Chapter Word Count: 2,225
Overall Word Count: 58,680

I Climbed The Tree To See The World (When The Gusts Came Around To Blow Me Down, I Held On As Tightly As You Held On To Me)
-Novel-

Epilogue.

One Year Later

"No, mom, I really can't invite President Obama to dinner…" Darcy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know, he's a really cool dude and his family is awesome, but we've only met twice and I don't think inviting him over is really appropriate. And we're only in town for tonight, so… Y'know, short timing and stuff."

Coulson raised an eyebrow at her.

She made the universal sigh for 'blah, blah, blah' with her hand before pausing, listening and smirking. "Yeah, sure, I bet Coulson would love to come to dinner…"

He glowered and shook his head at her.

"Oh you know somebody you think he'd like?" She nodded. "Well, I mean, I'll have to vet her myself, give her the third degree, make her sweat in one of our interrogation rooms with that one, blinky bulb hanging over her head, but… Sure. That sounds good."

Coulson rolled his eyes and checked the magazine in his gun before taking hers from her and doing the same. He held up two fingers to tell her had two more guns on his person and she replied with three fingers of her own.

He looked her up and down skeptically.

She shook her head in a 'you don't want to know' sign and he shrugged before handing her gun back so she could put it in her chest holster.

"No, of course I won't really put her in the interrogation room, mom… Well, actually, I could, but I'd have to blindfold her on the drive over…" she mused.

Snorting, Coulson checked his watch and then tapped it.

"Listen, I gotta go, I'm at work…" She nodded quickly, rolling her eyes as if it would somehow encourage her mother to hurry up. "Yes, Steve got your care package; he ate all the baked goods, the jerk. Didn't even leave me a cookie…" She snorted. "Yeah, he loves the sweater you knit him… Although I think the card you added about how you'd make a really attractive grandmother was a little much. Subtlety is not in you, mom, you need to work on that."

Coulson gave her stomach an appraising look and she socked him in the chest, shaking her head and glaring.

"Okay, I really need to go. I'll tell Steve you love him and want him to be your son-in-law and impregnate me with millions of beautiful babies later. Right now I need to go do top secret spy stuff…"

Coulson gave her an exasperated look.

She shrugged back at him. "Love you too. Tell dad and Michael… Okay… Okay… Bye."

Finally, she hung up and stuck her phone back into her jacket. "Sorry."

He blinked at her. "Why does your mother have your work number?"

"She stole it."

He raised an eyebrow.

Sighing, Darcy explained, "Last month, you remember Steve and I went down to visit?"

He nodded.

"Well, Dad took Mike and Steve golfing and it was a big thing so mom set up this girls' day, but it was all a ploy!" She swiped a hand through the air. "While Laney and I were talking about something, I dunno, some crazy crime show she loves, mom snuck into my purse and texted herself from my work phone. Now she calls all the time." She shrugged. "Seriously, it's like she's trying to make up for lost time when we were on the outs."

"Why don't you just have the number changed?" he wondered. "Or tell her she can't call you on that number…?"

She blinked at him. "Phil, do you remember when you met my mom?"

His eyes turned off in memory and Darcy thought to herself about how her mom had spent basically an hour interrogating him and telling him that if anything happened to her daughter, she would personally destroy him. She'd been waving knitting needles around at the time.

"Your mother can be kind of scary for a suburban charity worker who knits and bakes in her spare time," he admitted.

"Uh-huh. And you were a complete stranger back then," she reminded, waving a hand. "So what do you think she'd do to me?"

He frowned. "Point taken."

"Thank you." She readjusted her suit. "Now…" She turned toward the door. "Ready?"

He stood a little taller before turning and asking, "Your Portuguese is good, right? You haven't taken any refresher classes since you started with me."

"I can almost definitely ask them where the bathroom is," she replied.

He blinked at her.

"Não seja um bebê. Posso lidar com isso. Eu juro que não vai iniciar uma crise internacional ... novamente." (Don't be a baby. I can handle this. I promise I won't start an international crisis… again.)

He sighed, took the safety off his gun, and nodded at her.

She grinned, winked, and swung open the door before marching inside. "Então, qual de vocês é o traficante de drogas?" (So, which of you is the drug dealer?)

Coulson held his breath until the laughter reached him. Shaking his head, he muttered, "Can't argue with results."

Darcy's favorite part was coming home.

Sure, she liked the shoot-'em-up parts too, especially since she'd gotten really good at it, but it was when the dust settled and she and Coulson returned to SHIELD intact, filled out a mountain of paperwork, and then went their separate ways to rest, that she loved most. In the last year, she had played sidekick to Coulson's gun-toting, secret agent man shtick for all of about three seconds and then she was promoted to his partner, something she was pretty sure defied SHIELD protocol. But when she was back at HQ, she was training, and when she was on a mission, she was his partner. Offers came and went for her to take her job to a next and different level, to get the desk job with any number of politicians, both straight and narrow and crooked as they come, but she'd turned them down. Not out of fear of what those jobs entailed but instead because she'd found where she wanted to be.

