Darcy let her head drop onto the table in front of her. There was so much to do, and she didn’t know where to start; couldn't even contemplate starting at all. Almost from the moment she had entered the house she had a bad feeling that had only grown as she had taken in the shrunken form of her father and realized she wasn’t the only one keeping secrets. She had just ten days with him before he succumbed to the cancer that had been ravaging his body. He had passed that morning. She wasn't sure how long she had been back in the house. Her head was fuzzy, and her face was sticky from all the tears that had streamed down her face. She wasn’t sure when they had started, or when they had stopped. All she knew was that she was so very tired.
The door creaked open, and she briefly wondered how out of it she had been to leave it unlocked.
“Aaron?” a familiar voice called.
Darcy lifted her head from the table and watched a lanky frame enter the kitchen. She squinted.
“Darcy?” he asked, clearly surprised.
“Rabbit?” she said, testing the name in her mouth. God, she hadn’t thought about him in months.
He leaned against the door. “Hey Starlight.” His voice was soft. “Where’s your dad?”
Her face crumpled and the tears started back up. Big, gulping sobs that made her shake overtook her. In three large steps, Rabbit was at her side, kneeling down and taking her into his arms. He whispered words into her hair that she couldn’t make out over the pounding that had flooded her ears.
Finally, she was once again cried out. He awkwardly let go of her and stood up again.
“When?” he asked gently.
“This morning. I…,” she wasn’t sure what to say next. “Why are you here?” she asked, realizing her dad hadn’t mentioned Rabbit at all.
“I usually come by every weekend to get his groceries. Last week I was at a conference, but he said he’d be fine. Must have known you’d be here.”
She stared at him for a moment. “You knew,” she said. “You knew he was sick and didn't tell me.”
“How was I supposed to do that exactly?” His voice was calm; his eyes resigned.
“Pick up the phone maybe?” she all but spit at him.
“Darcy, I haven’t had your number in years. You got a new one three or five years ago, and I never got it.”
“And you couldn’t get it from my dad?” She knew it wasn’t fair to be angry at him, but she couldn’t stop.
“He wouldn’t let me. He wanted you to live your life, not put it on hold for him.” His words were gentle, more so than she deserved for how she was yelling at him.
“That wasn’t his choice to make,” she argued. The anger was still simmering in her. She knew that it was her dad, not Rabbit, that had made these choices, but he wasn’t here to rage at. “I should have been the one to decide if I was here or not! I should have been the one to decide if being here was putting my life on hold.”
“And I agree,” he said, still calm. “But there was nothing I could do about it. He made his choices, and I had to respect that.”
“You could have stolen his phone and gotten my number!”
“Could I?” he asked, a small smile that he tried to hide. “The same phone his daughter set up to make sure no one could break into it?”
Darcy deflated. She remembered that day. She had come to visit after the Destroyer Incident with a brand new phone for him. SHIELD had replaced hers instead of giving it back, and she was lucky that she had backed up her photos recently, otherwise she would have lost everything. As it was, she lost all her contacts and music. She had set up the phone so that SHIELD or someone like them would have to work for it to hack him. The passcode was simple, but Aaron Lewis was no fool. He knew his daughter was involved in something big enough that someone had tied her tongue, and he wasn’t about to compromise her in any way, especially not by doing something as silly as sharing his passcode. Ironically, that was also when she lost Rabbit’s number. She hadn’t talked to him in a year at the point and didn’t think about replacing it.
“I’m not being fair,” she finally said with a sigh.
“In your defense, I’m guessing it’s been a rough….week?” he asked, fishing for how long she had been in town.
“Ten days,” she said.
He nodded and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. They stood there in awkward silence before he said, “Is there anything I can do to help you? I’m not sure how long it’s been since you were last here. The town hasn’t changed much, but you know I know everyone in case you need something.”
He was still standing stiffly a few steps from her, and she realized how strange this must be for him. He came here to do a simple grocery run and instead found a blubbering mess. “Did you want something to drink?” she asked. “We don’t have much since I was going to shop today...which apparently you were too. Umm, I brought back some fantastic tea from England that I can make, though.”
He shuffled a bit before pulling out one of the dining table chairs and sitting. “Is that where you were last? England?”
“Yeah,” she said, getting up to make tea for herself even if he didn’t want any. It was more to help break the weird tension in the room than anything else. “So is that a no on the tea?”
“Can’t say I’ve had much tea. Not like we get any good stuff out here. Coffee isn’t much better here either.”
“Guess that hasn’t changed,” she said with a smile. The nearest true grocery store was about a forty-minute drive, but there was an essentials sort of convenience store, and it sold the crappiest coffee she’d ever had, but it always tasted like home. “I’m making you tea then. Just so you can see if you like it.”
“Fair enough.” He relaxed a bit in his seat and Darcy took a moment to reminisce as she let her body follow the automatic procedures of making tea. The years had been kind to him, or at least any hardships didn’t show on his face. He had been a gangly sort of teen, but she remembered him with fondness. Rabbit was five years older than her, and he had babysat her fairly regularly after her mom died. He was her first crush. She knew that he wasn’t what anyone would consider popular, but he was kind and sweet, and she cared about that a whole lot more. He had headed off to college right around the time she didn’t really need a sitter anymore, and, in somewhat mortifying fashion, she had started writing him letters while he was away, continuing to fan the flames of the crush that lasted pretty much until she went to college herself. After that, they had a semi-regular text routine.
They had already started falling out of contact when New Mexico happened. It wasn’t intentional, she didn’t think. They just hadn’t had as much time. He had decided to go back to school and his masters program and her unwillingness to stick to a major meant they were both more busy than not.
And now, she realized, she had lost his number and hadn’t spoken to him in three years.
The tea finished steeping, and she brought over the mugs and slid one to him. “Try it without anything, but I have milk, sugar, and lemon if you decide it needs something.” She added half a spoon of sugar to her own mug.
He nodded his understanding as he brought the cup to his lips, and Darcy traced the movement, trying to suss out whether or not he liked it before he said. He took a sip and then set it back down, his hands wrapping around the mug. His tongue licked a drop that clung to his lip.
She forced herself to look away. “Err, verdict?” she asked.
“It’s good. But seeing as I can’t get it here, I’m going to force myself to think it’s not so I won’t miss it.”
She got the feeling he wasn’t talking about just tea. “But you have a source,” she teased a bit.
“Me. I can get you tea whenever you want. I can hook you up. Be your dealer.”
“You’re going back, then? To England?”
She paused. “I actually don’t know.” She frowned for a moment. “I took off the month, but I don’t see how I can take care of everything that needs to be done in the next two and a half weeks.” She twisted her cup back and forth in her hands. “I’m not really sure what’s next for me.”
Rabbit looked at her for a moment, and she was sure he was trying to decide what to say. “Well, I’m here if you need anything. You don’t have to do this alone. Your dad took care of me when I needed help. Let me repay that.”
Darcy was sure there was a story there as this was news to her. “I think we were repaying him. Didn’t you just say you’d been coming by every week to get his groceries?”
“You always were a pain in the ass with your logic.” He said it with a smile that she couldn’t help but return. “Really, though. You don’t have to do this alone if you don’t want to. Call me, and I’ll be here.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s missing a phone number,” she said, pulling her phone out to enter him.
“Yeah, but mine never changed.”
She was about to say something smart in reply when her phone started ringing. “I should take this,” she said, hitting the button to answer. “Hey, Ian.”
Rabbit grabbed their now empty mugs and took them to the sink.
“Hey, Darce. I just got your message. We just got a break in the field.”
Darcy frowned. “I thought that there weren’t supposed to be any readings for this month. I thought we were in data processing.” It was part of why this had been the ideal time to leave.
“Dr. Foster isn’t, but I’m working with Dr. Selvig now. He’s got plenty of fieldwork.”
“Oh,” she said, somewhat surprised. She wasn’t even aware that Erik needed an assistant. She thought he was in writing mode now. How had Ian slipped into working for Erik in the short time she’d been gone and somehow not mentioned it to her? “I didn’t realize he was ready to be back in the field.”
