Natasha’s assignment lasts seven weeks. Seven long weeks in the dreary Ukraine, and when she gets back to New York she wants nothing more than to collapse into the world’s hottest bath and never leave it again. But unfortunately that’s not what happens.
Nat stared at the Avengers clustered in her living room and swore in her head. They’re all there, as well as Pepper, Jane and Darcy. She turned a questioning eye on her sheepish-looking husband.
“They were rather excited to have you home.”
“They?” she pushed, but smiled.
“Somebody get her a drink!” Tony looked around urgently, “We have two months of catching up to do.”
Clint happily thrust a vodka at her and dragged her to the couch. Normally she’d object to this whole party but she did desperately need the drink. She needed Loki too, her eyes fixed on him talking to Jane across the room. It was a shame all these people liked her so much or she’d just throw hazard to the wind and mount him right now.
“So we know you can’t tell us what you were doing, but we can fill you in on all the Avengers-related mayhem you missed.” Tony took a seat in the largest armchair, Pepper perching on the arm with her wine.
“There were these robots Nat, you would have loved them.” Clint nodded.
Loki excused himself and came over, squeezing in beside her on the couch while he kissed her head. She gave him a curious look.
“They know. I could hardly keep it a secret with Thor congratulating me every five seconds.”
“And everyone’s okay with it?” she scanned the room.
Tony gave her a leery wink. “Told you Romanov; love who you like.”
Steve looked like he didn’t want to comment, and Bruce was similarly bashful. Thor was beaming so hard she thought his face might split in two. She got another wink from the girl Darcy, which was sort of surprising and maybe a bit unsettling given they weren’t close. Natasha turned to Clint. She knew he was the toughest; they’d watched each other’s backs for years and here she was married to the guy who’d hijacked his brain.
“Tasha, if you’re happy I’m happy. And if he messes up, we have an understanding.”
She smiled gratefully and squeezed his hand, resting back against Loki more now she knew it was okay.
“What he neglects to mention is that when he first found out we had to drive him to Jersey to cool off,” Bruce chuckled, “I thought he was gonna Hulk out.”
“Whatever. I look out for my partner, alright?” the archer grumbled.
“Enough of that. Tell her about those kangaroo things.” Tony prodded.
Loki shuddered. “You don’t even want to know.”
They put some music on after a few drinks, spreading out over the substantial apartment in smaller groups. Darcy floated over to where Clint was staring up at the huge fish tank, a beer in one hand as he cooed to the octopus inside.
“Where the hell did this thing come from?”
“We found him in a toy store. His creator was some geneticist nut job. Loki and Nat wanted to keep him. Uh,” Clint’s eyes flicked to her nervously, “Fury doesn’t know any of that, by the way.”
“He won’t hear it from me.” she made a zip motion over her mouth. Clint was struck with how red her lips were compared to the skin around them.
“Anyhow, he’s part of the family now I guess. The little guy’s sort of become the Avengers mascot.”
“What’s his name?”
“Hi Milo! Love the orange.”
The octopus bubbled away happily and she giggled.
“That is so surreal.”
“That’s SHIELD for ya.”
“How’d you end up working here?”
He grimaced. “You know what I do, right?”
“I’ve heard things.”
“Then you’ll understand if I don’t wanna answer that question?”
“Hey, cool with me,” she held up her hands, “Why Hawkeye?”
“I like high places.” He smiled.
“Hey!” he punched her arm playfully, “You should be more careful who you call names.”
“Why? Gonna take me on, Barton?” she smirked.
He took in those well-rounded curves, the twist in her lip that promised trouble and sucked his breath in through his teeth.
“Right up your alley then.”
He bit his lip and took another swig, mentally listing reasons this was so not a good idea.
Loki stole her away in the middle of a conversation with Pepper. And by stole, his gaze was burning into her from six feet away until Nat thought she might actually burst into flames – which, given the whole magic thing was probably possible. She excused herself, heading for the library without a backward glance.
He was already there when she closed the door, stroking the dark wood shelves. With all the furs and antlers it reminded Natasha of the countryside where she’d grown up, and she promised herself she’d tell him about it one day.
“I wasn’t sure how much longer my self-control would last.”
Loki smirked. “I did try to suggest we delay the welcome until tomorrow, but they insisted.”
“They’re like a runaway freight train when they get an idea in their heads. I don’t blame you.”
She closed the distance between them at a run, throwing herself into his arms. He cradled her head as he kissed her, lips slow and sweet.
“I missed you.”
“I thought I would go mad without you. I even considered risking Fury’s wrath by visiting, but I knew you wouldn’t want me to interfere.”
“Sounds like you had fun here anyway.”
“There were a few scary moments. Agent Barton is very conniving.”
“Too much for a god of lies and mischief to handle?” she mocked.
She ran her fingers over his pale green shirt. “Wear this for me?”
“I believe you requested more variety in my wardrobe.” He whispered in her ear, very nearly making her stomach fall out with the rush of desire.
“We can’t be here too long, they’ll come looking.”
“If I don’t get my hands on you in the next second I might level Brooklyn out of frustration.”
He pressed her back against the bookshelf, the furniture wobbling as he tore at her clothes. She kissed him over and over, fighting with his buttons until she gave up and just ripped the shirt open.
“Seven weeks is too long.” She murmured out around his lips.
Loki smiled wickedly and kissed her, seizing a handful of her hair.
Pepper raised a brow at the soft thumping sound from the other room, but kept her arm around Tony casually.
“What was that?” Jane frowned.
“What was what?”
“That thump. There it is again!”
“Not sure.” Pepper took a sip.