Darcy was not an agent. Her job didn't exactly have a title. To some she was Coulson's assistant or pet project, where to others that knew them, she was his partner. And when they weren't coordinating the Avengers in an effort to keep the world safe, they were on their own private missions, sometimes on American soil and often not. Not everyone they went up against were politicians or of a like mind, though she later found out that Boris had been working directly under a dirty Senator who knew gun trafficking provided a big paycheck. Others, however, were just bad guys doing bad things that needed SHIELD to step in and stop them. The kind of bad guys that didn't need super-heroes to don the suits and play ball but also weren't run of the mill enough for regular police forces, instead they fell into a middle ground made for the agents that had been especially trained for that sort of thing.

So at the end of the day, Darcy was just the average American citizen who knew too much, had way too many guns, was best friends with an astrophysicist and a secret agent, happened to know and be friends with Spiderman, and who still trained often with the affable Tima. She had acquaintances in presidents, prime ministers, senators, and any number of politicians all over the world. She was personally buddies and babysitter to the unruly and often antagonistic Avengers. And last, but not least, when she came home, there wasn't any grey, soul sucking walls in sight.

Darcy hopped out of the cab, paid the driver, and hiked her bag up higher on her shoulder as she climbed the steps to the red-brick townhouse. She stuck her key in the lock and pushed open the door, briefly overcome with the excited golden retriever wagging its tail at her feet. "Hey General," she said, scratching behind his ear. "Where's your dad, huh?" She closed the door and kicked her shoes off, dropping her bag down on the floor before she padded through the house.

"Steve?" she called out.

"I'm in the back," he returned.

She smiled as she walked through the living room, with its wicker and plaid and overstuffed armchair and couch, the fireplace mantle covered in little trophies Coulson had given her over their partnership, and the pictures, new and old, of friends and family. She skirted around the art table he had set up, pushing the chair in underneath it, and paused to see what he was working on. There were colors everywhere; paints, pastels, pencil crayons. She couldn't quite make out what he'd started, just a faint outline of it making its way through. She was sure he'd tell her about it, so she filed it away and kept walking.

It was Thursday, which meant he was cooking since they traded off days, so she wasn't surprised to smell a chicken roasting in the oven. Her mouth watered and she licked her lips before looking down at the dog. "We're eating like kings tonight, huh?"

He yapped at her happily, tongue lolling from his mouth.

The back door was open, but the screen door was closed; she pushed it wide and let General go first before following him out onto the porch.

Darcy's eyes widened as she stared out at their back yard. "Is that…?" She blinked a few times. "You planted a tree?"

Steve looked up at her, one eye closed against the bright sun, and grinned. "It wasn't easy. But I found a service and they had it moved over."

Darcy walked down the stairs and gaped up at it. "Is it…" Her throat burned for a second. "Is that my tree?" She blinked quickly. "Mom said they had to have it pulled… She said the city forced them."

He walked over to her, tugging off his gloves from where he'd been fiddling with the dirt, fixing the grass. "Your dad wanted to cut it down; he said it was too much trouble to clean up after each fall…" He shrugged. "I know how much you love it, so I asked if I could have it moved over."

"Steve…" She bit her lip and laughed. Walking forward, she pressed a hand to the familiar bark. "This was my haven when I was a kid…" She shook her head. "It was everything to me. I—It was my best friend."

He just watched her as she gazed at the tree a long moment before finally turning and hurrying over to him. She jumped into his arms and wrapped herself around him. "Thank you."

He rubbed her back as he held her.

Darcy hadn't wanted to run away for a long time; not since she'd stood up and faced her problems.

In her room, framed, there was a target paper, and through each ring was a bullet hole that she'd put there; she kept it as a reminder.

But this tree represented her through most of her life; the scared girl who didn't know what to do or how to face her fears, the rebelling teenager who was really good at shouting back but not so much at listening, the college student who was afraid of becoming an adult, and lastly, the woman those three had created, second-guessing everything she ever did.

At the top of that tree, she'd sat and looked down on the world and felt like she was bigger than it all, but in truth, she'd been doing everything she could to hide from it, to get as far from responsibility and maturity as she could get. Now, she would climb the tree to embrace who she'd been and how it had brought her to where she was. How every one of her mistakes had combined to get her to the right place and the right people and the right her.

If it wasn't for all the times she'd changed her mind, changed her major, screwed up, talked back, and fought against everything that came up against her, then maybe everything would be different, and not for the better. She wouldn't have met Jane and Coulson wouldn't have taken an interest. She wouldn't have signed on with SHIELD so she wouldn't meet Steve or have been able to relate to him in a time when he was so lost and confused himself. She wouldn't have made up with her mother because she wouldn't have said how it had affected her, or maybe it wouldn't have affected her at all, she didn't know. What she did know was that her and her mom were closer than ever. That Jane was happy and healthy and very much in love with an alien Norse God. That Coulson was the best partner she could ask for, even if he did totally get Loki'd that one time and put her through some serious friendship turmoil. And that Steve was the love of her life.

"You remember what you asked me the other night?" she said, leaning back in his arms, scrubbing her nails through his hair.

He raised an eyebrow, amused. "When I asked you to marry me, you mean?"

"Yeah, that," she said.

He laughed. "I do."

"Hey, that's my line!"

Okay, so 'mature' was a strong word…

[End.]


Notes: And there we are! I wrote this over a one week period, in between college, so it was a huge undertaking and I was pretty much exhausted by the end of it. But I'm very proud of how it developed and what it became and I really hope you all enjoyed it! Huge thanks to twistedingenue/fallenkalina for putting together this amazing exchange and for being so understanding about my schedule. And to all of you who read this story, a huge thanks to you as well! I hope you enjoyed it!