“He and I have been talking about it for the last two months. All the prelim stuff is finally done, and we caught a good night last night.”
Two months? “Huh. I didn’t realize you guys had been talking about that.”
“It’s a great opportunity for me, Darce.”
“No doubt,” she said. She didn’t begrudge him the opportunity, but she was miffed he kept it from her. She thought they shared. How could she help him celebrate his successes if he didn’t tell her what he was working toward?
“Anyway, there’s no way I’ll be able to make it to you for the funeral. Dr. Selvig and I will be too busy. But you know I’m there with you in spirit, right? I’m really sorry about your loss.”
She didn’t even know when the funeral was going to be yet. How did he know he couldn’t make it? And she knew Erik. If he knew that Ian was leaving for her father’s funeral, he would approve it right away. Erik loved her. It stung that her boyfriend of nine months hadn’t even bothered to ask. Of course, he had never met her dad, but not being here for support rankled.
“Thanks. It’s gotta be pretty late there now.”
“Yeah, and I gotta get back to the readings. I just wanted to call because you sounded pretty upset.”
“My dad just died, Ian. Of course, I was upset.”
“I know, I know. I just wanted to make sure you knew I was here for you.”
Except when you’re not , she thought bitterly. “Thanks. I won’t keep you. Tell Erik I said hello.”
“Bye, Darce. Love you.”
“Love you too,” she said before hanging up and dropping her phone on the table, annoyed.
“You okay?” Rabbit asked as he dried one of the mugs.
“Annoyed, but fine.” She didn’t want to think about how this conversation was actually pretty typical for her and Ian. If she did that, she’d have to admit that everything with them had felt surface level for the past three months. Even the sex had sort of settled into just something to do as though it was a physical analogy for the state of their relationship.
She picked her phone back up. “You were going to give me your number?”
“Of course,” he said, rattling off the digits to her. “Are you okay being alone right now?”
“I need to get used to it even if I’m not,” she said, blinking to keep away the tears that had suddenly appeared.
“One of the guys from my team’s mom died a few months ago. I know he kept a list of all the stuff he had to do. Want me to get it? It might help you make sure you get done what you need to.”
“Yeah, thanks. I’d like that.” If nothing else, it would help her focus on a task instead of what she was now realizing was a very quiet house. “I should go grocery shopping. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’m going to eat.”
“Gertie’s is doing take out now. You’d survive for at least a bit off that.”
“Gertie’s? How did anyone ever convince that old bat to do take out?”
“Her niece has been helping a lot since Gertie fell this past winter. She said it was stupid that they had to-go boxes but didn’t do take out and then set it all up without even asking permission. She had already filled a dozen or so orders that way before Gertie caught on, and by then it was too late. Lizzy had already put a notice in the church bulletin.”
“But that is what I came over for. To get your dad’s grocery list. Do you want me to do the shopping for you?”
“No. I think I need to get out of the house for a while. It will do me some good to drive for a bit and accomplish something.”
Rabbit thrust his hands back in his pocket. “Okay. I’ll be heading out then. Just, call me, alright?”
“I will,” she said, wondering if hugging him was okay. After dithering a moment, she threw her arms around him. She had cried all over him. A hug couldn’t be any less appropriate than that.
His arms wrapped around her, and she took a deep breath. He smelled like paper and the whipping wind of the open plain. He waited for her to pull back before fishing his keys out of his pocket.
“I’m over on 300 South now, so I’m not far if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Rabbit. See you soon.”
She followed him to the door, closing it behind him before going back to the kitchen to make a grocery list. One thing at a time. She could do this.
Rabbit drove away from the Lewis house in a bit of a daze. Aaron was dead; something he knew had been coming but was still a shock. And Darcy was back in town. She had been nothing but a pipsqueak when he had first met her, but then again, he hadn't been anything special either. He was just the quiet kid on the cross country team, which, honestly, was most of them. He stood out though because he was the fastest on a mediocre team. It was how he got the name Rabbit, which had stuck and he had never seen fit to object to. It was nice to have people that cared enough to give him a nickname.
But Darcy hadn’t stayed that little girl. She had grown up, and confronted with her today, there was no denying that she had come a long way from the 7-year-old he first met. He decided going home was a terrible idea and made his way to Beltzer’s instead. He’d get the list for Darcy in person.
He threw his truck into park on the gravel drive and walked up to the garage where his friend had his head under the hood of another beater he had bought to fix up for storm season. Rabbit’s approach both in the truck and out hadn’t exactly been quiet, so he wasn’t surprised to see Beltzer poke his head up with a wide smile.
“Hey Rabbit. What brings you out of your den to see me?”
“I was hoping I could get something from you.”
“Oh?” he said, wiping his hands on a rag. “What?”
“I need your funeral list,” Rabbit said, looking at Beltzer’s shoulder instead of his face.
“My funeral list?” Beltzer asked. This time Rabbit did look at him and saw the worry in his face.
“It’s not for me. Well, not for me directly.” Rabbit cursed that he was no good at this sort of thing. “Aaron Lewis passed this morning. His daughter’s gonna need it.”
Beltzer gave him a long look. “You already seen her?”
Rabbit nodded. “She was there when I went by for the grocery list. I just came from there.”
“And how is Miss Darcy? Did seeing her fan that flame you’ve been carrying the last eight or so years?”
Rabbit refused to look away. Instead, he ran his tongue over his teeth while he thought about how to answer. “Doesn’t matter. Her dad just died. I promised her I’d get your list so she wouldn’t forget anything. Are you going to share it or no?”
Beltzer clapped him on the shoulder and started walking into the house. “C’mon then,” he said. “It’s this way.”
Rabbit stood a moment longer before following his friend into the house, through the kitchen, and into the spare bedroom that currently looked to be office overflow. There were printouts and books scattered all over as well as sticky notes and pens everywhere. Rabbit was sure that if he looked closely, he’d see that the writing on most of this actually belonged to Haynes. He wondered how long those two were going to keep dancing around what was going on between them. If he was being honest, what he thought might be going on between them and Sanders, though he wasn’t as sure about that.
Beltzer moved some papers to the side until he came to a yellow legal pad. He flipped through it until he found the right page and showed it to Rabbit. “Here it is. I don't know if you want to make a copy or take a picture of it, but here it is.”
Rabbit pulled out his phone and snapped several pictures of the chicken scratch. He was fairly certain he’d need to at least interpret some of it for Darcy to know what it said but at least he had the list now.
“Thanks,” he said, handing back the pad.
“So really,” Beltzer said, going back to the kitchen, “how much did seeing her mess you up?”
“Why would it mess me up?” he asked as Beltzer grabbed a beer from the fridge.
“Why wouldn’t it?” his friend countered, heading back out the door and to the garage once more.
Rabbit stayed quiet, wondering if he could just get back to his truck and drive away.
“You better not be thinking about sneaking away. I need an extra set of hands to replace this hose.”
Rabbit turned his feet back toward the garage and took a look under the hood. He wasn’t as much of a mechanic, but he knew enough to follow directions with technical terms. He was grateful for the quiet as he followed directions and Beltzer refrained from asking about Darcy. Soon the hose was connected, and he had settled into a rhythm of handing over the needed tools and providing an extra hand or set of eyes as needed.
He didn’t realize how long they had been working until his phone chimed. He pulled it out and noticed it had been nearly three hours since he had gotten here.
Realized I had your number but you didn’t have mine. Was nice to see you again. Wish the circumstances had been better.
“Who is it?” Beltzer asked. It was still too early for the season, but there was plenty of prep work still to be done.
“Darcy.” He didn’t say more as his mind tried to work over any hidden or double meaning in her words.
“She need anything?” His voice was surprisingly concerned. Then Rabbit remembered that Beltzter’s full name was Tim Lewis, and even though they weren’t related, he had taken to the Lewis family almost as well as Rabbit had. He saw Darcy as family, and when she was young had routinely pretended to be a brother or cousin, and by virtue of his last name, people who didn’t know better assumed that was true. And those that did know better were smart enough to realize you didn’t mess with what Beltzer considered his and left her well enough alone.
