TRIGGER WARNING: Rated M for an abusive relationship and ensuing emotional issues. Also includes some language, violence, and sexual content that I consider non-con (even if Darcy might not).

Disclaimer: I am making no money from this and do not own Thor, the Avengers, or anything else you recognize from Marvel canon. I have dubious ownership of Sean, Maggie, and Rebecca, who are all based on real people.

You, with your switching sides
And your wildfire lies and your humiliation
You have pointed out my flaws again
As if I don't already see them
I walk with my head down
Trying to block you out 'cause I'll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

Darcy has hundreds of ways to answer the question. She makes a game of it, trying to never give the same response twice.

"I was on the run from the cops back home."

"I'm actually an enemy spy trying to infiltrate SHIELD."

"Thor was my childhood buddy, I wanted to see him again."

Most people don't mean any offense when they ask. They are just legitimately curious how a political science major with no applied knowledge of physics wound up as Jane's intern, and later as the liaison for the group of scientists working out of Stark Tower. SHIELD agents and affiliates are pretty great at rolling with the punches and accepting "that's classified" as an answer, so when she gives them a sassy (or outright ridiculous) response they assume that the real answer is being kept quiet for someone's protection.

Jane doesn't even know the real answer. Since Darcy was the only person to show any interest she had taken her on board without too many questions, and when it came up over coffee Darcy just said that her other plans fell through and Jane's project sounded like the best option.

Sometimes she feels bad about lying. Not to the randoms, or the higher-ups, but to Jane and Bruce and Tony, who are technically her bosses, and the handful of other friends she has made around the Tower. But then she thinks about the looks on their faces if they knew and decides that she'll lie just a little while longer.

The truth is that she needed to get away- away from Boston, away from Him, away from her life- and New Mexico put her the greatest distance away while also providing some temporary employment.

She took the internship because it helped her escape.

Darcy still isn't quite sure how her life spun so rapidly out of control.

She had been so excited to go away to college. She isn't the first in her family to go, but she is the first to leave the Midwest for the prestige of a household name. She's not super crazy about her roommate, but hey, a little mess isn't going to dampen her excitement about being at Harvard. She spends hours prowling around Cambridge, searching for the perfect place to study that is less overbearing than the library and smells better than her dorm room, and finally settles on a teensy cafe with the best cookies she has ever tasted.

The teensiness of the cafe means that she often shares tables with other students, and somewhere in between memorizing her Arabic vocabulary flashcards and making a valiant attempt at understanding game theory, she meets Him.

He is a grad student at MIT, studying some kind of advanced engineering and robotics. He's a little geeky-looking, in a way that sings to her devout wish to go to comic-con before she dies, and accessibly brilliant in a way that intimidates her even more than her most lauded professor.

She tells herself that He sits with her so often only because she usually arrives early enough to snag the table by the outlets, and is therefore surprised as hell when He asks if He can buy her dinner when she finishes her reading.

Darcy is an all-over blusher, always has been, and she ducks her face behind her hair while she waits for the red to fade. When she looks back up His eyes are on the still-pink expanse of her chest, and she has to clear her throat twice to get His attention.

That probably should have been her first clue.

Over the next few months she becomes utterly swept up in Him. Her grades actually get a little better, since she adopts His strict study schedule, and after He teases her about her love for the cafe's cookies she starts losing weight. She has a handful of friendly acquaintances from her program but no real friends, and it's easy to fall into His already-established routines.

Things are pretty good at first. She has a vague notion that she isn't having a Real College Experience, that she maybe ought to go to a football game or join a sorority, but His rants about college sports and the Greek system know no bounds, so instead she loads up on credits and gets a job in a used bookstore.

The need to make a decision about her living situation has been bothering her for a couple of weeks when He finally notices her agitation. She hasn't wanted to bother Him about it, but she doesn't know what to do. Living a second year with her disaster-zone-inducing roommate is not an option; she doesn't know anyone else well enough to ask; she certainly can't afford single accommodations.

