It was pretty routine for the Avengers to be called in to the conference room on the thirty-first floor, with Agent Coulson explaining whatever super villain or ridiculous situation they had been tasked with combating next, but this time was different.
To start, it wasn't just the Avengers. Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, Sif, and Pepper Potts were present, but Nick Fury wasn't. That was curious already, he usually made a point to be around if something important was going on. But apparently this was big enough for the ladies to be here, yet not big enough for Fury to make an appearance. Coulson cleared his throat, and the noise quieted down to a dull roar until Jane caught his eye and nudged Thor, who, in his booming voice, declared that Coulson should have silence to speak.
"Thank you, Thor. I've called you all here because we have a problem."
"Well, duh." Clint mumbled. Natasha did something to him under the table that made his face twist in momentary pain, after which he paid attention.
"It's not a traditional problem. We have a publicity problem. Yes, you all spend a lot of time saving the city, and sometimes the world, but you also do a lot of damage while you're at it."
"I paid to fix that!" Tony protested. He looked at Pepper.
"I did, didn't I?" he asked. She nodded.
"Yes, we repaired all of the damage to the buildings in the Financial District, and paid much more than the usual wages for those who cleaned up the debris from the streets."
"The news media still focuses much more on the damage you do than the lives you save. Apparently it's a more interesting story. The only one who makes public appearances on a regular basis is Tony, and he does more harm than good, to be honest." Coulson said.
"What's your solution?" Bruce asked.
"You've heard of One Direction? Or at least some of you have," he said.
"You're insecure, don’t know what for, you’re turning heads when you walk through the do - o - or - " Darcy started, before Jane poked her hard in the side.
"What? It's catchy! And those boys are super hot!"
"They're too young for you," Jane said.
"No they're not! I think the oldest one is only a year younger than I am."
"Is One Direction a musical group? Why are they called One Direction?" Steve asked.
"They're a boy band. Popular with preteen girls. And Darcy." Natasha explained.
"How do YOU know that?" Darcy asked.
"Clint listens to the radio a lot, in the plane when we go on missions. It's either country, or top forty. I prefer top forty."
"I do not understand this direction you speak of. What is it that you need us to do, Son of Coul?" Thor asked.
"One Direction is coming to New York for a few days and I want for you all to have a meet and greet with them. Photo op, be friendly, smile for the cameras, Tony knows what I mean." Coulson said.
"Yeah, yeah, it'll be fine. Take maybe an hour. Unless there's a party afterwards?"
"There is, but you're not obligated to go."
"Are you kidding? We'll totally go!" Darcy blurted out.
"When is this? I need to see if I need to clear out my schedule." Pepper said, scrolling down on her blackberry.
"This Friday. We'll provide the transportation, those of you who live at SHIELD just be at the lobby at seven, and the rest of you come here so you can all arrive together. Dress nicely, make yourselves presentable. Thor and Sif, you can wear your ... that." Coulson said, gesturing at their Asgardian getups.
"I gotta go tweet this! I bet I can get it to trend," Darcy said, getting to her feet and heading out of the room, miraculously not banging into any doors or walls as her eyes were glued to her phone on her way out.
Darcy wore big ass-kicking boots, skinny black jeans, and a bright graphic T-shirt under a gray blazer. She helped Jane pick out something to wear and they headed down to the lobby, where Sif and Thor were already waiting. They had a slightly fancier version of their usual Asgardian outfits on, and Sif’s hair was hanging loose instead of in its usual ponytail. Thor, on the other hand, had tied his up. Jane clearly thought it was hot, since she wouldn’t stop cuddling up against him. Steve showed up a few minutes later, wearing a button down and pleated khaki pants. Darcy pulled him aside quickly as soon as she saw him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, confused.
“You need some help. You’re wearing that all wrong. The pants are terrible, is that all you own? Take them off.” Darcy commanded. They were behind a wall now, but Steve blushed pink.
“I’m not taking them off!”
“You! SHIELD dude! Why aren’t you wearing your uniform?” Darcy called out at a man who was walking by. He stopped and pointed at himself with a who, me? look, and when she nodded he finally answered.
“I’m driving the limo. They wanted me to look more normal, since it’s a public event.”
“I need your jeans.”
“Switch pants with Steve, come on. I’ll turn around, no one will look.”
The two men traded wary glances, and Darcy turned her back on them. She heard movement as belts were unbuckled and pants were unzipped, and when she turned around again Steve looked much more presentable. The jeans were a little tight on him but it was a good look. She pulled his shirt out of his pants and unbuttoned it so that it hung a little looser over his plain white T-shirt. The driver looked a little weird with his baggy khaki pants, but Darcy figured he probably wouldn’t be noticed anyway.
“Much better.” Darcy said approvingly.
“Where are Steve and Darcy? Tony’s here, we’ve got to get going!” Pepper called. Darcy pulled Steve along, rushing out to meet the rest of the gang, all ready to go.
“We’re here! Steve had a wardrobe malfunction, but everything’s good now.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” Clint said, rolling his eyes, but he held the door open for Darcy as she and the others piled into the stretch limo. Thor pouted when Jane wouldn’t let him poke his head out the window and take in the sights because she said it made him look like a dog. Sif asked what was wrong with dogs - she thought they were noble, loyal creatures from what she had seen of them so far. So then Tony started talking about how he could build a better pet than any live one they’d ever known, and Natasha fought back with a story about a cat she’d had when she was a little girl (which was the most any of them had ever heard her say about her childhood and who know Natasha had such strong feelings on felines?) but then the driver twisted around in his seat and opened the little window blocking him from the rest of them to announce that they had arrived.
