Darcy approached the cafe with her ear buds in, humming along to music only she could hear… had she been able to hear music and not the dulcet tones of her SO.
“He’s tucked up against the window,” Agent Sitwell said quietly in her left ear. “That’ll make it harder; you’ll have to hide what you’re doing from the people in the cafe as well as those on the patio and anyone passing randomly on the street on foot or in a vehicle.”
It was ten seventeen on a Wednesday morning. The traffic was minimal, the sidewalks were essentially empty, and the only other person on the patio was a middle-aged woman with a pittie at her feet begging for bits of whole grain foccatia smothered in goat cheese and olives. Darcy had once watched a dog devour a squashed frog three days dead on the driveway so in the over all scheme of things, foccatia, goat cheese, and olives was no big.
Her contact had his bright blue puffy coat unzipped, pretending, like most New Yorkers, that a warm, sunny March 19th with no ridges of frozen slush in sight meant it was spring. Under the coat, he wore a purple and blue argyll sweater vest over a yellow checked shirt, over brown corduroy trousers, and, although she couldn’t see them, she had no doubt he had neon sneakers on his feet. At some point, he’d clearly decided to adopt the Koothrappali fashion ethic in spite of the fact he was a chemist and Koothrappali was an astrophysicist. The Big Bang Theory had a lot to answer for.
He was drinking a coffee from a sixteen ounce mug and eating a gluten free, goji berry muffin. Darcy recognized the muffin – and the foccatia – from her two previous trips to the cafe where she’d choked back a gluten free ancia berry muffin and a whole grain, soy cheese pizza respectively, and had to be talked down from going over the counter to shoot the cook.
“Healthy food doesn’t have to taste like a Birkenstock,” she muttered behind the cover of her mug.
“That’s no reason to shoot the cook.”
“The coffee sucks.”
“Still not a reason.”
“He has a man bun.”
“I have a clear shot, Sitwell.”
“Barton, get off this channel. You are not a part of this op!”
Darcy wasn’t sure why she needed the cover of a sniper during the “who me? I’m no stranger suddenly appearing for an information drop, I eat here all the time” set-up nor, for that matter, was she happy about the reason for a sniper during a simple information drop. Logically, if SHIELD was sending in a junior agent, the information to be dropped wasn’t worth killing over. On the hand, logic often had surprisingly little to do with maintaining world security. Still, if she had to have a sniper, she’d have definitely preferred Clint. How did Agent Grant Ward shoot with that stick shoved so far up his ass? And speaking of Agent Ward…
“Agent Sitwell, sir, the woman approaching from the north is a suspected AIM enforcer.”
“Are you sure?”
“She has a… distinctive profile, sir.”
“Fuck me. Keep an eye on her, Ward. Carry on, Lewis. Let’s see what she does before we scrub.”
The inside of the cafe smelled of carob, chicory, and cumin. Approaching the counter, Darcy searched the display cases for anything that might be edible. Carob brownies were an affront to chocolate but looked like her best bet until she spotted the yogurt parfait, something Man-bun wouldn’t have had a hand in preparing. Spooned into a tall, fluted dish, it actually looked appetizing.
Sixteen ounce coffee – yes, it was terrible coffee but caffeinated was caffeinated – parfait, eye roll from the server, and a tray and she was ready to head outside and help keep the world safe from mad science. Who knew working for Jane would be so useful? Though, to be fair, while Jane was frequently cranky, she’d never crossed the line to mad. Tony was definitely straddling it and Bruce was one of the sanest people she’d ever met.
“Suspected AIM enforcer has crossed the road and has situated herself at a newspaper box giving her a direct line of sight to the patio.”
How did Ward make that sound pompous?
“Seems AIM is keeping an eye on Dr. Hurst.” Sitwell hummed to himself for a moment as Darcy delayed, loading her tray with unbleached napkins, and the last remaining plastic spoon. It looked as though it had been used and washed multiple times. She suspected regular clientele brought their own cutlery. At least her shots were up to date. Three cheers for SHIELD medical. “He might actually have something worthwhile to share this time. Think you can still cover the pick-up, Lewis? I don’t want either you or Dr. Hurst in danger.”
“Sir, if Agent Lewis is made...”
“Planning on being made, Lewis?”
Shifting the tray to her left hand, Darcy coughed twice into her right elbow.
“There you go then. Let’s do this.”
“That seems a little anti-climatic,” Skye muttered sitting on the corner of Darcy’s desk.
“I know, right? You had visions of the parfait and the coffee going flying and mixing into a caffeinated and active bacteria puddle in his crotch, didn’t you?”
“Not in those exact words,” Skye admitted, “as I try to never think of active bacteria and crotch in the same sentence, but, yeah.”
“If it helps, the woman with the pittie gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.” She frowned at the changes to Agent Coulson’s schedule. He’d delayed his meeting with R&D in order to meet with an Agent John Garrett, but it was going to have to be delayed again if Garrett stayed any longer.
Skye tapped the top of her monitor to get her attention. “Problem?”
It wasn’t like the boss to lose track of time, but things came up even for Agent Coulson. “Just the usual; not enough hours in the day.”
“So what happened with the enforcer?”
“She watched me drink my coffee and play Words With Friends.”
“You told me you hated the coffee.”
“This time, it tasted like triumph. The whole operation was a piece of gluten free, natural fats, high fibre, tastes like sawdust cake. I didn’t even have to get the girls out.”
