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Title: Things That Shine
Author: [info]coffeebuddha
Rating: PG-13/FRT
Characters/Pairings: Darcy Lewis/Bruce Banner, background Jane Foster/Thor, background Tony Stark/Steve Rogers, background Clint Barton/Phil Coulson, past Betty Ross/Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanov, Betty Ross, Hulk
Word Count: 26,585 overall
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.
Summary: Darcy was seven the first time she fell in love. The second time it happens, she's twenty-five, hung over as all get out, and has a real chance of getting shot, which is actually more alarming than the giant green guy who's holding her hostage.
Notes: Sequel to Living a Bangles Song. I kept forgetting to post new parts of this to LJ, so I'm bundling the last eleven chapters into three posts to keep the flist spamming to a minimum. :)
Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Parts Five through Nine



Darcy wakes up the first time while the sky outside her window is dark, barely manages to stumble to what she really hopes is the toilet before she starts throwing up, rinses her mouth out with the tub faucet—it’s closer than the sink and this way she doesn’t have to get off her knees—crawls back to bed where she drains a glass of water she finds on her side table, and collapses diagonally across her bed.

The second time she wakes up, it’s still dark out. She squirms around for a few minutes to try and unwrap herself from her blanket burrito. One hand and most of a foot escape, but no amount of pathetic whining or wriggling will get the rest free, so she finally just curls up as best she can and goes back to sleep.

The third time she wakes up, it sticks. Light is pouring in through the windows with their cruelly open blinds. Tony’s fingerprints are over that, because it’s the kind of asshole move he would think is funny and Darcy never leaves her blinds open. She used to live across the street from a guy with a telescope; that’s the sort of lesson that sticks with you.

Her blankets are still twisted around her in some kind of weird fabric origami—if she squints, it looks a little like a crane—but this time she manages to roll free. There’s a glass of water on the side table, new enough that its sides are still slick with cold condensation when she touches it, with a selection of pain killers next to it, which is great since her brain is currently trying to break out of the inside of her skull and is apparently using a sledgehammer to do it. Darcy pops a couple of the pills. One gets stuck in her throat and the resulting flailing lands her on the floor.

“Ugh,” says Darcy. She finds the note next to the glass when she uses the table to pull herself more or less to her feet.

Darcy,

I left you a few different kinds of pain killers since Jane wasn’t certain what kind you would prefer . Natasha took care of undressing you, so don’t be alarmed about that.

There’s no signature, but Bruce’s handwriting is unmistakable, and Darcy lightly touches the corner of the paper. Then she glances down. Huh. That explains where her pants went, at least. She should probably put on another pair before she goes to get breakfast.

A quick perusal of her dresser reveals another problem.

“JA’IS,” Darcy says, the word trailing off into a wide, cracking yawn. The silence that follows is definitely disapproving, and Darcy doesn’t know how JARVIS manages that, but it’s fucking impressive. She tries again. “JARVIS?”

“Yes, Miss Lewis?” JARVIS asks. Why Tony built an AI capable of radiating the kind of blatant disappointment that’s usually reserved for Darcy’s mom, she’ll never understand.

“Where are my pants?” Darcy stares sadly down at her empty drawer.

“Dr. Foster seemed to think it was imperative that she take them,” JARVIS says, and Darcy pouts. Jane on a mission is impossible to refuse or dissuade. Jane drunk and on a mission enters into James Bond levels of trickery to get her way. The poor pants never had a chance.

That still leaves the problem of walking around half dressed. It’s not like Darcy’s never done that before, but she thinks that’s probably something to save for the second month of her living here. There’s an old sweater in her closet that’s stretched enough to hit her mid thigh, which is longer than some skirts she’s owned. She puts it on and pretends it’s a dress, because why the hell not. A quick glance in the mirror confirms that her make-up is smeared, but not so badly that she can’t mostly fix it with her fingers, and her hair is going above and beyond the call of duty by looking attractively bed tousled instead of like a rat’s nest. She can work with that.

The trip to the kitchen goes better than she expects it to. She only nearly falls over once, and now that she’s made nice at JARVIS, he thoughtfully dims the lights along her path. She pats the wall and mumbles something as complimentary as she can manage. The actual kitchen is a bit more of a problem.

Natasha hands her a mug of coffee and points her toward the table as soon as she walks in, because she’s made of awesome and win and the blood of her enemies, but Tony and Clint don’t even try to pretend like they aren’t staring at her legs and Steve looks for all the world like he despairs of them all. Bruce is already sitting at the table, the newspaper spread out in front of him. He’s pretty much the only person she knows who still reads a physical paper—even Steve reads his on the tablet Tony would cry over if he didn’t use—and usually that would be adorable enough for her to comment on, but even looking at him hurts right now. Instead, she drops down on a stool at the island and tests the temperature of her coffee with the tip of her tongue.

There’s a strange, muffled choking sound from Bruce’s direction. Tony says something under his breath that makes Steve elbow him and Clint laugh. Darcy should probably care about that, but she’s too busy gulping down her coffee and trying to figure out the most effective way to inject it directly into her veins.

“Mmm,” she hums when she finally comes up for breath, and there’s a definite fumbling over at the table when she licks her lips. Tony says something else that she still doesn’t catch, and this time Steve bodily drags him out of the kitchen, his arms flailing out in a last ditch effort to get a hold of the coffeepot before it’s out of reach; Clint tags along behind them when Natasha glares.

“Eat,” Natasha says, and Darcy bites into the toast she holds in front of her face.

