((To NYC, everything else in New York counts as 'upstate'. Thank you so much for all the love this has gotten, I truly hope you all enjoy this bit of epilogue :D As for me, I've got a long weekend of relaxin' the brain to look forward to, wewt.))

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Chapter 9

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"I think if you lifted my heart to your ear, you could probably hear the ocean. And the moon tonight: there's a circle around it - a sign of trouble not far behind. I have this dream of being whole. Of not going to sleep each night wanting, but still sometimes, when the wind is warm or the crickets sing, I dream of a love that even time will lie down and be still for. I just want someone to love me. I want to be seen. I don't know. Maybe I've had my happiness. I don't want to believe it, but there is no man… Only that moon."

~ Sally Owens, Practical Magic

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Darcy returns to her apartment in Queens hours later, fairly certain someone from SHIELD is still watching her even as the black SUV disappears into traffic again. She finds herself not really minding all that much, if they are. In fact, it's weirdly comforting in a paranoid, bizarre way. She unlocks her place, pleased to see her cat has been fed, by some office underling no doubt, curling around her ankles happily. "Tellin' you Arkham, you should have gone with mom," She murmurs, bending to scruff the soft calico head, "Thailand would have been way more fun than living with me."

She showers, wraps herself up in clean clothes (noting, somewhat sadly, that her boxes of winter clothes have arrived from both New Mexico and her mom's place in San Francisco, meaning she'll have to return cozy, borrowed things), and then she tries to sleep. While being back in her own bed is nice, a week and a half off in the wilderness already has Darcy unused to the sounds of the city drifting up from the street, and paired with her worry over certain people on assignment up north, it's a while before slumber comes.

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For her first day back at work, Darcy puts on her big girl panties. And her big girl suit and big girl heels, because fuck all, not only does she have an official debriefing on her very first (sort-of) mission, she's got office rumors to stomp all over, proudly and boldly. Pointy heels would be key. She brings along a bulging duffle bag too, which, upon opened at the security checkpoint at Stark Tower, proves to contain only a smattering of clothes belonging to various Avengers.

"Agent Romanoff sent me her assessment of your performance," Phil Coulson tells her in his office that morning, hands folded in front of him, atop his desk. "Some might call your technique highly unprofessional," He smirks, "But as this was not exactly an official assignment, and as you not only accomplished your goal, but also drew out an elusive threat, I don't think you'll find anyone complaining." Darcy frowns a little at that, though, shaking her head.

"Most of that was by accident, cause..." She hedges for a moment, "...I really did...I mean, it wasn't just that I was trying to get him to...I'm not a slut..." Phil holds up a hand.

"Agent Lewis, you know you don't have to explain, Agent Romanoff tells me -many- things," He looks at her steadily for a moment, that mild expression unchanging, save for a knowing glint in his eye. "And no, not all of it was by accident. What you've written up about the attack," He slides the neatly typed report she'd finished last night back toward him, eyes skimming over the contents, "For someone with field experience that is barely above the average civilian, you conducted yourself marvelously. I'm recommending you for official SHIELD combat training," He downright smiles at her surprised expression, "Your clearance will be updated, show up at the gym starting tomorrow. Good work, Agent."

"...Thank you, sir...ah," She clears her throat, "...Any news from Alaska yet? Or is that classified?"

"You're officially involved, so no it is not," Coulson nods once, "I will let you know when we know something new."

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Confidence, and a bewildering excitement is tempering her anxiety about what might be happening with Logan, as she leaves her boss' office, intent on going to the labs and her familiar work with Jane. Someone's waiting for her in the hall though, leaning back against the wall and greeting her with a big grin. "I see you returned my sweaters," Steve remarks, and Darcy chuckles, grinning back at him.

"Heya buddy. Yeah, they served me well too, sorry if you missed 'em..." She wants to give the big guy a proper hug, but maintains her friendly distance, not exactly sure where things stand between them just now. Cap saves her the trouble, stepping forward and wrapping her up in a quick, but firm embrace himself.

"And I missed my Mario Karts instructor," He tells her easily, hands in his pockets as he walks with her toward the labs. If there's a few catty stares or whispering, it doesn't happen within Darcy's field of vision. She wonders if Fury really did send down an official memo, edged in deadly threat, like Coulson had hinted. "Tony gets bossy."

"And how's the lady?" Darcy grins, amused at the way he still turns a little red around the ears at the mention of his girlfriend.

"Good! Socked a guy on the subway for talking trash about you, over one of those gossip rags," He tells her, proudly, and Darcy snorts, laughing. "Meg's a pistol."

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Two steps into the labs and Jane has her in yet another hug, this one tight and relieved and clingy, "Oh god, I heard the news. I'm so glad you're all right," The scientist breathes, stepping back and looking her over. "...And you're in a -suit-, holy crap."

