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Under Your Spell

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“Sex pollen?” Darcy said. “Is that even real?” She was filling out her new SHIELD paperwork alongside Jane in a conference room at SHIELD HR. Jane had finally given in and joined the organization, once Fury threw a sufficient amount of money at her and Steve promised there were no more Nazis. They’d defeated the HYDRA Uprising and Alexander Pierce with minimal loss of life, although a few of the loyal SHIELD agents embedded in HYDRA had been badly injured, according to Steve, and his friend Bucky Barnes was now being treated in Wakanda.

“I’m putting Thor,” Jane said.

“Try not to sound so smug,” Darcy said.

“Yeah, that assumes I don’t die waiting for him to come back from Asgard because he can’t be trusted not to break or lose a phone,” Jane said.

“Did he step on the last one again?” Darcy said.

“No, he says the smartphone buttons are too tiny for his fingers and he cracked the screen, so I got him a flip phone,” Jane said. “He can dial that with a pencil and it’s cheap to replace. Sometimes they’re free or twenty bucks.”

“Old school,” Darcy said, giving her a thumbs up. She frowned. “Who should I put for this thing? I can’t believe I have to give them permission for someone to sex me up.”

“Well, there are no plants in my lab--”

“Because you refuse to let me get a cool palm tree,” Darcy said.

“--so, you should be safe,” Jane said. “But you can get a palm tree.”

“I can?” Darcy said, delighted.

“This is our new petty cash amount. Per month. ” Jane slid a Post-It to Darcy. It had an astounding number on it. “Buy whatever you want.”

“I love you,” Darcy said. “We’re rich! Hahaha! Rich!” She clapped and did a little dance in her chair.

“Shhh, be cool,” Jane said. “I don’t know how Fury’s funding the rest of R&D.”

“People are gonna hate us,” Darcy said.

“But we’ll never go hungry again,” Jane said in a steely voice.

“Yes, Scarlett O’Hara,” Darcy said.

“What are you talking about?” Jane said.

“She says that exact phrase in the movie,” Darcy said.

“That movie is racist trash,” Jane said. “And I’m not Scarlett O’Hara.”

“Truth. It’s way racist. But you still reminded me of her for a minute, though. She holds her little fist up and says, As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again ,” Darcy said. “Like this?” She held her fist up. “It’s the part that they always show on TV, because it’s the least racist.”

“No,” Jane said.

“You’re totally hardcore determined like her and really beautiful and good at slapping men and getting hunky guys to love you, like, instantaneously. Science is your Tara, Katie Scarlett,” Darcy said.

“Never tell that to anyone, I don’t want them thinking I like terrible old racist movies,” Jane said sternly. Darcy held her hands up in surrender.

“I would not. I’m going to go pee and think about my sex pollen question dilemma,” Darcy said.

“In the bathroom?” Jane said, eyebrows raised.

“I think I could concentrate better if I didn’t have to pee,” Darcy said.

“Oh,” Jane said. She laughed.

“What?” Darcy said, picking up her messenger bag.

“I thought you were going to ask your va-jay-jay,” Jane said, laughing. Darcy looked down at her crotch, pulling up her sweater a little.

“Do you have opinions? Speak now!” she said. Jane laughed even harder.

 

In the hallway on the way back, Darcy ran into Maria Hill. “Hi,” she said, waving. Hill looked totally cool and professional, Darcy thought, in her suit. Darcy was was wearing leggings, a longish chenille sweater, wrap bracelets, and scuffed hiking boots with leather flowers appliqued on them. She hoped SHIELD didn’t expect her to dress like she bought everything from Ann Taylor Loft. She didn’t have that kind of mone--no, wait, they did. As soon as the petty cash rolled in.

“Are you guys here doing paperwork?” Hill said.

“Yup,” Darcy said. She leaned in. “Can I ask you a weird question? Well, a couple of weird questions?”

“Um, yes?” Hill said. She was used to weird questions at SHIELD. She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, nobody cares if I, you know, keep dressing like this, right?” she asked, gesturing to her homemade, recycled coffee bags messenger bag.

“No,” Hill said. “Is that--coffee bags?”

“Yeah! My friend from college makes them, so I picked my favorites: some Starbucks, some Hawaiian kona, you know?” Darcy said. “And ones with pretty bags. We drank all the coffee and then designed a bag.”

“Yes,” Hill said, grinning in spite of herself. She didn’t quite understand how Darcy Lewis could have survived Asgardian destroyers, Dark Elves, Jane Foster, and be thirty-one years old, while maintaining the aura of a very chill college student. Sometimes, she wondered if the tiny assistant was related to Tony Stark. Coulson had vetoed her suggestion for a secret DNA test, scolding her about privacy violations and telling Maria she’d been hanging around Fury too much.

“Um, second question--the sex pollen thing?” Darcy began.

“Hill,” a voice said behind them. “Fury wants to talk to you.” Maria turned. Brock Rumlow was standing there in his tactical gear.

“I’ll be right there, Commander Rumlow,” Hill said.

“He wants to talk to you now,” Rumlow insisted. His tone aggravated her.

“Tell him to be patient,” Hill said. “I’m not as obedient as Captain Rogers, Brock.” Hill turned back to Darcy. Darcy made a very cute face that blended alarm and amusement, mouthing the word Brock?

“I’ll wait,” Rumlow said. He stood several feet away, arms crossed, looking very ‘I’m busy and important.’

“Great,” Hill said. She rolled her eyes at Darcy. Darcy grinned and made another funny face in response. “So, about your question--?” Hill said. Darcy paused, glanced over Maria’s shoulder at Rumlow, and then scrunched her nose. It was a cute scrunch, Maria thought. If she wasn’t in a committed, loving relationship with Sharon Carter she would have been tempted to ask Darcy Lewis out.

“Does that situation happen a lot? I’m single, my boyfriend and I just broke up, ended our engagement, yadda yadda,” Darcy explained, waving her hand.

“So, you don’t want to put him?” she asked.

“Noooo,” Darcy said. “What should I do?”

“Odds are, in your division you’d never be exposed to that. It’s mostly for our field agents. Sometimes used as a chemical warfare tactic.”

“Oh. Good. So I could just put, you know, a friend or Benicio Del Toro?” Darcy said, grinning.

Probably straight, Maria thought. Pity. She’d be cute with Romanoff. Romanoff occasionally dated women and had a distinct thing for adorable, slightly rumpled, science brunettes. Banner had been rebuffing her, rather stupidly, Maria thought. “I’d put a friend, but the odds are slim that we’ll ever need to invoke the clause,” she said. “Lots of people put Rogers, honestly.”

“Oh em gee, has he done it?” Darcy said, a little more loudly.

“That’s classified, but--” Hill said.

“Steve wouldn’t leave a good man or a good woman to suffer?” Darcy joked. She and Jane had twigged that Steve was bisexual early on. It was slightly hilarious to Darcy to that a bi art student who hated bullies was the face of old-fashioned American patriotism and all of Congress tried to cozy up to Steve: if he’d been born in the 1980s, Steve would totally be the kind of glasses-wearing, bearded, boyfriend-having, open-minded hipster that Fox News guys made snarky remarks about and loathed on sight.

“I haven’t had to test that theory, but you know how responsible Captain Rogers is,” Hill joked, smiling.

“All righty, thanks,” Darcy said. “I’ll let you get back to the Patched and the Furious,” Darcy said, gesturing towards Rumlow. Maria laughed.

“I wouldn’t want to test his patience too much,” Maria said. She watched as Darcy walked back into HR, then turned to Rumlow.

 

***

“What the hell was that?” Rumlow asked.

“What?” Maria said.

“Does Sharon know you’re flirting with cute coeds?” he said.

“One, not flirting. Two, she’s actually thirty-one and Jane Foster’s assistant,” Hill explained.

“Huh,” he said. “Very cute.” He licked his lips a little.

“You like cute?” Hill said, sort of surprised. She’d imagined Rumlow as more into the sexy woman type.

“I love cute. Really. Cute’s my favorite. You like cute too, apparently.”

“I was not flirting,” Hill said firmly.

“Your girlfriend has a gun, Maria,” he said teasingly. Hill rolled her eyes. They walked in silence for a moment.

“She’s single, you know. Just ended an engagement with Foster’s other assistant. He’s working in the Arctic now. You could ask her--” Maria said suddenly.

“Stop trying to live your sexual fantasies through me vicariously with the little Drew Barrymore girl, Maria,” Rumlow said, chuckling. Still, he thought, it wasn’t a bad idea. What if he did? They didn’t work in the same department, so there would be less awkwardness if she said no...

“I was not. I do like Drew Barrymore,” Hill admitted. “That’s it, that’s what she’s got, that--that cute, fun, sorta hippie thing,” she said.

“The nose scrunch,” Rumlow said. “It’s very kissable.”

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be into that,” Hill said.

“I’m into it. Why does everybody think I’m a Neanderthal? I’ve got brains,” he complained. Brock was secretly a touch geeky, but he’d played up his athletic side for undercover work. People would be less intimidated if they’d known Crossbones had a treasured rare Batman #11 with the Joker on the cover and had taught himself sleight of hand tricks as a kid.

“It could be that Italians Do It Better t-shirt you wore to the company picnic,” Hill observed.

“That was ironic. My sister gave me that t-shirt,” he said. “But it doesn’t make it less true.”

“Sure,” Hill said.

“We’re very gifted people, romantically,” he said, clasping his hands together in prayer pose and grinning. Hill tried not to laugh. Relaxed, not-HYDRA Brock Rumlow was remarkably funny sometimes, she thought.

“It’s true that your mother has been married six times?” Hill asked. Jack Rollins had mentioned it, after Rumlow had had his mother in DC for a visit. The older woman had apparently charmed Rollins and threatened to make him husband number seven for his Australian accent alone, had she not been seeing someone already.

“Yeah,” he said. “Twice to my father. Men like Ma. How’d you know?”

“Jack,” Hill said.

“I’m gonna have to keep her away from him if she comes to DC for Christmas,” Rumlow said, sighing. “She’s single again.”

“Would she really try anything with Jack?” Hill asked.

“Maria, I think she could convince any straight, available man to marry her,” he said, smiling. “She has charisma--and determination.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Where you think I got all this from?” Rumlow said, gesturing to his face and body. Helen Cho had restored his old appearance with her Cradle, after he’d been injured at Triskelion and done a short stint as a fake mercenary called Crossbones, stealing back SHIELD stuff. Maria snorted.

“This is why people think you’re a caveman,” she said.

“Where’s the lie?” he asked, delivering her to Fury’s office. “Here she is.”

“Good,” Fury growled. “Now find me Rogers.”

“Yes, sir,” Rumlow said.

 

***

Darcy was standing in the HR office, having done all the questions but the sex pollen one. “Put Steve?” Jane suggested.

“Half of SHIELD puts Steve, it’s apparently a thing,” Darcy said. They grinned at each other, then Jane’s smile fell.

“Nobody better put Thor,” Jane said.

“Nope,” Darcy said.

“What are you thinking about?” Jane said.

“I don’t know if I want to put a blond anyway. They’ve given me trouble lately,” Darcy said, meaning Ian. She was contemplating Loki--they were pen pals--only Odin would probably let her die rather than release him from his cell. Still, she wondered what that would be like. Hmmm….

“There’s Steve,” Jane said, looking up through the window blinds. “I’d put Steve.” His uniform was very tight. He had his back to them and was talking to the Rumlow guy.

“The buns of freedom and justice are very bouncy,” Darcy admitted.

“Round,” Jane said. “The guy with him is attractive, too.”

“Cap’s ass is juicy like a peach,” Darcy said, sighing. “That’s Fury’s Rottweiler. Would Bucky kill me, do you think?”

“He might--but probably only if you kept him out of the fun,” Jane said, wiggling her eyebrows.

“That’s a lot of man. A lot of man. I’m not sure I’m woman enough for two men at once, much less super soldiers,” Darcy said.

“True. I had to start lifting weights when Thor and I got together, just to keep up,” Jane said.

“That’s when you started eating fish again,” Darcy said.

“I needed the energy boost, my vegan green juices weren’t enough,” Jane said.

“And I have zero upper body strength,” Darcy said. “Do you think Steve tastes like peaches if you bite his cheeks?” Just then, Steve turned and grinned at them. Darcy waved.

“He heard us,” Jane said.

“No,” Darcy said, trying to hide her grin. Steve’s smile broadened. “Oh, shit, he did,” Darcy said. Steve nodded. Darcy started laughing and mock-hid behind her messenger bag.

“Sorry, Steve!” Jane said. He laughed.

“Put me down,” he mouthed cheerfully.

“Did he just give me permission--” Darcy said.

“Uh-huh,” Jane said.

“Bow-chica-wow-wow,” Darcy said. In the blank spot on her form, she wrote: Captain Steve Rogers. She looked up at Steve and Rumlow in the hallway again. It was always good to have a Plan B, right? If Captain Rogers is unavailable, I deputize Maria Hill to choose a suitable male partner. Darcy trusted Maria to pick a decent guy. Fury, on the other hand, would do God knows what if Steve was out Avenging. In case of emergencies, she did not want any Vision. She got good vibes from Maria. Darcy believed in energy. She’d started dabbling in yoga, crystals, and aromatherapy after London, as witchcraft become popular again; it felt like a return to her naughty tween self sneak-reading Scott Cunningham and other new age books from the public library. Plus, if aliens were real, who was to say that her Himalayan salt lamps and crystal jewelry weren’t doing something, even if it was mostly a placebo soothing effect?

“I’m going to buy that Practical Magic book,” she told Jane. There was a new-ish book about crystals, tarot, all that. “I want to learn tarot.”

“Like the movie? You love that movie,” Jane said.

“I do,” Darcy said. “It’s really too bad Jimmy Angelov turns out to be a psycho ‘cause the actor playing him was hot.”

“Yes, Gillian,” Jane said. She’d determined she was a Sally and Darcy was a Gillian, but Darcy wasn’t sure if Sally slapped people enough. Jane would totally slap those PTA moms in real life. Right in their phone tree.

 

***

“My first flowers are coming today,” Darcy said, bouncing into the lab with coffee a week and a half later. She’d used her new salary to order herself some beautiful, exotic plants through the SHIELD shipping system. Employees could use SHIELD’s click and ship, provided they paid for the whole order. It was a perk designed for people who traveled a lot; stuff didn’t get stolen if it was delivered to you at work versus left on your porch.

“Oh, yeah,” Jane said. “What kind?”

“One of the orchids, I think?” Darcy said. She’d been decorating their new lab space to make it more homey. She’d put Himalayan salt lamps on her desk and Jane’s, got an oil diffuser for aromatherapy, and run twinkle lights below the cabinets to make the room warmer and more glowy. She hated fluorescents. She’d also bought herself a post-breakup rose quartz. It was supposed to attract love. Darcy poured water into the oil diffuser. “What scent do you want today?” she asked. She had a box of essential oils and perfume oils in a drawer. She mixed her own.

“That one from yesterday was nice,” Jane said.

“Vanilla, jasmine and sandalwood,” Darcy said, using the dropper to put in two drops of vanilla aroma oil, one drop of jasmine, and two of sandalwood. The machine puffed away gently, sending up little clouds of scented mist.  The instructions recommended twelve, but she halved them. She never overwhelmed the lab with scent. That would be rude to the labs down the hallway. They were part of SHIELD R&D. Darcy was answering emails--”no to a Martha Weddings issue with you and Thor, yes to this GWU lecure, maybe to an interview on PBS, right?” she’d asked Jane--when the delivery guy brought her flowers.

 

“Ohhhh, pretty,” Jane said, looking up. “They’re yellow and red orchids?”

“Huh, I thought mine were supposed to be a nice white and magenta stripe, like you see in the magazines,” Darcy said. “I ordered these because they’ve got a cool scent, powdery and stuff.” She began unwrapping the flowers.

“They’re really packaged,” Jane said. “I didn’t know flowers were supposed to have mesh on them, it’s like porch screen, but finer. Can they breathe?”

“I guess it lets in air? Maybe this is some sort of foreign plants and animals regulation? Remember when Johnny Depp’s ex got in trouble for bringing Yorkies to Australia?” Darcy said, looking at the caution plant live plant banner on the cardboard box.

“This smells great,” Jane said. “It reminds me of Thor, weirdly. Like sugar cookies and, uh, what’s that really nice lemony stuff you put in that cake--”

“Lemon oil?” Darcy said.

“Uh-huh,” Jane said.

“You’ve never told me that Thor smells like cookies,” Darcy said.

“I thought it might be weird, you like those lemon Moravian cookies,” Jane said.

“That’s a nice smell,” Darcy said. She leaned forward and sniffed, then frowned. “I’m not getting that at all. I get marshmallows, hot chocolate, and orange. That’s such a good smell. Reminds me of that Serendipity 3 perfume? Mmmm.” Abruptly, Darcy got something from the plant up her nose and sneezed. “Sorry,” she said to Jane. She’d sneezed on Jane, sorta.

“It’s okay,” Jane said. She sighed. “I miss Thor.” He was on a mission with Steve, cleaning up a remnant of HYDRA near Centralia, PA. The underground fires were a HYDRA beacon, apparently, but they’d been told it was just six weirdo holdouts who’d refused to leave town.

 

They were standing there, sniffing when the alarms went off and the lab went into automatic security shutdown. “What is going on?” Darcy said to Jane, as the doors sealed.

“I don’t know!” Jane said, going to the phone. “Hello? I’m pressing the emergency button and nothing--”

There was a beep above them.

“Guys,” Maria Hill said through the intercom. “This is Maria Hill.”

“What’s happening? We just got shut down!” Darcy yelled up.

“It’s a security precaution,” Hill said.

“Is something happening in the building?” Jane asked.

‘I’m sorry, but there was a mix up in the delivery system. You got R&D’s plant. It’s a toxin.”

“What?” Darcy said, looking at her hot chocolate plant in horror.

“Is there an antidote?” Jane said.

“I think I need to tell you in person,” Maria said. “I’ll be right up.” A few minutes later, a team of people in Hazmat suits, including Hill, arrived. Hill stepped inside, then waved the rest back into the hallway. “They’re fine, they’re fine, not a security threat,” she said, her voice oddly muffled behind the plastic face screen.

“What is going on?” Jane said.

“Should we be taking a decon shower?” Darcy asked. It felt hot in the room. She was sweating. Maria looked at the plant on the lab table.

“You smelled it?” she said.

“I inhaled something off it and I sneezed,” Darcy admitted.

“On me,” Jane said.

“Sorry,” Darcy said.

“There is a homeopathic, um, treatment,” Hill said, looking the most awkward Darcy had ever seen her. “I’m sorry. It’s a sex pollen.”

“You’re kidding?” Darcy said.

“Where’s Thor?” Jane said.

“He’ll be here soon, I’ve already sent the call. We’re going to draw your blood for R&D and then Dr. Boyce”--she gestured to a guy in one of the suits--”will explain symptoms and answer your questions.”

“Please call me Simon,” Dr. Boyce said.

 

Thor got there for Jane within ten minutes. “Have fun!” Darcy called, as Jane was led by a Hazmat team out of the lab to him. He was standing on the other side of the glass barrier, looking worried.

“You, too,” Jane said, grinning. Steve wasn’t there yet, but it dawned on Darcy that Thor must’ve come via Mew-Mew. She looked at Maria. Maria sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Darcy said.

“We’ve recalled Thor from the mission, but that means we can’t recall Steve--” Maria began, sighing. “Those holdouts in Centralia have mutated. Long term exposure to some sort of HYDRA chem, plus the fires. They’re wielding fire now. Putting up a real fight. Darcy, I’m going to have to pick someone for you, okay? You put it in your forms, so I had to make an executive decision about which man to recall while Fury is at that meeting.”

“It’s not that you’re scared of Jane, huh?” Darcy joked.

“Of course not,” Hill said. “I’m glad you still have your sense of humor. I’d been expecting tears.”

“There’s no possibility of antidote?” Darcy said.

“It might take two to three days. In that time, you could go into cardiac arrest, start have seizures...both of those could do long-term damage,” Simon said.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. Simon had shown them brain scans and footage of people who’d refused sex on religious or marital grounds, when Darcy had asked him to be realistic with her. It was not pretty. “How long before I start to experience anything beyond what I’m feeling now?” She was sweaty and uncomfortable.