“Maybe we should check?” Jane turned to Thor, “In case it’s something bad.”
“Janey, I promise you if you go in there now all you’re gonna find is new reasons to blush whenever you see Loki.” Tony snickered.
“Oh.” She said quietly, going red.
“I am glad to see my brother and the Widow so harmonious.” the Asgardian announced.
“He’s a lot less snarky when she’s around, I’ll admit,” Tony mused, “Hey, does she have to change her name now? She’s not really a widow...but Black Wife sounds pretty terrible.”
Pepper rolled her eyes at him. “What did Odin and Frigga say about it?”
“They were overjoyed to hear Loki had found love on Midgard, as I did.” Thor looked at his little Jane with so much happiness Pepper felt like she was standing in the sun.
Steve made his way over, blushing furiously at the still-repeating thumps of books falling or shelves knocking on the wall or whatever was happening in the library.
“Perhaps we should go. Give them some privacy.”
“Are you kidding, Rogers? We only just got Nat back! Loki can share for one night.” Clint voiced from the couch.
“And you’ve got no problem listening to them get reacquainted?” Darcy raised a brow.
“I’ve heard worse. Hell, I’ve seen worse.”
“Good to know.”
Clint looked at her with something like fear and Tony chuckled to himself.
“Darcy, have I mentioned you’re one of my new favourite people?”
“T-money? Don’t make his ego any bigger than it already is.” Pepper said with resignation.
Loki looked at the mess of books around them, pages folded and creased.
“Look what you did.”
“Me?” Natasha protested, “I’m not the one with the god strength.”
He laughed evilly and pulled her closer. “A fair rebuttal.”
“We should get back to the others – if they’re still out there.”
“I have something for you first.”
He held forth his fist, green light escaping at the edges. He unfurled his fingers to show two magnificent gold rings. One was inset with rubies and the other emeralds; both were huge gems surrounded by spidery metalwork. Nat’s brows flew up.
“I did not think that paltry ring from Vegas were truly worthy of you.”
“You know I can’t wear this in the field.”
“But we are at home now. I would not have you forget who loves you.”
Meekly she held out her hand, fingers splayed so he could put it on. She took the ruby and slid it onto his long skinny digit.
“Better?” she asked.
“Infinitely.” He kissed her, hand running down her arm.
Clint Barton was not a man to pass up on a challenge, and Darcy’s winks and smirks at the party had dared him to find out more. He crawled through the SHIELD air vents until he found Jane’s lab, crouching where he could see the voluptuous brunette taking notes. Jane was prattling on at a hundred miles an hour about things that hurt his brain to even pronounce, let alone understand, but Darcy was jotting patiently.
“So now Loki and Agent Romanov are all hot, hot, hot, do you think Thor’s gonna pop the question?”
“What?” the scientist hissed, “Are you crazy?”
“It’s a fair question. Daddy Odin just okayed one mixed-race marriage.”
“Yeah, for Loki, who’s not even his real son. Thor is the heir to Asgard. He has to marry an elf princess or something.”
“Uh, why would he want some delicate elf chick when he can have you?”
Jane sighed. “Thor loves me, but...he’s basically immortal. He can stay with me on Earth my whole lifetime and it’s like, a week on Asgard. If he stays with me there will still be plenty of time for him to marry someone else, someone more suitable.”
“So what, you’re just a fling? Nuh-uh,” Darcy snorted, “The big dude would totes walk over hot coals for you.”
“Maybe. I’m gonna get a coffee. Want one?”
“Extra strong, thanks.”
Jane hurried out, looking more than a little upset if Clint was honest. Both women had good points, but Clint was pretty sure Thor only did what he wanted to do and marrying Jane was high up on that list.
“I know you’re there, perv. If you wanted to see me again you could just ask.”
He almost fell over himself. Caught! By a civilian no less. Clint quickly recovered, popping open the duct to drop to his feet lightly beside her.
“Maybe that’s what I’m here for.”
“Really?” she gave him a scathing look.
“Sure. Wanna get a drink tonight?”
“Tonight’s not really good for me. How’s tomorrow?”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at eight.”
“You don’t even know where I live.”
He winked. “I know people.”
“You know normally that would be creepy, but being surrounded by spies all the time I’m like hey, saves me the trouble of writing it down.”
He threw her a mocking salute. “See you at eight, Darcy Lewis.”
He went straight to Tony to see what else he could find out. The billionaire was buried under some kind of huge engine at Stark Tower, goggles pushed up in his hair and grease just everywhere.
“Hmm? What’s up, Hawk?”
“How well do you know Darcy?”
Stark laughed. “Why?”
“I asked her out.”
He laughed even harder. “Man, she’s gonna eat you alive.”
“What do you know about her?”
“Smart, witty, doesn’t take shit. She tased our resident god of thunder the first time they met.”
“Nice.” Clint raised his brows.
“Selveig never mentioned her when you were watching him?”
Clint shook his head. “We didn’t talk about much that happened in New Mexico.”
Bruce walked in with a tablet. “What happened in New Mexico?”
“Clint here asked Darcy on a date.”
The doctor laughed. “You’re braver than I thought.”
“You guys are starting to worry me.”
Tony scoffed. “Relax, she’s not evil. She’s in tight with the Asgardian crowd. Pepper seems to think she’s funny, which concerns me because I agree. She’s even got our good Captain wrapped around her finger.”
“Steve likes her?”
“Oh quit frowning, it’s not like that. Steve just doesn’t know how to cope with so many ballsy women at once.”
“Agent Hill? You asked to see me?”
Maria looked up from her screen as Steve hovered in the door. “Sure. Come in.”