“So nice for being so scary,” Darcy says, spewing crumbs everywhere, and Natasha only rolls her eyes a little bit. That means she likes Darcy.

“Yes, well, just don’t tell anyone,” Natasha says and shoves the rest of the toast into Darcy’s open mouth.

“Mgrrhf,” Darcy says around it. She swallows what she can, puts what she doesn’t manage on a napkin, licks a crumb from her thumb, and crosses her legs.

There’s a wet clinking sound followed closely by a quiet, but venomous, ‘Fuck’. Darcy finally looks over at Bruce, who’s mopping coffee off of his paper and blushing nearly as red as Tony’s suit, then up at Natasha. She raises an eyebrow and Natasha smirks.

Natasha leans in close, one hand on her shoulder, and murmurs, “Maybe go a little easier on him. You look like you just got fucked and there’s a phone number written on your cleavage.”

Darcy blinks and looks down at the deep vee of her sweater. Huh, so there is.

“We ran out of napkins at the bar,” Darcy explains. “Jane used up about fifty of them trying to figure out the equation for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the bartender wouldn’t let us have any more.” She pouts. “Not even when we told him we wanted to make paper flowers to decorate the place with.”

“You’re a menace to society,” Natasha says fondly, and Darcy smiles up at her the best as she can. “And why is the phone number there?” She cuts her eyes toward Bruce when she says it, and when Darcy peeks out of the corner of her eye, he’s hunched over his paper again and so obviously trying to pretend he’s not listening in that there might as well be a flashing neon sign over him saying that he is.

Darcy pulls the collar of her sweater open a little wider, and there goes the rest of Bruce’s coffee, which is going to require a little more examination later. And yep, there’s a time and date underneath the number. “I set up a hair appointment,” she says, and flaps her hand around until Natasha passes her a pen and a pad of paper so that she can copy the information and a damp rag to wipe the ink off with. “Shawn thinks I’ll look good with bangs.”

“Shawn?” Judging by the look on Bruce’s face, he didn’t mean to say that. Darcy stares at him for a long moment.

“Guy we met at the bar last night.”

Darcy’s usually pretty happy being just the way she is, but right now she’d just about kill for a portion of Xavier’s mutation. She has no idea what’s going through Bruce’s brain, but she gets a feeling that things would be a lot simpler if she could poke around in there a little bit.

“Are you ready to go,” Betty asks from the doorway. This time it’s Darcy’s turn to drop her coffee. Thankfully, Natasha manages to catch it before any actually spills. Darcy closes her eyes, because she’s hung over and heart sick and doesn’t want to watch this, but Bruce doesn’t say anything. Instead, Betty clears her throat and says, “Darcy?”

Darcy’s eyes fly open. “Huh,” she asks eloquently.

“Lunch,” Betty says. She looks even better than she did yesterday, that bitch. Darcy wants to steal her shoes. “You called me last night and asked if I’d like to get lunch with you today.”

“I don’t even have your phone number,” Darcy says, because she’s pretty certain that’s an important thing. Betty shrugs.

“Yeah, I wondered about that, but then I thought about who you work for. If you wanted it, it wouldn’t be hard to get it.”

Which is true enough. Darcy looks at Natasha, who pulls an eh, what’s the worst that could happen face, then at Betty, who just smiles.

“Yeah,” she says slowly. “I could eat.”



“This is your treat,” Darcy says as she follows Betty out onto the street. She squints in the mid morning brightness and shoves Tony’s sunglasses on her face, then glares at a particularly perky jogger until she feels slightly more human. “Just so you know.”

“Seems rather backwards since you’re the one who invited me out,” Betty says. “Isn’t it generally the other way around?”

Darcy turns her glare on Betty. “And I’m picking where we’re going.”

“You’re a little bossy, aren’t you?” Betty’s grinning like she thinks that’s the best thing ever, and Darcy crosses her arms and does her best Coulson impression.

“I’m currently hung over and not wearing pants. That is how my day is going. This is my life.” She uncrosses her arms to wave them around, because Coulson impressions are all well and good, but sometimes you need to really get the point across with big, showy gestures. If she grazes Betty a tiny bit, then that’s just gravy. “An average day involves waking up in a talking house with superheroes who feed and leer at me while I walk around with no bottoms because my supposed best friend stole all my pants. And I want waffles, but I don’t have my wallet, because I don’t have pockets. Because, you know, pants.”

“Right,” Betty says. She drums her fingers on the strap of her purse and scrunches her lips to the side. Darcy reaches out and smacks a guy who’s not so subtly trying to take a cell phone picture of her.

“Tony Stark is more of a gentleman than you,” she snarls at him as he scrambles out of her reach. “Tony. Fucking. Stark.”

“Okay,” Betty says. She hooks her arm through Darcy’s, apparently immune to her grumpy spitting, and starts off down the sidewalk. “Waffles it is. But I choose the place.”

“You drive a hard bargain.” Darcy tries to glare at her and ends up just leaning in a little closer, because her perfume is weirdly soothing and makes Darcy want to roll over on her back and purr a little bit. “That doesn’t make me like you.”

“Of course it does.”

Darcy pokes Betty in the side with her elbow and Betty arches a perfectly shaped eyebrow at her; Darcy wonders if it would be out of line to ask if she waxes or plucks. “Okay, fine. Maybe it does.” She pauses while Betty beams down at her, and adds, “Bitch.”

Betty just laughs.


“So I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” Betty says. “And we should probably get that straightened out, because I’m going to be around for a while.”

