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As Darcy blinked awake, she let out a groan and pulled the blanket up over her head in frustration. The dream was slipping away but she was sure it had involved Clint. He'd been carrying her again. He'd been warm and snugly and... Shoving her sheets down an inch or two, Darcy tried to remember just how exactly she'd gotten into bed. They'd left D.C. yesterday on the jet; that she could recall clearly. Next instalment on the memory banks was going directly from the plane to some small, exclusive hospital in New York. With Tony Stark sitting in the waiting room the whole admission took exactly thirty five minutes, including a visit from a plastic surgeon to tidy up her wound. Darcy recalled a minor freak out about how much her insurance wouldn't cover the whole thing. That occurred right before the nurses pumped her full of painkillers. Some truly excellent painkillers because that was the point where her recollections became fuzzy. There were vague memories of returning to the tower and being forced to drink some water. And possibly falling asleep somewhere inappropriate because there was the briefest flash of Clint carefully lifting her up and carrying her to bed.

With a start, Darcy reached beneath the blanket and felt at her clothes. The suit was gone. She was in a clean oversized t-shirt. So not naked. A good start. A little more probing and Darcy realised she was in the same bra and panty set as yesterday. So Clint hadn't seen her naked. That was good, right? Though if she'd slept through Barton undressing her, Darcy thought maybe those hospital grade painkillers had been just a touch strong. Sure she hadn't felt anything when they put sutures in her leg but still.

Pushing back the blankets and sitting up, Darcy blinked experimentally a couple of times. Nope, didn't fall asleep with her contact lenses in. She reached for her glasses on the bedside table only to find them sitting carefully upon her laptop. Internet. Wonderful, beautiful internet. Darcy was a moment away from hugging her laptop to her chest when she noticed the post-it note from Clint stuck to the lid. "Gone to debrief. Don't go wandering." That was it. They hadn't exactly had a chance to talk about, well, anything since leaving D.C.. Was there even anything to talk about? Darcy chose to shove that thought aside also and open her laptop instead.

By three pm, Darcy had caught up on most of the internet. Her appearance on C-SPAN wasn't exactly front page worthy news, even if her Facebook page was covered with messages. Typical of her pol-sci classmates to have been watching. But even if Darcy hadn't become a household name, Senator Boynton's name was popping up on the political pages along with words like 'corruption probe'. Some of the witnesses from the trial had admitted they'd been coerced by the Senator to make their testimony less than flattering towards the Avengers. And while those non-scientific website polls didn't really mean anything, Darcy was a little gratified to see public support to exempt the Avengers from government interference had taken an upswing. Sure there were still some scared people out there, filling their blogs with protest. That newspaper editor had written another opinion piece but Darcy just left a scathing comment that the moderators would likely delete before long. But it still felt good.

The battle to regain control over her email inbox took a little longer. One important message came from the fancy hospital; they'd sent her the results from her exam yesterday and nothing unusual had popped up. The email reiterated to wait twenty-four to forty-eight hours before showing. Close enough, Darcy thought a little while later while she tried to shampoo her hair with one hand. The bandage over her stitches was proving waterproof enough but her ribs had taken a through beating and pretty much limited arm motion on one side of her body. So washing took forever. And there had been a moment when Darcy had found a patch of dried blood over her hip and the world had spun upside down. She had to lean gingerly against the shower wall under she could breathe normally again. The patter of water upon her head was a reminder that she was alive. The reality that someone had actively been trying to kill her might hit again at a later date. But Darcy knew she could deal with that too.

The sun had dipped close to the horizon when Clint finally returned. Darcy was in the middle of replying to an email with her feet propped on a coffee table and her skirt pooling around her knees when she felt the couch shift. Clint had perched upon the back, his feet resting on the cushions beside her. "How was the debriefing?" she asked casually, keeping her eyes on the screen.

"S.H.I.E.L.D. is labelling the mission a success," Clint answered. "The analysis indicates that now the Senator is a worthless asset, Hydra lack both a reason and the resources to target you again."