He walked to her desk and stopped, hands clasped behind his back.
“Director Fury has asked me to ensure your cultural acclimation is going well. You’re adjusting?”
“Sometimes I still find the world strange, ma’am, but I’m getting there. The team helps.”
“I’m sure. Anyway, if you need any extra help let me know.”
“I was wondering...I keep meaning to go back to the neighbourhood where I grew up. But I’m not sure I can go on my own. I feel like I don’t know what will be worse, if it’s changed too much or not at all. Do you think you could come with me?”
“Me?” she put down her pen.
“You don’t get emotional. You won’t ask too many questions like some of the others, and you can probably answer any I have. Plus I trust you not to tell anyone if....if I...”
“I understand, Captain. When would you like to go out there?”
“Whenever’s convenient for you, ma’am.”
She fixed him with an analytical gaze, taking in the earnest face and nervous posture.
“How about tomorrow? 0900.”
Maria checked her watch again. “Did you try the bell?”
“No answer, ma’am.” The doorman shrugged.
She sighed and pushed him aside, pressing the buzzer. “Captain Rogers?”
There was a pause before he answered. “Agent Hill, hi. Listen, I’ve changed my mind about today. I’m sorry to trouble you but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Captain Rogers, get down here immediately. That’s an order.”
The doorman gave her an awestruck look as she adjusted her shades, waiting for Steve to make an appearance. He came out in his leather jacket and slacks, looking ashamed.
“Agent Hill, I’m sorry, I just-”
“Whatever excuse you’re about to make, forget it. You need to put your mind at ease and know one way or another. So get in the car, soldier.”
He ducked his head and rambled down the steps, sliding into the passenger seat. Maria gave the doorman a nod and got behind the wheel, turning them out into traffic. She headed for the Lower East Side, silent as she looked straight ahead.
“I don’t want you to think-”
“I don’t think anything, captain.”
They turned into Steve’s old neighbourhood. The closer they got, the more he looked around, drinking in as much as possible.
“It’s not that different.”
“On the outside, no. The buildings are protected. Most of them have been turned into boutiques and restaurants though. Lots of art galleries.” She smiled at him.
He grinned back. “The parks are new.”
She stopped opposite the building he used to live in and took her glasses off. “Do you wanna go up?”
Steve looked around and shook his head. “Nah.”
“We came all this way.” She pushed gently.
“I’m happy to see it looking good. I don’t want to change the way it is in my head, you know?”
“Alright. Maybe we could go in and see some of these galleries then, would you like that?”
They both got out, walking together casually as if people weren’t staring at Steve. The attention made him nervous still but Maria acted like they were alone and he happily went along with it.
“That place was where we got our groceries. And at the end of the block you can see where the diner Mum worked at used to be.”
“My grandparents lived around here.” Maria said.
“Yeah. I used to spend a lot of time on weekends playing in the street with my cousins.”
“There were always lots of kids when I was growing up.”
“I come from a pretty big family.”
“That must be nice.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes it feels like you’re being smothered.”
Steve laughed. They came to a small gallery and she stopped. “Shall we?”
“Thank you, Agent Hill. For forcing me to come here.”
“No trouble, captain. Although since we’re not at headquarters, maybe you’d better call me Maria.”
“Alright,” he smiled, “Then I’m just Steve.”
It took all of two seconds for him to get Darcy’s address and another two to requisition a car from the SHIELD fleet. Most of Clint’s preparation went into thinking of places to take her. If she was as disarming as Tony had said, maybe he should get her off guard early on.
He pulled up outside her building and she skipped out from the entrance in a black dress that made Clint want to throw her against the car there and then. He gathered his control though; he’d been warned about her. He could handle this.
“Hey Lewis. Ready to go?”
“Am I ever!” she purred.
Clint bit his tongue as he opened the door for her, trotting around the front of the car. As he got back in Darcy clucked her tongue.
“Hope you’re not planning on using the car as an excuse to stay sober, Barton.”
“Nope. A very nice man from SHIELD is gonna meet us at the bar and drive it home, because sometimes I am responsible, no matter what Tasha says.”
She laughed and ran a hand through her hair, and he had to take another moment. There was something really zesty about her. It was hot as all hell.
“Alright, hold on.”
He thrust hard on the accelerator, tearing down the street as she whooped. They sped past the bright lights of the city as they turned and weaved, gliding effortlessly through traffic. Clint pulled up in the quietest, most residential street Darcy could imagine and cut the engine.
“Sure are.” He grinned mischievously, hopping out.
She followed quickly. A man in black appeared from behind a tree and Clint threw him the keys, taking her arm as he led her to a set of stone steps leading down to a basement apartment. He pressed the buzzer and wiggled his brows at her.
“Hello?” the voice was heavily accented, some kind of Eastern European if Darcy knew her ethnicities.
“Romanova sends her regards.”
There was an excited jabber and the door opened, a huge bear-like man stepping forward to hug Clint.
“Ah, my friend, it is good to see you again!”
“How you doing Pyotr?”
“Good, good. Come in.”
He waved them both through and Darcy actually gaped. The apartment was connected to those in the buildings on either side of them, stretching out around a central bar. It was dark and incredibly smoky. Men were grouped at tables throwing dice or playing cards, or just drinking. Some had women on their laps, some were laughing and singing and all of them were Russian or Slavic as far as she could tell. It was loud and lively and more than a little confronting.
Pyotr tapped them on the shoulder. “Please have a round on me, and tell the Widow it has been too long since she’s been to see poor Pyotr.”
He led her to the bar.
“What kind of place have you brought me to, Clint?” she hissed.
“Nat introduced me to it.”
She looked even more sceptical and he laughed.
