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New York City is exactly what she thinks it is: loud and bright, twinkling in the night and dusty in the day, and more than a little overwhelming for someone who spent way too long in the New Mexico desert.

She knows, intellectually, that there are 8,175,133 people in New York as of the 2010 census, but that doesn't explain how all of them are in front of her in line at the coffee shop, tapping their feet and texting and Twittering, or how she'll be walking in Times Square, just as bright as it always looks, but so much more crowded-- and the crush of people will carry her across 47th and Broadway without her even needing to move her legs. And she thinks of the desert, and open space, and misses Jane like a punch in the gut.

I'll be there soon, once I'm done with this phase of my research. Say hi to Thor for me if/when he pops up, Jane had written, and Darcy could just picture her, curled up somewhere under a blanket with her laptop and a pencil stuck in her hair; the desert is cold at night, didn't you know that? She hadn't, and she'd had to buy herself four sweaters her first week interning.

She brought all four of them to New York. They're bulky and soft and they smell like sand, without the bitter-salt tang of the ocean.

On her first day of working as a SHIELD-- consultant, agent, person of help and interest, whatever-- she wears black and her best glasses. That's like dressing up, right? With her classy oxfords and the scarf Jane got her for Hanukkah, she is prepared. Granted, she is pretty sure that there's a special club at SHIELD where if you can beat people up with your bare hands, you're in and all special, and Darcy is not that person. Darcy has a degree in political science and can quote John Locke like nobody's business; she memorized the entire Constitution when she was eight, okay? The politics SHIELD deals with are way above Ph.D level, let alone what she's at-- part time grad student, part time person with what appears to be an oddly high level of government clearance-- and basically, she is doomed to be an assistant for perpetuity. Or until she finishes this degree.

Columbia University, motherfuckers. Taste that, Debate Captain Kyle who never picked her to go to the away conferences.

After two weeks on the job she has managed to somewhat-befriend Tony Stark (it was probably the boobs at first, but now he sometimes brings her coffee and they've bonded over an apparent lack of brain-to-mouth filters, though Darcy suspects that Tony knows exactly what he's saying and just goes with it anyways because he is the sort of person who only makes excuses when they're convenient to him) and Hawkeye has jumped out at her from his hiding spot three times. Hiding in the drop ceiling. Fucking drop ceilings.

Thing is, Clint Barton is easily her favorite co-worker (can she call him that? Maybe?) because Tony is utterly exhausting after twenty minutes, Steve is Captain America, and it's really hard not to babble at him, especially since he called her a dame that one time and she blushed pinker than anything, Thor is her former boss's boy...thing, Natasha is intimidating as hell, though in the most awesome way possible, seriously, and Dr. Bruce Banner is just.. not there. Not in the hallways, not in the lab. She saw him once, walking quickly down the corridor; she'd said his name in order to introduce herself and remind him that she's his lab assistant and got no response.

Plus Clint appreciates the genius of Carly Rae Jepsen so yeah, it was never actually a contest. She'd fall in love with him, or she would have once, but one, Darcy tries not to fall in love with her friends anymore and two, Clint is Natasha's, has probably always been Natasha's, and Natasha is easily the scariest Avenger.




After two months she has Had Enough. It is entirely too difficult to be someone's lab assistant when they are not actually in the lab, ever, like, she has never met her boss.

"Dr. Bruce Banner," Darcy says, marching into Tony's lab. "You know where he is, don't you. And you are going to tell me, Man of Iron, because they keep trying to finagle me into combat training and sharp black suits since I'm apparently underutilized at my current position. I will have you know that I am basically one giant bruise right now. I am black and blue and gross shades of yellow all over."

As it turns out, when Tony turns around, it is made apparent that the guy in the lab coat fiddling with test tubes is not actually Tony Stark. She should have guessed that. She knows Tony a little better now, and she hasn't even seen Tony in a lab coat.

"Hi," he says, giving her this embarassed little wave. Darcy sucks in a breath, cause he's cute, cute in a geeky way, and the apologetic smile on his face is basically the best thing ever. "I'm, uh, I'm actually Bruce. Your boss. That is, presumably. I don't exactly know your name or when you were assigned to me."

"Um," Darcy says. "Well. I'm Darcy, and I wasn't kidding about being one giant bruise. This was not in the job description."

