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Out This Late

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The lab is quiet, and that should have been Darcy’s first cue to leave. The lab is never quiet. Jane huffs and groans and pushes her chair back roughly against the expensive, reflective floors, talks herself through equations and hypotheticals and chews with her mouth open, spewing crumbs that make the smallest of plinks on the stainless steel table.

Tony is walking noise, an echo chamber into himself of loud music (often no less than two different radios playing at once “to keep both sides of his brain entertained”) and the groaning whine of welding machinery, the hiss of blue flame and clattering metal, all over the steady tempo of him congratulating himself for thinking ahead, being Tony Stark, being brilliant.

Visiting guests — Dr. Cho,  Erik, even Captain America, that one time before everything went to shit — brought in all different kinds of racket to add to the symphony, or otherwise machinery that did. Squeezing stress balls until they burst, sand a velvet whoosh on the desk, flinging pens when things wouldn’t add up (once, a brand new StarkPad clear across the room), breathing loudly only between gulps of coffee. It was so constantly loud that Darcy had given up on her iPod and abandoned her Spotify both, even in her little apartment several miles out from the new Avengers complex. She hated so much as hearing her microwave beep in her kitchen for two a.m. ramen.

But Bruce Banner doesn’t even make noise when he types. Darcy has tested that, at first thinking her eardrums were just resigning in protest from the constant abuse. She’d poked her head into the third floor kitchen one morning when he was sat alone at the island, eating a bagel one handed and typing on his laptop with the other, and...nothing. She’d walked forward on her lightest feet and leaned in close enough to smell Dove soap on his skin, her ear straining for noise it couldn’t find.

“Can I help you?”

Darcy reached across the counter for the lazy susan holding coffee accoutrements and hoped it was enough to cover her creeping. She smiled at Bruce in the way that got her paper deadline extensions in school and free drinks in bars and science internships with no experience in the New Mexico desert.

“Just the usual ways: blank checks, eating regularly so I don’t lose my job, a few Barnes and Nobles gift cards wouldn’t hurt, and you know I need a new pair of boots, I wear a size nine...”

Bruce smiled at her, bland as he and Coulson were prone to doing, and raised the remaining few bites of his bagel. “I’ve seen you actually stuff food into Jane’s mouth, I promise I’m doing what I can to avoid the same fate.”

Darcy pursed her lips. “It isn’t so bad. I take personal preferences into account before I resort to the Chewing Machine.”

She bounced the two Splenda packets onto her palm as Bruce smiled at her again, a little more rueful. Feeling the strange need to explain herself in the face of his polite disinterest, she shifted on her feet, looking down from Bruce’s face.

“Look, I gotta earn my paycheck somehow. Nursemaid isn’t the worst way to do it. Otherwise I gotta, you know. Try and get a job with that PoliSci degree.”

“In this economy?”

Darcy smacked the Splenda lightly on Bruce’s shoulder. “Dr. Banner jokes! I wish I had a witness.”

He closed his laptop, licking cream cheese from his thumb. He might have been smiling, a little. “I’ll leave you to whatever it is you really came here for.”

Before Darcy could rebuke him, he was gone.

But he’s in the otherwise empty lab now, still more quiet than anything in this room has the right to be. Just her luck.

Biting down a groan, Darcy weasels around the lab equipment and discarded coffee cups to her desk, all but bent in half to try and avoid his gaze. Bruce has rarely asked Darcy to so much as pass him something in the entire year and a half since she and Jane hooked their wagons to Tony Stark’s well-funded promises — their conversation in the kitchen a month ago was otherwise the longest interaction they’ve had after their introduction —  but Darcy’s too-big shoes have rubbed blisters on her heels, her front is still sticky from a spilled Coke at lunch (thanks, Dummy), and she wants nothing more than to avoid human interaction at all costs and go home .

“Are you alright, Darcy?”

“...Still not invisible, I see,” she grunts. “That’s a bummer. I really thought I had it down that time.”

It’s full dark in the lab, everyone else at some fancy grant reception dinner upstate that Bruce was also supposed to attend. But two desks to Darcy’s left, Bruce is still sitting with his suit jacket hanging over the back of his chair, his dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar. Blue from his computer screen collects in the hollows of his face, and Darcy can’t really tell if he is smiling or not.

“Burning the midnight oil?”

Darcy snorts, grabbing her massive keyring from her desk and waving it in front of her face. Their jingle is all but a pterodactyl screech in the still silence of the lab.

“My apartment doesn’t have voice recognition, even it does have a cool trip wire Tony showed me how to install. I have to use my keys to get in, like some plebeian.”

The corner of his mouth twitches, she thinks. She’s pretty sure, anyway. Rude. “How far did you make it before you realized they were still here?”

“Like, forty minutes ,” Darcy groans. “You know how long that one toll bridge takes during rush hour. Happy was your big green friend-level pissed when I asked him to turn around, and you know I had to beg him for a ride anyway since mine is in the shop and he’s a big Grumpy Dick on his best day. So now I’ve gotta call a fucking Uber or something, if they can even come out here, which —”

She cuts herself off, head cocked as she peers more closely at Bruce. It is impossible, but in the dancing light of his screen it looks like he is holding back laughter.

“You...wait. You. Did you know I left them here?”

“I thought I saw something shine out of the corner of my eye a minute ago,” he hums noncommittally.

Darcy gapes at him. “Is this because I ate the last danish this morning? It fucking is, isn’t it, you eat more than Spangly Tights. Buddy, I can’t afford for you to be petty, gas is three-twenty-seven a gallon!”

Bruce Banner even laughs silently, his shoulders shaking with his noiseless giggles.

Asshole .

Darcy marches up to Bruce’s desk with a huff and pinches the visible ear between his greying, curly hair. She gives it a none too gentle tug.

“That is sadism .”

Bruce stills, and Darcy very suddenly wants to kick herself.

“Sorry,” she says quickly, pulling her hand away. “Was that your no-no square?”

“Arguably my whole body is a ‘no-no square.’ Haven’t you heard?”

Darcy swallows, looking towards the door. “Are you. Uh. Feeling green? That why you skipped the party?”

He straightens his shoulders like he’s trying to fit his body back in them. “It doesn’t take the other guy to convince me to skip a party.”

Darcy hums, pretending that she gets that, itching to leave before they slip further to awkwardness.

“Well, I’ll get out of your hair — very soft hair. That’s not weird to say, right? Anyway. Have fun learning about…” she peers at his computer screen. “Uh. Lizard Belly Rub Compilation.”

It is quiet. Darcy blinks a few times to make Bruce’s web browser somehow say anything else. Something, perhaps, reasonable.

“...Of all the cute animal videos on the internet,” she begins slowly, on realizing she was not seeing things, “all of the videos — no Bruce. Listen, don’t interrupt me, I’m teaching you. Of all of them ...lizards? That’s what you go for? Some Freudian Green Thing you have going on?”

“They don’t make noise. It’s relaxing, it helps me sleep.”

