Darcy’s mother had never allowed her to wear lipstick. “Lipstick is for grown women, not girls,” she’d always said, and handed Darcy another tube of vaguely-pink hued, strawberry-scented Lip Smackers gloss. “This is what girls your age are supposed to use.”
“But, Mom, I’m sixteen. I’m the only girl in school who doesn’t use it.”
“I don’t give a damn about the other girls, Darcy Isabella Lewis. And that’s probably the reason those other girls are tramps. All the boys think they’re older than they are. When you’re a woman, I’ll let you wear lipstick; I’ll even go with you to buy your first tube. That’ll be fun!”
Darcy had prudently not mentioned that she’d been the first girl in her class to lose her virginity (they’d taken a poll at Sharon Miller’s sixteenth birthday party last summer), or that Aggie Bennett, the resident Holy Christian (whose real name was Agape, the poor girl), was allowed to wear lipstick (it was a very light pink) when she wasn’t even allowed to wear pants.
So on a trip to the mall with Sharon one weekend, Darcy had bought herself a tube of the brightest, reddest lipstick she could find, and hid it in the little bag where she kept her emergency tampons. It had looked awesome on her, and Darcy didn’t care about doing it behind her mom’s back, because now she could finally join in with the other girls in the bathroom as they swiped color on their lips. Now she was a woman.
And forever after that, Darcy associated that shade with confidence.
Her sophomore year of college, Darcy started dating Michael Harris, who was kind of a snob, but was hot and really good in bed. After about three months, his parents invited her to dinner and she’d dressed for the occasion; she’d even bought a new tube of that perfect shade she privately called Confidence (but was actually called Hot Tamale) that perfectly matched the strapless red dress she was wearing.
“Geez, Darcy,” Mike had said as he stood in the bathroom doorway, tying his tie and watching her put the lipstick on, “do you have to use that color; it makes you look kinda like a stripper.” Darcy had been so shocked that she’d wiped the lipstick off and replaced it, in uncharacteristic silence, with a more subdued shade. Mike had been pleased, but his parents had hated her anyway, and his mom had actually asked her if her boobs were real.
About a week later, she’d broken up with Mike, and he’d sneered something about how he should’ve known by her stripper lipstick that she wasn’t good enough for him. She’d proceeded to draw penises all over his super-high-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets with said lipstick, and while she mourned the loss of Confidence (because it looked great on her, low-class connotations be damned); it had totally been worth it.
That night, sleeping on her friend Macy’s couch, she’d cried over the irony of it, and vowed to never let a man steal her confidence (either version of it) ever again.
Three years later, after meeting (and tasing) a god, mysteriously getting a rather cushy job with SHIELD (even if it was as a grunt in their HR department), and watching said god and his super buddies save New York from aliens, Darcy found herself with an invitation to a party in the Avengers’ honor.
Jane had dragged her from store to store, in search of the perfect dress, becoming more and more frantic with each rejected outfit. Darcy supposed there was a little pressure to look hot, especially if you were going to be the arm candy of a god, and Darcy thanked her lucky stars that she was date-less and could therefore wear whatever the hell she wanted.
When Jane broke down in tears after rejecting dress number eleventy-twelve, Darcy took charge. “Okay, Foster,” she said firmly, “this is what we’re gonna do. We’re going to go to the makeup counter and get you a bitchin’ lipstick and then we’re going to find a dress that matches.”
Jane sniffled at her. “Isn’t that kind of backwards?”
Darcy scoffed. “Fuck that. A great shade of lipstick is just as good for your ego as sexy lingerie and a whole lot cheaper. Once you have that, the rest will fall in line. Or you won’t care because you’ll realize that no matter what you wear Thor will be ripping it off of you once the party’s over, anyway.”
Jane blushed, but docilely followed Darcy to the makeup department. Darcy left her in an associate’s capable hands and stalked off to find a dress for herself. A dress she could wear with Confidence.
Jane finally found a dress, and Darcy was totally right that she found it about three minutes after being handed a tube of rosy lip color.
That night, Jane was radiant on Thor’s arm; and Darcy knew that she looked awesome, and, for once, didn’t mind too much that every guy there did the same thing (come up to her, wink, say, “great dress,” leer at her boobs, move on to next girl when Darcy didn’t seem to think that was a clever conversation starter).
Every guy except one.
On a trip to refill her champagne glass for the third (or maybe fourth?) time, she spotted someone sitting at a table in the corner, doing his best impression of a potted plant. Ever since high school, Darcy had made a point to seek out the quiet ones and at least say hi, because she knew how much it sucked to sit along the wall and watch everyone else having fun, so she made her way over to him and plopped down in the chair across from him with a cheerful hello.
