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Everything changed in the wake of New York

Well, not everything.

Darcy tended to laugh when she thought everything changed because, let's be honest, people were people and at the end of the day, they were going to be the people they were, regardless of aliens falling out of a giant space portal. But, it did seem different.

She and Jane had returned from the SHIELD-sanctioned walkabout - whatever that was about - to find Jane's lab trashed by the alien incursion, and Erik Selvig sitting, head in hand, in his office down the hall.

"What happened?" Jane asked.

And there was an answer. Darcy knew there had been an answer. But she was also pretty sure she didn't understand it because there were lots of words about temporal whatsits and whosits and thingamabobs and she felt kinda like the Little Mermaid at that point. You know, sans bitchin' cave.

Still, there was a lot of work to be done, and Selvig had done a lot of work while they were away. And it wasn't terribly long before Darcy found herself shut out of Jane's life - appointments canceled and phone calls unreturned - because Jane had moved on to work with Erik and Tony Stark and Bruce Banner and a bunch of other people Darcy was a little jealous that Jane got to meet, let alone work with.

It wasn't fair.

But Jane was Jane, because people were people, regardless of aliens, and Jane was a workaholic. Jane would run into the middle of an Asgardian tornado to get readings. She had run into the middle of an Asgardian tornado to get readings

And so Darcy declared it her sacred purpose to Get Jane Out Of The Lab, because Jane wasn't going to do it for herself and Darcy was still her assistant, whether or not she was paid. Or wanted. (She was totally wanted. She knew it and Jane did too, it was just that Jane was too busy being all in awe of alien tech to remember.)

The first time Darcy tried, she had been thwarted by an unexpected breakthrough in Chitauri technology. Apparently Banner had found some kind of gamma radiation that came out of a thing and did another thing to some third, ambiguous thing and Jane really needed to stay behind to work on it. Which, fine. Darcy would give her that one. There were things happening to things and it sounded very important and sciencey. So she let it go.

But then it happened a second time, and a third and a fourth.

And Darcy kinda started to get pissed off. Because there were more important things to do than watch Tony Stark work and eat. And those things were getting a drink with Darcy, goddammit.

So the fifth time she didn't exactly give Jane a choice.


Maybe pulling the fire alarm hadn't been the brightest idea, because it turned out that Stark Tower had some kind of terrifying robotic fire suppression system that sprayed everyone down with flame retardant and also may have murdered a few lab rats. But Darcy maintained that any accidental deaths were the fault of whoever built the system, not the person who was only trying to liberate her friend from the unseemly bowels of the lab.

But still, it got Jane out. And whether or not she was covered in chemicals and stinking, Darcy was going to take advantage of that. By dragging Jane to a bar.

They had drunk together before, in New Mexico, occasionally. But they had never gotten drunk, and Jane seemed, in the wake of the Fire Adventure, like she needed to get Drunk. Capital letter Drunk, the kind of drunk that Darcy had only seen at sorority parties in college, where inhibitions were basically a bad word. Not that Darcy thought that Jane had been in a sorority. Or been to a sorority party. Or any other kind of party. But she knew how Drunk she herself had gotten at sorority parties, and Jane had been in college for a really long time to get her PhD and do her post grad and stuff, so it only made sense that Jane would have been drunk at least once in her life.

Darcy had found the hole-in-the-wall bar in Long Island City when she was dating a girl who studied Art and Basic Lesbianism at the School of Visual Arts. The girlfriend (Heather, Darcy thought. Or Veronica. Maybe Samantha. Something very 80s) had sworn by Queens as the new hip spot, and it was there that she took Jane, still moaning about research. But by the time Jane was on her second- or third, Darcy felt she was morally obligated not to count - fizzy ginger drink, her moaning had matured into ranting about her lab - about Stark and Banner and Selvig. And about how amazing it was, and how frustrating because Stark was Stark, and Banner was quiet, and Erik wasn't really himself anymore, though she couldn't put her finger on the how. Darcy finally gave an exasperated sigh.

