Darcy believed in hard work, and going for what you wanted. She believed life was too short for bullshit, and that included Fox News, Cosmo Magazine, and conversations about music that were about timelines instead of time signatures, or any question you asked but didn't really want to hear the answer to. She believed nobody had the right to fucking judge her. She believed in trying to make the world better. She didn't really believe that her summer job had somehow morphed into her and Jane living in the Avengers Tower, sciencing and interning the nights away and learning how to make blintzes from Natasha goddamn Romanov by day, but what the hell, Darcy wasn't complaining. She somehow had two and a half scientists to wrangle instead of one (Tony was the other one and a half; Dr. Banner took care of himself, beyond nodding greetings in the morning and nodding thanks if she brought food.) But on the plus side, she didn't have to drive for half an hour to find a laundromat, there was always food around that wasn't pop tarts even if she'd been too busy Jane-sitting to shop, and she was constantly surrounded by really gorgeous people. It beat Culver all to hell.
She was both surprised and relieved to discover that the Tower was quiet as often as it was rowdy. Because while Darcy was not shy, she did like her space and her downtime. New Mexico would have driven her nuts otherwise. Before she and Jane had moved in, she'd somehow thought of the Avengers as all being like Thor, all boom and enthusiasm, or like Tony Stark, who had to have all your attention, right now, unless he was actively working on something, in which case he let his metalhead music do the attention-grabbing for him. She still wondered how Pepper had ever gotten enough Words in edgewise for him to recognize her. But the other four Avengers were actually pretty soft-spoken, most of the time, and when Darcy encountered them, they were chilling out on the common floors – reading, in Dr. Banner's and Cap's case, or cooking, or doing yoga stretches. There was breathing room here, enough that Darcy didn't miss the sky over New Mexico as much as she was afraid she would, and there was always something interesting going on. Darcy filed papers full of Science, made sure Jane ate and slept and that Thor didn't try to romance her in the middle of a breakthrough, triaged inboxes, wrote the occasional press release, explained to Cap that you Never Read the Comments, told Tony to shut up and listen (“don't make me summon the duct tape drone”) ... and when it all got to be too much she could just go hide in her room and watch Jane Austen adaptations. She definitely felt like she was helping to make the world better. And if she wanted something, she could go for it. (“We are not watching Things that go Boom Part Seven on the heavy day of my period. JARVIS, cue up Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. You'll like this one, Steve, it's got musical numbers and cute kids in it.”) The worst that would happen was someone would say no. Or, you know, attacks by giant mutant sewer rats in mind-control helmets, but still.
She liked the Avengers. Thor was... Thor. Tony was fucking hilarious. Steve was a sweetheart who would always step in when Darcy asked, “Hey, dude, could you come over here and be tall for me for a sec?” Natasha never, ever spent any time on bullshit but did have the patience to teach Darcy how to kidnap-proof herself. Nat's soulmate Clint had this dry wit, and he took more than his fair share of the cleaning chores. Dr. Banner almost never talked at all, but he was the only person in the Tower who would play Scrabble almost any time Darcy brought the board out, and once when it was her and him and Steve and Tony playing, she'd bluffed with “lamintable” and Banner had raised his eyebrows at her but said nothing, which had let her beat Tony out by fifteen points, which meant Empire of the Sun instead of Pulp Fiction on movie night. (She and Steve had cried on each other.) And if most of the time all six Avengers ignored her because there was really important Saving the World to be done, that was only fair. They still trusted Darcy, and she tried to earn that trust. She learned the safety drills and stayed out of the way when she couldn't help. She only got in the way of a fight once, and that totally didn't count because she'd been at MOMA on her own time and it just happened that someone had used an ancient artifact in their collage sculpture and it anyway it had been Reed Richards that activated it, so there. Darcy tased two very small eldrich abominations and got out as soon as she could, and when she saw giant silver bats with horns she backed up and ran the other way. That had ended up being her first time meeting the Hulk (she tripped over him when she was backing away from the bats), and it had been kind of an anticlimax, to be honest, but that was OK. If she was the Annoying Kid Sister to the Avengers, well, that was better than most people got, and don't fucking judge her.
Tony wouldn't get it if she told him, not that he would listen, but Darcy didn't actually like parties all that much. Dancing, yes. She adored dancing. Dancing let you focus on a beat and a tune and your own body and shut out all the chaos around you. Total flow state. Like a Science bender, but healthy. Booze was totally awesome, for removing bullshit layers:booze-assisted Real Deep Girl Talk followed by silliness was even better. But actual Stark parties, where you couldn't hear a damn thing and everything was glittery and crowded, no. No. That was like, chocolate-coated deep fried twinkies with marshmallow sauce levels of too much. Darcy needed space, dammit. Space other than the balcony where all the smokers were huddled. As soon as the DJ ended the set, she started using her excellent slithering skills to ooze her way around clusters of people talking, find a door, and start looking for someplace to chill. This was a big damn hotel. There had to be somewhere. Like, a lame-ass little courtyard with a fountain or something. She should have asked Clint. Or Nat. The hall closest to the bathrooms was noisy. The hall closest to the kitchens was noisy. A burly guy who was probably SHIELD stopped her when she tried to go down one of the halls that led to rooms where decent rich corporate assholes were sleeping. The last door led to the front lobby, which wasn't exactly quiet – the party had metastasized – but it was quieter than the ballroom, and there was a concierge there who told her where to find the chapel. A chapel. Fancy hotels had actual chapels. Who knew? This one turned out to have prickly plush armchairs, a lectern stocked with boxes of kleenex, a very abstract picture of a dove on one wall, and a lame-ass little fountain in an alcove. Dr. Banner was standing by it, his hands clasped behind him and head bowed. He'd draped his jacket over the back of a chair. Not wanting to disturb him, Darcy plopped into another chair, kicked off her shoes, and bent down over her own knees, resting her head in her hands and breathing.