Skye opened her mouth, closed it again, and finally settled on, “So you’re officially a field agent now?”
“No, she has field agent status, which she requires in order to work with the Avengers, but she isn’t an active field agent.”
Darcy sighed. She really hated it when agents ninjaed into her space. Okay sure, she didn’t actually have walls just a five foot high line of filing cabinets separating her from the cubicle farm of junior agents, but it was the principle of the thing. “Agent Ward. What brings you here?”
He smiled and she wondered how many of his perfect teeth were caps. The job – or more specifically fists and boots and the butt end of high caliber weapons – tended to knock things loose and field agents made frequent use of SHIELD’s excellent dental plan. And a little less use of SHIELD’s excellent mental health plan than warranted. “You need to be more concise during debriefing,” he said earnestly, as though he were helping her out.
Fortunately, Darcy recognized asshole when she saw it. He intended to shake her confidence, put her on the defensive. Please, she lived in the same building as Tony Stark who still occasionally called her Agent Boobs – but mostly just to piss off Steve. It’d take more than a tactless non-sequitur to put her off her game. She returned his smile. “You didn’t answer the question.”
After a long moment, while Darcy maintained her smile and it’s threat level, he shrugged. “I’m meeting Agent Garrett.”
Curiouser and curiouser. What were the odds that an agent who’d just provided cover for her field trial would be in her office waiting to meet with the agent who was in her boss’ office disrupting her boss’ schedule? The schedule she was behind on because of said field trial. There were no coincidences in the spy game and Ward looked like a player.
And speaking of being a player.
His smile softened and dimples appeared as he held out his hand toward Skye. “Grant Ward. You are…?”
“Skye.” She shot Darcy a quick look as she took his hand. Darcy shrugged. She knew nothing about the man. Yet.
“Just Skye? Like Cher or Madonna?”
“Or any number of people this millennium.”
“You’re an agent?”
He looked deep into her eyes. “Couldn’t do it without you guys.”
Her brows dipped in and she pulled her hand free. “You don’t need to tell me that.”
“Do you have enough clearance to be here?”
“Level seven.” His tone straddled the line between statement of fact and humble brag.
Skye frowned, clearly doing the same math as Darcy. “So you were what, twelve when you started?”
Good question. Ward couldn’t be more than thirty. Although it was possible he looked younger than he was. In which case hitting on Skye, who was two years younger than Darcy, bordered on pre-Afghanistan-Tony-Stark levels of creepy.
Seemed Skye thought so too. “Well, this has been educational, but I gotta get back to the basement, see you later.”
“I’d love to.” He sounded besotted.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “She was talking to me, dude. She just met you.”
“I’d still like to see her later.” Ward leaned out around the row of filing cabinets that made up Darcy’s outer wall and watched Skye walk through the cubicle farm of junior agents.
In a just world, Clint would be in the vents and he’d put an arrow in Ward’s ass. Since he was in Vermont running a group of junior agents through an obstacle course Darcy’d heard described as the 8th level of Hell, it was up to her. “Hey, numbnuts! Stop looking at her a piece of meat.”
“I wasn’t...” He looked flustered. “I guess I was, but...” It was kind of adorable the way he stared down at the floor, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. Even more adorable when he looked up at her, with his dark Bambi eyes. “Don’t tell her.”
If a man Ward’s age looked adorable, he was doing it on purpose. “Say please.”
“Say, please, don’t tell her. That way it sounds like you’re making a request instead of giving a command.” She spread her hands. “Flies. Honey. Vinegar.”
Whatever he didn’t got cut off by Coulson’s door opening and, just for a second, his whole expression changed. She hadn’t quite figured out why it looked familiar by the time it changed back to his usual frown or less usual slightly supercilious hint of a smile. She spun her chair to see the cause.
Darcy didn’t like Senior Agent John Garret on sight, with his fake good ol’ boy expression and his throwing off the boss’ schedule. When he opened his mouth, she liked him even less.
“Well, aren’t you a dangerous little thing.”
Just behind Garret’s left shoulder, the boss shook his head and she stopped reaching for her taser.
Having made his entirely taserable observation, Garret ignored her. “Phil, do you know my… Well, he’s not mine anymore is he? Long past the need for an SO.”
The possessive grip he had on Ward’s arm contradicted what he was saying as far as Darcy was concerned.
“Anyway, Agent Coulson this is Agent Grant Ward. Best scores in infiltration since Romanoff.”
Ward squared his shoulders and held out his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Agent Ward.” As the handshake ended he added, in the pleasantly mild tone that had smarter people running for cover, “My right hand is fine. The injury was on the left.”
“Of course.” Ward raised both of his. “I didn’t want to hurt… uh, disrupt healing.”
“Not a chance of that,” Garret said jovially. “Phil’s almost back to his old self, aren’t you, Phil?” As he raised his hand for a hearty back slap, and Darcy considered rolling her deck chair over his foot to stop him, the boss stepped neatly out of range to glance down at her monitor.
“I have a meeting to get to ten minutes ago, John, so...”
“Of course! Busy man. Fury’s one good eye. Glad you could spare the time to catch up, Phil. I’m sorry we lost touch.” To his credit, he did sound sorry. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”
“You should tell Agent Lewis about Tokyo in ninety-seven.”
“No, I shouldn’t.”
Garret’s laugh, like the rest of him, was just a little too. “Maybe not. That might not be a light you want her to see you in. I’ll be in New York for a while, so I’m going to work on that boring, old married fart thing you’ve got going, Phil. Let’s not be strangers.”