"What?" Jane asked. "What?"

Darcy had to laugh, because only Jane could sound that confused at someone not wanting to hear an hour's dissertation on the Great Men Of Science.

"I just-" Darcy shrugged. "I miss hanging out with you. How are you? Outside of this week's episode of As The Lab Turns or All My Scientists? "

Jane gave Darcy a concerned glance. "Hanging out? When is the last time we hung out?"

"You know, New Mexico. Remember? We used to go run over homeless dudes and tase them and then find out they were gods. It was great!"

"We did that once," Jane said. "Though, it was a pretty good time, less the almost dying parts."

"Have you heard from him?"

Jane shook her head. "No, apparently he asked after me, but he's-- gone. Again."

"Well, I'm sure he'll be back."

Jane took a gulp of her fizzy ginger something. "Of course he will. He promised. And he's got that whole warrior honor thing going on, right?"

"Of course!" Darcy agreed, taking a draught of her own drink. "And if he doesn't, I'll kick his ass."

"You could totally kick his ass," Jane agreed. "I mean, like, maybe if he was tied up. And you tased him again."

"I wouldn't have to tie him up to tase him again!"

Jane laughed, and Darcy couldn't help but echo the smile. Thank fucking god, she'd been trying to coax that laugh out all night.

"I guess I just-- you know, it's easier to throw myself into my work," Jane said. "Easier than sitting home and pining or something."

"I can understand that. I liked throwing myself into your work, too, you know. Back when you needed me."

Jane looked sad around the eyes, the kind of sad she got for the first fifteen minutes of Up or Finding Nemo. The kind of sad she got when she had a lot of feelings, and no idea how to talk about them.

"I guess I just-- I'm doing this work now, and I don't fully understand it, and neither do the other guys and it's just a lot, you know?"

"What does Dr. Ross say?"

Darcy knew that Jane's personal hero - after Thor, maybe - was Betty Ross, the brilliant cell biologist at Culver who had taken Jane under her wing. They'd met when Jane took a class on cellular dark matter, which turned out to be nothing like interstellar dark matter, but had somehow forged a kind of connection based on mutual respect and an understanding of being a woman in a lab.

(And man, would Darcy give anything for a political science professor half as awesome as Dr. Ross, someone who would be willing to talk about gender and class in peace-building. Someone who would help her get her feet under her. But she had Jane, which was almost as awesome, just slightly more of a theoretical astrophysicist and less of a focus on how to save the world without super heroes.)

"She says that it's an honor to be working with these guys, and that they're smart and that I know what I'm doing and I shouldn't let them boss me around."

Darcy raised her glass in a mock toast. "I'll drink to that! You should never let anyone boss you around. You should boss yourself around. And, I don't know, steal Stark's silly goatee."

Jane's eyes narrowed, and if it was in concentration or just the brilliance of tipsy ideas, Darcy couldn't say. "I should steal his goatee. Or his food! Seriously, Darcy, that guy is like a freaking chipmunk with the hoarding and the snacks and god only knows what else."

"I miss you!" Darcy said, clapping Jane on the shoulder, causing a small splash of gingerfizz to spill and puddle on the bar, sadly.

"I know, but it is what it is. I have work to do, and you have-- hey, how are your classes going?"

"They're good. You know. Lots of learning. About diplomacy and juntas and political things, which I'm sure aren't as cool as your molecular things but-- I like them."

"So it's keeping your interest?" Jane asked, glancing down as she pushed a strand of wayward hair back behind her ear, and Darcy wondered - not for the first time - if maybe Jane was hitting on her, in her own kind of awkward, astrophysical way. Which, Darcy was totally flattered, but Jane wasn't her type, and that was ignoring the whole "dating an alien-slash-god" part of things, and anyway—Darcy had more opinions of the subject of workplace dating, but her thoughts were interrupted before they could get any further by a flash of purple in the corner of her eye.

