"All right, who is he?"
Darcy looked up blankly, one leg kicked out over the armrest of Jane's sofa and the other swinging as she lounged. "Huh?"
"This mystery guy you're seeing," Jane said, leaning over the back. "I've heard rumors."
"In what time?" Darcy asked, turning her head back to the television. "You got back from BFE, nowhere, like an hour ago."
"Last week." Jane grabbed for the remote control, but Darcy held it just out of reach. "And apparently, it's more than enough time for you to be monopolizing my cable. Aren't you supposed to be helping me move in?"
"I'm helping," Darcy said blithely. "You never know when the TV is going to flip out and try to kill you. I'm totally taking one for the team. You owe me."
"The TV is not--"
"It could. Aliens invaded New York. Anything's possible." She sat up, sitting on the remote control for good measure. Jane rolled her eyes. "Besides," Darcy continued, "shouldn't you be, like, moving into that huge-ass tower with Thor? He has to have asked you."
"He did," Jane said primly. "I want some space of my own for a while. Not crammed into a trailer or a crappy apartment on non-tenured salary."
"Because SHIELD bucks are so big."
"I am a valued consultant," Jane said, trying to push Darcy aside. "I make the big bucks now."
Darcy couldn't deny that. All her dubious involvement with a superhero and poli-sci undergrad degree got her was a position sorting data. But she could deal with that. She'd done her time flipping burgers and considering how many of her friends from Culver were currently going back to that, she really couldn't complain.
Except for the fact that Jane's apartment was way nicer than hers and she didn't have to have a roommate to afford it. That part was annoying.
"So," Jane said, giving up and hopping over the back of the sofa to plop down next to Darcy, "if you're not going to help me unpack boxes, talk. I know what Thor thinks I missed out on."
"Do I want to know?"
Jane giggled and flushed bright red. Darcy smirked. "Superhero stuff," Jane said. "Asgardian gossip. Things I completely missed out on while I was in Tromsø. So, other than New York being half-destroyed?" Jane shrugged. "Not a lot I could relate to."
"And so Darcy gets to play TMZ," Darcy said. "Fun times."
"You like gossiping."
"I really do. So have you even been to their fancy new tower yet?"
Jane nodded. "Once. It was kind of... overwhelming."
"Lucky. I hear all about it, but does anyone ever invite the lowly analyst anywhere?" She sighed theatrically.
"Fine. I'll drag you over. I know you're dying to see it."
Darcy grinned. "And that's why I still email you."
"This mystery guy," Jane said again. "Come on, I want to know details."
"He's younger," Darcy said. "I get to be the wise older lady. He's like a puppy. It pretty much owns. Hey, I can get him to move your furniture tomorrow."
"Do you have a picture?"
Darcy scoffed. "Naturally. He's all over my Facebook page."
"I am never getting one of those."
"Loser." Darcy fiddled with her phone, pulling up the photo album and picking a particularly goofy picture of a lanky guy with brown hair, looking like a deer in headlights as he was caught shoving a giant forkful of spaghetti into his mouth. "That's him."
"You weren't kidding when you said he was younger," Jane said, pulling the phone toward her for a closer look.
"Shut up, he's like twenty. I'm barely even robbing the cradle."
"What's his name?"
"Peter." Darcy took her phone back, locking the screen. "You need to meet him. He's a big ol' science nerd like you."
Darcy gave Peter an amused look as they rode the elevator up to Jane's floor. "Dude, relax," she said. "It's not like you're meeting my mom or anything."
"She's a scientist working with a super-secret organization," Peter said, keeping his voice low. Darcy rolled her eyes. Like there were seriously any listening devices in the elevator. This wasn't a spy movie. "And? She's dating an Avenger."
"It's just Thor," Darcy said. "He's like a big friendly puppy."
"Thor, the god of thunder and also an Avenger," Peter hissed, his eyes going wide. "He's not just anything."
"You're cute when you're getting your fanboy on."
"I am not getting my fanboy on. It's professional respect."
Darcy snorted. "Whatever, Spider-fan."
He winced. "Could you not do that?"
"What? It's funny."