“Don’t look so worried, I promise at least 85% of these guys are totally on the up-and-up. Plus the booze is cheap, the crowd are fun, and while it’s a little sleazy by most standards you will not meet friendlier people anywhere.”
“Alright, but I might need a couple shots to warm up.”
He grinned and slapped the bar.
“Luka, the lady here needs shots.”
“Then she shall have them, Clint!” the bartender looked almost offended that they were sober, lining up a row of glasses and filling them with vodka.
Clint went to hand him money and Luka waved him away.
“First round’s on the boss.”
“It always is.” Barton winked, taking a shot glass, “Bottoms up.”
Darcy gave the liquor a look of dread and met his eye again. He grinned and she set her mouth, clinking her glass to his.
“Let’s test that mettle, agent.”
They both downed it, gasping as the fiery liquid scorched them. Darcy coughed.
“That is not normal vodka!”
“They make it themselves. It’s like 50%.”
“You tryin’ to get me drunk, Barton?”
“Do I need to? I mean look at me – how could you resist this?”
“You’re right. Another?”
“Clinton!” an older paunchy man cheered, coming up to kiss both his cheeks.
“Stanislav, good to see you.”
“Are you here with Romanova?” he looked around.
“No, but this is Darcy.”
“Darcy! You are most welcome.” The Russian kissed her cheeks too.
“Come and sit with us. You must, you must!”
“Well I guess if we must...” Darcy shrugged, grabbing the shots they had left.
“Watch out Stan – she’s gonna hustle you.”
Stanislav chortled. “She will not be the first. Come, sit.”
An hour later Clint was feeling pleasantly warm, his face strained from laughing. Darcy had the Russians in almost constant stitches when she wasn’t kicking their asses at cards. She had a really cute way of sticking her tongue out the corner of her mouth when she was thinking that made Clint want to curl up and die.
“Ah, she wins again! You will force me to leave here with empty pockets!”
“Sorry Stani.” She winked at Clint.
“Maybe we should leave before she cleans out the whole table.” Hawkeye ventured.
“No, no, you must stay!” their opponents cried.
“We love the Darcy! You cannot take her away!”
The girl giggled. “Sorry guys, gotta jet.”
“You will come and see us again, yes?”
Clint stood and offered his hand and she took it, pocketing her winnings. They waved to Luka and Pyotr as they passed, tripping up the stairs together.
“Well that was one of the more interesting first dates I’ve ever had.”
“And you doubted me.” he chided.
“Okay, you win!” she raised her hands.
“So what now, get a cab and hit somewhere else? Do you feel like dancing? Maybe we could get something to eat.”
“I’m sure you have lots more charming secret places in your repertoire but right now, Clint, I just want you to kiss me.”
He grinned dopily, pushing her back against the iron railing as he touched his lips to hers. She moaned into it, hand coming up to clutch at his shoulder blades. Clint was stunned by the heat of her, the warm scent of her hair, but he pulled away.
“What? Come back here!” she pouted.
“Hey, I’m not some floozy you know. Come on, let’s get a cab.”
She stuck her bottom lip out fretfully but he refused to cave, flagging them down a taxi and pushing her in.
“I promise you it will be worth it.”
They got out at the Empire State Building and Darcy frowned.
“Planning on a sappy Sleepless in Seattle re-enactment?”
It was late but the observation deck didn’t close til 2am. They rode up in the elevator, the hundred floors flashing by quickly. There were one or two other people up there, but Clint made a gesture to the security.
“Mr Barton? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“Hey Louis. Think we can get an hour?”
He hurried off to tell the other people that the deck was closing and Darcy gave him a slow nod.
“Alright, mildly impressed.”
“They know me here. When I got to New York this was the first place I came. Coulson had to drag me away more than once.”
“You like heights; I remember.”
He strolled over to the view, breathing in deep as he watched the city lights.
“I guess I’ve always felt freer up here.”
Darcy looked around and realised they were alone since Louis had gone down in the elevator with the others. She leaned on the wall beside him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been up here at night. It’s pretty.”
He looked over. “I’ll say.”
Her jibes seemed to die as he leaned closer, lips touching hers again. She threw herself into the kiss, spinning him until he was braced against the window. Darcy pawed at his chest, growling appreciatively at the muscle underneath.
“You know, everyone at work had a lot to say about you.” He ran his hands up her thighs.
“Checking up on me?”
“Thought I should know what I was getting into.” He laughed as she unbuttoned her pants.
“And?” she pulled away suddenly, gasping.
Her hair was loose around her shoulders and her lips pink from kissing, and Clint had never been more sure of anything – not even his own aim.
“I think even if you dropkicked me in the heart you would still be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
She grinned and pulled him down to the concrete. “Bet you say that to all the girls.”
Tony gave him a strange look as they walked towards Fury’s op room.
“You look...too happy. That makes me nervous.”
Clint grabbed him by the neck and ruffled his hair before bounding out of reach. “I am happy.”
“Hey, no need to get rough though! Geez! I take it your date when well.”
“You were totally right about her.”
“Oh no. You’re halfway in love with her already. Oh god, now there’s two of them!” he looked around for someone to back him up.
“Hey, she’s a cool chick, but it’s a bit early to be calling it love. We had one date.”
Natasha seamlessly joined them from the intersecting hallway. “And from what I heard you practically handed her yourself on a silver platter.”
“Who told you that?” Clint scowled.
“I may have overheard Darcy telling Jane you said the most romantic thing.”
“May have overheard? Sneak.” He nudged her playfully.
They filed into the meeting, falling into their usual spots around the table. Tony caught Natasha’s elbow at the last moment.
