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saw things clearer, once you were in my rear view mirror

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It’s not that Tony doesn’t know who she is. He does. He’s been introduced to her on at least three separate occasions and he’s certain that they have exchanged emails in regards to Dr. Foster’s work. It’s just that he’s busy. Busy with his life going up in flames even more than it used to be. Busy with the fact that everything in the universe that is bad or wrong seems to be his fault these days. Busy with begging his brain to stop thinking long enough to let him sleep or relax without turning to drugs or hitting the bottle heavier than he ever had before. Busy helping Rhodey learn to walk again. Busy recovering from fucking almost being killed and left for dead in Siberia.

Busy pretending that the Avengers weren’t hiding out in Wakanda with Captain America.

So when Jane Foster ends up in Pepper’s office after her breakup with Thor with an offer from Stark Industries to join their science team, Tony doesn’t involve himself in the hiring process. The company is Pepper’s now and dealing with Jane’s own brand of princely space alien romantic drama is too much for him to handle. But it does tie her to the Avengers, as fractured and non-existent as they are now, and that’s how Jane, Eric and Darcy end up at the compound with Vision, Rhodey and Tony.

Doctor Foster is very good at her theories and forcing those theories into working fact, but she’s not very good at working with others, balancing her budget, or playing nice with government officials that come through demanding to have a say in her work. She doesn’t trust Tony with her research, and honestly Tony’s kinda done trying to trust people too. Or at least he wishes he was, because it hurts the first time the tiny little astronomer pushes him away from her notes. Foster is just about to give him a piece of her mind, when her assistant comes haphazardly into the room. Lewis is clutching two coffee cups in her hands and a stuffed folder of probably more research notes under one arm. She passes her security card over the reader with her teeth. Her eyes go wide as she takes in the sight of Jane and Tony in the same room.

She sets her coffee down on her desk (neater but not obsessively so compared to Jane’s) and pushes the other coffee into Jane’s hand, doing the same with the folder of notes.

“Hope you’re playing nice, boss lady.”

Tony stares at the way Darcy maneuvers Jane back to work and sounds more bitter than joking when he blurts out, “she’s not. She won’t let me read her notes.” Instantly his brain points out to him how petty and childish he sounds, and he braces for the coming remarks that will make that clear to him like people normally do, but Darcy doesn’t seem to take it that way.

“Sorry about that Mr. Stark, Janey here has trust issues. Mostly in the shape of S.H. I.E.L.D.R.A But, I can compile a copy of everything for you by this afternoon?” She’s shuffling her feet and playing with the chunky knit scarf around her neck, and she looks as awkward as Tony thinks he feels right now.

Jane’s already wandered back to what ever she had been working on before now that she has backup in the room.

“Nah, don’t stress about it, Lewis. I’ll get out of your way.”

She blinks confusedly behind her glasses at him.

“It is Lewis, right?” Tony swears that’s what she had been introduced as.

She looks even more confused. “Yep, Darcy Lewis.”

“Right, well, enjoy your science.”

He flees to his lab and buries himself in his suits, DUM-E, U, Butterfingers, and FRIDAY still the best company he can ever hope for. He’s got classic rock playlist pounding through the speakers and a new, stronger breast plate being designed when FRIDAY lowers the volume of his music to speak to him.

“Sir, Miss Lewis is outside, she’d like to drop off Doctor Foster’s research notes for you. Would you like me to grant her access?”

FRIDAY’s voice is calm, and she doesn’t seem concerned with the situation.

Tony trades the breast plate for a gauntlet instead. He doesn’t think about why he hides it out of sight.

“Yeah, send her on in FRIDAY.”

Lewis approaches, hands full of binders, looking around his lab in awe and smiling at his robots.

“Sorry this took longer than I thought they would to compile, but FRIDAY said you were still up working so I’d thought I’d drop them off. Digital copies will be ready by the end of the week.”
She holds the binders out to him.

Tony stares at them inches from his hands, he’s tired, but then that’s nothing new these days, but he glances at his watch and it’s pushing eleven o’clock at night. Much later than the afternoon Lewis had promised earlier in the day.