Trying to be stealthy, Darcy stretched grandly (which might, in fact, have defeated the whole idea of "stealth") and managed to case the entire bar, mostly because it was nearly empty. There was a woman at a corner table, nursing a martini while reading a book, two men holding hands in a booth, and a strange cadre of newcomers shedding their jackets by the door, effectively blocking the entrance- five of them. One was standing a few feet away from the others and staring, unblinkingly, at Darcy's rack. So nothing really out of the ordinary. The one who was staring looked a little strange - he had a huge freaking mustache, to begin with, the kind that she imagined all villains grew in their first few years of villaining, before someone pointed out to them how silly they looked.

"Yeah," she told Jane. "I really like Dr. Riggs, who teaches my Media and Public Policy course, she's kinda brilliant."

Jane was grinning, apparently unaware of the encroaching goons. Darcy swallowed her heart, which had taken the opportunity to beat in her throat, and gently put her hand on Jane's knee. Jane met Darcy's gaze, her eyes wide, and leaned in towards her. "Darcy?"

Darcy met her halfway, brushing a strand of Jane's hair aside in an echo to her previous movement, and with her lips centimeters from Jane's ear, she whispered, "Six goons, by the door. One with a mustache. I have my taser, but you should probably call 911."

Jane tensed, which was exactly what Darcy had been afraid of - if Jane went useless, if she was too scared to fight, then she'd fuck them both over. The taser was good for one shot, and then she'd have to resort to punching and kicking and throwing glasses which, while totally fun, was probably not going to be super effective against a small cloud of villains.

"Just like breaking into a military base, okay?" Darcy said, caressing Jane's arm softly. "I'm going for the mustache, you call the cops and then start hitting things. Yeah?"

Jane nodded, her hand creeping into her pocket to pull out her phone. Darcy mirrored the movement, fishing her taser out of her back pocket, her mouth still close to Jane's ear.

"We're gonna be okay," she said, squeezing Jane's knee. "You can do this. Ready?"

Darcy didn't wait for Jane to confirm, because she saw Big, Purple and Mustachey moving out of the corner of her eye, and it only took her a second to decide, without prejudice, to turn and fire at him.

It was a direct hit - like there was any doubt - and she heard Jane whispering swiftly into her phone as the group by the door, who had sorted all their coats, took notice of their convulsing friend.

One of them swore and took a step towards Darcy, who was having all kinds of stupid ideas about throwing drinks in people's faces as a means of self-defense.

But she never had to. Instead, the woman at the corner table, the one with the martini, seemed to explode in a flurry of activity. It was almost faster than Darcy's eye could track - the woman flipped her table over, vaulted the still-convulsing body of Darcy's victim, and had her thighs around the neck of the moving man, swinging her body around to bring him down. Which, fucking wow.

It was over before it began, really, because whoever that woman was, she was more than a match for the men who were tripping over themselves to get to her, landing more punches on each other in their uncoordinated rush than they were on her. The woman garroted one, snapped another's leg, stabbed one with a knife that had come from absolutely nowhere, and the final one, the last one standing, actually made it back to the door before the mystery woman flicked her wrist, causing her totally awesome bracelets to light up. They must have shocked him somehow, because one minute he was standing and the next he just wasn't.

The woman, who still hadn't broken a sweat, brushed her hair out of her eyes and tapped her ear. "Sitwell, it's Romanoff. Situation contained. Send in some cleaners."

"Holy shit," Darcy said, surveying the carnage the woman had left in her wake. "Who the fuck are you?"

"Natasha Romanoff," she said, stepping over the prone bodies of the men she'd dispatched, and taking the phone out of Jane's hand to end her 911 call. "That wasn't going to go through, by the way. They blocked the signal." She tried to hand the phone back, but Jane just stared, mouth agape, so Natasha placed it on the bar before turning to Darcy. "I'm with SHIELD, and the man you ran some electricity through is called Batroc the Leaper, which, great name, buddy. Are you alright, Doctor Foster?"