For an electrical engineer, Beltzer had been a shockingly rough and tumble youth that didn’t mind throwing punches. He’d mellowed out over the years. Maybe storm chasing gave him the adrenaline that fighting used to.
“Nah,” he said, finally answering the question. “Just giving me her number. She got a new one a few years back, remember?”
Beltzer simply nodded. Rabbit doubted anyone forgot the night he had freaked out when he couldn’t get ahold of Darcy. He had been worried sick about her. He knew she was in New Mexico, and he might have been keeping up on the weather out there in his own little bit of protectiveness.
When he saw the unusual and frightening readings that were being recorded, he worried there had been a freak tornado and she had been caught unprepared. And then she didn’t answer her phone. He had been with the team that night. They had been up late pouring over research to try and figure out how to make a data collection device to give them readings from inside the funnel. It had been nearly three days since he had heard from her, and he had worked himself into a frenzy.
Jo, being a voice of reason, suggested he call her dad and see if he had heard from Darcy. When he heard that she was alive and well and hadn’t bothered to tell him, and then Aaron had let slip she had a new number, he had kicked a chair (an unusual show of anger) and stormed outside. He wandered into the middle of a field and sat there for God knows how long before Bill had finally come out and driven him home.
No one had spoken about that night to him since. Beltzer raised an eyebrow at him, and he knew the man was surprised he had mentioned it, even in such an obtuse way.
“How you feel about that?”
Rabbit eyed Beltzer. Really? A feelings talk? “Fine.”
Beltzer sighed. “I know you still care about her. Just… be careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt. She’s been gone a long while, and there’s no saying she’ll be back again. I’d hate your life to be on hold for someone that’s not there.”
“She’s visiting from England,” Rabbit said, deciding to unburden himself a little. “She said she’s not sure what she’s going to do, but what’s here for her? Not her dad. We both know that was the only thing tying her here, and even then it wasn’t the strongest of ties.”
“Guard yourself,” Beltzer said before turning back to the van he was working on. “Reply and then get your scrawny ass back over here. If I can wring another two hours out of you this one’ll be done.”
It was nice to see you, even if I don’t care for how it happened. My offer still stands if you need anything. He threw his phone back in his pocket and got back to work.
Taking care of the funeral arrangements was odd. There was a funeral home in town, but it was only staffed during services. She had to call the main home and then drive there to get it all worked out. She wasn’t so sure about doing a full service, but she decided that she’d have a wake and then have him cremated and spread his ashes over all the places he’d loved best.
While she was in town, she found a shop and started looking for a black dress. She didn’t really want to wear one, but it was what was expected, and she wasn’t going to shame her dad’s memory by doing something like wearing purple, even though that probably would have made him smile. She looked over at the scarves and saw an almost electric purple silk scarf. Okay. So she wouldn’t wear a purple dress, but she could do a scarf for him.
She had texted Jane as soon as she left the hospital the previous morning, and Jane had made all the appropriate statements. So Darcy was shocked to see an unfamiliar car in the driveway and Jane sitting on the porch swing.
“Jane?” she yelled out the window. Jane’s head jerked up and she was running to the car before Darcy even had it in park. As soon as she was out, Jane engulfed her in a fierce hug.
“I took the first flight I could get.” Jane finally let go of her. “I can find a hotel if you don't want me to stay here.”
“Don’t be silly,” Darcy said, grabbing her bags out of the car. “Of course you’re staying here. I need someone to keep me out of my mind.”
She followed Jane to her rental and grabbed one of her bags as well. “How long can you stay?” she asked.
“I took a week. I can make it two if you need it.”
“Are you sure?” Darcy asked, concerned about Jane’s current project. “Don’t you need to be running the data?”
“Darcy,” Jane said, stopping her and looking into her eyes. “You are more important than my journal deadline. Besides, I padded the date for that, so I can easily take the time. It’s not like anyone else even has access to this data.”
“Thanks,” Darcy said with a smile. “Let me show you the house,” she added, pulling her friend behind her and through the door.
Darcy and Jane spent the next few hours talking about anything but the reason why Jane was there. Instead, they got her settled, discussed the newest SHIELD-tern that thought they had pulled a fast one on Jane and Erik.
“So, I didn’t realize that Erik had moved back into the data gathering stage,” Darcy said, finally getting to something that had been bugging her.
“That was all Ian. Erik’s along for the ride. I think Selvig’d be happy to just write papers and never do fieldwork again, but Ian was relentless.” Jane shot Darcy a look over her glass of wine. “But you should have known that. Didn’t you and Ian talk about it?”
“No,” Darcy admitted. “I actually didn’t know about it at all until I was here and Ian said he couldn’t come for the funeral because they were taking readings. It’s just as well. I’m not doing a funeral-funeral. Just the wake.”
Jane stared at Darcy for a moment. “You’re telling me that not only did he not talk about a huge move on his career path, he also isn’t making the effort to be here to support you?”
“His career is more important than me crying for a few hours,” Darcy said, waving it off. “Though, I am a bit annoyed he didn’t tell me about the research. It just feels like one of those things we should have talked about, ya know?”
“A bit annoyed?” Jane practically shrieked. “Darce… he pitched the idea the two of you had been talking about ever since the Dark Elves. That’s kind of a big thing to not talk to you about. The idea is at least half yours.”
“We both know I don’t have the academic knowledge to pursue it though. I’m glad he’s going to work on it. Someone should.”
“He still should have at least told you, even if you don’t care about doing the research yourself. Without you, he wouldn’t have this study.”
Darcy just shrugged. Sure, it stung a bit, but not like she thought it would. It almost felt expected, like of course, they wouldn’t have talked about this, so she didn’t have the right to be upset about it. And didn’t that thought just leave her a bit more confused.
“I’m going to bed,” she finally said, standing up. “This day has been something else. Feel free to stay up as late as you want.”
Jane bid her goodnight, and Darcy was asleep almost as soon as she crawled into bed. Emotional upheaval always exhausted her.
The next morning she had a large pot of coffee going and was halfway through making pancakes before Jane stumbled into the kitchen. Darcy slid a full mug in front of her and Jane hummed her thanks. When she finished cooking, she took everything to the table and joined Jane.
“So Rabbit’s a nice guy,” Jane said.
Darcy blinked at Jane. “When did you meet Rabbit?”
“Last night,” Jane said around a bite of pancake. “He stopped by after you were in bed.”
“What’d he want?”
“Just to see how you were doing. Said he was pleased to meet me and was glad you weren’t alone. I got the feeling he would have slept on the couch if you had been. He also dropped off a list? Said you asked for it. I put it on the coffee table so you could look it over.”
“Did he say anything else?” She wasn’t sure what she was hoping he had said, and she refused to examine the thought too closely.
“Just that he’ll be there this afternoon and to let him know if you need anything. Offered to drive you, but I told him I had that covered.” Jane took a long sip of her coffee. “Is this the same guy…,” she trailed off, letting Darcy fill in the blank however she wished.
“Yeah,” was all she said.
Jane nodded, and they finished breakfast in silence.
Darcy procrastinated doing anything else by washing the dishes and then drying them and putting them away while Jane swept the porch. Darcy had asked her to do the unnecessary task to get her out of the house while she tried very hard not to examine her emotions.
When she came back inside, Jane joined Darcy on the couch, hugging the younger woman as she cried. They spent the rest of the morning looking over the list Rabbit had left. Darcy started making more detailed notes about what to do in the upcoming days with Jane providing helpful tips whenever she could.
Finally, it was time to head over the funeral home. Darcy slipped into her black dress and gave a soft smile to the mirror as she tied the bright purple scarf. Instead of stuffing tissues into her purse, she grabbed the whole box which Jane then put on a string and slung over her shoulder as though it were a purse, making Darcy laugh.
