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The art of flirting

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Jensen is sitting on the hood of the car when the soccer players leave the field and begin to cross the parking lots in twos and threes with their parents and siblings.

There’s high pitched chatter and laughter and the thud-thud of bouncing soccer balls.

“Hey Jake!” Hannah squeals as soon as she is close enough. “Did you see that goal?”

“You played great!” he answers with enthusiasm sweeping her off her feet and swinging her around.

Sarah, Jensen’s sister gives him a familiar half amused – half irritated look.

He shrugs and rolls his eyes.

A little girl in a pink Petunia t-shirt runs up yelling about ice cream.

“Can I? Mom?” Hannah asks.

“Yes, here,” she gives Hannah some money.

“Get me one too,” Jensen blurts out. “With chocolate.”

Hannah runs off; Sarah glares at Jensen who gives her his most innocent look, complete with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

“Do I need to give you the lecture?” she says.

“What?”

“On sportsmanship. On not yelling at the ref ...”

“She was way out of line.”

“So were you.”

“The girl was pushed!”

“Not your job.”

“But the ref ...”

“Would have given her a penalty if you hadn’t jumped all over her.”

They glare at each other.

“It’s not about winning or losing,” Sarah reminds him firmly. “It’s about the other intangibles that kids learn from sport.”

“I hear you,” Jensen mutters, with a hangdog expression.

Hannah comes running up with not two, but three ice cream cones dipped in chocolate, because she’s smart enough to know that if uncle Jake is getting ice cream, her mom should as well.

 

Sarah drops Jake off at his work place after the game. He’s working as a salesperson at a computer store that also offers repairs and advice.

There’s not a lot to do at first. A few customers come in, wander around, Jensen shows them some laptops and explains why a router isn’t working for a customer.

A pair of young women haunt the store, dressed oddly in Daisy Duke-style cut off jeans and tank tops. They don’t appear to be serious about buying, flitting from iphones to cameras to laptops, but they flutter their eyelashes at Jensen and ask him pointless questions.

“Show me how the camera works on this one,” one of them says coquettishly.

Obligingly, he takes a picture of her then a selfie of him and her. He makes a face in the selfie and then shows the girls how to save and then delete both pictures. He knows they’re not going to buy; they’re just hanging around.

After the store closes, Jensen heads to the back of the store and locks himself in the office.

This is the real reason he works here, surrounded by outmoded computers and modems and routers.

He plugs his Stark laptop into a sleek black box and boots it up. Taps into a server, logs on to a site, waits ...

He’s never been to New York, but he feels like he knows the city.

The satellite he’s hacked into shows a street scene in downtown Manhattan. Jensen taps an icon to get his fancy new program working and waits ...

There’s the Starbucks on 85th street. He can see a woman with long curly dark hair carrying a tray of coffees walking away from the camera with her back to him.

There’s another scene of a busy plaza, office workers streaming out of towers, dressed in monochromatic uniforms of blue and black suits, occasionally enlivened by a woman’s cream blazer or red scarf.

He taps the icon again and finds a busy street scene with yellow cabs parked by the curb and a street musician busking in a doorway. There are crowds of people, some in pairs, some alone, some tapping and talking on phones ...

Jensen makes a face and logs out. Taps into another program and sends a quick email.

While he’s waiting, he turns on another computer and starts up a basic accounting program.

And flips over a third laptop and opens up the back with a screwdriver. Gotta keep busy.

The Stark laptop pings and he clicks open the message and grins.

“Thank you, buddy,” he mutters, tapping in the new information to the face recognition software.

A series of images pop up and he scrolls through them.

And stops at one. He clicks to freeze the image. A beautiful dark eyed woman with curly hair piled up in a messy bun, smiles at a companion off screen. She’s licking some sauce off her finger and Jensen barely suppresses his groan.

He zooms in so close he can see her freckles and notices that she’s wearing mismatched earrings.

He jumps when there’s a tap at the door.

“Come in!” he calls too loudly, quickly clicking to switch the screen to dark.

His boss, Marty, shuffles in apologetically. Jensen likes the guy – he was willing to hire Jensen despite no credentials or references and only a sketchy history. He owes him.

The guy wants to talk. He’s wringing his hands and shuffling nervously.

Jensen doesn’t want to be mean but he’s been yelled at, spat upon, threatened, beaten and sworn at by Marines and gangsters – it’s hard to take this doe eyed man seriously. But he tries. He smiles encouragingly.

“It’s about the phone you sold the other day,” Marty says carefully.

“Sorry?” Not what he’d expected to get called out on.

“The Nexus? To the kid who wanted something for university?”

“Oh yeah,” Jensen frowns trying to remember what he could have done wrong.

“Well, the thing is,” Marty says apologetically. “When he came in, he was planning on buying an iphone, but you actually talked him into the Nexus.”

“Well yeah,” Jensen agrees. “The Nexus was exactly what he wanted and a whole bunch cheaper.”

“That’s the thing,” Marty explains, “It was cheaper. We kind of lost money on that sale.”

“But he was happy to get a phone that could do everything he wanted,” Jensen points out.

“But this is a store,” Marty explains. “We exist to sell things. And it’s not the first time you’ve suggested something cheaper, or told people not to buy things, or offered to repair something when the customer was willing to buy a new product. I can’t keep going like this.”

Jensen opens his mouth, intending to argue about customer service and value for money and integrity and then he shuts it. And nods obediently. “OK man, I hear you,” he says.

Marty peers at the other computer screen showing an excel spreadsheet covered with numbers. “How’s all the ... accounting stuff going?” he asks.

“Fine,” Jensen shrugs.

They’re both hiding something from each other.

Marty feels bad because he’s paying Jensen a shitty salesman’s salary while asking him to spend a couple of hours every day doing the thankless accounting tasks that he hates. Jensen can’t make any commission sitting in the back office and Marty knows a real accountant would cost a whole bunch more.

And Jensen feels bad because he isn’t spending hours crunching numbers – he fixed up a macro that does all the necessary work in about ten minutes. He’s spending his down time hacking into satellites and other supposedly secure sites in New York.

He’s re-routing all information through other sites so there’s absolutely no risk to Marty, but still ... there’s a little guilt there.

Marty sighs. “If the numbers don’t add up, you should know that Mr. Alvera’s check bounced,” he says glumly.

“Oh man!” Jensen exclaims. “You should not accept checks from guys like that. He bought, what ... five computers and accessories for his little so-called business?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Marty mutters. “But I can’t say ‘no’.”

“Sure you can!” Jensen insists.

“Not to a guy like that.”

“No-one uses checks any more,” Jensen says angrily. “Unless they’re meaning not to pay. You should let me set you up with a debit machine.”

“They’re expensive ...”

“I know a way to do it that won’t cost anything,” Jensen urges him.

“Maybe ...”

“How much did you lose on that sale? You gonna go after him for it?”

“Not worth it,” Marty says glumly. “He’d lawyer up and cost me more to fight it than I’d get back.”

After Marty leaves, Jensen goes back to his illicit surfing. His buddy in New York wants to know if he lost power the night before. Jensen's rerouted their communication to make it seem like he's writing from Seattle. He's beginning to wonder why he chose a city he's never been to. He clicks on the weather channel and writes back that the storm blew through pretty quickly and didn't affect him.