Darcy had been one of the first people into the car, so she was the last one out, giving the driver a grateful smile as he held the door open for her. There was a sort of red carpet set up, and she saw that there were a ton of photographers and journalists standing behind a line. On the carpet itself, loads of people were wandering here and there, some clearly celebrities and others assistants and other members of their entourage. She scanned the area for One Direction, and finally spotted them, chatting and mingling with members of the Avengers. Zayn, his hair marking him out from the others, was talking to Natasha, obviously smitten. Natasha had on what Darcy recognized as one of the roles she played when the situation called for it, flirting right back – but not too much. Louis was asking Thor about his hammer (which after much wheedling and whining he had left behind) and then snickering behind his hand at Harry. Liam was deep in conversation with Steve – Darcy had no idea what the two of them found to talk about, but clearly it was something important, because their discussion looked super intense. That left Niall, who … she couldn’t see anywhere. Tony and Clint were talking to a pair of really good looking women who were probably models or something, and Pepper was having a conversation with an older balding man who looked like he was important in some way. Bruce was standing awkwardly a few feet away, and Sif stood by herself as well, but while Bruce looked like he was anxious and a little shy, Sif simply observed everything, taking it all in.
Darcy put her hand on Bruce’s shoulder (which she could only reach because her boots had heels and he was pretty short) and started steering him more towards the rest of the group.
“How’s it going, Doctor?” she said.
“You don’t have to babysit me, Darcy.”
“I’m not – “
“Hey, you’re the Hulk!” an accented voice exclaimed. The two of them turned around to see a blond kid with baggy pants grinning at Bruce, who gave him a pained smile back. He wasn’t that great at hiding his feelings.
“Hi, Niall! I’m Darcy. This is Dr. Banner,” she said. Niall looked at her, his eyes resting on her chest for a moment too long until they came up to her face. She grinned at him, and he smiled right back.
“Just call me Bruce, please. It’s nice to meet you,” he said, shaking his hand.
“We’re all huge fans of you guys. Harry’s got those green Hulk gloves; he’s always trying to beat us up with ‘em.”
“I’ve heard they’re very popular.”
“Are you guys going to the party afterwards?” Darcy asked, not even trying to hide her giddy excitement.
“Yeah, of course! Are you?”
“I think Bruce and Steve and some of the others are going home, but I know Thor and Tony are sticking around. Tony’s my ride home – or well, his chauffeur is.”
“Tony Stark? Iron Man? How do you know all the Avengers? I know that woman over there is Thor’s girlfriend, and that one’s Tony’s – “
“Pepper and Tony are complicated.”
“Who are you?”
“I told you, I’m Darcy! I’m Jane’s intern, I guess. I’m waiting for them to figure out that I’ve already got plenty of hours to cover the credits I needed to graduate, but in the meantime I’m totally gonna use all the time I have. When else will I get to meet One Direction?”
“So you’re a fan, then?”
“The biggest. I love you guys.” Darcy said with another massive grin. Niall smiled right back at her, and she was so happy she thought her heart was probably beating overtime.
“We need all of you over here for pictures!” someone called out, and Niall started walking towards the rest of the group. They had gathered together, the taller ones in back and shorter ones in front. Darcy knew she wasn’t going to be in the picture, but she kept talking to Niall as they walked.
“I got the others to listen to your album. I had to force them, but then SHIELD decided that they needed the prep and it was a better way to do it then try to teach Steve how to Google things.”
“Did they like it?”
“Some of them! Jane won’t admit it but she’s totally into boy bands. Thor thought it was great – he loves pretty much every kind of music though, so I don’t know how much that really means. Tony’s more into classic rock and I think Bruce likes instrumental stuff. Clint’s into country and Natasha likes classical.”
“It’s cool; you got the Avengers to listen to One Direction. That’s already amazing.”
“Go! Take pictures, smile and put your arm around superheroes! I’ll see you at the party.”
The party was loud and exciting. Darcy loved it, and Tony was completely in his element. There was a lot of alcohol available, and no one seemed to care that a few of the members of One Direction were underage. Darcy herself had a few drinks and headed out to the dance floor, first dancing with Tony, then Natasha, and then Louis found his way to her, giving her a giant smirk as he moved in front of her.
“I’m Darcy!” she yelled to make herself heard over the music.
They had only been dancing for a few minutes when Harry was upon them, jumping up on Louis’ back, curly dark hair covering both their faces for a split second before Louis staggered forward a step and knocked into Darcy’s chin.
“Sorry! Harry, get off!”
“What the hell is he trying to do?”
“He’s drunk. Liam!”
Within minutes Liam had appeared out of nowhere, and was taking Harry’s arm, easing him off of Liam and giving Darcy an apologetic smile. The music stopped for a few minutes as the DJ messed with his laptop for a second, allowing a short break.
“Is everything alright over here?” Natasha asked from over Darcy’s shoulder. What was with master assassins and their stealthy habits of sneaking up on people?
“We’re fine, we’re fine.”
“Darcy, maybe you should come with me,” Natasha said.
“What? I was just dancing, I didn’t even do anything!”
“Where are Zayn and Niall?” Liam asked.
“How would I know?” Louis retorted. Liam sighed. He put Harry down at an empty table, where Jane sat by herself sipping an amber colored drink as she watched Thor and Sif down beer after beer, laughing raucously. She didn’t seem jealous, just pensive. Harry put his head down and mumbled something nobody quite heard.
“If you’re looking for your friends, one of them is over by the dartboard with Clint,” Natasha said, jerking her head towards the direction of a giant target on the wall. Zayn stood in front of it, a languid grin on his face as Clint threw darts at him, outlining his body so that when he stepped back they formed a shape that showed exactly where he had been.
“He’s going to get himself hurt,” Liam said.
“Don’t worry, Clint never misses.” Darcy reassured him. Tony Stark walked over, a willowy blonde model on one arm and a very uncomfortable looking Steve on the other (Tony had persuaded him to stay, at least for a little while).