“Of course you are,” Darcy says. She nods her thanks at the waitress when she places a plate loaded with fluffy, golden waffles in front of her, then eyes Betty. “Exactly how ‘around’ are we talking?”

 “That really depends. Thank you,” Betty says with a wide, white smile when her own plate is put down.  “Director Fury offered me a permanent job at SHIELD and I intend to formally accept on Monday.”

Darcy’s never had heart burn before in her life, but she really wants to believe that that’s what she’s feeling right now. She pokes the melting butter around on top of her waffles violently enough to tear a hole in one. “We still probably won’t see each other all that often. I can’t imagine you’ll be leaving the lab too much.”

The lab where Bruce works, and she’ll probably be at the tower a lot too, and is there seriously not going to be a single place in the entire city where Darcy can have Bruce to herself for five fucking minutes? Not that she should even be thinking that. Darcy is a lot of things, but she’s never been a cheater or a home wrecker, and she’s not about to start now, no matter how fluffy Bruce’s hair is or how sweet his eyes are or how much she loves the way he scrunches up his nose whenever she makes him eat something strange.

“Darcy,” Betty says, and there’s a kindness in her voice that reminds Darcy of nothing so much of the way her mother sounded when she told her about McScruff. Betty knows. Of course, Betty knows. She’s brilliant and beautiful and has ridiculous observational skills that make Darcy want to stab a pillow with a spork. Darcy holds up a finger while she pours most of the container of blackberry syrup over her stack of waffles to stall. After a few moments, when she feels a little more prepared to get the ‘keep your hands off my man’ speech, she motions for her to continue. Betty huffs a small laugh and cuts into her egg white omelet. “You seem to think that Bruce and I are together.”

“Yeah, well, walking in on two people whose back story reads like the hit romcom of the summer kissing will generally give me that impression.” She pauses, her eyes narrowing, and points her butter knife at Betty. “Does he think you’re together? Are you leading him on? Because if you hurt him, I don’t care how fabulous your bone structure is, I will fucking cut you.”

“No,” Betty says quickly, her fork clattering onto her plate when she raises both her hands. Her eyes are wide, and she looks borderline panicked. “No, Darcy, I’m not leading him on. I would never do anything to hurt Bruce. I love him.”

Darcy already knew that. Anyone with eyes probably knew that, but that doesn’t make hearing it any easier. Her already finicky stomach clenches suddenly, and Darcy pushes her waffles away without taking a single bite.

“You love him, but the two of you aren’t together. So this is, what, you telling me to get out of the way?” Darcy smirks, and she knows without having to see it that it’s an ugly, bitter thing. “Because I have to tell you, there’s no way I’m any kind of competition for you.”

Betty combs her fingers through her hair and her smooth brow creases into a frustrated frown. “You’re getting this all wrong. I’m not with Bruce, I have no intention of being with Bruce, and I’m fucking happy that he found you.”

“What, he’s not good enough for you?” Darcy shreds her napkin into smaller and smaller pieces. “You don’t have a problem with the whole ‘Hulk’ thing, do you? Because he’s a total sweetie once you get past the smashing.”

“I’m really going to need you to stop twisting what I’m saying,” Betty says, her face connecting solidly with her palm.

“My head hurts,” Darcy says petulantly. “My head hurts, and the love of my not-boyfriend’s life is suddenly back in the picture, so forgive me if you have to use small, simple words with me this morning.”

“And you still don’t have any pants on,” Betty points out, one corner of her mouth twitching up in the small beginning of a smile.

“Yes, that too.” Darcy nods.

“I’m not with Bruce, even though I’ll always love him and think he’s an amazing guy, because I’m engaged to someone else,” Betty says, holding out her left hand as proof. The diamond on her ring finger is big enough that even Tony would probably think it’s overkill. Darcy wonders how much she could pawn it for. "Darcy, Bruce is an absolutely amazing man, and I doubt I'll ever stop loving him, but after he left I moved on. I had to. For all I knew, he was never going to be able to come back to me, and he wouldn't let me go with him. It wouldn't have been fair to either of us to try and stay committed to each other when we were in a situation where we had no future. I fell in love with someone else, and Bruce is nothing but a very dear friend to me now."

“And Bruce knows this,” Darcy asks, her voice dangerous.

“Of course. I would never hide anything like that from Bruce. The engagement's why he kissed me.” Betty sighs and twists the ring around her finger. “He was congratulating me, and then we went out to dinner with my fiancé.”

“Okay,” Darcy says. She sweeps her scraps of paper into a pile to keep her hands busy and frowns. “Let me get this straight. You’re not here to get back together with Bruce, you’re engaged to someone else, and you like me?”

“Well, not so much right now, but basically,” Betty says with a weary grin.

Darcy swallows thickly and nods.

“You caught me on a bad day. I’m usually much more endearing than this.”

Betty chuckles and takes a sip of her probably cold coffee. “I believe that. It would have to take someone special to capture Bruce’s attention the way you have.”

She can’t help the smile at that, and after a moment she realizes that she doesn’t have to. “You think,” she asks. Her brain is already switching gears, reclassifying Betty from The Enemy to someone who seems to inexplicably like her and who has valuable inside information on Bruce. “Sometimes it seems like he might be interested, but most of the time I don’t think he knows what to make of me at all. I don't want to scare him off or anything, you know?”

“Oh, I can guarantee that he has no idea what to do with you,” Betty says with the kind of loud, free laugh that makes more than a few people in the diner turn to look at them. “That doesn’t make him any less smitten though.”

Darcy grins and pulls her waffles back in front of her. “Smitten?”