The parlor was the inoffensive sort of bland that Darcy was sure came from lots of meticulous research on how to make a space blend away without looking too formal or too casual. She looked at the urn in the front of the space, and suddenly wished she had done more research on religious ceremonies. Her mom had been Jewish, but she died before she could really pass anything onto Darcy. Her dad had been agnostic, but she now felt a bit bad that she hadn’t even considered honoring her mom’s religion at all. Well, it was too late for what-ifs. He was already in the box. Nothing to be done for it.
When the clock struck three, the funeral director opened the doors and a line of people started shuffling forward. Jane took care of grabbing all the casseroles that people had brought and putting them to the side while Darcy shook hands, listened to stories, and cried. Halfway through, Jane shoved a small bag of gummy bears at her and demanded she eat some.
The line dwindled until it was just a handful of people. Darcy’s heart was so full. She hadn’t realized how many people her dad had touched. Hearing so many stories about him made her miss him desperately, but also reminded her he had a happy life even when she didn’t see it.
“Little sister?” The voice pulled her out of her thoughts.
“Tim?” she asked, her eyes wide. She hadn’t seen him in ages.
Tim pulled her into a hug. “How you doin’?” he asked her hair. “No. Don’t answer that. It’s a dumb question.” He let go of her and waved to the group behind him. “I don’t know that you know everyone here, but we all work together, and I think they feel like they knew you and your dad from all the stories Rabbit and I used to tell.”
Darcy looked at the assembled group and smiled. “Thank you for coming.”
“Excuse me,” the blonde toward the middle of the group said. “Are you Dr. Jane Foster?”
Jane gave Darcy a surprised look. “Yes. I am. Darcy and I have been friends for years.”
“She means I signed up as her intern and then never left,” Darcy corrected.
The blonde gave Darcy an assessing look.
“You’ll have to excuse Jo,” Tim said. “She’s pretty one track. All she thinks about is science.”
“Jane’s kinda the same,” Darcy said. She saw Rabbit hiding— poorly— in the back of the group and caught his eye.
“Sorry,” Jo said. “It’s just I used your data set from New Mexico while looking at weather anomalies, which I know isn’t totally related to what you were using it for, but I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at data I didn’t have to scrounge grant money for. And I just...I’ve never seen numbers like that. What happened out there? It looked like an electromagnetic storm with tornado level cloud structures, but I can’t seem to find anything that says that there actually was one.”
“There, errr, wasn’t,” Jane said, shooting a desperate look at Darcy. She didn’t even know that the raw data was out there. She thought SHIELD had put it behind a proprietary information wall.
“We study tornadoes,” Tim said, sensing some sort of tension. “Well, Jo and Bill do. I’m just an electrical engineer with a penchant for storm chasing. Haynes is in atmospheric physics, and Dusty there actually has a degree in radio broadcasting of all things. Sanders and Rabbit do the GIS, though Rabbit prefers to go old school when we’re out chasing.”
“I remember his love of maps,” Darcy said, winking at him. She had a letter where he had created a map of his college campus that he claimed was much more realistic than the ones they gave out to freshman and visiting students. It had been beautiful. Back when he had first started babysitting her, he had her make a map of her house once to keep her busy. She had given it to her dad. She wondered if that was in one of the many boxes in the attic she hadn’t touched yet.
“How long are you in town for?” Jo asked. “I’d love to pick your brain a bit. Female scientist to female scientist,” she added.
“Just four more days, but my time is Darcy’s right now.”Jane looked really uncomfortable. Darcy needed to do something.
“Don’t think you get out of hugging me, Rabbit,” Darcy said, drawing the attention away from her friend.
“Never crossed my mind,” he said with a smile. Sanders pushed him forward, and Rabbit stumbled a bit but made his way to her. He pulled her into his arms, and Darcy was comforted once again by the familiar smell of him. She let go of him sooner than she wanted to.
“Thank you all for coming. I didn’t even realize you still were in town, Tim?”
Haynes snorted. “ Tim ? It really must have been a while since you’ve seen him.”
Her eyes went to her honorary sibling and she was surprised to see his cheeks dusted red. “Right. Umm, most of the team call me Beltzer.”
“Why?” she asked, baffled.
“It’s a bastardization of ‘belter’ because he likes to belt out the show tunes on the short wave,” Dusty said, smirking. “He’s got a decent voice.”
“It sort of stuck,” Beltzer admitted with a shrug.
“How much have I missed while I was gone?”
“Nothing too much, really,” Beltzer said. “I mean, it’s not like Rabbit got a girlfriend or something.”
It was Rabbit’s turn to blush. Darcy made a point of ignoring how happy that fact made her, and how adorable she found his face.
Rabbit hadn’t seen Darcy again for over a week. She had sent him a few texts thanking him for his help and also the small plant he had sent. His mom had always said you send a plant and not flowers when someone dies because no one needs to see death again so quickly, but also it gave the grieving something to do to help them remember to go on. So he bought the plant and left it on her doorstep with a haphazard bow he had retied three times one morning before heading to the University. Darcy had sent him a picture of her hugging the pot that he hated to admit was so cute that he saved it.
On Wednesday, eight days after the funeral, his phone went off in the middle of class, making his students snicker because he was typically such a hardass about them turning theirs to silent so as to not disrupt everyone.
“I think you owe us all, Professor!” one of the students said.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “Fair’s fair. I’ll bring in something next class.” He’d have to pick up some cookies or something before he came in. “Make sure to email me any allergies before the end of the day so I can try to be mindful of them. Now then, as I was saying…”
Even though the topic was one of his favorites, the time seemed to drag on. He really wanted to know who would text him in the middle of class. Everyone knew his schedule, and if it was truly important, they would call, not text. The curiosity was eating at him right until he dismissed everyone.
As the students straggled out, he tried not to look too interested in his phone as he pulled it out to see the message. It was Darcy.
There is too much casserole here. I swear the whole town made one, and only so many of them freeze well. Wanna have dinner with me tonight? Joanie Graybeck cooked.
He smiled at the message.
“What’s got you so happy?” Beltzer asked, rapping on the classroom door frame.
“Just a text,” he said, shoving his phone back in his pocket and throwing his things in his bag. “Mind if we stop at my office before we grab lunch? I want to drop some of this off.”
“Sure,” Beltzer replied, pushing off the door and then following him out of the room and down the hall. “So, who sent the text that made you happy?”
“Who said I was happy?” Rabbit said instead of answering.
“You did. Like thirty seconds ago.”
“No, you assumed.”
“It was definitely implied. I asked what made you happy, and you said a text. Ergo, you were happy. Otherwise, you would have denied you were happy instead of answering the question.”
Rabbit sighed and unlocked his office. “Darcy,” he said as he threw his bag on the chair and checked that his wallet was still in his pocket.
“What about her?”
Rabbit was certain he was playing dumb. “She’s the one that sent the text.”
“Ahhh. She’s the one that made you happy,” he replied with a shit-eating grin.
“If you like,” Rabbit agreed, pushing his friend back out the door and locking back up.
“Oh, I do. I very much so like Darcy making you happy.”
Rabbit rolled his eyes.
“So what did she say that made you happy?”
“She has more casserole than she knows what to do with. She invited me to join her for dinner tonight.”
“And how did you reply?”
“I haven’t yet because you came and asked me what I was doing.”
“You idiot,” he said, smacking him on the back of his head. “You better reply right now.”
“Wow. You are super invested in this,” Rabbit said, trying to play off just how much he really would like to immediately reply. He didn’t need Beltzer to tell the team how eager he had been and then give him even more shit.
“Yes. I am,” Beltzer said with zero shame. “You’ve had some sort of long term crush on her for years. And I’m not going to let you be your stupid self and screw this up. If nothing happens, I want it to be because you tried, not because you got anxiety and did nothing. Now get out your phone!”
“Geez. Okay.” Rabbit pulled out his phone and opened the text. “So what should I say?”
“Wow. You are so inept. No wonder it’s taken you literal years to get anywhere with her. Say yes, you dummy.”
Just got out of class. Dinner sounds great. What time? Anything I can bring?
“Eager sounding there,” Beltzer said, leaning over to watch him text.
