“I feel blah-just blah and miserable,” Darcy told Natasha Romanoff’s cat. It had darted into her apartment when she opened the door. Little Anatoli tended to do that. He and Natasha lived down the hall. Darcy kept him whenever Natasha was out of town, so Anatoli had basically claimed her apartment, too. She didn’t know how he got out all the time, but assumed he’d picked up tricks from watching Natasha. He was a stunning Russian Blue cat, all silver-coated and jewel-eyed. “I’m telling you,” Darcy said to the intelligent and playful cat as they sat on the couch, “because I don’t have anyone else to tell. It’s December 27th and I’m totally aloooone.” She said the last part dramatically. Darcy was alone because Jane and Thor were on Asgard for a big end of year shindig; they didn’t do Christmas or Hanukkah up there, but they had a weirdly aligned New Year’s Eve thingy. Janey and the Thor Bear had departed via hammer over a week ago. Odin had only extended an invite to one goat girl, so Darcy had stayed in DC. Jane would come back hungover, Darcy knew. Asgardian New Year’s was a week in Midgardian time. Darcy’s roommate, one Agent Sharon Carter, hyper-professional badass, was staying with her boyfriend, Captain America, at a resort for Christmas.
Everyone but Darcy was having a great holiday. “Sadness is a total b, Anatoli,” Darcy announced, sighing. “In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten in trouble at work for a wardrobe violation--SHIELD hates my tie-dye comfort-foam sneakers--and had to get a doctor’s note that I need comfy athletic footwear for sixteen hour days keeping Jane alive because otherwise I get corns and had to give the freaking note to HR. I know they’re talking about it behind my back, because Clint Barton sent me an email about Iowa’s best corn dishes today. That was just the beginning off my humiliation, ‘Toli: I was gently shot down by Captain America hisself when I asked if he wanted to see a movie because he’s dating my roommate and Sharon didn’t tell me, I had to spend seven hundred bucks in emergency car maintenance that I’d sorta earmarked for my rescue puppy adoption and medical care fund, everyone at home’s asking why I haven’t settled down yet because two of my cousins got engaged, I got a lob haircut that I hate in a misguided attempt to cheer myself up, and turned thirty-one on December 3rd. December birthdays suck, unless you’re Jesus. I wonder if I could change my birthday legally, like people change their names?” Anatoli gazed at her with his green eyes and didn’t respond to Darcy’s stream-of-consciousness monologue. Unlike Jane, who’d gently suggested that Darcy see the SHIELD therapist because “you just don’t seem like yourself lately, Darce,” Anatoli made Darcy feel slightly better when she confided her weird feelings. The cat blinked. “Oh,” Darcy added, “I also have such bad PMS that the side of my face is all broken out and I cried at a Starbucks commercial because there’s nobody bringing me a peppermint mocha at the train station and later at It’s A Wonderful Life and also at that jewelry ad that’s, like, super-inclusive and has moms and elderly people and a lesbian couple, just because it was so touching. Nobody’s buying me jewelry, either. I feel”--Darcy sighed---“unhappy.” Anatoli meowed. He sounded almost sympathetic. “Yeah. Not just unhappy, invisible,” she continued, “like that episode of Buffy where the girl is so marginalized at school and home that she just disappears and nobody even notices?”
She sighed and went to get Anatoli some canned food. She was alone and she was talking to a cat. That was definitely one step closer to becoming Disappearing Darcy.
Anatoli batted at the fringe ends of Darcy’s couch blanket until he heard the can opener. Then he dashed into the kitchen.
“What’s the bet for this year?” Jack Rollins asked the other guys on STRIKE. They were having a post-Christmas drink at their favorite dive bar with some other SHIELD employees. “Best score in recert again?” Whoever won the best scores on the agent recertification tests got free drinks for the year. Everyone on STRIKE participated, with the exception of Rumlow, who insisted that as Commander, he ought to set an example by paying for his own booze. He was still competitive enough that he always won the recert contest, but he graciously ceded the prize to whoever was second.