“It could be a few hours?” Simon said.

“Is there anybody you’ve met so far that you’d feel comfortable with? A friend?” Hill asked.

“Not yet,” Darcy said, shaking her head. “I can’t handle this, um, myself?” She’d been thinking of asking out an analyst named Cameron Klein, but this seemed like a bad first date. Darcy liked nerds.

“We’ve tried it, but the success rate is about 50% instead of 99%,” Simon explained.

“Could that hold off my symptoms to give the labs time for an antidote?” Darcy said. Maria looked at the doctor.

“Possibly?” Simon said.

“I want to try to wait for an antidote,” Darcy said. “Let me take all my stuff”--she meant her books, her oils, things to distract her--”to wherever this stuff happens, uh--”

“Our secure relaxation rooms?” Maria suggested. “That would be all right?” she asked Simon. He nodded.

“Yes, thanks,” Darcy said. “And if my symptoms escalate, Maria, you pick someone and send them in.”

“All right,” Maria said.

“Can I get a cart? I need a cart for all my clutter,” Darcy said, sweating. “I have a change of gym clothes, too.”

“We’ll cover all this with a hazardous materials cover in case of cross contamination,” Simon said.

“Are you going to steal my oil diffuser now?” Darcy said, feeling wildly irritated. It brought back memories of her iPod. Still MIA.

“We’ll get you a new one,” Maria said. “It was our mistake, so we’ll replace or clean anything, okay?”

“Thank you,” Darcy said, suppressing her feeling of angst. Simon had explained that initial symptoms were akin to an extreme hot flash: she’d get sweaty, warm, irritable, potentially have mood swings. The toxin messed with your hormones, as well as your nervous and circulatory system. With time, it caused your heart to start beating irregularly, then stop. That caused the stroke-like brain scans and the seizures. “I want my coffee pot, too.” she said. In any scenario ending in death, she wanted her freaking coffee.


***

Two hours later, Maria joined Simon in the monitoring room adjoining Darcy’s relaxation room. The relaxation rooms were all outfitted with a bed and a small, private bathroom. “How is she doing?” she asked the doctor. He was sitting at a computer screen, communicating with Darcy by text. They had cameras, too. Maria could see Darcy sitting on the floor, playing with a deck of tarot cards. There were books around her.

“Remarkably well,” he said. “She’s been reading. Earlier she did some yoga, meditated. I’ve never seen anyone respond to sex pollen so calmly. Her vitals are astonishingly stable.”

“How are we monitoring them?” Hill asked.

“Wrist device,” he said. “Measures heart rate, blood pressure. Remarkable.”

“If she survives, you can get her to teach a fucking workshop, Boyce,” a voice said behind him. Maria turned to look at Brock Rumlow. He had been sitting in the room since Hill had picked him as Darcy’s backup partner and Thor had brought him back from Centralia via Mjolnir. Waiting. Hill had wanted to give the scientists time to observe Darcy or Darcy the opportunity to call for someone herself.

“Someone is a little frustrated that she hasn’t broken,” Simon said in a quiet, sly voice.

“Bullshit,” Rumlow said. “I think it’s a stupid risk. She could die and you’ve got her rigged with an Apple Watch?”

“This is not a HYDRA operation, Brock. I’ll send you in before it’s too late,” Maria said. Rumlow, she knew, was funny about things that felt too much like human experiments. He’d experienced some PTSD after finding and eventually freeing Barnes.

“That shit shouldn’t be anywhere near headquarters, it should be at an off-sight, limited access lab--” he began.

“Yes, your concerns are noted,” Hill said.

“Not all of them. I could have her taken care of already, be back at work,” he said coolly.

“Yes, I am aware,” Hill said. “Very aware.”

“Sorry,” he said, looking slightly chagrined. “You know--”

“There’s no way to change the situation,” Hill said calmly. Sharon had been hit with pollen in the field last year, while Maria was in Europe working with Fury. When it became clear that Maria wouldn’t be back quickly enough, Brock had stepped in to assist. Afterwards, Sharon had advised Maria to get Brock to tell Steve how to talk to strangers who’d been pollened and put his name down as a joke. Rumlow was apparently very reassuring and yet impersonal enough that it didn’t feel excruciatingly weird, merely sorta weird. Which made sense to Maria. He was always rattling on about not taking things personally. That was the reason she’d chosen him.

That and the knowledge that he thought Darcy was cute. She’d heard from Steve and Natasha that Darcy was a little bit of a flirt, too. They might hit it off, Natasha had told her, when she broke in over the mission phone line to get Thor and ask if Steve could be spared, too.  

Inside the room, Darcy felt sweaty and too-warm again. She’d brought her salt lamps, turned off  a few of the main fluorescents, and was playing music in the warm light. She’d made an ironic playlist with the room’s music system, jailbreaking it to access her songs. A playlist with pride of place for CW Stoneking’s wailing, morbid song about a man who kills his obsession when he buries a love charm, The Love Me or Die, under her porch. Darcy still had her sense of humor. She hoped she didn’t end up like the song’s Matilda, who smelled of dime store perfume, had no money for new shoes, and was carried out of the house after last rites. Poor Matilda. She’d probably never known what hit her. Darcy wondered if these love potion songs and myths were really pollen at work, back before anybody knew pollen was pollen? And why should Matilda end up in hell because he had used dark magic on her? “Unfair,” Darcy said to herself. CW Stoneking was amazing, though. Darcy leaned against the wall, sweating profusely. It was getting hotter. She sipped her iced coffee and then kneaded her rose quartz crystal between her palms. She’d already had a little fun by her lonesome in the bathroom (she knew the doctor was watching the main room and that did not turn her on one bit), then showered, dressed, and done a bunch of sun salutations and vinyasa poses, just to work off her anxieties. Darcy guessed that half the sex pollen problem was mental anyway. She’d been reminding herself that she got the jump on Thor in New Mexico and survived Dark Elves in London. For freaking certain, she could out wait a sex pollen until they got her an antidote. The problem was --probably since she wasn’t panicking about the prospect of a speedy death--she was really, really aroused. Again. She envied Jane, somewhere in the building, boffing Thor’s brains out. Darcy could feel the throbbing warmth between her legs, the aching need. She leaned her head back against the wall, listening to the beat of the music. It throbbed, too. Beads of sweat dripped down her back. Just then, a wave of adrenaline hit her. She was still shaking when it subsided slightly. She was taking deep breaths, trying to get her heart back to normal. Timber Timbre was singing “Under Your Spell.” She breathed in deeply again. “Okay, okay,” Darcy whispered. “I got this.”

Another wave--this time, it sent her heart racing and a wave of nausea through her, twice as intense--hit two minutes later. She sucked in air through her nose slowly, rubbing her thighs, and rolling her head back against the wall.

 

“Her heart rate and blood pressure’s accelerated, we’ve got a sudden escalation of symptoms,” Simon said, calling Maria to report.  Behind him, a resting Brock sat up, alert.

“Transfer me to the PA system,” Hill said crisply. “Darcy?”

“Yeah?” Darcy said, hearing Maria’s voice in the room’s speakers.

“Your vitals are speeding up. Do you want someone?” Hill said.

“Uhhhhmm,” Darcy said, hesitating, wiping her forehead with her arm. She was divided. She wanted to win the battle with the dumb pollen. But she could screw somebody’s--probably anybody’s--brains out right now. She was about to hump a mattress corner.

“I have someone waiting. They’ve got a cleared medical and sexual history and liability waivers in case you injure them, so you don’t need to worry about that, and we provide condoms and insist on safer sex practices,” Hill said. “In case that’s a concern.”

“Okay, I’m heartened by the safer sex practices, but in case I injure them? Me?” Darcy said, laughing slightly. She liked gallows humor.

“It’s happened,” Hill said. “It’s up to you. I don’t want you to feel coerced or pushed if you’re not ready yet.”

“But you think I will be?” Darcy said.

“I understand that it gets pretty uncomfortable,” Hill said.

“Is this guy just sitting around, waiting for me to freak out and get freaky?” Darcy said, licking salty sweat off her mouth.

“Pretty much,” Hill said. “But it’s the most professional, business-like person I could find under the circumstances.”

“Business-like?” Darcy said, laughing through her veil of sweat and slight tremble. She burped at little at the rise of acid in her stomach. “Okay, this I gotta see. Send him in, Maria, tell him it’s business time.” She smiled at her own joke, before a violent wave of nausea and heart palpitations hit.

 

“You ready Rumlow?” Hill said over the speakers in the other room.

“Yeah,” he said, standing up. He retrieved the bottle of alcohol sitting in a bucket of ice at his feet.

“You’re bringing wine?” Simon said, agog. He hadn’t noticed it before.

“I always bring a gift,” Rumlow said dryly.

“I don’t think alcoho--” Simon began. Rumlow’d already left the room before the doctor could finish the sentence.

“Shut off the cameras,” Hill instructed over the speakers. “You can leave the heart rate monitors on, but she deserves privacy. Seal off that hallway.” Her voice was firm.

“Yes, ma’am,” Simon said. He left them alone.

 

Darcy was still leaning against the wall when the door opened. “Sup, dude,” she said to the man who walked through the door. It was Fury’s Rottweiler. “I hear you’re all business?” she asked. He tilted his head to look down at her and gave her a slow, appealing smile. 

 

Chapter Text

“You want a drink before we discuss practical concerns?” he offered, holding up the bottle. It was dewy with condensation. “Help you relax?” He hadn’t expected her to make a joke right off the bat.

“Sure,” Darcy said. There was a film of sweat all over her body, but she didn’t want to vomit. Not for the moment. Especially when she looked at him. It was like her stomach had realized there was a penis present and the nausea had been abruptly replaced by butterflies. “You actually bought a screw top?” she said, grinning a little.

“Did I now?” he said. “I guess I did.” He looked at the bottle, then poured her some. “Here,” he said, handing her a plastic cup of wine. She drank some, then looked up at him.

“Don’t look so excited,” she joked. That nice smile was gone, Darcy saw. He looked serious.

“Let me help you up?” he offered. He pulled her gently to her feet. She stumbled against him and he steadied her. He was very solid, Darcy realized. A wall of muscle and firmness. She leaned there for a second, long enough to realize he was aroused. Jesus, Darcy thought, he’s ready. As ready as me.

“Thanks,” she whispered, licking her mouth.

“You’re not nervous? Or frightened?” he said.

“You’re making me self-conscious about my general sweatiness, but no, I’m not scared,” Darcy said. He moved her gently to the bed.

“I’m a stranger, so I expect some level of anxiety,” he said, taking off his coat and then leaning to refill her glass. “There’s issues of consent.”

“Thanks,” Darcy said. “Some people enjoy that, you know? As a fantasy? Stranger danger sex.” She pushed a curl off her face. Her skin was all pink and flushed. He noticed she still had her earrings on. Tiny silver discs that moved when she did, faintly visible behind her hair. They had caught the light on the cameras and he’d been puzzled, not sure what they were, blinking. He’d been watching her, watching as she did her yoga and played with her little tarot cards, listening to her hypnotic, almost disturbing music from the other side of the wall.

“Are you some people?” he asked, trying to keep his voice even. There was a dark patch at the apex of her thighs. He could see it on her yoga pants. He tried to repress the jolt of arousal that went straight to his dick. Behave, he thought. Don’t scare the cute new girl. Don’t smirk too fucking much, asshole.

“Not particularly,” she said.

“I want you to be not afraid,” he said quietly. “This is not a fun situation for most people. It can be very awkward. So there are strategies,” he said. “If you don’t feel comfortable, you tap out.”

“Tap out?” Darcy said. He demonstrated on the bed, tapping it twice with his hand. It was very near her hip. Then he sat down at the edge of the bed and took his boots and socks off. Even his feet are tan, Darcy thought.

“Whatever I’m doing, I’ll stop, the minute you tap out, okay?” he said. “Anything at all. Physical discomfort, increased heart rate, feeling weird or confused--”

“You do this a lot, huh?” Darcy said wryly.

“No,” he said. “I’ve done this a few times, but I teach defense and hand-to-hand combat moves to the probie agents and it’s the same principle. Anything hurts, you feel like could be injured, you panic...Some people freak out when they’re held down.”

“You hold down the probie agents?” she said, smiling wickedly around her cup.

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not.” Brock grinned, in spite of himself. She was bantering with him? It was oddly exciting. He had seen people frantic with desire on this stuff, burning hot, clearly sick, scratching themselves, mad to fuck. This was something more flirtatious. How was she so controlled? Fucking yoga? He needed to take a class. “What do you want for a safe word?” he said, taking off his shirt. He turned to refill his wine and gulped it. She was cute, even all sweaty.

“Orchid,” Darcy said. It was what had gotten her into trouble anyway. He had tattoos etched on the back of each arm, above and below the elbow, Darcy saw. The ones below were swirling, intricate designs that appealed to her. Elegant, beautiful. The ones above his elbow looked vaguely Catholic: a rosary design on one arm and a saint with a skull for a face on the other.

“Okay,” he said. “More wine?”

“No,” she said. “How long have you been waiting for me to...become available?”

“Since Thor brought me back with the hammer,” he said. Darcy ran her eyes over his torso. She’d never seen a man who was so muscularly defined before.

“A long time,” she said.

“Not too long. You ready?” he said. When she nodded, he took out a row of condoms and put them on the bed, then unbuckled his belt and pants. He was hard, she could see, as he slid them down. There was a line of dark hair running down to the thatch of hair around his penis. He stepped out of his pants, his dick bobbing with the motion of his legs. He had gorgeous muscles all over. Darcy didn’t know what to say. It felt like a whoa moment. So, she said that.

“Whoa,” she said softly. He looked up in surprise.

“You okay?” he asked, looking concerned. She nodded. When he’d put on the condom, he peeled down her yoga pants, easing them over her feet. She had on purple underwear. “Do you want to face me?” he asked quietly, his eyes drawn to the slick gloss visible on her panties. “You don’t have to look at me if you don’t want to,” he said. Some people preferred to do this while they imagined someone else. Kissing was out; it was too intimate.  

“I don’t mind looking at you,” she said slowly, stressing the last three words. She pulled her tank top off, revealing her breasts. Her nipples were a soft pink brown in the middle of the rounded flesh. She was damp with sweat, her chest and neck flushed pink. For a second, his brain stuttered. Fuck, he thought, she has a great rack. He shook the thought away, like a dog shaking off water. Maria had asked him to do this because he was careful, impartial, he knew. This was no time to lose control. Lewis was important to Foster and Thor, Foster and Thor were important to the agency, it was important he manage this deeply fucked up situation. It shouldn’t have happened, he thought. She was an assistant, not a field agent. It was unacceptable. He parted her knees. She was pink and wet, a vivid burst of rosy-mauve color against the darkness of her pubic hair.

“Orchid,” he repeated, staring at her pussy. “That’s the word.”

“Umm-hmm,’ she said, as he settled on top of her.

“Tap out if you need to,” he said, beginning to move carefully. He began by being gentle, slow, easing himself into her. She was tight, he realized, fighting his instinctive desire to move, get more of that good friction, push. He was still for a second, letting her adjust. She squeezed his hips with her thighs. “You okay?” he asked.

“You can move,” she said, wiggling slightly.

“Okay,” he said, realizing she’d shifted to give him a better position. He started to move more rapidly, popping his hips against her.

“Uuhhhhhhh,” she said, holding on beneath his shoulder blades.

“Tap out if you need to,” he repeated in a slightly choked voice. He was trying to keep enough of himself reined in so that he could pull back if he needed to, if she wanted him to stop.

 

But she didn’t tap out: not when he was bouncing her up and down on the bed with each jerk of his hips, drowning in his own pleasure. Not when he lost the thread of his own restraint, digging himself deeper into her, groaning, making the bed shake. Or when he started saying the first bizarre things that came into his mind: “Shit. Fuck, you little witch, what have you fucking done to me?”

“Me?” she gasped, her face blissed out, mouth open.

“You and your good fucking pussy,” he’d hissed. She’d actually laughed then and scratched his back in response. He’d groaned. “Oh, that feels so fucking good. So good,” he said. “Do it again, babygirl.” That didn’t make her tap out. She didn’t tap out when she clenched around him, trembling so violently that she bit her own lip and keened a little. “Bite me if that’s what you need,” he said. The serums had given him a high pain tolerance. She sunk her teeth into his shoulder as he fucked her into the mattress with all his strength.

 

***

“Shar, are you busy?” Maria Hill said, calling her girlfriend from her office.

“Hi, babe,” Sharon said. They were surveilling a suspect. “Just taking a walk, doing a little window shopping.” She’d walked past the potential HYDRA mole’s vehicle, glancing briefly into the car’s windows. There was a laptop in the backseat. “Might bring you home a new computer soon, though,” Sharon said.

“I’d like that,” Maria said, pausing. They’d decided not to discuss the sex pollen incident too much, unless they were seeing their occasional therapist, who worked with them mostly on work-related stuff and the stresses of being a two-career, often-separated lesbian couple. It was delicate. Maria was a careful person by nature. The incident had given her new sympathy for the afflicted. It was why she’d run lead for Jane and Darcy, instead of assigning a scientist.

“Something wrong?” Sharon said.

“I need to break a rule, but it’s not because I’m upset, okay?” Maria said. They always clarified feelings when discussing sensitive topics.

“Okay?” Sharon said. “Go.”

“When you were with Rumlow--” Maria began. For a second, Sharon stopped breathing. She’d feared this. She loved Maria. Sharon was half-terrified that Maria would leave her someday and cite this as the initial crack in their relationship. She didn’t want to lose Maria. But Maria was so difficult to read. Sometimes it was impossible to tell if she really wasn’t bothered, as she insisted.

“Yeah?” Sharon said. She was going to cry in the fucking street. Fuck. Goddamned HYDRA bastards and their sex pollen weaponry, she raged inwardly.

“--how long was it?” Maria said.

“Wh--what?” Sharon said.

“Shit. How much time I mean, not it. Not his penis. Jesus,” Maria said. “Oh God, this is so laughable and embarrassing. I’m supposed to be an management professional and an agent!” Sharon froze.

“Are--are you laughing right now?” Sharon said. Between bouts of laughter, Maria was struggling to get herself under control.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s just, he’s helping someone out with a pollen incident and they’ve been down there for hours now and the doctors say that’s not the normal time, but I didn’t want to interrupt them--”

“It was like thirty minutes. Thirty minutes. Not hours,” Sharon said, processing the information as it related to Maria’s question.

“I’m sorry, honey. I know this makes you uncomfortable, so I try never to mention it, but this is hilariously weird,” Maria said.

“That’s why you don’t ask?” Sharon said.

“Yeah,” Maria said.

“I always thought it made you upset,” Sharon said.

“No,” Maria said. “You call him a dude-bro. Why would I be upset by him?”

“Oh thank God,” Sharon said. “Wait, who is it? The person who’s been pollened?”

“You know I can’t tell you. That’s confidential, honey,” Maria said.

“Hours, though?” Sharon said.

“Uh-huh,” Maria said. “It’s really too bad I can’t use this as an accident scenario to give us a weekend alone, but I’m afraid it would be bad for my karma.” She sounded wistful. Sharon laughed.

“Since when do you say karma?” Sharon said.

“Um, I dunno,” Maria lied. She’d had the stuff from Jane’s lab all professionally cleaned and then decided Sharon might think some of Darcy’s crystals were pretty, in a purely decorative way. Sharon like Instagram. So Maria had been browsing online crystal shops as she answered emails, made phone calls, and approved reports. She wanted to surprise Sharon with some celestite, maybe an amethyst point. “Do you like purple or pale blue better?” Maria asked.

“You’re really not bothered at all, are you?” Sharon said, feeling a bubble of happiness in her chest. She was going to cry in the street for a different reason.

“Nope, not at all,” Maria said.

 

After that little breakthrough in their relationship, Sharon tackled the suspected HYDRA remnant guy as he emerged from his fake meeting with her current field partner, Mike Lewis, and subdued him joyfully, almost-laughing. “What’s funny, bitch?” he said. She tased him with her taser rod.