She heard fabric rustle as, behind her, Coulson spread his hands. “Let’s not.”
With a jaunty wave, Garret headed out into the cubicle farm. “Ward, come on.”
“Agents.” Ward nodded in their direction and hurried after Garret, falling into step just behind his left shoulder.
“Poop with knives,” Coulson said quietly.
“Something AD Hill said once.”
“About Agent Garret?”
“About Agent Ward.”
Darcy made a non-committal sound, adding, “And yet, the best infiltration scores since Romanoff.”
“Thoughts Agent Lewis?”
“I’m curious about what Agent Garret was trying to sell you. Only salesmen and funeral directors use the name of the person they’re talking to that much. Also, the last time I heard someone say come on in just that way, they were talking to a Doberman and that Doberman was able to go from goofy hound to rip-your-throat-out with a fingersnap.” Darcy’d loved that dog as much as she’d hated the shitheel who’d owned it.
Coulson was so perfectly still, so perfectly quiet, someone else might’ve turned to check he was still there. Darcy, however, was familiar with the myth of Orpheus and wasn’t falling for it. The boss had come back from the dead once, she wasn’t chancing a second go round.
“I need time to prep for the meeting on Turkestan. I want you to go to R&D in my place.”
Okay, they were changing the subject. “R&D wants you to look at a new weapon.”
“I want you to look at it for me. Record the presentation. Take notes. Put together a report.”
“You trust my judgement.”
“I trust your ability to put together a report.”
This time the silence extended for so long, Darcy couldn’t help herself. When she turned, the space behind her was empty and the boss’ door shut. “And then poof...” She kissed her gathered fingertips then threw them open. “...he’s gone. I’m working for Kazer Sozay. Which,” she said to the plush Hulk on the corner of her desk, “explains a lot.”
“...up the three steps at the end of the hall, turn right on the landing, and enter the second door to the left.”
“Thanks J-man. I couldn’t have found the place without you. Hope I didn’t take you away from anything important.
“It was my pleasure, Agent Lewis, and, as it happened, I had errands to run in the building.”
Darcy was under standing orders to report any incidents she might run across of Tony trying to hack into SHIELD. However no one had said anything about reporting Jarvis’ presence, just Tony’s, and while 99% of the people who knew about him thought Jarvis was merely a very intelligent system, Agent Coulson lived in the tower and knew better. Which lead her to think that while he might not have given explicit permission, the boss wasn’t exactly adverse to Jarvis poking around. The only question was why.
The second door to the left opened into a small lab set up for – Darcy swept a calculating gaze over the equipment – two people. Jane’s lab had been set up for the idiosyncrasies of a single person. So had Tony’s. And Bruce’s. This wasn’t. Given the equipment she could identify, one of them was an engineer and the other was…
Not an engineer.
“Who are you then?”
“Fitz! I’m sorry...” A slender, dark-haired scientist with the cutest accent Darcy’d ever heard, moved past her curly haired companion, accent less cute more fuzzy, and crossed the lab. “...we don’t get many random visitors in here. Can I help you?”
“Agent Coulson got caught up saving the world so he sent me. I’m Darcy Lewis, Agent Lewis, his PA.”
“Jemma Simmons. Oh, um, Doctor Simmons.” She pushed a strand of hair back off her face and half turned. “This is Leo Fitz.”
“Also doctor,” the young man added, settling onto a stool and rolling his eyes. “Do you have any idea why you’re here?”
“Existentially? Or specifically?”
He huffed out a disdainful breath. “Specifically.”
Darcy flipped up a finger. “You’ve developed a new weapon.” A second finger. “Clearly innovative enough that you need a highly placed senior agent to sign off on it who’s open minded enough to approve putty arrows, wrist-mounted wire-free tasers, an extreme Frisbee, a giant green rage monster, and Tony Stark.” A third finger. “Or SHIELD in its finite and surprisingly conservative fiscal wisdom is going to cut your funding.” She folded the first and third finger down. “Did I miss anything?”
Both scientists stared at her, wide-eyed. Then Dr. Simmons snickered and Dr. Fitz burst into laughter.
“I’m sorry,” he said standing and walking over, hand out. “We had a bugger of a time getting on Agent Coulson’s schedule and I thought you were going to, you know, blow us off.”
He had a strong grip and a sweet smile. “Dr. Fitz...”
“Fitz. Just Fitz.”
Darcy turned to find Jemma also holding out her hand. Her fingers were warm and slightly dusted with powder as though she’d just pulled off a pair of latex gloves. “Darcy. And Agent Coulson had been looking forward to your demo for the last two days. Unfortunately, Agent Garrett...”
“You know him?”
Jemma frowned. “Not exactly, but he came by yesterday.”
“Didn’t have a reason,” Fitz added, returning to his stool. “Just stood around and talked at us. Asked a bunch of stupid questions. He called it catching up with what the New York office was up to, I called it wasting our time. Jemma had to threaten him to get him to leave.”
“I didn’t threaten him!” Jemma protested, arms folded. “I merely asked if he’d been vaccinated against viral conjunctivitis.”
“While opening a petri dish,” Fitz pointed out grinning broadly.
“Pink eye? Is there a vaccine?” Darcy asked when Jemma nodded.
She smiled and reminded Darcy suddenly of Jane telling the pizza delivery guy that if he touched anything in the lab it would leave a DNA trace and the aliens would find him and probe him. “There’s no exclusive vaccine, although there are a few that offer protection against that family of viruses. Garrett didn’t know that though.” Still smiling, she rolled her eyes. “I very much doubt he even knew it was pink eye.”