"Secret identity, Darcy. I'm trying to have one." He shifted uncomfortably. "The whole 'public menace' thing means Spider-man and the Avengers should stay far apart."
Before Darcy could give him the you're-just-as-good-as-any-of-the-Avengers-and-need-to-work-on-your-self-esteem schtick--again--the elevator door opened. So instead, she settled for giving Peter a Meaningful Look and walked down the hall, projecting confidence. If she did that enough, maybe it could rub off on him.
Superheroes could be so neurotic sometimes. It was a good thing he was a good kisser.
Jane let them in, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and her casual clothes sweat-stained and smelling faintly of dust over the BO. "Hi," she said, smiling warmly at Peter. "So this is...?"
"I showed you his picture yesterday," Darcy said, breezing past her into the apartment. "Peter, Jane. Jane, Peter. Go science geek yourselves into a frenzy, I need something to drink."
She heard Peter nervously say, "Dr. Foster... Darcy tells me you do astrophysics?" as she rummaged through Jane's fridge. Take-out, leftovers, take-out... and finally a lone can of Diet Coke shoved at the back.
"Aha," she said, grabbing it. "Thought you were safe from me, did you?"
She popped the top and wandered back to the front of the apartment, where Peter still looked like some kind of gawky nervous bunny and Jane looked slightly amused. "How did you two meet?" she asked.
Darcy held up a finger as she took a gulp from the can. "Roommate," she said. "My roommate knew him in high school. I went with her to run an errand on campus, we ran into Peter, there was awkward small talk, I asked him out."
"Empire State," Peter said, ducking his head. "I'm a biology major."
"I heard." They stood around while Darcy finished off the Coke. Peter had his hands in his pockets. Jane nodded with bland politeness for entirely too long.
"Oh my God," Darcy said, putting the can down. "You two can stop being socially awkward penguins now."
Peter laughed nervously and Jane looked confused. Right, because she was doing science stuff and probably not laughing herself stupid over internet memes over in Scienceland, Scandinavia. Before Darcy could whip out her phone and show Jane a few of her favorite examples, someone banged at the door. Not knocked--banged.
"Thor!" Jane said, opening the door in obvious relief and leaning up for a hug. Darcy waved. Peter just kind of stood there, bug-eyed. (Heh. Bug-eyed. She'd never tell him, though, because he'd go on about how spiders are really arachnids and bugs are insects and way to suck all the fun out of things.)
"Darcy!" Thor said, and crossed the room in like, no time, to squish her in a big hug. Thankfully he wore regular-people clothes instead of his (admittedly awesome) armor, because being squished against metal was pretty much the least fun ever.
"Hey, big guy," she said, trying for a good squishy hug back. There really wasn't much in the way of competition. Even if he wasn't a god, he was built like a Harlequin romance cover guy. "I wasn't expecting to see you today."
He set her down. "I would never let an opportunity to see Jane pass," he said, fondly looking at Jane, who giggled like a teenager. It would be annoying if it wasn't cute. "And I was informed that I was needed to help move furniture."
Peter, who was still standing goggle-eyed and open-mouthed at Thor, clapped his mouth shut. "I can help," he mumbled.
Darcy almost missed Jane's eyes flickering from Peter--skinny, unimposing, a nerd's nerd in appearance--to Thor, and had to smother her snort of laughter. Peter had pretty much the best superhero camouflage ever. Except it was currently damaging his masculine ego or some such shit, so Darcy took pity on him. "Yeah, Pete's gonna help out, too," she said. "Peter, Thor. Thor, Peter Parker."
"I know who you are," squeaked Peter, looking nervous, starstruck, and then more than slightly stunned as Thor clapped him hard on the shoulder.
"So you're the man dating fair Darcy. I trust he treats you well?" Thor asked her.
"He's a peach," she said, nodding. Thor frowned, and Darcy added, "He's nice. Really. Nothing to worry about. My own personal superhero."
Peter's eyes bugged again, in panic this time, but Thor took no notice. Instead, he grinned and shook Peter in a brotherly way that probably rattled his jaw. "Excellent. In the meantime, I have been promised lunch once this furniture has been moved."