“Like a kitten,” Betty says with a wink, and then Darcy’s laughing too.

“You know this means you have to tell me everything about him, right?” Darcy asks around a mouthful of waffles.

Betty leans across the table to wipe a smear of syrup off her cheek with a napkin and says, “Oh, definitely,” with a wicked grin that makes Darcy pretty certain they’re going to be very good friends by the end of this.


“Just so we’re clear,” Betty says later while they’re shopping for pants. “If you break his heart, I’ll do everything I can to make your life miserable.”

Darcy looks at Betty’s reflection behind her in the mirror and puts her hands on her hips. “Unsurprising.” She twists a little to see how her ass looks in the purple jeans she has on, smiles sweetly, and says, “And if you ever kiss him again, I’ll pull your pretty, pretty hair out at the roots.”

Betty stares hard at her for a moment, then nods once. “Deal.”


Everyone’s crowded into the living room when Darcy and Betty get back. (And seriously, Darcy wonders, what is up with these people that they spend all their time with each other? Is this secretly an episode of Friends that got completely out of hand?) Bruce, Tony, and Steve are crowded together at one end of the room with matching expressions of vaguely amused terror on their faces. On a couch at the other end of the room, Jane is painting Natasha’s toenails a deep red while Natasha does Clint’s up in violet.

Right, so business as usual then.

“You never let me paint your toenails,” Darcy says with a pout as she flops down on the couch by Clint. When Betty just stands there, Darcy snags her wrist and pulls her down to sit on the armrest.

“You whine,” Natasha says. She pulls her foot out of Jane’s grasp and twists it this way and that to examine it. After a moment, she puts it back in Jane’s lap with a self satisfied little smile that blends into a blank poker face when she tells Darcy, “I had no choice with Foster. She blinded me with science.”

“You’re dead to me,” Darcy says to Jane, because that seriously isn’t even worth responding to. It’s really hard to blind someone with political science, okay? “Until I have at least ninety percent of my pants back? Dead like my aunt Bertha.”

“She’s the one who had a fake leg,” Betty asks, her head tilting slightly to the side.

“Yes.” Darcy tugs on Betty until she slides down into the sliver of space between Darcy and the armrest. They’re wedged borderline uncomfortably tight together, but when Jane arches an eyebrow, Darcy jerks her chin up and says, “This is Betty. She’s my honorary best friend until you give me back my pants.”

“I think I might have given them to homeless Larry who lives in front of my building,” Jane says as she starts stroking a clear topcoat over Natasha’s toenails. “I can’t remember, but if he has them, he’ll probably give them back for one of your barbeque sandwiches. He really likes those.”

“Homeless Larry doesn’t even wear the same size as me!”

“Does anyone have any clue what’s going on here,” Tony asks.

“I don’t think I want to know,” Bruce answers, once again proving that he’s a very smart man. Darcy grins at him and tries to picture him with kitten ears. Ooo.

“I know what your next Halloween costume should be,” she tells him, and Bruce suddenly looks about a thousand times more apprehensive than he did a second earlier.

“Wait,” Jane cuts in, because she’s not always as oblivious as she appears. “Betty? As in Betty-from-last-night Betty?”

“Yep,” Darcy says. She bumps her head against Betty’s shoulder in silent apology, because even though she wasn’t actually there, Betty’s sharp enough to probably figure out the kinds of things Darcy was saying about her. “New best friend. I would say Natasha, but she doesn’t have friends so much as people she keeps around for her own amusement and diabolical purposes.”

Natasha looks smug, and Darcy would try to high five her, except…that didn’t end so great the last time.

Jane arches an eyebrow. “Shawn would not approve.”

“Who the hell is Shawn,” Tony cuts in to ask. He’s managed to acquire a bag of popcorn from somewhere, and Darcy really doesn’t even want to know, except for how she really does. Because magical popcorn from nowhere? Coolio! She wonders if it comes in cinnamon.

“The one who makes Bruce look like someone kicked his puppy in the face,” Clint answers, his voice slurred enough that Darcy leans over to check if he’s been drinking. He hasn’t, but Natasha’s switched from painting his toenails to massaging his instep, and he’s little more than a puddle of relaxed, muscley archer right now. “Darcy’s new beau.”

“Only if Darcy suddenly sprouts a penis,” Jane interjects. When that’s met with a resounding silence, she clarifies, “Because he’s gay.”

“Oh, did we get confirmation on that?” Darcy asks, momentarily forgetting that Jane is dead to her. Or maybe she’s just channeling her inner medium. Those guys can’t get enough of talking to the dead. Always yak yak yakking about the best materials for caskets and where the murder weapon is hidden. (That’s what Darcy assumes, at least. It would make sense, right?)

“Yeah, if the way he was waxing poetic about his boyfriend while you spent twenty minutes in the bathroom is anything to go by? Definitely gay. I mean, I could run some studies, maybe try to scrounge up a control group, but I think we have pretty conclusive evidence.”

“I spent twenty minutes in the bathroom and you didn’t check on me? Jane, why would you not have checked on me?" Darcy's pout is reaching the sort of epic proportions that Jane would have to invent some kind of new theorem to measure. Betty's shaking next to her, but Darcy chooses to believe she's quietly sobbing on Darcy's behalf, not laughing at her misfortune. "Something could have been horribly wrong. I might have been dead or passed out or trying to get my shoe out of the toilet bowl all by myself. Jane, I could have become a statistic!”

Tony offers some of his popcorn to Bruce and Steve, who both absently takes a handful. Steve munches on his, but Bruce just crumbles the popped kernels between his fingers.