“Most romantic thing?”
“I can’t repeat it – you’ll blush too much.”
Steve joined them, then Bruce, and finally Thor and Loki fresh from sparring. Fury gave them a wary glare.
“There better not be any new dents in my training rooms.”
“Never, director! Loki and I only play at combat.”
“Somehow that’s not reassuring. Okay, we can get started.”
He pulled up a hologram of a chemical structure. Both Bruce and Tony leaned in.
“This is AO-340. It’s a rare and revolutionary formula that may just hold the key to immortality.”
“Cool!” Clint chirped.
“The professor who created it has just been granted huge amounts of government funding on the condition he moves his operation to a secure lab within SHIELD so we can monitor the substance. You will be escorting him and his work here.”
“Urgh, security detail? Don’t you have people for this, Fury?” Tony whined.
“I do, people who are far more agreeable and obedient, but unfortunately no one as impressive. Obviously this is a highly desirable piece of chemistry and we cannot afford for it to be intercepted on the way. You will be shadowing the truck as we move it this afternoon.”
Agent Hill walked in and Steve smiled at her. She gave him a small nod and Clint nudged Nat, raising his brows. Her lips quirked at the side but otherwise she said nothing.
“Any idea if there will be a specific attempt?” Bruce asked.
“None we can find, but there’s always someone waiting in the wings to ruin my day. Everyone suit up and be ready in an hour.” He swept out.
“Anyone wanna hit the cafeteria?” Tony stood.
“I will, Loki followed him, “Thor has helped me work up quite an appetite.”
“Race you there.” Clint grinned impishly.
“Come on, Bruce. We can’t let these whippersnappers beat us.” Nat hustled him out, effectively leaving Steve and Maria alone.
“Shouldn’t you be defending your honour with the rest of them?” she smiled slightly.
“Doesn’t really seem fair, with the serum and all.”
“Loki and Thor are gods and it doesn’t stop them. Besides, most of the others are fit enough to hold their own.”
“Well I guess I should catch up easily enough then. Would you like to come?”
She stopped short, like someone had hit the pause button. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Sort of undermines my authority if I race the Avengers. Especially if I lose.”
“Alright. Some other time, maybe.”
She gave him that almost smile again. “Sure.”
“So why were we leaving the Cap and Agent Ballbreaker alone?” Tony asked over his ice cream sundae.
“Cos Steve’s got the hots for her, stupid.” Clint rolled his eyes.
“This is good news! The Captain of America should not be lonesome.” Thor boomed.
“Don’t say a word – Thor or Tony,” Nat pointed her spoon at them menacingly, “I mean it.”
“Fine! My lips are sealed.” Tony pouted.
“If only.” Loki moaned.
Stark flicked sprinkles at him and the god scowled. Natasha entwined her fingers with his under the table and he smiled, secretly vowing to get his revenge later.
“Hey look, isn’t that Darcy?” Bruce nodded.
Clint tried to be subtle, really. He knew the rest of the table were watching him but he couldn’t help looking.
She was chatting to some tall stocky guy from the special ops division while the cashier rang up her change. The girl spotted him and winked, sauntering over with an extra swing in her hips.
“Hey my favourite superheroes. How goes it?”
“Prepping for a mission.” Tony said around a mouthful of dessert.
“I can see that.”
They made room for her next to Clint, and he wondered if there was some harmless way to prank his teammates.
“What did Lake have to say?” Clint nodded towards the special ops guy.
“Oh him? He tried to ask me out again. Total windbag.” She scoffed.
“I’ve seen him fight. All power, no precision.” Natasha shook her head. Clint knew from her that was the epitome of disdain.
“Well if he bothers you, just send him my way.”
She laughed. “Clint, as cute as that is, I can handle it. I tased Blondie over there, I can get Mr All Power No Precision to back off.”
“I don’t doubt it for a second.” He smiled.
“So, you guys off to do something crazy dangerous?” Darcy asked.
“Not really.” he shrugged.
“We don’t know yet,” Bruce gave him a look, “Could be nothing, could be bad.”
“Well if there’s any bad guys, give ‘em a big kick for me, okay?”
“That’s what I like about you Darcy. You’ve got spunk.” Tony cleaned out the bottom of his bowl.
Clint grinned. “You’ve got no idea.”
“TMI, dude.” Tony stuck out his tongue.
The shift went off without a hitch, Fury’s twitchy scientist safely driven into the bowels of SHIELD. The director was waiting to welcome him.
“Dr Amaso, we’re glad to have you. My people will take your equipment downstairs while I show you around.”
“I must accompany it! The research cannot be sabotaged or copied in any way!” the small, shaky professor looked around.
“The Avengers will be supervising the process. None of my staff will allow a security breach, I assure you.”
Dr Amaso still looked nervous but he let Fury wave him inside while the SHIELD guys started unloading boxes.
“This is the most boring duty he’s ever given us. Do you think he’s mad or something?” Tony frowned.
“Pay attention, Stark. We have to watch everything and everyone who leaves this truck from here to the lab.” Steve said.
Tony raised his brows. “Exactly my point, Cap.”
“How about you situate yourself in the lab, Tony?” Natasha shadowed a pair with a trolley, “Make sure no one comes in unless they have the right authorisation.”
The rest of them spread out so there were always two Avengers next to the truck and one with each person carrying stuff down to the R&D department. It was slow, boring work with too many security checks for Clint’s liking. When he got down to the lab Tony agreed.
“This is such a drag. We’re inside the walls now, right? Is it just me or is Fury being paranoid?”
“You never know. Even SHIELD can have a mole.” Clint said flatly.
