darcy to have to sacrifice herself to love him. It wasn't about the easy stuff; he knew he made her laugh, challenged her and their life in the bedroom was spectacular. Even the stuff that should have been hard, like the job danger and villainous threats, they took it in stride.

~They'd been reading in bed, Clint sitting against the bedhead scanning a mission brief on the iPad and Darcy stretched out diagonally over the mattress, her head on his thigh while she read a battered copy of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. When he'd reached the details about the mission date, Clint had frowned and put the iPad aside, stroking Darcy's hair before breaking the bad news. "I'm sorry Darce. I won't be here for your birthday next week."

"Meh," Darcy tilted her book away so she could angle her head to look up at him. "We'll just celebrate when you get back." She shrugged, completely unbothered. "World needs a'savin' and you wouldn't be you if you weren't out saving it." With that, she flicked her book upwards and continued reading. "Though..." Darcy suddenly added. "If your super secret mission just happens to be somewhere in Europe, I may retrospectively become an annoying sulky girlfriend if you forget to bring me back some Swiss chocolate." She demonstrated her best pout and fake huffy sigh and Clint laughed. Then he removed Hemmingway from her hand, lifted her into his lap and began to kiss the pout away...~

Really, it had been part of what attracted Darcy to him. He'd always noticed she was a pretty girl, though pretty girls... dime a dozen. But Darcy was unique. From when she'd first come barrelling into the elevator, she was spirited and driven but despite all the bravado, she was also unpretentious and caring. And despite villains and monsters becoming an almost daily occurrence, she retained an almost naive faith in people and hope and the good guys winning in the end.

This is like picking at a scab. No good will come of it. But his mind still poked at the raw truth of why he'd left. It had started after a rough mission.

~He and Natasha were being patched up on the plane ride home. Even Captain America was nursing an icepack to the head. They were all tired and sore. But Clint dragged over his pack, looking for his phone so he could text Darcy with a coded message to let her know he'd be back soon. Instead of the phone, he picked up a small crumpled paper bag. It had held a clay pendant, hand crafted by the locals. It was made of strands of bright glazed colours that were twisted back and forth but ultimately linked up in one beautiful design. He'd seen the pendant on a market stall – he and Tash were there on recon - and bought it for Darcy on the spot. It was just an impulse purchase, but clearly their gear'd had a rough time so the pendant was going to be dusty fragments and now just took up bag space. With a sigh, he tossed the broken gift aside. ~

That stupid broken piece of clay became a symbol for everything wrong in their relationship. All through his nine-month relationship with Darcy, Clint has a small fear of her getting broken by him or their hero-related lifestyles. Some monster, human or otherwise, would get her. But the fact that ground through his brain at night, while Darcy slept by his side, was that he could be the one who would damage her. Not from any PTSD flashbacks or nightmares. The danger wasn't so obvious.

Clint knew, current stalker tendencies aside, that he wasn't a terrible guy overall. He has some appealing qualities. He had friends and comrades and his teammates that'd he'd lay down his life for. And he wasn't exactly a monk. Casual lovers had come and gone. But work, for so many years, had been the most important thing in his life. Work that required him to be detached. To even nudge at the wall that Clint used to keep his emotions at bay was risky.

~"Tasha, how many agents did I...?"
"Don't... don't do that to yourself Clint."~

And then came Darcy. Darcy, who'd been in a middle of a battle with Loki when she still in college. Darcy, the employee who Pepper and Stark wrangled an Avengers security clearance for solely because they wanted her for their work, not to help out Clint's love life. Darcy, who without prompting kept Steve supplied with a steady download of essential movie viewing from the past sixty years and persistently nagged the Stark R&D team about more durable fabrics for Banner. Darcy, who had sat down with Clint just once to talk about Natasha and after a fairly honest conversation, took Clint and Natasha's relationship in stride and never made him feel that he had to care less about Tash to prove how he felt about Darcy.