“Bet?” Cameron Klein said. They’d invited him along, though he didn’t know why. He suspected it was all Jack, who was a good dude.
“Every year, the guy who wins gets free drinks,” Jasper Sitwell explained. He’d gotten friendly with Rollins and Rumlow when they were all triple agenting within HYDRA.
“Lotsa drinks, kid!” Smith said.
“Nah, we’ve done that twice now,” Rodriguez said. “I wanna do something different. Something really fun.”
“Best mission success rate?” Lee asked.
“Too difficult to quantify, since people lie,” Jack said.
“Who lied?” Smith called over. He was playing pool.
“You, asshole,” Rumlow said in a low voice. Cameron laughed.
“First guy to get into Carter’s pants!” Smith called from the adjoining pool table.
“One, she’s Cap’s girl, two, you’re appalling, mate,” Jack said, shaking his head. “That’s terrible.”
“You’re trash, Smitty,” Rumlow said dryly. “Besides, even if she was single, Carter wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.”
“It’s an idea, though,” Rodriguez mused. “Who else is attractive?”
“It’s a terrible idea,” Jack said.
“What’s that girl’s name? The weird one? Boobs McTaser?” Rodriguez said. “Works with Foster in the labs?”
“Do you mean Darcy Lewis?” Jack said.
“Yes! Her and her amazing rack. You’d have to keep her from talking about cartoons or whatever, but she’s hot as fuck, for an ex-drama nerd,” Smith said, wandering over. He was slightly drunk; he’d been second running-up on last January’s recert and was cashing in on his last free rounds.
“All right,” Sitwell said, “that’s my cue.” He clapped Rumlow on the shoulder. “Try not to violate too many HR rules.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Rumlow said.
“Can I get a ride home?” Cameron asked.
“Sure,” Sitwell said.
“Goodnight, fellas. How’d you know she was a drama nerd?” Jack asked Smith quizzically, as the other two men departed.
“He’s guessing,” Rumlow said.
“C’mon, it all adds up: the weird scarves and sweaters and glasses, too much makeup, slightly overweight?” Smith said. “She probably has low self-esteem and would be really, really grateful. So grateful,” he drawled. Cameron Klein flinched as he walked away.
"Shut up, Smitty," Jack and Rumlow said in unison.
“What the hell was that?” Cameron said to Sitwell, as they walked to his car.
“Bullshit, probably,” Sitwell said. “Rumlow’ll rein ‘em in. He’s responsible. He doesn’t let his guys run wild.”
“Should somebody warn Darcy Lewis? She’s Sharon’s roommate,” Cameron said.
“I wouldn’t worry,” Sitwell said.
The thing was, Cameron was a natural worrier. Back home at his apartment, he fretted. Sharon Carter was pretty much his cousin--Peggy Carter and his grandfather had become friends because of their mutual connection to Steve Rogers--and Cameron had grown up hearing constant stories about Cap’s integrity. Cap, he thought, would warn a lady. Cap would have probably taken on half of STRIKE, just overhearing that conversation. Cameron felt like a failure. He picked up his phone and dialed Sharon’s home line. It picked up on the second ring. “Hello?” a female voice said.
“Miss Lewis? Darcy Lewis?” Cameron said. “This is Cameron Klein. I’m, uh, Sharon’s cousin, sorta?”
“Oh, she’s mentioned you. Oh em gee, is something wrong?” Darcy asked.
“Uh, no. Well, yes--uh, this is difficult to explain,” he began.
“What’s happened to Sharon and Steve?” Darcy said.
“No, they’re fine, but, um, I was at a bar with some of the STRIKE Alpha guys and they have a yearly bet,” Cameron said. “Usually, it’s something harmless, who gets the best score on recertification--”
“Oh,” Darcy said.