Jane looked shell-shocked, which a quick look around confirmed was the norm in the room - the couple in the booth were peeking out from under their table, and the bartender was standing at a beer tap, spilling the liquid out of his mugs and onto the ground.

"Yeah," she said, after a long minute, watching Natasha reach across the bar to cut the tap off. "I'm-- what just happened?"

"Well." Natasha returned to her table, picking it up and righting it before scowling at the shattered shards of martini glass on the floor. "You've been under SHIELD surveillance for a few weeks, and it just paid off. We think Batroc here was working with a few other men to try and get their hands on Chitauri technology."

Jane blinked, and Darcy watched the couple crawl out from under their table before embracing with the kind of holy-shit-we're-alive fervor that let her know they were going to have awesome sex when they got home.

"And they targeted me?" Jane asked, after a long moment.

"You and Ms. Lewis both. Also Dr. Selvig, though they seem to be less keen on people like Bruce and Tony who have proven they can defend themselves."

Darcy laughed, which seemed a little strange to her in the circumstance, but it was a strange circumstance. "I guess they'll concentrate on Erik now, huh?"

Natasha regarded her for a long moment before cracking a smile. "I guess so. Not bad, Ms. Lewis, though I have to ask - what were you planning to do with the other five men?"

Darcy shrugged. "Improvise."

This time it was Jane who laughed, and she sounded more than a little unhinged by the process of being attacked in the bar. Darcy shivered at the sound, and Natasha nodded. "Okay," she said, picking up Jane's phone again and handing it to Darcy this time. "We're going to take you two out of here and do some debriefing."

Darcy picked up her purse and slid off the bar stool, letting Natasha's steady hand on her back guide them out of the bar and into a waiting towncar.

"The tower," Natasha said, and the car took off down the road.


The tower turned out to be Stark Tower, which Darcy thought was hilarious because, hello, they had started the night there. "Are we going to Jane's lab?" she asked as Natasha led them into an elevator.

"No," Natasha said. "We're putting you two up in accommodations here for the night, until we can be sure we've got all of Batroc's men rounded up. It might be a couple days, but you'll have a chance to get to your places to pick up clothes and toothbrushes and the like in the morning."

Darcy blinked. "So it's like a safe house?"

"Exactly like a safe house."


Three hours later, Darcy was drunk.

To be fair, she had been well on her way to drunk in the bar before some kind of masked cretin tried to kidnap her, but she and Jane had been ushered up to the penthouse suite - which was apparently Tony Stark's place, when he was in town, and was therefore stocked with some of the best and most expensive, booze Darcy had ever encountered.

"Holy shit," she said, holding up a bottle of scotch. "This is older than I am."

"Then it's probably the best he has," Jane said, from her allegedly comfortable spot on the floor - where she had collapsed after discovering a cocktail Natasha made with vodka and something that might have been absinth but was definitely strong enough to peel paint, and, apparently, pickle Jane's brain cells."Bring it here."

Natasha giggled, which was a little disturbing, but she'd had her fair share of drinks tonight, so Darcy thought it was only fair.

"Should you be drinking?" Darcy asked Natasha, as she handed the bottle of impossibly old scotch to Jane. "I mean, doesn't it dull your senses or something? Make you slow?"

Natasha shrugged. "I'll be fine in the morning. I'm Russian."

Jane nodded sagely. "They inwented drinking, Darcy."

"Did you just say inwented?" Darcy asked, crossing back to the bar to find something a little more her speed than straight scotch.

"Yes," Jane giggled helplessly. "Hey, Natasha, say 'nuclear wessels'!"

Natasha made some kind of scoffing noise, and confiscated the bottle of scotch from Jane. "I will not," she said, lifting the bottle to her lips and throwing her head back to expose her long neck which - hot. Darcy didn't think anyone with a pulse would disagree that watching some kind of deadly ex-Soviet assassin drink straight scotch without flinching was fucking arousing, but she was open to hearing the arguments. Especially if they came with demonstrations of alternate hotness.