“Aren’t there five of you? Where’s the little blond one?” he asked.
“I saw him in the bathroom; he was puking his guts out. I don’t think he even knew that it was the ladies’ room,” the model said.
“We should go check to see if he’s okay,” Steve said immediately, untangling himself from Tony. Liam stood up.
“No, I got this. Louis, stay with Harry. Um – what’s your name, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch it earlier.”
“Would you mind coming with me? It’s the women’s bathroom, I wouldn’t feel right going in – “
“I got it, let’s go,” she said.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Once they had retrieved a sick Niall from the bathroom, a man called Paul who seemed to be in charge of One Direction decided that it was time for them to leave. Louis and Jane had been helping Harry out, giving him water and trying to get him to sober up enough to make it out the door okay. Niall was pale but seemed alright now that he’d gotten whatever he’d drank out of his system, and Louis and Zayn were tipsy but not much more. It was hard getting them all together, but Liam and Paul did it like they were old pros, which Darcy supposed they were. It reminded her a little of Coulson and the Avengers. Who had said it was like herding cats?
Darcy was getting a little tired herself, and though Tony didn’t want to leave, Steve and Darcy together managed to persuade him, and along with Pepper, they ended up walking out the door around the same time as One Direction. Most of the paparazzi had gone, but some were still around snapping pictures of the slightly bedraggled group. Thankfully no one had done anything too ridiculous – Thor, Jane, Sif, Clint and Natasha had gone home about twenty minutes earlier in the limo, and Bruce hadn’t even stayed for the party.
They were waiting for the car to pull up when it happened – gunshots, loud and close. Steve was closest, and he shoved Darcy to the ground as Tony and Pepper dropped to the floor. There were screams, and yells from the boys, who were just a few yards away. Darcy struggled to get away from Steve and see what was going on, but he was too big and heavy. Tony was wearing the bracelets that she knew summoned his suit to him, but it was taking precious seconds and she saw a bloodstain seep into the carpet.
“Pepper, are you okay?” Darcy yelled.
“Fine!” she heard a response. The blood wasn’t Steve’s and Tony was getting his Iron Man suit on right now, so it must be one of the boys’. Tony’s car pulled up and Happy, his driver, procured Steve’s shield (did he just keep it around in case?) and tossed it at him. Steve and Tony were up and fighting within moments, drawing the gunfire to them. Darcy couldn’t tell what was going on, she didn’t see any weird masked super villains or giant robots or strange aliens, and it looked like it was just scary people with big guns. Pepper scrambled to her feet and stayed low, moving over to One Direction. Darcy followed, trying to ignore the noises that were coming from the street.
Paul was shielding Niall and Liam with his body, but all three of them looked unhurt. They had dropped to the ground a little ways away from the others. Louis and Zayn were crouched over Harry, who was lying on the ground and not moving. Pepper and Darcy pushed their way in, and when she saw the look on Louis’ face she felt her stomach twist in her body. She didn’t think she’d ever seen anyone’s face do that, and she didn’t have to look at Harry to know what had happened.
“There’s no pulse.” Pepper said, dropping his wrist. His white shirt had a dark red stain blossoming near the middle, quickly turning brown. Zayn was crying softly, holding Harry’s other hand.
“We need medical attention! Steve, Tony!” Darcy yelled, but they were both too busy trying not to get killed.
“Come on, help me lift him,” Pepper said, and Darcy grabbed on to Harry. Zayn and Louis helped them carry his limp body to Tony’s car, and Liam, Paul, and Niall followed soon after, dashing over as quickly as they could to pile in. There wasn’t enough space for all of them, and Happy was a little worried about leaving his boss alone fighting off armed men with nobody to back him up but Steve, but Pepper told him that if this boy died because he didn’t get to a hospital on time that would be on him, and they were off. None of the boys could bring themselves to speak, and Darcy wanted to give them all a huge hug, to try and make them feel just a little better at least, but she was too afraid to touch any of them. Liam had pulled off his sweater and wrapped it around Harry’s wound, pressing on it with all his strength. Darcy found Pepper’s hand and held on tight as Happy wove through traffic, driving them to the hospital as fast as he could.
I'm leaving it there for now. Not sure if I'll continue.
things keep getting worse
The doctors and nurses had Harry onto a stretcher within minutes, and the rest of them were out of the car and into the hospital following. The boys were up ahead, Louis in the lead, and they raced through the hallways until two nurses stopped them from going any further, holding their hands to the boys’ chests.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help your friend. You boys need to wait out here. There’s a room with some chairs and magazines. We’ll let you know as soon as we can if anything happens, okay?”
“Harry’s been shot in the chest and you want us to read magazines?” Louis shouted. Paul grabbed him back and pushed him towards the direction that the nurse pointed. The other boys followed, as well as Pepper and Darcy. She flipped out her phone and sent a quick text to Jane telling her to come join her at the hospital.
The waiting room was blessedly empty, just a collection of uncomfortable cushioned chairs, a small table with a lamp, and a few dozen magazines, torn and weathered. Paul, with his hand still on Louis’ shoulder, took the boy in his arms for a quick hug before he pulled away.
“I’ve got to call Harry’s mum. Stay here, yeah?” he said, walking a few yards away so that he was almost out of earshot. Darcy watched Paul take out his phone and dial. She didn’t envy him that task in the least.
“I can use my connections with Stark to get Harry’s family plane tickets and visa figured out so that by the time he’s done talking to her she’s got a flight and is ready to come here as fast as she can.” Pepper said pulling out her cell phone as well (while Paul’s was nice, Pepper’s was state of the art – a perk of her job, probably) and starting to make the necessary calls. Darcy felt completely useless. She didn’t know what she was doing here, she barely knew these boys, but she couldn’t just leave. Louis slumped in a chair, staring straight ahead but seeing nothing. The expression on his face tore Darcy up inside, she couldn’t even imagine how it felt for him.