“My girlfriend really trusts and loves me, Nazi asshole,” she said to his unconscious body.

“Sharon? You okay?” Mike said behind her.

“It’s a good day, Mike,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said dubiously.

“People in relationships should really talk more,” Sharon mused out loud, as she cuffed the HYDRA guy.

“Yeah,” Mike repeated.


***

They were screwing in the shower. Darcy had stepped in rinse herself off, he had followed, and then he’d started rubbing her body with soap. That had ended with both of them on their knees in the shower basin, the water pouring over them. “It’s getting cold,” Darcy said, looking over her shoulder at him. He was thrusting into her.

“I can handle it,” he rasped.

“I can’t!” she said. She tapped out playfully on the shower floor.

“Oh, okay. I'm sorry,” he said, in a different voice. He paused and twisted his torso to turn off the faucet. She pushed back onto him and he grunted in a mixture of surprise and pleasure. “Uhhhh, fuck, babygirl, you’re killing me,” he said, using that earlier rasp. “Feels so good.” He pulled a towel off the edge of the sink and wrapped it around her body. He began to move again, jolting her with repeated thrusts. He orgasmed with a weirdly primal sound, leaning against her. Darcy’s thighs were shaking from the effort of being on her hands and knees. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” he said. “You didn’t come.”

“It’s okay,” she said. There had been several orgasms before this.

“No,” he said, pulling out, “you gotta come, sweetheart.” He sounded stubborn. Then he reached underneath her, between her legs, and massaged circles around her clit, not touching it directly. She was extra sensitive to direct stimulation and touching there, she’d told him earlier; anything too fumbling and rough was painful. Sliding two fingers into her, he crooked them at an angle and stroked gently. The whole time, he talked to her soothingly, as if she was skittish. “That good? You like that?” he asked.

“Mmm-hmm,” she said and nodded, hiding a grin as she adjusted the towel. “Ohhhhhh,” she gasped, when he touched a particular spot.

“That the one?” he asked, sounding eager. “There?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she repeated, involuntarily squeezing her thighs together. He applied more pressure and she yelped.

“Too much?” he said.

“No,” she said, feeling her leg shake. “Keep doing that, please.”

“Okay,” he said, his voice oddly precise and clinical, as if he was mentally logging this preference. “You wanna take this to the bed, so you won’t be cold? Use the toys again?” he asked, when she shivered.  

“Yeah,” Darcy said. He removed his hand, then adjusted the towel around her and rose. He picked her as if she weighed nothing at all. “Can you stand? I wanna to dry you off?” he said.

“Uh-huh,” she said, trying not to grin at the note of concern in his voice. He dried her body very carefully and gently and she used a second towel to squeeze the water out of her hair.

“Ready?” he asked, looking at her seriously. She was tempted to say something smartass back, but restrained herself. She was having an oddly good time. This guy was hilarious, Darcy thought. Great in bed, but weirdly determined and well, just determinedly weird. At certain points, he dropped the business-like and removed “I’m just here to service you, ma’am,” alpha male routine and acted like he was way into her. Like when he stuttered about her good pussy and then backtracked with apologies later, as if he’d briefly lost control. She wondered if pretending to be into his sex partners was part of the act? The Pollen Boyfriend Experience?

It could be part of the act for her in particular. It had occurred to her as they rested between rounds that this was a major snafu to happen so early in Jane’s tenure at SHIELD. Jane had turned down a SHIELD job for years and was a big proponent of women’s rights. Last year, she’d even given a UN speech that trended on Twitter. To have her and her haplessly single and unlucky assistant sex pollened so soon might make Jane quit in a rage, she imagined Fury thinking. Jane--once she found out that Darcy hadn’t gotten Steve, who was at least a friend--might kick up a real fit about Darcy’s level of consent, too. Hence, sending Maria Hill in to run point more diplomatically and assigning her this guy, who was a.) very careful about talking her through things and had actually brought up consent himself multiple times, b.) excellent at the sexytimes, c.) probably wildly overqualified for this job and, d.) determinedly flattering Darcy’s ego and increasing her good brain chemistry by keeping her here for hours and pretending to find her irresistible. He was actually following instructions, like a sex intern. 

“You okay?” he asked suddenly, as he was carrying her to the bed.

“Yeah,” she said, repressing a giggle. She had a sex intern! A sex-turn? Darcy was trying to remember all the funny things that happened to tell Jane. She realized she’d sort of forgotten his name.

“Can you get how you were in the shower?” he asked seriously, once he’d put her down with care. He squinted and she had the funniest feeling that he maybe wore glasses when he wasn’t trying to be the Ideal Sex Commando.

“Yeah,” she said, “like this?”

“Uh-huh,” he said, sliding his fingers back inside her from behind. “Tell me when I hi--”

“There, there,” she said, tensing with pleasure.

“I feel it, babygirl, I feel it,” he said. “You want a pillow?”

“Sure,” she said. He put one underneath her chest. Using his left arm, he guided her down gently and back into something like child’s pose in yoga, so she was practically sitting on his other hand, her torso resting on the pillow. “I think this is more comfortable, right?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Darcy said. “So comfy.”

“Good,” he said.

“It’s like restorative yoga. I don’t think my restorative yoga class had orgasms like this, though,” she said. “That would probably be an excellent marketing plan.” He chuckled.

“You want the vibrator?” he asked. They had a stash of brand new sex toys.

“Uh-huh, the egg one, please,” she said. She liked that one. He passed it to her so she could position it where she liked it, just above her clit.

He started moving his fingers again, stroking her inside. “Ooooooh,” Darcy cried out. “Uhhhh, uhh,” she moaned, flexing her pelvis towards his hand, still holding the vibrator. When she turned her head, she could see his intent, focused expression as he knelt beside her. He had his eyes closed, Darcy realized. He was working by feel, focused on her physical and verbal responses. “Feels incredible,” she said, licking her mouth. The multiple sensations were amazing. His eyes opened.

“More pressure okay?” he asked.

“Uhhhh-huh,” she groaned. When he applied more force, she spasmed around him. She shuddered for a moment, went still as the climax washed over her, and then rocked onto his hand, chasing another. He helped, crouching over her, and pressing gently at her belly with his free hand to increase her backwards momentum onto his fingers. Her second orgasm almost took her by surprise: he gave her a slightly more intense yank down towards his fingers and she spasmed again, dropping the little egg when she froze. “Oh fuck,” she hiccuped, shaking. He removed his hand carefully, then picked the vibrator up for her.

“You want more or do you need some cuddle time?” Brock asked her quietly. He was utterly exhausted, but he didn’t want to stop. If they stopped, she might decide she felt well enough to go.

“Both,” she said. “Cuddle me and hold it?”

“Yeah, I can do that again,” he said, rolling her onto her side and into his arms. “This good?” Brock asked, positioning the egg. “The right spot?”

“Uh-huh,” she said. At this point, it was almost relaxing. “Mmm. Sorry I kicked you before.”

“S’okay,” he rasped. He wanted to kiss her. Badly. He brushed his lips against her still-damp hair. It smelled like shampoo. He sighed. When this was over, he was going to see if she wanted dinner. It would be awkward. Maria might be furious. He could be demoted or reprimanded. Brock didn’t care. He’d stupidly said the witch thing, but it was accurate. He was beguiled. She rocked herself closer to him. “Tell me about your tarot, babygirl?” he asked, trying to sound open-minded. He needed to make up for his earlier gaffe.

“I’m just learning,” she said. “I haven’t read anyone’s cards yet. Well, mine, but that’s just practice.”

“Mmm-hmm,” he said. “Read mine sometime.”

“Nice Catholic boy like you falling into the occult?” Darcy teased.

“I’m not that nice,” he said. “How’d you know?”

“I’m psychic, but the tattoos are just vague enough,” she joked. He laughed. Then he moved the egg a little.

“I think the batteries are going,” he told her.

“We killed another one,” Darcy said.

“I’ve done worse,” he joked. To his delight, she grinned back.

“What are you normally doing right now?” she asked. He looked at the clock.

“Sitting in on Fury’s meetings with the WSC or running the combat part of the probie agent classes,” he said. Wildly overqualified for sex internship, Darcy thought. “Or possibly grading their essays on hand to hand technique,” he continued.

“You make them write essays?” she said.

“It’s a real course,” he said.

“And you’re the professor?” Darcy asked. Oh my God, she thought, I could have done something hot with that knowledge, had I known.

“I co-teach with a team of people,” he explained. “It’s not a big deal if I’m not there today. They’ve probably got Denton or Carter filling in.”

“Oh,” Darcy said, thinking well, that’s a lie. “What’s your teaching field?” she asked curiously.

“Martial arts,” he said, “boxing and several other things.” At her interested look, he smiled. “I started out with wrestling and boxing as a kid. Now I study anything else that can give you leverage over a stronger, bigger person.”

“I thought that was a gun,” Darcy said. He laughed.

“You don’t always have one in an emergency.”

“How many are you carrying at any given time?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Two, minimum,” he admitted, looking chagrined, “plus combat knives.” He grinned at her, almost slyly. “When this is over, I could show you some self-defense things?”

“Sure. You could take me to dinner, too,” Darcy joked.

“Yeah. It might get me in trouble, but I’d like that,” he said seriously. They were desperate for her not to be unhappy, Darcy thought. Really desperate.

“I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble,” she said. The poor man deserved an out, really. He didn’t need to play-act friendship to placate her and Jane. “Or to interrupt your grading,” she said teasingly. He groaned.

“I’ve got seventy terrible essays on the mechanics of holds and non lethal restraint techniques left to read in the office, baby,” he said.

“Why not practice in class?” she asked, flashing back to college PE.

“We’ve got huge class sizes, there’s not enough time. When SHIELD’s funding was pulled after the Uprising, Quantico and Langley recruited most of our instructors, so we’re rebuilding with a smaller training team, having the field agents teach,” he explained. Darcy nodded slightly. It was the same reason Fury had given Jane so much petty cash: SHIELD’s scientific staff had been lured away by the military, universities, and private industry when it looked like SHIELD might be permanently shut down. Then they’d been refunded, but they’d already let people out of their non-compete contracts and employee agreements. SHIELD needed people like Jane. Which was why the extraordinarily hot, overqualified guy was in this bed, too. “Besides,” he said, continuing to answer her question patiently, “you really need students to be able to memorize enough to know which non-lethal method is best in a field situation, depending on how armed or impacted their assailant is.”

“I usually just tase people,” she said. He was rubbing her hip, having put away the fading vibrator.

“Nuh-uh, babygirl,” he said, playfully wagging his index finger, “can’t do that if the assailant is close enough to grab you and potentially would get more angry from the shock because they’re on a chemical substance or something.”

“Huh,” Darcy said.

“I’ll send you the methodology report on tasers. Sometimes, it’s better to just run,” he said.

“Clearly, you’ve never seen me run,” she told him.

 

***

A few corridors away, a rumpled Jane emerged from a relaxation room, trailed by Thor, who was holding her hand. He liked holding hands. Jane yawned. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to rest more?” he asked her.

“I want to see what they’re doing with my lab,” she said firmly. He nodded. Best not to argue regarding her beloved equipment.

They were met by Maria Hill. “Everything in your lab has been cleaned and returned to its proper place,” she supplied crisply.

“Everything?” Jane said.

“Why don’t I take you upstairs to check it all?” Hill said. Thor smiled and subtly gave Maria a thumbs up behind Jane’s back.

“Good,” Jane said. They got on the elevator.

“Where does Darcy buy her crystals?” Hill asked suddenly.

“I don’t know,” Jane said. “Why don’t you ask her?”

“She’s still in the room,” Hill said.

“Oh,” Jane said. She grinned. “Good for her.” The elevators doors opened. A blue-jacketed Steve was standing there.

“Hi, everyone,” he said politely. “I wanted to speak to Thor.”

“Captain Rogers,” Hill said.

“Steve?” Jane said.

“Greetings,” Thor said cheerfully.

“Where’s Darcy?” Jane said. Steve frowned.

“I’m not sure. They’re doing clean up in your lab,” Steve said. “I looked for you in the coffee shop, but I couldn’t find everyone.” Hill had omitted telling Steve about the sex pollen incident. If he knew he was Darcy’s first choice, he’d have left the Centralia fight to the other Avengers and agents out of a sense of obligation. Losing Thor and it taking more time was bad enough.

“Maria,” Jane said firmly, “if Steve is here, who is with Darcy downstairs?”

“She deputized me to pick someone if Steve wasn’t available,” Hill said.

“Wasn’t available for what?” Steve said.

“There was a pollen incident,” Hill said.

“We were sex pollened because they delivered the wrong plant to my lab,” Jane said sharply. “Darcy and I were pollened. Don’t obfuscate with language by calling it an incident. It happened to us. We could have both died.” Thor put his arm around her. Jane stared at Maria. “Who is with Darcy? She picked Steve first.”

“You withheld that information from me when you pulled Thor from the field,” Steve said to Maria, his voice turning cold.  He stopped the elevator door from shutting. “Jane, I didn’t know. I would have come back to help her, you know that,” he said. Jane looked at Maria’s guilty expression.

“When are you people going to learn that lies only make things worse?” she told Maria. “I want to check on her. I need to see her now. Now.”

“I’ll go with you,” Steve said, stepping on the elevator. They rode down in silence. Steve’s silence was particularly scolding and effective, Jane thought. One day, she’d ask him how he shamed people without even making eye contact.


***

Darcy woke up to the sound of raised voices in the hall. Professor Sex Commando was deeply asleep next to her. There was a sharp knock. “Darcy? Darcy!” Jane’s voice said.

“Hold on,” Darcy called. She wiggled out from under his arm  and stood up. Was he waking up? Nope. He settled his arm back on the mattress where Darcy had been. She covered him with the blanket, put on a robe, and answered the door. “Hey,” she said, opening it enough to see Jane’s worried face. “Everything okay?”

“Are you okay? I just found out they put you with a stranger,” Jane said in horror. “Darcy, that’s sexual assault.”

“I’m fine, really. Maria let me wait until I was ready, didn’t pressure me, and he’s very, um, professional? It wasn’t a total stranger,” she said, opening the door widely enough for Jane to see him sleeping.

“Fury’s Rottweiler?” Jane said.

“We’ve been down here for hours and he asks me if everything is okay. Everything, Jane. He’s a walking consent workshop,” Darcy said.

“You’re okay?” Jane said.

“He does whatever I ask him, too. I’ve been giving him tasks,” she said, giggling. “I’m guessing he’s exhausted. I think they’re really worried you’ll quit and leveled me up to the hottest, most skilled guy they could find. Did you throw a fit?”

“A small one,” Jane admitted. “I’m sorry you didn’t get Steve. He’s mad, too.”

“He knows?” Darcy said, making an ahhhhh face.

“Hill freaking didn’t tell him when she pulled in Thor. I asked him where you were when I saw him and now he’s pissed SHIELD lied to him again. Jack-booted thugs,” Jane said.

“They’re so sneaky,” Darcy said, nodding. “They’ve even got him trying to be all friendly and volunteering to teach me and stuff.” She motioned with her thumb towards the sleeping man. He snored a little.

“What?” Jane said.

“They really don’t want you to quit,” Darcy said. “Like, seriously.”

“That’s fucked up,” Jane said. “He wants to teach you sex things?”

“No, no,” Darcy said, grinning. “Self-defense. He teaches combat strategies to the new agents, too.”

“Oh. That’s different? Let’s get you out of here. I mean, if you’re ready?” Jane said. “I’ve got decon clothes.”

“I think so,” Darcy said. “I feel like I’ve taken advantage of him for at least the last two hours.  I’m starting to feel a tiny bit guilty.” She giggled.

“Really?” Jane said.

“No. Let me put clothes on,” Darcy said. She shut the door, dressed, and took a last look at the Sex Commando. He looked peaceful. Let the poor man rest, she thought. They were going to clean her belongings and return them, so she left them.

“What’s his name again?” Jane asked, as they walked away.

“I don’t actually remember!” Darcy confessed, laughing.

 

***

“Rumlow,” a voice said. Brock opened his eyes slowly. Maria Hill’s voice was coming through the PA system in the room.

“Wha--?” he said. His mouth and nose felt dry from snoring.

“We let you sleep, but they need to clean the room before closing the building,” Hill said. He sat up. The bed next to him was empty.

“Where’s Lewis?” he asked. “She okay?” He tried to tamp down the note of concern in his voice. Unprofessional.

“Already left. Foster came and got her. She’s fine,” Maria said. “Been cleared by medical.”

“Okay,” he said, running a hand over his mouth. It was cottony.

“I appreciate your help,” Maria said calmly.

“Am I supposed to say you’re welcome or something?” he asked wryly.

“No, but I should warn you that Captain Rogers wants to speak with you,” she said.

“Cap?” Rumlow said. “Why?” He frowned.

“He was on her consent list, followed by instructions that I should pick someone if he was unavailable,” Hill said.

“Maria,” Rumlow said, “have you just dropped me in some shit?” Goddammit, he thought. He hadn’t known. How was he supposed to fix this?

“Possibly,” Hill admitted.

“All right, I’ll talk to Cap. Just give me a minute, okay?” he said.

“Affirmative,” Hill said. When the system clicked off, Rumlow sank back onto the soft pillows. They still smelled like her: a hint of nag champa, vanilla, sex. He groaned a little in frustration and unhappiness. She'd picked Cap and she'd left before he woke up. There was no clearer sign of disinterest than leaving before somebody else woke up.

“I gotta get the fuck out of here,” he said out loud. 

 

An irritated-looking Steve Rogers was standing in the hallway when he emerged from medical, still drowsy and slightly out of it. They’d given him water, thank God. “Cap?” he said.

“Rumlow,” Steve said. “I’m not happy that you and Hill kept this from me--”

“Not me and Hill. Just Hill. I didn’t know you were on the list until about five minutes ago,” Rumlow said. “Just thought Hill wanted me to handle it because Lewis is Foster’s assistant and VIP-adjacent.”

“Oh,” Steve said, his ire deflating slightly.

“Do you think I’d step in if I knew she wanted it to be somebody else?” he said quietly. “You’re hurting my feelings, Rogers. Sometimes, you people forget I wasn’t really HYDRA.”

“You were pretty convincing in that elevator,” Steve said.

“Still kicked my ass,” Rumlow admitted, taking a swig of water.

“Yeah,” Steve said. They’d developed a tentative work friendship since the reveal of Rumlow’s true affiliations.

“Not Wilson, though. Had his ass on the ropes,” Rumlow said, grinning, as both men stepped onto the elevator. Steve chuckled.

“He won’t admit it. Won’t talk about Scott Lang getting the jump on him, either,” Steve said. “Was planning to rib him about it when Lang and Pym meet Fury this week.”

“Hank Pym is coming here?” Rumlow said, suddenly more alert. “Can you introduce me?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, grinning. “Sure. I met Scott Lang awhile ago, nice fella.”

“He is so lucky,” Rumlow said.

“Ant Man?” Steve said, glancing at Rumlow.

“Pym’s miniaturization tech is the most advanced stuff on the planet. We don’t even have it--” Rumlow said excitedly. “Do you know he carries a tank as a keychain? Just in his pocket. He could carry a weapons arsenal the size of a matchbook. Do you know what I could do with that, Cap? And those ants, those ants are perfectly synced teams! The bombs you could diffuse? The places you could go? Twice the missions with a fraction of the risk to your team? Scott Lang is the luckiest motherfu--” Rumlow said.

“Language,” Steve said wryly.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Rumlow said. “Man, you don’t know, Cap. What Hank Pym can do--the man’s a genius. I’m a big fan. Have been ever since I read about his tech in the files.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you be a fan of somebody, Rumlow,” Steve said, grinning.

“I really envy Scott Lang,” Rumlow said, almost wistfully.

“Yeah,” Steve said. He looked at the ceiling. “You know, he used to work at a Baskin-Robbins?”

“You’re fucking kidding me?” Rumlow said. “Sorry, sorry.”

“Did a little bit of casual robbery, too. Safe-cracking, apparently. He’d just gotten out of jail when they met. Pym gave him a second chance,” Steve explained.