Tutting, Darcy nudges his rolling chair to the side with her hip before sinking to her knees in front of the desk. She busies herself in YouTube’s search bar and ignores the prickling sensation of his eyes boring holes into the back of her head.

“You think you can outdo Belly Rub Compilation Three? Big promises for a girl who doesn’t know my taste.”

Darcy snorts. “This girl knows there is one video that will calm you and put you to bed faster than any gecko — iguana…. whatever it is you’re watching.”

She leans back on her haunches, looking up at Bruce with a grin as she wiggles her fingers at the screen. She’s knee level like this; when she turns to face him her cheek brushes the fabric of his trousers. He’s looking down at her strangely, and not at all at the screen.

Maybe he’s serious about his whole body being a no-no square. Maybe she has something on her face. Maybe he’s really just a weird bird and Darcy is a dumbass for even trying to interrupt whatever pre-sleep routine he has. It’s not like he asked for help.

Maybe she just sat down funny and her shirt is indecent. That, at least, she’s had to deal with before. It would nearly be a relief.

Darcy does her best discreet check to see if her blouse is gaping in the front as she looks back to the monitor, clearing her throat.

“Ultimate Bedtime Cake Decorating and Slime Relaxation Mix,” she says with largely false bravado, her thighs starting to burn with the stretch of holding her position on the floor. “No weird reptiles involved. Guaranteed relaxation without the strange Godzilla wet-dreams after.”

“Won’t this mostly just make me hungry?” Bruce asks dubiously, finally looking up at the screen. He ignored her Godzilla wet-dream joke. Rude.

“If you don’t like it I’ll give you a forfeit, or something. I’ll owe you.” She rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you’re so much of a stick in the mud you won’t take a risk on a four and a half minute video. Variety is the spice of life, YOLO, et. cetera.”

“A forfeit?”

Darcy’s spine pops a series neat cracks as she rises from her crouch, her knees feeling older than they have any reason to. “Hey, keep a pillow there for me next time, buddy. It’s only gentlemanly. A girl’s knees are her life, or something.”

Bruce just blinks up at her. “I feel like that’s not quite the expression. What’s this about a penalty?”

“You’re such a strange bird, Banner. What do you want? If you don’t like it you can spank me, feed me broccoli, make me watch Fox News, whatever.”

Bruce sticks his hand out. Eyeing him warily, Darcy shakes it. In hers, it’s calloused in odd places and unreasonably soft in others, trembling lightly. It’s hot like he’s got a fever; a hot, pressing cage.

“Whatever,” Bruce nods, taking his hand away. He looks back to the screen like she’s been dismissed, or something. Darcy can’t really keep herself from frowning a little as she turns to leave.

“Have a good night, I guess, Bruce.”

It’s two weeks before Darcy realizes Bruce probably has a thing for her. Two weeks is a long time, for Darcy being smart and Bruce not being especially subtle, but Darcy gives herself some credit; he and Tony got wound up in some strange shit near Lake Geneva (though how a single person gets in trouble on Lake Geneva is beyond even her) for the better part of a week of it.

The morning after Lizard-Video-Gate, Bruce had paused by her desk on the way to his own. A cup of coffee steamed in one of his shaking hands, the color of beachwood and smelling of so much sugar Darcy’s throat tickled.

“Good morning, Bruce.”

“Good morning, Darcy.” He took a sip. “I didn’t sleep too well last night, you know.”

His tone was perfectly light, but something about it made Darcy want to lean forward, which — weird. A new and strange development. He wasn’t even really looking at her, more a spot near her left ear, so she should really cool her jets.

“If you slept at your desk you forfeit your penalty, no video could make that a decent night’s sleep.”

Bruce lifted the cup to his smiling mouth. “Unfortunately for you, I slept in my own bed and still struggled. I’ll get back to you about the penalty.”

Darcy had watched him leave, the line of his shoulders in his rumpled button down looking oddly like — like something she wanted to keep looking at. She narrowed her eyes, keeping him at least in her peripheral vision the rest of  the day.

Suspicious. Since when was Bruce interested in talking to humans not Tony or Pepper, and certainly about anything other than science? Since when was he interested in good humor or joking around with the Lab Manager?

Bruce takes the muffin Darcy was eying on the kitchen counter the next morning. Bruce asks to borrow her favorite pen and doesn’t return it the next day after. Bruce likes that color on her Culver sweatshirt, the next day after that; did she ever have any classes with Dr. Ullrich? Oh, that was the only one she had to retake to get credit? He hadn’t heard she was such a hard grader.

Darcy feels something new start to lift its nose and sniff the air each day more Bruce smiles at or speaks to her with the same polite disinterest, like she’s the one seeking the interactions out and he’s humoring her. What’s worse is each day longer something seems to fray and chafe at her that Bruce hasn’t brought up the penalty again. If he was serious, anyway.

Who is Darcy kidding, she knows he was. He’s a weirdo, and she’s not a fool.

But then something-or-other happens at Lake Geneva, and Bruce and Tony are gone the rest of the week, and Darcy mostly forgets about it.

She forgets about it when she’s not actively snooping through Bruce’s desk at any given moment that too many people aren’t around or she can excuse it as looking for some piece of paper or another that she “left” there. It’s disappointingly barren; scrawled notes she can’t decipher and half-sketched out drawings in a few spiral bound notebooks. Nothing she thinks is useful. Bruce doesn’t even have any aspirin in his drawers. If she had a Hulk, she’d live on at least a steady stream of Excedrin. Surely, wouldn’t you need it?

Jane looks at her oddly more than once, but doesn’t mention Darcy’s apparently obvious creeping, because that’s what girlfriends do. Darcy gives her an extra pop-tart in her next Chewing Machine Exercise for being a good wingman.

The morning of Bruce and Tony’s return, Darcy leans back with her feet up on her desk, her fingers steepled in front of her face. She watches Bruce very clearly not look her way as he walks to his desk. He’s wearing old, stretched out jeans and a threadbare Culver t-shirt, looking haggard. The Other Guy had to make an appearance while they were away, from what she and Jane had seen on the news, and Bruce is clearly still recovering from the Hulk Hangover, his hands shaking worse than normal.

He frowns as he sits in front of his computer.

Darcy watches him look up slowly from his desk straight to her, feeling oddly detached but expectant. Yes, okay, finally.

Bruce gets up after a moment, striding over while playing with his hands, his knuckles cracking an echo to his steps on the floor.

“You feeling alright, Bruce?”

“Were you going through my things?”

“Of course not. I misplaced a purchase order and a few receipts.”

Darcy won’t deny having never had a hot-for-teacher thing, but the look Bruce levels her with is more than disgruntled professor being handed a late paper. Maybe a little, genuinely upset. Maybe a little something else?

“What’s there to snoop in anyway?” Darcy tries again, another angle. “You don’t even keep ibuprofen or hard candies in there. Nothing to suck on at all, think about my blood sugar. I nearly died.”

Not helping.

“O kay . What do you want from me here, Bruce? Another penalty? You haven’t paid up on the first one.”

He taps his knuckles lightly on the desk, considering. His brow is smoothing over, at least, like he’s getting his shit together.