“Point to me.”
They called the weapon the Night-Night gun.
“I named it,” Fitz told her grinning proudly. “We have prototypes of both a rifle and a pistol.”
Darcy cocked her head and studied the weapons. They were shiny. That was cool. “So they’re tranquilizer guns, right?”
“Well, yes,” Jemma began.
Fitz cut her off. Or intersected with what she was about to say, Darcy wasn’t sure which. “But it is to the tranquilizer gun what the Macbook Pro is to a Commodore 64.”
“I don’t what a Commodore 64 is.”
“You don’t… Never mind.” He raised the pistol. “Unlike tranquilizer guns, which use compressed air propulsion limiting even the rifles to a seventy-five to a hundred meter range at best, this has the range of the standard 9mm. The handgun holds eight dendrotoxin tranquilizer...”
“A class of presynaptic neurotoxins produced by mamba snakes that block particular subtypes of voltage-gated potassium channels in neurons,” Jemma interjected.
“….non-lethal bullets that break up under the subcutaneous tissue,” Fitz continued. “...and deliver a tiny amount of concentrated dendrotoxin, incapacitating the target long enough for them to be secured.”
“With no harmful side effects,” Jemma finished.
Fitz raised the handgun, aimed...
“Wait.” Unless under direct attack, shooting anything inside the building off of the range – where anything covered spitballs to APMs – meant form WP7 – the longest, most complex of the WP forms – and a possible disciplinary action. Darcy had a stack of WP7s partially filled out in her desk waiting for the next time Clint got bored. When the action seemed to be inevitable, the least she could do was expedite the paperwork. Realizing both scientists were waiting for her to continue she asked, “What are you going to shoot?”
“That block of ballistic gel.” Jemma pointed to a cube of translucent, flesh-toned rubber. “We have it wired to register force and depth of impact as well as amount and rate of dendrotoxin released.”
“You can’t tranquilize a block of gel.”
“Well, no but...”
“Have you tested it on an actual human person?”
“Our analysis,” Fitz began.
Jemma cut him off. “We couldn’t convince any of the junior agents to participate.”
“You don’t convince junior agents,” Darcy sighed. “You just shoot them. Is it safe?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Jemma told her. “We’ve run over a hundred...”
“One hundred and thirty-seven,” Fitz put in.
“Okay.” Darcy set her phone and her tablet on the edge of the stainless steel worktable. “So shoot me.”
“You’ve run one hundred and thirty-seven simulations and I guarantee that Agent Coulson saw the data before he agreed to this meeting. Now he needs to know if it works in real life. Simulations don’t mean as much as one actual unconscious volunteer. So I volunteer.”
Fitz grinned. “For tribute?”
“He loves the books.” Jemma sighed and crossed her arms. “Thought Peta was miscast. Please, I’m begging you, don’t ask him about it.”
“I think you’d be more concerned about the total lack of chemistry, Jemma”
“And yet, I’m not.”
Darcy tuned out the well worn argument, shrugged out of her sweater, unbuttoned her cuffs, and unbuckled her belt.
“What are you doing?” Fitz had taken an apprehensive step back. That was so cute.
“If training with Natasha has taught me anything, it’s taught me that hitting the ground hurts a lot less in comfortable clothes.”
“You train with the Black Widow?” Jemma squeaked as Fitz stared, mouth open.
“Not so much with,” Darcy admitted, “as trained by. Which mostly involves having my ass handed to me. Which would be more embarrassing except I watched her take down Steve. Which was actually pretty hot. What?”
Fitz’s eyes were wide. “Steve.”
“Captain America,” Jemma expanded. “You’re that Darcy Lewis.”
“Do you think you could get us a look at his shield? It’s vibranium!”
Okay. That was a new reaction. “He’s pretty protective of it, but he might be willing to drop by.”
“That would be excellent.” Fitz pressed his clutched hands over his heart. “Truly excellent. When? No, that’s not important. Whenever he can, that would good. But if he could do it soon, that would be even better.”
“I suppose I can’t take tissue samples...” Jemma looked hopeful. Then crushed. Self-crushed, Darcy noted. “No, of course not. Never mind. Fitz.” She nodded toward the handgun. “I’m sure Agent Lewis has other things she’d like to get done this afternoon so, as she’ll be out for about twenty minutes, we should do this.” Smiling a little sadly, clearly still thinking of the tissue samples she couldn’t take, Jemma pushed an office chair toward Darcy. “No reason why you can’t be shot sitting down.”
“Should I take off my blouse?”
Fitz made an adorable choking sound.
Jemma rolled her eyes. “You’re fine. If we can’t shoot through fabric, we have a bigger problem than the unfortunate fact...” She raised her voice slightly. “...that my partner is a twelve year old boy.”
“Am not,” Fitz muttered. His back against the far wall, he raised the Night-Night Gun then lowered it again. “Is Captain America going to mad about this? Because I don’t think I want Captain America mad at me.”
Darcy thought about that for a moment as she got comfortable. “It was my idea,” she decided at last. “If he’s mad at anyone, he’ll be mad at me. And I can work around that.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably just have sex with him.” Fitz’s eyes widened and he clapped his hand over his mouth. “I said that out loud didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did,” Jemma sighed and stuck a pad to each of Darcy’s temples.