“Really? He thought that was useful experience? Do you think I could send Pym a resumé?” Rumlow said. “I mean, it would be difficult to explain my Crossbones work in a paragraph, but I could send one of the drone prototypes…”

“The what?” Steve asked.

“It’s this hobby I’ve been working on--with Stevens in R&D--making micro drones. They’re, uh, small enough to inconspicuously land on windows, get into buildings,” he said, patting his pockets. “Nothing to the capability of ants, though. Damn, it’s in my other pants in the locker. I changed when--”  He stopped.

“Uh-huh,” Steve said dryly.

“Don’t let anybody talk about it,” Rumlow said sharply. He knew Cap could scold people into compliance much better than he could. “She’s, uh, a nice girl. A really nice girl. She doesn’t need that gossip. She just started.” It was the most neutral thing he could think of to say. “It pisses me off that it happened in the first place. What’s R&D doing with that stuff in the building, anyway? It needs to be off-site, somewhere with security zones, limited access. We have empty buildings! I can’t wrap my head around some of this sh-stuff sometimes. This organization takes so many dumb risks.” He sighed. Steve shook his head.

“Can’t say I disagree,” he said. They ascended a few floors. “You think Darcy’s a nice girl?” he said wryly.

“Yeah,” Rumlow said. “She is a nice girl. What, old man, nice girls can’t like sex?” Catching himself, he looked chagrined and snapped his jaw shut. 

"Rumlow," Steve said.

“Forget I said it,” Rumlow said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Nope,” Steve said.

"She kinda broke my brain," he admitted.

“You said it again, pal,” Steve said, chuckling.

“Just forget it, okay? Never happened. Whole day never happened,” Rumlow repeated.

“Yeah,” Steve said, “never happened.” He looked at the ceiling and grinned.

"I don't know why you're looking so damn smug. She put you on her paperwork, she wanted to break your brain," Rumlow said.

"I'm going to let that slide, because clearly, you're still processing that thing we're not supposed to be talking about," Steve said.

"It's messed up," Rumlow said. "I'm messed up." Steve cleared this throat. The elevator doors opened. Both men shifted uncomfortably.

Several other SHIELD employees stepped on. "Hey, Cap, Rumlow," Cameron Klein said, looking nervously at the STRIKE Commander. "How's everything?"

"Fine," both men said in unison.

Chapter Text

“Ooooh, my banded fluorite is here,” Darcy said, carrying a package into the lab.

“Please tell me that’s really a crystal and not a toxic crystal?” Jane said, looking up from her readings on a monitor. They’d recleaned her lab to her specifications and delivered all of Darcy’s things, too.

“Nope, real crystal. Fluorite is beautiful. I can’t wait to see it,” Darcy said. “The world is so full of beautiful things.”

“You’re still sex high, aren’t you?” Jane asked, as Darcy opened the package, oohing and ahhing. It had been a few days since the Pollen Incident. Surprisingly, there was less gossip than Jane expected. Darcy held up a crystal point, smiling.  “It is pretty,” Jane admitted. It was green and purple and tealish.

“Possibly still sex high,” Darcy admitted.

“I’m still having trouble imagining how a normal guy had Thor-levels of endurance?” Jane said.

“He’s been exposed to HYDRA serums during his undercover work,” Darcy explained.

“He told you?” Jane said.

“Uh huh, I made a joke about his endurance, too. Turns out he was injected with their evil versions of Steve-type serums.”

“Oh,” Jane said. “That’s dark. He’s been experimented on?”

“Basically, yeah,” she said, pulling a face.“I’m going to take Maria her amethysts and then I’ll bring back coffee, okay?”

“I can’t believe you’re bringing her crystals after what she did to you,” Jane said.

“I think she managed that situation very well,” Darcy said, shrugging. “It would have been awkward if it had been Steve. I see him all the time. What if I’d liked it and he’d had to let me down easy? And then I would have been pining for Steve around Bucky? I hardly see the other guy, whatshisface. Unless he’s visiting R&D down the hall.”

“You’ve seen him at least six times in the last two days,” Jane said.

“Yeah, but I see Steve at holidays and parties and social occasions. This guy just nods and says ‘Morning, Miss Lewis’ very politely,” Darcy said. “We haven’t even spoken enough for me to ask his name or anything?”

“Rumlow,” Jane said. “Brock Rumlow.” She’d asked Thor. Darcy looked up, pulled a different, funnier face, and then started laughing.

“I can’t believe that’s an actual name. What, his parents didn’t like Rock McMuscles?” Darcy said, giggling so hard it was difficult for her to talk.

 

Darcy took Maria her new amethyst clusters. They were a gift for Sharon, she knew. Darcy was pleased about it. Getting someone into crystals was like making cupcakes or baking--she liked seeing people having fun and enjoying themselves. Jane joked that she was like the sparkle fairy, bringing people glitter cupcakes and sparkly rocks. But Darcy thought little things--a cup of good coffee, a brownie, a new book, crystals--could sometimes make a tough day or week more bearable. Those were the kinds of things Darcy liked.

 

“I think she’ll love those,” an excited Maria told her, when she saw the amethysts. “I was thinking some celestite, too? I mean, these are just decorative, so I’m picking by color.”

“Would she like a selenite lamp? Those are cool-looking,” Darcy said. Maria immediately turned to her computer and started typing.

“Ooooooh,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” Darcy said.

“So these are all natural?” Maria said.

“Some of them, yeah. Aura crystals--they’re really shiny and pretty--are treated. Some people are bothered by that. I’m not, though,” Darcy said, shrugging. “Not super hardcore on the nature front.”

“Really?” Maria asked.

“Oh my gosh, no. One of the great things about ending stuff with my ex is that I don’t have to go hiking in Norway anymore,” Darcy said. “I hate the cold. And I’m so sick of hiking.”

“Your ex liked it?” Maria said. Darcy nodded.

“He was British, so he loved to walk and hike. It’s like a major hobbyist thing over there, people sue to get walker’s rights on the estate trails of, like, the Earl of Sandwich. I mostly just took pictures on my phone and played Candy Crush, when I wasn’t falling down and stuff,” Darcy said. “My next boyfriend will like indoor things, I hope.” Maria laughed.

 

***

“Are you supposed to be doing that, mate?” Jack Rollins said, peering over Brock’s shoulder in SHIELD’s cafeteria. Brock flicked the phone screen away. “Regulations say sex pollen partners are supposed--” Jack began.

“Supposed to have no social contact with each other for a period of at least 72 hours after medical clearance, yeah,” Brock said. It was a protective rule. The idea was that you shouldn’t pester or hit on someone who’d just been pollened and had to have sex with you. He’s been timing it, so he could send Darcy an apology gift. He wanted to make sure she knew that he hadn’t know about Cap.

“Does looking at her social media count as contact?” Jack asked wryly. “Or is that more about in person contact?” STRIKE Alpha knew about it, of course. It was difficult to keep secrets with Rumlow MIA from teaching his own class. He was never not at work, so it stood out. Gossip got around.

“Why don’t you re-read your manuals, Kangaroo Jack?” Brock said dryly, in a less neutral voice. It was as angry as he ever got.

“Mate, has she gotten under your skin?” Jack asked, grinning. He was Australian. He’d had to be undercover before the Uprising, but now he was using his natural voice. It was a cheery voice, one at odds with his terrifying facial expressions.

“Possibly,” Brock admitted. “I wouldn’t mind dating her, honestly.”

“Since when do you date?” Jack said.

“That’s a good fucking question,” Brock said. He was used to picking women up, having casual flings with non-coworkers. It was more difficult to figure out what do when you were already somewhat emotionally compromised. He was worried she’d think he was a creep, for starters.

“What’s she like to do?” Jack said.

“Hiking, it looks like,” Brock said.

“That’s swell,” Jack said, “an outdoorsy sheila.”

“Yeah,” Brock said flatly. He’d been looking at Darcy’s photos, trying to figure out what she liked in a guy. There were a lot of photos of her outside with the ex-boyfriend: hiking all over the world, kayaking, even on skis in Norway. The tip of Darcy’s nose was all pink in the winter photos. He repressed a sigh. So, she would want a jock? He’d have to keep his real interests on the downlow, take her to the gun range or something? That impressed a lot of women--ranges were sexy, Clint Barton had always insisted--but it didn’t feel particularly authentic to Brock. He could do it, but it seemed less fun than taking a cooking class together. He was sick of destroying things. He really wanted to make things, not break them.

At least she seemed to like funny restaurants. He knew one of those.

***

When Darcy came into the lab on Saturday--Jane liked to work in the quiet--there was a delivery waiting for her. “Security cleared it,” Jane said. “We x-rayed it and everything. It’s from a crystal company.”

“I don’t remember ordering this one,” Darcy said. It wasn’t her usual company.

“Did you wine-order crystals again?” Jane teased.

“Nope,” Darcy said, curious. She looked at the shipping label. On the top, someone had scrawled a name over the from portion. “Holy crap, Jane. It’s from the Rumlow guy.”

“Well,” Jane said, “open it.” Darcy cut open the box lid and unwrapped the brown paper.

“Ooooh,” she said. “It’s so pretty!”

“What is it?” Jane said.

“A rose quartz carved to look like a flower. A rose rose quartz.” She grinned. It was small enough to fit in her palm. “There’s a note. It says ‘100% safe, pollen-free flower,’ that’s funny. He wants to go to dinner sometime?” Darcy said. “Oh gosh, Jane, they’re making him take me out? That’s so not right.”

“You should say no--unless you want to have sex with him again?” Jane said.

“Would SHIELD make someone--” Darcy began.

“Yes, duh,” Jane said.

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” Darcy said. “I don’t want to make somebody have non-emergency sex with me, you know? A pollen emergency’s different. I’ve got standards.”

“Yes, you’re a real lady,” Jane said. “Besides, didn’t you tell me that you thought he enjoyed it?”

“No, I thought maybe he was pretending to enjoy it, acting like he was way into my magical vajayjay,” she said. Jane snorted. “What?” Darcy said.

“You are terribly naive sometimes. I overheard someone yesterday--apparently, most of the time, these things are over in an hour or less,” Jane said. “He wasn’t faking liking sex. He’s a man. SHIELD might want him to make sure you’re okay, but he’s DTF.”

“Who taught you that acronym? You don’t know acronyms!” Darcy said. “Was it Tony? It was Tony, wasn’t it?”

 

***

On her way back from getting Jane some food, she spotted Brock Rumlow in the R&D lab, leaning over a table with one of the white coat guys. She deposited the food in her lab, then went back to thank him. She knocked on the glass door, he sat up abruptly, made a funny face, and then moved to open it. “Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” she said, waving at him. “I wanted to thank you for the quartz flower. It’s really pretty.”

“You like it?” he asked. “I took a gamble.”

“Pollen-free,” Darcy said, laughing.

“Yeah,” he said. “I, uh, thought maybe we could go to dinner sometime this week, if you want?”

“Yeah,” Darcy said. His expression was oddly unreadable, but she figured that one dinner wouldn’t hurt. She could reassure him that no one was quitting; he’d pass the message back and maybe she’d discover a new restaurant or something. “I’m new to DC, so I don’t know places,” she said, pulling a ‘whoops, I’m clueless’ face.

“I’m not,” he said almost cryptically. “What do you like?”

“Surprise me?” Darcy said.

“Okay,” he said. There was a note in his voice that made her feel all fluttery in her core. If he initiates, I won’t say no to sex, she thought.

“So, you’re in R&D at on Saturdays?” she asked, curious.

“We’re making a micro-drone. It would be tech for SHIELD--” he said, looking slightly funny, Darcy thought.

“For surveillance?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Other things, too. You want to see it?” What the hell, Brock thought, show her the drone. Just play it like a dude thing.

“Sure,” she said. He led her over to the table where the other guy in the lab coat was working with a pair of tweezers.

“This is my buddy, Keith Stevens. This is Darcy Lewis,” he told the other man, touching her shoulder.

“Hi, Keith. Oooh, it is tiny, and---.” She stopped.

“What?” he said.

“I was going to say egg-shaped,” she said, trying to sound neutral. It made her think of sex, of course. She grinned at him, then frowned. Darcy reminded herself that he was probably being forced to check up on her. Down ovaries, she scolded mentally. Down girls!

“Yeah,” Brock said in a low voice. He cleared his throat and then began explaining the technical specs to her. “Would you like water?” He retrieved two bottles from a fridge and she accepted one.

“Cool,” she said. “You know, I have something similar, but really tiny?”

“What?” he said, surprised.

“It’s a gift from Hank Pym. It doesn’t do surveillance, but it’s programmed to follow me and it plays music?” she explained. “Did you want to see it?”

“You--you know Hank Pym?” Brock said.

“He has a mancrush on Pym,” Keith explained dryly.

“He’s a genius,” Brock said, awestruck. “He gave you a gift?”

“He’s really nice. Very good dancer and he has great style. A total silver fox,” Darcy said.

“You like ‘em older?” Keith said wryly, looking between her and Brock.

“Well, he proposed marriage to me at one of Tony’s parties, but his daughter would kill him, so we’re just friends,” Darcy said. “Hopie says he can’t marry anyone her age or younger or it would damage their re-established parental bond?”

“Hope Van Dyne?” Brock said.

“Yup,” Darcy said. “I have it in my desk drawer, if you want to see it?”

“You left it in a desk drawer? It could be stolen,” Brock said, sounding horrified.

“He proposed marriage to her, do you think he wouldn’t make her another?” Keith joked. “How’d you and Brock meet?” he asked her.

“I got sex pollened and he was Casey at bat, poor guy,” Darcy said. Brock spit out the water he was drinking and stared.

“You’re telling people?” he said.

“Why not? It’s a fun story. I’m not embarrassed. Are you embarrassed?” she asked,

“No, no,” he sputtered. “I—uh, I wanted to protect your privacy?”

“I don’t really have that, like, need? I’m pretty open about things. What you see is what you get,” she said, shrugging. Keith chuckled.

“You hear that? She’s not embarrassed by you? That’s pretty rare, right?” Keith said.

“Very funny,” Brock said, giving the other man an intense look. Even Darcy could see where that would be intimidating.

“I’ll grab it,” Darcy said.

 

Brock—that name, Darcy thought!—was crazy impressed by her music drone. He kept looking from it to her and back again. “You can hang onto it for awhile if you want?” she offered.

“Really?” he said.

“Sure.”

“We can take it apart—” Keith began.

“No,” he said. “This is Hank Pym’s proprietary technology. We are not taking it apart.”

“How can we copy it if we don’t?” Keith asked.

“We’re making our own, we’re not stealing from Pym,” Brock said. “Besides it’s Darcy’s.”

“I thought you stole stuff as Crossbones?” Darcy asked. She’d asked around, casually. Made sure he didn’t have a wife, too. She didn’t want him to have cheated on somebody. But according to everyone she asked, he was known more for being a guy who worked a lot and traveled a lot and dated a lot and never settled down. More than one person called him “STRIKE Clooney,” which Darcy found hilarious.

“That’s not like this,” Brock said.

“Oh, okay,” Darcy said, not really getting it. Then it dawned on her that he probably was being careful because he didn’t want her to be upset if it broke or something? That was the only thing that made sense. For sure, someone like him--a weapons-expert type who wanted the drone tech for fieldwork--wouldn’t normally have a scruple about anything like that?

He walked her back to the lab. “Are you free tonight?” he asked. “I know it’s soon--”

“Sure,” she said. He wants to get it over with, Darcy thought. If that was the case, then better to go ahead and have dinner, so he could report back to Fury and everything would be chill.

“Pick you up?” he asked.

“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that. I’ll meet you at the place,” she said, pulling a Post-It out of her cleaned messenger bag and writing down her number.

“Okay,” he said. He took the Post-It carefully.

 

“What’s going on?” Jane asked, when she walked back in.

“I have a fake date with my pollen partner,” Darcy said. “Also, I really like this vanilla coffee in the break room. Do you? I could buy us a backup to keep in the lab?”

“You are so funny sometimes,” Jane said.

“What?” Darcy said.

“You are a mixture of the weirdly naive and the oddly laidback? And you get more and more that way as we get older?” Jane said.

“It’s my yoga and my crystals, I’m a chill baby now.” Somewhere between Dark Elves and the last presidential election, Darcy had decided it was just easier to practice acceptance that things were gonna be deeply fucked up sometimes. “Cynicism and outrage and anger got too tiring so, I just keep swimming. Like Matthew McConaughey, only without the pot,” Darcy said. Jane laughed. “I wouldn’t mind bongos, though. Remember when McConaughey was peak McConaughey and got cited for naked bongo playing?” Darcy asked.

“Everyone thought he was gonna be Paul Newman 2.0 back then. I miss old McConaughey. His Oscar speech was bad,” Jane said. “Also, he got skinny that one time and he’s never looked quite right since then.”

“Yup, sometimes his face gives me a beef jerky vibe,” Darcy said, scrunching her nose. Poor Jane couldn’t do chill and laid back, Darcy had realized. The elves and the election had been really hard on her. She’d cried for a week, signed up for a bunch of those activist email thingies---everyday, a new Supreme Court crisis they needed your money for--and gone to a bunch of marches, until Darcy had convinced her that to give money and vote was responsible enough and that she could take breaks occasionally. She’d been worried Jane would have a heart attack if she watched any more cable news specials about the teetering Supreme Court balance or whatever.

 

***

 

Darcy didn’t do too much to get ready for the fake date; she wore her favorite lipstick and sweater, but that was just because she liked the colors. She’d googled. The restaurant was pretty casual. A place with a high kitsch factor. When she got there, he was waiting in a booth inside an old trolley car. You had to step in the trolley car and everything.  “This is adorable!” Darcy said. The place had a bunch of antiques and pinball machines by the door.

“I thought you’d like it,” he said, grinning.

“It’s cute,” she said. “I love cute.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “So, how was the rest of your day?” Brock sounded almost interested. He’s really trying to make nice, Darcy thought. Wow. Imagine what he’s like when he really likes somebody.

“Science, science, coffee, coffee,” Darcy said cheerfully.

“Sounds great,” he said.She ordered French fries and tried not to feel self-conscious when she caught him looking at her mouth.

“I saw an old safe by the front door. It reminded me about a Hank story. Hank Pym?”

“Yeah,” he said, leaning towards her, looking really curious.

“He tested Scott by luring him into breaking into his place and cracking a really old safe, apparently,” Darcy said. “Like, break into this place--hi, it’s my place, this was a test of your competence! Isn’t that funny?”

“I could do that,” Brock said suddenly.

“Crack safes? Is it really like in the movies, you listen for a click?” she said.

“I used to just use tiny explosives,” he said quietly. “Small boom, big reward.”

“Why’d you do that?” Darcy asked. “Wasn’t that whole mercenary thing really dangerous?”

“HYDRA hid a bunch of important things in safety deposit boxes, vaults, all kinds of banks. They were a danger to the public, so it was better to, uh--”

“Be flexible?” Darcy said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Some of them could have reacted to people if touched accidentally, for example.”

“Wasn’t it dangerous to use explosives then?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” he said, doing a so-so gesture with his hand.

“Why do I feel like you’re lying to me?” Darcy said. He laughed.

“Eh?” he said, wrinkling his nose. He tried to look innocent. It was actually a secret because he made his own explosives and he was supposed to leave that to R&D. Keith let him sneak into the labs on weekends. He’d enlisted in the Navy with the idea of getting into mechanical engineering. His most ambitious moment as an eighteen year old enlistee had been thinking it would be cool to be a mineman, one of the sailors who worked with underwater equipment and mines. But during basic training, his superiors had suggested he try for the gunner’s mate qualification instead. The gun guys. To everyone’s surprise--including his own--he was a crack shot and intuitively good at using guns, small explosives, launchers, magazines, everything a gunner’s mate was supposed to know. Which was funny. He’d never even touched a gun before basic.

“Okay,” Darcy said, “that face is hilariously adorable. I bet it’s gotten you out of a lot of trouble.”

“Maybe,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

“It totally has,” Darcy said. She laughed and he grinned at her, but then he frowned a little.