“Sir doesn’t like to be handed things.”

“Oh, my bad.” Darcy rolls with Friday’s statement, looking for a corner of his work bench that’s not covered in bits and pieces of Iron Man armor parts. She’s successful and drops the binders in place.

“Sorry again that they took so long, Mr. Stark. Have a good night.”

He means to respond, to tell her to stop calling him fucking Mr. Stark, that his name’s Tony, or even to say thanks for dropping it off, but she’s out the door, with a wave goodbye to his bots, before he can respond. He falls asleep maybe three hours later in in the curve of the updated breast plate he’d pulled out again to work on.

***-***

He’s barely been at the compound in the last few weeks. It’s been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, arguing about the accords, ignoring the phone and stupid letter that came in the mail, seeing Peter Parker, and meeting a very interesting man by the name Stephen Strange.

It’s 2 AM in the morning, he’s hit a standstill with his work, but sleep won’t come anytime soon.

It’s getting colder outside, fall in full swing now and he’s not keen on spending time in the cold these days. He can add snow and cold to the ever-growing list of things that could potentially push him over the edge into a panic attack.

So he wanders around the climate controlled compound instead. For the first time ever, while he’s been in town at least, he walks past the mini-movie theater and hears the muffled sounds of a movie playing behind the closed doors.

Friday soundless opens the door for him and pauses the movie playing at the same time. Tony sees Darcy Lewis’s head pop up above one of the big lounge chairs, she’s tense until she processes who is standing in the doorway and he can physically see her shoulders lower and relax slightly.

“Whatcha watching?” His voice sounds too loud to his own ears.

“Sahara. Best movie ever. Fight me.”

“You’re wrong. The best movie ever is Rock of Ages.” Tony argues back. Secure in the knowledge that out of two rather average, possibly even bad movies, his choice is much better.

“I mean, considering that’s the only movie I vaguely like Tom Cruise in, I’ll allow it as a close second.”

She’s laughing at him.

“Gotta love a movie that takes some of the best music ever and makes It mediocre.” Darcy continues, smiling and turning back to face the screen as Tony starts walking to one of the seats next to her. “Did you know that you can’t download the soundtrack on Amazon? I tried, and buying the CD? 24 bucks, used. Way out of my price range.”

Tony’s brain is still trying to wrap around the fact that 24 dollars is apparently a lot of money when his mouth asks if he can join her.

Darcy shrugs, waving a hand at all the empty seats.

“If you can find room, it’s awfully crowded tonight.”

Her answer startles a laugh out of him, and she smiles at him as he flops down into the seat.

“I’m even willing to let Friday pick what we watch so it’s fair. But only because you clearly aren’t ready for the awesomeness that is Sahara yet.”

Friday cues up Netflix’s The Dirt and Tony covers his face with his hands and groans, but he’s smiling.

Lewis is laughing again but then she starts narrating along, “The 1980’s. The worst fucking decade in human history….”

“Wait you’ve seen this enough times to know the words. Also, there is no way you were even alive during the 80’s.”

“Dude it’s about Mötley Crüe. Of course I’ve seen it. And it sounds like you have too, so…”

Any of the politeness and standoff-ness of the lab gone from Darcy’s tone. 2 AM and insomnia the great equalizers.

Tony decides not to argue about her youth or excellent taste in music, now captivated by the fact that Darcy had pulled into her lap a half finished scarf and a crochet hook. She raised an eyebrow at his stare, just daring him to say something.

“That’s cool.” He says, peering closer.

“Thanks.” She doesn’t quite sound like she believes Tony. But he wasn’t in the habit of handing out compliments for things he didn’t like.

“I’m bad at just relaxing I always gotta mess with something.” Darcy continues.

“Yeah,” he huffs a bitter laugh. “I get that all too well.”

***-***

He wakes up the next late morning, still in the theater. A spare blanket from one of the rooms thrown over him and DUM-E chirping at the screen where Bob Ross was painting happy little trees.

It’s the best few hours of sleep he’s had in months.

“Good morning Sir. Miss Lewis provided you with the blanket before going to bed a few hours ago.”