"What was in the job description, if you're acting as a lab assistant?" Bruce asks curiously. "Because mine was-- well. We don't need to get into it."

"It was specificially and curiously vague," Darcy says, and shrugs. It hurts. Her ribs are really sore. "But I was promised a high level of security clearance and I was all heyyy, access to government secrets! Of course, nothing I've found is remotely interesting, except for aliens in New Mexico, but I totally knew about that one so like, it doesn't count."

"So you are not a... science person," Bruce says.

"I am not," Darcy confirms. "Well. Social sciences are still part of science! Though I am aware that you hard science people look down your noses at us. But I am hellishly good at organization, despite the fact that there are currently four pencils in my hair. Your lab is now basically the most color-coded, filed, labelled thing ever, since I haven't had much to do and wanted to avoid the whole... hitting people thing they keep trying to push on me. Somewhat unsuccessfully."

"Oh dear god," Bruce says, and follows her out.




It takes him about forty minutes to admit that her way of filing is better. Score one for her, Darcy thinks, and does a mental fistbump.

"Sorry for being such an absentee boss," Bruce says. "Tony kept distracting me with shiny things, and then there were national security snafus that required-- attention."

"Plus you probably forgot. Totally cool, don't worry about it" Darcy says, reknotting her hair on top of her head. "I rewatched a lot of TV. Did you know SHIELD has streaming Netflix?"

"I did not," Bruce says. And that's weird, she should probably be thinking of him as Doctor Banner, but she's spent two months getting all intimate with his notes and his handwriting and she feels like she knows him, kind of, maybe.

"Should I call you Doctor Banner?" Darcy asks instead. "Like, professionalism! You know what I mean. Er, that I'll call you by your proper title."

"Bruce is fine," Bruce says, picking up a folder. "This is great, really. It's good to have everything in one place. Sorry about my handwriting too, I know it's kind of, er, chicken scratch.

Darcy waves a hand. "It's fine. Jane's was always a scrawl, anyways, and since I could decipher that, I figured I could decipher anything."

"Right, you worked with Jane Foster," Bruce murmurs. "She's brilliant."

"She is," Darcy agrees. Though her mental image of Jane also includes several nights of drinking and one epic Say Yes To the Dress marathon, but she promised Jane that secret would go to the grave. "It was an interesting internship."

"I'll bet," Bruce says. "So-- and I guess you know this because of filing, but I've been doing a lot more physics lately, especially with Tony-- anyways, you really don't know any science?"

"Well," Darcy says, crossing her arms. "It's not that I don't. It's more like science and I are not good friends. And equations, ew, give me a well-written treatise any day."

"Huh," Bruce says thoughtfully. "Lunch?"

He holds the door open for her, and maybe she melts a little bit inside, fine, she's allowed to do that.




It doesn't take that long for her to end up with a small-- very small, no really-- crush on Bruce Banner.

This wouldn't be out of the ordinary, except that she notices him glance down at her chest sometimes (god bless the inventor of the v-neck tee) and flush, or laugh when she says something that isn't very funny. There's an abortive attempt to touch her hair one Wednesday when it falls out of the bun and into her face, and okay, Darcy thinks. She can work with this. He's cute.




He starts leaving her notes.

It takes her far too long to realize that they're coded according to category; purple for mechanics, yellow for waves, red for electricity, and so on. Newton's Laws are first: Fnet=ma, an object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force.

Darcy saves them. His handwriting is cramped, the penmanship of a scientist who is used to scribbling ideas on napkins or the backs of receipts when necessary, and she puts the post-its on her fridge, leaves his color-coding and reads them when she's trying to wake up in the morning. They blur on the inside of her eyelids, imprinted in her memory the same way the Bill of Rights is.

"I still don't like physics," Darcy says to him. They're eating falafel at some little corner store and she takes one huge, messy bite, licking the tahini sauce off her lower lip. Bruce's eyes linger for a moment. She pretends not to notice, even though an idiot would have noticed, seriously who is he kidding at this point. It's been over a week of things like that, little things that add up.

"But at least you're making informed decisions," he says lightly.

"Hey." Darcy sticks her tongue out at him. "Instinct works just fine."