The two women were both important in his life. But it was always Darcy who would be in his bed when he came back from a mission. And she would always wake up, always kiss him gently or fiercely... she'd figured out pretty quickly how to tell what he needed when he came home. In the mornings after, she would give him space if he needed it and just sit nearby, reading quietly in the lounge. Or she would talk non-stop as a welcome distraction, telling Clint everything that happened while he was away or why the Stark accounting team were evil minions of hell until he had decompressed from the mission and was able to start to joke along with her.

And he'd fallen for her, hard. She was the most beautiful thing in his life and here he was – a soldier who was too old, too scarred and worse; too chicken-shit to even say that he loved her. Because if he said it, or acknowledged it, she might fall in love with him. And that was why Clint was dangerous. He wanted more for Darcy. Someone who had all the time in the world to devote to making her happy. Someone without his baggage and life and someone who would keep her from the horrors of the world instead of bringing them home in broken paper bag. Someone who would give Darcy everything she deserved, rather than making her settle for the limited amount Clint could offer. Someone who wouldn't leave her broken. So he'd left. Ended it, before they both got in too deep.

Spending time around Clint, let alone the rest of the Avengers, had changed Darcy a little. At least unconsciously, she'd observed how they moved. How Black Widow was stealthy. It rubbed off on her. Not to say she was going to be a secret ninja anytime soon, but she could make it through a restaurant to her table without attracting too much attention. Or the attention of her date, who had started chatting to the young male waiter during her absence.

"Learn from the master," Darren was saying, his tone much less genial than when she'd left. "Charm is worth more than money. I mean, cash helps but flatter a girl and she'll be flat on her back before you know it. I know I plan to get my motorboat on tonight after some more wine and few more sweet nothings."

Darcy wanted to find it in herself to be disappointed. Disillusioned about how she'd wasted time getting dolled up for a douche. Even annoyed that she'd bought the act. But it was just relief that washed over her. Now she could go home, change into her comfy PJs and start debugging her iPod again. "Well... you have fun motorboating solo," Darcy said with faux-brightness, startling the two young men. The waiter had the decency to shuffle off, red faced. Darren however...

"Darcy, are you leaving? Don't take what I said seriously..." he flashed that expensive smile at her, extending his palms up in the "who, me?" pose. Darcy felt sorry for the girls who that might've worked on in the past. But she'd seen Thor shirtless and had many crazy nights with the world's greatest marksman. Her standards were skyscrapers taller than this.

"Look, sometimes it takes awhile to understand me, so I'll explain it again so everyone is clear," she said slowly, popping open her purse and dropping enough bills to cover her part of the meal. "You" - Darcy pointed at him with exaggerated gestures – "will never" – sassy finger waving – "get this." Darcy finished by briefly cupping her ample cleavage, smiled, picked up her bag and walked to the door. A couple of middle aged ladies even clapped.

Outside, the cool air was a relief. Darcy felt like she could breathe. She took a few steps and then paused to unpin her hair and lets the curls tumble down her neck. Better. But when she heard the bang of the restaurant door behind her, she knew it wasn't quite done.

"Do you not know who I am? Who I work for?" Darren spluttered. Great. Damaged male ego alert. Darcy rolled her eyes before looking at Darren-the-douche over her shoulder.

"Yes. I know. And between you and me... my boss could kick your boss's ass." And it was tempting to keep going. To poke him a little further. But Darcy just wanted to go home. Listen to Adele some more and wait a whole lot longer before going on another date. "And now that's sorted, Darren, seriously. Go crawl back under your rock. You suck. I'm done. I'm leaving." Fine, one last poke. Now I'm done.

"No you're not." So he's not done. Here we go. Sigh. "I said, don't turn away from me bitc..." And in the time it took him to say those almost-eight words, three things happened. First, Darren grabbed Darcy by the arm and yanked her around. Second, Darcy reached for the tazer in her purse while cursing her dress for being too tight to allow a quick knee to the balls. And lastly, an arrow buzzed through the air, catching Darren by his jacket collar and propelling him into the nearest solid wall, where the arrow embedded into the bricks and Darren's face smacked against the hard surface.