Blushing deeply, Fitz shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You’re not wrong.” Darcy grinned and watched his blush deepen.
“Just so you know, the impact is going to hurt,” Jemma said, attaching one last pad to Darcy’s chest, just in under the open vee of her blouse.
“Bruising at the site. Possibly a sizable edema.”
“Captain America can kiss it better.” Darcy winked at Fitz.
Who buried his face in his hands. “Please stop. I really am sorry.”
“Will it hurt enough to get out of running an obstacle course next Tuesday? Clint promised mud. He seemed terrifyingly excited about it.”
“All right, Fitz, she’s ready. You are ready?”
“I’m ready.” She glanced at the red dot on her upper arm and took a deep breath.
It felt like being punched by Natasha with a tack protruding between her fingers. Or by a cut-rate Wolverine. Darcy blinked as she slid forward, a sudden shift in gravity tipping her out of the chair. Oh... floor.
And that was her last thought for a while.
Darcy dragged her eyelids up expecting to see Skye bending over her, but saw a brilliant white light instead. “Am I dead?”
“Why would you be dead?” demanded a familiar perky accent..
“Dunno. Light.” The light hurt, jabbing into eyeballs that felt like they’d been sanded. “Ow. Mean!”
“Darcy! Darcy, come on. Open your eyes!”
It took a ridiculous amount of energy just to pull her lips apart. “Skye?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Open your eyes.”
“Don’t care. Open your eyes!”
She dragged her lids up expecting to see Skye bending over her, but saw a brilliant white light instead. “Am I dead?”
“Why would you be dead?” demanded a familiar perky accent..
“Dunno. Light.” The light hurt, jabbing into eyeballs that felt like they’d been sanded. “Ow. Mean!”
“Yes, I’m very sorry, but I need to check your responsiveness as you throw the drug off.”
Darcy blinked away the afterimages, blinked some oxygen into her brain, wondered why she heard Susan Sarandon explaining about breathing through her eyelids, and managed to focus on Jemma’s smile. “How long?”
“Twenty-two minutes, seventeen seconds.”
She flopped her head to the right and frowned up at Fitz.
He grinned and said, “It worked perfectly.”
“We don’t actually know that yet.”
“Oh, come on Jemma, all the readings...”
“Which we haven’t analyzed.”
Darcy held up a wobbly hand and cut the argument short. “Skye?”
Her head appeared over Jemma’s. “Hey there, guinea pig. If you’ve completely scrambled your brains, I’ve got dibs on getting into Captain America’s tights.”
Darcy found enough energy to shrug, shoulder blades moving against the floor. “Join the line.”
“Why are you here?” she asked after Jemma stopped trying to blind her and helped her up into a sitting position.
Skye shrugged. “I got chased away from my desk so I went looking for you. I texted. Jemma picked up your phone and texted back.”
“I only looked in case it was Agent Coulson,” Jemma explained, carefully removing the sensor pads. “I thought he might’ve found out you were unconscious.”
“How?” Fitz demanded.
Jemma’s brows drew in. “You hear stories. I didn’t snoop,” she continued, her attention back on Darcy. “You left it unlocked. I’m sorry if shouldn’t have...”
Darcy waved off the apology. She knew where she worked and anything she didn’t want SHIELD to see went under Jarvis levels of encryption. So far, the file held sixteen NSF photos of Steve, one of Bucky, and an absolutely adorable one of Clint and the boss cuddling on movie night which she was either going to get framed and give to them on their anniversary or use for blackmail purposes. She hadn’t decided.
“Jemma told me where you were and I showed up about ten minutes ago.” Skye planted her butt on the edge of the stainless steel table. “We did the whole introduction thing while you were unconscious. You were drooling.”
“Was not,” Darcy muttered as Jemma helped her to stand. The floor titled, she titled with it, and would have gone back to the floor had Fitz not leapt forward and grabbed her.
Then he realized where his hands were and let her go.
The floor seemed a lot harder this time. “Ow.”
Face scarlet, Fitz retreated to the rear of the lab as Jemma helped Darcy back onto her feet and Skye snickered. When Jemma flashed the younger woman a pointed look, Skye leapt down off the table, ducked behind Darcy and put both hands on her shoulders, holding her steady while Jemma checked the Night Night gun’s impact site.
“You don’t have to,” Darcy began.
“I really do,” Jemma informed her sharply.
“No, not you. Skye. She doesn’t have to hold me up.”
“I’ve got nothing else to do,” Skye told her.
Darcy frowned, although she had to pull her eyebrows in one at a time. “It’s still the middle of the afternoon, right?”
“Yeah.” Skye’s hands tightened reassuringly on Darcy’s shoulders. “But Ward showed up with Agent Sitwell and an older agent to talk to Agent White and Agent Sitwell told me to leave. Ward protested, said I could be useful, but Agent Sitwell shot him a what part of senior agent don’t you understand look and I left.”
“Did the older agent say something skeevy and inappropriate as you went by him?”
“Yeah, he gave me this big grin and said, that’s a good girl.”
If she hadn’t thought it would knock her over, Darcy would’ve rolled her eyes. “That’d be Agent John Garrett.”
“Good. Now I know whose credit rating to ruin.”
“Go for it. He’s an old friend of Agent Coulson’s but I doubt they have much in common besides a secret agent personal history thing.”
Jemma slid Darcy’s blouse off her shoulder and palpated the rising edema on her upper arm, removing her fingers when Darcy hissed a breath in through her teeth. “Pain on a scale of one to ten where one is bumping into a corner cabinet and ten is a trip to medical?”
