Bruce and I had been sleeping together (among other things) for about a month when I met the Other Guy. It was love at first sight. I think.
Bruce and I had been in the lowest level of a parking garage when Bad Guy Of The Week decided to use the building for target practice, a random act, apparently, and fortunately no one was hurt.
(The concert hadn't let out yet - we'd snuck out around the seventh-inning stretch, by which time the excruciatingly 21st century composition had made Philip Glass sound like Muzak. Guess I'm more traditional than I thought.)
Once the roar and the dust settled and we realized the exits were blocked, we kind of groped our way over to my little Smart Car and turned on the radio and heard what (or who) had caused the collapse. The garage had been half-full of cars, the few cashiers were evacuated safely, and the Bad Guy had been smacked down by a couple of the Avengers and Natasha. Thanks to the always amazing Stark tech, I discovered that I could still get cell reception under a pile of demolished cement and steel.
"Tony? Hi, it's Bruce. Yeah, we went to that modern music thing at the - yep, you dodged a bullet there, pal. Not your kind of thing. Anyway, you know that garage that was knocked down by the guy you collared? Well, Darcy and I are stuck in the basement, and..."
I couldn't make out the words Tony was shouting, but I totally admired Bruce for waiting so patiently for the noise to die down.
"Tony, we're okay. I didn't - change, I don't know why and I don't care. We're all right, but all the exits are blocked. Where are you?"
More listening, then he spoke up again. "Are you sure everyone else is accounted for? Well, if you and Cap can dig us out, I can concentrate on protecting Darcy from anything that might fall on us. Are you kidding? Of course, that'll bring it down the rest of the way. It's a miracle we're not flattened already. Okay, stand by."
He hit the mute button and turned to me, looking kind of grim.
"This wouldn't be a problem if it were just me," he started. That didn't make me feel any better, but he went on, "The guys could keep everyone else away while the Other Guy dug himself out. As it is, they can bore a hole through the wreckage to find us - but chances are that would cause further collapse."
"I think I see where this is going," I said.
Bruce nodded. "If I let the Other Guy out, he can protect you while Tony and the others are digging us an exit. This space isn't very big, but if he curls up around you it should work."
I guess I looked like the proverbial bilgesnipe in the headlights, because his expression got worried and he said, "Darcy? This is the safest, quickest way to get us out, but if you don't want to be stuck in here with - well, I understand."
Grabbing his hand, I said, "Wait, wait. I can do this. We can do this. You've - let him out before, on purpose, right? And he could recognize who was a threat and who wasn't?"
"He did, that time," said Bruce. "I haven't tried it since. You and I - he *should* remember that we're together. I can't guarantee anything, though."
I took a deep breath. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"He loses it and smashes his way out of here, bringing the rest of the building down on your head." Now he looked miserable.
"What's the best that could happen?"
"The Other Guy sees you as someone he needs to take care of, you tell him what the team is up to, and he hunkers down like a big shield for you until you can both get out."
"Okay, then," I said. "Think happy thoughts. And tell Tony it's okay with me."
Bruce almost dropped the phone as he hooked a hand around my shoulders and pulled me in for a kiss. Then he said into the phone, "Tony? We're going to try it. Remember, he can't control when he turns back into me, so once he's out, you'll have to deal with him."
He listened for another minute or so, gave Tony a rough idea of where we were trapped, and handed the phone to me.
"Keep them posted," he said and started to - take off his pants?
"Hell of a time for a strip tease, honey," I said, forgetting the phone was in my hand. I could hear Tony snickering.
"Hey, I might need these later," said Bruce calmly, folding up the pants and starting to unbutton his shirt. "I'm not crazy about a lot of things the Other Guy does, one of which is ripping apart my clothes and leaving me buck naked in the middle of nowhere when I come around."
He kicked off his shoes, handed me his button-down shirt and folded pants, and stood there in his tighty whities. If I'd had time and privacy I'd have ripped those off him too. To hell with privacy - I'd have done it in Macy's window if our lives hadn't been at stake.
"Take a picture for me," said Tony, breaking into my lusty reverie.
"Oh, shut up," I muttered, then remembered who I was talking to and added, "Mr. Stark."
"Don't call him that, it just makes his head bigger," Bruce said. "Ready?"