“How late are you planning on staying tonight, Darcy?”

His eyes most definitely flick down her face, to her chest, to her hands, up again. Bruce Banner is not hard to look at, now that Darcy knows to look at him. His mouth is full and his face lined and scruffed in the way that makes Darcy itch to misbehave and catch a stern look. Maybe catch more.

Doesn’t she deserve at least this? A little bumping uglies after super-weirdos completely derailed her life, leaving her struggling just to keep herself and Jane afloat in red tape? Hell, why hadn’t Captain America or the Black Widow offered to ease her suffering this way before? What hotline could she call to file that complaint?

Darcy’s lips are very dry. “How late do you need me, Bruce?”

Bruce shoves his hands in his pockets, turning back to his desk. “I’ll let you know.”

When Darcy first met Bruce, while she was wary of that whole Hulk-possession thing, she never thought he was an asshole.

She was, as it turns out, wrong.

Thirty minutes before Darcy is scheduled to leave that night — after a day that dragged so badly Darcy thought, at several points, someone had flipped the switch on the funny looking cube in the corner of the room that makes the space-time continuum wobble like jello — Bruce stretches in his chair and ambles over to speak to Tony, three feet from Darcy’s desk and fiddling on his phone with his tongue poked out between his teeth.

Tony looks up like it is Christmas morning when Bruce stands in front of him.

“Does that mean you aren’t mad at me anymore, Brucey? Sixteen hours was so long ago. Friends forgive and forget, right?”

Darcy doesn’t bother to hide her eavesdropping. Bruce ignores Tony’s question.

“I’m at a wall with this calibrator, gonna go sleep it off —” Darcy’s stomach lurches. Was that a hint directed at her? Was she supposed to follow?

Bruce glances her way, expression mild, before looking back to Tony. “I’m going to ask FRIDAY to enable my privacy protocols to see if I can work better in the quiet. I just don’t want you to get the battering ram out as soon as you can’t immediately find me.”

“Me?” Tony scoffs. “Do that? I would never — okay! Fair , Bruce, I said it’s fair, don’t look at me like that. I’m gonna try to put my big boy pants on and leave you alone. I’ll make sure everyone leaves you alone — hey, you want the floor to yourself? We can do that, I’ll put it on lock-down if it makes you not mad about that goat thing.”

Darcy’s mouth falls open with a soft click, conceivably the noise of her jaw unhinging under the weight of this bullshit .

“I’d like that, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow, Tony. If I decide to come down.”

Darcy is stock-still as Bruce passes her without a passing glance.

Unbelievable .

She seethes the entire rest of the day. “I’ll let you know,” her ass.

The next morning Darcy comes into work with her lowest-cut-but-not-entirely-desperate sweater and some smudgy eyeliner, ready to make Bruce cry and apologize, in whatever order that happened to occur.

Except Bruce isn’t even there , so Darcy just broods over her sandwich at lunch and doesn’t even get to enjoy it, wondering how it would look if she wandered up to his residential floor and berated him a bit.

“I need more coffee,” she mutters, not that Jane is listening, and stalks to the kitchen.

She runs face first into Bruce, because why would she not?

“My life has taken a turn since you showed me that goddamn lizard video,” she groans into his chest, muffled by his shirt. It’s soft with washing and a lavender dryer sheet or something else stupidly pleasant that keeps her from stepping back. Bruce’s hands are hot on her biceps, and they aren’t moving either. Good. He can look like an asshole, too.  

“That’s a nice shirt, Darcy.” Bruce says finally. She feels the rumble of his chest against her cheek and it tightens a key low in her belly.

“You’re a pervert, so you would like it.”

The fingers on her arms tighten before he steps back.

“That’s quite an accusation.”

“I am the lab’s HR department, so if you’re gonna file a harassment claim, I wish you luck.”

Bruce grins a bit, clear over her head. Darcy weasels a hand up and pokes his chest.

“I have decided I don’t care whatever it is you’re thinking. Remove yourself so I can get my coffee.”

“Remove myself?” Bruce raises an eyebrow. “For coffee? There isn’t any.”

Darcy looks up at him. “What?”

“I drank the last of it.” He shrugs.

“That is impossible, we keep enough coffee in here for two hundred Tonys and at least three hundred Janes.” Darcy walks around him to the cabinets where she keeps their K-Cups.


How —

Bruce is gone. Darcy is going to start pulling her hair out.

Darcy sends a fake calendar invitation to everyone in the lab but Bruce after lunch. As the notification dings on the lab’s computers in unison, she stages a melodramatic meltdown, complete with a single crocodile tear, like she’s devastated that she somehow let a lab-wide meeting with the Governor slip past her until now. Jane, used to her theatrics, only looks up halfway through the performance, patting her arm distractedly as Tony coaxes one of the prototype robots to offer her a Coke.

“I told you, I drink Pepsi ,” she sniffs thickly, rubbing at her face. “You need to go, if you miss it the scheduler will call me, and she is such an asshole on a good day —”

“I wonder why I didn’t receive an invitation,” Bruce muses to no one in particular, scrolling through something idly on his computer.

“They’re still cleaning up parts of Harlem you broke,” Jane says distractedly, shoving three pens, a hair tie, and a half-eaten apple in her bag while typing on her computer still with one hand. Bruce blinks at her, bemused, but Jane is already walking out. Darcy loves her so much she could kiss her again, sober unlike last time and not blinking sand out from her eyes.

Tony, clutching his robot like an infant and prying something from between one of its gears, follows, talking as if Jane (or anyone) was listening.

Darcy looks around at the remaining assistants, eyeing each other warily as if they thought the invitation was fake, or something.

She clears her throat. “Scram, losers, or I’ll cut the coffee budget and schedule you for janitorial duties the rest of forever. Kiss your Nerd Fame goodbye.”

They split, quick as a blink and knowing better than to test Darcy’s promises. Bruce leans back in his chair, hands clasped in front of him and smiling faintly.

“This is creative.”

Darcy walks over to lean her hip against his desk, crossing her arms. He doesn’t make an effort to hide staring at her chest as she does so.

“How long have you had the hots for me, Banner?”

“The what?”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”

Bruce looks up at her, smiling easily. “And what are you, then?”

Darcy bites the inside of her cheek. “FRIDAY, security protocol thirty-nine-bee-alpha-blue. User ID wasp-epsilon-seven-green.”

The sound of locking doors echoes in the empty room, privacy screens closing in on the few windows looking out from the lab into the hall.

“I am tired of being wound up, Bruce.”

“Am I doing that?” He cocks his head. “What have I done to make you think that?”

She moves one of his books to the side to sit on his desk, swinging her legs so her foot nudges at his knee at the height of each arc. He doesn’t move.

“I’ll be honest, I thought you would go about it differently.” She pauses for effect, leaning back further on the desk so she’s propped back on her elbows. “Getting in my pants, I mean. This pulling-the-girl-you-like’s hair thing got old for most people in the...first grade? And you’re supposed to be the mature one.”