“Listen,” he said, “I just wanted to say that I didn’t know and I’m sorry about, uh--shit.” He paused. “I know Rogers was your choice, but I didn’t know until after, okay? I wouldn’t have if I’d known--”

“Oh, it’s okay,” Darcy said. He was worried, she thought. Jane and Steve’s freakout had made its way up the chain of command. “It’s”--she made circles in her ketchup with a fry--”really okay. I think that worked out for the best, actually. I see Steve when we all go to Christmas celebrations at Tony’s and stuff, it might have been weird afterwards.”

“Weird to see him at Christmas?” he said.

“With Bucky? Yeah,” she said.

“Oh. Gotcha,” he said. “How’s Barnes doing?”

“Good, I think? He’s very sweet,” Darcy said.

“It’s difficult to reconcile with all the murder and mayhem,” Brock said dryly.

“Tony calls him Soviet Murderbot,” Darcy said. “But they’re doing okay now, I think? Ooodles of therapy and whatnot.”

“Ooodles?” he said.

“I’m an oodles person. Ooodles of this, ooodles of that, poodles, noodles. It’s fun to say,” she said. He chuckled.

“So, you go to a lot of Tony’s parties?” he asked.

“Well, Thor and Jane are always invited and I get to tag along. Then Tony decided he loved me when I got the AI system to speak to everyone in Turkish and played some pranks on Steve with the Adorable Spider-baby,” Darcy said.

“The kid from New York?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” Darcy said.

“What’d you do?” he asked.

“We replaced his shield was a giant Cap frisbee, put a Just Married sign and tin cans on his motorcycle, that kind of stuff,” Darcy said.

“How’d Barnes feel about the Just Married sign?” he asked.

“It might have delighted him a little. He really loved the frisbee, though. I think he kept it?” Darcy said.

 

He walked her out to her car after dinner. “Thanks for, uh, having dinner with me?” he said. “I didn’t know if you’d say yes.” She looked at him sympathetically. He really was trying to make sure she was okay.

“Of course,” she said. “We’re all good, my dude. Have fun with the drone--hang onto it for as long as you like,” she told him cheerfully, hopping into her front seat before he’d feel pressured to, like, pretend to want to kiss her or something? “Have a good night!” she said, through her car window.

 

“Shit,” Brock muttered, as she drove away. She wasn’t into him, that much was obvious. “Fuck,” he said. “Fuck.”

 

***

Instead of going home, Darcy went back to work to check on Jane. She found her working on one of her machines. “Are you still tinkering?” Darcy asked, “isn’t it time to go home?” She checked her phone. “It’s almost nine o’clock, Janey.”

“Thor’ll be out with Steve and Bucky and Sam until at least midnight. They’re at that beer garden,” Jane said. “I don’t want to veg out on the couch alone.”

“Okey-dokey, I’ll stay here with you, then,” Darcy said. This was her first SHIELD all-nighter, she knew Thor would probably end up at the beer garden until close and then they’d drag Jane out at 3am.

“How’d your fake date go?” Jane asked.

“It was very fake-date-y. He pretended to be interested in my day and stuff?” Darcy said.

“No sex?” Jane said.

“Nope, I didn’t want to pressure the poor man. I’m not a creeper, Jane,” Darcy said.

“You kissed Ian,” Jane pointed out.

“We’d both almost died and we thought the world might end, that’s two qualifying loopholes,” Darcy said. She opened her laptop. She wondered what Ian was doing. They’d been on and off for a long time. She really liked Ian. He was fun--despite all the outdoorsy--and sort of like a guy Jane with the Science. There had been several points when she thought they’d get married, have their happily ever after, get a rescue dog. Darcy had imagined that Ian would teach in some British university and she would be the weirdly too-friendly American wife, probably working in uni admin and sending emails with the wrong kinds of titles or whatever. Ian’s wife, aka the Gaffe Girl, with all the scarves and the knicknacks on her desk, maybe? Jane and Thor would visit all the time, because Thor loved the dog and Jane liked to complain that her new assistant with a degree from Harvard didn’t make the coffee well enough. The dog would be called some stereotypically fusty British name, like Percival or Archibald. Darcy had been pushing for the latter, just to use the nickname Archie. Archies were friendly. But every time they got close to getting the dog or setting a date, something would happen to throw off their plans. Once, it was an emergency trip to Asgard; another time, a big scientific astro thing. The timing hadn’t gelled. Darcy had suggested eloping, but that really bugged Ian. He wanted a formal British wedding. With top hats. Top hats!  It was like they talked around each other. Darcy realized there had always been something slightly off about them as a couple, as if they were two puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit.

On a curious impulse, Darcy checked Ian’s Instagram. With all the moving, the new job, and the sex pollen, she hadn’t checked it in weeks. When she saw the most recent photo, her jaw dropped. “Motherfreakingfucker!” she yelled. It was a photo of two hands, one wearing a ruby ring, as a black labrador dog looked on. It was tagged #shesaidyes #IanandAstrid #ArchieIsExcited #junewedding.

“What is--oh my God, he’s marrying that girl you caught him flirting with that time?” Jane said, coming to stand behind her.

“Yes, but it gets worse,” Darcy said lethally.

“What?!” Jane said.

“He stole my dog name!” Darcy fumed.

“Isn’t that the ring his mother didn’t want to give you?” Jane said, peering at the screen.

“Uh-huh, which I’m glad about obviously--” Darcy said.

“It is hideous,” Jane said. “Hideous.”

“Absolutely. It looks like a cheap vampire movie prop. But that was my dog name!” Darcy said. “I want to sue.”  

“But wouldn’t you want to name an American rescue dog something different?” Jane asked.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Darcy said stubbornly. She needed chocolate. Archie had been stolen! She opened her desk drawer. The candy one. “Where are my M&Ms?” she fumed.

“Um, Thor ate them. Sorry, sorry,” Jane said, looking horrified.

“It’s okay, he didn’t know,” Darcy said. “I’m going to find a vending machine. There’s got to be one, right?”

“I don’t know?” Jane said. “I leave those questions to you, usually…Do you need a crystal or something?”

“I don’t have a crystal for this situation,” Darcy said, crossing her arms and glaring at Ian’s Instagram.

“What can I do?” Jane said.

“Don’t set anything on fire or portal away, okay? I can’t take it tonight.” Darcy said.

“Okay,” Jane said, looking remarkably compliant. Darcy seldom used that tone these days.

“Archie!” she muttered as she left the lab, shaking her head. “That--that--butthead!”

 

SHIELD headquarters was a little creepy at night, but Darcy was determined. She was finding chocolate. She’d even settle for a Toblerone, the worst chocolate because it was harder than a freaking rock, if she had to. Riding down the elevator after a fruitless search on two floors, she felt a wave of emotion. She wanted to laugh--and cry. Ian was so uncreative, he couldn’t even come up with a new dog name! She started to laugh, then began to cry a little. The elevator doors opened and she stepped off, peering down a hallway. There were a ton of offices on this floor. There might be a vending machine, she thought. The lights were half-off, so she got her taser out as a precaution. It was just her and the buzz of the few lights. Eerie.

 

She stomped down the hallway, muttering to herself. “I can’t believe he did that to me,” she fumed. She looked to her right, through the glass in a set of double doors towards another hallway. This one had almost no lights on, but she spotted a vending machine at the very end of the corridor. She pushed the doors open and did a little cheer. “Ah ha! Success!” Darcy yelled. She was looking at the vending machine, so she didn’t see the movement in the office to her left, where the door was only slightly ajar.

“Darcy?” a voice said, as something gripped her shoulder. Darcy shrieked in surprise, jumped out of her skin and hit the button on her taser as she spun around.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Darcy screamed.

“What are you doing?” Brock Rumlow said, looking down at the prongs stuck to his t-shirt. He seemed unimpacted.

“You didn’t fall,” Darcy said, her head tilted curiously. “Thor went down like a tree. Why?”

“I have a high pain tolerance now,” he said wryly, prying them off with his bare fingers. “But my feelings are bruised. What are you doing?”

“Looking for chocolate,” she said.

“Chocolate?” he said.

“Vending machine chocolate?” she said, gesturing with the taser.

“Don’t point that thing at me,” he said.

“You said it doesn’t hurt--”

“First rule of safety, don’t point things at your friends,” he said.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

“Grading. This is my office,” he said.

“You do wear glasses,” Darcy said. He was wearing a pair of tortoiseshell frames.

“Yeah,” he said wryly. “Reading glasses.”

“They’re cool,” she said.

“No, no,” he said.

“Hey, don’t insult the glasses,” she said, wiggling her frames. He smiled.

“You need chocolate?” he said. “Have you, uh, been crying?”

“Oh fuckdoodles, I bet I look like a mess, right?” Darcy said.

“No,” he lied.

 

“Do you know that Johnny Depp movie where he has the mustache, Mortdecai?” Darcy asked, eating M&Ms and sitting on the edge of his desk. It was one of those old metal desks. Huge. She didn’t think he’d mind. Brock shook his head.

“Haven’t seen it,” he said.

“It was bad. The mustaches still gives me nightmares,” Darcy said. “Like when Steve had that cop ‘stache?”

“Oh, yeah,” Brock said. “STRIKE Charlie used to sing YMCA whenever he walked by.”

“That’s awesome,” Darcy said, beaming at him. Brock felt a wave of attraction. He was pretending to grade, but he was really hyper-conscious of her. Her legs, so close to him, whenever she wiggled on the desk, the way her breasts were right at eye-level. He’d read the same sentence about grappling holds three times. He’d been purposefully looking away, so he wouldn’t get too turned on. “I think it’s probably just me and Johnny’s agent who even care at this point, but the movie was based on a British novel series. One of the books is called Don’t Point That Thing at Me.” She laughed. “They’re supposed to be really funny, kind of black comedies where the main character is a really sly thief,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” he said, stealing one of her M&Ms.

“You reminded me,” she said.

“Because I told you not to point something at me?” he said. Oh, God, did he want to point things at her. So badly. She nodded.

“Also, you’d probably make a really good art thief, I didn’t hear you at all,” Darcy said.

“You were talking to yourself,” he said, running his tongue across his teeth.

“Mmmhhumpf,” she said, grumbling around her candy.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

“My stupid ex,” she said. He leaned back a fraction. “He stole my dog.”

“He stole your dog? I thought he was in the Arctic?” he said.

“The dog lives in England with his new fiancée. He stole the name, technically. We were gonna adopt a dog and name it something and he took the name for the dog that lives with her. Ahhh! It makes me so pissed,” she said. “She also got his mom’s ring, but it’s frog-butt ugly, so I don’t care.”

“Because you, uh, still care about your ex?” he asked carefully.

“I don’t still love him, no. I thought I liked him as a friend, but I’m mad he couldn’t just name the dog something else. He didn’t even like the name Archibald!” Darcy said.

“The name you’re mad about is Archibald?” Brock said, raising both eyebrows.

“It’s the principle,” she said. He looked amused. “Don’t laugh,” she scolded. “What would you do?”

“Not let you name the children for a start,” Brock said sardonically.

“Oh, because you have cool names all ready, Brock Rumlow?” she said.

“Uh-huh,” he said, laughing.

“Shut up,” Darcy said. He laughed harder. She took a playful swing at him, but only managed to slip off the desk. Brock grabbed her. “Ooof,” Darcy said, ending up in his lap. “My bad, dude. I’m sorry. I know you are probably tired of me throwing myself at you.” She laughed, then looked up when he didn’t speak. He was staring at her, his expression smoldering. “Wow, you’re good at that,” she told him.

“Huh?” he said.

“Sexy Professor Face,” Darcy said, straightening his glasses.

“You think I’m sexy?” he asked in a low voice. He leaned forward automatically.

“Duh,” Darcy said. “Everyone thinks you’re sexy, STRIKE Clooney.”

“I‘m not asking about everybody,” he said, leaning forward and kissing her. He pulled her closer, sucking at her bottom lip, his stubble brushing against her face. He shifted and Darcy realized he was hard.

“Are we—can we do this here?” she asked, looking around as if Fury might emerge from behind Brock’s file cabinet. He chuckled at her nervous expression. “Don’t laugh at me, I’m still very upset,” Darcy began.

“About the dog,” Brock said. “I’ve got an idea for a distraction.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, caressing his hair.

“Ride me?” he asked, kissing her hungrily.

“You really want to? This isn’t a thing you’re doing because of Jane, is it?” she said, looking at him with an expression that blended wickedness with incredulity. Plus a little smeared mascara.

“Jane?” he said, confused.

“Taking care of my lady business because Jane is a very important person?” she said, grinning. “And Fury doesn’t want her quitting?”

“Hmm,” he said, chasing at her bottom lip. “That why you didn’t let me kiss you goodnight?” She nodded.

“I’d feel bad coercing you into sex you didn’t really want on a non-emergency basis,” she said. “I have scruples. Well, one scruple,” she clarified, kissing him back. Then she drew back for a second, looking deeply into his eyes. His expression was wry.

“Darcy?”

“Yeah?”

“Look around,” he said. Obediently, she looked around the office, then back at him. ”It’s ten o’clock at night and we’re alone in my office,” he said. “Nobody here but us. I’m not working right now.”

“You’re not going to put this in a report?” she said, unbuckling his pants.

“No,” he said, reaching for the desk drawer where he kept a spare set of condoms.

“Good,” she said. When he lifted his hips a little to ease his pants down, she did a little squeal.

“What?” he asked.

“You are so strong, it’s crazy,” she said. “I’m in your lap! Wait, can I put that on?”

“You want to put the condom on?” he said.

“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding delightedly. “It’s fun just to touch you. You’re so pretty. I was trying to behave professionally before.” He laughed as she touched him.

“When you bit me?” he said.

“You told me it was okay, I thought it was more of a personal request then,” she said. “I was behaving a little professionally,” she clarified. “For me. There we go.”

“Uh-huh,” he said, ”did you just pat my dick like it’s an obedient puppy?”

“Penises like praise,” she said, “in my experience. They’re very sensitive to encouragement and rewards.”

“You’re going to spoil me,” he said, kissing her again. “You wanna lay back on the desk?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, taking her shirt off. He moved some paperwork and then boosted her onto the laminate surface, helping her lay back gently. “You’re so good at this,” Darcy said.

“Sex?” he said, quirking an eyebrow as he pulled her pants down.

“Lifting me,” she said. “But sex, too.”

“Yeah,” he said, grinning. God, he loved the sight of her. He pressed into her gently, caressing her breasts, before he settled his hands onto her hips to help stabilize her as he began to move.

“Uhhhhh, that feels so freaking good,” Darcy said. She arched her back and rubbed his biceps.

“You want me to be gentle?” he asked.

“Um, um,” Darcy said, “do what feels good to you, babe, just leave the glasses on. Uhh, oh my God.”

“Everything feels good to me,” he said, licking his mouth. He slid his hands up her body. “But you like the glasses?” he said. She nodded.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” she shrieked, laughing. “Did you just tickle me?”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “It felt good, babygirl. And I thought a girl who likes glasses might like something weird.”

“You did not--” She squeezed her legs around his waist as he moved faster. “Oh my God, Brock.” After that, she stopped being able to make words, really. Sounds, she could do. They switched positions so he could be more forceful. Darcy was bent over the desktop, resting her forearms for balance when she thought she heard something. “I hear somebody! Did you lock the door?” she hissed. “Uhhhhh.” He was snapping his hips against her.

“Nope,” he said in a low voice, chuckling. “You gotta be quiet.”

“I can’t!” she whispered hotly. Her panic pushed her closer to orgasm. She shuddered around him and tried to muffle the involuntary sounds she made. They seemed loud in the empty building.

“Shit, the door’s not even shut,” Rumlow said.

“Rumlow?” someone called in the hallway.

“Oh no oh no oh no,” Darcy said, panting. She looked back at Brock in alarm.

 

“Rumlow?” the Commander of STRIKE Charlie said, tapping on the half-open door.

“Hey, Michaels,” he said.

“You’re working late,” Michaels said.

“I stopped by after dinner. Grading papers,” Rumlow told the other man. He tapped the essay in front of him with a blue pen. He was sitting behind his desk.

“The grappling hold essays?” Michaels said with a groan. “I’ve got ten left. Nobody gets the hold description right. I think we should go over it in class again?”

“Sounds good. We can get Denton to demo and walk them through,” Rumlow said.

“Good luck with all those, I’m going home,” Michaels said. “It’s late man, you gotta stop showing the rest of us up like this.”

“I really just sat down,” Rumlow said dryly. He felt a pair of fingers pinch his calf and smiled a little at Michaels. “Been on my feet most of the time.”

“Sure, sure. Night, man!” Michaels said.

“Goodnight,” Rumlow said.

 

Darcy poked her head up from underneath the desk. “Is he gone? Can I get up now?” she said.

“You could stay down there,” he said slyly. “I’m not finished yet.”

“You--you-,” Darcy said. “You’re asking for a blowjob under this desk right now? We almost got caught! He could still be here.”

“My penis needs encouragement, baby. It got a scare,” he said, looking down at her between his knees. She was sitting, topless, on the floor and leaning against his leg. She laughed.

“I can’t believe he didn’t see my feet,” Darcy said, shifting to her knees and pushing his legs farther apart.

“I’ve never appreciated this terrible, ancient desk more,” he said, stretching slightly in his chair as Darcy leaned forward. “Oh God, that feels good. So good.” He put his arms behind his head, relaxing into the sensation of her movements. “You think it would count as grading on a curve if I read some of these essays now?” he asked. He laughed when she flashed him a look in response. “Please don’t bite me there,” he said, grinning. “That is definitely a request. Uhhhhhhh, you’re so amazing. Let’s have dinner tomorrow, okay? I’ll just pretend you said yes since you can’t talk.”  

 

“Where have you been?” Jane asked.

“Ummmmm,” Darcy began, “I was upstairs looking for a vending machine and I ran into Brock and, well, we got distracted--” She grinned.

“Are you telling me you had sex with him?” Jane said, laughing. “Again?”

“Yes, yes, I did. I’m not ashamed,” she insisted.

“What was he doing here?” Jane asked.

“He was upstairs grading. In glasses,” she said, sighing. Jane smirked. “I found chocolate, though. Got you a Snickers,” Darcy said.

“A sex Snickers?” Jane said.

“Technically, it’s a date Snickers. He wants to see me tomorrow,” Darcy said. “After he’s graded all his essays.”

“And you said yes, of course,” Jane said.

“Ummm, not exactly?” Darcy said.

“You said no?”

“I had a mouthful of penis at the time, I didn’t say yes or no,” Darcy clarified. “But I borrowed his gym toothpaste, because I’m classy like that.” Jane laughed for five minutes, then announced they were leaving.

“I need to take you home before he starts looking for you again,” she said. “You don’t know the effect you might have on him.”

“What does that mean?” Darcy said, getting her bag and following Jane out of the lab. Jane locked the lab door and they got on the elevator.

“It means that ever since you decided bongo-era Matthew McConaughey was your personal guru, you’ve been very chill about sex, too,” Jane said.

“So?” Darcy said. “Chill is good.”

“Yes, I remember when you announced that you were just going to start having sex on first dates if you felt like it,” Jane said. “In my mom’s kitchen.”

“Your mom thought that was hilarious,” Darcy said. She and Jane’s mom got along great.

“Yes, all I hear is why can’t you be fun like Darcy? She’d send me Thor nudes for my birthday from my mother, ” Jane said. “And some from my Grandma Esther.”

“I love Grandma Esther! She still seeing that younger guy in the assisted living?” Darcy said.

“She’s moved onto someone else now. A nice lady named Ruth,” Jane said. “She told everyone at Thanksgiving.”

“Shut up! I hate I missed that.”

“Apparently, the assisted living is a hotbed of late-life lesbian experiences. She and my mother talked about it at the dinner table until Aunt Cheryl threw a fit,” Jane explained.

“She’s so uptight,” Darcy said.

“Totally,” Jane said.

“Technically, I’ve only ever had first date sex with Ian,” Darcy mused, thinking back to Jane’s first point. It was after the Elf thing. She hadn’t dated much on their breaks.

“Uh-huh, I know. That’s why Ian kept following us to Finland. And Sri Lanka,” Jane said. “You broke his brain with all the post-not-apocalypse sex and that’s why he couldn’t quit you.”

