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Foreign Teas and Too Much Information (that isn't the right information)

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Darcy isn't sure she's happy about the way her life is currently shaped, but she was still trying to figure out how to take on the entirety of SHIELD to fix it. It really wasn't her fault that she didn't have enough science under her belt to actually be useful once Jane had other doctorate holding flunkies available to her and it wasn't her fault that participating in an internship opened up a can of worms she couldn't close and SHIELD couldn't let her out of their sights for fear of her talking about said worms from a can. Which left her managing the one and only SHIELD owned coffee shop.

Don't get her wrong it was a pretty sweet gig, for a supposedly top-secret agency tongues wagged ridiculously in her little abode, and it was a bazillion times better than what they had her doing before a good chunk of New York City needed to be repaired after the alien attack. Her first SHIELD sanctioned positions had all involved enormous amounts of paperwork and minimal amounts of technological contact. It was like Coulson actually thought she was stupid enough to talk about Asgard on Facebook.

So the coffee shop was definitely the available option at the moment, but she couldn't help but wish sometimes in between whipped creamed squirts and burning her fingers countless times, that she was actually putting her hard earned college credits to use. Sure, she had switched majors too many times to actually have a degree, but she had way too many classes with shiny As next to them not to be considered educated. Therefore, she came up with a brilliant plan to discover or do something that would give her leverage or ability in SHIELD's point of view so she could get bumped up to something that wasn't filling cups with steaming liquids all day.

She put her excellent observational skills to use, the same ones that made her the first human to spot the Rainbow Bridge, and she learned. She picked up pieces of conversation here and there and slowly surely put them together building a huge map in her mind (she wasn't stupid enough to write any of it down). Within six months of forming her plan, Darcy realized she had a pretty damn good look at all of SHIELD's current major business just by listening to people talk and her place as manager of the coffee shop didn't seem so pointless anymore.

If she was being totally honest with herself another reason for her contentment was her ridiculous crush on one of her regular customers. Ridiculous not because of the fact that she had it (Darcy'd been a girl her whole life; she knew crushes were inevitable) but because he was definitely older than Jane, possibly even more science-y than Jane judging by the state of his clothing and the kind of manic scientist vibe he had all the time, and they hadn't discussed anything other than the pros and cons of various foreign teas when he came in to order. She didn't even know his name because he never came in when it was so busy they were writing names on cups and he always without fail paid in cash. She found it more than a little frustrating and wanted to kiss the quirky half smile he always had on his face probably more than was healthy by anyone estimation.

What she needed was a date. A real honest to God date with someone not over a decade or more older than her that would stare at her breasts and try to worm his (or her, at this point Darcy wasn't picky) way up to Darcy's apartment over the coffee shop. A real date would help her forget all about Doc Mystery (she really needed to know his name) and be able to serve him his tea without wanting to climb over the counter and thread her fingers in his fluffy looking uncombed hair.

At least, Darcy thought what she needed was a date until said date started out horrible and turned into running straight for a national crisis.

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The date started out just fine. Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration. It started out like the majority of Darcy's dates ever had, which is to say she repeated everything she said at least three times to get her date's attention away from her rack to what she was actually saying. He was nice enough, she supposed once his gaze was where it should be. Granted, he didn't call her Miss Lewis like Coulson did, didn't make her laugh like Tony did on his frequent coffee stop ins, didn't make her feel like she was the best woman in the room like she did when that fantastic blond hunk ordered his black triple strong coffee, and most importantly didn't make her stomach flutter, her heart rate pick up, and her brain short circuit like Doc Mystery did just by walking in the door, but he had offered to pay for dinner, which still made him a cut above forty-five percent of the other people she had dated.

It occurred to her over the appetizer that Justin, despite going on and on about his hipster art-y degree program and genuinely seeming like a hardworking guy, would never meet her expectations. Undoubtedly, they had become more than a little unrealistic. Spending all of her time with SHIELD agents gave a girl standards that everyday men just couldn't compare to, and now she was ruined forever. She'd never be able to look at a man that couldn't science circles around her, fight off an alien, or bench press a car again. It probably that e wasn't fair to Justin at all that everything he said went in one ear and out the other in favor of her thinking about which foreign tea blends she hadn't ordered yet to surprised Doc Mystery yet. He probably thought she was as bad a date as she thought he was.

She was just about to interrupt his rant about the price of art supplies and offer to pay for part of her meal when the explosions started.

Luckily, as the SHIELD coffee house manager Darcy had been put through every single available training course on civilian and agent evacuation SHIELD had in their repertoire of training courses. First, she uses her best Fury impression to corral everyone towards the back of the restaurant, banking on the hope that the back streets aren't being attacked as heavily as the front. She told herself she wasn't disappointed that it was ridiculously easy to send Justin along with them. He didn't even pause when he looked back and saw her staying behind. She was about to ditch him anyway, so it didn't matter in the face of robots that were electrocuting and bombing anything they could get to.

She slung her purse (containing her SHIELD strength street illegal taser and ridiculously stocked first aid kit) over her shoulder and headed for the front doors of the small restaurant. Her heart clenched when she saw just how many civilians were still on the streets. It was far too easy for her to remember that panic, the terror of watching everything crumble around you and having no fucking idea what's going on. She grabbed as many people as she could off the street and sent them through the back of the restaurant. Anything to get them off the streets. She screamed the restaurant's name at people as she moved further towards the center of the damage.

It was long before she began catching glimpses of SHIELD issue planes and the bright burners of Iron Man's suit. She figured it was a sign of impending insanity when her face stretched into a grin at the sight of a skyscraper lighting up like a Christmas tree with Thor at the top of it. The smile didn't last long though, because a scream sounded a from a few wrecked cars in front of her. Darcy hurried her way there and felt her heart stop at the sight of a heavily pregnant women whose ankle was pinned beneath a piece of debris.

Darcy made her way to the woman and dropped down beside her. The unidentifiable hunk of metal was to large for Darcy to even attempt lifting for fear of making the injury worse. She wouldn't be able to get it high enough to remove it entirely from the woman's leg, so instead, she took the woman's hand.

"Hey, I'm Darcy. Just do me one favor and tell me you're not having contractions."

The pregnant lady's grip on her hand was tight enough Darcy feared for her fingers, but she didn't protest.

"I'm Alice, and I had one a few minutes ago, but only that one so far. Shouldn't you be getting out here? You were headed in the wrong direction."

Darcy had to lean close to hear her over the noise of the battle and the strain in Alice's voice.

"Nah, it's fine. I'm kind of trained for stuff like this? Not like medically or fighting-ly or anything, but evacuations, guarding against panic attacks, stuff like that."

Alice nodded and somehow her grip on Darcy's hand got even tighter.

"Do you think-- Will anyone come looking for us?'

Darcy considered the truth verses sugar coated lies and glanced down at Alice's injured leg. She probably needed to see if she could stop the bleeding and bind it somehow.

"Yeah, I think they will. It might take a long time, but once....once things have died down a bit and I'm sure I'll be able to get through I can call someone to come and get us. For now though, I need my hand back for just a moment. I'm going to try and clean up your leg some. Losing blood isn't good for you or the baby I'm sure."

With a pained grimace Alice let go of the death grip she had on Darcy's hand and she got to work pulling her first aide kit out of her bag. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot she could do with the metal still resting on it. It would take far more bandages than her small kit had to be able to bandage all around it and stem the bleeding that way. Darcy wasn't even sure if she tried to clean it that the wound would be what she was cleaning. She couldn't see anything for the dust and blood on Alice's leg.

A roar sounded somewhere ahead of them followed by an explosion and an enormous green figure flying through the air. The Hulk, Darcy recognized him from the news footage after the first New York attack. He was strong she realized dimly. Super strong, and much easier to find when you weren't patched in to SHIELD or Avengers communications than any of the other heavy lifters on the team. It could be hours before rescue personnel got to Alice, and even though Darcy wasn't an actual medic she doubted Alice and her baby would be safe under this kind of stress for that long. Their best bet would be getting the Hulk's attention and getting him to move the piece of debris so she could help evacuate Alice.

"Darcy?"

Alice's worried voice brought Darcy back from her plotting place.

"Yeah, I'm here. Okay, Alice, I can't do anything about your leg the way it's pinned right now, so I'm going to leave my taser with you in case someone not so friendly comes along and go find someone that can get you unpinned so we can take care of you and your baby."

Before Darcy could stand back up Alice's hand was death gripping her wrist.

"What about you? You can't go out there without anything--You shouldn't be going out there at all."

Darcy bit her lip and gently pried Alice's hand off of her, shoving the taser in her wrist's place.