He chuckles derisively at the look on her face and says "You'll move in with me, of course," and that is the end of that.

Living together is initially exciting and fun. Darcy revels in having her own kitchen and the space to spread her notes all over the floor. She stops going to the cafe so she won't be tempted by the desserts, but He says that He needs to separate His home and school lives and continues to go there to study. The apartment is small and cramped and kind of a hike to campus, but she works her schedule so she only has class three days per week and makes it feel like a home.

Then, as her mother warned it would, reality sets in a bit. He refuses to do any of the housework, claiming that He is too busy with His research, and that since she's just an undergraduate she doesn't have as much to do. He criticizes her cooking (but, of course, refuses to make anything Himself) and yells when she gets behind on the laundry and He can't wear His lucky shirt to an exam. Darcy writes it off as stress and tries to do better.

And then... there's the sex issue.

If you discount a couple of awkward forays in high school, He is Darcy's first Real Boyfriend. He hadn't pushed too hard about the physicality of their relationship before, but once she settles in to His (their?) apartment He announces that living together without sleeping together is just fucking stupid, and what's she so uptight about, anyway?

So she proves that she really is an all-over blusher and chokes back her sobs as He shoves her into adulthood. She reads enough Cosmopolitan to know that the first time hurts, and tries not to think about her missed expectations as she rinses the blood from her thighs.

But then the second time hurts just as much, and then the third, and Darcy can't understand what she's doing wrong, why the naughty scenes in romantic comedies give her more tingles than His kisses. She broaches the subject to Him once, and backs off immediately at the dark look that crosses His face.

They have sex far less after that, but He expects her to do Other Things and she frequently has sore knees and bruises on the back of her neck. She learns to do what He wants without choking, and if she suspects that there is another woman on the side, she tells herself that He still loves her, loves only her, but she has pushed Him into someone else's bed.

He is drunk the first time He hits her.

She makes a rare appearance at one of His department happy hours because His advisor wants to meet her, and, intimidated by the horde of mostly-male engineering PhD candidates, ends up in a corner nursing a mojito and chatting with the guys who sit behind her in political theory, who are apparently the reigning trivia champions at this particular establishment.

She doesn't notice His glowering looks or the way He switches to shots, and when He slams their front door and knocks her to the ground she has never been more surprised in her entire life. He yells about how she embarrassed Him, how the first time she met His colleagues she had to act like a whore with some fucking-liberal-arts-majors, and doesn't listen when she tries to explain.

He only punches her once, but makes it count. The blood dripping onto the floor seems to calm Him down, and He barks at her to clean it up and staggers to the bedroom.

She finds a rag for the floor and some ice for her face and spends a sleepless night huddled into the corner of the couch, thinking about calling 9-1-1.

The next morning He is appropriately horrified, swears up and down that He'll stop drinking, that He'll never hit her again, and He seems so sincere that she skips class until the bruise fades.

He doesn't stop drinking and He hits her again.

He starts hitting her when He's sober, and while there is more power behind those blows she starts to prefer them, because when He is sober He is smart enough to stick to her ribs and her thighs and she doesn't have to answer awkward questions.

She starts avoiding her mother's phone calls, intentionally playing phone tag so she won't have to talk about Him or deflect questions about when she'll introduce Him to her family.

Sometimes she can't avoid talking to her mom, and focuses on keeping those phone calls about her brothers and the goings-on back home, even though thinking about the small town and the creaky house she grew up in tends to punch holes through her heart.

In April of her junior year her mom sounds a little subdued, and tells her that the baby of the family, 16-year-old Bobby, was arrested for fighting over the weekend.

She temporarily loses the power of speech and her mother keeps talking. "We were so worried when the police car pulled into the driveway, but thank goodness he's okay, and he's not being charged so when the black eye goes away it'll be like it never happened."

Darcy is still reeling at the idea of her favorite, soft-spoken brother fighting. "What happened? Did he get mugged?"