Something about the way Clint fell so easily into his military grade voice made Darcy smile. Even though she tried to not be too obvious about it. "So you're off the hook? No longer my official bodyguard?"

Clint ignored the question. Instead he leaned forward to place one hand beneath her elbow and lever her arm so he could access her shirt. Without dislodging Darcy's fingers from her keyboard, he lifted the hem just enough to reveal the mottled purple bruise. "What's the update from the doctor?"

"X-rays and tests all clear. Keep up the antibiotics and fluids and take a painkiller if I need to. Plus try to avoid getting shot again," she joked. When Clint didn't reply, Darcy closed her laptop and put it on table before she turned on the couch, gently drawing her shirt from Clint's fingers and letting it drape over her ribs once more. Leaning an elbow over the backrest, Darcy looked up to see Clint staring down at her with a serious expression.

"Agent Hill wants me to ask if you have any questions about the job offer you were emailed." His tone was friendly and he wasn't trying to avoid making eye contact with Darcy, but there were still a solid couple of inches of empty space between them.

"Kind of." It had taken the better part of an hour just to read through all the attachments. But it wasn't details on the entry-level data analyst position that she wanted to ask about. "Do you like working for S.H.I.E.L.D.?"

"I owe S.H.I.E.L.D. a lot Darce," Clint replied. He rested his folded arms against his knees before he briefly looked away. "It's not always an easy job. And it involves a lot of sacrifice. But they make the world a safer place. It could be a great opportunity for you..." Clint trailed off as he turned his gaze back on Darcy. "Are you thinking of taking it?"

"Like you said. Big opportunity. And I've been unemployed for more months than I'd care to think about. But I have to say, I've read through everything they sent and I'm not a big fan of their interpersonal relationship policy," Darcy said while crinkling her nose for emphasis. "They're obviously not keen on employees dating other employees. And there's this whole section about not getting romantically involved on missions..."

"Do I need to apologise again for the job comment?" Clint simply sounded curious.

Darcy rolled her eyes at him in response before responding breezily. "I kind of get it. You're a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. The mission was your priority. I understand why romantic distractions can be seen as a bad thing."

There was the slightest shift to Clint's shoulder, as if he was restraining himself from reaching for her. "Darce," he said slowly. "You were shot. Twice. And I wasn't exactly focused on the mission when it happened."

"Clint. They were trying to kill me. As in, make me dead," she countered. Just saying it made her want to shudder. But she had to stay calm. She and Clint had to deal with this now. "See how I'm not dead though. And I know I owe a lot of that to Natasha and Stark and all those other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. But you were the one who pulled me out of the way of a bullet. Even when we were about to get into some stupid yelling match in the middle of a senate building, you were there when I really, really needed you." And she wanted desperately for him to see that. Grateful for the painkillers she took a couple of hours ago, Darcy brought herself to a kneeling position and leant up against Clint's bent leg to place a soft kiss upon his cheek. "Thank you Clint Barton. I'm alive because of you. That's what matters in the end."

"Maybe," said Clint, his voice dropping low. Darcy barely felt Clint move before he'd shifted along the back of the couch so she knelt between his legs. Clint brushed the curls back from her cheek as he drew her around to face him; his hands a light pressure that brought her upwards until Darcy was kneeling at eye level with him. The inside of his thighs pressed gently against her hips to keep her steady. "Darce... when I saw your blood on my hands..."

"Not dead," she reminded him. "All important parts of me are still intact. Give me a few months and I'll have a sexy scar to prove it..." Darcy braced her forearms against Clint's solid legs, her fingers curved over the rough weave of his pants. She felt like she was trying to hold him in place, to keep him from running at what she was going to say next. "Clint, you need to know that I still want you. The mission being over hasn't changed that. And I want to see what this thing between us could turn into. But if you don't... if it was just adrenaline for you or some misguided protective instinct from the job, just tell me now so I can spare us any more awkwardness."

