Darcy recognizes the manic look of SCIENCE! on Tony’s face. That look he gets when he is close to a breakthrough and about to partake in a science bender. This is a look she has learned to recognize from Jane. However, Tony is not exactly like Jane.
His SCIENCE face is not the only expression that precludes holing himself up in his lab for days and nights at a time, refusing to come out. There is another expression. One that he has learned to hide so well that most of the other people in the Tower can’t distinguish it from his SCIENCE face. This one however, includes forced smiles so practiced they almost can’t be distinguished from his normal one. It includes a blankness in his normally mischievous eyes. It involves a tension in the lines of his body like it is preparing to take a blow.
This look Darcy learned to recognize in her own mirror.
This look means that Darcy will take care of Tony not as self-appointed scientist herder supreme, but as a friend. Because Tony has gone out of his way to make her feel welcome and at home in his Tower. He did not take credit for it because he insisted he was terrible with people, but Darcy knew what he had done all the same. He could have overlooked her as just an assistant to Jane, and left her to fend for herself in New York. But he saw that she was a sister, not just an assistant, and treated her accordingly. That made him good people in her opinion. And that meant that he was one of her people.
The first time Darcy noticed the difference between Tony’s normal science benders and the terrible feelings which drove him to the second kind, she watched.
Darcy watched as Tony pushed himself further and further, refusing to stop to eat or even drink the coffee she left at his elbow. The shadows under his eyes deepened. He smashed his knuckles from sleep-deprived clumsiness in his work until they cracked and bled. He listened to music as loud as Jarvis would accommodate, allowing for the fragility of the human ear drum. Almost loud enough to drown out thought. And finally, when he had begun to sway from exhaustion, he fell on the ratty couch in his workshop and slept for a solid 18 hours.
Darcy broke out her crochet hook and began with the softest yarn she could find. Every stitch, she thought about how much she appreciated Tony. His protective streak veiled in sharp sarcasm. His affection masked in snark. His strength despite the long history of difficulties he had faced, often without the benefit of support. She poured as much love as she could into the simple, dark grey afghan. It had a comforting weight to it, but wasn’t so heavy as to be oppressive. When she was finished, she carefully folded it and waited.
The next time Tony went on one of his PTSD fueled science benders, she slipped into the lab. She made sure she was in his line of sight, but didn’t pressure him for conversation. Instead she placed the ugly green smoothie Jarvis assured her would take care of the bulk of his nutritional needs at his elbow. It was joined with the promotional Iron Man water bottle she had bought especially for this purpose. Tony didn’t seem to consciously register her, so she left him alone without speaking.
She slipped back out of the lab and went back to Jane. Over the next 4, almost 5 days, she checked in on Tony periodically. Each time, he had emptied the water bottle, so she refilled it and brought it back with another smoothie.
She was typing up Jane’s notes on the lab computer when she heard a soft overhead chime. “Yes J?” she asked. The chime was something they had worked out together so Jarvis could let her know he wanted her attention after the first time his voice had badly startled her.
“Darcy, Sir has reached the point of exhaustion and is sleeping in his usual place.” His robotic voice was warm, and Darcy was glad she could help. The AI was very attached to his creator, but at times his lack of a corporeal body could render the powerful man helpless. When Darcy had tentatively expressed her desire to him, he had been suspicious of her motives and then overjoyed. Their conversations about how to help Tony had led to a friendship she treasured.
Darcy gathered up the blanket from where she had stashed it. She took it to Tony’s lab and gently draped it over his sleeping form. She smoothed his filthy hair back from his face and tucked the blanket up over his shoulders.
Tony never spoke to her of what happened during these types of science benders. However, Jarvis mentioned in passing one day that the lab was barred to all but her and Pepper when Tony was in one of his moods. In addition, even though almost everything in Tony’s lab was messy and spattered with grease that he didn’t seem to bother with, the afghan she had made him remained pristine.
The best part of her intervention was that instead of looking like he had one foot in the grave after his benders, Tony seemed lighter and brighter. It also meant that he dragged her to her first movie night with the Avengers, and she could only grin as he settled into a loveseat with Pepper draping the afghan over both of their laps.