“Five to six when touched. Two to three when left alone.”
“Pretty much gone.”
“Excellent.” Jemma slid the fabric back up onto Darcy’s shoulder. “We should have had you remove your blouse, this is ruined.”
“No problem, I aced the course on removing blood stains and other bodily fluids from fabrics, concrete, and bystanders.”
“She’s really not,” Skye sighed.
“Okay then. Did you want a bandaid?” Jemma rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a small, brightly coloured box. “We have all the Avengers except the Black Widow.”
Fitz put both hands behind his back and muttered, “Some papercuts bleed a lot.”
The circle of blood on Darcy’s sleeve had expanded out to a three inch diameter, but seemed to have stopped there. The actual impact site had begun to clot. “I’m good.” She shifted her feet, the floor stayed put, so she took a deep breath and said, “You can let go, Skye.” Three careful steps to the stainless steel table and she shrugged into her sweater, hissing again at the slight pressure on her upper arm.
“You’re not really going to ruin Agent Garrett’s credit rating are you?” Jemma asked settling down in front of a monitor.
“You threatened him with pink eye,” Darcy pointed out before Syke could answer.
Jemma nodded thoughtfully. “Fair enough.”
“He was here too?” Skye shook her head. “Dude gets around. Was tall dark and creepy with him?”
“Agent Ward? He waited out in the hall. What?” Fitz asked as all three women turned toward him. “I looked out. I noticed. I’m a scientist. I notice things.”
“Garrett was Ward’s SO,” Darcy said checking her messages. “In his own way, Ward’s just as creepy. He likes Skye.”
“Like likes?” Jemma asked. “Isn’t he… older?”
“Yep.” Darcy popped the p.
Skye raised both hands. “Totally one sided.”
“And I’m back in school again,” Fitz sighed. “What is it with girls...” Three gimlet stares cut him off. “Women?” Three sets of eyebrows rose. “Never mind. I’ll just be back here...” He waved at the back of the lab. “...calibrating something.”
“He needs to get out more.”
Jemma nodded absently. “I know.” She frowned the screen. “I’ve sent you the files of the raw data, cc’d to Agent Coulson, and I’ll send the analysis when we finish it.
“And that would be my cue to leave and write up my report.”
“Do you understand what you’re reporting on?” Skye asked.
Which was fair, Darcy figured. If anyone knew her understanding of tech, it was Skye. “It’s a non lethal round, the pistol is as easy to carry as our SHIELD issued weapons, and it works. That’s all I have to understand. Everything else is in the data.”
She raised a questioning brow in Fitz’s direction.
“For not pretending to understand,” he explained. “Everyone around here likes to think they know everything. It’s all well, yeah, you may have two doctorates but I brought down a foreign government so I’m not even going to listen when you bloody explain things and then I’m going to come back and blame you when I’ve used brute force to install it backwards and it blows up taking a power station with it.” He paused. Swallowed. Ran both hands back through his hair, disheveling the curls even further, stared down at the floor, and added, “As a non specific example. That I’m not supposed to talk about.”
“I hear you. NDAs, right.” SHIELD ran on caffeine and gossip, but even within its walls there were levels of secrecy and as a junior agent, Darcy’s clearance level still pretty much sucked. “Okay, I’m off. I have to make sure I’m out of here at six and with Clint in Vermont, I’m wrangling the boss on my own.”
Skye looked intrigued. “Date night?”
“Team dinner. Bucky’s first.”
Now Jemma looked intrigued. “I’d really like to run some brain scans on Sergeant Barnes.”
“I’ll tell him, but don’t hold your breath,” Darcy told her thinking Fitz wasn’t the only one who needed to get out more. “He doesn’t react well to white coats.”
“I can take it off.”
Darcy winked. “That he’d probably react well to. Skye, coming with?”
“I’m going to hang out here for a while, in case Ward’s still hanging around.” Pulled her laptop out of her messenger bag, froze, and added. “If that’s okay with Fitzsimmons.”
Jemma smiled shyly, looking pleased. “That’d be great. We don’t get a lot of company.”
“Can we shoot you?” Fitz asked.
“I know, I know.” She waved a hand at the men. “I’m late, but getting the boss out of the office without Clint helping is the next thing to impossible. Clint cheats,” she added kicking off her shoes. “He offers sexual favors.”
Steve held up a hand. “Didn’t need to know that. I mean, I knew but I didn’t need you to tell me. I have meetings in that office and I like to deny what happens in there for sanitary reasons.”
Darcy grinned, grabbed his hand as she passed and kissed the palm. “SHIELD has an excellent cleaning staff. And did you know you can get lace panties sized for men?”
“I really didn’t need to know that.”
Both Steve and Darcy turned to stare at Bucky, sitting motionless at the far end of the couch.
He shrugged. “I shot a lot of people. Some of them were doing… things at the time.”
“Hey, no kink shaming.”
Bucky shook his head, a lock of hair falling in front of his face. “I say I shot a lot of people and that’s what you take from it?”
“That was then, this is now. And I thought they… you know...” Darcy waved both hands. “... wiped your memory between missions?”
“Some things you can’t unsee. Some things,” he added before Darcy could object again, “you shouldn’t have to see.”
“Bucky was a non-consenting participant,” Steve pointed out. When Darcy raised a brow, he shrugged. “Phil sent over a stack of pamphlets on...”