"No, no, he was at a soccer game, and saw his friend Jessica fighting with her boyfriend under the bleachers. He took a swing at her and Bobby broke it up."

Darcy can barely breathe. "What were they fighting about?"

"Does it matter? There is no excuse for physical violence in a relationship. I'm so glad that we raised your brothers to know that. Jessica's parents can't stop calling to say thank you."

She is barely aware of the rest of their conversation.

After her mother says goodbye, Darcy locks herself in the bathroom and looks at herself, really looks at herself, for the first time in two years.

Her hair is tinted with highlights, because He thinks blondes are prettier than brunettes. She is wearing baggy clothes in dark colors because He doesn't like the eclectic, flashy wardrobe she had acquired piece-by-piece in thrift stores. She is covered in bruises and a couple of scars that will always remind her exactly how He sees her, sees their relationship. She barely recognizes herself.

She looks defeated.

She makes a quick decision and acts on it immediately, knowing that if she gives herself time she'll change her mind and stay forever.

She calls her boss and asks for the phone number on the flyer on their pinboard, the one for the immediately-needed-intern.

She calls the number and is delightedly surprised when it is a woman on the phone, a woman who sounds so incredibly happy that Darcy is calling and tells her that she can start as soon as she wants.

Darcy does some comparison shopping (bless the internet) and calls Jane back to say that she is flying out that night, and could Jane maybe pick her up at the airport?

She has a lot of time before she needs to leave to make her flight, but she knows that He will be home in only three hours and if He finds out...

With trembling fingers she dials the number of an old project partner who lives in the area and has a car. Sean sounds surprised to hear from her, but agrees to drive over and help her move some boxes.

If he sees the bruises and the frightened look in her eyes and puts two and two together, he doesn't say anything, for which she will be eternally grateful. He just puts her suitcases in the backseat and the boxes in the trunk and offers to store any of her furniture at his parents' house nearby until she comes back.

None of the furniture is hers and she isn't coming back, but she appreciates the thought.

They stop at the post office to mail her books and knick-knacks to her parents, who think that she is just having a mid-college crisis, and then he drives her to the airport. When he pulls up in the drop-off lane she can't seem to find any words, but Sean smiles and quickly squeezes her hand and tells her to call him if she ever needs anything.

Since she is ridiculously early for her flight she has time to find an AT&T kiosk to change her number and block Him from all of her email and social media accounts. She knows that it might not be enough, if He decides that He wants to find her, but she doesn't have the strength for anything more.

Jane might be the best thing that has happened to Darcy's life.

Jane is brilliant and scatterbrained but bubbly and friendly, and so concerned with getting Darcy settled in that she doesn't seem to notice the stiffness (physical and emotional) that Darcy needs some time to shake.

Jane quickly becomes Darcy's first real friend in years.

Darcy deflects questions about her time in college, knows that there is no way she can talk about Harvard without talking about Him, and Jane lets it go. They talk about Jane's work instead, and Darcy runs herself ragged making herself indispensable so that Jane will let her stay.

Darcy starts talking to her brothers almost every day, suddenly painfully aware of how much she has missed in their lives, and they draw her personality back out. She dyes her hair dark again and slowly transitions back to wearing colors.

Over time the joy and sass come back into her voice, and when her mother says Darcy is reminding her of why she got so many sarcasm-related detentions in high school Darcy thinks that she might actually be okay.

But there is now a steady fear in the back of her mind, a distrust of men that she just can't seem to shake. She buys a taser and takes a self-defense class and wonders if she would actually use any of it if He showed up.

She likes Erik Selvig, with his skepticism that reminds her of her favorite teacher from high school who helped her with her admissions essays, and easily overcomes her nervousness around him. For all that Erik is derisive of her field of study he treats her like an adult, like his equal, and Darcy can't help but feel like he has her back.

Then there is Thor.

She is overwhelmingly confused by the storm and the yelling and the thunk of the van when it hits the strange man. Her interest in him quickly fades when his movements become familiar, flashing into memories of Him coming home drunk, and before she knows it she has pulled out her taser.