Zayn took Niall’s hoodie and pulled it down so that his face was completely hidden, leaning over to rest his head on Niall’s lap. He was crying, Darcy could tell from the way his shoulders were moving, and Niall let one arm hang over his friend’s shoulders as he chewed the fingernails on his other hand, not talking. Darcy did the math – Liam was missing. She left the others and wandered down the hallway until she finally found him, standing a few feet back from a large window that took up the entire wall. He stood far back enough that no one looking in could see him, but he could see everything outside. It had only been about ten or fifteen minutes, but there was a crowd already gathering in the street outside the hospital. Mostly young girls, some were holding signs but Darcy didn’t want to go up to the window to try and read them because she was more worried about the boy standing in front of her.
“Hey,” she said, after running through several variations on ‘are you okay’ and deeming them all stupid because duh he was not okay. He met her eyes and she could see that his were red and bleary. Zayn wasn’t the only one who’d been crying.
“I can’t deal with this. I didn’t – this wouldn’t have – this didn’t have to happen.”
“None of the bad stuff has to happen, but it does. We just have to wait.” Darcy said. Liam sank down to the floor and leaned against the wall, his knees in front of him. She sat next to him, leaving some space between their shoulders to give him room.
“You don’t know that. Nobody knows that.”
“What was it like when you first had to deal with all the stuff about being famous? The girls stalking you and screaming your name? I bet it was rough.”
“Yeah, maybe I didn’t like it sometimes, but I can’t complain. It’s what we signed up for.”
“Look outside. All of those people want Harry to be okay. They want you to be okay, they want the rest of the boys to be okay. This is a good hospital; the doctors will do everything that they can. I don’t know if Harry is going to be alright. Either way there’s nothing we can do but wait.”
“I know.” Liam said, and then Darcy's phone buzzed. She pulled it out to see that it was from Jane – she was here. Darcy got to her feet, bracing herself against the wall as she stood, and walked back into the waiting room. Paul had hung up the phone and was pacing, not speaking or meeting anyone’s eyes. Zayn was asleep in Niall’s lap, and Niall had his eyes shut as well, head leaned back against the hard wall. Jane was sitting next to Louis, talking softly, and she met Darcy’s eyes when she came in, giving her a small nod. Darcy didn’t want to bother her. Her attention was immediately shifted anyway when a nurse walked in and cleared her throat.
“You’re the ones who brought the boy in, right? Gunshot wound?”
“Yeah. His name’s Harry,” Louis said.
“Right. Well I have some bad news.”
The silence was almost a noise in and of itself as they all waited to see what the nurse would say. She started explaining about there was no exit wound, there was internal bleeding, he was in critical condition and they had to perform surgery – all Darcy got out of it was that Harry was alive but just barely and they’d have to wait for even more hours while the doctors tried to fix his insides. She couldn’t look at Louis’ face anymore, and thankfully didn’t have to, because Coulson and Steve showed up almost simultaneously. Coulson was wearing the same suit he always wore – she thought maybe his closet was like a cartoon characters’, with dozens of copies of the same exact outfit. It was nearly two in the morning, yet he looked just as awake as ever. Steve was with him, wearing a gray hoodie over his bloodstained shirt from the party. He looked tired and sweaty, and Darcy wondered how he’d gotten in through the crowds without any commotion.
“I snuck in under an ambulance. Is he okay? The boy who was shot?” he asked, as if he had read her mind.
“He’s in critical condition.”
“Did you get them? The ones who shot him?” Louis asked.
“Some of them. They took us by surprise. Mercenaries, armed with technology that must have been stolen from Stark because it was – “
“Some of them. You let the others get away. The ones responsible for – for this.”
“I’ve learned that it’s better not to think about things like that. Focus on your friend getting better.”
“This is a PR disaster.” Coulson muttered.
“This is about a boy’s life!” Steve replied angrily. Coulson stepped away, and Darcy went to sit next to Jane, leaning her head against her shoulder. Jane stroked her hair soothingly.
“The others wanted to be here, but they couldn’t come. It would be … too much, especially with everyone outside. I had to sneak in. I’ll stay until – as long as it takes.”
“Thanks,” Liam said. He’d walked over sometime when the nurse had started talking, and the bags under his eyes were prominent. He collapsed into a chair along with the others. No one felt much like talking – Pepper was still trying to get plane tickets and visas, and Paul was calling Harry’s mother back to give her the details, while Coulson was texting away on his Blackberry, but everyone else was just sitting back – lost in thought, asleep, or just staring straight ahead.
“Fucking hell!” Niall yelled so suddenly that Darcy jumped up in surprise.
“What’s going on?”
“I just went on Twitter and some people are saying they hope Harry dies.”
“Give me your phone.” Paul said.
“Give it here. All of you. No Twitter until this is all over,” he said, and Pepper helped him collect all the phones, putting them in her purse (the thing wasn’t that big, but seemed to hold a whole variety of things).
“Does anyone want coffee? I’m going to go get some snacks too,” Darcy said, standing up. She couldn’t bear sitting in this antiseptic scented waiting room for even a second longer.
“I’ll go with you.” Liam said, and Darcy gave him a small smile. He didn’t return it – she didn’t expect him to, not now, but she was glad of the company as they walked down the hallway. They’d both forgotten about the window and the crowd of girls who started yelling things as they spotted Liam and Darcy, a mystery girl, walk by, but the two of them ignored everything and headed to the vending machine. Liam bought all of the foods he said that his fellow bandmates liked, and Darcy made sure to tell him to get some pop-tarts for Jane.