Tony winced. “Sorry man, didn’t mean to-”
“You didn’t. It’s okay.”
“Well do you mind taking over here for a second? I gotta stretch my legs.”
He hopped up on a counter, swinging his legs and fingering his armguard as he watched the boxes pile up in the centre of the empty white space. He eyeballed everyone that came in or out carefully but they all kept their hands to themselves, moving briskly. Tony was right about it being boring. A familiar pair of brunettes walked past the glass wall and stopped, waving. He grinned and abandoned his perch for a second to say hi.
“I feel like I keep running into you today.” He smirked, leaning on the doorframe.
“Lucky me.” she hugged her notebook to her chest with a grin.
“So your mission went okay?” Jane looked around at the flow of people.
“Yep. You’ll have the big guy back in about fifteen minutes, if you want him.”
The astrophysicist tucked her hair behind her ear to hide her smile. “I’ll leave you guys to it then.”
She scampered off, leaving Darcy watching her with a laugh.
“She’s not very subtle.”
Clint leered, biting his lip. “Reminds me of someone else.”
“Hey, I am all about the subtle. Innuendo, double entendre...these are things I’m great at.”
Loki loped over, keeping an eye on the lab. “We are just about finished.”
“Awesome. Does that mean I can steal Mr Eyesight here for an hour or two?”
Clint would have objected to that nickname if it hadn’t come with a lusty wink. He could spare an hour for a quickie or three.
“You shall have to ask the director.” Loki raised his brows.
“He can’t say no if we don’t ask. Come on, Barton.”
She grabbed his hand and then the world went orange.
Clint coughed. Having the wind knocked out of you was not fun. He could still feel the weight of the explosion on his chest. He took a second to take stock and realised nothing was broken or sprained, but his ears were ringing and he felt slightly weird. In the next second he was on his knees, looking around at the others. That’s when he noticed he was looking at himself.
“What the hell?” Clint looked down at his hands – except they weren’t his. The boobs definitely weren’t his either.
“Ugh,” his body rolled over, “What the fuck just happened?”
Alarms were going off and solid metal screens had dropped down to shield the labs, but Clint was far more focused on his current anatomy to be worried about any external threat.
“Darcy? Is that you in there?”
“Clint?” she squinted up at him, “Why do you look like me?”
“I think we got switched.”
“Oh cool! And also kinda lame. What about the others?”
Clint looked over. Loki was crouched on his toes, staring at his hands.
“Loki?” he tried.
“Uh, okay. You hurt?”
“No.” She stood.
There were a handful of other SHIELD staff looking at themselves in wonder or shock or horror, but nobody seemed injured and nothing was on fire or blown up. Fury ran in at the head of a group of guards, gun in hand.
“We under attack?”
“Don’t think so sir.” Clint answered without thinking.
“Lewis?” the director’s eyes narrowed.
“Uh, Barton actually. Darcy’s over there.” He pointed to his own body.
“What in the world...”
“It’s true Director. I’m Agent Romanov.” Nat said with Loki’s polished tones.
Fury stopped, looking between them. “Alright. If this is something the three of you cooked up to make me look like an ass-”
Clint impatiently grabbed the gun from the holster on what was now Darcy’s thigh and aimed for a sign at the end of the hall. He loosed a shot that landed perfectly in the middle of the ‘o’ in ‘No armed weapons in the R&D department’.
“Barton! Can you read the sign?”
An incredibly spindly young man nervously edged his way through the only open lab door. He kept tugging at his dirty blonde hair as he looked at the director.
“Um, Mr Fury, sir, is that you?”
“Yes? Dr Frone, isn’t it?”
“Oh I’m not Howie. I’m Mina, his girlfriend.”
“I take it you weren’t here a few minutes ago. Alright, everybody stand down and get these alarms turned off. Any one affected by whatever this is will need to come with me while we track down Dr Frone and find out what he was working on.”
“Oh, I can tell you that! And I can tell you where I was too.” Mina piped up.
“Go on.” Fury waved her forward.
“Howie was trying to create a chemical reaction that would act like a spell.”
“Magic? Agent Sitwell, go find Loki. He’ll be in Romanov’s body, probably somewhere downstairs.”
“What kind of spell?” Clint demanded.
“It was supposed to be teleportation. He was starting by creating a connection with the person you were most emotionally involved with, using your feelings as a bond to bring you together physically.”
“Well it certainly gets you closer to them.” Darcy snickered.
Maria listened, pressing herself as close into the wall as possible as the director and the others trooped towards the elevators. She looked down at the giant star emblazoned on her chest.
“The one you’re most emotionally involved with?” she whispered.
There was no way in hell she was going to tell the director – or anyone – she’d been switched. She waited for them to pass and ran up to her office to find Steve before he let the cat out of the bag.
The switched SHIELD folk were lounging around one of the break rooms. Fury had kicked everyone else out and thrown them in together to wait, mostly because the agents’ spouses were not cleared to be around classified information. Darcy and Clint were sitting at a table sort of awkwardly not looking at each other.
“It probably isn’t literal. The emotion thing,” Nat tried to comfort them, “You know how magic is.”
“Yeah, maybe the spell interpreted it as the one you were physically closest to at the time or the one you think about most or...I’m gonna stop talking.” Clint trailed off in a mutter.
“Maybe it’s a sex thing.” Darcy added.
“Yeah! Maybe it’s attraction, you know, like magnets?”
“I gotta say, I like this though. I feel all muscley and strong.” She flexed Clint’s pecs.
“I’m not too heartbroken about it either,” Clint smirked, “Provided it’s temporary.”
“Do you think we could...take a walk?” she raised a brow.