“Should I not be?” he asked with a frown. “Didn’t you just say you didn’t want me to not screw this up with inaction?” Why was something as simple as dinner complicated as soon as feelings were involved? No wonder he was bad at dating. Dating should come with a legend so he knew precisely what everything was on the landscape.
“Doesn’t matter since you already said it.”
6? And just bring yourself. I have more than enough food here. Seriously. I’ll show you the freezer and fridge when you get here.
“Doesn’t look like she thought I was too eager,” he said with a shrug.
“You’re planning on taking something, right?”
“She said not to,” Rabbit said, even though he was already considering whether or not he should pick up some flowers.
“You should still show up with something,” Beltzer said, exasperated. “C’mon man. You know that.”
“I’ll figure something out,” he said dismissively.
“You better,” Beltzer said with a smirk.
All through lunch his mind was half on the conversation and half on his dinner tonight. He wasn’t sure exactly what to make of Darcy right now. She surely wasn’t the woman that he had fallen out with several years ago, but she also wasn’t so different as to be unrecognizable. He thought something must have happened to her. He knew that most people changed after they saw their first tornado up close, even more so if it was a truly powerful cell, so he wondered if she had some sort of life-altering experience. Could he ask? Was that an appropriate dinner conversation?
Luckily he didn’t have any classes this afternoon. Instead, he usually spent his time working on his latest research paper. Tenure was hard work, but he was almost there. When he added on the papers he was bound to get if DOROTHY flew this season and they got some good data, well, he was a shoo-in. Of course, getting her to fly was a big if.
He decided to leave campus early and head to the store to see if he could find the right item to take tonight. He hadn’t wanted to turn up empty-handed, but he also needed it to be the right item. Something that was fun and playful. That felt like something she would appreciate.
And that’s what he wanted; her to appreciate him. He wanted to find a way to fit back in her life, even if that life wasn’t in Oklahoma for the long haul. He wasn’t sure what he wanted that place to be, but he was willing to do almost anything. Darcy was special, and he wanted to be the one to let her know that as often as possible.
Gift obtained, he went home and showered and debated what to wear. In the end, he decided that it didn’t matter. Darcy wouldn’t care what he was wearing. Besides, this wasn’t a date. Or, at least he didn’t think it was. He threw on a button-down and some nicer jeans and headed out.
Before he knew it, he was pulling into her driveway. She yelled for him to come in when he knocked on the door, and followed the sounds to the kitchen where he found her setting the table.
“Hey,” she said with a smile before coming over and giving him a hug. “Since I didn’t supply the food, I thought I could handle the atmosphere.” He looked at the table and was amused to find it set with mismatched china and a tablecloth that might have actually been a bedsheet. There were tiny little tealights all over the table.
“You have provided food and atmosphere, so I thought I’d provide drinks.” He held out his offering. “I was going to bring flowers, but I thought you’d appreciate beer more so I brought Captain Lawrence Hops n’ Roses.”
“This is amazing!” she said with a laugh, taking the six-pack from him and placing it on the counter. She turned around and kissed his cheek before she was back to placing the food on the table.
“Anything I can do to help?” he asked.
“Just sit. I’m practically done.”
And she was. She quickly joined him, placing a beer before him.
Dinner was a bit awkward to start. Both of them would start talking and then stop so they didn’t talk over each other and then sit quietly for a little longer than was comfortable, but finally, they got going.
“So I know you’ve been working with Dr. Foster, but I don’t actually know what it is you do.”
“I think I’m technically still her intern, but basically I’m a research assistant. She likes me because I’m good at data entry and super organized, but I don’t actually know the science, so that’s a bit of a downside.”
“How’d you end up her intern?”
“How’d Dusty end up on your team?”
He laughed. “Fair enough. But storm chasing’s a little different. You don’t have to know the science. But I guess it sounds like you don’t need to know the science either.”
“It started as just college credit. I applied for the internship to get out of another stodgy lecture with another sexist male professor. And, luckily enough, I was the only one that applied. And that’s how Jane and I began. We did some interesting science. Had a bit of intense bonding, and voila. Here we are, several years later.”
“You were taking atmospheric readings, but she’s not a meteorologist?”
“Correct. She’s an astrophysicist. Like I said, I don’t really know the science, but I do know that we were tracking very specific particles to measure, and the atmospheric readings your friend was interested in helped us pinpoint where to find the particles we needed.” She shrugged. “Jane’s crazy smart and her research is going to revolutionize the field. I’m happy to help her do that.”
“Are you?” he asked. “I just remember that first day I saw you. You seemed sort of unsure what was next for you.”
Darcy sighed. “I had a lot going on right then,” she said, but he saw it as a stall. “But, maybe. Yeah. I had also just found out that my boyfriend had taken an idea I came up with and bullied another one of our team into following it up as a research project. That’s why he didn’t come out here. He was starting the field data gathering.”
Rabbit wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but the word “boyfriend” was on replay in his head. Of course, she had a boyfriend. How could someone as amazing as her not have a boyfriend? Though, he didn’t sound like a good one.
“He stole your idea?”
“I mean. Again, it’s not like I knew the science to pursue it myself.”
Her voice was steady, but he could sense a bit of bitterness underlying her words.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have been consulted about it. Stealing research ideas is frowned upon. I’m sorry it happened to you.”
“Thanks. It is what it is. I guess, though, it’s kinda making me think about things that I hadn’t given myself time to consider before. Time and distance have me reconsidering a lot of things.” She was looking out the window instead of at him, but he could understand. What she was saying was deeply personal, and she was laying a bit of herself bare to him.
“Well, if you need a sounding board, I’m here. I’m happy to help you figure out what is best for you and how to make it happen.”
She gave him a long look. “Thanks, Rabbit. I really appreciate it.”
They just sat there, looking at each other for a moment before she got up and went back to the counter. “Dessert?” she asked, holding a plate of cookies.
“Of course,” he said, snagging one off the plate.
The night quickly came to an end after that. Darcy had shown him to the door and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek again. As he drove home, he wondered if it was inappropriate to hope that one of her considerations might be his place in her life, and, hopefully, the changing place of her boyfriend.
Darcy spent a restless night considering her dinner. Rabbit had been so sweet all night. He had brought her flowers, but not really. It was witty and also showed an understanding of her. And he had remembered what she had said nearly two weeks ago and not judged her when she said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
She really loved working with Jane, but it was just that: working for Jane. She didn’t care about the work all that much, and sometimes she thought that she might be holding Jane back. Jane would never fire her, but she certainly deserved, and probably needed, someone who understood the science.
But if she didn’t work for Jane, she wasn’t sure what she should be doing. She had finished her poli-sci degree. She had most of a comp-sci degree done too. She was pretty good at social media, and she knew there were career opportunities there. But she just wasn’t sure. And the fear of the unknown was making it hard for her to think about what life could be after Jane.
And then there was Ian. As much as she knew she couldn’t handle the science, the fact that Ian had taken the idea they had discussed together and gone to Erik bothered her. She should have been in on the conversation. She should have been invited into the field. But instead, he had gone behind her back and only told her about it because it would keep him from being with her when she needed him.
But did she need him?
She sighed and rolled over, fluffing her pillow again and trying to get comfortable. If she was being honest, their relationship had slowly been drifting toward an inevitable end. Obviously, they weren’t sharing everything with each other anymore. He had bailed on the chance to meet her dad. And the sex had been more compulsory than fun lately.
He might have been a coward for not telling her about the research until she was half a world away, but maybe she was a coward too for not ending what clearly had run its course.
Which brought her back to the empty expanse of her future. What was she supposed to do now?
She had tossed and turned for the better part of the night, so it was a very groggy Darcy that grabbed her phone when it's ringing woke her.
“‘Lo?” she said. Her eyes still bleary with sleep.
She sat up a bit. “Hey, Ian. What’s up?”
There was a pause at the other end. “Jane just yelled at me.”
“Why?” she asked. Jane wasn’t much of a yeller unless it was yelling to set up equipment, which certainly wouldn’t necessitate a phone call.