He strode off to Jane's bedroom, needing no directions to it and Darcy was going to get a lot of mileage out of that observation later. Jane followed, calling something toward him but Darcy missed it, because Peter was still looking at her, stunned. "Fair?" he whispered.
She smirked. "Don't you forget it, Pete. Come on." She nudged him with one shoulder. "Go show the Asgardian what spider-strength can do."
With three people, moving Jane's furniture around to her satisfaction would have gone okay. With four people, one of whom was Thor and another of whom was secretly Spider-man, they also had time to throw out the empty boxes, organize the dishes in the cabinets, and catch part of a show on ancient aliens. Thor laughed himself hoarse at that one.
Which was how they ended up beating the lunchtime rush at a pizzeria a few minutes' walk from Jane's apartment building. Thor and Jane sat companionably in a booth, with Jane not seeming to mind that her boyfriend or whatever he was devoured pizza at an alarming rate. Peter sat across from him, still in fanboy mode no matter how much he denied it, ramrod stiff and barely touching his.
"If you're not going to eat it, can I have your pepperonis?" Darcy asked, grabbing for his plate.
"I'm going to eat it," Peter said, scrambling to keep it away from her.
She grinned at him. "Loosen up, Petey. Thor's not gonna bite." She stopped to consider. "Unless you reached across the table right about now. I'm not sure he could distinguish fingers from breadsticks."
"The breadsticks are the fluffy ones," Thor said amiably. "Fingers are crunchier."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Darcy said, throwing an arm over Peter's shoulder.
Peter made a visible effort to relax and went back to nibbling at his pizza. And then taking actual, human-sized bites, so Darcy gave up on the hope of extra pepperoni. "So," Jane said. "Peter. I read a paper the other day about the young sun paradox--"
"I saw something about that on one of my news sites," Peter said. Jane and Peter went into science geek mode before Darcy's eyes, which was nice because Peter got really comfortable when he went into science geek mode, but it was like they were speaking a different language all of a sudden. She would have started talking positivism versus antipositivism just to get back at them, except there was nobody there to talk it to. Instead, she looked over at Thor and raised an eyebrow. Thor looked blankly back at her with half a slice of pizza in his mouth.
Before she could start using her straw to lob spitballs at someone else just because, she heard a chair being dragged over and turned to look. And yeah, it kind of figured; Tony Fucking Stark, Captain Fucking America and Bruce Not-Fucking-So-Much-As-Trying-To-Look-Inconspicuous Banner had arrived. "Did I miss something?" Stark said, turning the chair he'd moved over to their booth so that he could straddle it. "Are we doing lunch dates now? Thor, buddy, how come you didn't invite me?"
Peter stopped talking mid-word and looked like he'd just choked on thin air. Jane smiled politely. Darcy gave a little wave, figuring they probably wouldn't recognize her since she was just Lowly SHIELD Analyst #4 as her day job, and Thor reached out across the table. "Friends!" He bro-fisted Stark, which was weird. Alien gods bro-fisting was definitely weird. "Join us! This pizza is delicious. I shall introduce it to Asgard when I return. I expect it to be a resounding success."
"See?" Stark said, turning around to where Rogers stood at what Darcy could only describe as parade rest and Banner slouched with his hands in his pockets, looking over his shoulder nervously. "Pizza is literally the food of the gods. I told you so."
"Very funny," Banner said.
"Kind of funny, you showing up here out of nowhere," Jane said, leaning back in her chair and looking at Stark like he was some kind of equation she was trying to figure out. Or something else suitably astrophysics-y. Darcy was the data analysis girl, not the idea girl.
"Stark brand tracking device," Stark said, reaching for a breadstick. "Implanted them into all of the Avengers while they were asleep."
The table got very, very quiet. Peter stopped moving mid-chew, Jane's eyebrows furrowed slightly, and Thor suddenly looked dangerous. Behind Stark, Rogers' eyes widened and Banner frowned thoughtfully. Darcy scooted as far back from Stark as she could, pressing into Peter, who also scooted backwards. Traitor.
"Kidding," Stark said hastily. "Totally kidding. Calm down." Stark raised his hands in the universal I surrender gesture. "You were trending on Twitter. I got curious."