"Thanks mom," Darcy smirks, "I thought I'd return to work on a strong note of 'fuck you' to the haters."

"Love it... -Are- you all right?" Jane's sharp gaze falls on her face, and hey, Darcy can't really lie to the woman, giving her a half-grin.

"Didn't really leave the way I wanted to, I'm concerned for the safety of the sexy man I was sleeping with, the only man I've -ever- slept with in fact, and I almost got disemboweled by Victor Creed, which has me like, musing on my own mortality and all that. But I'm dealing!" She says it brightly, but honestly, and Jane seems appeased, giving her another hug. The girls have somewhat forgotten Steve, though, who is still standing in the doorway, forehead creasing in concern.

"...You slept with..." He coughs, coloring a bit, making vague gestures with his hands. "...I mean, I knew the man in the war, he was a little...do I need to. Um..." Darcy grins, shaking her head.

"My honor is well in hand, Rogers, never fear."

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It's another day or two before Coulson informs Darcy that Black Widow and Wolverine have Victor Creed in custody, and another day after that when Marie calls Darcy up herself and tells her that Logan's fine, but grumpy, holed up in bed for a couple of days. Natasha sweeps back into SHIELD headquarters soon after, looking no worse for wear and happy to see her fox fur hat back in her possession. That particular knot loosens in Darcy's gut, relief in her nerves. And then...she's not quite sure what she's supposed to do with what's left. She does go out to the nearest Halmark Store, buys the cheesiest, dumbest get-well card she can find, and sends it to Wolverine with a cheeky note. Because -that's- romantic, she thinks, annoyed with her own neurosis.

Her days ease into a new routine, one where she's up early every morning, spending three hours training with various other agents, and the occasional bored Avenger. Darcy had never been especially enthused by the prospect of working out in the past, but recent experiences have changed up her mindset completely. She's been so used to spending her life worrying about how paper-thin other people were, it hardly occurred to her that hey, so was she, relatively speaking. She might not be amazing at first, but she throws herself into training with gusto. Life is short, and she's been given an incredible job, with incredible people, and she'd like to be around a while to enjoy them.

Steve starts teaching her to box, alongside his girlfriend, even though Darcy's pretty sure he's pulling more punches with Meg, which is understandable. But if he's so concerned with her safety, it's a good thing she's observing him being a little more free with an actual SHIELD agent. Darcy knows he's going easy on her as well, but then, he's gotten to hear her brag about pepper spraying a mutant three times her size. Sure, Darcy might have exaggerated a little, but it was in the interest of getting Captain America comfortable enough to actually land a punch now and then. She learns quite a lot about fighting in the weeks following her return, including the quick and dirty shit that had served Steve well in back alleys, before the serum.

When she is in the labs with Jane, Darcy finds herself poised as a mother hen, of all things, training their new army of interns. With the physicist, billionaire, and sometimes-Hulk all sharing a lab space, there's a lot of eccentricity (Jane), diva behavior (Tony) and personal space issues (Bruce) to cover, no matter how many floors of research and development there are between the three of them, and Darcy is kind of already an expert at herding these particular cats.

"It's a mixture of letting things roll of off your back, making sure they stop and eat, hurling insults, and getting the practical shit done," She tells the cluster of lab monkeys, who are all around her age, but look so much younger, due to being star-struck over actually being allowed to work with The Avengers. And because Darcy's actually wearing more office-wear to work these days, while they're still in the starving college student phase, "If Jane gives you numbers to crunch, you crunch, even if she forgets she gave 'em to you an hour later. Dr. Banner is not going to snap at the drop of a hat, don't act like he is, that's fuckin' rude. If Mr. Stark brings booze down to the labs, you confiscate it and bring it straight to Miss Potts' office. Nothing good comes of drunk science, I -promise- you. Anything else, come to me."

So all in all, as September goes along, Darcy's life is in quite a good place. And yet, she finds herself retreating from the noise of the city as much as she can, where once she'd been all about the bustle and the colors and the crowd, when she'd first arrived. She loves her job, and being able to take three steps out of her building to find a quality felafel is pretty nice. But more often than not her free time takes her to the park, or even to Coney Island, squinting into the trees or out onto the sea, pretending the buildings and the people and the noise were far from her ears.

With a playlist on her iPod that echoes the scant library of songs from a certain jukebox in a certain diner in Alaska, her mind drifts further afield as Autumn settles in. Her bed becomes too big the chillier New York gets, and the night sky is woefully lacking in both color and stars. Logan hasn't contacted her, but Darcy knows why, knows it has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with her. He got to know her very well, and with the insight of a man who's been around a few times. She's the flighty one in this equation, the one who only lets a guy come so close, and while he's been closer than all the rest, Logan isn't assuming. The next move is still hers, if she moves at all.