After a few minutes, she heard footsteps behind her, and then a hand landed on the back of her neck, tentatively, and began to rub. His hands were softer than hers, honestly – all that lab work, and Darcy had her Don't Get Killed training to leave calluses on her hands. Darcy made an appreciative whimper, and sat up, rolling her shoulders a little. Dr. Banner smiled at her rather sadly, did something expressive with his eyebrows, and then sat down beside her. He set his hand back in his lap.
“Y'know,” Darcy said, thoughtfully, “We've been working together for like a year – sharing the same goddam living room, even, and kicked each other's butts in Scrabble, but I don't think we've ever actually talked.”
He blinked at her, twice, and stared with his mouth a little open. He looked... scared. Then he took a deep breath and let it out, slowly and a little shakily. He looked down a moment, and then looked her straight in the eye. “After the first two weeks I was afraid of jinxing it,” he said, and now it was Darcy's turn to stare and gulp.
“Oh,” she said. “Wow.” She'd kind of imagined her Soulmate's first Words to her would have been at a press conference, or something like that. It sounded like the kind of flippant thing Tony would just spout off to deflect a probing question. She'd never pictured anything this... this quiet. She thought a while longer, remembering her own words, the one's he'd carried with him. He'd waited for her to speak first. He'd waited a fucking year to talk to her. It was like something out of a goddamn fairy tale. "The Six Swans, maybe". Or "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Why was it always the girls who had to take vows of silence in fairy tales anyway? Stupid fucking misogynist Grimm brothers.
“I was pretty sure I recognized the handwriting,” he said, “and it wouldn't surprise me if maybe Nat guessed what was going on and tried to help. And now... here we are.” He blinked again.
“That... that sounds hard,” Darcy said, dazed, “waiting like that.”
Her soulmate shrugged. “Worth it.”
“Oh my gawd!” Darcy burst into tears and let herself collapse on Dr – on Bruce's chest, flinging an arm around his neck and bawling like a baby. “I don't – I'm – I'm not – people don't do shit like that for me. I mean, never. I worked my way through college, I signed every goddam petition ever because I never got anything I didn't fight for, I'm friggin' support staff. I do things for people, and if I need something I- and you just... a whole goddamn year! Wow. Ohmigod. Sorry.” She levered herself up a little, but she kept her arms around Bruce's neck, and smiled at him. His eyes looked huge and damp in the dim light of the stupid lame-ass hotel chapel. He had his arms around her, too. “Wow.” She grinned. “I totally ended up with my very own black knight warrior monk guy. Wow.”
“Wow,” he echoed, and started rubbing her neck again.
Darcy leaned her forehead against his shoulder. And then because her brain would not shut up and she'd had maybe a little bit too much to drink and because she'd just found her soulmate and it was Bruce so even her last few inhibitions had gone out the window, she said, “Only I wonder what that means about you and The Other Guy, because he's already talked to me. I mean, he just looked at me and said, “OK,” but still... and, I mean that's weird because, like, people who genuinely have more than one soulmate just have more than one set of words, but... Or maybe he wasn't even talking to me so it didn't count. I was the only one there, though, and oh, my Thor, you look like I just kicked your puppy. I just found my soulmate and I'm hurting him already and I'm such a terrible person.”
Bruce shook his head and kept rubbing her neck, but his frown stopped looking hurt and turned into something more abstract and Sciencey. “Can I see your Words?” he asked.
“Um, sure, but they're like – it's like I was born with a tramp stamp so... but I mean, this is a Tony party, so there's probably worse going on right now, and my dress has sleeves so if you wanted to just... sure. Go ahead. Oh, and there's like a sort of rash thing around them, but it's not actually a rash it's more like a port wine stain, so... don't be grossed out? You patch up Avengers; you won't be grossed out.”
Bruce (Bruce! Her soulmate! And Scrabble buddy! Bruce!) laughed a little, helped her to her feet, and spun her around so her back was to the little fountain alcove, and then Darcy felt cool air on her back, and then light fingers on her skin, and then a huff of warm air as Bruce laughed, very softly. And then the zipper made its way back up, and the hands were lifting her hair out of the way. “Well,” he said, “Whaddaya know. Come sit.” And he guided Darcy back over to their same chairs. She almost tripped over her forgotten shoes. Bruce pulled her in until she was leaning against him, put an arm around her shoulders, put his other hand in both of hers. “We tend to forget about it here in the West,” he said, “But soulmarks are different for illiterate people. Sometimes it'll be a picture of something, or a symbol... the mystics and the shamen do a lot of the interpreting... I saw a lot of that in India, while I was there.”
“And Hulk doesn't write!” Darcy breathed, light dawning.
“Did he... touch you? That time?”
“I pretty much stumbled backwards into his hand, and he sort of stopped and made sure I had my balance, and then he said, “OK,” and vaulted off the roof and tackled a giant bat. But why do you ask?”
“Because that rash thing around your Words looked like a fingerprint to me. A very large one. I'll get a picture of it and have JARVIS analyze the pattern, but I bet it turns out to be one of mine.”
“Oh...” And that was, somehow, perfect too. The Other Guy wasn't a separate issue. He was her guy, just like Bruce was. “That's... goddammit, Bruce, I'm going to start crying again.”
“I'd ransack the kleenex stash over there but then I'd have to let go of you.” He did stop squeezing her shoulder, but only so that he could wind his fingers through her hair, stroking her scalp behind her ear. Darcy wanted to purr. “Wanna see if the concierge has a Scrabble set we can borrow?”
“Really don't want a table between us right now.”
“....I can work with that.”