When they returned with the food and drinks, handing it all out to those who were hungry, they had only been eating for a few minutes when someone came out with news on Harry again. This time it wasn’t a nurse, but a doctor, older and of Indian descent.
“The surgery went well. We removed the bullet fragments and repaired some of the damage. He’s stable, though still in critical condition. There may be internal bleeding, but we’re not sure yet. We need to keep him here for at least a few more hours before he’s completely in the clear. There are also a few … complications.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It turned out that the complications included a medically induced coma, and other medical jargon that Darcy didn’t understand. The doctor said that they wouldn’t wake him up until it was safe, and that could be a day or so. He suggested that they all go home.
“There’s no way we’re leaving Harry all alone in the hospital – “ Zayn started, but Paul calmed him down while Pepper efficiently thanked the doctor and sent him on his way.
“Now. Only one of you needs to stay here, so that when Harry’s mother arrives she can be informed of the situation. We should set up rotating shifts, so that nobody collapses from lack of sleep or food.” Pepper said.
“That sounds like a good plan. I’ll stay here, you boys need to go get some sleep. You can come back first thing in the morning, I promise.” Paul said over their protests.
“I’m sure Tony won’t mind if you use some of the guest bedrooms in Stark Tower.” Steve said. Pepper nodded.
“I have SHIELD vehicles waiting outside.”
“Come on guys, let’s get out of here,” Darcy said, shepherding the boys towards Coulson and Steve, who were leading the way out of the hospital through a side entrance. Darcy took up the rear with Jane, and thankfully there was no one waiting to ambush them with phones and screams and fangirling. They got them all into the big black SHIELD SUV, shoving up against each other because there was only one car – unusually, Coulson had not planned very well. Darcy would normally have relished the chance to be squeezed in between Zayn and Louis, but in this case she was just on the edge of her seat with her shoulder jammed up against Jane’s bony one. They made it to the Tower without talking, and the driver pulled into an underground garage. There was the usual gathering of news reporters outside of the building. They always gathered in front of the Avengers’ de facto clubhouse after an attack, but no one ever talked to them, except Tony Stark, occasionally, and often with disastrous results.
“Come with me, the thirty second floor is all mine, and it has six guest bedrooms. Tony can be excessive.” Pepper said.
“Is there room for us too?” Jane asked, putting her arm affectionately around Darcy’s shoulders.
“Yes, plenty.” Pepper said, heading to the elevator.
“I’ll go back to my apartment.” Steve said, but Pepper grabbed his arm before he could leave.
“It’s late. You can just stay here, don’t be silly. You too, Phil,” she said, and they all squeezed into the (admittedly quite large) elevator. Darcy still felt like she wanted to give all of the boys from One Direction the biggest hug she could, but she thought they would probably end up hugging each other. She would be surprised if they even separated themselves from each other enough to sleep in separate bedrooms. So instead, she gave a dirty, sweaty Steve as big of a hug as she could before he headed off to take a shower. He seemed a little puzzled, but hugged her back and said good night like the gentleman he was. Pepper showed them where their bedroom was, because Jane and Darcy decided to share. They had slept over in the tower before, though not in this room. Darcy had fallen asleep on the couch on one of the Avengers’ movie nights, and Jane had slept over in Thor’s bedroom on the thirty seventh floor quite a few times. Darcy liked the pillows in Stark Tower, they were very fluffy. She showered, changed out of her slightly fancy clothes, and crawled into one side of the double bed.
“I hope tomorrow is better,” she said. Jane snuggled up next to her.
“I’m sure it will be,” she said, kissing the top of Darcy’s head and then turning away, curling into a ball like a cat.
“JARVIS, can you turn off the lights please and wake us up at nine?” she called out softly. He didn’t answer, but the lights went out and Darcy buried her face in the pillow, falling almost instantly asleep.
If you are actually reading this nonsense I salute you. I also have no idea where I'm going with it, so suggestions are welcome.
Darcy woke up earlier than JARVIS's alarm, and realized that Jane wasn't in bed with her anymore. She moaned and rolled over, but she couldn't fall back asleep, so Darcy went into the massive bathroom and washed up, changing into a T-shirt she found on the floor (maybe she left it here last time she slept over? it smelled clean, which was all that mattered) and pulling her hair back into a messy bun, pulling a woolen beanie on over it. She went down to the communal kitchen two floors down, and got some coffee started. The familiar whirr and bubbles as the machine got started was as familiar to her as a rooster crowing to begin the day might have been to someone who grew up on a farm. (Darcy had been a city girl all her life, and the months she'd spent in New Mexico were only tolerable because of Jane and the Internet).
Once it was ready, she poured a cup for herself and took a long sip, setting it back down on the counter. She got another cup and walked up five floors to Jane's lab, where she found her favorite scientist arguing animatedly with Tony Stark. Jane was still in her pajamas, a massive sweater enveloping her thin frame as she pointed at a set of equations on a movable whiteboard. Tony just look annoyed at having to be forced to deal with suhc primitive technology when he had holographic displays all over the place, but Jane was stubborn. She preferred the feeling of the marker in her hand and the scent of it in the air - the way that she'd rub off her mistakes with her fingers and end up smudging everything she touched. It brought her back to reality, kept her anchored when she was in danger of getting too lost in her own head.
"'Morning! Jane, I got you coffee." Darcy said, handing her the steaming mug. Tony pouted.
"I don't get any?"
"I didn't know you were down here. There's more up in the kitchen if you want some."
"Ugh, never mind, I'm busy anyway."
Darcy rolled her eyes at the egocentric billionaire and Jane gave her a small absent smile.
"Thanks," she said.
"No problem. See ya later," Darcy said, heading back to the kitchen. When she got there, Niall was wandering around, opening cabinets and drawers. She took her now-lukewarm coffee and gulped some more of it down before he noticed her standing behind him and jumped in surprise.