“Cut it out you two.” Nat rolled her eyes.
Loki entered the break room, looking all business in Nat’s suit. He marched straight up to his wife and laid a hand on her forehead, muttering something under his breath. They both glowed green for a second and then his hand fell away.
“What did you just do?” Clint asked.
“I switched us back. I cannot begin to tell you how cramped I felt in such a small body.” Loki shuddered.
“You really changed? You can do that?” Darcy said excitedly.
“For us, yes. I cannot fix whatever has been done to you.”
“How do you know? You could try.” Clint offered his hand.
Loki shook his head. “I would only succeed in switching our bodies, and while I might possibly create some kind of strange cycle to rotate us all back into our proper places, the effects would be draining and uncomfortable. I have promised Fury I will help this Frone fool clean up his mess, but it will not be as simple as what I just did.”
“Sorry Clint.” Natasha winced, taking Loki’s hand as they left.
“Great. Magic! You’d think it would make things easier, but all it does is create more rules.” Darcy pouted.
“So, uh, about that walk?”
Her face fell and he straightened up.
“Sorry Darce, I was joking.”
“What if they can’t change us back, Clint? I mean there’s nothing wrong with how you look but I really liked my hair and my tits and now I don’t have them, and I’m not a lesbian so I don’t really wanna have sex with myself-”
“Ssh, ssh,” he reached out and tugged her to his chest, stroking her hair, “They’ll fix this. They always fix it, even when it’s crazy and weird and wrong. Okay?”
Maria buzzed herself into her office and stuck her head in carefully.
There was a scuffling sound under her desk and she moved closer.
“It’s me, Maria.”
Her own face slowly popped over the edge of the desk, only to gasp and duck back down again.
“It’s alright, there was an accident in the lab downstairs and your body was affected. We...we switched. Some of the others did too.”
Steve reluctantly stood, still holding onto the edge of the furniture.
“It happened to other people too?”
“Yeah. Barton and Darcy, Loki and Romanov, some of the security. Fury’s finding a solution now.”
He laughed lightly. “I thought I was going mad.”
“Not mad, just magicked.”
“And Fury’s working on a cure?” he looked up, “We should find him.”
“No!” Maria panicked, “No, no one can know that we’ve changed.”
“Why not?” he said with some suspicion.
“Because I’d rather Fury not know either you or I have been compromised.”
“You just said Loki, Natasha and Clint had all swapped.”
She sighed. “Rogers, do you want to end up quarantined in the break room, or do you want to stay here so I can get on with my job?”
“I suppose it doesn’t make much difference. When they figure out how to fix it we can come forward then, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” She moved to sit behind the desk, “Until then I need you to answer my calls for me. Got it?”
“Sure, whatever you need Agent Hill.”
“This is weird.” She muttered, checking her inbox.
“You’re tellin’ me. I haven’t been this short since the ‘40s.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “You’re okay, right? The transition didn’t bring your asthma back or anything?”
“No, feel fine. Sort of springier than usual.”
Maria smiled. “Ninjitsu. I’m not sure how you carry all this bulk around...and I’m kinda starving.”
He gave her a sympathetic and slightly guilty grimace. “Yeah, side effect of the serum. I’d usually be stuffing my face right now. I could get you something?”
“There’s a mini fridge in that cabinet.” She pointed.
He gave her a wink. “I’m on it, ma’am.”
Clint wheedled his way out of an escort to the bathroom by pointing out he was, in fact, an Avenger and had seen more top secret SHIELD stuff than was healthy for any one person. He slipped out into the halls, still adjusting to the tight skirt and heels. He stopped awkwardly at a corner to re-jiggle himself, fitting Darcy’s curves into the dress better. Big hands flattened themselves over his stomach as Clint was pulled back into a hard chest.
“Hey sweetcheeks. Change your mind yet?”
Clint didn’t even think. There were some major differences in muscle mass between him and Darcy, not to mention centre of gravity and balance, but he instantly tipped forward and flung Lake over his head into the opposite wall.
“What the fuck?”
Clint pressed one sculpted heel against his throat. “Oh no, don’t get up.”
“Bitch! You’re such a tease with your skanky tops and your come-fuck-me looks. I’ll make you sorry for this.”
“Isn’t that interesting? I was going to say something similar to you.” Clint pressed down harder on his wind pipe.
They both looked up at Nat standing with her hands on her hips, surveying them casually.
“Lake here doesn’t know the proper way to treat a lady. He’s a bit rusty on some areas of consent.”
“I see.” Her eyes glimmered coldly.
“What did she mean Barton?” Lake looked at him, confused.
Nat hauled him to his feet, twisting his arms up behind his back and throwing him face first against the wall as she zip tied his wrists.
“I’ll handle this.”
“Thanks Tash,” Clint tapped Lake’s nose, “See, us girls stick together.”
He pulled an arm back and clocked Lake in the jaw, wincing slightly as the other man howled and ducked his head to his chest.
“How clumsy.” Nat tutted, dragging him away.
Clint stifled an evil laugh and sauntered back to the break room, sitting next to Darcy with a giant smug smile.
“What are you so happy about?”
“I met some really nice people in the hall.”
She raised a brow. “You’re treating that bod respectfully, right? Not trying to get free ice cream at the caf by flashing my tits or anything?”
“God no! Jesus, Darce, what kind of guy do you think I am?”
She smiled. “Just checking you hadn’t been brainwashed by the new hotness.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“So what caused the switch?”
“Huh?” Maria looked up, startled.
Steve tried again. “The accident you mentioned. Anyone hurt?”