"Damn it Darcy," Clint muttered as he caught her shoulders between his calloused hands. "You're stubborn and wilful and I know that as soon as you join S.H.I.E.L.D. I'm going to spend the rest of my career pulling your ass out of danger." As exasperated as he sounded, the caress of his thumbs over her collarbone said something else. "Why did you have to be loyal." He ran his fingers under Darcy's hair, sweeping it from her skin. "And smart." He placed a kiss upon her shoulder. "And passionate." His lips brushed the nape of her neck. "And possibly even more sarcastic than me." The rough kiss he positioned just behind her jaw sent a shiver down her body. Clint spread a hand behind her neck to still her. "I don't know what will happen with us Darce," he murmured into her ear while his fingertips ran down the back of her arm. "This life isn't easy. There's a big age gap. And after everything that happened, S.H.I.E.L.D. will make it a nightmare for us to be in a relationship. But I don't care. I want this. Us." Clint cupped her face again and brought Darcy's gaze back until she was looking straight into his blue eyes. "Because you have no idea of just how fucking bad I want you Darce."

And then Clint's mouth had descended upon her and Darcy didn't doubt how he felt. His fingers grazed along her cheeks as his lips lingered and caressed and teased over her own. The kiss was slow. Indulgent. Heady. And when Clint's fingers gradually began to trail down her neck, each touch was dragging and deliberate and torturously slow. By the time he'd reached her hips, Darcy was whimpering against his mouth, her nails digging in his thighs and her nerves thrumming beneath her skin. And suddenly Clint had gripped her ass tight and the kiss became urgent and the rush of relief that burst through her turned Darcy's whimpers into a rough moan.

There was no thought of any of the other occupants wandering into the room and seeing them making out on the couch. All Darcy could register was Clint. All she wanted was to be pressed against him. Darcy shifted on her knees, her body squirming in her need to be closer. She'd forgotten about every scrape and bruise on her but when the motion tugged at her stitches, she couldn't prevent the wince. Clint stilled for a moment against her lips before he kissed along her cheek soothingly while his hands guided her until she was sitting on the couch again. Darcy was about to protest until she felt Clint slide down behind her, his legs curved around her hips and his hand splayed across her stomach to guide her back into his chest. Darcy gave a contented sigh when his lips began brushing down her neck.

"You know," she began, silently cursing the breathiness her voice had taken. "I never actually said I was going to join S.H.I.E.L.D."

Clint paused between kisses, the pads of his fingers still working circles over her body. "I know I said it would be hard but..."

Darcy cut him off. "Look, I know they're your boss and all but seriously? S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted to use me as bait. Not exactly my first choice in employer after that. Besides," she added absently. "I don't need that job. I've already got a better offer."

"Really?" Clint asked before he resumed trailing his mouth over her skin.

"Mmm hmm," Darcy exhaled heavily, her head lolling back against his shoulder. There had definitely been some use of teeth on that last kiss. It was a struggle to get coherent words out. "But don't tell Stark I'm accepting his job yet. I'm still negotiating my salary. New York rent is expensive."

She felt Clint's mouth leave her neck to nip at her ear. "Tell Stark he can't have you for another week," Clint said while his hand traced down her stomach and hipbone. "You're going to be busy. Healing. In my bedroom." He swept his thumb above her stitches. "How's this feeling now?"

"It felt better when you were kissing me," Darcy replied honestly.

Clint didn't need to be asked twice.

A million thanks to everyone who has read this story and a special "I love you all" for the kind reviews people left. I'm a terrible person who doesn't reply to comments most of the time but I never stop getting excited when my inbox says there's one to be read. They push me to stay up until the wee hours to get a chapter finished.

A special thanks to purpleann who gave me invaluable advice on the D.C. political scene. All mistakes in that realm are mine and mine alone.

And should anyone be wondering - there are plans for a sequel.