Later, when Jane makes her go to him to apologize, she braces herself for one of his powerful swings, but he just laughs and kisses her hand and tells her that she should befriend the Lady Sif.

And then there is SHIELD.

She knows that Jane and Erik think she is petty and maybe a little stupid for being so focused on her iPod, but she has to focus on her iPod so that she doesn't scream. Coming home to a swarm of physically imposing men hauling off all of their stuff, led by someone she suspects has a genius-level IQ, hits a little too close to her nightmares for comfort.

She stumbles through the rest of the crazy week, thankful that Jane is so focused on the Bridge and the Gods that she doesn't notice Darcy's occasional panic attacks.

Once SHIELD leaves (and her iPod is returned), the panic attacks stop even if the nightmares don't, and Darcy wonders if she will ever feel completely comfortable in a situation where she doesn't have control.

When Jane announces that she is going to work with SHIELD via the research and development department of Stark Industries and asks Darcy to go with her, Darcy almost says no.

It is Tony Stark's appearance in New Mexico that convinces her. She had expected the renowned playboy to treat her like one of his servants, but he is utterly charming and seems legitimately interested in the thesis she had planned to write before she left Harvard. He pats her hand and offers to get her into Columbia and suddenly Darcy decides that maybe New York wouldn't be so bad.

Tony provides them with apartments in the Tower, and while Jane occasionally chafes at living and working in a ridiculously high-security building in a city with no visible stars, Darcy actually feels safe. She can laze around her apartment and take the elevator up to the labs and there is never any bleeding or bruising or yelling (discounting Tony's fights with Jarvis).

She has a major geek moment when she meets the Avengers in whole, especially when Coulson explains that she is the go-between for SHIELD and Stark Industries, and since no one is quite sure where the Avengers fall (since only Barton and Romanoff are officially agents) they should go bother her first if they have any questions. There is a fleeting moment where she remembers the apartment in Cambridge and can't quite believe how far she's come.

The first time Bruce Hulks out in front of her, after something unexpectedly explodes in the lab, she has a panic attack and faints.

When she comes to, she is in the infirmary with everyone squished into the small room, including a back-to-normal Bruce who is falling over himself apologizing. Darcy shakily laughs and says that she was just startled, that's all.

Natasha gives her a knowing look, but mercifully doesn't say anything. Everyone else seems to buy it, and since the apartments are sound-proof no one knows that her nightmares start up again.

Natasha gives her more knowing looks when they keep meeting up in the common living room in the middle of the night. When the nightmares are really bad, Darcy gets claustrophobic in her room and escapes to the hub that connects all their apartments. Natasha doesn't say why she's there, but Darcy knows that the agent has a past that is definitely worthy of some sleepless nights.

Sometimes Clint joins them, and maybe Natasha has warned him off because he tends to just sit quietly and let Darcy control the remote. After a while she starts to open up to him a bit, his familiar Midwestern twang and passion for Big 10 football finally helping her to feel truly at home.

One night Natasha talks him into getting his guitar, and Darcy falls back asleep listening to an acoustic rendition of one of her favorite songs. After that Clint becomes her go-to person in the Tower, the person she seeks out when she needs to vent or wants something to distract her from a bad memory.

At first she worries that she is a nuisance, but he starts to open up too, telling her about losing his parents and life in the circus and guys that he knew in Afghanistan.

She figures out pretty quickly that a song on his guitar with one of his bear hugs gets her back to sleep faster than anything else.

The college football season starts, and Clint joins her on the couch to cheer on his beloved Hawkeyes. She isn't sure if he likes them because of the name or because he is from Iowa (or both), and always forgets to ask because inevitably one of the refs makes a terrible call and she is too busy giggling at the way he yells at the TV.

She still gets a little antsy about men touching her, except for Clint, who she can't seem to stop touching.