It's when she turns down the third night out for drinks with the team that Jane finally takes action, fixing her assistant with a sharp look as Darcy dips her head back over her files. The physicist's eyes narrow for a time, and then she schools her face back into an easy indifference, shrugging, "Fine, though you're missing an entertaining time, Thor drunk in public..." Jane rubs her chin for a few moments, and Darcy can just about smell her plotting. "...You know, you haven't had a day off all month." That does have Darcy looking at the calender on her computer...yep, it's almost October, when did that happen? Jane smirks, "I think you should take a long weekend for yourself, go upstate. Pay Rogue a visit."

Darcy lofts an eyebrow her way, fixing her with a look that clearly communicates 'you're not fooling me, bitch'. But then she's biting her lip, looking away, "You uh...think that I should?"

"I do," Jane replies, earnestly now, crossing her arms, "What do you have to lose, really?"

Darcy shakes her head, bits of hair tumbling out of her loose braid, "Plenty...but at the same time...not much?" Not her excellent job, her excellent life, just, you know. Her raggedy ol' heart. But she leaves that unsaid, and Jane hardly needs to hear it to know. She just smiles, shrugging.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Agent Lewis. And I miss having you all here, present," She adds, meaningfully, and Darcy really doesn't have an argument for that one. A part of her is most definitely upstate, at the moment. Perhaps it might behoove her to go and find it.

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Darcy musters herself for the rest of the day, before finally asking for leave for that weekend, dropping by Coulson's office before heading home. She goes out drinking that evening, even though it's a week night, and doesn't regret it in the slightest. She sends a drunk text to Marie, who sends back her raucous approval. And Friday morning finds Darcy Lewis in a black SUV heading to Westchester, her smart, SHIELD agent clothes left behind, her duffle full of over-sized layers and soft coats, sweaters, her hair a tumble around her shoulders.

Her ride drops her in front of the mansion, and she takes a moment to drink in the huge, beautiful place, and more importantly the fresh, clean autumn air, the trees on the grounds already a riot of colors. Darcy's eyes fall on the doorstep, then, a slow grin parting her full lips, spotting the tall figure leaning on one of the pillars, waiting, arms crossed, watching her as she sways forward, slowly. "...So, gotta bone to pick with you," She says, nearing him slowly. Logan cocks a brow.

"Oh?" He grins, and Darcy nods, very seriously.

"Mhmm," She takes the few steps up slowly, tilting her head, regarding him. Her expression remains playfully stern, even as there's a warmth growing in her chest, the closer she comes to him. A tugging, a cosmic pull, both attraction and just...a wholeness, that she's accepting more and more. A contented feeling rising up, cracking her mask, her grin threatening to bubble over, "You have utterly ruined the single life, skinny dorks, and empty beds for me. Possibly forever. I want recompense." Logan snorts, reaching out for her hand, tugging her in.

"Well, you're one to talk, Agent," He shoots back, but he's grinning too, a rough longing to his voice that goes straight to her gut as she wraps her arms around his waist, and he buries his face in her hair. "Took all I had not t'go runnin' into the city soon as they let me outta bed..."

"I'm glad you didn't," She tells him, voice muffled by his shirt, "I might've gone runnin'." The admission doesn't surprise him at all. Logan just reaches down, tilting her chin up and kissing her, long and slow, his hands sliding into her hair, her hands smoothing up the front of his shirt, arms wrapping around his neck. "...But I am sorry it took me so long," Darcy whispers, when they pull apart.

"S'all right, gypsy," He whispers right back, "Got all the time in the world t'wait on you."

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Later, she'll get pounced on by Marie, meet Jubilee, and get tucked into her room by yes, her boyfriend. He'll make love to her like a man starved, and she'll be right there with him, grabbing at each other, kissing, biting, Wolverine driving her to shout his name into the night, while he gasps hers against her skin. There'll be wandering in the woods, kissing in the woods, frightening the local wildlife in the woods. He'll try and make her stay, she'll have to return to the city, but Darcy promises to comes back, and always does, again and again.

It'll be Christmas when he tells her that he loves her, and New Years when she says it back, after they've rung in 2013 in one of the closets in Stark Tower, her dress hitched up and his suit askew. Darcy will be with him when she kills her first man on a mission, and Logan will be the one sitting vigil at her side when she takes -her- first bullet. He might never be able to sleep in the same bed with her, but she still falls asleep in his arms more nights than she doesn't, the winter passing under warm blankets, snow outside the walls of a mansion or her shabby Queens apartment, neither of them alone anymore, at least not for long.

And when spring comes 'round, after attending Steve's wedding, they'll roar out of the reception on the back of the bike, Darcy still in her bridesmaid dress, giggling like mad, 'cause they've got a date up North.

It's around that time when Darcy realizes, there's not much left that she's afraid of...

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