"We're used to lots of rain," he writes, wondering if there's a specific Seattle accent he should know about.

 

It’s dark by the time Jensen closes up the office. He jogs over the local gym which is open 24 hours but has a membership of about 12 people so there’s always lots of space. He changes into gym clothes and works out methodically, counting reps in his head as he listens to his ipod.

The only two guys he ever sees at the gym are in the modified boxing ring, not actually working out, just hanging around, telling ‘war’ stories and bragging about fights that get tougher and meaner with every retelling.

“Hey man,” one of them calls to him as he’s on his way to the rowing machine. “Want to go a few rounds in the ring? You look like you know how to throw a punch or two.”

Jensen doesn’t look like a boxer and he knows it, but it’s also true that he knows how to fight.

He shrugs. “Naw man, maybe another time.”

“I’ll go easy on you,” the man says, a mean smile teasing his lips.

“Not what I’m here for,” Jensen answers, settling into the rowing machine and adjusting the weights.

“What are you here for?” the other guy asks. “Just want to look pretty?”

Jensen eyes him. They’ve both been drinking, the stink of beer is obvious. They’re spoiling for a fight.

He sighs. He’s been antsy, fretful all week. Been needing a good workout all week.

He climbs off the rowing machine and approaches the ring.

“I don't box," he points out. “Never fought with gloves.”

“But you have fought before,” the older man says bluntly, not asking a question, but stating an obvious fact.

“Yeah. Some.”

“If not boxing, then what?” the first guy asks. “Ultimate?”

“Something like that,” Jensen acknowledges. He takes off his glasses and places them carefully on top of a dresser. He blinks, squints at the men. They’re blurry but he can see well enough to land a punch.

“So we’ll fight barehanded,” the first guy says, climbing into the ring. “Go easy on you. Show you the ropes. No hard feelings whoever wins, right?”

He grins, a nasty, gap-toothed smirk.

Jensen climbs into the ring and shrugs his shoulders, loosening them up. He flexes his fingers, watching his opponent carefully.

They shake hands and introduce each other. The fighter is called Derek.

They circle each other cautiously.

Derek feints, swings an arm experimentally; Jensen dodges, watching for weakness.

The other guy heckles them from the sidelines. “Come on! Ya look like a pair of grannies afraid to step into the rain!”

Derek steps up and swings for real but Jensen ducks and hits him hard in the ribs, aiming for the kidneys.

“Fuck!” Derek swears, lashing out and landing a glancing blow on Jensen’s head.

It doesn’t hurt Jensen, but Derek ends up shaking his hand in pain. He’s clearly used to wearing gloves.

They feint, and swing, sometimes connecting, sometimes missing, for a few more minutes. Jensen avoids going for the head shot – not worth it in a dirty fight. Instead, he pounds Derek in the ribs and belly. Derek swings at the head, but misses more often than not.

Then Jensen steps up, fakes a punch, sidesteps and hits Derek with a resounding thud that has the older man staggering for moment. Derek throws his elbow up and catches Jensen in the mouth.

“What the hell!” he yells.

“Anything goes, buddy!” the man watching crows cheerfully.

“Really?” Jensen snarls.

“This ain’t your mama’s book club,” he laughs.

Jensen sizes Derek up. The old man is well padded, a bit drunk and favouring one hand. “Seriously, no rules?” Jensen asks irritably. “You want to go there?”

“Bring it on,” Derek invites him.

Jensen dabs at the blood on his mouth.

Derek charges.

Jensen catches him with a knee to the groin, and an elbow to the temple and Derek collapses in an ungainly heap on the mat.

Fight over.

“Holy crap!” his friend yells, climbing into the ring to tend to him.

“You said ‘no rules’,” Jensen grunts, climbing out. “Thanks for the workout. Been a while.”

 

It’s late and very dark when he arrives home and he’s surprised to find Sarah sitting outside in a plastic lawn chair, clearly waiting for him. She hands him a beer as he approaches.

“Good workout?” she asks mildly, ignoring his fat lip, obvious even in the dark.

“Uh huh.”

“Work was OK?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

“You sound like Mom,” he complains faintly. “Did the school call? Should I be confessing to something that you already know about?”

She laughs. “No.”

Jensen drinks his beer.

“You know we love having you here ...” Sarah begins.

“But?”

“Well, I’m just kind of wondering what your plans are.”

He shrugs. “Stay, work, watch Hannah play soccer, drink some beer.”

She sighs.

“As long as I can help, you know with bills and Hannah and all, I’ll stay.”

“You don’t need to,” she tells him softly. “Don’t feel obligated.”

“To my family?”

“There’s not much for you here,” she points out.

“I’m OK,” he assures her.

Sarah nods in the darkness. The crickets chirp.

Jensen is on his best behaviour at soccer. He kicks the ball around with Hannah and some of her teammates.

“Remember, you got to anticipate where your teammate will be when you pass,” he coaches. “See? Run  ... now pass to where she’s going to be. Yeah. That’s it.”

He’s not officially the coach of course so when the real coach shows up, he jogs obligingly to the sidelines.

Sarah notices that a woman she’s seen around (not one of the other moms) has taken Hannah aside and is asking her something. Sarah saunters down to investigate.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hannah is saying. “But I’ve got to go. Coach is calling.” She runs off.

Sarah raises an eyebrow at the woman who looks slightly embarrassed. She’s younger than the usual crowd, mid twenties, attractive, well put together, over dressed for soccer in a nice summer dress and heels and make up.

“That’s my daughter,” Sarah says mildly. “Is there something you wanted to know?”

The woman hesitates, but can’t really avoid the question. “I was actually just asking about the guy, you know, the one in the pink t-shirt. Trying to figure out who he was.”

“My brother, Jake,” Sarah supplies.

“Uh huh.”

“Why ...?”

“He was in the military, right?” the woman asks.

“Yes.”

“Why’d he leave?”

Sarah scowls. “He did his duty. Got out safe and sound. The longer you stay in, the greater chance you have of not coming home.”

“I was just curious,” she says defensively.

“Who are you?” Sarah asks mildly.

“Emily,” she answers. “Dara’s aunt. I’m staying in town this summer.”

“Ah.”

Jensen jogs up to them, looking fresh faced and cheerful. “Hey, it’s going to be a good game,” he says with enthusiasm.

“Have you been giving Hannah extra lessons?” Emily says playfully. “She looks great out there.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jensen laughs. “We’ve been kicking the ball around every day after school. She’s really keen.”

Sarah nods to both and wanders off while the pair engage in a spirited discussion of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

She speaks to a few other mothers and then finds a seat in the bleachers. She can watch their conversation from afar. Jensen is his usual kinetic self, bouncing on his feet, gesturing wildly, nodding enthusiastically. Even from here, Sarah notes with amusement how Emily flirts with him, putting a hand gently on his arm while he talks, tossing her nicely coiffed hair, smiling, leaning in to listen even though he’s usually loud enough for everyone in the neighbourhood to hear ...

The game goes well. Hannah scores; Jensen does NOT attack the referee. They’re in a good mood as they walk back to the car, Jensen and Hannah passing the soccer ball back and forth, even as he tries to check something on his phone.

Emily waves as they pass.

“She seems nice,” Sarah observes mildly.

“Uh huh,” he says absently.

“She ask you out?”