Darcy unearthed a bottle of Southern Comfort - score! - and poured a liberal amount into a glass that was probably not meant to hold Southern Comfort, but Darcy was way beyond the realm of caring.

"What I want to know," Darcy said to Natasha as she settled onto the couch and eyed Jane's helplessly giggling form at her feet. "Is how you do the thigh thing."

Natasha took another sip of the scotch. "Practice," she said. "And, you know, being an assassin."

"Is being an assassin an important part of the process?"

"Oh yeah," Natasha said, and Darcy was a little in awe of the amount of sarcasm in her voice. "Kill three men, get a new move. Like a deli, but with killing people."

Jane giggled again, but it was fainter now. "I think she's all tuckered out," Darcy said. "Janey? You ready for sleeps?"

Jane swatted at Darcy's knee, ineffectually.

"She's a bit of a lightweight," Darcy told Natasha. "Spends too much time in the lab, not enough time being awesome with me."

Natasha nodded. "I know the type."

The three women sat in silence for a moment - well, mostly in silence, because Jane started to snore softly, but she was already on her side, so there wasn't much Darcy could do for her - and Darcy was in awe of just how comfortable Natasha made her. She had expected the Black Widow, once she figured out that was who Natasha was, would be intimidating, or maybe an ice queen or a vampire or something, but she was pretty refreshingly calm and had something about her that put Darcy right at ease. Which, upon reflection, made entirely too much sense, since she spent a majority of her time getting people to trust her enough to let her into their secrets so she could steal them.

"So, how did you and Jane meet?"

Darcy was relatively sure Natasha knew the answer to that, as well as her shoe size and underwear color, but she answered anyway. "I was the only applicant to be her lab assistant in New Mexico."

"So you also study astrophysics?" Natasha asked and yeah, she was playing some kind of game, but Darcy didn't mind beautiful women who could kill people with their thighs playing games with her.

"No," she replied, taking another gulp of Southern Comfort. "Political Science."

"Interesting."

"It is," Darcy agreed. "I mean, you people, with the world saving, you're changing the gig, but it's going to be a fun ride."

"We're changing political science?"

Darcy nodded. "Okay, so like, I'm really into peace-building and the reintegration of combatants and stuff, right? But if wars are going to be fought by two dudes with super suits, or a monster versus an army, that's going to-- you know, like, how do you reintegrate a superspy like you? It's not the same as a child soldier, or someone coming back from war, right?"

Natasha nodded slowly, something flashing across her face almost too quickly for Darcy to register. "I see."

"And like, you look at what happened to Stark, in Afghanistan and stuff, and that's all pretty standard, the kidnapping and the not making weapons. But then Iron Man starts showing up and killing off terrorists, and what does that do to relations between locals and people who are, like, legit trying to help? He's violating sovereign territory and fucking a bunch of progress up while he does it because he thinks he knows best, yeah? How do we deal with the fact that a person like Dr. Banner is used like a weapon? Is the Hulk a person, and how do his actions reflect on his other half? It's changing, all of it. And it's changing here. I mean, fuck. Aliens. Non-state and non-traditional actors are blowing up international relations theory."

Natasha smiled as she threw back another mouthful of scotch. "You're smart," she said.

"You're cool." Darcy blushed, which she felt was an accurate summation of all the thoughts she currently had percolating, about SHIELD and politics and the curve of Natasha's neck.

"Thanks," Natasha replied. "I thought it was pretty cool how you took out Batroc."

"It was just a taser."

"Yeah," Natasha shrugged. "But it's a weapon, and you saw the threat and you reacted before you were attacked. It's a good skill to have. Though - try pepper spray. You can use it on more than one person."

"She tased Thor!" Jane offered, from the floor, and wasn't she supposed to be asleep?

Darcy smiled. "Yes, dear, but only after you ran him over."

"Mine is a mighty vehicle!" Jane offered, and Darcy snorted.

"Sure it is," she said, bending down to pat Jane on the shoulder. The movement must have thrown her off kilter, because she followed it with a giant yawn.