“Huh.” Bruce catches her ankle as her foot swings out to hit him again. “Is that the impression I gave you?”

“It’s better than that tortured super-hero shit, I promise.” Darcy presses a hand to her forehead, throwing her neck back and speaking in a breathy voice. “I live a dangerous life, I can’t get close to anybody! It’s not fair to you!”

“There’s merit to that thinking. But not for you.”

Darcy narrows her eyes. “Fuck does that mean?”

Bruce uses the grip on her ankle to pull himself forward, rolling his chair between her spread knees. The promising heat blooming from the proximity of their skin there makes her toes curl.

Fucking finally.

“Do you need to know?” He shrugs. His thumb swoops up from the knob of her ankle and under the hem of her pants. She is embarrassingly ready to arch her back and beg a little, if it will get the show on the road.

“You tell me, Bruce. What do I need to know?”

The thumb sweeping at her ankle stops, his thumbnail digging into the skin there. It’s not even pain, mostly an annoyance, but the look on his face turns her insides liquid and hot. Darcy gets the impression he’s only not digging in further because it’s too much effort on his part.

“Huh,” she says suddenly, leaning flat to the desk. “I think I figured out your party trick.”

“If you’re only just now putting me and the Other Guy together, you really shouldn’t be working here.”

Darcy rolls her eyes, trying to jerk her ankle away but failing. “Stop that, it’s bothering me. I don’t mean that and you know it. You act like you’re humoring people and it makes them want to be good enough for your full attention. Some psychology something like that. I wrote a paper on it, once.” She jiggles her ankle again. “I said that bothered me.”

“Did you? I must have not been giving you my full attention.” He releases her ankle after a moment of consideration where Darcy half wonders if he’s going to let go or dig in further.

He doesn’t say anything else. Darcy is going to scream.

“Bruce. I don’t know how much more obvious I can be here.”

“Is that what you think I want from you?”

She sits up, frowning. “You are making this remarkably not-fun.”

“You’re going to knock over some hydrochloric acid the next time you jerk around like that, and that will really be not-fun.” Bruce reaches up to tuck a strand of hair away from Darcy’s face. It is surprisingly tender, and Darcy can’t help a little jump at the touch. She settles back in her skin as he trails his hand down, fingers brushing her cheek, the column of her neck, before pressing his hand flat where the plane of her chest swoops up to the base of her throat. It is so hot it nearly burns. “Do you think I want to have sex with you?”

His hand trails down, the back of his fingers hardly touching the swell of one breast before pinching at her nipple with unnerving accuracy to its exact location behind her shirt. Darcy can’t help a little cry underneath the sharp pressure.

Bruce cocks his head like he’s watching some zoo animal squirm behind its glass.“Why would I want to do that?”

“I hope you don’t think I’ll dignify that with an answer.” Darcy is breathless, which undercuts her snark, but Bruce raises an eyebrow like it doesn’t matter to him either way.

He releases her nipple before stepping back, putting his hands in his pockets.

Bruce ,” she growls. Her dignity, apparently, is locked out in the hall outside of FRIDAY’s security protocol.

His brow has a little crease in it. “If it means that much to you, I suppose. But I hope you don’t think you can mess up my desk for it.”

“...You’re into that kinky shit, aren’t you.” Darcy realizes, a puzzle clicking into place. “You want me to — what, beg and call you Supreme Leader?  Lick your boots or something? Is that what this has been leading up to? You could have just asked. Used your words like a big boy.”

“You want to lick my boots, too? You’re asking a lot of me, Darcy.”

He is wearing boots, scuffed a bit, the laces fraying in places underneath the worn hem of his jeans. The way he throws it back at her feels a bit like a challenge, said so flippantly it’s clear he doesn’t expect her to do it.

Asshole .

Darcy is hardly off the desk and on her feet before she’s sinking down to the floor. She looks up at his face — delighted to see a little bit of surprise in the arch of his brow — and keeps her eyes trained upwards as she presses a slow, soft kiss to the toe of his boot. She feels him make the decision to not jerk away, his foot pulling back a bit at first like he wants to.

The boot tastes like leather and salt when she presses the flat of her tongue to it, warm and supple with wear. She avoids some of the dirt near the side — Bruce hasn’t earned that — but presses open mouthed kisses upwards. She’s starting to pull one of the zig-zagging laces between her teeth when Bruce grips her hair. He doesn’t pull, but maybe he doesn’t have to. Darcy’s eyes flutter shut. Finally, finally, finally .

“Who knew this is what it took to get you going, Bruce? I learn something new every day.”

“Not nearly as much as I think you give yourself credit for. I could have kicked your teeth in. Did you know that?”

Darcy blinks. “Why would you?”

“They were there, weren’t they?” Bruce hums. “Was that not an offering? You’ve been asking me for everything else.”

He is unmoved by her flat glare, but his grip in her hair loosens after a moment. He starts rubbing at her scalp instead, fingers too rough to be relaxing but not hard enough she thinks he’s trying to do anything but annoy her. Bruce is a strange human, but maybe Darcy is weirder because she’s close to throwing her head back to enjoy the attention.

This is the strangest boner of her life, and after the aliens came she was sure nothing could top that.

“I suppose,” he says suddenly, drawing Darcy out of a very squiggly-around-the-edges place in her brain, “a few months, to answer your first question.”

It takes Darcy a few moments to piece that together. “Aw. That’s real sweet, Doc. I’m flattered, except knowing we could have been fucking this whole time.”

“Is that what we’re doing now?” He gives her hair another tug. “Strangest sex I’ve ever had.”

“I don’t believe that,” Darcy tells him honestly. “But let’s do our best. Are we playing ‘who’s desperate enough to take their pants off first’?”

Bruce scoffs, releasing her totally so her lax body lets her fall, face first, onto his boot. It’s not a long drop, but her nose smarts as she glares up at him.

“I think I’m going to bite your dick off, when I get close enough,” she says thickly.

“Mhm. Does that usually work out, when you announce it beforehand? Get up before you ruin my shoes more.”

Maybe the real joke is that Darcy, apparently, is also into this kinky shit, because she rises to her feet with her knees weak from more than just the floor and a slickness between her legs that makes heat splotch her cheeks.

“Ah,” Bruce says, pointing a single finger at the blotchiness visible on her chest. “What’s that saying about bark and bite?”

“I thought you were supposed to be the smart one. How would I know?” Her face has never been so hot in her life. Why is she playing along like she’s some idiot?

He flicks her nose. “You do learn something every day.”

Darcy feels inexplicably like her mouth is too overripe to close all the way, her body swaying close to Bruce, who gets a grip on her biceps and holds her at arm’s length.

“What are you doing, Darcy?”

“I think I’m trying to kiss you. Problem?”

“Just where I don’t want you to.”

Darcy shakes herself out of that warm, far-away place she was sinking into. “Why the hell not?”

Overhead, FRIDAY gives a little beep.

“User wasp-epsilon-seven-green, User TONY-FUCKING-STARK-OH-OH-ONE is attempting to overwrite security protocol thirty-nine-bee-alpha-blue.”