He looked startled. “Hello,” he replied warily.
“I’m Darcy,” she said, thrusting her hand across the table at him.
He stared at it for a moment, as though he’d never encountered the gesture before, but then slowly took her hand in his. “Bruce,” he replied, and the pressure of his fingers against hers was so feather-light that Darcy wondered if she’d imagined it.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, and smiled her prettiest and most charming smile at him. His dark eyes dropped to her lips, and she waited with a mental eye roll for them to drop further, to her neckline, but they stayed where they were until he realized he hadn’t answered her, and his gaze flitted back up to meet hers.
“You, too,” he said, and apparently he’d reached his Social Interaction Quota for the evening because he didn’t say anything else, turning his attention to a loose thread on the cuff of his suit coat.
Well, Darcy wasn’t about to lose out to an ill-made garment, so she barreled along with the conversation.
“So what’s a nice guy like you doing hiding in a corner?”
“I don’t really do so well with crowds,” he said.
“Then why don’t you just blow this joint?” she replied. “Sneak away. There’s like a bazillion people here, not like anyone’s gonna notice, right?”
He looked confused. “They’d notice me,” he said. “I’m pretty sure Tony is looking for me right now.”
Darcy’s eyebrows shot up. “Tony? Like, Iron Man Tony? You know him?”
The question just confused him even further, and Darcy had a strong urge to ruffle his hair, because he looked just like her old dog Baxter used to look when you moved his food bowl to the other side of the kitchen. “You mean you honestly don’t know who I am?”
Darcy shrugged. “Should I?”
“You work for SHIELD, don’t you?” he asked. When she nodded, he continued, “Then yes, you should.”
Darcy pursed her lips in thought, and did a mental fist pump when his eyes dropped to her mouth again.
Score one for Confidence.
“Bruce, Bruce, Bruce,” she mused. “Bruce…Wayne?”
“Wrong Bruce,” he said. “Right track, though.”
“Bruce…Bruce Springsteen? Bruce Jenner?”
That got a bit of a laugh. “Now you’re just being ridiculous.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed as it dawned on her. “Bruce Banner. You’re Bruce Banner!”
He nodded, and something in his posture shifted, as though he was preparing to dash away, or maybe bracing himself for her departure.
“Oh, my god,” Darcy said, bouncing a little in her chair, and she couldn’t begrudge Bruce the way his eyes flicked down to her chest for just a moment. “Jane is gonna be so jealous.”
“Jane Foster?” said Darcy. “She used to be my boss, but now that she’s got people who actually know what the hell she’s talking about to be her minions, she and I just go shopping every now and again and she tells me too much about Thor. Anyway, she used to fangirl so hard about you and your work and what a fucking genius you are and how meeting you was, like, number three on her bucket list, after winning a Nobel Prize and going to Australia.”
He blinked. “Oh,” he said faintly. “That’s not how most people react to me, these days.”
“What do they usually say?” she asked.
“The Hulk?” he said, and there was a hint of You Should Already Know This in his tone.
“Ohhhh,” she said as she made the connection, and she barely kept herself from slapping her forehead. “Duh. I kinda forgot about that.”
“You…forgot?” he echoed incredulously. “And you work for SHIELD?”
“Eh,” she said with a careless wave of her hand. “I only work for them because they haven’t invented that Men in Black tech where they can wipe my memory, yet.”
“Yeah,” she said, and drained the last of her champagne. “I’m pretty sure they quadruple-checked to make sure, too. I’m not a genius or a super-spy or anything, and it’s not really helping my ego to be surrounded by them all the time.”
He nodded knowingly. “Well, it’s not entirely great for mine that I spent years building up a reputation as a respected scientist only to suddenly become ‘that guy who turns into a huge green monster if you make him mad.’”
“Well, if you ask me, I think both of those things are kind of awesome,” said Darcy. “I tried reading one of your papers after one of Jane’s squeeing sessions and couldn’t get past the first paragraph. And watching Hulk smash those aliens like ants on a sidewalk is really cathartic. I saved it to my TiVo and watch it every now and then and pretend those aliens are my ex-boyfriends, none of whom liked my lipstick. Assholes.”
His eyes flickered down to her lips again.
She didn't pretend not to notice, this time. “It’s a great color, right?”
He blushed a bit and shrugged. “I wouldn’t really know,” he said. “But it does look lovely on you.”
She smiled widely. “You know, Bruce,” she said, and lowered her voice to her best Bogey impression, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”