"Tired?" Natasha asked.

Darcy threw back the rest of her drink. "Yeah," she replied. "Big day and all. Pulled a fire alarm, got attacked in a bar, drank with an Avenger."

Natasha smiled and stood, recapping the bottle of scotch which Darcy thought could have probably paid a year's tuition, if she sold it. Even half full. "Let me show you to your room."

"What about--?" Darcy gestured to Jane.

Natasha bent to scoop up the half-awake astrophysicist, slinging her over her shoulder in a position that Darcy's mom would have called "a sack of potatoes" but she was pretty sure was actually a fireman's carry. "Got it," Natasha said, and headed towards the elevator.

Darcy didn't ask any questions. She just followed.


The sun was a bad thing.

The sun was a very bad thing that should be punished for having the audacity to be bright at whatever the fuck time it was.

Darcy hated the sun, and would have her revenge against it.

But for now, she was still trying to master the whole "moving without dying" thing.

She cracked an eyelid, which immediately sent a searing blast of sunlight-induced pain through her throbbing head. "I hate you," she told the light, but it seemed blithely indifferent.

Darcy had been hungover before. She'd even been Hungover, after certain aforementioned sorority parties got her Drunk. But this - this was some kind of 7th circle punishment, fresh from the steaming asshole of Satan. This was beyond the pale. This was--

"Good morning!" the voice was cheerful and sunny and Darcy wanted it to die. Or at least be punished. She groaned and pulled the covers up over her eyes, in some vain hope that, if the bringer of loud cheer couldn't see her, they'd go away.

"Get up!" the voice said again, and Darcy knew that voice - it took a minute to seep into her hungover brain, registering as Jane just in time for the covers to be yanked off her completely. Darcy tried to bat away the grabby hands that she knew were coming.

"Jane, no, please," Darcy whispered, because there was sunlight and Jane and if she had to add noise to that equation, she was pretty sure she was going to die.

"Come on!" Jane was bouncing on her toes. "We're in Stark Tower - Avengers Tower! Get up, you have to see - you have to see everything."

"How in the nine hells are you so cheerful?" Darcy rasped, finally prying open one eye to survey the oppressively bright room that she had been put up in. There was a glass of water and a couple of pills - which she hoped were aspirin, but it was Stark Tower, so they were equally likely to be Prototype Hangover Cure That Turns Your Liver Inside Out Or Something (patent pending) - on the bedside table. Darcy reached for them feebly, cursing whoever had put the bedside table all the way over there, and not in some sane place where she wouldn't have to move to reach it.

Jane followed her line of sight, and scooped up the pills and water, depositing them into Darcy's outstretched hands. "I don't really get hungover," Jane chirped, and yup. Darcy was going to have to murder her. A damn shame, but these things happened.

Darcy swallowed the pills and drained the water, which should have made her feel better, but mostly made her feel like dying only slightly less than before. "I am never drinking again," she moaned.

Jane laughed airily, and that was kinda weird. Darcy started to regret taking the pills, because what if they were meth or something and sure, that might cure a hangover, but did she really want that monkey on her back? She was attached to her teeth, and she'd seen those before and after pictures on the internet.

"I'm gonna start your shower," Jane said, probably skipping off to the bathroom in glee or something.

"Oh, fuck my life," Darcy moaned. "My kingdom for a bagel."

"As you wish," a male voice replied, and yup. Darcy had officially lost it. She was nuts, her sanity left somewhere in the penthouse, at the bottom of a glass of Southern Comfort. (Later, she wasn't sure why she decided that the voice that responded to her was some kind of psychotic break; perhaps that was easier than admitting that Stark had some kind of robot butler who lived in the ceiling. Most things in Darcy's life - well most things before this morning - had been easier to deal with than that thought.)

Still, once Jane prodded her to sitting, and then walking, and even stepping into the shower, Darcy started to feel a little better. And when she stepped out, wrapping some kind of luxury towels around her body and hair, she felt the closest to human she had in a short while, which was probably why she let Jane throw clothes at her and then drag her out of the room by her hand, like a kid at Disney who just had to show their parent Mickey Mouse.