“What? Yeah. How’d you know?”

Sarah smiles mysteriously.

“I’m not going.”

“Why not?”

He shrugs.

 

There’s an argument in full swing when he gets to work. A well dressed businessman with slicked back dark hair is complaining loudly to Marty who is (surprisingly) holding his ground.

“You owe us almost $3000 for those computers,” Marty is saying firmly. “No, I’m not giving you credit. Not until you pay us.”

Jensen nods to Marty and reaches over the businessman to get a binder down from a shelf.

“Problem?” he asks mildly, standing far too close to the businessman who jumps and cringes away.

“No.”

He shrugs and wanders away to a couple watching the argument with some concern. “Can I help you?” he asks. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Marty comes looking for him as soon as the businessman leaves.

“What the hell?” he hisses to Jensen under his breath. “Did you do something?”

“Excuse me?”

“Alvera says that there’s money been taken out of his account – exactly the amount that he owed us for the computers ...”

“So? He wrote a check, we cashed it.”

“It bounced.”

“Apparently no.”

Marty pauses.

“Look, we sold him five computers – he paid us the right sum of money. What’s the problem?” Jensen insists.

“How’d you do it?”

“What makes you think it was me?”

Marty glares. It’s not a very threatening glare, but he does look mildly pissed off.

There’s a jingle as the front door opens. Jensen is distracted by a man’s voice telling customers to leave.

“Hey!” he calls out, noticing that the new customer is shooing customers out. “What are you doing?”

The stranger turns to him. “We need to talk to you. Without distractions.”

“You can’t just close the store,” Jensen complains.

“You’ll find I can,” the guy says coolly. He’s dressed absurdly formally in a three piece black suit.

Jensen spies at least two enormous black SUVs parked sideways across the parking spots at the front of the store.

A woman, dressed in a formal black pantsuit just like the man, walks around the counter. “All clear in the back, boss,” she says.

Jensen has a very bad feeling about this situation.

Marty is looking confused. “What the hell is going on?” he complains.

The man in the suit, who is wearing sunglasses even though he’s indoors, flashes an official looking badge in their direction.

Jensen has seen too many bad movies to be fooled by such a move.

“Mind telling us what this is about?” he asks, trying to keep his cool.

“Is this about the money?” Marty asks nervously. “I swear ... I didn’t”

“It’s not,” Jensen cuts him off firmly.

The man in the suit looks amused. “Well, at least we know we’ve got the right guy,” he says. “You don’t even look surprised to see us.”

Jensen scowls.

The man crooks his finger at Marty. “You, come over here,” he orders.

“Um ...”

“He doesn’t know anything,” Jensen says tiredly. “You can just let him go.”

“Oh we will,” the man assures him with a smile. “We’re not going to hurt him. But you wouldn’t want him hearing what you’ve been up to on his premises, using his equipment, would you?”

Marty looks horrified.

The man takes off his sunglasses and surveys Jensen carefully. There’s no warmth in his smile. “Shall we go into the back?” he suggests. “I believe that’s where the action is, right?”

“It’s not criminal stuff is it?” Marty asks desperately. “Oh God, not pornography?”

Jensen rolls his eyes and leads the way into the back office. It occurs to him that this man is being pretty careless walking into an unfamiliar place with no backup. But he looks again at the man and sees past the suit. Sees the careful balanced walk, the watchful eyes, the way he angles himself, the casual way he keeps his hand near his hip where a weapon is likely hidden. This guy is a professional.

Well so is he, after a fashion, so he decides to see how this plays out.

“Let’s start with introductions,” the man says quietly. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Jake Jensen.”

“CIA, black ops? Comms for Franklin Clay?”

Jensen raises an eyebrow.

“You look pretty spry for a dead guy.”

“Since you already know who I am ...”

“Shut up.”

Jensen shuts up.

The woman walks into the back. “He’s taken care of, boss,” she says.

“What?” Jensen exclaims.

“He’s fine,” she assures him. “Tied up so he can’t get into any trouble.” She rolls her eyes at his apparent concern and sits in Jensen’s usual chair in front of the computer monitor. She flips it on and lets it warm up.

“Want to tell me who you’re working for now?” the man asks Jensen.

“Introductions usually go two ways,” Jensen points out sullenly.

“Agent Coulson, agent May,” he points to himself and then to his partner.

“And who do you work for?” Jensen asks.

Coulson looks amused. “A quasi governmental group that investigates ... shall we say ... unusual events that might be of interest.”

“Quasi governmental,” Jensen snorts. “That’s a good one. Black ops, you mean.”

Coulson shrugs.

The woman, May, plugs a USB key into the computer and starts typing.

While she’s working, Coulson starts asking Jensen questions. At first, Jensen can’t figure out what they’re looking for. They ask a lot of questions about whether he’s ever been to LA (not since he was a kid), which groups he might be working for, whether he’s being blackmailed (not yet) ... how he obtained some special technology that they’re not willing to describe so how can he admit whether he’s got it or not?

It’s all as clear as mud and he’s beginning to wonder if they’re actually looking for someone else.

Then May finds a folder that he thought he’d hidden and clicks it open.

Jensen grimaces.

Coulson leans over and scrolls through them. They’re about a dozen or more stills from video taken by various security cameras and satellites. All of the same person, taken on different days.

“Pretty girl,” Coulson comments drily.

Jensen winces.

Coulson watches him carefully. “Do you know who she is or are you just stalking some random girl you’ve taken a liking to?”

Jensen considers and then decides that the truth is less icky. “I know her,” he admits.

Coulson makes a face.

“Darcy Lewis,” Jensen explains. “I met her a while ago. She lives in New York.”

“Course you know that,” Coulson says sarcastically. “You’ve been stalking her by satellite. You know where she lives, where she works, even ... what kind of coffee she likes.” He taps one still of Darcy leaving a Starbucks, her coffee in hand.

Jensen sighs and scrunches down in his chair.

“I met her in Bolivia,” he admits. “When I was still ... in exile more or less.”

“Uh huh.”

Jensen shrugs.

“You do know that stalking is illegal?” Coulson says drily. “As is hacking into secure security feeds and satellites. You’re facing years in prison if convicted.”

“What do you want?” Jensen asks. If they’d just wanted to catch him, they wouldn’t need to go through this interrogation which couldn’t be used in a court of law.

“You know who she works for?”

Jensen hesitates. Yes, he knows, but if this guy doesn’t know ...

Coulson reads his mind. “I know who she works for,” he says bluntly. “I have her number in my address book. “I’m asking if you know.”

“Yeah.”

“And it didn’t occur to you that they’d freak out as soon as they learned they were being hacked?”

“I didn’t think they’d know,” he says defensively.

May is crawling around under the desk and she’s come up with the usually well hidden Stark laptop. She pulls it out with a cry of delight.

“You’re using stolen technology to tap into ...”

“It’s not stolen.

“It hasn’t been released yet.”

“It’s not stolen. It was given to me.”

“By whom? Darcy?”

“Not exactly.”

“Don’t be cagey.”

Jensen shrugs. “If you know who she works for then you must know them, right? The Avengers?”

“Yes ...”

“Captain American gave it to me,” Jensen says coolly. “Thanks for a job well done.”

He can see that he’s finally surprised Coulson.