She isn't aware of it at first, of the way she pokes his arm to make a point and reaches to smooth his collar, or of the way he tugs on the ends of her braids and helps pull her up off the couch. Eventually the touches start to linger, but it isn't until Natasha raises an eyebrow at her as they are marathoning Bowl Games that she realizes that she is curled into his side with one of his arms solid around her waist and no feelings of anxiety.

One day after a mission he falls asleep on the couch during halftime. She studies him for a moment, the long lines of his legs and the callouses on his hands and the bulk of his arms, and realizes that for all his strength he has never made her feel weak.

As winter turns to spring and then to summer the nightmares become less frequent, and sometimes she can even go straight back to sleep.

Tony throws a party in July, on the first anniversary of Darcy and Jane moving to the Tower. It's a pretty small affair, just the Avengers and affiliates, with plenty of champagne and a ridiculous cake that features a toga-clad Thor made out of fondant.

Since the cake is far too large for them to finish Tony starts a food fight with the bottom tiers, and when Clint sneaks up behind Darcy and smushes frosting in her hair, she can barely breathe for laughing.

One day in August she drags Clint to FAO Schwarz to play with the giant piano, and is pleasantly surprised when they run into Sean. He shakes hands with Clint and introduces them to his 'baby' sister Maggie, who is starting at NYU next week.

They make idle chit-chat for a couple of minutes while Clint gamely hops out Heart And Soul with Maggie, and then Sean turns to her with a serious look and asks "How have things been since you left?"

Darcy hesitates. She isn't sure how much Sean really knows (or how much Clint really knows, for that matter). "Good," she says finally. "Leaving was the hardest part." She reaches for his hand, gives a quick squeeze. "I never did thank you for your help."

His fingers squeeze back. "Anytime. You know, I finally got together with Rebecca, the redhead from our macro class, and we're coming down to visit Maggie in October. We should double."

Darcy doesn't understand what he means for a moment, and then stutters out "Oh! Um, Clint's not- I mean, we're not-" She trails off at his raised eyebrows.

He says "You could have fooled me," but doesn't push the subject, just waves goodbye with promises to call as he and Maggie head back to her dorm.

Clint ambles over to her side, hands in his pockets. "He seemed nice," he comments. "Want to grab lunch?"

Darcy slips her hand into the crook of his elbow, a slow smile spreading over her face. "Yeah."

After lunch, when they are wandering back to the Tower, Darcy takes her heart in her hands and lurches up to kiss the corner of his mouth.

He gives new meaning to the phrase "grinning from ear to ear" and bends down to kiss her properly, pulling her close so that her world narrows to the feel of his lips on hers despite the noise and the skyscrapers and the hullabaloo of the city she has come to love.

When October rolls around they meet Sean and Rebecca in a hole in the wall place that has the best sushi Darcy has ever tasted. The restaurant is crowded, and Clint keeps a hand in the small of her back as the host guides them to a table.

Sean gives her an I-told-you-so look, and Darcy just smiles.

Later they acquire popsicles from a street vendor and part ways, Sean and Rebecca heading downtown as Clint and Darcy wind their way through Central Park. His body is warm and solid against her side and she sighs happily, giving him a quick, sticky kiss.

It might be fifteen months since they first met but his smile still gives her butterflies, and when he asks if she's ready to go home, she smiles back and says "Yes."

Someday I'll be living in a big old city
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me
And all you're ever gonna be is mean…

AN: I really had no intention of writing this story, but "Mean" came up on Pandora while I was writing Darcy dialogue for another Darcy/Clint story and this whole thing just sprung into my head.

I have never personally been in an abusive relationship, but borrowed heavily from some friends' experiences. Any misinterpretations are entirely my fault.

Self-plug: The aforementioned Darcy/Clint story is approaching something like the editing stages and will hopefully start going up soon. It's a multi-chapter so I want to be close to done before I start posting. It's a much happier, fluffy sort of story, so if you're into that kind of thing, I guess keep an eye on my profile.

As always, reviews are appreciated.