“But this time, someone mentioned you as a possible bet,” he said.
“Me?” Darcy said, sounding befuddled.
“Going to bed with you,” Cameron said quickly.
“Getting me into bed like a freaking teen movie?” Darcy interjected.
“Um, yes?” Cameron said.
“What do they even get?” she asked.
“The winner drinks for free all year,” he replied.
“Holy shih tzu, those fuckheads,” she said.
“Sitwell says they won’t, Rumlow will stop them, but--” Cameron began.
“Sitwell was there, too?” Darcy said.
“Yeah. I’m sorry. I know this is upsetting, but I felt like I should warn you, just in case someone tries anything,” Cameron said nervously.
“I appreciate the warning, Cameron,” Darcy said. She sounded sincere to him. “Really, thanks.”
When she hung up, Darcy crawled into her bed and cried. She was grateful to Cameron Klein for warning her, but she felt upset, humiliated, and just hurt. She hated working at SHIELD, even if they did give her health insurance and benefits. She just didn’t feel like her normal self at all.
The next morning, she used caller ID and got Cameron Klein’s number, so she could interrogate him about all the details before she walked into a situation at work on Friday. Someone had called her a drama nerd and talked about her boobs and her love of cartoons? It hurt more when she found out Jack Rollins--Jack who she’d met dragging Jane to the SHIELD free meditation workshops!--had been present, although he’d called the guy who suggested it trash or something? A nervous Cameron had struggled to repeat the exact convo details, but Darcy felt pretty sure she didn’t need to worry about Jack trying to get into her pants: he had a serious boyfriend, a scientist in R&D.
“Morning, Miss Lewis,” someone said as Darcy got on the elevator with her peppermint mocha latte. She’d stopped for a fancy one, just as a treat. She was trying to improve her mood with little things. She’d held Anatoli for five minutes before work, until he fled, clearly feeling smothered. “You’re here early,” the voice continued. She looked up. A dark-haired guy in tactical gear was smiling--no, smirking--at her around a toothpick. Darcy recognized him as the team leader for STRIKE Alpha and her heart sank. What was his name? Rollo or Russo or something? Of course she’d run into one of them so soon. And this was normally the gloweriest of the glowering crowd. So, why the smile?
“Good morning, um, Commander. Lots to do,” Darcy lied. She stepped out of his line of sight to lean against the elevator wall.
“Uh-huh,” he said. He rolled a toothpick between his teeth and looked over his shoulder at her. “You have a nice holiday?”
“Yeah, great break for me,” Darcy said, lying again. Her mother had always advised that letting assholes who’d insulted you think you were perfectly fine around them was the best way to handle things, but Darcy didn’t agree. She felt sick and miserable. Like she could actually vomit.
“Wish I could say the same. My whole family’s in New York, they rented a place upstate and I was stuck down here,” the Rollo guy said.
“That’s too bad,” Darcy said. Why is he telling me this? Oh my God, He is trying to get me to trust him, Darcy thought. Quel rat! He’s one of the creepy drunks trying to win the sex bet? You know, you’d think the freaking team leader would have a little class or at least be more afraid of Fury. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh. This is a nightmare of bonkers proportions. I should just yell at him. Or tase him? But I’m already officially on probation with HR for my dress code violations about my shoes and the one time I wore penguin pajamas into work and those emails Clint and I sent that stuck up Miranda decided were inappropriate. Double ughhhh.
“Yeah, my sister just had her first kid,” he said. The elevator doors opened to the lab floor.
“Congratulations on being an uncle,” Darcy said smoothly, stepping off.
“Thanks,” he said, looking as if he could say more. The doors closed. Darcy went into work, alone, and tried to concentrate on filing and fiddling with lab rearrangements. It was technically easier without Jane accidentally portalling her stapler to another realm, but Darcy was lonely without someone to listen to her Office Space impression. The day passed quietly and then she went home and collapsed on the couch. She could veg out here safely all weekend until Sharon and Steve returned from their holiday getaway after New Year’s, so she watched Christmas in Connecticut with Anatoli and sighed over her inability to meet her own Dennis Morgan.