“You like statistics,” Jane says dismissively.

“Not when I am one!”

And then Thor crashes in through the window, because apparently they don’t have doors in Asgard, and there goes the rest of the day.


Darcy jerks awake with a choked off gasp, a scream caught as a lump in her throat that escapes as a whimper. Her blankets are twisted around her legs, and when Darcy tries to kick them away, she gets even more tangled up in them and ends up sliding off the bed and landing with a painful thud. Fucking hardwood floor and the fucking billionaires who insist on them. She concentrates on evening out her breathing, slow in, slow out, until her heartbeat slows to where she can't feel it pulsing beneath her skin. It's slow going, but she has the weak, groggy feeling that means she's only been asleep for a few hours, so she has all night to come down from her adrenaline high.

When she can breathe again, she curls down to pull the blankets away and uses one corner of her sheet to wipe the sheen of sweat from her face. Darcy's legs are shaky when she pushes up to her feet, and her hands tremble when she presses the heels of them against her closed eyes, but she grits her teeth and tries to channel her inner Coulson. The tremor in her hands is barely visible when she pulls her robe on over her pajamas, and she's walking a straight line by the time she's a few feet from her bedroom door.

The light is already on in the kitchen, and she pauses outside the doorway, her fingertips resting lightly on the frame. There's a mirror in the hallways, so Darcy knows she's still a little wild looking around the eyes, and she looks about as ragged as she ever gets; this is not a night for midnight meetings. But then again, her emergency honey buns are hidden in the bread box, so it's really no contest.

Bruce is sitting up at the kitchen island, surrounded by a small sea of paper, and he's so engrossed in the equations he's scribbling that it isn't until Darcy clears her throat that he looks up at her.

"Can't sleep or did you just lose track of time," Darcy asks. Judging from the state of Bruce's hair, he's been at this for a while now.

Bruce scrubs his hand over the stubble on his cheek with an audible rasp and works his jaw in the way that means he's trying to swallow a yawn. "Both?"

"Right, okay," Darcy says, because this calls for a change in plan. "Are you actually getting anything done right now?"

Bruce starts to look down, and Darcy rounds the island to grab his elbow.

"Nope, if you have to look, then you aren't." She tugs on Bruce's arm, ready to put up a fight if she needs to. Bruce looks sleepy and bemused, but slides off the stool easily and follows Darcy into the living room without question.

"What are you doing?"

Well, almost without question. Darcy snatches a blanket from a chest in the corner, pushes Bruce down into an armchair, and then snuggles in next to him. "We're watching bad midnight movies." She smooths the blanket over their laps. The remote is on Bruce's side, and he passes it to her when she looks from it to him. Darcy's used to not being able to find anything but infomercials this time of night, but Tony's got some kind of ridiculous satellite package and it only takes a few minutes of flipping before she lands on My Fair Lady. "This okay?"

"Yeah." She can feel Bruce hesitate, but then his arm settles around her shoulder. He doesn't pull her closer, just lets it rest there, light and ready to pull away at a moment's notice. "I haven't watched this in years."

Darcy shifts a little bit, slinging one of her legs over the armrest, and settles in with her back pressed to Bruce's side. His arm wavers a little, like he doesn't know where to put it, and Darcy takes his hand in both of hers and pulls his arm down and around her until it's comfortably pressing down across her chest. "It's a classic."

"It's not easy," Bruce says quietly. His mouth is very close to Darcy's head, and when he speaks his breath stirs her hair. She can't help the shiver that zips down her spine, but Bruce seems to think she's just chilled, because he pulls the blanket over her a little more as he continues. "Learning how to be an entirely new person? Getting a glimpse into a world that's completely different from what you're used to, having to relearn all the rules you thought you already knew. There's nothing easy about that."

Darcy squeezes his hand, because seriously, what can she say to that. She can't hear his sigh, but she can feel it in the rise and fall of his chest.

"Were you going to tell me?"

Darcy frowns and turns away from Eliza Doolittle trying to enunciate around a mouthful of marbles to look up at Bruce. "Tell you what?"

Bruce cups her cheek and lightly strokes the pad of his thumb over the dark bruise under one of her eyes. His mouth turns down in a small, unhappy frown. "Were you every going to tell me about the nightmares?"

"I have it under control," Darcy tells him. Bruce's frown deepens and she hurries on to reassure him. "I have counseling sessions and coping exercises and everything. Really, it's all cool. Everything's completely cool. Good. Peachy keen."

"That's not what I asked." Bruce's hand drifts down until his fingers are stretched out wide over where the paper thin pink scars are hidden by the layers of her robe and shirt. "You could have told me, you know."

Darcy shrugs and looks down at where her hands are curled around his wrist. "Honestly, it just didn't seem worth it to bother you."

"Darcy," Bruce says. That thread of steel is back in his voice, and when he bends his head to press a kiss to the spot right where her neck joins her shoulder, a rush of heat floods through her so strongly that she pushes the blanket away. "You never bother me. You never will bother me, but I do worry about you. You have to know I care about you."

"You care about me," she echoes. Darcy sighs and shakes her head. "You care and Coulson cares and Natasha cares and Clint cares and Steve and Tony care. Fuck, even Fury cares if the taxidermied squirrel, which was clearly supposed to be anonymous and totally wasn't, that I found on my desk is anything to go by. It's actually pretty cool," she says, glancing up in Bruce's general direction without actually looking at him. "It's a letter opener sharpener, and the sharpener is in its neck. Very therapeutic on a bad day.