And there were bagels in the kitchen Jane took Darcy to, which was some kind of beautiful miracle, and there was coffee, which was whatever was better than a beautiful miracle.

Darcy managed to get half a bagel in her mouth and a steaming cup in her hand before she registered the other people in the room. Which was both impressive and sad. Still, sitting at the table poring over some kind of specs, were Bruce Banner and Actual Tony Stark. And the one she had seen on TV shooting arrows was reading the comics, and Captain America was there eating oatmeal and Natasha, who was impressive in her own way, gave Darcy a brief wave without looking up from the Business section she was reading.

Darcy swallowed the bagel in her mouth, marveling that not only had she retained the power and ability to do so in a room full of super heroes, but that she was still holding onto her cup and standing upright and, hey, while she was marveling, her hangover was a lot better, too.

Definitely meth, then.

"Everyone," Jane said, "this is Darcy. She's my assistant."

"Hi," Darcy squeaked, and it was really no fair that her voice was doing that in front of the superheroes.

Captain America stood respectfully and offered his hand. "Steve Rogers," he said. Darcy contemplated spilling her coffee on him so that she could leave, but in the end, she just set it on the counter and accepted the handshake.

"Hi."

"I'm guessing you know who Stark and Banner are," he said, picking up her cup and putting a hand on the small of her back to lead her to the table, depositing her in a seat between him and Natasha, which, yeah, could not actually be happening. "That's Clint," Steve continued, "And that's Natasha."

"We've met." Natasha smiled thinly. "How are you feeling?"

Darcy shrugged. "Beat half to hell," she said. "What was in the hangover pills?"

This got Clint's attention, if she hadn't already had it. "You took strange pills?" he asked.

"They were in my room. On the nightstand. I assumed Natasha left them." Darcy felt downright stupid for that one. What would her mother say if she knew that Darcy was ingesting things she found on the nightstand that might be meth or some kind of experimental superpower serum. Or maybe left by the people who had attacked her in a bar the day before. Fuck.

Tony Stark was laughing. "Relax," he said, and Clint didn't seem to heed him; if anything he looked all the more tense for Tony's intrusion. "It's something the guys in pharma have been working on. Totally safe, we think. 86% sure it's safe. 79%. The FDA is still talking it through. It just - Bruce's girlfriend made the idea, they encourage the cells to process alcohol more efficiently, kills the hangover."

Darcy was confused. Confused, hungover, and way, way out of her depth. "Bruce's girlfriend?" she asked, mostly because it was the only part of Stark's sentence that she was willing to deal with.

"He means Dr. Ross," Jane said, sliding into a seat on the other side of Steve. "She and Dr. Banner worked together before his accident and--"

"And they'd love to do some more work on cellular meiosis, if you know what I mean," Tony supplied with a lascivious wink. Darcy decided to file him under harmless cheese ball with a magic suit, which was a new category, because there was no way anyone could actually be afraid of Tony Stark outside of his suit. He told dad jokes and winked. It was a miracle that they ever defeated any aliens at all.

Bruce didn't even glance up from the specs he was looking at, he just raised a single hand and flicked Stark in the ear.

"No," he said. "Bad Tony."

Darcy giggled, and felt strangely gratified that Captain America - and he was never going to be Steve, not really - was joining her. Because if Captain America thought something was funny, there seemed to be a good chance it was. Especially if it was the mildly childish antics of a bunch of superheroes sitting around a breakfast table. (And she wasn't giving up on her whole "meth" hypothesis, no matter what Stark said. The Black Widow and Hawkeye were splitting a grapefruit. There was something wrong in the world.)

"So, how long are you two staying with us?" Clint asked, and Darcy shrugged.

"We got jumped by a guy in purple spandex who calls himself Batroc the Leaper," she said. "I'm happy staying until you can promise that chapter of my life is closed."

Clint snorted. "I hear you took care of yourself."