"You have a Twitter?" Darcy asked.
"I don't. I made one for Dummy, though."
"My pet robot," Stark said, taking a bite out of the breadstick. He looked over his shoulder. "Guys, I feel like this is a mob movie. Pull up a seat. Or else the booth people can move over. Can you move over?"
Peter nodded mutely and Darcy gently pushed him closer to the wall. "It helps if you actually move," she said affectionately.
"Right," he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat. "Um. Right."
"So this is the fabled Jane," Stark said, nodding at Jane, who smiled back. "Who're the kids? And do we get waiters?"
"I think they're intimidated," Jane said as Rogers sat next to her gingerly.
"Hey," Darcy said as Banner sat next to her. "Darcy Lewis." She pointed to Peter. "Peter Parker."
"Tony Stark," Stark said, even though he looked as un-Tony Stark-like as she could imagine, in a Black Sabbath T-shirt and torn jeans. Then again, she'd only seen him in fancy suits and the fancier suit. Maybe he was a casual Friday kind of guy on his off time. "Steve Rogers," he said, pointing a thumb at Rogers, who gave a friendly-but-embarrassed smile to Darcy, Peter, and Jane. "Bruce Banner." Banner gave a small wave at the general direction of the table.
Peter actually did choke then. "Dr. Bruce Banner?" he said. "The Dr. Bruce Banner?"
"Here it comes," Darcy said, rolling her eyes. But smiling, because they were the first words Peter had said since half of the Avengers crashed the party and made him go silent. And of course it was science hero-worship to get him to come out of his shell (exoskeleton? Carapace? What did spiders have, anyway?) when superhero-hero-worship couldn't.
"Yes?" Banner said, looking worried.
Peter laughed in disbelief. "Oh my God. Oh my God. Dr. Banner, I read one of your papers on ionizing radiation and its effects on rDNA in bacterial cell lines last year, and it helped me out for a project and if I can just get my final draft out my advisor said he'd help me get published and I couldn't have done it without you." His eyes were bright and shiny. He was glowing.
"Do you want me to switch seats?" she said, amused.
"Could you?" Peter looked at her with a begging puppy expression.
"Dr. Banner, could you...?" She made a little move away motion with her hands and he stood, looking bemused. She slid back in by the wall and let her boyfriend get his geek on. Again. He left his pizza, though, and she started gnawing on it to see if he'd notice.
Rogers did, and hid a laugh behind his hand. "Mr. Parker," he said, "You might want to see to that."
"Wha?" Peter looked around and sighed as Darcy posed theatrically with his pizza slice halfway to her mouth. "Give it."
"Spoils of war, Pete."
"You did abandon it," Thor pointed out.
"I did not, it was temporarily--" Of course, right then Peter realized that he was having a conversation with the Avengers and stopped talking, going bright red. Darcy took pity on him and held the pizza in front of him. He took it silently.
"Don't I know you?" Stark said, narrowing his eyes and looking at Darcy. "You've got a familiar... chest."
"Hey," Peter said.
"Work, probably," Darcy said. "I'm a data analyst."
Steve nodded and looked at Peter. "What do you do?"
"Student," Peter muttered.
"And," Darcy said, "a photographer."
"Is he any good?" Stark asked her.
"The best," she said. Peter flashed a twist of his lips that was barely a nervous smile at her.
"Nice, nice. Do you do commissions? We could use someone to take some good promotional pictures of us," Stark said. Peter choked. "They keep getting my bad side, and I swear the armor adds twenty pounds."
"Um," said Peter.
"That would be great," said Darcy, clapping an arm over his shoulders again. "He'd love to."
"I would?" Peter asked weakly.
"You totally would."
"Great," Stark said. "Next Thursday, four pm. work for you?"
"Yeah, it does," Darcy said. In front of them, Jane's face ping-ponged back and forth between Darcy and Stark. Thor seemed unconcerned, working on polishing off his food. "That's plenty of time after your lab, right?"
"It'll be great," Darcy said to the whole table.
"Hey," Stark called behind him. "Do I need to go back there and make my own pizza or what, because you don't want me doing that, it'll just end badly."
"Absolutely great," Darcy told Peter.