"I'm pretty sure you're in shock, and that's not good. You're also losing blood, so I think getting help is our best option right now. Besides, I can still run. You're basically a sitting duck. You didn't even manage to get pinned behind something that would provide you with cover. It sucks majorly, but we can totally get out of this. I just need to go now. The sooner I can find someone and get back the better for you and the squirt."

Darcy could see Alice swallow, but finally the other woman nodded.

"Okay. Good luck."

"Thanks, you too. I'll be right back."

Darcy shoved herself to her feet, thanking god she hadn't tried to impress Justin too much and had left her heels at home in favor of her more comfortable shoes. With a deep breath she started jogging in the direction she had seen the Hulk jumping in.

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Bruce clutched his head and pulled himself up out of the indention in the street made by the Other Guy's feet. At least this time he wasn't naked. Reed Richard's special polymer suit seemed to work just as well for green rage monsters as it did for rubber men. He brushed his hand through his hair shaking some of the plaster out of it and began to gingerly sort through that day's events. He'd been in the R&D lab arguing over which projects needed to be finished before the Tower was temporarily shut off to switch from the prototype arc reactor to the final one with Tony when the call came through. They suited up and he had jumped from the landing pad towards the carnage. After that the Other Guy had taken over in earnest and everything got a lot less clear, but he was grateful he was getting better at determining whether or not he had hurt anyone he shouldn't have.

"Hey! Doc Mystery!"

He turned towards the sound of the woman's voice and frowned. It was the server from the little tea place across from the tower. The only place he'd found in New York that carried all of his favorite foreign teas in one spot. What was she doing here? He watched her slip scrambling over a particularly large piece of debris, it might have once been a car, and held out his hand for her to grab onto. She did with the flash of a grin.

"You have no clue how glad I am to run into someone else from work. Have you seen the Hulk? Or any other Avenger or SHIELD employee that can lift heavy things? I really need some help, ASAP."

Bruce raised and incredulous eyebrow at her.

"You're making a joke, right?"

If she really did work with SHIELD, (and now the presence of all the teas he liked in one place made sense) then she had to know what he was. He watched her draw herself up to her full height, not very tall compared to him, and tiny compared to the Other Guy who was starting to make himself a little more known in the back of his mind. She stepped up on a rock to make her eyes level with his and poked him in the chest to his growing surprise and amusement.

"No I am not making a joke! I don't care if you are my favorite and most handsome customer, you're delaying my rescue mission! There is a pregnant lady with a piece of metal pinning her leg and she's bleeding and her baby needs that blood so if you haven't seen the big green guy flying around tell me so I can keep looking and get out of my way!"

Her rant froze his amusement like a bucket of ice. How had a pregnant woman been missed in the evacuation and what had Doris? Darla? been doing to find her in the first place? Even the Other Guy was paying attention. Bruce didn't know whether it was Betty's influence from the past or because Tony was right and the Hulk was still a caring sort of guy when no one was pointing guns at him, but either way the Hulk disliked the thought of a woman in trouble as much as Bruce did.

Quickly, Bruce searched the skies, lamenting that they hadn't yet been able to create a comm device that could survive his transformations and didn't annoy the hell out of the Hulk while he was in control. It would have been much simpler to send Tony or Steve to help. A frustrated noise came from the woman in front of him and she stepped off her height giving piece beginning to walk away.

"No-wait, Darla, I'm sorry."

She glared at him.

"It's Darcy."

"Right, Darcy, sorry again. I'm horrible with names. Where is the woman?"

She rattled off directions and the names of the blocks like it had been nothing but a mantra in her mind and Bruce ran a hand through his hair. The Other Guy could get there in seconds, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to calm down enough to actually tend to her wounds, or not scare the shit out of the poor woman and make everything worse. Darcy. The Hulk grunted from the back of his mind and Bruce resigned himself to it. They'd have to take her with him.

"Okay. I need you to not freak out. This will get so much worse if you freak out. He really...hates that. Don't scream. Especially don't scream."

Darcy opened her mouth and he could practically see the questions on her tongue, but it was too late for him to answer them. The Other Guy was impatient and there were lives on the line. Bruce could feel the familiar ache of growing the loss of control the heightened sense of everything. He hadn't been lying to Tony when he said he was like a nerve.

The last things he could really determine were that she hadn't screamed, and she was even softer than Betty had been in his arms.

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Darcy didn't scream. It was a very close call, she could admit privately, but more because apart from watching Sif kick ass and take names better than the Warriors Three watching her scruffy scientist turn into the Hulk was the most awesome thing ever. Screw Jor or Thane or whatever the hell Tony had called Jane and Thor, Darcy had a crush on the Hulk and she hadn't even known. Obviously, she won. She picked her hero without knowing he was a hero. Well, picked her hero crush. She'd work on that 'Her hero' thing. It did explain why he was so rude while she had an emergency going on. He thought she'd been making fun of him. Like she would ever be so mean, okay maybe a little fun poking, but not like that. Her asking where the Hulk is isn't funny. Because he obviously had a lot of things on his mind she'd forgive him for messing up her name. She still didn't know his, after all.

It was amazing, she thought how much her mind could ramble in the space it took for Doc Mystery to more than quintuple in size and reach one bookshelf sized arm under her to scoop her up. It was a pretty novel experience for her, being lifted like she was nothing more than cabbage patch doll. No one had tried to carry her in a couple of years since some idiot from a fraternity had pulled some muscles trying when she'd gone on a group date with him. Not that Darcy, thought herself fat, but she knew she was a curvy, voluptuous (if she was feeling her old SAT words) woman. The green guy made it seem effortless, though. She was jolted out of her thoughts by what she was pretty sure was a question from him.

"Which way?"

At least, she was pretty sure that's what the grunting inquiry was. Considering he nodded and launched in the right direction to get to Alice when she rattled of the blocks she had jogged past she figured she had gotten it right. Only, launched really did mean launched. Darcy thanked God and whoever else might be listening to her for having grown out of her childhood motion sickness when she was in high school. It was like a piggy-back roller coaster, but she was in the crook of his elbow, not on his back, and there were no safety restraints or handholds for her to take advantage of. Not to mention, she could feel every bunch and release of his muscles and the energy coursing through them as he moved. She needed something to focus on besides the way the windows of buildings rushed past her face, so she fixed her eyes on the Hulk's face.

For some reason, she hadn't expected him to look as much like her mystery doctor as he did. She'd never seen a good picture of the Hulk's face on the internet; there just wasn't a good one to be found. They were all blurry, or too far away. (Darcy also suspected the government and/or SHIELD had something to do with that.) Sure, the doc wasn't green normally, and his teeth didn't look like they might double for baby's headstones (and wasn't that a terrifying thought), but he was still there under the scruff on the Hulk's cheeks that, for some reason, Darcy hadn't expected the green guy to have. His nose was the same shape, as were his eyes even if everything was bigger and different color, but really, she thought as she studied him from her close position in his arm, He's the same guy. She'd have to think about that later.

They thumped down to the ground about a third of a block away from Alice, and Darcy was smart enough to realize the Hulk had done it on purpose not to shake up Alice's position, scare or hurt her worse by landing too close. Darcy wasn't even surprised when he lowered her to the ground gently. She patted his forearm trying not to stare at how small her hand was in relation to it.

"Thanks, big guy. Let's approach really slow so I can introduce you and we don't terrify the pregnant lady."

She took his hot huff of breath across the top of her head as agreement and started forward.

"Alice? Alice, can you hear me? It's Darcy. I brought back a friend to get the metal off your leg, but you need to trust me and promise me you won't scream. He doesn't like that."

Darcy felt the sweeping movement of one of the Hulk's arms behind her and looked over her shoulder in time to see him tug on his ear.

"Hurts."

She winced for him.

"Yeah I imagine it--"

"Darcy! And---" Darcy felt a little bad about the way Alice's voice wavered and somehow her already pale skin went even whiter underneath the dirt when she saw who exactly came to rescue her, but the mom-to-be didn't scream, her voice actually turned to a whisper, so Darcy figured it would be okay. "--the Hulk."

She grinned sheepishly, at Alice and nodded.

"He was the easiest to find. Now, I'm going to ask him to lift that piece of metal off your leg in a minute and bandage you as best I can. Are you ready for that?"

Alice snorted.

"As ready as I'm going to be."

Unable to counter that, Darcy just nodded and turned to find the Hulk already poised to move the metal. Quickly, she dropped to her knees and readied the supplies she had to apply pressure to the wound, hopefully enough that she would then be able to clean it a little. There was still no telling how long it would be until emergency services made it to them.

"Alright, Hulk. On three, one, two, three."

He lifted and as much as Darcy wanted to watch him ball of the metal and toss it aside like a scrap piece of paper she ignored him temporarily in favor of patching up Alice's leg. She managed to wipe enough of the blood away to be able to see that the wound was actually much smaller than she had believed. It was still nasty looking and not good for a pregnant woman at all, she was sure, but it was much better than she had been expecting. Suddenly, Alice made a strangled sounding noise, and Darcy's eyes shot to her face, finally feeling the first waves of panic that should have hit an hour ago.