“Ohhh, yeah, remember that conference in Switzerland?” Darcy said. Ian had shown up and stood outside the conference hall with a homemade “Ian Loves Darcy” sign, trying to get her back. “Hey!” Darcy said suddenly, slightly offended. “Maybe it was my stellar personality he couldn’t quit?”

“You realize that wherever you go, Brock Rumlow can probably find you, right?” Jane said. “Much more easily than Ian? We’re going to be at a conference in Beijing when I’m forty-two and he’ll be parachuting onto the roof for sex or something.”

“God, that sounds awesome,” Darcy said, grinning.

“You have a problem,” Jane said.

“Shut up, Jane.”

 

Chapter Text

Sometime a few years ago, after the HYDRA Uprising

 

“How you doing, sailor?” Fury asked the burned man in the hospital bed.

“I think I look pretty good, all things considered,” Brock rasped. He’d been extensively burned. So badly burned, he realized, that they wouldn’t let him see a mirror. He’d finally managed to roll a monitor close enough to the bed to see his face dimly in its reflection. He’d promptly vomited. It had taken a few days to get his equilibrium and sense of humor back. "I felt my toes this week, that was fun," Brock said.

“You think you can do a job for me in a little while?” Fury asked.

“A job?” Brock said.

“Get some of old equipment and possessions back from our dear friends,” Fury said dryly. “Off the books. I was thinking you could use that undercover alias from Manila.”

“Crossbones?” Brock said. “Very off the books, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” Fury said.

“I want five percent of the value recovered,” Brock said. “Like your usual insurance guy.”

“Five percent, huh?” Fury said.

“Yeah,” Brock said. “Finder’s fee. If I’m going to risk my neck again, I want the best terms.”

 

After Brock had robbed the first vault containing Chitauri weaponry and shipped it back to him, Fury wired him five percent of their value to a bank account in the Caymans. Sitting in a warehouse, scarred, alone, and more than slightly depressed, Brock Rumlow had no idea what to do with the money. But he could be shot by the cops tomorrow, he rationalized, so he should do something fun with it. Anything too conspicuous was out. He couldn’t go to a concert or buy tickets to Comic-Con; too much risk he’d be recognized. They were running his pre-injury photos all over the news, along with a rendering of his current face. Someone might spot him.

 

But he could buy things, he thought, typing the word ‘Batman’ into the search bar. The things he’d wanted as a twelve year old might be nice to have in the time he had left. He assumed that wouldn’t be very long.

 

***

Present day

 

Brock insisted on picking her up for their date. “Okay, where are we going?” Darcy asked, when she climbed into the passenger seat the next day. He’d called to ask if she wanted to go somewhere earlier, during the day. Told her to wear sturdy shoes.

“It’s a surprise, but I think you’ll like it,” Brock said. He drove her to a park.

“A park?” Darcy said, a sinking feeling in her stomach, when she saw the signs labeled Turkey Run Park. Oh no, she thought, he’s even more athletic than Ian.

“Yeah,” he said. “You can climb all the rocks around the river, too. It’s very rocky.”

“Oh,” Darcy said. “Rocky.” She tried to put on a brave face as they worked their way down a trail in the woods. Most of it was just dirt and trees. The highlight so far had been running into a few dogs and getting to pet them. As they walked, he asked her questions about the work she and Jane were doing with a surprising amount of interest. At least she got to look at him, too, she was thinking, when she lost her balance for seemingly no reason--this was typical for her, she blamed her boobs--and started to slide forward. “Ahhh!” Darcy shrieked, landing on her hands and knees. Brock helped her up.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, happens all the time,” she said, shaking her head. He looked dubious.

“You sure?” he said. She looked miserable, he thought. “What if we went down to the river trail? It’s the more difficult one, but you can only go one by one, so you can’t talk. Are you bored? I thought maybe we could start with this one, but if this is too dull for you--?” he asked.

“Ummm,” Darcy said, torn. “Let’s stay on this one? I don’t care if it’s easy.”

“Okay,” he said, giving her a cryptic look.

After her third slip and fall, Darcy had to be honest. “Brock?” she said. “I—I need to tell you something.”

“Oh, okay,” he said.

“You’re really good at sex—”

“Yeah?” he said, grinning.

“I would like to keep having sex with you, but, uh—oh God, I don’t know how to say this.”

“Is it, uh, a yeast situation or an STI? Whatever it is, honey, it’s not a big deal,” he said gently.

“Nooooo,” Darcy said, “not that. Totally different thing!” She laughed. “You handled that beautifully, though. Very sensitively.”

“Thank you?” he said. “So, what is it?” Darcy looked at the trail and the woods and the incredibly hot Italian in front of her and sighed. She would miss him when he ditched her for a really fit rock-climbing instructor.

“I freaking hate hiking. I hate it,” she said. “You probably love it, right? It’s just the dirt and the mosquitoes and the gnats and sometimes poison ivy and God knows, I might have Lyme Disease by now and every time I go on a hike, I fall and skin my knees, so I’m dirty, sweaty, and scabby. It’s horrible. It’s not personal, but I really don’t even like nature all that much, it’s okay but I prefer it in brief segments—I—I don’t get like, revived or whatever. I’m sorry, I know that makes me a shallow person, but I get bored and I wish I was inside where there is Diet Dr. Pepper, air conditioning, and no freaking frogs. I really hate fro—” Brock started to laugh.

“Darcy, it’s okay, baby,” he said, “I don’t like hiking.”

“Really?”

“I thought you did,” he said. “You instagrammed a lot of hikes.”

“Ooooh. No. That was all for Ian. He complained less when I brought my phone if he thought I was taking nature photos, not sneaking on Facebook,” she explained. “He freaking loves hiking.”

“You want to turn around, go somewhere more fun?” Brock asked.

“Yes!” Darcy said joyfully. She bounced to express her happiness, then accidentally fell down again. “Ow! Ugh, I hate the ground,” she said, looking up at him glumly.

“No more hiking for you,” Brock said. He carried her through the tougher terrain on the way back and then sat her in the car. “Hold on,” he said, “I’ve got a First-Aid kit in the trunk.”

“This is so embarrassing,” she said, as she rolled up her yoga pants leg, so he could clean her bloody, skinned knees.

“You’re going to bruise,” he said, frowning and looking at the tissue around the skinned bits. He pressed it. Swelling, he saw and bruising. There was a thin scar around the abrased area of her knee. “You’ve got scarring?”

“I’ve fallen so much that I sometimes just bruise and swell now,” she said, sighing.

“Honey,” he said sympathetically, “I’m sorry.” He leaned down and kissed the top of her knee softly.

“You’re sweet,” she told him. Then he looked up at her, grinned, and turned sly.

“Not always,” he said, kissing the inside of her thigh and nibbling through her pants.

“Ahh, that tickles!” she said.

“You’re very ticklish,” he murmured, working his way up towards the apex of her thighs.

“There are three children about ten feet away,” she whispered, slightly breathless.

“Whoops,” he said. “I’m blocked by the door, right?” He looked up at her, smirking.

“I’m beginning to think you want to get caught,” she said, giggling. “Couldn’t we be arrested? I sort of want to end up on a wall of shame at the police station, if one exists. I saw it on TV once,” Darcy said, as he continued nibbling at her inner thigh.

“You’re just a bad influence on me,” he said. “You want french fries and beer now? Or Mexican and margaritas?”

“Abso-freaking-lutely, yes,” Darcy said. “To either or both of those.” He laughed.

“But you do like yoga, right?” he asked, getting in the driver’s seat. She let him drive: DC traffic was no bueno.

“I love yoga. I still fall down in class, though. But it’s helped me fall down less in general,” she explained.

“That’s less?” he said.

“Shut up, or I’ll make you go to goat yoga with me”--at his confused expression, she clarified--”it’s yoga class with mini goats hopping around?” Darcy said.

“That doesn’t sound bad,” he said.

“I’ve always thought it would be fun, even though it’s outside,” she said. “Now I can afford it.” For years, Dary had been doing yoga at the cheapest classes she could find: $5 Unitarian church yoga, DVDs from the library, stuff like that. She and Jane had gone through some really tight financial periods until Jane’s work had been recognized. It was one of the reasons she’d first started going on hiking dates with Ian. She’d already had sturdy walking boots and it was free to do. They’d always gone dutch and she couldn’t afford the kind of farm-to-table London restaurants Ian liked, so she’d feigned enthusiasm for outdoor picnics. God, she’d eaten with so many friggin’ crickets.

 

***

After they cleared up the hiking thing, everything with Brock went smoothly for several weeks. Really smoothly. They had incredible sex, which did not surprise her, and Brock practically moved into her place, which did. He seemed to like hanging around, when he wasn’t off working overseas. He did all kinds of things for her, too: put together bookshelves and helped her unpack all her books, hung the paper lanterns and tin stars she bought because she could finally afford to decorate, even volunteered to chop things and peel potatoes when she cooked. He was very good with knives. She gave him a key. It wasn’t unusual for her to pry Jane out of the lab and find him already there, with food in the oven, either grading papers or reading books on her couch. Sometimes, he left the Smithsonian channel or Food Network on for her. “I really like this one,” he said when she asked what he was reading one evening. It was her book on the history of American Chinese food, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

“Oh,” she said. “You do?”

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s really interesting to see what people do when they emigrate, you know? How they adapt? It’s the same for Italian food. You know they make a clam pizza in New Haven that’s totally different from anything in Italy? Clams are loc--Wh--why are you kissing me?” he said, laughing. “Not that I mind, babygirl.”

“I like your mindset,” she told him, smiling. “The way you think. The woman who wrote that book did a real cool TED talk about it.”

“Yeah?” he said. “I was thinking we could sign up for a cooking class? Would Thor and Jane like to go, too? Might get you out of the lab early a few times, too?”

“Ummm, you’re a genius,” she told him.

“I am?” he said, scrunching his face a little.

“Totally,” she told him. “Also, sexually a genius.”

“I don’t know, I think I need a little more hands on practice,” he said, putting the book down. “I’m really a kinesthetic learner, you know?” He pried down her pants gently and she sighed. “What?” he said.

“I’m just having so much fun,” she said.

“You want to have some fun I’ve never tried before?” he said.

“What kind of fun?” she asked, grinning.

“Well, I was looking at your yoga book the other day and it occurred to me that this one pose would make a really great sex position?” he said.

“Which one?” she said. She was guessing Downward Dog or maybe Bridge pose. He got the book and brought it to her.

“This one,” he said, smirking.

“Ananda Balasana? You are so dirty and I love it,” Darcy said gleefully. He wasn’t the first person to have the idea--she’d once heard a yoga teacher joke that it should really be called “Happy Husband” pose--but God, he was so fun.

“Oh, ohhhhhhh,” she moaned, minutes later, when they’d moved to her bed for the space, “I really need to work on my hip stretches.”

“You want to switch?” he said, pausing. His shoulders were tucked against the back of her calves.

“No, no, this was a really, really good idea,” she said, torn between the desire to laugh and moan. “Oooooh my God, you’re going to kill me--”

“Shit,” he said. There was a beep from the other room. “That’s the oven timer. Dammit.”

“Go turn the oven off, I’m not going anywhere,” she said, laughing.

“You’re not hungry?” he said. “It’s ten o’clock.”

“No,” Darcy lied. Her traitorous stomach snitched on her by choosing that moment to gurgle. Loudly.

“Darcy,” he said.

“Aww, man,” she complained. “Stupid stomach.”

“You’d rather fuck and you’re starving?” he said, looking at her with an expression that blended surprise and something like sweetness. She nodded.

"Uh-huh," she said. He grinned.

“I really am the luckiest sonofabitch sometimes,” he said, getting up. “I’m going to turn off that oven.” He walked naked into the kitchen.

“Don’t injure any precious body parts!” she called. God, his ass was pretty.

 

Darcy had been waiting for the other shoe to drop or for Brock to tease her that she was totally basic. That had been one of Ian’s favorite  "jokes" at the end, that she liked bougie things like Starbucks or Ulta too much and ought to prefer more authentic co-ops and indie coffee shops for her lip balm or caffeine fix. Ian had gotten into some socialist bros podcasts several years into their relationship. He became a person who liked to go on long rants about commercialism and chain restaurants, the evils of the automobile, and lack of integrity at the New York Times --even though he was from a totally square, very rich British family that did top hat and tails weddings and had probably benefited from generations of economic inequality. Darcy had been raised by a single mom and worked all through high school and college to help build her own college fund; what Ian scornfully called bougie or centrist was still aspirational for her. It was exciting to be able to drop $65 on books at Amazon for fun, not school, and still be able to afford to eat.

Ian’s rants had been one of the things that made Darcy go on her politics break. She could admit that Ian made good points frequently and she agreed with many of them on principle--the benefits of prison reform, access to affordable healthcare, the electric car--but it was just so difficult to hear constantly. He just went on and on. Plus, he wasn’t even American! Why was he so mad about the NYT? It had totally been the damn podcasts. She was actually terrified to mention anything political around Brock, for fear it would spoil everything. That Chinese food book had sent Ian off on a rant when Darcy had made the mistake of insisting that Americanized Chinese food was just as “real” as anything in China, only different. They were both equally real food, she thought. Ian had not agreed. At length. 

To her relief, she discovered Brock was astonishingly non-judgy. He went wherever she wanted to go: the Smithsonian, chain restaurants, Starbucks. They even went to the aquarium in Baltimore and he didn't mention the documentary Blackfish. Not even once.

Also, the longest outdoor walk she had to take was through the parking lot at the movie theater one night. Even then, he let her pick the movie and bought her what Ian would have snarked was “a giant trough” of popcorn. “You really don’t mind seeing this movie?” she asked. She’d picked the latest Fantastic Beasts movie. She’d thought he might want something with more action, maybe a thriller.

“Nah,” he said. “They’re made these things look great since the Harry Potter ones, haven’t they? I think I might like these better.”

“Me, too,” Darcy said softly, resting her head on his shoulder. Darcy still got a little lift in her heart whenever she heard the familiar music in the opening titles. She’d been weirdly moved by all the scenes of Newt with magical animals in the first one and teared up a little. Ian had teased her about crying over a “CGI’d blockbuster made to cash in on another set of CGI blockbusters” and asked her why she wasn’t more offended by this stuff as a magical practitioner. She’d told him that she didn’t take her practices or herself too seriously and that he got offended enough for both of them on the daily. Jeez, that had been an ugly fight. She was realizing that she’d spent a lot of time either fighting with Ian or suppressing her feelings so it wouldn’t cause a fight. Even her warm fuzzies about guys petting CGI animals.

“You want your Milk Duds?” Brock asked her, settling an arm over her shoulder.

“We never fight,” Darcy said suddenly. “We haven’t had one fight.”

“Why would we fight?” he said, as if it had never occurred to him that there was anything he'd fight with her about. Later on, she lied and said she’d teared up during the movie because of the cute animals again. He seemed to find it sweet, not stupid.

 

***

“What’s going with you and Darcy, mate?” Jack said, as they met for a beer on Saturday.

“Everything’s great,” he said. “We’re having a great time. She’s perfect. I’m practically living at her place.”

“Why do you look nervous when you answer that question?” Jack said. Brock had the tiniest tell--a slow blink--when he attempted to lie. It was very subtle, maybe only Jack and his mother would have recognized it.

“No reason,” Brock said. “Long-established HYDRA paranoia, maybe,” he continued.

“Oh, yeah, I had that for a ways. Tough habit to break, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like something could go horribly wrong at any minute,” the Australian said. Brock didn’t mention that Darcy hadn’t seen his place yet. His family had seen his place. And Jack. He owned a lot of collectibles, science fiction, stuff like that. His sister jokingly called it “the nerd shop.” He wasn’t sure how Darcy would react. “So,” Jack began, switching to work, “about those manuals--”

“She hasn’t seen my place yet,” Brock confessed. 

“So?” Jack said.

“I might put some things in storage, maybe sell some things soon,” Brock said quietly. “You’d help me pack all of it, right?”

“You selling that lightsaber?” Jack said curiously. He liked the lightsaber, but Brock wouldn’t let anyone touch it.

“I dunno,” Brock said. “I just had the idea.” Helen Cho had patched him up and he’d returned to work in DC, after a pardon from President Ellis and all the Crossbones warrants were dropped. That had been when he decided to display some of the things he’d bought as Crossbones. He’d sort of developed an online shopping problem when he wasn’t stealing.

“What makes you think she wouldn’t like it? She likes Harry Potter?” Jack said.

“I’ve saved your life at least five times and you laughed your ass off when you saw my new place,” Brock said. “But yeah, she likes Harry Potter. We saw the new Fantastic Beasts movie the other night.”

“Was it good?” Jack said.

“Yeah. Great special effects, too,” Brock said.

“She’s a witch, though, right?” Jack said. “I mean, she, uh--”

“She dabbles, yeah, but she’s very chill,” Brock said. He thought it was sweet. He understood Darcy’s reliance on emotional touchstones. Literal touchstones, when it came to her crystals. He wasn’t afraid of it. It was the same reason he’d picked his tattoos, both the Catholic ones he’d gotten when he was younger and his more recent Thai ones. He thought they did something spiritual. And where was the harm if they didn’t?

“She might be okay with your Batman figurines, you don’t know,” Jack mused. “She got dolls she sticks pins in?”

“Shut up,” Brock said, laughing. “Everyone thinks you’re so nice because of that goddamned accent, but you’re an asshole.”

“Yep,” Jack said. “Great, ain’t it?” He loved jokes.

“I think she’s the one,” Brock said suddenly. “I don’t want to fuck this up.”

 

***

 

“Where’s Brock?” Jane asked, when Darcy popped into the lab on Saturday. Usually, Brock came in with her, helped with the coffee, and then went to R&D to futz around with the Stevens guy, Jane knew.

“Poor Keith’s sick and at home with the flu, so I think he’s hanging out with Jack today?” Darcy said. “I feel bad for Keith, but I’m glad Brock is spending some time outside.” Jack, Darcy knew, was outdoorsy. “I keep him inside most of the time, I worry he might miss it,” she said.

“Sure,” Jane said wryly.

“What does that mean?” Darcy asked.

“Brock Rumlow cannot keep his hands off you. If you went outside more, you’d have to wear clothes,” Jane said archly.

“Speaking of going out, he wants the four of us to take a cooking class. Are you interested?” Darcy asked.

“Stop bragging,” Jane said, giggling, “because your sugar daddy cooks and bought you a KitchenAid mixer this morning.” Darcy had been texting her photos, trying to decide on a color.

“He is not my sugar daddy, Jane--he’s not that much older and he doesn’t spend that much money. I bought it with my own money and he was worried I’d drop it on my toe, so he carried it in and helped me pick a good spot for it on the kitchen counter. I’m just going to leave it there,” Darcy said. “It was really nice, though.”

“What was?” Jane said.

“It’s just, we go places and he never complains. Ever!” Darcy said. “Not even when we go to Starbucks. I cried the other night at the freaking movie because it reminded me of Ian being so critical and not wanting to do Harry Potter stuff with me and you and Thor. Was Ian always that awful and I never noticed?” she asked Jane.

“No,” Jane said, sighing. “He was so nice in the beginning, but something just went wrong, you know? I mean, for years, he was a good guy and then he just turned obnoxious somehow, wasn’t the same anymore.”

“It was like sometimes, he wasn’t even himself, he would just parrot these political things he’d read online,” Darcy said, nodding in recognition. “Like when my Uncle Jimmy got into Fox News and we had to stop asking him to Thanksgiving because he screamed at people. It’s the same thing, just the left-wing versions.”

“You’ve checked Brock’s iTunes and his browsing history, right?” Jane joked. “Looked at his bookshelf to make sure there’s no Bill O’Reilly, too?”

“Um, no,” Darcy said, thinking. Something had suddenly hit her. “Jane, I just realized something.”

“What?” Jane said.

“I’ve never been to his place,” Darcy said, her expression faintly stunned. “Literally never. We’re always at my place. Why have I never seen Brock’s place?”