“She said I was being an asshole.”
Well, that was interesting. “Were you?” she asked, curious about what he had done.
He blew out a breath. “Maybe. It wasn’t intentional.”
“Intention doesn’t change whether or not you were an asshole. What’d you do?”
“Am I to assume from this you didn’t tell her to yell at me?”
“No,” she said with a frown. “Why would I have?”
“Because of my alleged intellectual property theft and lack of compassion for your present circumstances.”
“‘Present circumstances’?” she asked, her voice getting icy. “You want to call the death of my father ‘circumstances’?”
“Are they not?”
“Frigga’s tit, you’re insensitive. His death is an event or...or devastation, or...I don’t even know. But calling it a circumstance is so clinical and detached. Thanks. I hate it.”
“You seem a bit emotional there, Darce.”
“Yeah, I just might be. My dad has been dead less than a month Ian. He died of cancer, a diagnosis that he hid from me. I think being emotional is warranted here.”
“If you can’t talk rationally about this— “
“You know what? We’re through. Relationship over. Okay? Now you don’t have to worry about my emotions.”
“What? We both know that’s where this was heading anyway.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” He sounded tired.
“We were heading there before I got on that plane,” she said, more gently.
“Maybe we were.”
“You were still kind of an asshole though,” she couldn’t help but prod. “Jane wasn’t exactly wrong about that.”
“Does it help if I say I think I was trying to make you break up with me?”
“Not really. That just makes you an asshole and a coward.”
“You always were kind of a bitch,” he said, without heat. It was almost fond.
“Which you knew before we started dating.”
“Fair enough.” He paused before asking, “We okay?”
“Make sure to acknowledge me on the paper you write and we’ll be okay.”
“I really am sorry.”
“I am too,” she said, finally getting out of bed and heading toward the kitchen. “It was fun while it lasted?”
“Maybe it was fun for the first three quarters?”
“True enough,” she said eyeing the paper cup sitting on her table. “Take care of yourself.”
She hung up the phone and looked at the note the cup was pinning down. You really should lock your door. Any local hoodlum could walk right in and leave you coffee. Please accept this not suspicious at all coffee as a token of a new day and motivation to start figuring out your future. -Rabbit
Goodness. She’d worry about the fact that her door somehow hadn’t been locked last night later. Right now she needed to snap a picture of this note and send it to Jane for a complete analysis. Maybe after she filled her friend in on the phone call she had just had.
Rabbit was feeling pretty good about himself. He had enjoyed a wonderful night with Darcy, even if he had learned that she had a boyfriend, and he had left her some coffee this morning that he had picked up from Gertie’s in hopes of continuing their friendship. He had been mildly concerned that her door had been unlocked when he came by, but he had locked it back up with his key. Though, now that he thought about it, he should probably give that back to Darcy. Aaron had given it to him when he was helping the man. Obviously, that was no longer necessary. He didn’t even know if Darcy knew he had a key. At least it was another excuse to talk to her and hopefully see her.
He was whistling a jaunty little tune as he worked at his desk. His morning lab had gone very well, and the class following it had also been a breeze. One of his students had whispered to another that they wondered why he was so happy and that they hoped it would continue since this was the best class she had enjoyed in a while.
He hoped it would continue too, but it wasn’t totally up to him.
He was just wrapping things up for the day when his phone rang.
“Hey Rabbit.” Darcy’s voice was soft and warm, like a fresh cookie.
“Darcy! Lovely to hear from you.”
“I just wanted to thank you for the coffee this morning. It was really sweet. I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner again? The issue of too many casseroles has yet to be resolved. In fact, feel free to come over any night for, say, the next two weeks. I’m sure I’ll still have the stuff coming out my ears.”
“Oh, I see how it is. You just want me for my mouth.”
“I mean, that’s not all I want you for, but I certainly won’t object to that.”
His cheeks suddenly heated as he considered the double meaning of what they had both just said. Well, in for a penny…
“And just what else do you want me for?”
“Come to dinner and find out,” she said, hanging up.
Rabbit looked at his phone for a moment, unsure if he should feel as excited as he did about how that conversation had gone. He decided not to overthink it. He would show up to dinner and see what happened.
He went home and dropped off his bag. He didn’t have anything special to bring this time. He looked out to the garden his mom had cultivated all those years ago. He didn't do much to maintain it, but it seemed determined to thrive with or without his help. He saw a perfect peony still on the bush and decided to snip it and take that. Simple, but still showed he had put some thought into it.
He knocked on Darcy’s door, a bit nervous. “It’s open,” she called, just like the night before. He went straight to the kitchen where Darcy had on the tiniest shorts he had ever seen and an oversized sweatshirt that initially had hidden the tiny shorts.
Rabbit went to the cabinet and grabbed a glass, filling it with water before adding the flower and placing the whole thing on the table.
“Sorry about this,” she said, her hand waving over her body. “I didn’t exactly bring everything, and I realized I had run out of clothes. I’ve been doing laundry all day. Everything’s out on the line. I couldn’t pass up on the chance for line dried clothes. There’s something about it that makes me think of home. It’s a smell I could never replicate in New Mexico nor London.”
“No apologies needed, though at first, I thought I had missed the memo about pants being optional tonight.”
“They’re always optional as far as I’m concerned,” she said, taking a seat. “Oh! Did you bring that?” she asked.
“I hope you don’t mind. I just thought your table could use a little something special.”
“It’s lovely,” she said. Her voice was soft and he wondered if it would be like that every time he brought her a flower. And just like that, he remembered her boyfriend. He had flirted with her, and if he wasn't totally off his rocker, she had flirted back. But she had a boyfriend. He needed to reel it back in.
“So did you have a chance to talk to Jane since she went back?” Hopefully, that would be safe ground.
“Oh yeah,” she said, dishing out dinner. “We talk most days, though sometimes it's only text. She’s settled back in and is back on track with her latest paper. She’s going to box up the rest of my stuff and mail it here. I told her to take the cost out of my paycheck.”
“Why would she send it here if you’re going back?”
Darcy took a sip of her wine. “I don’t know that I will be. Besides, this way I can stay as long as I need to, even if I go back. We were sharing an apartment, and it was a bit cramped, so I’m sure she’ll be happy to have the space back anyway.”
He nodded, unsure what to do with the fact that she was staying for the indefinite future. On one hand, he was excited at the possibilities. On the other, he wanted her to be making the best choices for herself, and he didn’t know if staying here was that.
“What about your boyfriend? Not that his opinion should dictate your choices, but has he given you an opinion?”
Shit. Why had he brought up the boyfriend? So stupid.
“Errr...we broke up. This morning.” She looked so uncomfortable and he felt terrible for putting her in that position. “I think it was a long time coming. And, honestly, the distance just made it that much easier for both of us.”
“I’m not sure whether I should say sorry because breaking up sucks or something about how nice it can be to move onto something new.”
He really should shut his dumb mouth. Move onto something new . Jesus. As if that didn’t practically scream, “I’m something new you could move onto.” He was such a desperate dick.
“Probably both, which works because that’s what you did,” she said with a small smile.
“I’m sorry. I should have been more eloquent or sensitive.”
“You’re fine,” she reassured him. “Like I said, it was kind of a long time coming. We had been drifting apart for months. I don’t hate him, but I’m also glad I won't be seeing him again for a while.”
“Enough about him, tell me about your day,” he said, desperately trying to move the conversation along.
“Well it started with some amazing coffee on my counter with a sweet note,” she said, twirling her fork in her hand. “After that, I met with the probate lawyer. Technically I have to go through the whole period because the house alone is worth enough. I can’t imagine anyone contesting, though. There’s no one left. Dad was an only child.”
“You going to sell the house?” It was a nice place. Aaron had kept it up, and when he had gotten too sick, he had paid others to keep it.
Darcy shook her head. “That’s not in the plans right now. It’s paid off, and I don’t know what I want to do with myself. If I decide to stay here, having the house is a huge asset.”
“So staying is a possibility?” He hoped he didn’t sound too excited at the thought.