"Darcy," Bruce says again, and he sounds so tired that Darcy twists in his arms so that she can look at him full on.

"I know you care about me," she tells him as seriously as she can. "What I want to know is how much."

Bruce's brow furrows and he cards his fingers through his hair. "I don't think I understand."

Darcy shifts again, resettles so that she's straddling Bruce's lap, and frames his face with her hands. "Bruce," she says, leaning in until their noses are brushing. When he doesn't pull back, she closes that last tiny distance between them. Bruce's lips are chapped and he tastes of too old coffee, and their noses bump a little too much until Darcy tilts her head. Bruce stays still long enough that Darcy starts second guessing herself, but then Bruce's mouth is parting just slightly underneath hers and his bottom lip is caught between hers. The kiss is as sweet as sugar melting on her tongue, and she swallows whatever Bruce is trying to say, because if this is her only chance at this, she wants it to last as long as possible.

Everything stays relatively chaste, Bruce's hands never straying from her waist and both of their mouths barely open, but when Darcy breaks the kiss with a tiny, slick sound, she would be willing to go on record calling it the best kiss of her life.

Her breath is unsteady again, and her hands slide down to Bruce's neck, because she needs to see as much of his face as she can. Bruce looks shell shocked, but his eyes track her tongue when it darts out to lick her lips.

"How much do you care about me," she asks, voice rough as sandpaper. "Is it that much? Or have we been dancing around this thing for nothing?"

"Yeah," Bruce exhales. He traces her lower lip with his thumb, and Darcy purses her lips against it in a small kiss that still makes her blood sing. Bruce opens his mouth. Darcy can practically see the excuses and the 'but's all ready to start tumbling out, so Darcy kisses him quickly again to stop him.

"Okay," she says, her words a bare whisper against Bruce's lips, and she pulls in a stuttering breath to steel her nerves. "Then you should really take me to bed."


Darcy might have kissed Bruce first, but he's the one who can't seem to stop kissing her as they stumble down the hallway to his bedroom. (It's not even a little bit closer, but Darcy's honestly a little afraid of taking Bruce back to hers, where he'll be more likely to make a break for it if his cold feet come back.) They stop several times, Bruce backing her against the wall or the occasional door frame to catch her lips with his. That's fine with Darcy; more than fine, actually. Bruce kisses like he's made for it, all soft, wet heat that gets her wound up tighter and tighter until she's clutching at his shoulders to keep her knees from buckling, and only backing off when she can't hold back a whimper or a high, thin keen. Then he's taking her by the hand again, always with an inexplicably shy downcast of his eyes, and leading her further down the hallway.

He can't seem to stop touching her. His fingers flit over the inward curve of her waist, the barely there cut of her shoulder blades, the back of her neck. She threads her fingers into his hair, scraping her nails down from crown to nape, and his grip tightens where he's palming her hip.

They hesitate outside the door to his room. Bruce starts to say something, little more than a huff escaping, before he shakes his head sharply and cups Darcy's cheek. He kisses her slowly and carefully, like he's afraid he might suddenly Hulk out and break her, and when he touches the tip of his tongue to her lower lip, Darcy sighs and opens to him. His other arm comes up around her waist, reeling her in just that much closer. Darcy lets him; she thinks she would let him do pretty much anything he wants so long as he keeps kissing her like this.

Bruce is the one shaking when he breaks the kiss this time, but he doesn't let her go or even really back off. He keeps his arms tight around her and rests his forehead against hers. “We don't have to take this any farther than we already have. You're tired and you're hurting, and shut up,” he says when she starts to protest. “I know you are, even if you won't admit it. Do you think I don't watch you?”

She can feel the heat of his flush against her skin, the gradual increase of the tremor in his hands, and since he won't let her say anything, she soothingly smooths her hands up and down the tense planes of his back.

“You're vulnerable right now,” Bruce says. His voice cracks like something inside of him physically breaks from having to vocalize that thought. “I don't want to take advantage of you.” He pauses, pulls in a slow, stuttering breath. “And I don't want this if it's only a one time thing.”

“You're not,” Darcy says. She tips her chin up, ghosting her lips lightly over his. “And it isn't. It really isn't.”

God,”Bruce says. There's something not unlike awe in his expression that makes Darcy feel like she's filled with helium, and she kisses his chin because it's there and she hasn't had a chance to yet. “Where did you even come from?”

Darcy laughs--her entire body shakes with it and her head tips back and she can feel tears springing up in the corners of her eyes, but she tamps it down to a broad grin when Bruce makes a questioning noise. She fists one hand in the front of his shirt, closes the other over the doorknob, and starts walking them backwards. “Well, you see, when a man and a woman love each other very, very much...”

She's pretty certain that when Bruce kisses her this time, it's mostly to shut her up. It's okay; she can work with that.

Darcy shrugs her robe off right inside the doorway, and she'd feel worse about letting it just fall on Bruce's floor like that, but his hands are skimming up her side underneath the thin cotton of her shirt, so she's pretty certain he hasn't noticed. His mouth is harder on hers with a desperation lurking under the surface now where before there had been a tender hesitance. He presses her back further into the room, and when the backs of her legs bump up against the side of his bed, she clutches at him so that he topples down on top of it with her.

Instead of speeding up, things grind almost to a stop once they're on the bed. It's not bad or anything—Bruce seems determined to memorize her neck and collar bones with his lips, which is all kinds of shivery goodness—but his hands don't stray from where they're bracketing her hips, and he tenses when Darcy slips the very tips of her fingers under the front of his waistband. And it's obviously not that he isn't interested, because one of his legs is slotted between hers and Darcy can feel exactly how much he's turned on right now against her upper thigh, but he doesn't seem in any hurry to take it further.