"Sorry, I didn't see you," he said, mumbling a little. He had on a gray sleeveless shirt and baggy track pants that hung loose on his hips. Darcy had an urge to pull them up or find him a belt, but she resisted.
"You hungry?" she asked.
"Niall's always hungry," Zayn said, walking in. He was more put together than Niall was, but then again Niall didn't really look a hundred percent awake yet. Darcy wondered if Zayn's hair was permanently coiffed, or if he had woken up extra early to get it to look that way.
"I know a good bakery. We can go get breakfast." Clint said, pushing aside a ceiling panel and dropping to the floor. He was so quiet that if he hadn't spoken they probably wouldn't have even noticed him. By now, Darcy was used to the archer's shenanigans, but Zayn just looked at him, bug-eyed.
"Bakery's good. S'it far?" Niall asked, seemingly unflappable. Or maybe he just had a one-track mind.
"We can walk. You in?"
"Yeah, let's go."
They walked down the street, and though it was one of the busiest cities in the world, it was still early and there were not too many people about. Niall wouldn't talk much, simply grunting or nodding if Darcy asked him anything, so she gave up. Zayn was bleary eyed and pensive. He asked Clint if he had a cigarette and when he said no, he walked into a corner store and bought a pack, lighting one up and offering the pack to the others.
"No thanks," Clint said.
"You shouldn't smoke. It's bad for your voice." Darcy couldn't help adding. He gave her a small, rueful smile.
"Yeah, I know. I'm trying to quit."
They were only three blocks away from Stark Tower when Darcy noticed a young blonde girl and (presumably) her mother stop and point at the four of them, whispering urgently to each other before deciding to approach them. The girl walked right up to Niall and Zayn, clearly uninterested in Darcy and Clint, who stepped aside to watch what happened. When Clint got nervous his whole body went very still, but right now he seemed relaxed, so she thought everything was probably okay.
"Hi, you're from One Direction!" the girl said. It wasn't a question, though it was probably meant to be.
"Yeah, you're a fan?" Zayn asked, grinding out his cigarette under his shoe on the pavement.
"Uh-huh. I have all of your songs and some posters and T-shirts and - "
"We're very sorry to hear about what happened to your friend," the girl's mother said.
"We hope he gets better soon. You must be really worried about him," the girl said.
"Yeah, we are."
"Okay. Well, thanks for talking to us!" the girl said, and pulled her mother away. Niall watched her go, shaking his head a little bit to clear it.
"She didn't even ask for a picture," he said.
"Maybe she forgot." Zayn said. Clint suddenly tensed next to her, and Darcy followed his line of sight to a group of young children, maybe ten or eleven, all wearing lime green T-shirts and standing across the street. One of them pointed at the two boys and started screeching.
"Shit," Niall mumbled.
"Fans?" Clint asked, with a sarcastic half-smile.
"How fast can you two run?"
"Liam's the one who wanted to be an Olympic runner, I don't - "
"Follow me, I know a shortcut." Clint said, and took off down the alleyway. Darcy, Niall, and Zayn had no choice but to follow. Clint jumped up and grabbed the lowest rung of a fire escape ladder, using his body weight to pull it down far enough that even Darcy could reach it. She climbed up, the boys following, and they climbed the fire escape all the way up to the roof.
"Is he Spiderman or something?" Zayn asked Darcy. She grinned, shaking her head.
"What does he even do?"
"He shoots arrows. He likes being up high. Come on," she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him along. Clint led them on a dizzying route from rooftop to rooftop until he finally stopped, right in front of a roof garden that smelled like Italian seasoning to Darcy. She almost ran right into him, and stopped short, leaning over to catch her breath.
"Always exciting, hanging out around the Avengers," she said, standing straight up again and smiling at Zayn. He returned her smile, sharing in the adrenaline rush they were both coming down from, but then he remembered Harry and his smile disappeared.
"Down here, and the bakery's right around the corner," Clint said, leading the way down the side of the building and into a tiny, heavenly-smelling bakery run by a stick-thin Puerto Rican woman and her daughter. They were very happy to see Clint, who flirted shamelessly in Spanish with the daughter as her mother prepared their order and packed them in boxes and bags. Niall grabbed a box of muffins and dug in as they walked back, his mood improved tenfold with food in front of him. He seemed much more animated, a contrast to the monosyllabic zombie Darcy had walked with on the way there. Clint popped into a store and bought Zayn a baseball cap, in case they ran into more fans who recognized them and made a fuss. Zayn thanked him, but refused to wear it because it would ruin his hair. Darcy chewed on a chocolate sprinkle donut and tried to get Clint to hold some of the bags.
"I need my hands free in case I need to protect you three from an external threat."
"What threat? A pack of obsessed twelve year old fangirls?"
"They can be very tricky to deal with," he said, and she hit him on the arm. He finally took one of the boxes from her, but made a big show of complaining about it, in his own annoying, good-natured way. They got back to Stark Tower, ready to hand out delicious breakfast treats to anyone they could find.
When they got back to Stark Tower, Clint disappeared. He and Natasha had a habit of coming and going without letting anyone know of their whereabouts. Darcy suppsoed that's what assassins and super spies did. She hadn't really known any before, so she had no standard to judge them by. She found Liam sitting next to Steve on the couch of the communal living room, deep in conversation. They stopped talking when Darcy, Zayn and Niall walked in, and Steve stood up. He always did that when anyone walked in the room, it was kind of strange, but Darcy was starting to get used to it. Liam stood up too, and snagged some food from Niall.
"Where's Louis?" Zayn asked.
"He went to the hospital already. I was waiting for you. Paul and Harry's mum are already there, she got in a few hours ago." Liam explained.
"We can eat on the way," Niall said, leading the way back to the elevator.