“No, no. Dr Frone, one of our developers, was trying to create a chemical reaction that would mimic a teleportation spell. It exploded, zapped everyone in the nearby radius.”
“I don’t really remember it. I felt something hit me, and when I opened my eyes I was in here.”
“It must be weird for you, all this magic and the other realms. It’s weird for me and I grew up used to all the technology stuff.”
Steve shrugged. “It’s not so bad, you know? Like having it all hit me at once is pretty full-on, but at least I can work it out at the same time as everyone else.”
She looked at him from the corner of her eye. Steve had been hit by the spell and they’d swapped. She was who he was most emotionally involved with. Maybe it was hard for the guy to make friends when he still felt so out of the loop, but he had the Avengers. Surely he was closer to them than her. As for her, yeah she liked the guy. He was cute, he was super nice, he was interesting. It was hard to find such a complete gentleman these days, and the way he didn’t treat her like any less of a leader because she was a woman was a welcome break from some of the sexist pigs in the office. Maybe the emotional involvement thing was more her end.
“So have you been to see anyone from your old brigade?” she asked.
“Well, most of them aren’t around anymore.”
“I’m sorry, that was a stupid question. I should have-”
“No, it’s okay. I didn’t really want to see them anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to know they’ve had these happy, full lives after all the shit we went through, but I don’t want to drag them back through the wringer now.”
She was still stuck on the fact that Captain America swore when the door opened and Maria’s head sprang up guiltily. Of course it was currently Steve’s head, so Agent Sitwell looked sort of scared at the fierce look.
“Uh, Deputy Director? Director Fury would like you to join him down in R&D. Loki and Dr Frone have almost finished creating a reaction that will reverse the changes and he wants you on hand.”
“Alright.” Steve said nervously, trying to mimic Maria’s normal tones, “We’ll be right there.”
“What are you doing? Foolish mortal, that will change them back inside out!” Loki snatched the vial from him.
Dr Frone looked peeved. “How would you know?”
“How would I know?” Loki menaced dangerously.
“Okay, okay. Let’s just get this thing done without making it worse. You can kill each other after.” Fury held up his hands.
Maria and Steve joined the others where they’d been corralled into a corner of Frone’s lab. Clint nodded.
“Hi.” Maria smiled.
“How does it look?” Steve asked.
“Dr Frone’s recreating the reaction with Loki’s help, to make sure we all swap back exactly as we did before.”
“Which means more fun faceplanting.” Darcy scowled.
“Agent Hill!” Fury waved, “Over here.”
Steve gave Maria a wide-eyed look but went over, trying to walk normally instead of with his usual manly stride.
“We need to get all the affected ranged out along the wall. Dr Frone’s formula is almost complete, and Loki is going to push it to breaking point at a distance to contain it. I’ve got a conference call with the WSC so I’ll be upstairs. Clear the floor and let me know if anything fucks up.”
“Then tell Frone that his idea is solid, but too unstable, and he needs to go back to the theory before putting it in practice. I can’t lose half my employees again.”
“And we’ll have to find and debrief all these people currently in their loved one’s skins to make sure this snafu doesn’t get out any more than it already has.”
“Loved ones?” Steve echoed, frowning.
“Well yeah. Everyone got switched with the person they’re ‘most emotionally involved with’ or some shit. Which means Barton and Lewis have some explaining to do to HR.”
“Oh. Uh, leave it with me, director.”
“Alright.” He stalked out.
Dr Frone joined the others, linking hands with his body as Mina smiled at him. Loki addressed them.
“I shall now go outside and lower the blast door before setting it off. You should be perfectly safe.”
“Should be?” Clint objected.
Darcy grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Chill, dude. It’s gonna be fine.”
He smiled and kissed her cheek. “Sure thing, agent.”
Steve was still not sure about what Fury had said, but he had orders to follow and he was too well trained to freeze up. He sounded a general evacuation of the floor and waved Loki out, preparing to shut the doors. As the steel slid down past a dozen frightened faces, Steve caught Maria looking at him warily. Most emotionally involved?
He retreated to the end of the hall and waited. Loki raised a hand cloaked in green and said something, and there was a boom as orange light escaped around the edges of the shield. Steve hit the floor, blacking out.
Loki frowned. “Agent Hill?”
Once they’d all had a talk with the nice agents and been checked over by medical, they were free to leave. Clint and Darcy paused on the med bay threshold.
“So, going back to the lab? I bet Jane’s been missing you.”
“Actually I was thinking about this great pizza place a few blocks north of here. Body swaps really work up an appetite, you know?”
“Yeah.” He smiled, stretching out his fingers. It was good to be back in his own self again.
“You’re totally buying.”
“Yes, because I had to wear your grungy boy body for like three hours.”
“I had to be you!”
“Oh don’t pretend you didn’t love it.”
“Fine,” he laughed, “I’ll buy.”
They headed off, and Steve looked up as Maria walked in with her usual commanding air.
“Ma’am. I hope there weren’t any questions about...us and the swap.”
“I told Loki the force had knocked me out. I don’t think he believed me because he’s the stupid god of lies, but he won’t say anything.”
“Good. I managed to get up faster than the others – serum and all. They thought I was helping.”
“Then it’s settled.”
“Yep. And we aren’t telling anyone because you didn’t want to stop working, right?”
She looked stunned for a second before replying. “That’s right.”
“But it can’t do any harm now.”
“If the director finds out he might still punish us for breaking protocol.”
Steve nodded slowly, weighing her up. “Okay.”
Maria wanted to say something. She wanted to offer him dinner or ask him to a movie or do something, anything to break the agent/soldier barrier. But instead she nodded.
She turned and walked away, and Steve frowned to himself.