A suspicion slowly creeps over her.

Bruce,” Darcy says, and her voice sounds heavy and drugged to her own ears, so she can only imagine how she sounds to him. Bruce pauses for half a heartbeat, but then he's right back to tracing the tendon in her neck with his tongue, and Darcy has to yank gently on his hair to get him to look up at her.

Bruce,” she says, a little more normally this time, and Bruce licks swollen lips as he gazes down at her. “You've been on the road for a while now, right? And you don't exactly socialize.”

She can feel the tension that's suddenly just there in his body when his fight or flight impulse kicks in, and she knows he knows where she's going with this. It's awkward, yeah, but they've never exactly had a problem with that before, so she see no reason to let that get in her way now.

Exactly how long has it been for you?”

Darcy,” he hedges, and Darcy pulls him down into a long, searching kiss. She keeps things easy, barely licking back past his teeth before retreating and just enough pressure that she can feel the slight tingle in her already bruised lips, and she can feel Bruce's tension ease out of him bit by bit with each teasing nibble. She presses a last, short kiss to the soft bow of his upper lip before trying again.

You can tell me,” she says. “I can guess, if that's easier? Blink once for yes and twice for no or something like that?”

Darcy,” Bruce says, but there's an undercurrent of laughter there that wasn't there before, and he smiles sweetly at her for a moment before it falters. “It's been a while.” His eyes shutter, and he strokes his thumb absently along her hipbone, that familiar old nervous fidgeting that's been slowly dying away suddenly back in full force. “Since Betty.”

Okay,” Darcy says, because she doesn't really want to think about that, but it's good to know. “Slow is okay, you know? I'm totally down with slow if that's how you want to do this. I wouldn't normally lay that out there, but it seems like that's something you're interested in, and I know Jane says a lot of things about me, but it's not like I'm a complete speed demon in the sack, so--”

Stop,” Bruce says, and this time she has no idea what that tone is, but it's not one she's entirely comfortable with.

She takes a deep breath. “I'm just saying, this is good. This isn't the only chance we have, you know? So we can take our time. And I like this.”

This,” Bruce asks, dipping to press a wet, open mouthed kiss to the hinge of her jaw, and that right there is definitely a tease. Cheeky man.

Yeah,” Darcy breathes. She rolls them onto their sides, hooks a leg over his thighs, and guides his mouth back to one of the more sensitive spots on her neck. “This. This is totally good.”

And it's been a long time since Darcy's slept with someone without really doing anything more than sleeping, but she's found that she's willing—no, not just willing, happy—to do all sorts of things she normally doesn't where Bruce is concerned.


“I'm dangerous, you know,” Bruce says about the same time that the sun is beginning to break over the horizon, bleeding pink and orange across the white sheets they have pulled up nearly to their necks. Darcy tangles their feet together and rolls her eyes, which she thinks is a remarkable feat of coordination considering how early it is and how little sleep she's had.

“Awesome.” Darcy finds Bruce's hand under the covers and threads their fingers together. “You can kick the ass of anyone who tries to mess with me, then.”

Bruce huffs a laugh that's more surprise than humor, and shuffles them around until Darcy's tucked under his arm with her head on his shoulder. “I'm serious. When the Other Guy comes out--I can't control it. Not the way I need to. If he breaks out without my letting him, he's irrational. He could hurt you and never even know it.”

Darcy presses her palm over the center of Bruce's chest, scratches her fingers lightly through the hair there. “Yes,” she says slowly, attempting to blink the sleep out of her eyes. This isn't the kind of conversation she needs to have while half asleep. “And I could go out with some ordinary guy, and he could take me out for a drive in the country and wrap his car around a tree. There are always risks. The question is when does the risk outweigh the gain.” She turns her head to kiss his shoulder, allows herself a moment to taste the hot, salty tang of his skin. “And just in case you're wondering? You're totally worth it.”

“And the other thing,” Bruce starts, his voice trailing off into nothing. It's still fairly dim, but there's enough light now that Darcy can make out the faint flush darkening the edge of his cheekbones. She pushes up onto her elbow so she can look down and arch an eyebrow at him.

“What other thing?”

Bruce clears his throat, and now the tips of his ears are pink too, but his hand is steady enough when he skims his fingers over the swell of her hip. “The age thing.”

Darcy just blinks down at him.

Bruce sighs.

“Darcy,” he says and he's not quite able to meet her eyes. They're really going to have to work on that. “I'm twenty years older than you. I know you're not always a fan of the details--” and Darcy is seriously never going to live down mixing up the sugar and salt that one time, is she?--“but that can't possibly have escaped your notice.”

Right,” Darcy says, and flops back down on top of him. His chest hair is scratchy against her cheek, and she rubs her face against it for a moment while she thinks. “Okay,” she says finally. “Unless you're going to suddenly start yelling at me to get off your lawn, I don't see the 'age thing' as being a problem.”

I'd probably have to get a cane for that to really be effective,” Bruce muses, and Darcy giggles and nips at his clavicle.

In fact, we could make it a plus!” She grins and waggles her eyebrows at him. “Think of how much easier this will make some games. You're the professor and I'm the girl who needs to bump her grade up a few points.”

Darcy,” Bruce says, and his voice is exasperated, but the laugh lines around his eyes are a little more creased than usual.

The young, impressionable secretary and her boss who just wants to bend her over his desk and have his way with her.”