"What, what is it?"

"Contraction." Alice spat through her gritted teeth. "Fourth one. Had a couple more while you were gone."

Darcy fought down a wave of nausea at the way her stomach rolled. She hadn't been gone too long, and Alice had only had one contraction before then. Darcy wasn't a medic, or a baby doctor of any sort, but she'd watched enough shows on TLC to know that contractions speeding up that much that damned fast were probably not good, or at least would become a problem much sooner than they could afford given their current situation. She was about to give into a minor panic attack or turn and beg the Hulk to go find help when his low, but still booming voice cut through her oncoming panic.

"Look."

Feeling almost compelled, Darcy did look. She'd never been so happy to see the tell-tale firework thrusters of Iron Man's suit in her entire life.

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Tony would lie until he was blue in the face if anyone asked him, but his first reaction when JARVIS informed him that, yes, he was seeing Bruce hulked out for a second time that day and that he "did indeed seem to be carrying Miss Lewis from the coffee shop" was fear. As much as Tony poked and prodded at Bruce and cajoled him, trying to get him to give himself a little credit, a little more slack, he still knew the score. He had read all of the files, public, classified, , and so classified they technically didn't exist. He knew what Bruce or The Other Guy was capable of. He wasn't ready to call in the others or let Coulson know what he had seen because he trusted Bruce, and trusted the Hulk by extension. The green guy was a team member even if he didn't sit in on the meetings or share popcorn on movie night. Tony was, however, pretty fond of the wisecracking girl that had made him the best hangover breakfast he had ever had, so even though he didn't call Steve and Thor, or tell Clint to ready his tranquilizing arrows, he still followed the green figure in the distance.

A huge lug nut of tension Tony hadn't even realized he had in his chest released at the sight of both Darcy and the Hulk standing over a third figure on the ground, waving in his direction.

"JARVIS, radio for medical air evacuation pronto. Too much debris to clear...get them to land on the roof to my right. I'll have more specifics for their victim in just a sec."

He landed a careful distance away and flipped up his face plate as Darcy waved him forward. He was glad to see she was fine, a little dirty, maybe a scraped elbow, but otherwise no injuries he could see. The Hulk, too, seemed to be fine and a lot less rage-y than Tony was used to. He seemed to just be watching the situation and waiting for something. Tony couldn't figure out what for the life of him.

"Right, Darcy, who's this lovely lady?"

Darcy rolled her eyes, but the pregnant lady whose leg was under her bloody hands gave him a weak smile so he counted it as a success.

"This is Alice. Stop hitting on her. She's having contractions, is married judging by the pretty rock on her finger, and Pepper would kill you."

"But what a creative death it'd be." He sobered his tone ever so slightly to relay the information Darcy and Alice gave him to the incoming helicopter and report back to them. "There's a medical chopper coming in, but they can only land on the roof. I can get you there quickly, and gently."

Tony was pretty sure Alice was eyeing his boots and gloves dubiously, but Darcy just nodded accepting his statement at face value with a trusting face and wasn't that empowering and uplifting? No one gave him that kind of trust. At least, no one who had had more than one conversation with him, and he had argued at length on internet subject matter with the Tea Shop's manager. No matter what Darcy said facebook was a useless time sucking security risk and tumblr was where the real gold was.

Between the two of them and a surprisingly gentle lift from the Hulk, Tony gets Alice into one of his armored arms and maneuvers as slowly and carefully as he can with only three thrusters until he can set her down on the stretcher the medical team had already prepared, but then Alice is screaming, asking for Darcy and wondering where she's at. Honestly, Tony can't blame the woman, he's surprised she's kept it together this long being pregnant in what had essentially been a war zone for a couple of hours and then bleeding out with only a vaguely looking hipster chick and a rage monster to save her. He's about to offer to fly down and grab Darcy, return with her as fast as he can even as the medics seem to be preparing a sedative, but then Darcy's there. And the Hulk is, too.

The green giant landed lightly, for him at least, with Darcy nestled in the crook of his arm. Then she reached for his neck to pull him closer. Tony stared. He couldn't help himself. It was going to be beautiful, or the worst judgment call made by someone that wasn't him that he'd ever seen. Either way it wasn't going to be something he ever forgot. Then Darcy Lewis kissed the Hulk's scruffy, huge cheek.

And the green guy blushed.

Tony wasn't sure how he knew the Hulk was blushing, but his cheeks and ears had certainly gotten darker than they were a few moments ago, but he didn't look any closer to breaking Darcy in half than he ever had been. The girl had balls of steel. She kissed the Hulk's cheek then slid out of his arm, patted it, and headed for the helicopter, not even flinching when the medic demanded to know if she was family. She didn't bat an eye as she snapped, “cousin,” and picked up Alice's hand as the door closed, blocking them from sight.

Tony had been trying to introduce Bruce to nice women for the physicist's entire stay in his tower. He had tried everything from socialite to Pepper's newest secretary and Bruce had politely dismissed them all. Tony had tried nerdy to vixen and the whole scale in between, but apparently he'd been going about it the wrong way. It wasn't Bruce he needed to appeal to, but the Hulk. And apparently, Darcy appealed quite nicely to him. Tony didn't really know the younger woman beyond their arguments over the internet media, but he could find out more about her. He already knew she was witty, smarter than people gave her credit for and obviously unphased by the crazy that life in New York near the tower had become.

Grinning from ear to ear, he patched into the rest of the team.

 

A minute or so later, while Tony's explaining to Steve where he had disappeared to, a groan sounded and he cut the Captain off to turn to Bruce.

"How is it the Hulk gets more tail than you?"

Then his fellow scientist gave him a bewildered look that pretty much explained everything.

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Darcy had ended up keeping the Tea Shop closed for a day after the attack. Her inbox had been flooded with complaints from her regular SHIELD customers, but she deleted them. She'd make a discount day to make up for being closed on a busy day. SHIELD always required extra caffeine after a major attack on New York. They would have to find it elsewhere for one day, though, because she was staying in the hospital with Alice until Coulson's magic paperwork went through and her husband was able to get a lift from overseas. The world was apparently even smaller than Darcy had originally assumed. Alice's husband was a SHIELD operative gone on a mission, but one conversation with Coulson after Alice had given birth to a beautiful baby girl ensured that new to the world Hannah Darcy Winchester would meet her father soon. Alice had been about to give her little girl the curse of having Darcy as a first name, but luckily Darcy had been able to interfere and suggest something a little less likely to get the baby poked at in school. Sure, Darcy was well adjusted and her own woman now, but she didn't have the easiest time getting there.

She left the happy family in the hospital to post the bright green discount day sign in the window of the Tea Shop and email Coulson requesting (to be put in some of SHIELD's emergency first aide classes. while she warmed up the pots and prodded her part time pastry chef into making extra muffins for the morning crowd. It wasn't until she was munching on the last of those muffins for a snack as she closed up that night that she realized Doc Mystery hadn't been in that day. She didn't worry. He was probably still recuperating from the battle, gathering his calm and all that after spending so much time as the green guy. At least she hoped that's what it was. She would have words for him if he wasn't coming to get huge mugs of tea just because she kissed his alter ego.

So Darcy waited.

After three days, she was certain she was being avoided. It wasn't unusual for the Doc to miss getting tea two days in a row, presumably when he got wrapped up in his work, but three days was unheard of. It pissed her off, and it wasn't helping that Tony had suddenly decided to hang around her shop with his tablets asking weirdly pointed questions like "Is it the color or the size? Or is it the stretchy pants and lack of shirt?". Darcy tended to ignore him until he started bothering her more sane customers, then she turned him out on his ear, or threatened to email Pepper or Coulson when that didn't work.

On the fourth day, she tried to tell herself that Doc Mystery, AKA: The Hulk, had every right to avoid her or to buy his teas elsewhere. By the fifth, she was seething and making a plan to see him. On the sixth, she put it into action by packing two large sub sandwiches and two large iced teas into a cooler and stalking across the street to the Avengers Tower. She wasn't sure how well the iced tea would go over with Doc because he always ordered something warm with herbs or a name in another language she could hardly pronounce, but she also wasn't sure how long it would take to talk her way through security and find him, so any hot tea she tried to bring would probably be ruined. Therefore, she had made an executive decision and chosen something that would hold up better.

The women sitting behind the front desk in the tower lobby looked suitably bored and unaffected, just as they should. Darcy approached the one that seemed to be the busiest and plopped her cooler down on the desk with a loud smack.

"Hi. Darcy Lewis, here to take a lunch up."

The receptionist didn't even blink.