“Being mind-fucked,” Bucky interjected. “SHIELD has pamphlets on being mind-fucked. What does that say about SHIELD?”
Darcy shrugged. “They’d rather read pamphlets than actually talk about things?”
“Anyway,” Steve continued firmly. “We’ve been going through them while we waited.”
“Sorry again for lateness. I’ll change, we’ll go. The boss is always more secret agent man and less human when Clint’s out in the field, but he seemed like he was wound even tighter today.” Shrugging out of her sweater, Darcy crossed to the bedroom and left the door partially open. “I personally am blaming whatever it was Senior Agent John Oh-my-god-I’m-so-Skezzy Garrett said to him because I know the rest of what went on and there was nothing out of the usual. Well, the usual for SHEILD.” She tossed her work clothes on the bed and shimmied into a pair of leggings and a sport bra under a long sweater. Jarvis kept the tower in the low seventies but looking at March outside the common floor’s wall of windows made her feel cold. “Hey, it just occurred to me...” Running her fingers through her hair, she padded back out into the living room. “...Clint’s actually out in a field this time. Word at the coffee machine is he ran the obstacle course through an abandoned amusement park and everyone gets to live their childhood fantasy of climbing the ferris wheel.”
Both men were standing and the silence felt like the silence before a storm.
“So maybe it’s only my childhood fantasy.” When there was no response, she sighed. “Okay, what?”
“There was blood on your sleeve,” Steve said, voice edging into Captain America.
“Oh yeah, that. I got shot in the name of science… Steve!”
Super soldier reflexes were barely enough for Steve to get between Bucky and the door.
“Stand down, Sergeant!”
Sometimes, evoking Sergeant Barnes was enough to snap Bucky out of the Soldier.
Sometimes – and Darcy could tell by the rigid line of Bucky’s back – it wasn’t. As he drew back his metal arm, fist clenched, she pulled her sweater up over her head, raced across the room, and grabbed his ass. He whirled, snarling, his metal hand closed around her throat, he got a chest full of boob, and blinked. Darcy smiled. “Welcome back.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Steve muttered, maneuvering all three of them away from the door.
“Because it’s so much better if he goes all Winter Soldier on R&D.” Darcy plopped herself down on Bucky’s lap. “You okay?”
“There was blood on your sleeve.” His eyes were locked on her breasts, but a hint of the Soldier remained in his voice.
“Hardly any. So little, I’d forgotten all about it. And I’m fine. Look.” She wrapped a hand around the back of his head and tilted it far enough he could focus on her arm. “Little hole. Little bruise.”
Steve crouch beside them and wrapped warm fingers around her arm. “Why...”
“Why was I shot? They needed a test subject. It wasn’t like I was shot with a bullet, come on, give me some credit.” Seemed like a good idea not to tell them about the twenty minutes unconscious.
“I don’t like it when you get hurt.” Bucky dropped his head onto her shoulder, his breath warm against her skin. His flesh hand reached for Steve and drew him close. “Either of you.”
Steve wrapped his arms around them both. Kissed Darcy’s temple, then Bucky’s. “Hey, I’m not fond of it myself.”
“Boy, are we in the wrong line of work.” Her stomach growled. “We good?” She sagged back into Steve’s hold, far enough she could see Bucky’s eyes. “You good? If you’re not up to a meal with crazy people, we can always order in.”
“Thor’s there?” When Darcy nodded, Bucky nodded as well. “He can take me down if it’s necessary.”
“Forget it, punk.” Steve rocked back on his heels and stood, pulling them both up onto their feet. “If you’re going down for anyone tonight, it’s not going to be for Thor.”
Bucky laughed, the last of the Soldier chased from his eyes, and Darcy swatted Steve as she reached for her sweater. “Captain America has a dirty mind.”
Captain America had his tongue in Bucky’s mouth. Darcy rolled her eyes and got dressed. If this is going to work between the three of us, she’d said, you have to behave when you’re alone with me like you would when you’re alone without me. You want to touch, you touch. You want to kiss, you kiss. You want to fuck, you ask if I want to watch. If I don’t want to watch, you leave the room. Or I leave depending on whose room we’re in. Or you act like adults and keep it in your pants until you’re alone, which I know you’re capable of because you didn’t hump your way through the war.” She’d paused. Thought about it. “You didn’t, did you?”
“There was this time outside Paris...” Buck’d begun then Steve had tackled him and the story had gotten lost in the battle, along with two mugs, a plate of snickerdoodles, and a coffee table.
They hadn’t yet reached play for view, but they were working steadily toward it.
She grabbed a handful of both shirts, kissed Bucky, kissed Steve, and shoved them toward the door. “Let’s not be late unless you want another box of sex toys from Tony.”
Tony nodded swallowed a mouthful of pasta and nodded. “Of course they don’t. Because Phil’s aways dragging the old ball and chain.”
“How horrible for Phil to be tied down to a loving monogamous relationship,” Pepper said quietly, reaching for a piece of garlic bread.
“Did I imply that?” Tony asked, eyes wide. “I didn’t imply that. Coupledom good. Right? Anyway, Darcy, I heard you were in R&D this afternoon. See anything familiar?”
“Familiar like what?”
He waggled his brows.
“You still think SHIELD is stealing your tech.”
“I know it. I trust Nick Fury as far as I can throw a rat. Which is fifty-two feet, seven and three quarters inches without the suit. And I have no idea how far I threw it in the suit.” He frowned. “When I was in the suit, not the rat. I couldn’t find it. It might’ve made orbit. It was dead,” he added. “And frozen.”