Darcy groans. “Just patch him in. Lift the protocol on my order, gamma-canyon-fifteen.”

Bruce is shaking with his silent laughter as he collapses back into his chair.

“Darcy?” Tony’s voice is tinny over the speakers. “Hey, Lewis, what’s wrong? Why did you have the security protocol on?”

Darcy’s life sucks .

“I said give me the phone, Tony —” Jane sounds harassed, then there is the sound of a scuffle where she and Tony clearly wrestle for the phone. “Darce, there wasn’t a meeting today after all, can you believe that?”

Darcy, as the Official Lab Manager, has resources. Namely, she has the personal cell phone numbers of, like, at least maybe a third of the Avengers. (Super-Group Formerly Known as the Avengers?)

Including Bruce.

She left work before Tony and Jane made it back to the lab without saying another word to Bruce, too mortified to even look his way as the haze of her stupid libido faded away to objective reality.

Though, as she stirs up Easy Mac in her kitchen —  barefoot, braless, and heavy with an aching vacancy where Bruce could totally be right now —  she thinks maybe she’s been playing this too prideful from the beginning.

Flopping onto her bed, she makes it through half of the cup of mac and cheese before grabbing her phone from the nightstand. A bit of sauce from her thumb smears the screen as she opens a text to Bruce.

“I know you’ll say no, if I ask if you want to know how this afternoon could have gone,” she sends. It gets a read receipt immediately, and her face splits into a triumphant grin.

“So I’m just gonna tell you,” Darcy types. “I convince you to lay me out on your desk.”

“Unlikely.” Bruce sends back, quicker than Darcy can send her next, graphic text. Darcy rolls her eyes, erasing her message for a new one.

“I’m convincing.”

“Not to me.” He has the gall to put a smiley face emoji at the end.

It is fucked up that Darcy feels a little spark of heat landing in her belly as she reads his text two, three, four times. When was the last time someone wasn’t impressed or charmed by Darcy? Even Coulson got her a muffin at that airport Starbucks that one time, wholly unprompted by more than a cheeky grin. Bruce is seemingly unmoved by her charm or her eagerness, only interested in this weird pseudo-play acting where he humors a too dumb to be real Darcy. Why is that a good thing?

“Why don’t you tell me how it would have gone then, Dr. Banner.”

“You thank me for not kicking your teeth in, first.”

Darcy sucks in a breath so sharp it’s painful. Bruce doesn’t elaborate. After three minutes, Darcy texts him again.

“Have I told you that I’m glad you didn’t kick my teeth in?”

The reply is immediate.

“I don’t think I recall.”

“I’m also glad when you bend me over your desk :)”

“Is that what you think happens? Silly girl. My desk is for important things. When I feel like it, you sit in your desk chair and handle yourself. Why should I do that for you?”

Silly girl . This asshole. The part of her brain not fuming is guiding her hand inside of her underwear.

“I guess you don’t watch me either?” She types, one handed.

“I don’t doubt that I’ll hear you well enough without having to dedicate that much of my attention to you.”

Darcy groans as she eases two fingers into herself, slow and easy. “Maybe I’ll give you a good enough show to change your mind.”

“I am sure you will try.”

She frowns at the phone and makes a decision before she can chicken out. She rucks her shirt up, the hem held between her teeth, and takes a picture of herself from her jaw down. She sends it without comment.

“Perhaps enough for a passing glance,” he sends. Unfortunately no picture accompanies his.

It is nicer than Darcy expected him to say. She keens as she picks her pace up, her thumb sweeping against her clit.

“Though I have to wonder why you are pretending two is enough for you, as desperate as you’re acting,” he sends after a moment.

Darcy arches up off the bed with a moan she can’t bite down, adding another finger and shifting under the stretch.

“You’re so smart. I can’t believe I thought it was enough.”

“I know. I would never ask you to think. Show me you’ve done it correctly.”

“Can I get a present if I do?”

“Me not being upset.”

She sends the picture. He sends a smiling face before his next message.

“Do you remember the penalty you agreed to?”

Darcy’s rhythm falters. “What?”

“Stop what you’re doing.”

No. No. No. No.

“Please something else, Bruce. Please.”

She doesn’t have to stop, of course. He’s not here, she can do what she wants. But part of her asshole brain wants to do what he asks. It’s part of the game, and if she quits she loses, as backwards as it is. If she lets herself win, she loses. If she keeps on she won’t even really be able to enjoy it.

Weird, weird, weird.

He doesn’t reply. Darcy yanks her hand away from the dripping line of her cunt, panting heavily and trying to plan her revenge.

The next morning, Darcy sits next to Bruce at the kitchen island.

“I did some googling,” she greets him, pulling out her phone. “Trying to figure out the shit you’re into.”

“Sounds like a productive use of your time,” Bruce nods around a mouthful of bagel.

“I learned a lot, would you believe.”

He blinks at her, smiling indulgently like she knows the answer to that. The crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes crinkle up, a tuft of curly hair sticking out from his head above his left ear. Darcy wants him to plow into her right now .

“Yeah. Exactly. I’m a good judge of character, so I was able to cross some stuff off. Things that go in the toilet, thank god. Medical stuff. Whatever. Probably not latex, I’m pretty sure. But , I found a few that are up your alley.”

“Is that right?”

She pulls up her phone’s notepad app and hands it over. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Bruce looks at the offered phone for a moment before reaching up, rubbing some errant cream cheese and jam from his thumb onto her cheek.

Darcy sputters, but he catches her wrist when she tries to wipe it off, the other prying the phone from her hand.

“Leave it.” He smiles at her serenely. “Is this not on your list?”

She can only gape at him as he looks through the list, tapping his own notes idly. She doesn’t try to clean it.

“I can’t believe you left off knives, if you think I’m such a sadist,” he says mildly. “Some of these are even a little scary to me, Darcy.”

Darcy’s stomach gives a sharp, hot twist. Weird, weird, weird. “What the hell do you do with a knife that gets your rocks off?”

Bruce chuckles — Darcy may be able to hear it, close as they are, just a little — before putting Darcy’s phone on the countertop and reaching into his jeans pocket.

It’s all the self control she has to not fall backwards off her chair as Bruce flips the little pocketknife open. The blade is dark with age, the grip worn, the entire thing no longer than his open hand. He wouldn’t hurt her, Darcy reasons, especially not here with cameras everywhere and a crowd of people just down the hall. He wouldn’t. Darcy knows that. She’s pretty sure.

Then again, he has a Hulk on his side; if he did, it’s not like they could really do anything to stop him.

He grabs her chin and holds it steady, smiling lazily. “Scaredy-cat.”

Humming, Bruce takes the flat of the knife and spreads the cream cheese and jam out more thinly on her cheek. “You look better like this.”

Darcy is too scared to coerce her heavy tongue to speech, fearful that opening her mouth would push the edge of the blade into her skin. She can see the pointy tip over the swell of her cheekbone, closer to her eye than a knife has any right to be. Bruce’s hands are still shaking, as usual, but he doesn’t seem particularly concerned about cutting her.