"Leave the name of the recipient and a complete list of the contents and it will be delivered by an agent as promptly as possible."

Darcy sighed internally and prepared herself for a fight.

"That's the problem; I don't know his name and I'm supposed to eat the lunch with him, it's a surprise."

Unfortunately, that statement did get the receptionist's attention, but not in the way Darcy wanted.

"Miss, perhaps you should find out the name of the person you intend to visit and get them to put you on the approved visitors list."

Darcy gritted her teeth. She had talked her way in and out of skipped classes and late papers for over eight years of school. She had bamboozled and confounded professors with much harder asses than this chick with a bluetooth headset in her ear. She just needed the right prod to get clearance. She bit her lip and glared at her cooler before inspiration struck and she smiled calmly back at the poor girl.

"Look, this lunch is for the Hulk."

The receptionist, Patricia her name tag said, raised an eyebrow.

"He never has visitors that aren't already approved."

Darcy's heart gave a little pang for the handsome Doc Mystery, then she straightened herself up to her full height (for all the good that did her). It had been a while since she had needed to use her “Asgardian” voice to get a point across, but even rusty she was certain it would do the job this time.

"I'm surprising him because he forgot his lunch this morning and doesn't like cafeteria food. Did you know that hunger can make people up to nine times more irritable than they are on a full stomach? And I mean, you'd have to be an idiot to work here and not know what kind of property damage happens when the Hulk gets angry. You don't look like an idiot, Patricia, but sometimes even smart people take the wrong chances. Is having a hungry scientist with the potential to decimate cities denied his lunch the right sort of chance to take?"

It took all of Darcy's self control not to fist pump when Patricia swallowed.

"If you'll continue through the security check, Miss Lewis, you'll find your visitor's badge waiting."

For a moment, Darcy felt bad about using the green fellow as leverage, but it was for his own good, so she didn't dwell as she smiled politely and picked up her cooler.

"Thank you, Patricia. You have a good day."

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Bruce didn't look up when the doors to his lab slid open. There was only one person that didn't knock before they came in and he had no desire to acknowledge Tony Stark at the moment. The man had been trying even his patience for the past week. Ever since those robots had attacked the city, Tony had been dropping by at all hours of the day and night, whenever Bruce was working, presenting him with pictures of women and leaning forward to watch his face. Bruce had tried changing his work hours, but since he was avoiding the Tea Shop and not getting his regular fix, it was harder to pull weird hours even with the odd and unreliable bodily enhancements The Other Guy gave him. Tony's observation of his face reminded him disturbingly of the first time they'd worked together and he'd been prodded like a cow with electricity and Tony had waited, watching his face intently. He suspected the pictures and subsequent observation had something to do with the odd comment Tony had made when he'd woken up after their most recent battle, but he still didn't know what had happened and he was afraid to ask JARVIS to show him any footage.

Granted, his self-imposed ignorance was denying him his tea and causing a small, but still significant drop in his productivity. He still felt going without was a better option than watching the young woman who filled his orders flinch away from him when he walked in and asked for her to surprise him with whatever tea blend she had made up that day. He couldn't even remember her name. Some "favorite and most handsome customer" he was. Darcy was the surprising rumble from the back of his mind. Bruce avoided thinking about what it meant that The Other Guy remembered her name when he didn't and returned his attention to his microscope.

"Go away, Tony."

"Not Tony. Jeez, do you know how hard it was to find your lab?"

Bruce's head snapped up. Speak of the devil, he thought as he blinked at Darcy standing in the doorway of his lab with a cooler. She raised her eyebrow at him. What in the world was she doing there?

"You should lock your doors if you don't want visitors."

"Is that what you are? A visitor?"

Bruce didn't get visitors that weren't his teammates or other scientists. People tended to avoid him in the halls in general.

"Yep. I've got a badge and everything. I've also brought you lunch and tea."

At the mention of tea, Bruce left his stool and moved around the counter, looking hopefully towards the cooler. It was impossible to miss the way her face split in a grin as she hefted it up onto his only empty table and began unpacking it. She handed him an enormous, almost Other Guy sized thermos and he popped the lid open immediately to take a sip. The cold surprised him. It had been a long time since he had drunk iced tea. Belatedly, he realized she was waiting for his approval.

"It's good. I haven't had iced tea in a while."

She nodded and began pulling two of the biggest sandwiches he had ever seen out of the cooler in pieces. They were loaded, too, it looked like. He could see lettuce, tomato, and at least two kinds of meats. His mouth watered at the thought. He hadn’t eaten since five that morning when his brain started up on an idea and he had given up on sleep.

"I wasn't sure if you'd like it. You always order hot when you come in, but I wasn't sure I'd find you in time for a hot tea to stay hot. Not to mention, hot tea is kind of weird with a sub."

Bruce just nodded and reached for one of the sub sections. He'd eat the food and then find out why she was actually in his lab. It would be better to take advantage of the situation before she left and took the food with her. The sub was good, really good. Not that he had expected it to be bad, but it was still better than he'd assumed she'd be able to make. Apparently, she could see his lack of faith.

"My dad owns a diner in Chicago. I can make the best hangover breakfast."

He wasn't sure what to make of that, so he just nodded and took another bite. He was grateful when she fell silent, letting them eat in peace. It gave him time to consider her possible motivation for seeking him out. She didn't seem injured or afraid of him at all, so The Other Guy couldn't have made that horrible of an impression on her. Surprising, but not 100% unheard of. Tony was a fan of the Hulk, for good life saving reasons, and he apparently had some ongoing friendly combat competition with Thor, but beyond that people avoided the Hulk, and him a lot by extension. So why would she take the trouble of finding him and bringing him delicious food?

Surprisingly, The Other Guy had nothing to say on the matter. He had retreated to the far recesses of Bruce's mind. If Bruce didn't know better, he might have accused himself of hiding. He selected another sandwich piece and unwrapped it watching her wipe her hands from the corner of his eye.

"So you're probably wondering why I'm here. I have two very legitimate reasons I'm going to explain. Firstly, you've been avoiding me and therefore, avoiding the Tea Shop. Which okay, fine if I embarrassed you by calling you my favorite or whatever, I understand, but seriously it's not like I was throwing myself over the counter at you. I do have manners, you know? So, you should just come back and get your tea like you always do. If it bothers you too much, I'll get someone else to wait on you when you come in."

She paused and looked at him pointedly through her almost cat-eye glasses and abruptly Bruce felt like he was seventeen and facing Stephanie Henderson again when she told him she didn't really need tutoring, but was actually hoping to make out with him instead. He wasn't sure if it was a good feeling or not. If anything, Darcy should be worried about him hurting her, not worried about embarrassing him. He could take embarrassment, and knowing she liked him wasn't embarrassing at all. She was a beautiful young woman. He had no clue why she liked him. Then she was giving him her second reason and he didn't really have time to dwell on how backwards her logic was.

"The second reason is way more important. I came to show you pictures of the baby you helped me save the other day. Alice and her husband said they planned on thanking you themselves once their little girl can come home from the hospital, but I figured you'd like to hear how everything worked out before then."

Bruce stared at her, he couldn't help it. It didn't help that at her second reason made The Other Guy come out of hiding and take a sudden interest in her words. He took a deep breath and kept a grip on the anger simmering under his skin just to be sure nothing went wrong.

"I-So we saved her and her baby?"

She tilted her head at him.

"Yeah, didn't you get a rundown of what happened? Do you not remember what you do when you're huge and green?"

Bruce looked away and took a sip of his tea.

"I tend not to want to remember and The Other Guy obliges me."

Her full mouth twisted to the side. He didn't mean for his eyes to track it, but the red of her lips drew his eyes anyway.

"I can see how that would be good for some things, but in this case it sucks because we made a truly awesome team. You lifted, I bandaged. Tony called the ambulance, all three of us got Alice into his arm, and you carried me up to the roof so I could ride with her. Green's a good color for you, has anyone told you that? And you're very sweet."

Bruce snorted.

"Sweet? You've got to be kidding me. That or you met some other green monster."

She slapped his arm lightly in retaliation as she sipped her tea and he was pretty sure his eyebrows merged into his hair at his surprise. Only Tony and Thor were ever brave (or stupid) enough to touch him as casually as that.

"I'm not kidding! I even saw him blush!"

Bruce shook his head.

"Impossible; it had to have been a trick of the light. The Other Guy doesn't blush."

Darcy raised an eyebrow at him and then suddenly she was leaning along the side of the table and into his personal space. He could feel his heart pick up and for a moment he panicked, feeling The Other Guy gain traction, pressing forward. He leaned away from her, but she kept coming and then those same full, soft lips he had been watching were pressing gently against his cheek and she was gone just as quick. He could feel the tips of his ears and his cheeks heating up. She settled back onto her lab stool with a smirk that didn't help his heart rate.