“Yeah. I did some looking, and there’s a lot of remote work I can do from here as long as I have an internet connection, which I do. I even applied to two places this afternoon just to sort of test it out and get a paycheck or two while I explore my options.”
“Is going back to England an option?”
“Well, yeah. That’s where Jane is. But I’m not sure the work’s right for me anymore. I know she’d have me back in a heartbeat, but I kinda want more for her.”
“I know Jo’s looking for someone to do some part-time help in her lab if you’re interested. Probably won’t be anything long term. Probably won’t even be interesting, but it would pay some bills and Jo’s always a good rec at the University if you decide you want to work there.”
“As long as she doesn’t mind that I can’t say much about Jane’s work.”
“Proprietary?” he asked, knowingly.
“NDAs actually. Not all of them specifically about her work but rather, some, err, things that happened while we were researching.”
“That doesn’t sound cryptic at all,” he teased.
“Thanks. I try.”
He laughed and steered the conversation to a little bit of local gossip, and then some about the university as well. If she was going to take him up on talking to Jo, she should know those details too.
“Thanks for coming again tonight,” she said as they finished drying the dishes.
“Thanks for feeding me. I’m not a bad cook, but it can be nice to not have to cook.”
“I’m a much better baker, but I’m a decent cook. Maybe some night I can show you my skills instead of the town’s.”
“I feel like I owe you dinner after this. You’ve fed me twice now.”
She took the towel from his hands and hung it on the oven door. “And I’ll feed you several more times before my freezer runs out if you’ll let me.”
“There’s plenty I’d let you do, Lewis, and continue to have me over for dinner is on that list.”
Her smile was blinding, and as he fell asleep that night, it was the last thing he thought of.
Darcy waited outside the door and wondered if this was a bad idea. She checked the time and realized she only had another minute or two to change her mind if she was going to. Just as she had the thought, the doors to the classroom opened, and a wave of students came out. She could technically still leave with them, but it felt like she shouldn’t. Once the flow had trickled, she took a breath and entered the room. Rabbit was standing at the desk talking to two students, so she tried to hang back out of sight, but he must have seen her because his head turned her way.
“Darcy?” he asked, a smile lighting up his face. “I wasn’t expecting you. What brings you here?”
The students seemed amused that he had cut off whatever he had been saying to greet her.
“I thought I’d stop by. You keep telling me I should, so here I am.” Ugh. She sounded so lame.
“Yeah! Absolutely! Let me just, umm, finish up here,” he said, turning back to the students.
She waited patiently while they finished up. Once they were on their way, Rabbit waved her over while he packed up his things. There were a lot of maps on the table that he was carefully rolling.
“Anything I can do to help?”
“You can roll if you want. You don’t have to, though.”
She stepped up next to him and began rolling the nearest map, watching what he did when finished with each one and following suit. They worked quietly for a bit, their hands often brushing as they reached for the same thing. Darcy wondered if she might have secretly reverted to being thirteen based solely on the little thrill of excitement that went through her whenever it happened.
Finally, all the maps had been rolled and stowed and they made their way back to his office. They had been quiet the whole walk, but when they were finally in the small space, the door shut behind them, the silence finally felt like too much.
“Not that I’m not happy you’re here, but, err, why are you here?”
Darcy reminded herself she had a plan before moving next to him. He was already sitting in his chair, and he looked up at her, his face soft and confused.
“I’m here because I thought this was a good idea.”
“What—” he started to ask before she cut him off, pressing her lips to his. He immediately responded, which was more of a relief than she wanted to admit. His hands went to her hips as he stood, moving her around to sit on his desk while his lips parted and his tongue started to explore. He pressed closer to her, stepping between her legs, the rough fabric of his jeans sending a thrill through the thin layer of her cotton dress.
He pulled back for a moment. “I’m not just a convenient substitute for your ex right now, am I?” he asked.
She wondered for a moment at the question. It hadn’t been that long since she had become single, so she could see the concern.
“God no,” she said, her brow crinkling at the thought. “I’ve wanted to do that for ages.” She was pleased to see the worry ease from his face at her response.
“Oh. Well, in that case, then,” he said, smiling and dipping his head to hers once more, her lips parting as he teased her with his tongue.
She dug her hands into his hair as the kiss continued. His thumbs rubbing small circles on her hips that were driving her mad. The angle was a bit awkward, but she really didn’t want it to end.
“Hey Rabbit,” a voice called from the door. They both startled apart. “Oh shit! Sorry!”
“It’s fine Beltzer,” Rabbit said, clearly a bit annoyed that they had been interrupted. “We had lunch plans, didn’t we?”
“It is Thursday,” he said. Darcy had yet to turn around, but she was pretty sure that now that the kissing had stopped, Beltzer was going to stick around and razz them. “I didn’t expect you to be busy.”
“I didn’t expect to be either,” Rabbit said calmly, his hands slowly moving from her hips down the outside of her thighs. It would have given her some thoughts about what they might do next if there wasn’t an audience.
“Hey Beltzer,” she said, finally twisting to face him.
“Darcy,” he said, a shit-eating grin on his face. “Want to join us for lunch?”
“I didn’t mean to intrude on standing plans. I just had something I needed to make sure Rabbit knew.” Which wasn’t actually a lie. She did really need him to know that she wanted to kiss him. It had been burning away in the back of her mind for the past week and a half as he came over every night to have dinner with her, each one getting slightly more flirty until she thought she would combust. And he was such a natural at flirting, that it had crossed her mind that maybe he wasn’t trying to specifically flirt with her. But based on how he kissed, well, she was glad to be wrong.
“Gee Rabbit, looked like she was telling you plenty. Did you get the whole message?”
Frigga above, this was going to be all over town before the night was out. She just knew it.
“I think I got most of it. I’m sure I can hear the rest tonight.” The last bit was said with a question in his eye as he looked at her.
“Yes. Absolutely,” she said. She wanted to hop off the desk, but he was still boxing her in.
“We going to lunch or what?” said a new voice.
“Oh hey Haynes,” Beltzer said. His enjoyment of this predicament was clear. “I was just getting Rabbit, but he was involved in what appeared to be a very thorough oral examination.”
“Is that so?” Haynes asked, her head popping in the doorway. There was no way this wouldn’t be all over town before lunch was over. But then Darcy thought about it. So what if everyone in town knew she’d been kissing Rabbit in his office? Hadn’t everyone been giving them looks for weeks? Been making not-so-veiled comments? And wasn’t kissing him something she really wanted to be doing?
Darcy pushed a bit on Rabbit’s hips, and he backed up enough that she could hop off his desk. “I’d love to continue this conversation tonight. Feel free to stop in when you have time.” She went on her toes and kissed the corner of his mouth. She smirked at the goofy smile on his face and then passed by both Beltzer and Haynes. “And in case it wasn’t clear, it’s a private conversation. Neither of you are invited. Have a nice lunch.”
She walked out of the office with her head held high and a spring in her step. There was a lot to like about being back in Oklahoma, and one of those things was that dealing with the busybodies here was a cakewalk compared to the paparazzi she helped Jane deal with on a regular basis.
Instead of going home, she decided to do a bit of shopping. It would be a few hours still before Rabbit would be over, and she had plans for what the house would look like and what she’d be wearing when he arrived. She hadn’t put too much effort into their weeknight dinners. She wore whatever she had been wearing all day, even if that meant dirty overalls from working in the garden. And the house was tidy, but there was no real effort in making it look “guest ready.” Tonight she was going to pull out all the stops for him so he knew she was serious about pursuing whatever was going on between them.
At a quarter after five, she heard the sound of his truck pulling onto her gravel driveway. She checked her lipstick and hair one last time and then went to the door just as he knocked.
“Hey Rabbit,” she said, her eyes drinking him in. He still had on his jeans, but he had thrown a sweater on over his button-down; his sleeves were rolled up, exposing the lean muscles of his arms. It was definitely a good look.
“Darcy,” he said. He caressed her name as his eyes slid over her. “You look amazing.”
“Thank you,” she said, moving aside so he could come in and she could shut the door.