"A car is waiting for you just outside," JARVIS said. The boys paid no mind, heading out. Darcy looked at Steve, who shrugged at her a little nervously.
"What were you two talking about? I can't imagine Captain America has much in common with one fifth of a British boy band," she said, sitting on the couch in the spot Liam had vacated. Steve sat back down.
"He's a nice kid. I'm only a few years older than him."
"You're - oh. Right. That's really weird."
They sat there for a second and then Darcy brightened up, climbing to her feet and pulling open the cabinet below the huge flat-screen TV. There was a huge collection of DVDs, about a third of which Darcy had brought over and forgotten to take back.
"We should watch a movie. I'm in the mood for some late 90s, early 00s teen romcom, what about you?"
"I don't know what that means."
"Well you're about to find out! Can't Hardly Wait, or 10 Things I Hate About You? Oh, The Breakfast Club! Technically that one's 80s, though."
"What are you doing, Lady Darcy?" Thor boomed. Unlike some other Avengers, you could always tell when he was in the room. He was literally larger than life.
"Darcy's picking out a movie for us to watch. Would you like to join us?"
"It would be my pleasure!"
Darcy loved watching movies with the Avengers. Most of the others were always too busy science-ing or spying to bother, but Thor was always up for movies when Jane was busy in the lab. Steve was too polite to say no, and Darcy could get him to do almost anything if she could make it related to catching him up on decades of cultural references. He didn't like it when Tony talked and everything went right over his head. She had gotten him an iPad behind Tony's back (he had a thing against anything not Stark-produced) and though the Internet certainly helped him catch up, watching movies was pretty fun too.
They watched 10 THings I Hate About You first, and Darcy didn't tell them about Heath Ledger's death. It was an unnecessary downer. Thor had a lot of questions about the scene where Patrick serenaded the object of his affections on the bleachers, and Steve had a lot of questions about paintball.
"If you really wanna go try it out, I'm sure we can get permission to take you. It wouldn't be fair though, some of you guys have skills regular people don't. You can only play against each other."
"Or we could play on teams, with Avengers and non-Avengers evenly split," he countered. Darcy grined.
"That sounds awesome."
Dr. Banner walked in towards the end of the movie, perching precariously on the edge of the couch. His eyes were always so sad, and his hair was so fluffy. Darcy kind of wanted to give him a hug, but he didn't look like he appreciated people touching him. Which is why Tony did it every single chance he could.
As the credits began to roll, Darcy could get up and turn it off but she was still lost in that end of a movie lazy haze, too comfortable on the big couch sitting between Thor and Steve to move. She probably wouldn't trade her position for anything else in the world, really, and she didn't feel bad about it at all.
"You look pretty cozy there," Dr. Banner commented, and Darcy smiled at him. He shook his head a little and stood up to go, but Agent Coulson walked in, and he stopped to hear what he was going to say.
"I just got back from the hospital."
"How's Harry?" Darcy asked.
"He's awake. The bullet pierced some internal organs, though, so he will have a long recovery. It depends on his body, really. There is no real timeline for something like this," he said.
"I'll go to the hospital and see what I can do to help," Dr. Banner said. Darcy stood up.
"I'll go with you."
"Pepper's heading over there right now, you can get a ride with her," Coulson said.
"Miss Potts is currently in the elevator, going down. Would you like me to stop her on this floor so that you can join her?" JARVIS asked.
"That would be great," Dr. Banner said. Darcy grabbed her bag and jacket, called out a hurried 'bye' to Steve and Thor, and followed Dr. Banner into the elevator, slipping in just as the doors dinged shut.
Harry was in no condition to leave the hospital, and his mother and Paul chose to stay with him, even though he spent most of his time just sleeping. Probably because they felt obligated after Tony Stark let them stay in his guest bedrooms indefinitely. His security system was certainly handy, now that everyone know that most of the Avengers AND most of One Direction was staying there. There was a constant contingent of press and paparazzi outside even though they hadn't even caught a glimpse of anyone yet (though Darcy did find some blurry pictures of Zayn and Niall from the morning bakery run).
Dr. Banner decided to cook, and Steve offered to help him. Natasha set the table and Darcy leaned over the kitchen counter, stealing carrot slices off Steve's cutting board.
"The boy band's here," Clint announced, popping up out of nowhere right behind Natasha. She spun around and he ducked just in time to avoid the steak knife that went whizzing past his head to embed itself into the wall opposite.
"Stop sneaking up n me."
"Stop destroying my house. Hey, Bruce, didn't know you could cook," Tony said. He started walking into the kitchen but Pepper yanked him back and shoved him down on the couch. He waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively but she ignored him, walking over to greet Coulson, who looked very strange not wearing a suit. Darcy went to sit next to Tony, who looked like he'd spent the entire day in his workshop. His arc reactor glowed through his navy blue T-shirt.
"Did you even brush your hair?" she asked.
"it's my house."
"You're just Jane's intern."
"Yeah well you're way too old to dress like a college kid."
"This coming from the girl who dresses like Kurt Cobain."
"He died when I was five."
"Ugh, I really am old."
"One Direction has arrived!" Thor boomed. Jane accompanied him and Zayn, Louis, Niall and Liam followed behind.
"That smells amazing." Niall said, gravitating towards the kitchen like a cartoon character following his nose.
"What are you making? It smells like my grandmum's cooking." Zayn said. All of the boys looked much better, visiting Harry hand done them some good.
"Chicken curry, lentil soup, rice, fried cauliflower, salad. I learned how to make all this stuff in India," Dr. Banner said. He handed dishes laden with food to Steve, who put them on the table. Darcy got a mental image of skinny pre-serum Steve helping his mom in the kitchen and melted a little.