"Ha! You blush the same. I knew it."

"Blush the same--" Wait, what had she done to--No, she couldn't have-- "Tell me you didn't kiss him like that."

He couldn't believe the way she grinned and cheerfully took another bite of her sandwich. He stared at her in disbelief. It was beyond comprehension. She had kissed, kissed, The Other Guy. On the cheek, but it was still dangerous. So dangerous. Hadn't she seen that? What about the monster he was had made her think that was a good idea? She finished chewing and smiled again.

"I did. Like I said, you're sweet, handsome, and my favorite customer. What, you think I was going to be scooped up in your arm and not make a pass?"

Bruce gaped at her. He couldn't understand. He needed to go back to work until he could calm down and think without remembering how soft her lips felt on his cheek or the light smell of French vanilla lingering in her hair. This wasn't something he could handle. She didn't know what she was saying, what she was asking of him or getting herself into.. He had just managed to get a grip on working in the city with so many very destructible things surrounding him at all times.

"I-I need to get back to work."

He avoided looking at her, but could still see the way she bit her lip out of the corner of his eye. She stood, though and gathered up her cooler.

"I get it. Short lunch breaks, Jane was the same way. I had to shove things in her mouth to get her to eat sometimes when she was going a mile a minute on the Rainbow Bridge. I'm going to leave you the rest of the sandwiches though, and your thermos of tea on the condition that you stop avoiding my shop."

Warily, feeling almost like he was walking into a trap, Bruce looked up at her serious expression.

"I can do that."

She smiled.

"Great, and I still need to show you those pictures of Hannah, so tomorrow, Doc, no ifs, ands, or buts. Got that?"

And there was the trap, but for once Bruce didn't feel like he was in a cage, just that maybe he'd made a promise he wanted to keep.

"Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow, Darcy."

She smiled again, bright and warm, before waving over her shoulder as she walked out. He tried desperately to ignore the content rumble from The Other Guy as he watched her walk away.

Chapter Text

Bruce liked to think he had learned a lot about himself since the accident. He liked to think he had managed to gain at least a modicum of control over himself, and he knew he had gained a lot more patience than he used to have before the accident. However, all of that flew out the window when Tony had managed to reprogram half of his files to present him with pictures of Darcy from her Facebook page every five minutes. It was a nice surprise the first time, and had been nice again when he found out Darcy had apparently been to the beach not too long ago, but after the first ten times, it had begun to get annoying. After the first twenty, he had begun trying to work on a way to remove the programming. He wasn't very successful. He could program well enough for his needs, but trying to undo Tony's code was like trying to take The Other Guy out from under his skin, endlessly frustrating and impossible.

It didn't help that he hadn't yet gone to the Tea Shop for his one addiction that day like he had promised. He was getting a headache; horrible throbbing pain that covered the entire front of his head, and in the back of his mind, The Other Guy was gaining traction. Bruce could practically feel him feeding on the anger, getting his feet under him and preparing to thrust to the fore front of his brain and take control. The only chance he had of avoiding a catastrophe was getting Tony to fix his computer so he could get back to working in peace and be able to distract himself. It was that or locking himself in his room with white noise and doing breathing exercises for two days, but then he would end up breaking his promise to Darcy.

"JARVIS?"

"Yes, Doctor Banner?"

"Where's Tony?"

"Mister Stark is currently in the gym with Captain Rogers and Ms. Romanov."

"Fantastic."

Being able to confront Tony with Steve and Natasha around was better than trying to get him to cooperate when he was alone. Now that Steve had seen beneath Tony's flash and attitude, he was becoming surprisingly good at manipulating the man, or at least he had impeccable timing when it came to phoning Pepper and she was able to manipulate Tony. Natasha, on the other hand, seemed to have a knack for scaring Tony into good behavior when nothing else would (sometimes, at least). Bruce had heard it was because she stabbed him once with a needle of drugs to the neck, but he wasn't sure how true that was and didn't care enough to ask as long as Natasha could succeed in helping direct Tony's attentions elsewhere.

Luckily for all of his potential victims in the Tower, the gym was only one floor and a short walk away from his lab. When he arrived in the gym it was easy to spot all of them. Tony was leaning casually against the wall, drinking from a squirt bottle, and Steve and Natasha grappled interestingly on the mats taking up the back portion of the room. As Bruce drew closer, he could see Natasha watching him warily out of the corner of her eye, though she never took her attention off of Steve, blocking every punch he sent her way.

"Tony. I need you to--"

The engineer pushed up off the wall.

"Bruce! You never come in here. Going to spar?" He grinned and made a halfhearted jab at Bruce’s shoulder with one fist.

As usual, Tony turned interruption into an art. Normally it amused or baffled Bruce, but in this case it only intensified his headache and gave The Other Guy more to work with.

"What--No. I'm not here to spar. I need you to fix my computer.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Tony’s expression was angelic.

“Come on, Tony. It's not funny anymore."

"Oh, I don't know; I thought it was pretty funny. Didn't you like seeing pictures of the woman you like? I know I would."

Bruce rolled his eyes. Woman he liked? He bought coffee from Darcy, and she brought him lunch once. He didn't know her; therefore, he had no clue whether or not he liked her. She was interesting, sure, and she knew a lot about tea, which was more than he could say for any other coffee shop in Manhattan.. She seemed to be accepting of The Other Guy in a way no one had ever been before, but from what Bruce had looked up last night The Other Guy had been on an unheard scale of good behavior last time he was out. It only made Bruce more afraid of letting him out again so soon in case he felt the need to make up for his lack of carnage the last time.

"I don't like her, Tony. I don't know her. Now, I need you to fix my computers so I can actually get some work done today."

He fought hard to keep his voice level and it was an exercise in self control not to place his face in his hands and groan out loud.

"You do like her, though! At least the big guy did. I thought he was going to go down on one knee and propose right then and there when she kissed his cheek."

The Other Guy rumbled, no longer just in the back of his mind, creeping down into his neck and chest. Now he was far too close to the surface for Bruce to be sure he could handle himself. Not inside, not around all these breakable things, breakable people.

"No. Tony I just need you to fix my--"

Bruce hardly even registered Tony's eyes blowing wide and his mouth opening in warning before his back exploded in pain and he went down face first to the ground. He saw an instant of red, blood from his nose, and then everything he knew was green.

Chapter Text

It was the biggest train wreck he had seen since the last time he had gotten Rhodey drunk and let him hit on women. Natasha was too busy watching them, watching him rile Bruce up and worrying like she always did when Bruce was in the room. She overbalanced ever so slightly and, Steve, having never seen the Black Widow at anything less than perfect in combat wasn't expecting the small slip and didn't have time to pull his blow. Natasha went flying, crashing into Bruce's back and sending him to the ground with a hard flat smack.

Tony had never seen Natasha so discomposed as she scrambled away from Bruce's rapidly expanding body. She actually scooted on her ass for a moment before she got her feet under her. Behind them somewhere, Steve was apologizing frantically. Tony simply watched in extreme fascination as his friend pushed himself off the ground and roared at the redhead.

"Steve! Hit the alarm!"

Tony flung out his arms at those words and stepped forward, placing himself in between the Hulk, taking the risk of turning his back to him, and Natasha, who looked like she was ready to bolt through an air vent or kill something. If Pepper were there, she would be hiding her eyes and pretending he hadn't just put himself in between everyone else and the most dangerous thing in the room. As it was, both Steve and Natasha were looking wilder by the second. For a moment he thought she would shove him out of the way.

"Hey! Wait a second! Don't do that! People will just come in with guns and that's not going to do anything but make him madder! It escalates! We just have to--"

Tony swallowed the rest of his sentence as he was scooped up and twisted around. Suddenly, he was much closer to the Hulk than he had ever wanted to be. He could see every fleck of color in the big guy's eyes, even the small green sparks streaking through his irises every other second.

"Darcy."

Well, that was unexpected. Something Tony could definitely work with though. The question was, what did he tell the big guy? Did he tell him where Darcy was? Would he crash the Tea Shop? Demolish it with people in it? As much as Tony liked Bruce and the Hulk, even he couldn't argue how much damage the green guy caused everywhere he went. He grabbed at the green hand holding him as the Hulk shook him. Apparently, he had been thinking too long.

"Darcy."

Whoa, Tony had not needed to know that the Hulk's breath smelled like. It wasn't monster breath or anything, but still, who wanted to be breathed on like that? Not Tony. He didn't even like to be handed things.

"Right, okay. You want to see Darcy."

The Hulk stared at him and Tony could feel his grip tighten uncomfortably.

"Well, she's uh-- working right now. Just across the street, but you can't just show up, you know? She won't be expecting to see you and you like her, right? You want to impress her because she's a beautiful woman and she likes you back."