Very slowly, Bruce flips the knife and uses its long, sharp edge to scrape her cheek clean. Darcy’s eyes roll back in her head despite herself at the warm buzz it leaves in its wake. His thumb brushes the newly clean skin, hot enough to feel like a burn. He digs his thumbnail in after a moment, the small red pain bringing her back from the bigger, scarier one.

“Well, Darcy? Did that ‘get your rocks off?’”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” she breathes. Her body is on fire, her thighs slick in her skirt. Bruce’s hands belong on her, pushing past the wet cling of her underwear and into her welcoming, needy heat. What does she have to do to make that happen?

Bruce licks the mixture clean from the knife. Darcy squirms in her seat until he brings the point of the blade down, hardly any pressure at all, to the top of her thigh.

“It was two penalties, wasn’t it? I still have one to use.”

“Am I supposed to know stuff now?”

The knife digs in a hair harder. Not painful, but a promise.

“Of course not. It’s why you couldn’t recognize a rhetorical question,” he says smoothly. The knife is pilling at the stretchy fabric of her skirt, and the tiny, delicate pop it finally makes breaching a hole in the stitching echoes up and down the line of her spine. She can’t help leaning in closer, breathing like she’s winded. He could cut the skirt right off of her, right here; she’d be still. She’d let him slide the blade between her skin and the elastic of her underwear, pulling against the give until they fell away.

Bruce flips the knife closed and rises from the bar. “Guess I have to think of a really good one. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Darcy takes some vacation time.

Rather, she makes up vacation time to take.

She re-watches Futurama from beginning to end and crochets three hats and still wakes up most every night unable to shake her dreams loose,  her thighs trembling and slick, sweat plastering her hair to her forehead.

Bruce drags the knife down over the curve of a breast almost as if he intends to peel the skin off like it were a fruit, Bruce has her grind against the laces of his boot to come, Bruce sits it his desk and watches her rub circles on her clit endlessly in her own chair, denying her an orgasm every time she gets close.

On the fifth day, she pulls her phone out.

“Why don’t you get a penalty for being an asshole and ruining my fraudulently taken vacation?”

“What would you want for something so small?”

She curls up on the end of her couch, bottom lip poked out. Even his immediate reply makes her somehow grumpier.

“I want you to come over when you’re done today.”

Bruce doesn’t answer, which Darcy maybe expects.

Bruce does show up at her door at a quarter to ten than night, which she does not.

Darcy gapes at him in her doorway, hair a frizzy mess piled on top of her head, nightshirt too sheer and too short for probably any occasion but this. Nonplussed, He smiles as he nudges his way inside.

“Don’t look so surprised. You’ve been a mostly good sport. And I decided my final penalty.”

“It better end with some goddamn relief or you can get out now.”

“And what kind of relief do you want, Darcy?”

Growling, she grabs his hand and guides it between her legs. It’s still a surprise when Bruce immediately begins stroking at the wetness there.

“Ah. I did that?”

She sneers, even as he adds more pressure at her cunt. “Once you fucking raw me I think I’m going to beat you, Dr. Banner.”

He pinches her clit between his thumb and forefinger. Lightning races up from the touch through her spine, frying the last functioning neurons in her brain.

“If I decide to do that, I would be interested in watching you try.”

He removes his hand from her cunt to shuck off his jacket, tossing it carelessly to her couch. Darcy is straddling his lap before Bruce is even fully seated on the thing himself, grinding into the perfect, abrasive drag of his jeans.

Bruce grabs her hips hard enough to bruise, stilling her.

“You’ll wait.”

Underneath her, Darcy can feel Bruce’s cock swelling. He’s in her house, on her couch, and she is done with this weird shit. She leans forward to press their lips together only for Bruce to grab her jaw, fingers digging into her cheek hard enough to hurt, a little.

“It doesn’t bother you to touch me?”

“Obviously not,” Darcy tries, but in his grip mostly comes out as a gurgled buzz.


Her lips are still pushed like a fish out under Bruce’s hand, but he doesn’t seem to mind as he presses, barely, his mouth to hers. Darcy hardly feels it before he pulls back.

“Hm,” he muses. “Not bad.”

He releases her, and Darcy gingerly opens and closes her mouth a few times before speaking.

“You’re a strange guy, you know.”

“No, I hadn’t ever heard.”

Bruce strokes absently up under the hem of her nightshirt, ridden up to make it easy for him to hook his thumbs in her underwear and give them a little tug. It’s surprisingly straight-forward, and Darcy can’t help but frown a bit.

“Something wrong?”

She narrows her eyes at him. One of his hands trails up to cup a breast in his hand, his thumb brushing her nipple so it pebbles under his touch.

“This is too easy,” she says suspiciously.

“Is it not what you wanted?” Bruce nuzzles close to where Darcy’s ear meets her jaw; she can feel him breathe in the smell of her shampoo there.

“I. I don’t know.”

Bruce smiles against her skin. “No knives around to get your rocks off. I’m not even wearing my boots. How are we gonna have to make do with in these conditions?”

There it is, that stirring in her gut. Her eyes flutter shut.

“You’re the smart one, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

He bites into the juncture of her neck and shoulder hard enough Darcy yelps. Despite her squirming, Bruce doesn’t lay off until Darcy is panting but still in his lap. He sucks a bruise directly on top of it, hard enough it’s almost more painful than his teeth.

Her thighs are starting to tremble where they bracket him. Despite everything, Darcy is viciously glad to feel his erection against her. She dares to rock back and forth against it, and before Bruce can school his expression she sees his mouth tighten, feels him hardly arch forward to meet her.

“You’re not going to ask what my final penalty is?”

Darcy grinds down particularly roughly, hitting at her clit so perfectly for a moment she arches back with a cry.

“Figured you’d just spring it on me and we’d deal with it,” she says breathlessly. Bruce is obviously into this, but his stillness and relative composure as she pants and wriggles and tries to unzip his jeans only to have her hands batted away just winds her up further.

“Ah, I forgot I have to explain things to you. Get up.”

Darcy stills, mid-grind, and stares at him blankly. Bruce brushes the swell of her bottom lip with his index, then his middle finger, pushing forward so Darcy opens her mouth around them to suck. He tolerates it for all of two seconds before forcing in two more digits, hooking them inside Darcy’s cheek with a rough tug.

“Come on, Darcy. I know you can do at least that.”

He pulls his fingers out of Darcy’s gagging mouth and wipes them clean on her shirt. Dumbly, her mind all distant static, Darcy rises to her feet.

Bruce stands himself, walking idly into her kitchen. Darcy follows, her body feeling ridiculously clumsy and too soft. He opens her cabinets, grabbing a strawberry from her fridge and popping it in his mouth before ambling to her bathroom. He tosses the green-leafed cap into her sink before peeking in her medicine cabinet, then uncapping her body wash in her shower, taking an experimental whiff. He puts it back with the cap still off before making it to her bedroom.

“Sit down,” he says distractedly, pointing towards the bed as he opens her closet, then rifles through her underwear drawer.