"Not really," Jane said. "I mostly held my phone and stood around with my jaw hanging open. Darcy tased people, though, and Natasha was like some kind of Energizer ninja."

Clint honest-to-god giggled, which was upsetting, and Stark made a noise that might have been excitement, and might have been coffee, before swallowing hastily. "That reminds me, Darcy. Jane was saying that we could use the Chitauri tech to make you a taser that can target and hit multiple attackers. And we can pimp out the battery life so you don't have to recharge it."

Darcy raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like - who was the guy, at that car race?"

"Vanko," Natasha supplied, and Stark gave her a look that Darcy didn't quite understand.

"Yeah," Darcy said. "Him. He was like a human taser or something, wasn't he? I don't know if I can be trusted to use my powers for good."

Clint took a sip of his coffee. "It's a risk we'll take," he said.

"I think I can subdue Jane if you two go on a spree," Natasha agreed. "And Tony took out Vanko, he could handle you."

Jane giggled, reaching over to take the specs that Stark and Banner had been poring over. "I don't know," she said. "I could make us some rad armor. Out of dark matter and stuff."

"We'd be good villains," Darcy agreed. "You can run over people, and I can tase them."

"Just like old times."

The assembled heroes were casting glances at each other. Natasha shrugged and turned the page of her newspaper. "You could," she agreed. "But if you think any of us are going to date you afterward, you're wrong."

Jane nodded solemnly. "Thor is special like that. I think vehicular assault is Asgardian foreplay."

"No one dated me after," Darcy scoffed, taking a sip of her coffee, and yeah, if the hangover pills didn't kill her or turn her colors or the like, Tony would make a mint off of them. "The goon squad just stole my iPod."

"Sorry about that," Clint said, and Darcy really needed to learn to read him and Natasha, because she didn't remember him being part of the goon squad. And she would have remembered a face like his.

"So," Natasha said after a long moment. "I'm taking you two into HQ today to meet with Hill about your protection details, and then you can go back to your places to pick out what you want moved here. We have a Hulk and all, so don't worry about having to leave your books, Dr. Foster. I hear you have an impressive collection."

Banner glanced up from the rather intricate something he was doodling on his napkin. "I'm a moving service?"

"Today you are," Natasha said, and Stark made a noise that made Darcy hopeful that he had just snarfed coffee up his nose, and she started to giggle, too.

Her bagel gone and her coffee cup mostly empty, Darcy stood for a refill, noticing out of the corner of her eye how Clint and Natasha tracked every movement she made with acute precision, and how Jane stood to accompany her.

"You all right with all this?" Jane whispered, as they stood a clandestine few feet from the table full of superpeople.

Darcy shrugged. "It's one of the weirdest fucking things that's ever happened to me - and I include my childhood and New Mexico in that estimate - but they seem... nice?"

"They are," Jane agreed, adding a sinful amount of milk to her mug. "I promise. And hey, you can help me in the lab, when you want. See? Totally needed."

Darcy looped an arm around Jane's shoulders and pulled her close, tilting her head so her cheek rested in Jane's hair. "You're short," she said affectionately. "And if I have to be held hostage by a superhero team for my own protection, I'm glad you're here with me."

"Wouldn't do it with anyone else," Jane responded, freeing herself from the embrace and crossing back to the table to settle into the discussion Banner and Stark were now having about electrons and something called a Q-Factor.

The coffee burned the roof of Darcy's mouth as she sipped it, watching her friend integrate seamlessly with the odd hodgepodge of heroes. It would be harder for her, she knew that, because Jane had more time, and more in common. But Darcy genuinely liked these people so far, even if they were the kind of celebrity that could kick your ass, and she had plans for fitting in with them in her own time.

With a smile on her lips, she returned to the table, where Clint passed her a page of the funnies without having to be asked, and Natasha said something pithy that made them both laugh, and Steve was kind, and Jane and Banner and Stark were blindingly brilliant. And Darcy? Well. Darcy was content.