"Sometimes," Bruce agrees, smiling kinda softly at her-- he's doing it more and more, and fuck she is so far gone, if this was a cliff she's plummeting rapidly towards the bottom, she fell off a long time ago--

So maybe she'll go down to his level. There's no physics equation for love. There's a manipulation of sine and cosine that creates a heart (whatever, it's all over the internet, she knows how to do a Google search) but math isn't where his heart is. Math is simply another one of Bruce's tools.

Jane! I need your help with science! This is urgent! Darcy sends the text, and Jane replies within seconds.

This is not a text I ever expected you to send me. It MUST be serious.

ugh whatever just answer me. What's the name of the thing, like, the chemical you feel when you're in love or OD on chocolate? Or after really good sex.

Oxytocin? Phenylethylamine? Why?

let's just say I'm trying to communicate on an equal wavelength.

Jane is not stupid, and Darcy fully expects the next text she receives.

Skype. TONIGHT. Bring alcohol.

Which, good. Because you can't say that you phenylethylamine someone, can you?




"What," Jane says. "What are you doing, using science to seduce someone. Who are you trying to seduce? I thought you said there was no one dateable at SHIELD, that they all either weighed less than you or could kill you with a spoon or were in relationships with assassins."

Darcy fidgets. "Not the entire truth," she says. "Entirely. I mean, I wasn't lying, really."

"Uh-huh," Jane says. She has a glass of wine, because Jane is about 25 times classier than Darcy and has a Ph.D. She's not sure why in her mind, everyone with a Ph.D enjoys wine, and orders port for dessert instead of something with sugar and butter.

All she could find was tequila, hidden under her bed--and how did it get there?-- but like, the means is worth the end.

"We get lunch," Darcy says eventually. "And I like it. I like getting lunch with him, and I want to-- I don't know, touch his hair and his face and put my mouth on his. Plus he gets me. He doesn't let me overwhelm him."

Jane looks-- well, Darcy would describe it as reluctantly approving.

"Tell me who," Jane says. She pushes a curl behind her ear. "Seriously. I remember that last guy you dated, he was bad news bears, Darce."

Darcy does a shot, and then another one, because it is a good idea. She is full of good ideas right now. "Bruce."

Jane's eyes go wide. "Bruce Banner? The Hulk?"

"I-- yes."

"Sweetie," Jane says, and Darcy sighs.

"I know," she says. "But like-- once you meet him. I think you'd understand."

"Maybe," Jane says. "You've been observed to make bad decisions before, you know."

Darcy sighs again.




This is what happens next: she has sex with her boss.

It feels like a very grownup thing to do.




Right. It's a lot complicated than that. (Well, maybe not-- there's alcohol bought by Tony Stark involved, which simplifies most situations down into got drunk. Made bad decisions. And Tony would know.)

Tony throws a party. It's a Thank-God-It's-Thursday party, and Thor takes it to be a party into honor of him. No one exactly bothers to correct him.

Darcy wears a v-neck shirt and a short, tight skirt and boots, and she probably wouldn't get away with it except for the fact that she gets there late enough that most people have already had a few.

Tony spends money lavishly, and one of things he spends it on is good Scotch. Darcy accepts a glass and ignores his smirk. It burns on the way down.

"Proving a point?" Natasha asks, popping up at her elbow-- and even tipsy, she's more graceful than Darcy will ever be.

Darcy coughs, sputters. "No," she says. "More of a tequila girl. Side effect of college."

"Mmm," Natasha says. She looks far too knowing, but this is Natasha, and Darcy just kind of expects that from her. Part of the reason she's been avoiding combat training as much as possible is because Natasha sometimes helps out with that. It's her way of relaxing, but it tends to have the opposite effect.

"I'll have another one," Darcy says, because yup, now it's about proving a point. Tony's smirk is more of a leer.

Bruce finds her when she's drunk enough that she's considering dancing on a table, and that should be the indicator to get out of there, to have some strong black coffee and try to sober up, because Darcy did enough of that to know where it leads (into some boy's arms, and then into his bed, and then waking up not knowing where she is with bedhead and a mouth that tastes like old socks.) And maybe he would do the chivalrous thing, the polite thing, but he's had a few himself and she knows the way he looks at her mouth.

"Bruce!" Darcy slurs, draping herself over him. He looks down at his sudden armful of lab assistant and flushes

"You okay?"

"Never better!" Darcy pokes him in the side emphatically. "I am perfect. I am stellar."