Tony relayed that they were ready outside, I said I was ready (as I'd ever be), and Bruce looked right at me, almost apologetically -
- and he grew. Grew and grew, first his shoulders, then his whole torso and legs and there went the briefs but I couldn't spare a look at the Other Guy's junk because he was now about eight feet tall and about three times Thor's mass and still growing. And green. Hard and muscly and very, very green.
I stood there, trying not to shake, and he was still looking at me like a gorilla about to smash a tasty looking bug. He filled the whole space we were in - his shoulders just brushed what was left of the ceiling, even though he was still in a crouch.
There was a rumbly noise and my first thought was, there goes the roof, we're doomed. Then I realized it had stopped, it hadn't been that loud or long, and it had come from the vast chest of my giant green companion.
I'd heard the Other Guy didn't like to be reminded of Bruce, so I gulped a breath and said, "Um, hi? I'm Darcy, there's a mission, Tony sent me, Iron Man, you know? And Captain Rogers."
Big green eyes narrowed and blinked, but he cocked his head, so I went on. "See, you and I are trapped under a building, and they want to get us out safely, which would work for you 'cause you're big and strong and invincible and probably wouldn't even notice if a building fell on you, right? But they need to get me out, too, so they're going to dig from the outside, and they want you to hunker down and keep me safe from falling rock and all. Can you do that? For Tony, for Steve?"
Yep, when the going gets tough, I run off at the mouth. I made a huge effort to shut my mouth and let him digest what I'd just babbled at him.
"What's he doing?" said Tony on the phone.
"Just - looking," I said. "And thinking. I think."
"Yeah, he's more of a thinker than most people believe," Tony said casually. "The nudity and the Neanderthal eye ridges tend to take away from that, though."
Other Guy grunted, softly.
"I think he can hear you, Tony."
"Put me on speaker and hold the phone up to him."
I did as instructed and the Other Guy looked mildly wary, but actually seemed to brighten once he heard Tony's voice.
"Hey, big guy, it's me, Tony, remember? Falling metal man, shawarma guy, all that? Listen, we're going to start digging you out any minute, and I need you to not bust out right away, okay? You need to save Darcy. She's like Cap and Clint and Tasha - she's not strong like you or Thor. We don't want her to get broken."
Other Guy seemed to hum briefly. Then he spoke, and it was like hearing a bassoon underwater and slowed down.
"Save Lulu," he said. "Not smash. Not let stone smash."
I felt my cheeks turn red. Tony said, "Lulu?"
"Save Lulu." Big green lips bent into a little smile.
"Who the hell is - "
"Me," I interrupted quickly. "I'm Lulu. It's like a code name, all right? I think we're good to go here. You understand, big guy? Yep, he gets it. Over and out."
I ended the call and put the phone in my purse, zipped it up and slung it across me in case I got picked up and carried anywhere. Big green was still smiling at me.
"Lulu," he said. "Hide."
He sat back on his haunches and leaned on his knuckles, making a kind of shelter of his body, and I went forward to stand under his broad chest. Not too close to his groin, because hey, some guys are insanely protective of the family jewels and the last thing I wanted to do was invade his personal space. Besides - the view was good enough from where I stood.
I heard another rumble and looked up; he was out and out grinning now. I wondered if he'd caught me staring at his package. If he had, he wasn't offended; in fact, he was looking me over in return, not like I was an hors d'oeuvre, but maybe a party favor.
There was more rumbling and cracking and this time it really was the roof coming down in bits and pieces. I rolled up in a ball with my arms over my head and heard the Other Guy shuffle and brace himself, bending low over me.
When the rumbling became a roar I treated myself to a scream or two, or seven, and felt myself, my whole self, scooped up in big hands and slammed against a broad green chest, held there, listening to the kettle drum of his heartbeat while we shifted sideways and up and down. Eventually the noise died down, but I stayed rolled up because my living body armor wasn't relaxing his hold on me.
The phone was ringing in my purse. There was only one person I'd consider answering it for and he could see what was going on from outside. Sure enough, I heard a kind of humming buzzing sound all around me and figured that Other Guy was giving Tony the sitrep.
The arms and hands around me loosened just a little and I could smell fresh night air and hear Tony's repulsors nearby.
"I'm okay," I yelled as loudly as I could. "I'm fine, it worked!"
There was a grunt that I swear sounded annoyed. And then his hands tightened up again, holding me close, and I felt like I was flying.
Which, I found out as soon as we landed on Stark Tower, I kind of was.