“Uhhuh.” He needed coffee. He wanted to go back to sleep.

Friday was learning quick because she noticed how he burrowed back under the blanket a bit more.

“You have very few items on your schedule today, Sir. None of which are pressing. I could reschedule them for you.”

“Perfect.”

Tony’s asleep within minutes.

***-***

King T’Challa sounds slightly annoyed on the phone. It turns out playing host for the people formerly known as the Avengers isn’t as fun as fanfiction and TMZ late night ‘news’ stories claimed. Tony feels the king’s pain but has never been more happy for them not to be his fucking problem for once. He’s actually smiling as he listens to T’Challa vent about Roger’s inability to listen to other people. It turns out James Barnes wants to go back on the ice, but Roger’s is not down with that plan.

“Well if you need back up, I’m sure Iron Man could make an appearance, provided I’m backing up your army of badass women.”

“No more solo appearances near the captain?” T’Challa’s voice is friendly and Tony hopes their calls to each other stay like this.

“I’d say over my dead body, but since that’s close to what happened, I’m gonna play it safe from now on.”

“That is fair. I am sure that some of the Dora Milage will be more than pleased to head in first. They do not seem to like him much.” The King pauses and there are muffled voices near him. “I’m afraid there are other things I must attend to now Dr. Stark. I will see you at the next United Nations meeting.”

Their polite goodbyes last a few more minutes, neither in a rush to hang up.

***-***
It’s about a week out from Thanksgiving and the Compound is quieter than normal. Rhodey off with family, Jane and Eric back to Europe, and it’s just Darcy and Vision staying in the building.
He had offered to fly Darcy out with her two co-workers, but she had muttered something about Jane’s mom’s tiny ass flat, and ‘never again’, and needing a break from people and so Tony decided to take her at her word that she was more than happy to stay behind.

He beats her to the theater that evening, still early enough to be called evening. When she shows up halfway through Mary J. Blige belting out lyrics to ‘Harden My Heart’, Darcy looks surprised to see him. He’s starting to get the impression that she’s a common visitor to this place.

“Will it drive you crazy if we restart the movie?” she asks, taking over the chair next to him. New crochet project in hand.

“Friday?”

“You got it boss.”

“Thanks Friday.” Darcy chimes in.

It turns out Rock of Ages is actually one of Darcy’s favorite movies, and she’s got a long list of modern-ish rock opera cult movies that Tony’s now half scared/half tempted to watch based on her descriptions.

Rock of Ages ends and Friday picks School of Rock next. Tony (prepared with his own blanket and snacks this time) finds himself relaxing, he also finds himself studying Darcy under the cover of the dark of the room and the blankets he’s burrowed in. She looks exhausted, and she’s wearing clothing with solely comfort in mind. Pepto-bismol pink sweatpants wearing thin in places and novelty T-shit from what looks like a roadside attraction or possibly a shitty bar. He’s not sure but it’s got a tacky looking cartoon fish on it. She’s got fuzzy lime green and orange mismatched socks on.

Tony doesn’t think he’s ever been alone with an attractive woman so hideously dressed before.

School of Rock rolls credits and Friday blasts the lights on when the AI sees it’s clear that both Tony and Darcy are still wide awake.

Both occupants stretch, working out the kinks brought on by almost six straight hours of watching movies.

The easy comradery between them fades a little as they both stand. Tony doesn’t want it to end. It was nice.

“You heading to bed?”

“I wish.” She even sounds exhausted, but Tony is well aware that insomnia often doesn’t give a fuck about the fact you want to sleep.

“Wanna play around with the new gauntlets I’m designing for the suit? See if the blasters are calibrated right?”

She freezes, crochet project hallway back in her bag.

“For real?”

Tony rubs the back of his neck and doesn’t meet her eyes.

“Yeah, if you want to? It’s a design for a rescue suit mostly, Nano tech mixed with armor. I need to see if it can conform to different body shapes anyway. You’d be doing me a favor really.”

It’s not just a friendly offer. He does need to test it on other people. He also wants to spend more time with someone who doesn’t actively hate him or have a shit-ton of baggage related to him.

“Fuck yeah.”