"I'll leave you to it," Natasha says, because she is a filthy filthy enabler-- Darcy makes a mental note to tell her later, she'll have to write it on her hand so that she doesn't forget-- and walks off to go do things to Clint that Darcy doesn't want to know about.

"I should get you out of here," Bruce says. His grip on her arm is warm, steadying, and Darcy leans into it a little. "Come on."

She kisses him in the hallway, sloppily, pressing up against him to take advantage of all that warmth, and he's so shocked by it that he doesn't respond at first.

"Sorry," Darcy mutters, "sorry, sorry, I shouldn't have, I didn't--"

"No," Bruce says, "wait," and he hasn't let go of her arm, it's still there, her anchor. "Let me try something."

He frames her face with his hand (big hands, she thinks fuzzily) and kisses her gently. She sinks into it, into the warm, winds one hand into his curls and takes him for all he's worth. They stumble back to his room, and Tony's probably watching them on all his hidden cameras and cackling madly, whatever, she doesn't even care.

So yeah, Darcy sleeps with her boss.

Super professional.




She leaves before he wakes up. It isn't the best thing she's ever done, not by a long shot. But Bruce looks peaceful, sleeping there next to her, and she has a hangover and feels disgusting, probably looks disgusting too. She doesn't want him to wake up and feel awkward, confronted with 130 pounds of postgrad student with messy, tangled hair.

So she gathers her clothes, though she can't find her underwear and she's missing an earring, and asks JARVIS to call her a cab and to let her know if she's going to run into Tony before she's able to make her escape.

He does so just a touch disapprovingly.

"Hmmph," Darcy mutters, and goes home to shower until she feels slightly human again. Good thing she has the day off.




She forgets this: Bruce isn't like the boys in college. He is an adult, for better or worse, and she can't just run away from him.

The buzzer rings and Darcy crashes hip-first into the table trying to rush to answer it. The awful sound it makes aggravates her head even more, and she presses her palm to her forehead.

"I have your earring. And your underwear," Bruce says scratchily into the intercom, and oh jesus, why didn't she try to look under the bed for it, even if she'd woken up it probably would have been better than this.

"Uh. You can--" she licks suddenly dry lips-- "you can come right on up."

She waits for him by the door nervously, shifting from foot to foot, and somehow, when he enters the apartment, he seems to dwarf it.

"Darcy," Bruce says. "You didn't have to leave before I woke up."

"I, uh," she licks her lips again. "It was like, I don't know. I didn't want you to be smacked the face by me and my lack of good decision-making skills. Seriously, dude, I am a mess, I don't know why they let me know government secrets. I crash into things and the scary agent who's trying to teach me Krav Maga totally despairs of me, and I even drove Jane insane and she's one of my best friends! Last night, it was, you know, just another example of why I should not be allowed to interact with people. Especially people I like."

"Jesus," Bruce says, "Darcy, I'm a mess too, I didn't realize I had a lab assistant for like two months. And it wasn't your bad decision, it was mine too. Not a bad decision. My decision too." He looks down. "You should have stayed."

"I'm getting that," Darcy says, equally as quietly.


"I like the notes," she blurts out. "That you left me. I have all of them."

"I can see that," Bruce says, nodding at her fridge, and oh god she is thisclose to saying I phenylethylamine you right now.

"I really like you," she says instead. "You, and the notes you left me, and how warm you are, I really like how warm you are. You're funny and nice and you're not scary, and I just want to-- I don't even know what I want to do, but I liked having sex with you and I liked cuddling after, and I like how you blush sometimes. I like all of that. I didn't know how to say it, cause professionalism and you being my boss, so I thought we could be friends, and then--"

"Darcy," Bruce says again, and he frames her face with his big hands and kisses her.

"This feels familiar," she says, and laughs, and he does too, leaning to press his forehead to hers.

"I'll take you out for breakfast," Bruce says. Darcy grins with a fabulous idea.

"Let me give you a tour of my place first," she says, opening the blinds to let the muggy, hazy New York City light in. "Spoiler alert, it ends in the bedroom."

He grabs her hand and follows.




Jane texts her later: so did you actually say I phenylethylamine you?

Darcy responds: I showed him instead. Lots more fun, plus I think he got the gist of the message.

A plus Jane says, and Darcy laughs.