After a moment, Coulson gets up, takes out his cellphone and walks outside. May sits back and watches Jensen with an amused look on her face.

“I didn’t do anything,” Jensen points out. “I mean I could have ...”

“That’s what has everyone concerned,” she points out. “You had access to way too much information. We couldn’t find evidence that you’d taken anything of value, but the fact that you could ...”

Coulson stalks back in looking furious. “Story checks out,” he says tightly. “Rogers says he gave the laptop to Jensen about a year ago. Says if we’d asked, he’d have told us. Would've saved us months of work ...”

Jensen cannot help but be amused that Coulson has Captain America in his cellphone address book.

Coulson and May get ready to leave.

“Does Darcy know?” Jensen asks awkwardly. “I mean about the photos and the ... stalking, sort of?”

Coulson snorts. “Not from us,” he says. “But it’s only a matter of time. If you like her, call her for crying out loud.”

 

Sarah comes home to find dinner in the oven and Jensen teaching Hannah self defense in the back yard. He doesn't call it that, of course. He tells her that they're wrestling, but Sarah can hear his exhortations to kick the back of his knees and then stick her fingers into his eyes.

She grabs a drink and wanders out to find Jensen collapsed in the grass, groaning theatrically while Hannah laughs uproariously.

"Let me catch my breath," he begs.

"She hurt you?" Sarah asks in amusement.

"Shoulda worn protection," he groans.

"Hope they don't teach wrestling in gym at school," Sarah says. "Teachers will get an awful surprise."

He eyes her warily. Hannah runs off inside.

"You don't mind?"

Sarah shrugs. "I mind," she says. "But I think it's necessary. Maybe I should get you to teach me some self defense?"

"That's a great idea!" he exclaims bouncing up. "Come on!"

"No, no," she complains. "Not now. I'm in my work clothes."

"Perfect!" he insists. "If you're attacked, it's not like you can just say, 'hey wait while I get my yoga pants on'."

She puts her drink down and listens while her baby brother demonstrates how she should punch, elbow and kick an attacker. He shows her the vulnerable parts and urges her to aim to hurt.

"Ready?" he asks.

"No," she admits, but she plays along.

He approaches from behind and grabs her. She lashes out with an elbow and misses.

He steps back. "You gotta get mad," he urges her. "Go on. I can take it."

She scowls. "I'm not sure I can hit you."

"Sure you can," he grins. "Think of all the times I've made you sooo mad. Like when I set fire to your dollhouse, or when I cut the hair off your favorite doll ..."

He pretends to attack again and she catches him with an elbow and then punches him in the kidney like he'd shown her.

"Mom!" Hannah shouts from the doorway, sucking on a popsicle, "you got to kick him in the balls!"

Both Sarah and Jensen collapse in giggles.

"As long as you can kick a real life attacker, you don't need to prove it to me!" he laughs.

"I'd rather not," she agrees.

Hannah comes back for another bout while Sarah sets the table.

She's mad at the army for what they've done to Jake. He left a happy go-lucky, goofy guy.

He's come back with scars, both visible and hidden. She's seen the one on his arm where a bullet grazed him, and the pink scars on his fingers are clearly from burns. There's a long, narrow scar on his back that can only be from a knife. He was supposed to be safe - with brains like his, he'd been promised a desk job, working on computers and such. How'd he end up doing hand to hand combat and being declared officially dead?

He seems mostly OK. He is still goofy, still generally happy and willing to get down and play with kids, but he also walks too carefully, listens too intently to the dark, pays too much attention to his surroundings, knows too much about dirty fighting, guns and explosions.

Sarah hates what the army has done.

 

Emily calls after dinner and Jensen walks outside, pacing around the play structure nodding and saying 'uh huh' every few minutes.

"You're going out?" Sarah guesses when he comes back in.

"What? No," he answers. "I mean, she invited me to this concert in the city, but I said no."

"Hmmm."

"What?"

"You should tell her you're not interested. Stop leading her on."

"I'm not leading her on ... crikes are we back in high school or something?"

"She's not really your type, is she?"

"What do you mean?"

"I think your type is curvy brunette, with long curly hair, brown eyes, always smiling, sassy ..."

Jensen groans. "How'd you uh ... when did you ever?"

Sarah grins at him. "I had to pretend to be shocked when you came back, but I'd already heard the good news from this ... pretty young woman who visited us a few months before."

"Uh huh. And what did she say that made you think ... ?"

"It's not what she said, it's how you've been since you got back."

"How so?"

"Girls buzzing around like flies on honey and you're just pushing them away. The old Jake would have been chasing after them with his tongue hanging out."

"Maybe I just got older. Got more discerning."

Sarah snorts. "Did she break your heart? Do I need to track her down and have a big sister chat with her?"

"What? No."

"So tell me about her."

He sighs. He tells her a condensed version of their story - met in Bolivia, spent a couple of days together, then she returned to the US.

"Does she know you're back?"

"No."

"Why haven't you been in touch?"

"Dunno."

"Let me clarify, this was mutual, right? Not just a crush?"

"Yeah."

"You slept with her?"

"It's embarrassing to talk about sex with my sister!"

"So call her!"

"She's in New York and I'm ... here."

"Why are you here? Haven't you always wanted to go to New York?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

New York is not quite as Jensen had pictured it. Apparently you can't really get to know a city from google maps and satellite surveillance. The city is noisier than expected and crowded and busy and vibrant.

Sarah has an old fashioned map and paper guide book; Jensen has his smartphone. They quickly figure out that their plans are far too ambitious. It takes longer than expected to walk to their destinations and there are sooo many distractions along the way.

Hannah bounces along, delighted to be in this crazy city. She has her list of sites to see gleaned from books and movies. They overlap the traditional tourist sites and in between they're all three willing to veer off course to check out an interesting store or a quirky cafe of which there are many.

"I've gotten so used to all the chain restaurants, I'd forgotten what an independent business can look like," marvels Sarah.

"It's cool - everything's unique. You never know what you're going to get," Jensen agrees. "Wonder if we can find the 'soup Nazi' place?" He surfs his phone.

By dinnertime they're beat. They sit at an outdoor terrace and rest their aching feet.

Sarah waits until Hannah is absorbed in a game on Jensen's smartphone before she leans over and asks him, "when are you meeting her?"

"Who?" he answers wide eyed.

"We're in New York," Sarah points out. "Surely you've touched base with the girl of your dreams? Told her we're here? Made plans to meet up?"

"Err no. Kind of slipped my mind."

"I have the familiar urge to smack you," she says.

He grimaces. "Sorry, I meant to."

"Don't apologize to me," she says. "What are you thinking? Is she married or something? Why not just send her an email?"

He shrugs, looking absolutely miserable.

They eat a scrumptious meal. Hannah regains some of her bounce and she and Jensen start discussing the secret lives of their fellow diners ...

- and that guy over there is really a secret agent ....

- and that lady is really a princess in another country but is hiding from the evil bad guys who want her to marry their ugly prince ....

- and that couple over there are actually from the future and they're hoping to stop a murder that will change the course of history ...

- and that child isn't throwing his sippy cup, he's really a wizard and he's practising his levitation skills, but because we're muggles ....

Hannah snatches Jensen's smartphone to look something up and a woman approaches their table.

"If you're thinking of dessert," she says in a throaty murmur, "I'd recommend a cafe down the road. Killer cheesecake."