“There’s condoms in there, that’s where I keep them.”

Bruce stills. He pulls the box out after a moment.

“These? Is that what these are, in the box that says ‘condoms’ that’s visible, right in front of my face? Thank you, Darcy. I wouldn’t have known.”

He tosses them on the bed. Darcy’s face is on fire, and even though it’s her mattress she’s sat on, she shifts awkwardly, like maybe she doesn’t have any reason to be here.

“It’s alright, Darcy,” he hums, walking over to the bed. Bruce puts his hands on her shoulders and pushes her back so she’s flat to the unmade quilt. “You’re doing your best.”

Bruce spreads her legs, limp as a rag doll’s, to a wide V he can kneel between. When he’s got her arranged he rests back on his haunches, tracing idle nonsense above her knee.

“I changed my mind,” Darcy says suddenly, heart in her throat. “I want to know. The penalty, I want to know what it is.”

He smiles, pitching himself forward so he lands, face first, between her breasts. “I know.” The fabric muffles his words and traps the heat from his mouth close to her skin. Bruce bites there until Darcy is wiggling beneath him, capable only of small pleading noises he ignores. He releases her with a wet, open mouthed kiss through her shirt.

“You know, I have also changed my mind.” Bruce pulls away, and Darcy thunks her head back against her pillow. “I have a better penalty for you. Do you know how still you can be?”

She squints. “You just want me to lay here?”

“I want you to be still.

As if that means anything different , Darcy huffs. “I don’t really see the fairness, but if you want to top so bad, like, be my guest?”

He puts a hand flat over her entire face, smooshing her eyelashes against her lid, her nose to one side. Darcy licks his palm and he only rewards her by pressing down harder.

“I told you that I don’t expect you to know anything, Darcy. Why do you try?”

Bruce is heavy and warm above her, content to do all the work. Why does she try, if she doesn’t have to? She’s worked hard to get him here, she should enjoy it before he manages to weasel out again.

She tries to relax, even if she has to focus on each square inch of her body individually to do so. Bruce’s expression is almost fond looking down at her, his hands stroking up and down her sides.

“Are you comfortable?”

Darcy’s belly flutters. It’s not even really nice, him asking, but it feels like it is. She nods.

His hands claw into her ribs, red and biting.

“Is that being still?”

“No. Sorry.”

“That’s not still either. Maybe I’m asking too much.”

Darcy is already working an apology off her tongue before she manages to bite it back. Apparently that is against the rules. She closes her eyes and tries to make her body go as lax as possible.

It is the right thing to do. Bruce releases his claws at her side, pulling her shirt up. Her nipples tighten in the cool air before he pulls her underwear midway down her thighs. Darcy’s whole body is a low, persistent buzz. After Bruce has her exposed like this he doesn’t touch her for a long moment, but Darcy makes herself be still.

Slowly, Bruce drags a single finger down the line of her cunt. The touch is so light it is a torture.

“All the things you could have asked for, and this is all you wanted.”

Darcy doesn’t feel like it’s such a small thing, but she lets Bruce talk to himself if he wants. His thumb presses flat to her clit, unmoving for long enough Darcy is tempted to squirm before he starts rubbing circles overtop it, not nearly as hard as she would like.

“How did you think this would go?”

She bites the inside of her cheek to keep from answering. That was a trap.

Quicker than Darcy can brace herself for, Bruce all but shoves two fingers in her. Darcy can’t keep herself from crying out, her hips twitching.

“Look, you’ve already failed. So just go ahead and tell me.”

Darcy’s eyes are hot and close to prickling, but she doesn’t feel bad, exactly. Bruce crooks his fingers when she doesn’t answer, rubbing at the ridgy place that makes her insides melt to water, and she forgets about it. She moans, arching upwards, only for Bruce to slap at her thigh.

“Now you’re just taking advantage.” He sounds maybe like he might be smiling. Darcy takes a shaky breath, trying to remember how speech works.

“I didn’t expect anything. I didn’t expect you to come.”

His thumb continues to rub circles on her clit as he strokes inside her. A sweet tightness is budding low in her belly, slow but not easy. He doesn’t say anything, and his work is the wrong side of not enough .

“Can I move, Bruce?”

“I don’t know, can you?”

“I’ve never lost a boner so quickly,” Darcy groans, holding the hem of her shirt between her teeth to take her breasts in hand, since Bruce was clearly showing no initiative.

“I’m so glad I’m not your personal orgasm machine,” Bruce says blandly. His rhythm at her cunt has yet to falter.

Darcy rolls her eyes and takes a nipple between her fingers, pulling. She has to do everything herself. Only when she’s properly flushed and fidgeting does Bruce lean forward, his hot mouth wet around her nipple and fingers both. His other hand palms at the flat mound of her left breast, rough and possessive. She swears, her thighs starting to tremble even before Bruce adds another finger inside of her. Darcy is hardly stretched around it before he adds the fourth, and she comes hard enough to leave her body shaking for several long minutes.

“What a mess,” Bruce says lightly. Darcy has to force her heavy head up to see Bruce’s hand glistening wet, splotches on his jeans and on her sheets.

“I’ll help you clean it off,” Darcy offers hoarsely, trying to rise from the bed.

“Generous, when I was going to make you anyway. Open.”

This, at least, Darcy is familiar with. Up on her knees, she leans close to suck Bruce’s fingers into her mouth, laving at them with her tongue. She dares slide one of her hands down to the slickness between her wobbly knees before Bruce yanks back, breathing heavily and finally, finally , looking like this makes a damn to him.

Darcy smiles triumphantly.

“Ready to fuck me now?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

Her face falls. Unsure if this was part of his play or not, she reaches up to unzip his pants, nearly biting her own tongue in half when his slick, rosy length peeks out between the zipper’s teeth, no boxers or anything else between them.

“You just walk around the lab like this?” She breathes. “I know you didn’t do this just for me.”

“You are learning after all,” he pants, pulling away from her touch and nearly fumbling back off the bed. Darcy imagines how the curve of his cock would drag in her, how he’d lay her out for him, and tries to follow, tries to drag him back.  

“God,” she slurs. “You’re still hard, what are you doing?”

His hands are shaking worse than she’s ever seen them. “Can’t.”

Ice starts to pool in her gut, ruining the last hazy dregs of afterglow. “You clearly can,” she rasps.

Bruce leans forward, close enough their noses brush, one hand fisted in her hair. “Really can’t. Give me my last penalty.”


Bruce slots their mouths together, kissing Darcy in earnest until she is gasping and dizzy with it, more need in her body than oxygen has ever been there.

She reaches up to card her fingers through his curls, tugging him back when he starts to pull away.

“You’re killing me,” she gasps when he finally wrenches back. His red, flushed mouth is slick and swollen, and Darcy can’t look away from it. It belongs on her, up her thighs, biting bruises into her chest, keeping her in that new soft, quiet place in her brain.

“I’m actively trying not to, would you believe?” His voice trembles like the rest of him, and he nearly loses his footing as he rises from the bed.