Jane sent a raven on Saturday. Anatoli looked at it in a slightly alarmed fashion as it tapped on the window, a bit of parchment tied to its feet. The parchment was lined in gold. This was the Asgardian equivalent of a cheery email. Jane had written her a note asking how she was. Darcy took a purple ink pen and then scrawled a reply.
Fine. It’s super quiet here. Me and Anatoli are chillin’ like villains. Everything’s good, though I miss you guys bunches.
An Asgardian raven parchment was not--most definitely not--the place to get into sex bets, her seasonal depression, or that even Anatoli seemed to be finding her a bit too clingy this week.
Darcy had assumed she would be able to dodge STRIKE Alpha until Thor came back to put the fear of Mew-Mew into them (she could have tased them, but Miranda had a whole three-strikes and the reprimand goes into your permanent record nightmare thing; Darcy wanted to save her final strike for something really fun). But when she arrived at work on Monday--New Year’s Eve--there was a small container on her desk. A little peppermint-chocolate mini bundt cake with an attached note.
Would you like to have dinner sometime soon? This week?
“Ughhhhh,” Darcy said out loud. There was a number at the bottom and an official SHIELD email.
“Something wrong, honey?” one of the passing R&D ladies said. Tonya. Her name was Tonya.
“I, uh, just got a baby bundt cake an offer of a date?” Darcy said.
“Awwww,” she said. “That’s cute.”
“Yeah,” Darcy said.
“Rumlow,” Darcy said, checking her slip of paper. Tonya whistled.
“Lucky you, Lewis!” she said. “Have you seen those gym feeds?” Tonya pretended to fan herself and Darcy laughed. The people on STRIKE teams spent half their lives at the gym.
Once she was alone, Darcy sighed. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked then realized she was talking to herself again, like Disappearing Darcy. She shook her head. The nightmare is real. He’s already badgering me for a date. On New Year’s Eve? The year hasn’t even started yet! How can I escape this nightmare? Report them to HR? No, snotty Miranda would never believe me, anyway. She totally favors hot men and didn’t believe that arrow prank was *all* Clint, even though, hellllooooo, arrows! The Rumlow guy would deny, deny, deny and she’d just simper at him and bat her eyes. I’m le screwed. My only hope is Maria Hill’s flawless bullshit detector and she’s out of town until next week. What do I doooooo?
Darcy was still puzzling over logistics--would it go into her SHIELD file if she, say, tased Rumlow just off premises?--when she ran into the man in question in the breakroom. Well, ‘ran into’ was a stretch: she was making a lone coffee of sadness when STRIKE Alpha stomped down the hallway, looking particularly ominous. Rumlow spotted her and peeled off, rolling off a few instructions at Jack, who gave her a brief smile, then returned to his terrifying resting bitch face and continued on with the rest of the death squad. She had a feeling that face was what got Jack recruited all the way from Australia: the first time he’d aimed it at her, she’d been so alarmed, she looked behind her for aliens or elves. She was still thinking about that when Rumlow stepped into the breakroom.
“Hello,” he said, leaning against the door frame.
“Hello?” she said back, not impolitely.
“Did you get my note?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“I thought you liked peppermint because of the, uh, coffee thing,” he said, meaning her latte, probably.
“I do like peppermint,” she said coolly.
“What night would work for you?” he asked, clearly mistaking her yes of affirmation, re: notes, receipt of, to be an affirmative on dinner. Zero personality , Darcy thought, he’s treating this exactly like a mission thing. He must be desperate for free booze or just like being the guy who wins these pissing contests.
“Well, not tonight, obviously,” she said, laughing. He raised an eyebrow. “It’s New Year’s Eve?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I forgot.” He grinned. “I’m still on Beijing time, I must be on the wrong calendar, too.” Okay, fractional personality. But probably still a dbag.