Jensen swivels so fast he practically puts a kink in his neck.

Hannah too looks up in some surprise. "Don't I know you?" she asks brightly.

"You're Hannah, right?" the woman says with a smile. "Are you enjoying New York so far?"

Hannah nods, "uh huh."

Sarah grins. The woman smiles and shakes her hand. "Nice to see you again."

"Likewise."

She indicates an empty chair. "May I?"

"Of course."

She sits and finally looks at Jensen who closes his mouth with an obvious effort. He still looks stunned.

"Hey," she says.

"Hey," he manages faintly, rendered speechless.

He takes her in. She's wearing kick-ass knee high boots, a short, flirty skirt, a lace bustier-style top and a cropped jean jacket. Her hair is loose, hanging in waves around her face and she's wearing just a touch of make-up with bright red lips.

He gulps, feeling breathless and a little faint. "How'd you ... how'd you know ... find us?" he stammers.

Darcy quirks one eyebrow. "You may rely on technology, but my sources are flesh and blood and highly reliable," she answers mysteriously.

Sarah clears her throat. "I think maybe you two need some time," she suggests. "Did you say something about cheesecake? Nearby?"

"Yeah," Darcy turns her attention back to Sarah. "Where are you staying? Is it nearby? Why didn't you tell me? You could have saved some money and stayed at the tower."

"We got a hotel, not too expensive, out in Queens." Sarah explains.

"Oh my god, that's like what? Two hours away?"

"It's a distance," Sarah admits.

"Seriously, just come and stay at the tower," Darcy urges. "It's free, right downtown and has great food and amenities."

Sarah hesitates.

Darcy pulls out her phone and pushes some buttons. "Tell you what? I'll get my driver to go out right now to your hotel, pick up all your stuff and bring it to the tower."

"I wouldn't feel right ..." Sarah says uneasily.

"It's no trouble."

"I'd have to go with ..."

"OK. So you go ..."

"And I'll bring Hannah with me and leave you two to talk or whatever you need ..."

"Sounds good. I'll alert Jarvis." Darcy says.

A uniformed chauffeur appears and Darcy introduces them. He holds Sarah's coat for her and they leave.

Darcy turns to Jensen. "So?"

"So," he repeats stupidly. "You know Jarvis?"

"Of course. How do you know him?"

"We've been emailing back and forth. He was kind of helpful there for a while but I think he ratted me out."

Darcy looks amused. "You've never met him?"

"No. First time in New York, but we've chatted plenty."

"You're going to be surprised when you meet him," Darcy says mildly.

"Why? Is he like an eighty year old dude? He seemed pretty with it to me."

Darcy regards him carefully. "Want to get some dessert? Or drinks? Or something?"

"Drinks," he says firmly. "Some alcohol would be good, drinks are a very good idea right now, just now."

He signals the waiter for the bill and then realizes while he's paying that Hannah has taken his smartphone.

"Oh my god," he says. "Will you call them? Get them to turn around and bring it back?"

"They will be crossing the bridge by now," Darcy says. "It'll take forever. Just chill."

"But what if I need it?" he asks in horror.

"For what?" she answers.

He trails after her as she leads the way across one street and down the sidewalk.

"She's like my baby," he babbles. "I don't think I've ever been separated from her."

"The phone?"

"Yeah."

"I'm sure your niece will take good care of her."

"Huh." He is unconvinced.

"Hope it's password protected. Wouldn't want your little niece stumbling upon dirty pictures or anything." Darcy says idly.

"I don't have dirty pictures on my phone!" he insists.

He follows her down the street, his senses still tingling. Darcy in real life, in 3D, is so much better than the two dimensional version he's been drooling over on his laptop screen.

He's entranced by the bounce of her ... hair ... and how her hips swing as she strides along, walking fast despite her high heels.

And the quick flash of her smile.

And the sweep of her lashes ....

He's drunk on her presence, but also acutely aware that she's not very approachable just now. She's brittle and tense and obviously irritated.

Given what she said earlier about his use of technology, Jensen's guessing that she knows about his stalking.

It's not that Jensen needs to be told that stalking is a bad thing. He's been warned of the perils on numerous occasions. He knows right from wrong, contrary to the opinion of some of his army buddies. But it's a habit that's close to a compulsion for him. Hard to stop. Pooch has in fact been at pains to remind Jensen that one of these days, someone he cares about is not going to forgive him.

Watching Darcy stalk down the street, he's beginning to wonder if his nightmare is coming true.

He follows her into a club, wincing a bit at the volume of the music. Darcy orders at the bar and he steps closer sniffing at the vaguely familiar sweetish smoke he can smell.

"Oh yeah," she tells him. "Medicinal marijuana club in the back. Customers keep their prescriptions in their back pockets in case of a raid."

"Nice loophole."

She grins.

The bartender hands over a beer and fancy mixed drink with an umbrella. Without a word, Darcy hands him the girly drink and takes a long drink from her bottle.

He loves that she remembered his fondness for dainty drinks.

He sucks it down and buys the next round wanting the buzz of alcohol. They head into the throng of dancers. A very pretty girl grabs his hand and tries to get him to dance. He extracts himself and looks up to find Darcy half dancing with a very inebriated, very large man.

Jensen steps up to them and grabs for Darcy's hand; she takes it with relief and they wind their way through the crowd.

They dance a bit - it's too loud to carry on a conversation. Jensen buys himself another drink and throws it back.

"A bit loud!" he shouts into her ear. "Mind if we uh ...?"

She nods.

They head towards the tower. He knows where it is thanks to his 'surveillance' but he has little idea of to get there.

The alcohol is just beginning to hit him.

He pats his pocket and grimaces.

"Still missing your phone?" Darcy asks.

"It's like a phantom limb," he complains. "Hurts. I can almost feel her vibrate."

"You know, people used to manage just fine with land lines and payphones."

"Not my generation," he grumbles. "Lost my phone virginity when I was ten or eleven. Never been without."

Darcy snorts and leads him around the side of the tower to a private staff entrance. She swipes a badge that opens a kind of sliding panel. She sticks her hand in and presses her fingers to the security pad.

"Lewis and guest," she says clearly.

A green light flashes and the door clicks.

Jensen opens it and they enter a kind of entrance hall with a now empty desk and elevator.

"So," Darcy says facing him. "What are we doing here?"

"This is the tower, right?" he asks.

"Yeah."

"OK?"

"So what's going on?" she says. "What are we doing? What do you want?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I don't hear from you in months, and then you just show up in New York and it's not even you who calls me ..."

"That's what you're mad about?"

"Well yeah!"

"I'm sorry."

Darcy glares at him.

"Look, it's not you. I wanted to call, but I've been so ... so out of sorts. I can hardly ... I'm not doing anything right these days."

"What do you mean?"

"I go into the drugstore to buy shampoo and there's like thirty different types and I end up walking out 'cause I can't choose. And Sarah wants to know when I'm going to move out ... I'm sorry I didn't call. After a certain point, I just started to doubt my own memory of what was between us."

Darcy bites her lip. "You started to doubt ...?"

Jensen rubs his short hair in agitation and nods miserably.

"It's OK." Darcy says gently.

"Who did call you? How'd you know I was here?"

"Sarah."