"Dinner's served," Clint said, nudging her out of her reverie. Everyone else ass already heading to the table. Darcy found herself sitting in between Louis and Zayn, maybe on purpose, though who knew if it was her intention or theirs. The room was a loud friendly chaos a as food got passed around. Steve and Thor in particular generally ate a lot more than your average human, as did Sif, but they took care to choose smaller portions out of politeness to the others in this case.
"So you all live here?" Liam asked, once the compliments on the food were taken care of, and Dr. Banner had blushed so hard Tony made fun of him for it.
"Fury wants us here in case," Natasha explained.
"We used to live at SHIELD but this is nicer," Clint added.
"My lab's here, and sometimes I work late." Jane said with a small shrug.
"I have an apartment in Brooklyn, but it can get kind of lonely," Steve said. There was a small silence, and he ducked his head, focusing on his food for a minute.
"I bet you have some crazy superhero parties," Louis said to the table at large. His mischievous grin reminded Darcy of Tony's. That couldn't be good.
"Mostly it's just those three talking science the rest of us could never hope to understand," Pepper said, indicating Tony, Jane, and Bruce, not without affection.
"Well, I did totally kick Thor's ass on the Wii last week." Clint added.
"We had a dance-off," Thor said solemnly, and Darcy snorted as she saw Liam choke on his forkful of potatoes.
"I would pay to see that," Zayn said sincerely, and Sif smiled.
"They were a vision of grace and beauty," she said, and Darcy was ninety percent sure she was being sarcastic, but it was hard to tell with Asgardians.
"What about pranks?" Louis asked.
"No pranks allowed." Coulson said.
"Tony gave me some very wrong ideas about modern women, if that counts." Steve said. Natasha's mouth quirked in what for most people would have been a smile.
"Does he know about porn?" Louis asked Tony.
"I was in the army." Steve interjected, blushing furiously. Darcy cackled.
"I bet you closed your eyes every time anyone tried to show you a magazine centerfold. Wait, did those even exist?" Tony asked.
"Playboy wasn't founded until 1953." Zayn said, and everyone just looked at him.
"You have to sit him down and show him porn just so that you can see how red his face gets," Louis said.
"Louis, stop it!" Liam said.
"What? You totally wanna see what his reaction is too, I know you do."
"Does nobody else see anything even slightly homoerotic about a bunch of guys watching porn together?" Darcy interjected.
"We wouldn't all be watching it, Steve would be watching it and we would be watching him." Tony said. Darcy raised her eyebrows at him.
"What is porn? I am asking Jane because she has told me about asking her first about Midgardian customs I do not understand, but she refuses to answer." Thor said.
"I am not explaining porn to him." Pepper said, before anyone could even look at her. She was the most level-headed person in the room, other than Coulson, probably.
"That is acceptable. I can use Google. Darcy taught me how."
"No, Thor, you do not want to google this," Dr. Banner interjected. He had been staying out of the conversation thus far, but apparently now decided to step in.
"Can we change the subject now?" Steve asked.
"Yes! Silence, please. I have seen many movies with the lady Darcy and I wish to sing the lady Jane a song." Thor announced, standing up to his full height.
"Oh my god," Darcy squeaked, and pulled out her cellphone to start making a video of the proceedings.
"If that video goes on the Internet, I'll take your iPod away," Coulson said lazily. Darcy stuck her tongue out at him as Thor began a heartbreakingly off-key rendition of 'What Makes You Beautiful'. Jane giggled and blushed and then just covered her face with her hands as Thor belted out the song with all the sincerity he had. The One Direction boys looked completely delighted, and Zayn leaned over to look through Darcy's phone camera.
"You better send that to me. I'll give you my email," he said.
"I'm gonna find a way to post it on the Internet without SHIELD coming after me, the world needs to see this," she replied.
"I heard that," Coulson said.
"Ssh!" Natasha said, enraptured by the scene unfolding in front of him. Darcy wondered if this meant that she might be able to get her to come to watch silly teen movies with Steve and Thor. He finished his song and grabbed Jane, dipping her down and giving her a smacking kiss as the table broke out into applause. Even Tony got in on the action, though he still had his trademark sarcastic smirk on his face. Louis leaned behind Darcy's back to grab Zayn and whisper into his ear.
"I really wish Harry was here, mate, he'd love this," he said. Darcy wasn't sure why he whispered because she could hear him.
"I'll show him this video tomorrow, I'll go visit him with you guys in the hospital if you're cool with that," she suggested. Louis smiled at her.
"Yeah, that'd be great."
Around ten, Darcy glanced at her phone and stood up. The table had been long cleared and now they were just chatting lazily in their post-meal food coma.
"This was really great, but I gotta get going, guys," she said.
"I am not a guy." Sif said.
"Ugh, I know, I have to come up with a less gendered term to use, it's a habit, I'm working on it."
"Don't you live here?" Liam asked.
"No, I have a tiny apartment down near where Steve lives. We're not neighbors or anything, but yeah."
"I told her she could have a bedroom, but she didn't want one." Tony mumbled. He looked very tired, half-slumped against Pepper, who had one hand in his rumpled dark hair.
"I need my alone time, okay! It's important. Hanging out around superheroes and genius scientists all day can get very tiring. It's like Coulson and his cellist!"
"My what?" Coulson said. Darcy could have sworn she saw his usual impassive, neutral face break and show emotion, if only for a second.
"Oooh, you have a cellist, do you?" Louis said, putting every ounce of innuendo that he could in those few words.
"I almost forgot you're teenage boys." Darcy said, rolling her eyes and grabbing her jacket and bag.
"I can walk you out," Steve offered, but he didn't move to stand up. Even the most gentlemanly of them all had been defeated by Dr. Banner's delicious cooking.
"I'll be fine, thanks. See you guys later," she said, heading towards the elevator. A chorus of 'Bye Darcy!'s rang out and she smiled to herself on her way out the door.