The Hulk's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but Tony thought he could see the green sparks getting ever so slightly dimmer.

"So what you have to do is take her something. A gift. Nothing too expensive or elaborate, but something simple--Hey, Natasha what's a simple pretty gift our pal Hulk, could take to Miss Lewis?"

"I don't know."

Tony sighed at the tight uncooperative way she spoke and tried to look over his shoulder to find Steve. The super soldier was by the wall, near the alarm, but it was clear from the lack of sirens he hadn't pressed it yet.

"JARVIS? Steve, help us out here. Hulk needs a gift idea."

He relaxed a little when the Hulk's hands lowered and he was set almost gently on the ground and the big guy looked towards Steve expectantly.

"I would suggest Doctor Banner stay away from fruits and nuts to avoid any allergies that Miss Lewis might have."

Tony narrowed his eyes at his own ceiling. He should never have programmed JARVIS to have an adapting personality. Now he was being reminded of his mistakes whenever the opportunity arose.

"Thanks, JARVIS. You're a real pal."

"Glad to be of service, sir."

Tony was about to open his mouth and comment on JARVIS's service when Steve coughed awkwardly, and the Hulk leaned forward, looming over Tony to peer at the Captain.

"Flowers. Dames like flowers, or at least they used to."

Tony blinked. Leave it to Captain America to have a better solution than advanced artificial intelligence. He turned back to the Hulk.

"Steve's right. Flowers are great as long as she isn't allergic. And it will be super easy to deliver them because she's so close."

The Hulk grinned, rather scarily in Tony's opinion, and tuned towards windows. Tony could already imagine them shattered as he saw the Hulk preparing to launch himself forward and then he didn't have to imagine because the big green guy was gone, but this time the only destruction left behind was a few broken windows, and some possibly ruined flooring. Tony felt quite accomplished. He turned around.

"Well, that went well, I think."

And then Natasha's fist connected with his nose.

"Because you just set him out on the civilian population of New York City!"

Admittedly, that might not have been his best idea, but he didn't think the Hulk intended to scare and rampage among the citizens.

"He just wants to go see his girl!"

"So instead of minimizing the damage and sending him directly across the street to a SHIELD owned facility you tell him to go and get her flowers?"

Tony saw Steve flinch.

"To be fair, those were my idea."

The blond tried a sheepish smile that Tony would have to remember to send him museum tickets or something like that for later.

"You had both better hope no one gets hurt. Not for your own consciences, but Bruce's."

She took off at a jog out the gym doors, leaving Tony feeling almost as bad as Pepper could.

Chapter Text

It only took an hour after she went back to work for Darcy to realize she still didn't have Doc Mystery's name. It took the rest of the day, and a good night's sleep, for her to forgive herself for not discovering it.

Darcy was taking her lunch break at the check out counter when Coulson, Natasha, and the rare bird Clint Barton all stormed into her little shop. Clint and Natasha slipped past her counter and towards the back stairs with a simple nod and a dismissive shake of red curls when she shook a cup questioningly at them, but Coulson planted himself directly in front of her.

"Miss Lewis."

"Agent Coulson."

She smiled brightly at him and wondered what he was possibly wanting from her. She had traded him three free beverages a week in bribery to get him to sign off on all the forms she needed to get her ipod back. Granted, considering the amount of tea and coffee he consumed it didn't cut much into her profit gained from him, but she supposed on his side every penny counted when he was turning in his expense reports. They had come to a mutually beneficial agreement while she was going through her SHIELD training and under his direct command. He didn't bullshit her anymore and she didn't give him any extra difficulties. So far it was working out extraordinarily well.

"We have reason to believe Dr. Banner will be paying you a visit later today."

Darcy shuffled through her mental catalog of SHIELD employees, affiliates, and enemies based on the gossip and grapevine she collected daily while filling cups and taking money. Dr. Banner wasn't ringing a bell at all.

"He's he some new villain or something? Because I am wracking my brain and none of the loose lips have blabbed about that one in here that I've heard. I certainly don't know him."

It was quiet possibly the first time she had seen Coulson look confused. The man had never appeared anything less than utterly unflappable in front of her. Darcy had heard once from a shuttle pilot come in for his morning joe that Coulson was not so secretly a Captain America fanboy. It was something she was eager to find a way to put to the test.

"We have you recorded as having lunch with him yesterday."

Darcy wanted to smack herself in the forehead, but there was no need to alert Coulson to how clueless she was over the whole Doc Mys-Dr. Banner situation.

"Oh! That Dr. Banner. Sure, I know him. He's supposed to be coming in for tea today."

Coulson's raised eyebrow told her she clearly hadn't passed that off as smoothly as she liked, but that was fine. She'd make up for it another time by amazing him with her fabulous information gathering skills. It would help, of course, if she could find out the Doc's first name before anyone caught on that she didn't know it.

"I'm afraid it might not be Dr. Banner coming at all. There was an incident earlier today. Mr. Stark seemed to have been playing a practical joke on Dr. Banner that went a little too far and resulted in an accident when Dr. Banner confronted him about it in the gym. We have good reason to believe the Hulk will be arriving here shortly."

Darcy blinked. Well, that wasn't what she was expecting, but it didn't really make a difference either way to her. The building would be a problem though. She could tell just by eyeing the doors up that there was no way he would fit through them without busting the entire front of the Tea Shop.

"I'll have to meet him outside. He won't fit through the door. Would you mind watching the counter while I wait for him and see him?"

There went his eyebrow again, but this time Darcy was absolutely positive it was more of an incredulous look than one that said she was obviously covering up her shortcomings.

"You want me to watch the counter."

She was pretty sure there should have been a questioning inflection on the end of his statement, which had sounded a little flat, and like he was calling her crazy to her ears.

"Yes. I've met Hulk before now you know. He's a sweet guy, and I don't know why everyone says 'The Hulk' instead of just Hulk. It's a name. He's a person, not a thing."

She was expecting Coulson to say something, to protest, or ask her how to run the coffee shop, but he just looked at his watch and pressed a hand to his ear, listening to something she couldn't hear before nodding once at her and going around to take her place behind the cashier's counter.

"You should step outside. His ETA is less than a minute."

Darcy nodded and slipped her apron over her head, passing it to the older agent. She took perverse pleasure in the way he put it on directly. The purple and teal plaid brightened up his normally drab grey suit perfectly, and the bright yellow embroidery she'd done herself across the chest If you're going to stare, you should put extra in the tips jar made her wish she had time to take a picture. Knowing she was running out of time, she silently lamented the lost opportunity and headed for the door.

Halfway there, she realized that there had to be a way they were tracking Hulk. People had to be watching up above. Possibly people with guns and things that made loud noise that could upset her friend. She whirled back around towards Coulson.

"Please tell me you don't have a bunch of pansy ass agents surrounding this place that are going to scream or shoot at him or something because I really don't think that would end well for anyone, but least of all us."

Coulson hesitated to answer and Darcy narrowed her eyes at him mentally sending thought lasers at his forehead reminding him of the no bullshitting rule.

"No. There are teams on standby less than a block away, and in the tower's lobby, but only Natasha and Clint are actually here."

Darcy nodded. That was good enough for her. SHIELD still had to consider the safety of the civilians around them after all. She opened her mouth to give her blessing for that arrangement, but was entirely sidetracked by the giant thud sound behind her. Sure enough, when she turned around, a grinning Hulk was standing outside of her shop with one hand behind his back and the other reaching tentatively for The Tea Shop's door.

Chapter Text

Fearing for the structural integrity of her poor little tea shop, Darcy charged the door opening it and stepping out, almost face to chest with Hulk before he could push open the door. Somehow, even though she thought regularly of their rescue mission and being carried around like a doll in his arms, she had still managed to forget just how much bigger he was than her. Darcy wasn't exactly a small woman, she knew. She was short, but she had a bit more than her fair share of curves. Standing so close to Hulk made her feel like she belonged in a dollhouse. Taking advantage of the closeness for a moment, Darcy stretched her arms up to pull his neck down closer to deliver his third kiss on the cheek and watch his cheeks flush again.

"Hey, big guy. Didn't expect you to show up green when you came by today. I'm going to have to find a mug big enough for you to use when you come for tea."

She patted his arm and sidestepped, with her hands wrapped as far as they could go around his wrist so she could tug him with her until she could sit herself on top of one of the shop's outside tables that hadn't been knocked over or broken by his arrival.

"Darcy."

She grinned brightly at the way he said her name and shuffled a little sideways like he was hiding something. His voice wasn't smooth or a balm to her ears by any means, but every bit of the gravel and deep rumble that came from his huge green chest sounded sincere, which was more than she could say about most people she knew. Not to mention, there was just something special about the way he focused on her name and identified her so intently.

"That's my name. What's up?"