 

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Brock said. “You’re awfully quiet tonight.” They were having dinner in a restaurant. He’d texted her after he was done hanging out with Jack to see if she’d like to try this place. Brock had thought she would like it.  The restaurant was alien-themed. It had all kinds of weird spaceship decorations and served chicken fingers battered in cereal. It was her kind of place. But she seemed...off to him. Too quiet, almost tired-looking?

“Oh, just a little sleepy,” she said. “Long Saturday.” She sighed.

“Okay,” he said, feeling like he’d hit some sort of weird conversational wall. Darcy scrunched her nose and he leaned forward expectantly. Nose scrunch usually meant something: a joke, a funny anecdote about lab explosions, an announcement that she wanted to sneak off for sex.

“I think I want to drop by that crystal shop,” she said.

“I’ll go with you,” he said. “Unless you want to meet me at home?”

“Home?” Darcy said. Her expression changed.

“Your apartment,” he said.

“Oh, I thought you meant your place. Why don’t we hang out there?” she asked.

“Uh, I’m changing some things,” Brock said, trying to keep his voice even.

“Remodeling?” she said, looking brighter. “Is that why you’ve never invited me over?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“So, you don’t really like my place?” Darcy joked. “I thought you loved my decorating.”

“I like your place a lot,” he said.

“But you wouldn’t hang Moravian Stars, paper lanterns, and tin stars everywhere,” she said, grinning.

“What are Moravian Stars again?” he asked. He’d hung a white glass one for her in the bedroom.

“It’s a North Carolina Christmas thing,” she explained. She’d grown up outside Raleigh, he knew. “They’re a German church group? Winston-Salem started out as a Moravian settlement, they do the stars and these really amazing thin cookies,” Darcy said. “How are you remodeling?”

“Uh, it’s just boring stuff,” Brock said. “I might be persuaded to hang a lantern or two.” He steered her away from talking about his apartment by asking her about her favorite weird candy, Squirrel Nut Zippers, again. He remembered that they were a candy and a band, but he pretended not to, just so he could hear her describe them as a cross between peanut butter and a soft caramel and tell a story about how she’d gotten obsessed with them and once almost choked when she tried to sneak-eat them during a no-snacks allowed seminar.

 

***

Darcy knew Brock was lying to her. He did a slow blink thing when he was trying to dodge a question and he’d done the blink when she asked about the remodel. It made her heart hurt. She’d thought he might be telling the truth at first. But that slow blink? It was the blink of lies.

Still, he went with her to the crystal shop. “Let me know how we can help you?” the woman behind the register said when a bell jangled as they walked in. Brock had seized her hand on the sidewalk, rubbing circles over her hand with his thumb. Darcy didn’t know what she was looking for, really. She’d thought Brock would bail. It was the kind of thing Ian would have done the moment she said the words “crystal shop.”

“Hey,” Brock said, not letting go of her hand, “come look at this. This is cool.” He guided her over to a table of crystal lamps. “This is beautiful,” he said, pointing towards an entire lamp made out of rose quartz. It was like her salt lamps, only pink.

“It is beautiful,” Darcy said, “but it’s expensive.”

“So?” he said. “My treat. You wouldn’t let me buy you the mixer this morning, let me do this for you?”

“Some things you can’t have for lamps or money, Brock Rumlow,” she said. At his expression, she clarified. “Rose quartz attracts love. I was making a love or money joke.”

“Love, huh?” he said.

“Bet you didn’t know that when you sent me that quartz rose. What if I’d gotten the wrong idea?” she said.

“Oh, that would have been terrible,” he said, grinning. “Just terrible.” He put his arms around her waist and kissed her until she felt like they were making a scene. When she finally pulled away, he looked over at the store employee and grinned wickedly. “I keep buying her rose quartz,” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything, does it?”

“Cut it out,” Darcy said, despite her nagging doubts about his apartment. He looked so happy. How could he be lying and be so happy? “I’m going to look at the tarot cards,” she said, detaching herself from around him. He looked a little pouty.

“Don’t leave me,” he said in a joke-whine, wrapping his arms around her from behind when she tried to walk away.

“Well, come look at these with me, then,” she said. She’d bought a very traditional deck--Ryder Waite--and it just wasn’t gelling for her. She wanted something a little more accessible. Less medieval in imagery, too. She wasn’t into that at all, she’d realized. It kinda creeped her out.

“You gonna get a different deck?” Brock asked. He knew how she felt about the Ryder Waite.

“I’m looking for one I saw online, the Sun and Moon deck? It’s by a children’s book illustrator named Vanessa Decort. It’s softer,” she told him.

“Makes sense,” he whispered. “You’re soft. I like your softness, babygirl.” He kissed her ear. She leaned back into him, enjoying the moment. Then she realized he’d spotted something.

“Do you see my deck?” she asked.

“Nope. But I see one I’m going to buy you,” he said. “Close your eyes, I want this to be a surprise.” He cupped one of his hands over her closed lids and took something down. A second later, he was checking out.

“I can’t look?” she said.

“No,” he said. But she could tell he got the rose quartz lamp, too. In the car on the way back, she felt brave enough to ask him more openly.

“Why don’t we go to your place tonight?” she suggested. The hand holding hers squeezed slightly.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “We’ll go soon, okay? As soon as I sort some things out.”

“What kind of things?” she asked.

“Just things,” he said. Then he slow blinked again. Ugh, Darcy thought. Lies. Lying lies! Why was he lying when he so obviously adored her? Or was that another lie?

 

Of course, they still had sex back at her apartment. She couldn’t resist him, especially when he was grading papers and looked over at her. He raised one eyebrow behind those glasses. “You want to fool around? I think I’ve read enough about De La Riva guards for today,” he said.

“What are those?” she asked, putting down her coffee.

“If you get thrown to the ground, it’s a way of using your legs around one of your opponent’s legs and getting their wrist and ankle, so you can flip them and gain the advantage,” he said.

“Can you teach me?” she asked. “Maybe naked?”

“You’re going to kill me,” he said. “Take your clothes off, you crazy witch.” She looked at him.

“Really? You’re gonna go there?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said, “you going to do something about it?” He smirked and set his glasses and the essays on the coffee table.

“Well, I’m not taking all my clothes off now,” she said, pretending to be offended.

“I can’t persuade you, babygirl?” he said, leaning over to kiss her. She shook her head and he planted kisses all over her face as she tried--and failed--to wiggle away.

 

They ended up on the floor. First, he demonstrated a closed guard with his legs wrapped around her back as she lay on top of him. “See? You can’t get up or get away?” he said, his legs firmly hooked around her. “Try?” he said. Darcy tried to pry herself away.

“I can’t!” she said.

“Uh-huh,” he said. He kissed her. It began as a teasing motion, the light play of their tongues together. He deepened the kiss by sucking gently on her top lip until Darcy moaned.

“This is highly sexual. I think it’s wildly inappropriate for a classroom,” she told him, once they’d been kissing for several minutes.

“Usually, my students are in more than their bra and panties,” he said, smiling. Her face was flushed and her pupils wide.

“I hope you’re not also naked?” she said. He had nothing on.

“Eh, sometimes,” he said, grinning. He squeezed her a little. “This is what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is based on, using your floor position to shift to a more dominant one.”

“Dominant?” she said, giggling.

“Uh-huh,” he said wryly. “You wanna do me?”

“Oh, always,” she said. He rolled them over.

“You hook your legs around me, I’m going to see if I can unhook that damn bra,” he said. Darcy laughed.

“I’ll unhook it if you tell me what you’re hiding?” she said.

“Hiding?” he said, frowning.

“I know you are. You blink,” Darcy said. “Whatever it is, it’s okay. Unless you have a wife and two-point-five kids in Manassas? I might be upset by that.” He tilted his head and looked at her.

“I promise there’s no wife and kids in Manassas,” he said.

“Hey, hey,” Darcy said, as he rose and picked her up in one fluid movement. “What are you doing?”

“Taking you to bed,” he said slyly. He set her gently on the mattress and slid her underwear down. “I don’t have any secrets from you that really matter, okay?” he said.

“I don’t have any secrets from you at all,” she pointed out.

“Mmm-hmm,” he said. “You’re perfect.”

“How am I supposed to respond to that?” Darcy asked.

“Toss me those condoms?” he asked with mock-innocence.

“Here,” she said playfully, tossing one. He caught the packet easily. When he climbed on top of her, he gave her a long, cryptic look. “What?” she said, running her hands through his hair. “Tell me?” she prompted. He shook his head.

“Not yet. It’s not a wife and kids in Manassas, though,” he said, grinning. Then he pushed inside her. In response, she bracketed his hips with her legs.

“Tell me what it is or I’m not letting go!” she said.

“Nope. Nuh-uh,” he said, easily evading her and moving his hips back.

“Unfair,” she said.

“Did you want me to hang onto you?” he teased. When she nodded, he rolled them over so she was on top, then wrapped his legs around her.  She used his thighs to to brace herself as she eased onto him and moved slowly. Brock rubbed her clit. He grinned up at her when she moaned. “I should have taught you this a long time ago,” he said, smirking. “You can go a little faster, babygirl, I can take it.”

“Ughhh, I don’t know if I can,” she said.

“Sure you can,” he said, licking his lips. “Trust me.” She leaned down and kissed him.

 

The problem was, Darcy couldn’t sleep after sex. Her brain was too overactive. She could think up a lot of upsetting possibilities as Brock snored next to her.  She’d convinced Jane to help her investigate the apartment issue. They’d been texting back and forth until Brock decided he was done with grading and Darcy was tempted to text her again. But it was late. Jane might be asleep. She got up and turned on the rose quartz lamp, just to have a little illumination. He’d put it by her bed. Then she went to the altar in the corner of her bedroom and lit a candle. She’d picked a yellow, vanilla-scented one, both for the smell and because yellow symbolized clarity and positivity. She had been doing a simplified three card reading to learn the cards. The eleven card Celtic cross readings were just too intimidating for her at the moment, but she could handle three cards in a relationship reading. Her first card would symbolize what she felt or wanted, the second, what he felt, and the third, where the relationship was going. Her first card was the Four of Coins. The second card she drew was the Knight of Swords. She drew a sharp intake of breath with the third and final card: the Lovers. The Four of Coins, Darcy thought? That card symbolically represented someone who clung too tightly to money, feared scarcity, and was disconnected from loved ones because they didn’t realize that sometimes you have to give to get. Well, shit, Darcy thought. “I’m not giving enough?” she said out loud.

“Baby?” Brock said, stirring in the bed. “Whatcha doing?”

“Playing with my cards, doing a relationship reading,” she said.

“For us?” he said, sitting up.

“Sorta. I couldn’t sleep.”

“What do they say?” Brock asked. He got up, naked, and sat down behind her, curving his arms around her belly.

“My fears or feelings are represented by Four of Coins. That’s someone who fears scarcity, can’t share, clings to their wealth, maybe mismanages the privileges they’ve been given--” she began.

“Doesn’t sound like you. You’re very good at sharing affection and you seem pretty unclingy to me,” he said, squeezing her.

“Oh, yeah? Try this one on for size: you’re the Knight of Swords. Impulsive. Daring. Brave. Action-oriented. Maybe a little pushy and inclined to do things without thinking them through?” Darcy teased.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a very calm, sedate guy. Practically an accountant. I own glasses,” he said dryly. “Tell me about the sexy one?” He meant the Lovers.

“The future of our relationship,” she said.

“More being naked?” he said, grinning. The two figures on the card were nude.

“Getting clarity about values and beliefs, making necessary choices about where you’re headed,” she explained. “Bringing together two separate, distinct things to make a unified whole.”

“So, sex?” he said playfully, kissing her ear. “Mmmm. I like tarot.”

“I’m confused by my card,” Darcy admitted.

“Blow out that candle, baby.”

“Why?” Darcy said.

“I’m making an impulsive, daring decision to take you back to bed, without thinking about the consequences,” he said. “Also, if you’re concerned about scarcity, let me buy you things.”

“I’m not supposed to want that, I’m supposed to transcend my fears about scarcity,” Darcy said, laughing a little as she blew out the candle. As the smoke curled upward, he carried her bed.

“I can’t be a sugar daddy?” he said, pretending to pout.

“Pfffhhhhtt,” she said.

“I think I’d be a good sugar daddy,” he said, licking his lips. “Gimme some sugar, baby.”

“You want me to kiss you?” she said.

“No, I’m going to kiss you,” he said, seizing one of her ankles.

“I didn’t think you’d kiss my feet!” she shrieked. He proceeded to demonstrate the versatility of his kissing technique all over her.

When they woke up on Sunday morning, Brock told her he had errands to run. He brought her coffee and kissed her goodbye. “You don’t want me to go with you?” she asked.

“Gonna do some remodel-related things, babygirl,” he told her ambiguously. “You’d be bored.”

“Would I?” she said, running her hands down his sternum. He grinned.

“If you’re bored, you might distract me and I wouldn’t get anything done,” he teased.

“You’d get one thing done,” she said. He threw back his head and laughed. Then he kissed her forehead with surprising tenderness. She thought she saw anxiety in his eyes. “You okay?” she said.

“Yeah,” he told her. Then he blinked again. When the door shut behind him, Darcy called Jane and told her that she would pick her up in an hour. Before she left, she drew three relationship cards again. Her card was a reversed Knight of Cups; Brock’s, the Queen of Cups, the future of theim together, the Ace of Wands. The Knight of Cups, when reversed, represented jealousy and an overactive imagination. The Queen of Cups? Compassion and caring, emotional stability, and sensitivity. Leading with the heart. The Ace of Wands represented new opportunities. Sometimes, people read it as following your passion. Darcy felt like the cards had read her. “I am not being jealous and overactive!” she said to the deck.

 

***

 

“I can’t believe we’re doing this and you rented a car, ” Jane said to Darcy.

“He would recognize my car and yours. You can’t do a stakeout in your normal car. Besides, the Hertz had a VW Beetle, you know how I miss mine,” Darcy said. She had sold hers between New Mexico and London, for them to live off the money. “The roofline on these new models are so low, though,” she said, bumping her head as she adjusted her binoculars. They were staking out Brock’s condo. Darcy had a notebook in her lap. She was going to note any visitors.

“You seriously think he has another girlfriend living with him?” Jane said. His complex was near the new SHIELD headquarters and it seemed surprisingly nice to Jane.

“Girlfriend, boyfriend, whole other family, people have entire secret lives, Jane! It happens,” Darcy said. “I’ve seen it on 48 Hours. You think your husband loves you, wham, he steals all your money and gives it to his secret other wife.”

“Husband?” Jane said wryly. She made a face at Darcy.

“Usually, it’s a husband. That doesn’t mean anything, it was an example. Don’t look at me like that. He’d be starting his secret life early compared to most of these gu--oh em gee, do you think I’m the other woman?” Darcy asked. “I’m the other woman!”

“Like, he’s had a secret girlfriend for years?” Jane said.

“I don’t want to be the other woman,” Darcy grumbled.

“Darce, he probably just doesn’t clean the place,” Jane pointed out gently.

“No, he’s very good at cleaning. Much better than me. My stovetop is all shiny since he--” Darcy sighed.

“Moved in?” Jane said. She thought Darcy was inventing scenarios because, so far, they hadn’t had any conflicts, so her imagination had assumed the worst--that there must be some flaw somewhere, some horrible problem, in the relationship. She’d spent all night texting Jane about it.

“Practically. Besides, this is a really swank complex, Jane. Look in that window! They have balconies. Those people have marble countertops--”

“Are you spying on his neighbors, too?” Jane asked.

“I’m doing general surveillance. But seriously, look around! It’s closer to work and nicer than my apartment. Why is he hanging out at my comparatively small, shabby place?” Darcy said.

“Because the sex happens at your place?” Jane said. “You had sex with him last night, didn’t you?”

“Yeeessss,” Darcy admitted, sighing. Jane laughed.

“I knew it! You texted me for hours and then you quit texting me your Brock cheating theories to have sex with Brock?” Jane said.

“I can’t say no to him in glasses, okay? Don’t judge me!” Darcy said. “He’d finished grading and it was very attractive. Also, he showed me these Brazilian martial arts things, it was really hot.”  


***

They continued staking out the apartment when Brock wasn’t with Darcy. That was how Jane found herself asleep, a week later, in the second rental car. Darcy was alternating vehicles and had chosen a black sedan this time. Brock was home, so Darcy had been speculating that a woman must be stopping by soon. “Oh my God!” Darcy said.

“What?” Jane said, alert. She’d been drowsing. It was nine-thirty.

“It’s a woman,” Darcy said. “Look!”

“Leaving the building?” Jane said, leaning around Darcy. Darcy swatted at her.

“Get down, get down, don’t be so conspicuous,” Darcy said.

“You’ve got binoculars, ” Jane pointed out. They watched as the woman met someone who pulled up. A man driving an SUV. “See?” Jane said, as they kissed. “She’s not his secret wife.”

“I bet Gretchen’s tall and blonde and she shops at Ann Taylor and J. Crew,” Darcy said bitterly.

“Gretchen? You have a name?” Jane said, sitting up. She turned to look at Darcy. Neither of them noticed the person walking up behind them. The door opened and someone slid into the backseat. “Ahhhh!” Jane shrieked.

“Natasha!” Darcy said. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you two doing here?” Natasha said calmly. “This is on my way home. I noticed several vehicles, always parked near here, always with people inside. It made me curious. Then I recognized you.”

“Donut?” Jane offered. Natasha chose one thoughtfully.

“We’re staking out Brock’s condo. He has a whole secret life. Maybe a secret Gretchen,” Darcy said. “He lives in that unit. The one with the light on.”

“A secret girlfriend,” Natasha said neutally.

“But you have an actual name?” Jane said to Darcy. “You didn’t tell me that you had a name of someone.”

“I named her. She’s probably a Gretchen,” Darcy clarified.

“You named an imaginary person?” Natasha said.

“She also names the toaster, the cars, and even the coffee maker,” Jane said.

“What is the coffee maker named?” Natasha asked, biting her donut.

“It’s a French press. His name is François. The electric water kettle is named Judi Dench,” Darcy explained. “Brock wants to help name my new mixer.” Her voice was glum. “Allegedly.”

“Can someone explain to me what is going on, exactly?” Natasha said.

“He won’t let me see his apartment. It’s been weeks and he never invites me home. Something’s going on there.”

“She thought he might have a second girlfriend living with him,” Jane explained.

“Oh,” Natasha said. “He does not.”

“How can you be sure?” Darcy said. “Clint has one. A secret family.”

“I would know if he had someone. You are his someone,” Natasha said wryly. “That much is obvious.”

“See! See? I think so, too, but she refuses to listen to me. Listen to Nat, she knows all the good gossip,” Jane said. “She would know if Gretchen was real.”

“I bet she’s tall and blonde and annoyingly perfect,” Darcy grumbled. “Probably teaches pilates or is an FBI agent.”

“Are you upset about him and Sharon? That was nothing, just a field accident with HYDRA sex pollen,” Natasha said, frowning.

“What?” Jane and Darcy said in unison.

“You didn’t know he was her partner when she was pollened?” Natasha said.

“No,” Jane said, making a face that was oddly Steve-like, Natasha thought, as if she’d done something bad.

“What have I done?” she said.

“That’s how we started dating. I was sex pollened,” Darcy said. “So, he’s had pollen sex with me, Sharon--have you had pollen sex with him?”

“Nope,” Natasha said. “I do not get sex pollened. I am immune.”

“What?” Jane said.

“It is an anomaly. Bruce is studying it. He thinks I have some sort of antibodies from a low-dose exposure I wasn’t aware of at the time,” Natasha said, smiling. “He thinks they will be able to synthesize a vaccine from my blood eventually.” She sounded pleased.

“That’s cool,” Darcy admitted.

“I think so, too. Even my antibodies have impressive self control, Bruce says,” Natasha said.

“Uh-huh,” Jane said, grinning. She and Thor had gone on a couples’ weekend with Bruce and Natasha once. Her self-control was practically as loud as Thor’s.

“Why don’t you just break in? You cannot see anything from here,” Natasha said.

“Oh no. Oh no. Don’t tell her that,” Jane said.

“Can you teach me how to break in?” Darcy asked Natasha.