He grins. "I owe her."

Darcy smiles. "I guess so."

Jensen nods, watches her intently.

"So," she repeats. "We're back to where we started. What do you want?"

"What do I want!" he exclaims. "Am I that hard to read? I'm so fucking turned on by you that I'm pretty sure that the drunk guy in the bar could tell what I wanted." He steps closer to her.

She reaches out to tap his chest. "So I'm not going to have to beg?" she teases.

"Beg?" he laughs a little breathlessly. "I don't think I've ever had a woman beg for me before. Maybe beg me to stop talking ..."

She grabs a bit of his T-shirt in her hand and tugs him closer.

He threads his fingers through her hair.

"Come on Jacob," she murmurs, "I want you so bad ..."

He kisses her and it's every bit as good as he remembers, soft and wet and sweet.

He reaches down with his free hand and slides it under her skirt, running his fingers under the elastic of her panties.

"Oh fuck, Darcy," he groans.

"That's the idea," she giggles, nibbling along his jaw. "But not here. I have a bed upstairs."

"Lead on," he gasps, pulling away with reluctance.

She takes his hand and leads him into the elevator where they make out on the short ride up to her floor.

They enter her apartment. "It's messy," she warns. "I wasn't expecting a guest."

"Funny," he chuckles. "Didn't you complain about what slobs we were?"

She unzips her boots and steps out of them. Throws her jean jacket over a chair.

"Oh crap, Darcy," Jensen says suddenly, looking horrified. "I don't have any, ah ... I wasn't expecting ... I'll have to make a run to the drugstore."

She laughs. "I guess you were never a boy scout, huh?"

"Not for long," he grumbles. "I got kicked out for setting too many fires. But what does that have to do with?"

"Always be prepared," she says, walking into her bedroom. "I think I have some protection in my bathroom."

He follows her into the bedroom. While the rest of the apartment is spare and small, rather like a dorm room, the bedroom is enormous, even the bed is huge.

"I'm guessing this is where the action is?" he laughs as he peels off his T-shirt.

She returns waving a strip of little squares. "They just expired, but I'm willing to take the risk if you are."

"Should get us through the night," he says lightly.

"That's ambitious of you," she teases.

"Come here," he grabs her and pulls her into bed. "Let me show you how 'ambitious' I am."

Chapter Text

Jensen wakes up the second time the radio comes on as Darcy wiggles out from under the tangle of limbs and tries to escape the bed.
 
"Urgh, where you going?" he slurs sleepily, reaching for her.
 
She dodges him nimbly. "Gotta get up. Go pee, have a shower."
 
"Come back to bed," he insists, eyes still closed.
 
"Nope" she chirps brightly. "Gotta go to work."
 
He forces his eyes open and peers blearily at her as she scrambles out of bed and steps into the adjoining bathroom. "Call in sick?"
 
"I live and work with my colleagues. They're gonna know. Besides, I like my job. Interesting things happening today."
 
He grunts and tries to reorganize the mess of sheets that he's tangled up in. The fitted bottom sheet has become untucked, the pillows are on the floor, as is the comforter, while the sheets are tangled in ropes and knots.
 
He wakes again when the radio clicks on for the third time. He groans and flails at the alarm clock until he figures out how to snooze it again. He can hear the shower so Darcy is clearly intent on being responsible.
 
By the time she gets out, he's half dressed and hunting for his socks.
 
"Joining me for breakfast?" she asks.
 
"Yeah," he says. "It occurs to me that I didn't check in with Sarah to see if she arrived safe and sound. For all I know, you sent her off with a serial killer."
 
"Some guard dog you are," Darcy says lightly. "Forgot your duty as soon as a pretty girl whistles."
 
He grins, flashing his boyish smile, "can ya blame me?"
 
He follows her into the elevator.
 
"You look gorgeous," he says, "how am I going to keep my hands off you?"
 
"You'd better," she warns him, patting down her sleek business suit. "I don't want to get all 'mussed' up."
 
"Is that a challenge?"
 
"Not meant as one."
 
He leans in for a kiss and she bats him away ineffectively. He grabs at her, hands spanning her waist and then runs his hands down her hips, around her pert bottom ...
 
She breaks off the kiss, gasping. "Oh my god ... we can't, not here."
 
He hums, kissing her along her jawline, nibbling at her ear. "Come back to bed with me. After breakfast."
 
The elevator stops and pings. They break apart as the door opens to let in a small, elegant woman. She eyes them both with amusement as Darcy nods to her breathlessly and tries to pull herself together, re-tucking her blouse in and patting down her hair.
 
The woman is tiny, with a bob of dark red hair, wearing a kind of catsuit made of slinky black leather-like material that hugs her curves.
 
Jensen goggles at her. "You're the Black Widow," he breathes reverently, "Natasha Romanov."
 
"I know," she says with amusement, her voice throaty with just a hint of an accent.
 
"Oh man," he says, his eyes lighting up. "I'm such a fan. I've watched the video footage of the Chitauri battle I don't know how many times. You were amazing."
 
Darcy smacks his arm.
 
“The things you can do,” he gushes, “the way you jump and zap … and …”
 
Natasha shoots Darcy a what-the-hell look.
 
Darcy looks exasperated and gives a kind of helpless shrug as if to say, 'what can I do?'
 
They arrive at the commons area. Jensen still looks star struck, but he's distracted by the new surroundings. On one side, there's a living area with squishy couches and a game console. Right opposite the elevator, there's a dining area with one enormous table and several much smaller ones scattered around.
 
Sarah waves from where she's sharing a table with an attractive dark haired gentleman.
 
Hannah is perched at the huge L-shaped island separating the dining area from a restaurant quality kitchen, currently staffed by two chefs who are apparently taking breakfast orders and cooking to demand.
 
She's deep in conversation with a scruffy man, who causes Jensen to wonder at the tower's security, since he looks like a homeless man - unshaven, with dirty, greasy hair sticky up all over, wearing faded pajama bottoms and a bizarre AC/DC T-shirt.
 
"Not cool, Jake," Darcy mutters. "Try not to geek out too much at actual Avengers when they're in their own home."
 
"What? Oh yeah. I wish I'd got her autograph or a photo or something. You know, I also missed out on asking Captain for an autograph. Never even told anyone I met him."
 
"Did you hear what I just said?" Darcy presses.
 
"Oh sure," he says absently. “Tap down the geekiness, right?”
 
"You know what else is not cool? Openly lusting after another woman right in front of me."
 
He looks slightly surprised. "Seriously? You're jealous?"
 
"I'm not jealous," she assures him coolly. "Just pointing out that such drooling is not good manners."
 
He blinks wide, innocent eyes at her. "You know I only have eyes for you."
 
"And if Natasha crooked her finger at you?"
 
"Gone," he admits ruefully, with a shrug. "But what are the chances?"
 
“She’d eat you alive,” Darcy warns him idly.
 
“Yup. Probably,” he agrees.
 
Darcy rolls her eyes and leads him to an enormous elaborate coffee machine that looks like a cross between a vending machine and a slot machine.
 
“What kind of coffee do you want?” she offers.
 
“How the hell do you work this thing BEFORE you’ve had your morning coffee?” he asks in bewilderment.
 
“You’re not the first to make that observation,” she says wryly. “But Tony doesn’t do simple.”
 