Darcy rubbed her arm slightly, leaning over to look at the handiwork of exactly-she-knew-who. "I'd be careful," she warned her date in a friendly tone. "My ex has lined that up so if you move your neck an inch either way, the arrow blade will slice open your carotid artery." Which wasn't exactly true. Not that Clint couldn't pull it off but there was still a limit to what he'd do to an unarmed civilian. But she figured it'd keep Darren-the-douche still long enough for her to try and make a break for it. Clint was nearby and she wasn't ready to see him. Just seeing his arrow wedged in the wall was too much. So she turned tail and ran.

It was dumb. Darcy knew Clint could catch her by foot. But maybe he'd give her space. Maybe... "Darce." Damnit. He stepped out infront of her, bow still in hand. Sneaky speedy Avenger. Darcy stopped. And for a moment her body shook at the sight of him as every emotion she'd felt the last three weeks came welling up again.

Clint contemplated turning back and lodging a few more arrows in that asshole. Darcy appeared shaken and her lower lip had started to tremble. Though when she ran, he'd assumed it was because of something the bastard had said to her. He'd only followed to make sure she was ok. But the way she looked at him; it hit Clint hard that she'd run from him instead. It was painful. He didn't know what he should say. So he went for the truth. "I'm sorry I didn't shoot that guy early."

Darcy found herself smiling. Such a Clint statement. Part soldier's clinical assessment, part dry humour. And then it hurt again. "Clint..." she started, and stopped. Because he was standing there and wasn't with her and it started to well up again and shutting down her emotions wasn't something Darcy did. But it just hurt so much to look at him.

And if he'd felt bad before, seeing Darcy close herself off... it was the nightmare he'd tried to run from come true. He reached for her. "Darce... I don't want..."

"No!" Darcy snapped. Emotional suppression over. "You told me what you 'don't want'" she cried. "You said you don't want me and I don't know if that's true or if you're just pushing me away..."

"I want you." Clint replied sharply. He took a step towards Darcy, cupped her gently by the cheek which stopped her mid-rant. "I want you and I need you but even now, I don't know how to say..." he trailed off.

"How to say 'I love you'?" Darcy's voice was soft... her anger burnt away when he touched her. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against his palm. "I know. But don't you understand I've always been ready to wait?"

Clint's hand slid into her hair and pulled her to his chest. Darcy slid her arms around his waist, laying her head against him. Her eyes still closed as she listened to him breathe. "I don't want you to have to wait Darce," he said quietly, even as he held her to him. "I don't want you stuck with me. You deserve better than this."

"You're an idiot," Darcy murmured into the knit of his shirt. "It's just three dumb words. And I already know you love me... even if your brain hasn't caught up yet."


"No. Shush. You'll get it one day. Maybe tomorrow, when we wake up in bed after a lot of makeup sex. Maybe later. But here's something we're going to sort out right now and will never argue about ever again." Darcy leant back in his embrace; just enough to tilt her chin up and look him in the eye. "I, Darcy Lewis, love you, Clint Barton, with all of my heart. You are everything I've ever wanted and didn't know I needed and I know that isn't ever going to change. As long as you feel roughly the same, that's all that matters to me." She paused, a small frown crossing her features. "Though if you ever break up with me again and leave me in the horrible dating scene..."

He cut her off with a kiss. Clint had no interest in thinking about her on a date with another man ever again. Because for some stupid reason, this crazy girl loved him. The others had told him already, true. Told him how Darcy had sat outside his room, drunk, and recited 101 reasons why she loved him through the door. But hearing those words from her... maybe he was selfish, but Clint wanted to hear Darcy say she loved him for the rest of their lives. And the words itched in his throat to be said back. He would say it to her. Soon. Tonight though, he had Darcy's legs locked around his waist and his arms bracing them against a wall and his mouth was otherwise occupied. Actions would just have to speak louder than words.