If Darcy didn't think she knew better, she would have called the way he looked to the side and shifted his weight from foot to foot nervous, or shy. Then, suddenly there was something red and white almost in her face. He was leaning forward, looming over the object he was holding out to her.

"No allergies."

For a moment Darcy didn't realize what he had said, or what she was looking at, but then it clicked together all at once and she could she clearly what he was giving her. It was a rose. She reached forward with both of her hands to touch it. It was hard, warm metal beneath her hands and some of the petals had sharp pointed corners that had been bent down and outward. The colors, though, red she understood, but why the white? Then as she looked closer she could make out what looked like the letter P on the outside of a petal, and the letter S on the inside of another.

Hulk had made her a rose out of stop signs.

Somewhere in the back of Darcy's mind, Jane and Darcy's own grandmother were berating her for encouraging traffic violations and destruction of public property, but Darcy didn't care one iota. She pushed herself up to stand on the table and jumped, throwing her arms around Hulk's neck and pressing another kiss to his cheek. It was the best romantic gift she had ever gotten, hands down.

"It's beautiful! The best flower. It won't ever make me sneeze, and it will never die."

His chest rumbled with a pleased sound, and she could feel his chin tucked into the crook of her neck as he ducked his head before pulling back slightly to look at her face.

"Darcy like Hulk's gift?'

"I love it."

She felt a huge steely arm settle around her back, so she hung on to him longer, giving him the best hug she possibly could. After a few moments, though a problem struck her. She had no clue where she could put her beautiful rose. It was obviously too heavy for her to lift by herself. She had caught sight of the stem he was holding when she jumped to hug his neck and it had at least four stop sign poles twisted tightly together if not more. She drew back eventually feeling beneath her with her feet until she could get her shoes firmly back on the table.

"The only question is, where can I put it, Hulk? It's too heavy for me to move, and I want to be able to show it to people, because it really is the coolest gift ever, but I can't just leave it on the sidewalk in front of the Tea Shop because someone might try to take it away. Got any ideas?"

The city could want their stop signs back, or call it a pedestrian hazard. SHIELD might take it to study how Hulk had made it, for some ungodly reason. She squeezed his forearm when his face slipped into a scowl at her question and he began to survey the area ats though someone was going to come and steal the rose right then and there with him still holding it. Darcy felt her stomach drop for a moment, and hoped she hadn't just made things worse, but then she saw a sly look cross his face. He smoothed his free hand over the top of her head and down the back of her hair with another deep rumble.

"Watch, Hulk. No puny others steal from Darcy."

He took a few rather loud strides to just the other side of the Tea Shop entrance where the tables were all knocked over already and the street light stood. Then, with a glance over his shoulder to be sure she was watching he took the long stem of the stop sign rose and twisted it tightly around the street light's pole.

"See?"

Darcy hopped off her table to throw her arms as far as she could around him again.

"A perfect solution."

His hand settled against her back and they stood there like that for a long time looking at the rose until Darcy abruptly began to feel the hand spanning her back start to shrink.

Chapter Text

The sudden reduction of weight on her back prompted Darcy to turn sideways and watch in fascination. When she had first seen him transform from scientist to Hulk she had been worried about Alice and completely unsuspecting of what was about to happen in front of her eyes. She'd been a bit too much in shock to really see what happened to his body. This time, though, in reverse she had no such distractions and was able to watch up close as Hulk shrunk back into Doctor Banner, the man whose first name she still didn't know. It was disconcerting, and if Darcy had a weaker constitution it probably would have made her a little ill feeling the way his bones and muscles shifted beneath his skin.

Once he was small enough, she had shifted his arm from her back to her shoulder and wrapped her arm around his waist, trying to drag him into the Tea Shop. SHIELD agents had materialized to form a perimeter and keep people away from them, but that didn't stop them from staring at a distance. Darcy wished she could tase the world and make them leave Hulk alone. The big guy had saved New York just a much, if not more than the rest of the Avengers, but instead of respect, people hissed about him like a circus sideshow or some new dangerous animal exhibit at the zoo. It made her sick.

Finally inside, Coulson appeared, (still sporting her apron, Darcy was pleased to see) and helped her get the doctor into one of her more comfy armchairs against the wall in the back, away from the windows and the prying eyes of the citizens of New York. She crouched by the chair a moment, looking up into his slumped face. His brow was furrowed and his hair flopped over his forehead. Darcy told herself hair couldn't look dejected, but she wasn't sure she believed it. Without thinking, she reached up and brushed it to the side, away from his eyes.

Coulson coughed behind her and she jumped. She'd forgotten the number one rule about working for SHIELD. Never forget someone is always watching. He was handing her apron back. She took it, laying on the arm of another nearby chair.

"It would seem you have the situation well in hand, Miss Lewis. Those two will be staying upstairs for the duration of Dr. Banner's stay, and I've left a folder on your counter that you might be interested in. I will turn the closed sign on my way out. Take the rest of the day off. Reopen tomorrow. I trust you know what to say and not to say by this point."

Darcy nodded and waved him on, already headed to the counter and the manila folder bearing the black SHIELD symbol and the label "Banner, Bruce, Dr. AKA: The Hulk". She read the file quietly while she began a pot of tea for them to drink when he woke up. A lot of it was still redacted, but Darcy understood enough of the story to know Hulk, Bruce, had done nothing but run since the gamma radiation created Hulk. When she got to the final handwritten notation about five stop signs being taken from a traffic yard, not ones in active use, she smiled, quietly took the file upstairs, ignoring Clint and Natasha where they sat playing cards, and fetched one of her sleeping shirts to take back downstairs.

When she returned, Bruce was sitting up fully, running a hand through his hair and looking ragged. She handed him the shirt. Even though she really would have preferred not to, he seemed like the kind of guy to be more comfortable with one on.

"Darcy."

She smiled. Bruce didn't speak like rocks going through a grinder, but he identified her first and just as intensely as Hulk did.

"Bruce. I've got some tea on if you'd like a cup and then we should probably talk."

He flinched and that wasn't what she intended at all.

"Yeah, tea sounds...sounds good right about now."

Once she had delivered him a cup she took her own and settled across from him. Suddenly she was nervous that this encounter wouldn't go well at all.

"I suppose the first question I should ask is did The Other Guy hurt you, or break anything important?"

She blinked.

"No, of course not. I mean, some of the tables broke out front, but those are easily fixed and I'm fine, better than fine, really. Pretty phenomenal. I didn't realize I was getting a two in one special when you came today."

She grinned easy and took a sip of her tea while he frowned into his.

"That's not funny."

"No, it wasn't one of my better jokes, I'll agree, but you don't need to scowl. Hulk and I had a good time and no property damage occurred."

Darcy jumped when his hand smacked the table and he roared in good imitation of the green guy.

"You don't understand!"

She didn't let the switch from mild mannered to raging throw her. She leaned forward, not letting him intimidate her even though she could see the flash of red hair at the back stairs. "But neither do you!"

"The Other Guy is not some dammed lost kitten you can have a tea party with!"

"The Other Guy?! I'm so sick of hearing that! The Other Guy isn't an other guy at all! He's you! You're him! I've seen proof! And he's got a name!"

"A blush? One blush isn't proof. So he didn't kill you the first time or the second time, but what about when he does something to scare you? What about when someone makes me angry and he comes crashing in your roof, or into the store still mad, still ready to smash things to pieces? Do you think you'll survive that? Because I don't think you will."

Darcy stared at him for a moment and then casually leaned back against her chair. Bruce wasn't mad, not really. He was terrified and Darcy had finally been able to spot that difference in his wide eyes and the way he was so desperately trying to scare her off.

"There's been more than one blush now, and other things, too, that prove you're the same man. If that did happen, no, I don't know that I would survive or escape uninjured, but I'm willing to take that chance because I've got a little more faith in you than you've got in yourself. You've tried to make the problem black and white, but it's not. It's not even green and white. It's grey all over. You're not a murderer, and he isn't either, but neither are you a saint. You were messing around with gamma radiation in the first place right? Good intentions, Bruce. You’ve got them in spades. He does, too. It's just a little harder to show everyone when they automatically assume you're a monster and pull out the tanks and helicopters."

She gave him a chance to respond, waited for a full minute, but he merely clenched his fist and avoided looking at her, so she decided to pull out her proof.

"Do you know why you came here today? Let me show you."

She left her tea cup on the table and stood, pointedly waiting until he did the same. She walked outside, ignoring the raised eyebrow he gave her when she held the door for him. She was running the show for the moment. She pointed at her beautiful flower.

"You made that and before you freak out, you didn't take stop signs from the streets. You took them from a traffic yard where they were being stored, not used. So no one got hurt. A little shocked maybe while you traveled across the city, but no casualties, no injuries, and only the small bit of destruction. Hulk had a goal, a direction, and he carried it out with as little fuss as possible."