She punches some buttons and hands him a mug of coffee. Then her phone buzzes.
 
“I got to take this,” she excuses herself. “You go get yourself some breakfast.”
 
So Jensen saunters over to the kitchen island, tells the chef what he wants and then interrupts the intense conversation between Hannah and the homeless man to ask her about his phone.
 
“It’s charging,” she answers brightly. “I left it on last night.”
 
“Brat,” he grumbles.
 
“Who are you?” the homeless man asks with a frown.
 
“I’m Darcy’s … I came with Darcy … err she let me in,” Jensen explains inarticulately, aware that it sounds like he’s a stray puppy that followed Darcy home.
 
The guy scowls. “Not enough of a reference for me. What’s your name?”
 
“Jensen, Jake Jensen.”
 
The guy looks unimpressed. “That’s supposed to mean something? Jarvis?”
 
Jensen looks around as he hasn’t yet met Jarvis and doesn’t know what he looks like. The only other person sitting at the island is a big blond dude with sleep mussed hair, wearing a tank top that does nothing to contain enormous muscles.
 
“Hey,” the guy greets him. “You’re the kid from Bolivia, right?”
 
“Oh hey, yeah. That’s me. Morning Cap ... err … Mr. Rogers.”
 
The guy grins and turns back to his plate of waffles stacked like pancakes several layers high.
 
An elegant cultured, vaguely English voice emerges from a speaker somewhere nearby. “Sir,” he says, “the young man is no other than the hacker who caused such a ruckus a few weeks ago.”
 
“You hacked the tower’s security system,” the homeless guy snarls. “How the hell did you get in?”
 
Jensen is distracted by the arrival of his breakfast, piled high with scrambled eggs and sausage and bacon and toast …
 
He misunderstands the question. “I used the Stark tech that Captain, err Mr. Rogers gave me.”
 
“You what? That’s not even on the market yet!”
 
Jensen shrugs.
 
Darcy arrives at his side. “Problem?” she asks sweetly.
 
“I don’t know who I’m angriest at,” the homeless man says nastily. “You!” he points at Rogers, “for giving proprietary technology to some hot shot kid you meet on the street …”
 
Rogers quirks one eyebrow at the guy. “He didn’t steal anything,” he says mildly. “And in fact, he exposed a pretty serious security breach so I’d say we owe him our thanks.”
 
“Like you know anything about digital security …!”
 
“Keep telling yourself that,” Rogers says ironically.
 
The guy turns to Darcy and waggles his finger at her. “Or you! For bringing your one-night stand, piece of ass …”
 
“He’s not a one night stand!” Darcy snaps back at him.
 
“Thinking with your ovaries instead of your … I don’t care how damn good he is in …”
 
“KIDS!” snaps Rogers.
 
“What?”
 
“Kid’s in earshot. Watch your language,” Rogers says firmly.
 
The guy looks around wildly as if he can’t figure out what Rogers is talking about.
 
Hannah waves at him from her chair right next to him.
 
“Oh yeah,” he says, focusing on her. “So how old are you, like 13?”
 
“I’m ten,” she says gravely.
 
“So there are things I’m not supposed to say in front of kids,” the guy says irritably. “Like I can’t talk about ‘hacking’?”
 
“Sex,” Rogers correctly him firmly. “Watch your language about ‘sex’ around kids.”
 
The guy throws his hands up in the air as if to indicate that no reasonable person could possibly guess that and Jensen realizes that the ‘homeless’ guy is actually Tony freaking Stark.
 
 
 
Darcy insists on being responsible and going off to work. Sarah and Jensen collect security badges from the front desk (although Jensen almost causes a security incident by refusing initially to give fingerprints and then by loudly explaining the flaws in their tech-dependent security system) so that they can return at will. And then they take on the mantle of tourists and hit the city for the second day.
 
Darcy texts periodically throughout the day and apologizes for missing dinner. Jensen sends her selfies at each tourist spot and excitedly tells her that he thinks he saw a movie star.
 
 
 
It’s late by the time Darcy returns to the tower to find Jensen and Hannah in the commons area playing a video game.
 
“Hey!” she heads straight to the bar. “Drink?”
 
“Got one, thanks,” Jensen answers and then shouts excitedly as his character escapes a trap on screen. “Ah ha! Thought you got me, huh?”
 
“You’re taking this way too seriously,” Hannah complains. “I’m just a kid.”
 
“Uh huh,” he snorts. “Take that!”
 
Darcy comes around to where he’s sitting on the couch, hikes up her very tight skirt and straddles him, grabbing both sides of his face and kissing him enthusiastically.
 
“Mrgh!” he grunts, dropping his game console and responding to her in kind – with enthusiasm.
 
“Hey!” Hannah complains loudly.
 
They ignore her. Jensen runs his hands up Darcy’s bare legs and around her waist. They bump teeth, he nips at her lip.
 
“Seriously,” Hannah complains. “I’m beating you, Jake, watch me! She fires some zaps at the screen and the game plays a sad little tune to indicate the ‘demise’ of a character.”
 
Jensen comes up for air. “Worth it,” he murmurs, running his fingers through Darcy’s hair which is pinned up in a neat knot. “God, you’re hot. Did you have a good day?”
 
“Yeah. Busy,” she says. “Sacrificed today so I can finagle tomorrow off.”
 
“Great!”
 
Hannah flips channels on the game. “Should I leave?” she asks. “You’re not going to do the ‘sex’ thing, are you?”
 
They laugh, breathlessly. “No,” Jensen assures Hannah. “No, we’re not. Not here.” He sounds just a little disappointed.
 
Darcy grins, quirking one eyebrow.
 
He sighs theatrically.
 
“What have you been up to?” Darcy asks.
 
“He’s been ‘hacking’” Hannah announces.
 
“Should I be worried?” Darcy wonders.
 
He shrugs. “Seen Stark yet?”
 
“He was right behind me in the elevator.”
 
“Should be hearing something then soon,” Jensen promises.
 
“Oh?”
 
“Figured Jarvis out.”
 
“He’s not a real person,” she tells him gently. “He’s an AI.”
 
“I know,” he grins.
 
Right on cue, the speakers crackle into life, but it’s Tony, not Jarvis, on the intercom.
 
“Where the fuck is he, that little asshole!!!”
 
“Tony!” Darcy yells. “Mute mute! There are kids, well a kid, in the room!”
 
Jensen bites his lip, eyes shining with delight.
 
“Jarvis, can you bleep out the swear words?” Darcy asks, knowing full well that Tony will override her commands if he can’t get through.
 
“Oh course, Miss Lewis,” Jarvis says, but his voice is different, no longer cultured and English, but raspier and vaguely like Thor …
 
Darcy frowns.
 
Tony bursts into the common area. Darcy makes to get off Jensen’s lap, but he holds her tight and looks up at Stark with his most innocent expression.
 
“How the hell? What the fuck! Why? …” Tony is spluttering furiously.
 
“What’s going on?” Darcy asks.
 
Tony points at Jensen, jabbing angrily. “He hacked, he changed … he got Jarvis … !!!”
 
“You said you’d fixed it so he couldn’t be hacked,” Jensen says smugly.
 
“Jarvis!” Darcy calls out. “What’s going on?”
 