As soon as the door was closed, he was pressing her into it, his lips on hers. She hadn’t anticipated him being this assertive, but she liked it. His hands were slid up and down her sides as she wound her arms around his neck. He kissed her until she was breathless. His thumbs ran lines under her breasts that made her slightly incoherent. No one had ever kissed her half so thoroughly.
He pulled away, his own breath coming out in short little puffs. “Sorry,” he said, a little sheepishly, “I spent most of my afternoon thinking about how I wanted to finish our earlier conversation and I got a bit carried away.”
“No apology needed,” she said, enjoying this playful side. “I really enjoyed that conversation. Makes me want to continue the dialogue. It seems we have a lot to say.”
“I feel like I could talk to you forever.” It was cheesy, but she loved it.
She grabbed his hand and pulled him into the living room. “I’d like to see just how much conversational stamina you have,” she said, pushing him onto the couch and following him down.
She straddled his hips, her skirt hiking up her thighs as she did so, exposing the top of her stockings, her mouth already back on his; greedy. His hands were on her ass as though he was worried she might fall off his lap, but soon they were skimming up and down her back. She raked her nails through his hair and practically preened at the soft moan it elicited. But before she could revel in her own abilities, his mouth had moved to the column of her neck, sucking open mouth kisses down one side and up the other.
She arched into him, her breasts pressing against his chest. One hand snaked around and slowly began to knead the soft flesh, pinching at her nipple through her shirt and bra. His other hand had moved to her thigh.
“ Fuck ,” he groaned. “Are you wearing stockings?” His fingers traced the top of one.
“Wanna see?” she asked against his jaw where she had started to kiss, waiting for his answer.
“Please,” he said. She was certain there was a hint of begging by the end of the word.
She rose from his lap and moved her hands to the zipper of her skirt, slowly drawing it down and then letting the skirt slip from her hips and fall to the ground. She carefully stepped out of the material, and then bent at the waist to pick it up, folding it and placing it on the arm of the couch. She was satisfied to hear a hiss of approval while she was turned from him.
“God Darce, you’re so beautiful. Am I dreaming? How did I end up here?”
“I’m fairly certain you drove,” she said cheekily. “And I think you now owe me a little nudity. I shouldn’t be the only one missing some clothes.”
He stood up and took a moment to decide before undoing his belt as he toed off his shoes and then slid his jeans down his legs. She took a moment to enjoy him in his boxers, which was enough time for him to spin them and push her to sit on the couch as he knelt before her.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed our conversation so far, I was hoping you’d let me monologue a bit,” he said as he pressed open her thighs and started kissing up from her knee. His mouth hovered over her sex as he looked up, waiting for her permission.
“I think I could stand to listen for a bit.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, he licked a broad stripe, using his thumbs to spread her open. His tongue circled her clit as he dipped a finger into her, curling it and causing her to moan. “Christ, Rabbit. I had no idea you were such a good orator.”
His only response was to continue to lick and suckle and occasionally nip at her thighs. He would tease her, moving away from her clit, blowing softly, nudging it with his nose, and then return his attention to it until she was a writhing mess coming apart for him.
“That deserves a standing ovation,” she panted as she came down from her high, “but I’m not sure my legs will hold me.”
“That’s compliment enough,” he said with a smirk.
She grabbed hold of his sweater and pulled herself up, crushing her lips to his, leaning into him as she regained her equilibrium and tried to ruin his. “We’re nowhere near done,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward her bedroom.
He laughed and followed her. “Still having on my sweater but no pants feels kind of strange.” he said as they entered the room.
“Let’s rectify that then,” she said, letting go of his hand and grabbing the hem of his sweater. She started to tug and realized that he was too tall for her to have any hope of getting it off without him bending over. Luckily he grabbed the hem too and pulled it off, allowing her to move onto the buttons of his shirt. She wasted no time in removing his button-down, and he immediately pulled her silk blouse over her head. They both took a second to just look at each other. She swore she heard Rabbit say “jackpot” under his breath, but didn't have time to ask because he was on her again, pressing her back into the bed as he held her face and kissed her. It was more tender than the lustful events from the living room.
“I don’t want to fuck you into the mattress, Starlight,” he said, resting on his elbows above her. “I mean, I do, but I want to do that later, next time maybe. Right now I want to show you how I feel about you.” He moved back to kissing her, his body slowly melding with hers. He kissed down her neck to her breasts, undoing the front clasp and taking on into his mouth before moving back up her neck, his teeth grazing her pulse point and causing her to shudder in the best of ways.
His hips started a slow rocking against her, and she couldn’t help but respond in kind, rolling her hips just a bit, causing him to moan. She ran her nails down his back, and he arched into the motion.
“I need you in me,” she whispered into his ear. “Please?”
He looked at her. “Are you sure?”
“Rabbit, I’ve wanted this for at least the past month. I don’t want to wait any longer.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, kissing her on the forehead before pushing off her so he could remove his boxers. She flung her bra to the floor and pulled off her stockings, taking a moment to look over his now naked body. He was long and hard, already dripping. He noticed her taking him in and raised an eyebrow.
“Do I meet inspection?”
“I’ll tell you once you finish,” she said, beckoning him to come back to her. He took a moment to snag a condom out of his pocket and roll it on before coming back to the bed.
He moved over her, positioning himself at her entrance, looking up once more. “You ready?” he asked, watching her carefully.
“So ready,” she said, enjoying the stretch as he pressed into her.
“Christ you feel good,” he said, slowly pulling back and thrusting again.
She wrapped her legs around his waist and dug her heels into his ass, encouraging him. He picked up the pace slightly. One hand holding him up while the other went between them and circled her clit.
“Fuck Rabbit. That feels so good.”
“Robert,” he panted. “Call me Robert.”
His thumb pressed just right. “Yes, Robert. Fuck yes. Just like that.” She felt him groan against her skin as she moaned his name.
He was kissing the hollow of her neck, and she was certain he’d leave a mark. “I want to feel you come undone around me,” he said, tilting his head up to her ear. “I want to see how beautiful you are when you are flooded with desire I caused.” He nipped at her earlobe before returning his attention to her neck.
“How can you be so poetic and filthy at the same time? You’ve been holding out on me.”
“If you can form sentences, I’m not doing this right,” he said, and suddenly the motion of his hips changed and she moaned his name in response.
It could have been minutes or hours, but his thrusts became sharper, and his fingers were working magic that had her seeing stars and calling out his name. He continued to thrust through her orgasm, finally climaxing himself, looking at her dreamily before pulling out.
She gave him directions to the bathroom and stared at the ceiling as she tried to come down from the high.
He dropped into the bed next to her, kissing her cheek before staring up at the ceiling himself.
“Did I earn a chance to do that again with you?” he asked.
“More than,” she said, grabbing his hand. “Next time I want to blow your mind, though. It’s only fair.”
“You gave me the time of day. I’ve gotta make it worthwhile.”
She turned to look at him. “You were always worthwhile. I didn’t need sex to think that. It’s just icing.”
He looked at her, searching her face. “I’d really like to date you. Officially, that is. I think that we’ve sort of been doing it for the past few weeks, but I want to be able to tell people you’re mine. Even if you go away, I still want this.”
He looked so vulnerable. “I’m not going anywhere,” she finally said. “At least not for the foreseeable future. I got an excellent remote gig. I finalized everything yesterday. It pays well, and I can live anywhere.”
“So you’ll stay?”
“Yes,” she agreed, cuddling closer. “In Oklahoma and with you.”
“Perfect,” he said, pulling her closer to him. “The season’s coming up,” he said into her hair. “Jo finally got DOROTHY completed. You’re welcome to chase with us. There’s room in my truck.”
“Sounds like an adventure.”
“It is. It’s a thrill to be so close to the storm. No pressure to join us, but I want to share what I love with you, and storm chasing is something I love.”
“Then I’m in,” she smiled.
“So perfect,” he repeated.
She couldn’t agree more. She might not know exactly what her long term future was, but she hoped it was with him.