Darcy rocked back on her heels and watched Bruce's face waiting to see his reaction.

Chapter Text

Bruce woke up in a chair. While that in itself was highly unusual, even more unusual was waking up inside of a building with no wreckage around him. It took him a moment to get his bearings, but no more time than it usually did, before he realized he was in the back corner of The Tea Shop. Darcy's tea shop, where he had promised to go that day. The Other Guy was practically purring in the back of his mind and Bruce didn't even want to think about big, green, and scary carrying out his promises before he decided to. He leaned forward and felt his back pop a few times. Darcy was no where in sight. No one else was, for that matter. It made him wonder how he had gotten there if no one was around, but destruction of the shop wasn't evident.

Then, as he was running a hand through his hair, footsteps sounded from the stairs. Like a magnet, his head turned and there she was, holding a shirt for him. He pulled it quickly over his head and then went back to watching her.

"Darcy."

She smiled and he felt a little of the worry he had slip away.

"Bruce. I've got some tea on if you'd like a cup and then we should probably talk."

The worry came back so exponentially that even scientific notation would have a hard time quantifying it. He recoiled just a bit at her words. This was the part where she asked him not to return to buy tea anymore. She'd do it nicely, possibly the kindest of anyone who had ever banned him from somewhere, but it would mean he had to find a new tea place. The new one probably would not have a manager with plump red lips that felt soft on his cheek.

"Yeah, tea sounds...tea sounds good right about now."

He wrapped his hands around the cup she handed him and watched her as she sat down across from him. She didn't look hurt, or in shock. She didn't even look disgusted with him. She was looking at him exactly the way she had over those sandwiches the day before, but he had to get the truth at some point.

"I suppose the first question I should ask is did The Other Guy hurt you, or break anything important?"

He watched her carefully, but Darcy didn't flinch or recoil. If anything her ensuing blink looked surprised or confused. Then her face lit up in a grin as she responded.

"No, of course not. I mean, some of the tables broke out front, but those are easily fixed and I'm fine, better than fine, really. Pretty phenomenal. I didn't realize I was getting a two in one special when you came today."

He looked down at his tea and considered her words. She had obviously seen, and possibly spent a good portion of time with The Other Guy judging by the wreckage of the outside tables and chairs, and yet she felt pretty phenomenal? Had Tony neglected to inform him that she was a headcase? She had seemed unusually bold and fearless, but he had chalked that up to her encounter with The Other Guy being an entirely peaceful and helpful one. Now he was wondering if it was maybe something different. Maybe she was mocking him, or SHIELD was asking her to play it cool so as not to upset him further and send him running out of country again. Everyone knew how hard Tony had fought and cajoled him to get him to stay in New York. Perhaps Darcy was an extension of that. Tony had been promoting her awfully hard, after all.

"That's not funny."

His life, The Other Guy, none of it was a joke or something to be played with.

"No, it wasn't one of my better jokes, I'll agree, but you don't need to scowl. Hulk and I had a good time and no property damage occurred."

His temper flashed hot and finally finally The Other Guy paid attention instead of rumbling almost nicely over whatever it was he was occupying himself with in the recess of Bruce's mind.

"You don't understand!"

It was a relief to feel the sting of where he had slapped the table between them on his hand. It was a greater relief to get so close to that edge and know he could still control himself. The greatest relief of all though, was the flash of red at the corner of his eye. At least someone was looking out for Darcy when she wasn't looking out for herself. A fact she proved even more to him when she still didn't recoil, but instead leaned forward challenging him after his outburst.

"But neither do you!"

If he had been calmer, Bruce might had asked her what she meant by that instead of continuing to respond with his tightly reigned temper. Darcy acted like The Other Guy was all fun and games, like he was a hero as well meaning and helpful as Steve and not an extreme hazard to her safety and the safety of everyone else in the city.

"The Other Guy is not some dammed lost kitten you can have a tea party with!"

"The Other Guy?! I'm so sick of hearing that! The Other Guy isn't an other guy at all! He's you! You're him! I've seen proof! And he's got a name!"

As much as Darcy was sick of hearing him refer to the Hulk as The Other Guy, Bruce hated being told they were the same person. He was not the monster. He wasn't the one who spat bullets out and brought helicopters to the ground in seconds. He wasn't a mindless destructive thing. He was a scientist, rational and logical. She thought she had proof they were the same just because she had been able to make him blush. Of course she had been able to make him blush. She was a young woman with soft curves and a bright smile, while he was a man who hadn't talked to a woman outside of work related things in years.

"A blush? One blush isn't proof. So he didn't kill you the first time or the second time, but what about when he does something to scare you? What about when someone makes me angry and he comes crashing in your roof, or into the store still mad, still ready to smash things to pieces? Do you think you'll survive that? Because I don't think you will."

She wouldn't in a million years. Telling people he never remembered what happened was the easy way out he knew, but it was better than explaining the dreams he had of The Other Guy's memories. People were so fragile. Darcy was so soft and fragile. It would have been like tossing an empty water bottle for The Other Guy to bash her against a wall and take the steely, stubborn light out of her eyes.

"There's been more than one blush now, and other things too that prove you're the same man. If that did happen, no, I don't know that I would survive or escape uninjured, but I'm willing to take that chance because I've got a little more faith in you than you've got in yourself. You've tried to make the problem black and white, but it's not. It's not even green and white. It's grey all over. You're not a murderer, and he isn't either, but neither are you a saint. You were messing around with gamma radiation in the first place right? Good intentions, Bruce. You’ve got them in spades. He does too. It's just a little harder to show everyone when they automatically assume you're a monster and pull out the tanks and helicopters."

Faith in him. She hardly knew him. How could she have faith in him? She wanted to take chances with her safety, but he didn't want to give her that option. Not ever. One woman had tried that already and had gotten nothing but trouble for it. No, he wasn't a saint, but he was better than The Other Guy, wasn't he? That's the way he had always tried to be, but apparently Darcy didn't see that difference. He didn't understand how she could view them as one and the same. Good intentions, she was right. He'd had good intentions once upon a time, but he'd paved himself a road to hell. Now all his intentions were selfish.

He clenched his hand and kept his eyes away from her. He didn't want to look at her stubborn and inviting face. Even his will power had it's limits. She waited, undoubtedly expecting him to retaliate again and it was one of the longest waits he had felt before she broke the silence.

"Do you know why you came here today? Let me show you."

He followed her, half hoping when she opened the door for him that she would simply watch him walk out and then close and lock the door behind him. Darcy, of course, did nothing when he raised his eyebrow at her except follow him out and point upward at the light post in front of The Tea Shop.

"You made that and before you freak out, you didn't take stop signs from the streets. You took them from a traffic yard where they were being stored, not used. So no one got hurt. A little shocked maybe while you traveled across the city, but no casualties, no injuries, and only the small bit of destruction. Hulk had a goal, a direction and he carried it out with as little fuss as possible."

She fell quiet and he stared up at the rose. He didn't believe her, couldn't believe her, but then he took a risk and looked at her face. Unsurprisingly, she was looking right back at him expectantly. He didn't know what she wanted, but he felt the need to say something, anything to get her to turn her focus elsewhere.

"The Oth--" Her eyes narrowed and God help him, he could feel himself swallow before he amended what he was saying. "The Hulk...made that?"

As soon as he said it, he knew it was true. It was as though acknowledging the deed made it easier to access in his mind. He couldn't remember much, but the feel of the metal under his hands, the way it had been bent so carefully into the perfect pieces and folded together… he could remember a little of that. It was almost as disorienting as waking up was, realizing that the Hulk could create as well as destroy. She nodded.

"I love it."

Then she reached for his neck trying to pull him down once again and panic flared up in his chest even more than it had last time. He could feel his heart rate sky rocketing and the Hulk creeping forward. He had to stop her. He couldn't handle, couldn't deal with what she was doing to him. Gently he placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back.

"I'm sorry, Darcy, I can't-- You're beautiful, but I'm just--"

He ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes trying to calm down. A few deep breaths later he was surprised to open his eyes and find her smiling at him.

"You're a mess, Doc."

He winced, even though he knew that she hadn't meant to be cruel.

"I'm sorry--"

"Don't apologize. It's okay. Trust me. I can have a little patience."

Patience-? What? Was she planning on waiting for him? That was ridiculous. He'd been trying to deal with the Hulk and every problem he caused for years and had been unsuccessful. What made her think he was going to be able to get himself together any time soon?

"I don't think--"

Darcy raised her eyebrow at him and just kept smiling that stubborn ridiculous smile. Unable to face it anymore, Bruce made a half-hearted attempt at a wave and fled back to the tower and the relative safety of his lab, praying that Tony had fixed his computers.