“I really wouldn’t. Please get back here,” her voice is stupid pleading, her mind thick and useless as taffy, her body heavy with want. “Please, Bruce, come on. Don’t be an asshole.”

“I’m not trying to be, this time,” he grunts, zipping his pants back up. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“I’m on vacation ,” she spits, though it sounds suspiciously close to a sob.

“Goodbye, Darcy.”

Darcy doesn’t go to work the next day, because fuck that .

The next day, however, she manages to show, three hours late and wearing a massive pair of sunglasses to hide her bare, splotchy face. She’s not even bothered with actual pants, her old leggings tucked into a worn pair of boots that squeak each plonking step on the polished floor. Because fuck it .

“Good morning, Darcy.”

She skids to a stop passing the kitchen, her boots leaving an ugly mark on the tile beneath her.

Darcy, wordless, her face a blank mask, turns her head to look at Bruce, sat at the island. He clears his throat.

“You look well rested.”


Snarling and pretending she might still have some dignity stored away somewhere, Darcy turns on her heel and makes for the lab as calmly as she’s able. Because fuck him if he thinks she’s going to make a scene he can enjoy. He grabs her arm before she makes it a few feet from the door.

“This is where you want me to apologize, right?”

“I don’t know what I’d want that for,” she says stiffly.

Bruce tugs her arm. “Sit.”

Darcy bites the inside of her cheek, looking around for standersby. A tech down the hall, coming out from one of the bathrooms, two assistants chatting propped up on the door to the lab a little further down. She lets herself be dragged.

“Are you alright?” Bruce asks once he’s maneuvered her into one of the barstools.

“Just peachy, underneath the, you know, thousand million layers of  mortification. Nice of you to give a damn.”

Bruce leans back in his seat, bemused. Darcy sneers at him. “Yes, that’s helping my self-esteem a lot, today, after the way you left. Thanks. Asshole .”

He blinks. “I told you I had to.”

“I get it,” she grinds out through her teeth. “I get you had to , or whatever. Just. Let’s go back to you not acknowledging me — really not acknowledging me — and forget how I begged you to bone me only for you to run off like,” she takes a deep breath, makes herself slow down. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You are actually not smart.”

“Go fuck yourself, Bruce Banner,” she spits, half-rising from her chair only to be dragged back down, wholly indelicately.

Once she’s seated Bruce leans in close, his rough stubble brushing her temple as he speaks lowly into her ear. Darcy pretends it doesn’t turn her insides to water. “I said I can’t because I can’t.”

Darcy bites back a frustrated scream, yanking back from the warm promise of Bruce’s body. “Quit saying that like it means anyth—”

She stops under an invisible hand squeezing at her throat, killing her words before they’ve even made it to her tongue, her mouth still open. After a moment, Darcy takes a very deep breath and focuses on keeping her next words as even as she can manage.

Can’t . When you say, ‘can’t,’ are you referring to —”

“A side effect of Hulk possession. A literal inability.”

Darcy leans forward, her fingers biting into Bruce’s knee to keep her upright. “Oh, my god.”

“So it’s got nothing to do with —”

“If you say nothing to do with me I’m going to hit you, then I’ll hit your green friend too,” she snarls. She’s such an idiot . “You couldn’t have mentioned it before you had me — before I was like that ?”

“I thought it would be easier to break it to you in a post-orgasm haze.” He blinks at her, and Darcy thinks he’s maybe genuinely under the impression he’s anything but a weird, dumb fucker. “Was that not right?”

Darcy tilts forward, her face smooshed in Bruce’s shoulder. “ No . I hate you. I hate — what was all that leading up to, then?” She whines.

Bruce pauses for long enough she drags her eyes up to his face. He looks a bit uncomfortable, for once.

“Did it have to lead up to anything else?”

Darcy leans back. Her hand is still on Bruce’s trembling knee, overwarm even through his pants. To Bruce, maybe it wasn’t a tease. Maybe they were each acts into themselves, a little gift — a little relief — for himself, who couldn’t take much else. Would that be so bad, really? Hadn’t she enjoyed everything up to now? Now that she knows Bruce’s limit, what difference should it make?

Darcy cocks her head. In fact, that sounded like a get-out-of-blowjobs-free card.

She looks up at his wary face underneath the fan of her eyelashes, sliding her hand further up his thigh.

Slowly, Bruce reaches up, his hand wrapping around the back of Darcy’s neck. She tilts her head back with a sigh, enjoying the brace it makes, not letting her lean back too far.

“Does it ever bum you out though?”

“You don’t think seemed ‘bummed out’ the other night?”

Darcy eyes him shrewdly before trying to lean back further against the hand still at her neck, testing his hold. His fingers bite in hard enough for her to hiss in response.

“I was right, though. About that list.”

“Some of the things you put down may have been good guesses.”

She smiles. “I’m right , you’re a pervert, ” she sing-songs.

“I have to question why you’re baiting someone who you think wants to hurt you, though. Does that seem smart to you?”

Darcy has to wiggle to hook her feet around Bruce’s barstool, but she manages. She shrugs no little theatrically, her gut stirring as Bruce visibly bites down a small smile. His free hand reaches to the counter, pulling off a piece of his blueberry muffin. He all but crams it into her mouth, then cups her jaw and helps her chew it, his thumb rubbing a firm line down the column of her throat that coaxes her to swallow.

“Breakfast in bed. Romantic.”

He snorts, grabbing another piece from the muffin. “Shut up .”

Darcy allows him to maneuver her jaw to chewing again. “I’m mad I’m into this,” she admits as he reaches for another piece. His other hand releases her neck, fisting in the back of her hair to tilt her head back in a near ninety degree angle.

“Something for you to work out on your own time.”

Bruce releases her so suddenly her neck aches in a not-fun way as footsteps sound closely behind them, turning into the kitchen.

Darcy’s life sucks .

“Lewis! I’m so glad. Foster hasn’t changed in three days, I’m running out of Febreze.”

Darcy groans, not even bothering to turn and face Tony. Bruce pops a bit of muffin in his mouth, looking clear over her head.

“Tony, it’s your lab, can’t you do anything by yourself?”

“Pepper would say only things I shouldn’t discuss in polite company. Where’s your magical clean underwear supply?”

“Oh, and that’s something you can say in polite company?”

“Who’s polite here?” Bruce muses absently, rising from his barstool. Underneath the countertop, his fingers brush against her thigh. He takes the rest of his muffin with him. Darcy hates Tony Stark.

“Bruce, buddy, where are you going? We were gonna finish the do-hickey on that thingamajig that would project us into another dimension, or whatever.”

“Not that it doesn’t sound thrilling, but I think I’m going to head up to my room for some quiet.”

Tony, clearly trying his hand at emotional literacy, frowns, kicking at the corner of the island. “You want your security protocols on?”

“No, thank you. No one smart is gonna follow me up there, I’m sure.”

Bruce exits the kitchen, Tony still babbling and reaching in the sink to fiddle with the garbage disposal, where he had the ridiculous idea to install a mini incinerator feature.

Darcy follows Bruce out as flames erupt behind her. She doesn’t even look back.