“What about Thursday?” Darcy suggested. With any luck, Thor would be back with Mew-Mew soon; SHIELD never reprimanded him, he was too valuable, so she could sicc Thor on anybody. Worst-case scenario, she would stand this jerkface up and leave him sitting in a restaurant somewhere.
“Thursday’s great,” he said, smiling slowly. God, his smile is so smug, Darcy thought. “Assuming no major terrorist incidents, can I pick you up at Sharon’s at seven?” he asked.
“Oh, no, I’ll meet you there,” she said, slightly alarmed that he knew where she lived already. All she had for security was Natasha’s cat.
“I know a good place,” he said, tapping the door frame. “I’ll email you directions,” he told her, still smiling.
“A sex bet? A fucking sex bet?” Jennifer said to Darcy. Jennifer was one of the SHIELD archivists; Darcy had gone downstairs to have lunch with her and escape the too-quiet lab, finally confessing the weird secret she’d been keeping. The archivists were Darcy’s favorite people so far at SHIELD. Jennifer had ordered her a subscription to Us Weekly and they’d gone to the movies, coffee, or shopping a few times. Darcy considered her a new friend. She had freckles and a dry sense of humor, two boxes on Darcy’s “How to Tell if Someone is Adorable” checklist.
“Literally,” Darcy said. “I wonder if I’ll need to tase or stand up the entire team or if humiliating Rumlow will be enough?”
“You’re gonna get Thor and Jane to turn him into pavement stain, right? That should do it,” Jennifer said. “Those asshats.” She glared off into middle distance.
“Seriously,” Darcy said, sighing.
“What’s wrong?” Jennifer said. “You seem...down? Don’t let these ass clowns--”
“I think I just feel sad in general. Seasonal sads? Like Christmas is over, SHIELD is a way bigger adjustment than I’m used to, Ian and I finally called it quits for what I swear is the last time a few months ago. They’re taking down the twinkle lights and everyone is making their resolutions to lose weight and this is always the saddest time of year for me….” Darcy said. She looked down at the magazine. “Look, even Chad and Michelle broke up!” One of the women from Destiny’s Child had ended her engagement amidst a still-airing reality show. Darcy had seen a ton of ads for it as she watched reruns of her beloved Dateline with Keith Morrison.
“Turns out Chad doesn’t love Michelle,” Jennifer cracked.
“Or Michelle doesn’t love Chad…” Darcy began, then clapped her hand over her mouth. She had an idea.
“What?” Jennifer said. Darcy smirked.
“I have an idea. A devious idea. Thank you Chad and Michelle!” she said, laughing.
“What?” Jennifer said. She looked incredulous. Her eyebrows were around her forehead.
“Just because we go on dates, that doesn’t mean we’re having sex. Chad and Michelle were saving themselves for marriage--”
“Allegedly,” Jennifer said skeptically.
“But the bet isn’t about dating, it’s about sex. The first person to have sex with me wins, right? Well, what if I tell this Rumlow guy that I want to wait? That I want a serious relationship established before we fool around? He’ll be hanging around, waiting, for something that never happens. That’ll run off the rest of STRIKE, won’t it?” Darcy said.
“He could tell everyone you did have sex?” Jennifer said.
“My roommate is Sharon, my neighbors are Natasha, Jane, and Thor, I’d have plenty of witnesses who saw that he dropped me off at the door,” Darcy said. “If he tried to lie--”
“He’d be totally emasculated,” Jennifer said, giggling. “Are you going to be all crazy?”
“Crazy?” Darcy said.
“Like, How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days bonkers date?” Jennifer said.
“Oooh,” Darcy said. Jennifer invited her out for New Year’s Eve with the rest of the archivists, so they spent the lead up to midnight brainstorming the worst possible date behavior.