Bruce raised both brows. “You threw a rat?”
“For science! And etymology which is almost science. If I can’t trust someone as far as I can throw a rat, I want to know how far I can throw a rat.”
“It’s spit a rat,” Bruce corrected with a grin. “You don’t trust someone as far as you can spit a rat.”
Tony stared at him for a long moment then shook his head. “Well, I’m certainly not going to test that. Darcy.” The part of his attention that wasn’t on the tablet by his plate snapped back around to her. “This is the perfect time to ask since Agent Zombie isn’t here. I need you to put that spy training to work for me. Go to R&D shoot a few pics of anything shiny, find out what they’re up to.”
“I’m not going to be your double agent, Tony.”
“You can be Mata Hari in a brass bra.”
“Brass bra? Are you thinking of the Princess Leia?” Thor asked, dumping another ladle of marinara sauce onto the pile of pasta on his plate.
“No I’m not. But, also, at the time, a double agent.”
“Tony, spoilers!” Steve frowned across the table. “Bucky hasn’t seen Return yet.”
“And you’ve been here a month? What have you three been doing? Besides the obvious. And speaking of the obvious...” Tony tapped his left thumb against his chin. “I may need to do a bit of structural redesign on those beds. Two super-soldiers, Darcy’s ow…” He rubbed his side where Pepper’d pinched it. “I was going to say curves.”
“Yes, dear. Of course you were.”
Thor beamed. “The structural reinforcement you have added to our quarters has meant we no longer need to hold back when we are enjoying each other.”
Darcy had shared walls with Thor and Jane. She actually felt her eyes widen. “You were holding back?”
“I was once worshipped by your people as a fertility god.”
“Anything to add, Dr. Foster?” Tony waggled his eyebrows again and Darcy wondered if he’d been watching Marx Brothers movies in the workshop. The bots loved them. She suspected it was because Harpo was also non-verbal.
Pepper sighed. “Maybe Jane doesn’t want to discuss her sex life at the dinner table.”
Jane loaded her fork. “The dinner table’s infinitely better than in Bloomingdales.”
“The trousers of this world were too tight.” Thor said mournfully. “But the servant was most helpful.”
“Again, he wasn’t a servant, sweetie. And you have marinara sauce in your beard.”
Thor swiped at his beard with the other end of the napkin tucked into his collar. “I do not understand why Midgardians consider serving to be beneath them.”
“It’s a mystery.” Aware of everyone watching her, Jane shrugged. “I don’t embarrass easily.” She chewed and swallowed then added, “And his hammer is mighty.”
To Darcy’s surprise, Bucky, who’d been sitting quietly, muscles tense, concentrating on shoveling pasta into his mouth, laughed first.
Once the entire table had joined in, Jane winked at Darcy.
“So we’re about five to ten days out working up a replacement arm and corresponding support structure.” Tony waved a giant black olive speared on the end of his fork at Bucky. “At that point we’ll have to hire an actual medical doctor. I’ve been trying to lure Helen Chu to SI for years and fixing Robo Soldier might do the trick.”
“Fixing?” Steve had been accompanying Bucky to the workshop, just in case, but Darcy had always been at work. “He’s broken? I mean, his arm is broken?”
Tony snorted derisively. “His arm is a technological marvel if you’re a cold war Soviet scientist slaving for the state. It’s heavy, it has limited sensitivity, and the attachment is one step above barbaric. And it’s a really fucking small step. I have no idea how the hell you function given the amount of pain you’re in.”
“Same way you do with a hunk of technology shoved into your sternum.” Bucky shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
“You shouldn’t have to be used to it,” Steve grumbled, wiping his plate with a piece of bread.
“And that’s why I let you talk me into having the crazy man with the goatee try and fix it.”
“Hey,” Tony protested. “I try not. I do.”
Steve looked up and grinned. “Yoda. I got that.”
“I hope so, given the number of times you’ve watched the original trilogy.” Darcy turned in her chair so she could see both men. “And you didn’t tell me about all this because?”
“I tell you when we spend time in Tony’s lab doing tests. And I tell you when we spend time in Bruce’s lab doing tests.” Steve looked sincere – which meant he understood why she was annoyed and was trying to get out of it. Bucky had clearly decided to let Steve handle it. “That’s all that’s been happening, Darce. Tests.”
“You said they were tests on the Winter Soldier.”
“That’s the arm,” Steve said, as though it was the most obvious observation in the world and for him, Darcy realized, it was. “The rest of him is just Bucky.”
“You’re calling his arm the Winter Soldier?” Tony snickered. “I call my...”
“Tony.” Pepper’s ears were pink.
“It’s a good name.” Tony grinned. “The best name.”
“The mighty hammer Jane referred to is my penis,” Thor informed the table.
Jane sighed and ate the last piece of garlic bread.
And that reminded Darcy of a different dick. “Nat, do you know an Agent Grant Ward?”
“Level seven? Tall? Dark?”
“A bit creepy, to anyone who isn’t you?” Darcy returned Natasha’s nod. “That’s him. So today he told me his infiltration skills are the best since yours.” If she made “told me” sound more like “bragged to me”, well, truth in advertising.
“The best since mine? Imagine that.” Nat smiled and if the change of subject hadn’t ditched the penis chatter, that would’ve.
And that, Agent Ward Darcy noted silently as she stood to help Bruce clear the table, is payback for skezzy lusting after my BFF.