Oh god, stop,” Bruce says, unable to stop what Darcy can only call giggles. She lets him roll her over onto her back, spreads her legs so he can settle between them, and curls her toes into the softly worn hem at the bottom of his sleep pants.

Why,” she asks. She shutters her eyes, looks up at him through the thick fringe of her eyelashes, bites her lower lip coyly. “Am I being naughty? Do I need a spanking?”

Bruce is laughing when he kisses her, and the vibration of it slipping into her mouth and spreading out through her body tingles like a static shock.


It's a much more reasonable hour when Darcy finally rolls out of Bruce's bed. Bruce is still asleep, body curved around the empty space where she had been laying, and he looks so sweetly young and relaxed that she doesn't have the heart to wake him up. Instead, she leaves her robe draped across the end of the bed where he won't be able to miss it in lieu of a note and steals her favorite of his shirts. It's a deep purple, nearly violet, and it smells like him when she tugs it on. She only does up a handful of the buttons and lets the collar gape so that it's hanging off of her shoulder, bare except for the thin strap of her sleep shirt. The sleeves hang down over her fingertips. She fists her hands in the cuffs and presses her face against the fabric covering her wrists, inhaling for a moment, then shuffles down the hallway toward the scent of coffee with a smile she can't shake.

Tony's in the kitchen when she gets there. He doesn't even have the good manners to do a double take when he sees her, just whistles lowly and leans back against the counter.

JARVIS, who made the first move,” he asks while he holds a mug out for Darcy. Darcy scowls at him, because, hello, she's right here, but then she has to stop because the coffee really is super good.

Miss Lewis did, sir,” JARVIS says, and when Darcy toasts him with her mug, he adds, “If I might say so, I believe the two of you suit each other exceptionally well, and I wish you and Dr. Banner all the happiness, Miss Lewis.”

Thanks,” Darcy says and blows a kiss in the direction of the nearest security camera.

Fuck.” Tony pouts, only perking up a little bit when Darcy shoves him out of the way so that she can get into the pantry. There are maple bacon muffins that need baking, and she's just the person to do it.

Fuck,” Darcy asks dangerously, because she honestly doesn't care if it is Tony's tower and Tony's food and Tony's kitchen, all of that does not automatically entitle him to a muffin.

Tony shrugs. “I owe Steve a hundred bucks.” Darcy borrows her mom's best 'what the fuck are you talking about, and it had better not be what I think it is, but if it is then you need to make this good ' look.

Tony looks fascinated by it, but not cowed, and Darcy adds it to the list of things that prove Tony isn't entirely human.

I wanted to believe in the big guy,” Tony says as he stirs a swirl of melted caramel into his coffee; Darcy doesn't even know where he got it from, but she's more than willing to admit that the man has serious skills when it comes to that sort of thing. “I was convinced I could get him to at least ask you out before you pulled a Darcy.”

I don't even know what that means,” Darcy says. She should probably feel a little insulted right now, but mostly she's just intrigued.

You're not subtle.” Tony's lips twitch like he knows exactly how funny that sounds coming from a guy who flies around in a red and gold metal suit. “And you have a talent for getting the things you want.” He pauses to sip his coffee and watches her watching him over the rim of his mug. “And everyone could tell you wanted Bruce, but then you already knew that.”

I have good taste,” Darcy says, and they grin at each other and clink their mugs together.

There isn't any real maple syrup in the pantry, but Darcy finds sour cream and a tub of fresh blueberries in the fridge, and she starts pulling out everything she needs to make a loaf of blueberry sour cream quick bread instead. Tony perches on a stool and watches her while she makes it, occasionally interrupting her to ask things like why she adds each egg to the sugar and butter individually and how much of difference it would make if she used measuring cups instead of a scale. Darcy answers what she can, ignores what she can't, and tries not to be surprised when Tony starts scribbling what looks like a very advanced chemistry equation in between the occasional long, hard look at her ingredients.

Tony's in front of the oven watching the bread bake through the glass door when Bruce comes in.

His hair is a mess, sticking up in at least a dozen different directions at once, and his eyes are puffy and soft with sleep, but he slides an arm around her waist and murmurs, “Good morning,” against her mouth in a sweet whisper of a kiss, like it's something they do every day, and Darcy melts a lot more than a little bit.

Morning,” she says, flipping up the collar of Bruce's shirt, which is high enough to cover most of her lower face and hopefully cover most of her blush. Not that it matters if he sees her blushing, especially considering how shy her voice suddenly sounds.

There's a new coffee mug on the counter, even though Tony hasn't moved and Darcy didn't get it out, and Darcy wonders how merciful JARVIS will be to her once he takes over the world. Bruce doesn't notice the magic of the coffee mug though; he's too busy drinking it. After his first cup, which he always drinks black, standing directly in front of the pot, in a long swallow that has Darcy near hypnotized by the bob of his adam's apple.

With his second cup, he actually takes the time to fix it and slowly sips at the drink as he crosses back over to the kitchen island. He sits on the stool that Tony left vacated, and draws Darcy in with nothing more than a sleepy eyed look. She stands between his legs, and Bruce pulls her closer with a hand on her hip, leans in to hook his chin over her shoulder, and takes another careful drink of his coffee. Darcy, because there's nothing actually objectionable about it--quite the opposite, really--links her arms around his back and sways almost imperceptibly as he holds her.

The oven dings, and Tony asks, “What do you think it would do to the composition of the bread if the blueberries were frozen going in?” and Darcy presses her face against Bruce's chaotic hair and laughs.


Part Fifteen

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