“Of course,” Natasha said.

Chapter Text

“You’re leaving me?” Brock said, frowning. He looked up from his essays and took his reading glasses off. Darcy emerged from her bedroom dressed in dark clothes--yoga pants, a dark hoodie, practical sneakers for running.

“I’m going to girl’s night at Natasha’s with Jane, but I’ll be back later, if you’re lucky,” Darcy said. He seized her forearm and pulled her gently into his lap.

“Why can’t I be lucky now?” he said, giving her a smoldering look.

“Because,” she said, kissing him, “I have plans with the BFFs.” She pried herself out of his hands begrudgingly.

“What if I put the glasses back on?” he called as she left the apartment.

“Save that thought!” she called back. Everything depended on what she found in that apartment. What if there were another woman’s panties in the couch or something?

 

***

Advanced Lock-Picking with Professor Romanoff was an easy A and had no prerequisites. They practiced on a few locks at Natasha’s until Darcy felt ready. Jane joined in, too. “So, this is why all your doors have deadbolts?” Jane said. “For practice?”

“Yes. I switch the lock models occasionally. Both electronic and old-fashioned locks. It is also useful for locking in assailants and home invaders,” Natasha said.

“Hmmm,” Darcy said thoughtfully. She bit her lip and punched in the electronic override code. Her practice locked dinged.

“I believe you are ready, if you can defeat a system with a ten-digit pin,” Natasha said.

“Do I get a gold star?” Darcy asked.

“Absolutely, milaya,” Natasha said.

 

They drove over to Brock’s apartment. Darcy had swiped his keycard while he was in the shower (then she’d gotten in the shower with him, but that was just a delightful bonus). Getting inside the building was easy, but Darcy started to sweat as they rode the elevator to his floor. “What if it’s booby-trapped?” she whispered.

“I will go in first,” Natasha said calmly. “I doubt it is booby-trapped.” She grinned.

“Wait!” Jane said, pointing at the redhead, “you know his secret! You’re smiling.”

“I have heard rumors,” Natasha admitted.

“Please tell me he doesn’t have a secret wife--” Darcy said.

“No.”

“--or a snake. I have a phobia,” Darcy said.

“She gets nervous around reptiles,” Jane supplied.

“You didn’t help!” Darcy said.

“Look, I thought you’d enjoy the VIP aquarium tour where you got to pet the animals, I didn’t know you’d faint at the turtles,” Jane said.

“It’s their faces, like little evil old bald men,” Darcy said, twitching. Natasha nodded. “One of them was trying to get me,” Darcy said.

“It just wiggled it’s flippers,” Jane said.

“In a threatening fashion,” Darcy insisted.

“He does not have a snake”--Natasha paused, trying not to laugh--”a wife, or any threatening turtles, to my knowledge.”

 

The elevator doors opened and they walked to his apartment. Darcy was sweating. Jane was frowning. Natasha was unruffled. “After you, milaya,” she said to Darcy. Nervously, Darcy began picking the lock by attaching an electronic code breaker. Natasha stepped to block her from view, while Jane checked her watch. They’d timed it for an alarm. Three seconds before an alarm would have sounded, the device beeped and Brock’s high-tech lock disengaged.

“I can’t believe you can just buy those thingies,” Jane said in a low voice. Natasha laughed.

“I borrowed it from the office,” she told Jane.

“Shhh,” Darcy said, “it’s time.” She pushed Brock’s apartment door open.

 

***

At Darcy’s apartment, Brock answered his cell phone. “Hey, Maria, something up?” he asked. He was putting together a surprise present for Darcy. Just because.

“No, but I wanted to ask you about those crystals you ordered for Darcy?” Hill said. She was hiding from Sharon in their home office to make the call. “The really shiny ones that you showed me the other day?”

“Aura crystals,” Brock said. “I gotta put them in the gift basket--I’m glad you reminded me.” He stood up and found where he’d stashed them behind some of his clothes in Darcy’s closet.

“What else did you get?” Hill asked.

“This really great Housewives’ Tarot, very cute,” he said. “She’s gonna love it. The Temperance card has a retro cake mixer.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Hill said dryly.

“Me, neither, but I think she will,” he said. “Where did I put the cellophane--” he wondered out loud. “I ordered those aura crystals from a website, I’ll send you the web address,” Brock told Maria. He scrunched his nose and looked down at the gift basket in front of him. “If I send you a photo of this basket will you tell me if it looks okay?”

“Sure,” Maria said.

 

***

Inside Brock’s apartment, Darcy stared. Her eyes roamed the walls. There were retro sci-fi movie posters, an entire wall of comic books in acrylic cases as you entered the foyer, figurines displayed around the TV, and shelves of books on comic book art, Star Wars, tattoos, and--of all things--science technology, alongside all the books on martial arts and hand-to-hand combat that Darcy had anticipated. “Oh em gee,” Darcy said, trailing her fingers along the shelf.

“That is definitely not a wife,” Jane said. “I think it might be a costume.” She was looking at a life-sized model of a stormtrooper in the corner.

“No,” Darcy said. “Not a wife.” Jane peered around it curiously.

“It is a full costume. Is that a pair of light sabers, too?” Jane said, looking next to the fireplace.

“He’s a total nerd,” Darcy said, flummoxed. Behind her Natasha started to laugh. Darcy whirled on her. “You knew! You knew he was a nerd!” she said, waving her finger in the Russian’s face.

“Yes,” Natasha said. “I had heard rumors, but I had not seen this. He is terrified to tell you.”

“Really?” Darcy said.

“He is afraid you’ll think less of him if you discover he wishes to obtain Ant-Man’s autograph,” Natasha said.

“Huh,” Darcy said. “Me? He thinks I’d judge him for this? Besides, I could totally get him Scott’s autograph, no prob...”

“I wonder if he has Batman sheets?” Jane said wickedly.

“I’m going to look,” Darcy said, bouncing into the bedroom. She felt a kind of dizzy elation. His big secret was that he was a nerd? This was so much better than anything she could have imagined. Well, okay, she might have imagined something like Brock owning a secret Greek island or him having more sexual super powers when she and Jane had made a pro/con “Possible Brock Secrets” list during the stakeout, but this was good, too….

 

His bedroom was painted Navy blue and had another wall of those acrylic-framed comics. Their bright colors really popped against the dark wall paint. Darcy wondered how expensive they were. All his stuff looked expensive. She sat down on the bed. There were several autographs hanging on the wall, too: one of the Gracie family, who she knew to be Brazilian martial artists, what looked to be several boxers from different countries, a general, and...Jack Nicholson as the Joker? Brock liked Batman?

 

Jane found her having church giggles. “You okay?” Jane said, looking concerned.

“I was so worried!” Darcy said, laughing hysterically. “I thought he had five kids!” She'd laughed so hard that she was now holding her stomach.

“Yeah--wait, are you crying?” Jane said.

“Yeah, I don’t know why,” Darcy said, wiping her eyes. “It’s just--just--oh my God, Jane!”

 

She was still saying ‘oh my God’ under her breath every three minutes when they drove her home.


Chapter Text

Darcy found Brock dozing on the couch. She studied his face for a minute. He was totally relaxed. He’d taken his glasses off and set them on the stack of graded papers on her coffee table. His face was soft as he slept. He was even snoring a little. It was very cute. A giggle bubbled up in her chest. He was, by far, the best guy she’d ever dated. And a huge nerd. It was like Christmas and her birthday and summer vacation and free new books all rolled up in one. Ice cream cones and sunshine and fresh cut grass and lemonade, she thought nonsensically. She wanted to do something for him, she thought, to make him know she loved that he was nerdy. They could go to Comic-Con together. Also, it was a whole new world of Halloween costumes, jeez.

She woke him up by kissing him. “Mmm-hmmm, baby,” he said, his hands automatically reaching for her body.

“I love you,” she said blissfully.

“What’d I do?” he said, confused.

“Nothing, you’re just perfect, that’s all,” she told him.

“Sure,” he said. He blinked, grinning. “I love you, too. I did get you a present,” he said. “On the counter.” She’d seen the cellophane wrapped basket when she came inside.

“Can I open it after I make you lose your mind?” she said teasingly. His sleepy eyes widened.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, boosting her legs around his hips and rising from the sofa in one fluid motion. He carried her into the bedroom as she planted kisses all over his jaw. “Tell me ‘bout this lose my mind thing?” he said, setting her down on the bed.

“Get on your back, baby, I wanna do all the work tonight,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. He lay back, putting his hands behind his head and grinning at her. Darcy slipped out of her shoes and hoodie first, then straddled him in her yoga pants and bra.

“T-shirt,” she said coaxingly, sliding it up to reveal his abs.

“You’re fun,” Brock told her, relaxing down into the mattress so he could angle his hips better. He could do a little work. Just a little.

“Am I?” she said, leaning down to trail kisses over his chest and abs. She circled one of his nipples with her tongue. Then sucked on it gently. He shifted his hips in response.

“Uhhhh,” he said. “Really fun.”

“What else do you think is fun?” she asked. “Tell me?” Darcy could feel him arching against her as he talked about his fantasies.

“I wouldn’t mind you tying me up with some of those pretty scarves, babygirl,” he said.

“Oh, really?” she said. She swung one leg over.

“You’re going to?” he asked, as she slid off the bed.

“I aim to please,” she said. “Not that AIM, the other one, the verb,” Darcy clarified, moving to her closet. He chuckled.

“Can you play that, uh, sex pollen music, too?” he asked.

“You listened to my music?” Darcy said.

“I watched you, too,” he said warmly. “You were all damp.”

“Damp?”

“Wet ands sweaty,” he said. He licked his mouth.

“Uh-huh, I see you,” she said. “You were happy when Hill called you in, weren't you?"

"God, yes. I woulda run Cap over to get to you," he said. Darcy laughed.

"Which one of these scarves scream naughty fun times to you?” she asked him, turning and holding up two.

“Oh, the lace one baby,” he said.

“Did you want one or two?” she asked playfully.

“I don’t have a preference,” he said wryly. She decided on two. Draping both scarves around her neck, she crawled back onto the bed and wiggled onto his pectorals. He grinned up at her, stroking her thighs.

“Uh-uh, give me that hand,” she said. She looped one scarf through her headboard, tied his wrist, and then moved to the other arm. “Tight enough for you?” she asked. He nodded and she slid over to turn her playlist on.


He could break the scarves easily, she knew, but he was enjoying the pretense of being helpless, smirking at her as she turned on the music. “What is it you like about restraint?” she asked. Could she work in a Wonder Woman reference?

“It’s uh--” he paused and licked his lips.

“Tell me,” Darcy insisted. “Or I’ll make the knots tighter.”

“It’s, uh, something about being dominated by someone else. I want you to own me, babygirl,” he said.

“You do?” she said. Definitely Wonder Woman, she thought.

“Ride you?” Darcy said, sliding his pants down. He was already hard and glistening. He rolled his hips a fraction. “Mmmm,” she said, looking at his body appraisingly. She was so freaking lucky. She stared for so long that he actually chuckled.

“You like me, huh?” Brock said.

“Be quiet, I’m in charge here,” Darcy said. She eased herself down onto him slowly. “Uhhhh,” she said. This angle was different. Good different. She started out moving slowly.

“Ohh, Jesus,” he murmured. “You’re teasing me.”

“Yeah, I am,” Darcy said.

“Don’t tease,” he said.

“Oh, no, I think you want me to,” she said. He startled her by suddenly escaping the scarves and rolling her over onto her back. “Brock!” she said, breathless.

“I need to teach you a sailor’s knot,” he said. “But first—”

“Own me?” Darcy said archly.

“I want to,” he said. But he was gentle with her. Sweet, even. His kisses were soft and slow. “I’m crazy about you,” he told her. He kissed his way down her body, prying off her yoga pants. “You’re all wet, babygirl.” He grinned.

“What?” she said.

“Tell me when you want to tap out?” he said teasing.

“Oh no, never, I don’t tap out,” she said. “You know that.”

“You tapped out in the shower,” he said mildly.

“Phfft, cold water issue,” Darcy said, as he settled his weight on top of her without entering her.

“Oh, yeah?” he said.

 

Two condoms and one modified bridge position better left to contortionists later, Darcy was forced to admit that it was possible for her to tap out. “Oh God, oh God,” she said. Her whole body was shaking from the effort of holding the pose, but it felt really good. So good. “I gotta tap out, babe, I can’t do anymore circus sex,” she said.

“Okay,” he said, grinning and pulling out of her, “let’s go back to the normal naughty stuff you like.” He rolled her over onto her belly. She sank down into the mattress. Her hamstrings screamed thank you.

“Ahhhhhh,” Darcy said, relaxing into child’s pose. He pulled her gently onto him and moved in and out of her rhythmically. “I like this better,” she said. “I’m lazy.” He laughed.

 

She was so blissfully tired afterwards, she sort of dozed off during the big planned speech about supporting all his hobbies (hint, hint). “I just love you and everything ‘bout--” she murmured.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Mmmm-hmm. Wanna live with you. Squish all our stuff together, make one big stuff,” she said.

“You mean naked?” he said, lifting his head a little to look down at her. Her head was resting on his chest. “Darcy?” he said. She started to snore.

 

In the morning, he brought her the gift basket and a cup of coffee. Darcy could feel herself beaming at him. “You forgot to open this last night,” he said.

“I was distracted,” she said, grinning. She unwrapped the cellophane. “A new tarot? Oh em gee, this looks great, Brock,” she said.

“Yeah, I wanted you to have a funny one,” he said.

“You’re so supportive of me,” she said, blinking a little. “I feel the same way about you, you understand that, right? Anything you like, I like--”

“Sure, sure, Miss Tap Out,” he teased, missing her emotionalism.

“Brock, I mean it!” Darcy said seriously.

“So, you still want to live together?” he said.

“Absolutely. Bring all your stuff. How soon can you move in? Or do I move in with you?” she said. “How do we do this? I’ve never lived with anybody who wasn’t a broke ass intern with no stuff.” She thought he understood she meant all his stuff.

“I think I should move in with you,” he said. “I like it here.” He was going to bring his clothes, toiletries, and kitchen stuff. He’d put the rest in storage. Her furniture was less expensive than his, but he’d gotten used to it. Now his couch felt all stiff and too new and Darcy-scent free. He didn’t like that. He’d already called Jack.

 

***

“What’s the sexiest Batman cosplay?” Darcy said. “Catwoman? Harley Quinn? Poison Ivy?” They were browsing online in the lab. “I’ve eliminated Wonder Woman.”

“I’m concerned that all of those are villains,” Jane said.

“Hmmm,” Darcy said. “But he loves Batman and Vicky Vale is just a notepad and a trench or something.”

“Boring,” Jane singsonged. Darcy nodded. “Princess Leia?” the tiny scientist prompted.

“Ugh, the slave thing is hella awkward,” Darcy said. “I’d rather be a criminal.”

“There’s more fun in crime,” Jane joked.

“I feel like there would be. I’d be good at stealing stuff,” Darcy said.

“As long as you didn’t fall down,” Jane said. Darcy began to laugh, then stopped.

“Shut up,” she said.

“You’re so sexed up, you didn’t even realize that was a joke about you, did you?” Jane said, giggling.

“Nope. Let’s go to a costume shop,” Darcy said. “I want him to be wrecked, Jane. He wrecks me all the time.”

“I am aware,” Jane said archly.

“Look, we didn’t actually have sex in the supply closet, I swear. We were just kissing. I know you wouldn’t want bare ass on your office supplies,” Darcy said.

“Thank you,” Jane said.

 

***

“You’re sure you want to do this, mate?” Jack said to him. They were packing up his apartment. They’d been working on it for several hours. All his collectibles were going into storage. “She could like it,” Jack said. He’d repeated this theme for the whole complicated packing process. Brock was bloody fussy about his stuff.

“I’m sure, just pack,” Brock grumbled. “She wants to live together, I gotta put this stuff away.”

“You’re okay with it?” Jack asked seriously.

“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “This is just stuff, Jack. I bought it when things were shit.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t need it anymore.” Brock truly believed that. Every time he looked at some of it, he thought about how low he’d been as Crossbones. He couldn’t shake the association. He felt happy and optimistic about the future now. As Crossbones, he’d thought his life was going to end soon. But now? He was just getting started. He and Darcy did things together. He didn’t want a hobby that she wasn’t into, not when they could take more cooking classes, swap books, and even take goat yoga together. He was into couple things now. She was talking about getting a tattoo with him next time, letting him pick the place. He grinned.

“Okay,” Jack said dubiously. “I wonder who broke in, if they didn’t take anything?”

“Fifty bucks says it was Romanoff, practicing,” Brock said, shrugging. “She broke into Smith’s last week, took his vodka.”

“Why?” Jack said.

“Some sort of crazy thing she’s doing, telling everyone their building’s secret weaknesses. She writes a report. Hill thinks it’s a collegial way for her to stave off boredom when Banner’s out of town, so we need to be supportive,” Brock said. “Smith apparently didn’t activate his system, so she taught him a lesson by taking his Stoli.”

“Huh,” Jack said. “I hope I turned mine on. I just bought a good bourbon.”

 

***

“Babe?” Brock said. Darcy had asked to meet him at her apartment at a specific time. It was dark in the living room. He wheeled in the hand truck with some of his boxes.

“Hey, there’s wine!” Darcy called from the bedroom. “Leave the lights off.”

“Yeah?” he said. “What are you doing?”

“I thought since you were moving your stuff in, I’d dress appropriately,” Darcy called out. “I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure I will,” Brock said. He was pouring himself and Darcy glasses of wine when he looked up. He spilled the sauvignon a little. “Fu-fuck,” he said, stuttering. He put the bottle down.

“What do you think?” Darcy said, putting her hands on her hips. She and Jane had made the Poison Ivy costume themselves with fake leaves, green bra and panties and a pair of glittery fishnets. It was, well, barely a costume. “Is there an itch you’d like me to scratch?” she asked, flipping her red wig.

 

He stared at her for a long moment, blinking.

 

“Brock!” Darcy said, “say something, Jane and I burned ourselves with a glue gun for this moment. I really thought you’d like it, after I saw your comic book collection. Or are you just speechless? I hope you’re speechless.”

 

He blinked again. “Did you break into my apartment?” he said.

 

“Just a little teensy break in, I didn’t touch anything. Well, your books and your bed. And Jane touched the stormtrooper. She wanted to play with the lightsabers, but I knew better.” She put her arms around his neck. “So?”

“When you said all my stuff, you meant all my stuff,” he said, shocked.

“Of course! I love your stuff.” She smiled at him.

“You love my stuff,” he repeated. His brain was having trouble processing. It might have been the lack of blood flow. She was incredibly sexy-looking in the Poison Ivy costume. He grinned dopily.

“Would you like to go to Comic Con?” she said. “I could call Tony, see if he could get us tickets?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But you won’t be wearing that.”

“Why not?” Darcy said.

“I’m gonna wreck it,” he said hotly. “Also, I think we can do the circus sex thing.”

“How?” Darcy said, as he scooped her up.

“Lots of pillows and blankets underneath you,” he said.

“Oh,” Darcy said. She brushed lips against his jawline, shivering a little at the scrape of his stubble.

“But I have a long term plan to design something with those aerial silks from your yoga magazine,” he said.

“Like a sex swing?” Darcy said, looking up. She’d been kissing his neck.

“I just need to find the support beam or a tall enough swing base,” he mused out loud, as he carried her into the bedroom.

“Hmmm,” Darcy said, grinning.

“What?” he said.

“I’ll ask Tony. He’s probably made one.”

 

They were lying in bed, surrounded by fake bits of ivy, when he remembered. “Shit,” he said.

“What?” Darcy said sleepily. Her red wig was eskew and her green eyeshadow had migrated all over her face.

“Jack’s gonna murder me. We put all my stuff in storage today,” he said.

"Whoops," Darcy said, closing her eyes. "Hey, I forgot, I have cool news--"

"Yeah?"

"Hank wants to meet you," she said. "When he gets here. He emailed me today, the three of us are having lunch." There was a strangled sound from his side of the bed. Darcy opened her eyes. Brock looked like a goldfish. "Babe, breathe," Darcy said.


-The End-