And Jarvis answers in a perfect Australian accent, sounding like a teenaged surfer, “This dude changed my voice! Now I can’t stop talking like this!”
 
Darcy cracks up, collapsing onto Jensen’s chest, howling with laughter.
 
Tony is spitting mad. “Change him back,” he snarls fiercely.
 
Jensen grabs his phone and pushes a few buttons. “Better?” he asks.
 
“No mon,” Jarvis complains sadly in a Jamaican accent. “I sound cool, but not like myself any more.”
 
Tony’s eyes bug out.
 
“Sorry, sorry!” Jensen exclaims, pushing more buttons quickly. “My bad! That was a mistake. OK! Ok now?”
 
And Jarvis speaks in his familiar elegant accent, sounding relieved. “Yes, thank you, all systems restored.”
 
Tony practically vibrates with fury, standing in his own common area, glaring at Jensen. He points. “I am so going to get you fired,” he says quietly, angrily. “From your current job, whatever it is, and from every future job. I’m going to make sure you can’t find work anywhere, doing anything, even slinging burgers …”
 
Jensen looks unconcerned.
 
“And then,” Tony declares, “you’re going to come crawling to me, desperately looking for work and I’m going to LAUGH in your face.”
 
He marches off to the elevator.
 
“It’s a negotiating strategy,” Darcy assures Jensen once Tony is out of earshot. “He likes you.”
 
“Really?”
 
“I know him,” she says coolly. “He wants you to work for him. You should play hard-to-get.”
 
“Huh?”
 
“You could set your own terms,” she insists. “You could have your own apartment, work part-time, get him to fly you in his private jet back and forth so you can cut the grass at your sister’s place … whatever you want.”
 
“I’m not sure hard-to-get is in my playbook,” he admits.
 
“Trust me,” Darcy promises, tracing a pattern on his chest.
 
The elevator pings again and Sarah enters waving her smartphone around. “I recorded Jarvis reciting Waltzing Matilda in an Australian accent!” she exclaims in delight. “Too funny for words!”
 
And Darcy sees the family resemblance.
 
 
 
As they head downstairs, Darcy suggests that they stop at Sarah’s suite to get Jensen’s stuff.
 
“Already done it,” Jensen says. “You place is all cleaned up. You have a maid?”
 
“Cleaning service,” she says idly. “How’d you get in to my quarters? I live in the secure section where you need an escort … just realizing that I’m saying that to the guy who hacked Jarvis.”
 
He grins. “Want to see my security card?”
 
She takes it, glances at it, looks again and laughs. “Is that really you? Is that high school? You’re wearing braces!”
 
“Yup,” he smirks. “Grade 11.”
 
“How?”
 
“School put all their archived photos in a digital archive – easy peesy.”
 
“But why?”
 
“Stupid to rely so much on technology,” Jensen says seriously. “Computers are tools; it’s people who have to make the decisions. See here ... a computer will look at the photo and say, ‘yup’ that’s the right guy. But a person will look at it and say, ‘what the hell? Something’s wrong.’”
 
“Huh.”
 
“I spent some time working with Israeli security forces,” he admits. “Blew my mind.”
 
“Really?”
 
“You can’t rely on tech too much. Man, security at American airports is terrible. Just drives me nuts.”
 
“I heard you made a fuss about the fingerprints.”
 
“Officially I’m dead,” he reminds her. “So I don’t want my prints being put into another database. I switched them out.”
 
“You did what?’
 
“Deleted mine and replaced them in the database with a set I pulled off anther database.”
 
“You replaced … with someone else’s?” Darcy says faintly.
 
“Yup.”
 
“Whose?”
 
“Omar Kadr.”
 
“The name rings a bell …”
 
“He was in Gtimo. See there are fingerprints in databases all over the place – civil service, prisons, immigration … and they’re never very well protected.”
 
“Gitmo! Oh my God, you gave access to the tower to an Islamist terrorist?”
 
“Just ‘cause he was in Gitmo, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad guy,” Jensen points out reproachfully. “In his case, I don’t actually know. But anyways, he’s still being held somewhere. He’s not coming to New York any time soon.”
 
Darcy wonders if this is a case where she’d be justified in breaking the girlfriend code and telling Tony the exact nature of the security breach.
 
They enter her apartment which is indeed much, much tidier than when she left this morning.
 
“Oh look!” Jensen says. “They found my sock.”
 
She laughs.
 
But Jensen is looking a little nervous and drumming his fingers on his pants. “I have something to tell you,” he admits uneasily.
 
“Uh huh.”
 
“I know you’re going to be mad about it and you’d be justified because it was really, really bad and I shouldn’t have done it, but I’m kind of hoping you’ll forgive me and …”
 
“Jacob,” she interrupts. “What is it?”
He sighs. “I’d hate to mess up a good thing and to be honest, it’s kind of why I didn’t contact you for so long, but if you do forgive me … can we just skip straight to the make up sex because well …”

“Sweetie?”
 
She’s learning that sometimes hand gestures are needed to turn Jensen’s monologues into conversation.
 
“Well, you know that security breach, the hacking and all?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Well, that was me … sort of checking up on you.”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“I know … stalking is BAD, I’ve been warned. But New York has all these security cameras outside of every other building and the satellites, well once you’ve hacked into one, the others are just so easy so I’ve kind of been … watching you.”
 
He twitches unhappily.
 
Darcy takes a deep cleansing breath to steady her nerves.
 
“I know.”
 
“What?”
 
“I’m not saying it’s OK,” she warns him. “I’m still kind of pissed, but do you see the zoo I live in here? First there’s Jarvis, the all seeing, all knowing, 24-hour guard. Tony has no sense of personal privacy – he’d bug the bedrooms if he could …”
 
“I’ve already checked,” Jensen interrupts, holding up his phone. “They’re clear.”
 
She scowls and continues. “And just as you think you’ve avoided the electronic surveillance, you look up and Hawkeye is snooping from above. In fact, he’s probably in the vents listening in right now.” She looks up. “Hey Barton! Scram! This is a private conversation.”
 
There’s no noise from above.
 
“And SHIELD has totally nosy surveillance systems not to mention the everyday coverage of the CC cameras which you’ve already noted … there’s just not much space for privacy any more.”
 
“Uh huh.”
 
“It would be nice if you used your amazing skills to hide me from the invasive surveillance rather than contribute to my sense of being watched.”
 
“I could do that,” he agrees.
 
“And will you promise to never stalk me again even if we break up and I start dating some uber-sexy low life sleaze that you think is no good for me?”
 
“Um …” he frowns and she can tell that he’s debating whether to point out that she’s asking a bit too much.
 
“Promise?” she wheedles.
 
“It’s so easy,” he admits. “Kind of a hard habit to break.”
 
“It’s not about trust for you, is it?” she asks thoughtfully.
 
“No, it’s just … checking up.”
 
“But do you understand that it really bothers me? I don’t need secrets from you. It would just be nice not to be watched all the time.”
 
“I get it,” he nods.
 
“Good.”
 
“What about the make up sex though?” he says. “I mean if you’re not really mad at me …”
 
“Oh I am.”
 
“Well good,” he grins. “Cause I never got to that with other girls and well, I’ve heard that it’s well, kind of amazing.”
 
She raises one eyebrow.
 
He flashes her the most adorable, puppy-eyed smile. “So … make up sex?”