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The Hours Filled

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"So, ah, Jane," Bruce begins awkwardly.

"Pepper will kill you!" Tony warns.

"Hrmm?" asks Jane, not looking up from where she's shuffling papers around her workspace - there are no less than three computers arrayed in front of her, but Jane likes paper, Bruce has learned. Her hair is wrapped up into a messy bun that is held in place by . . . on closer inspection, Bruce thinks that may actually be a piece of the gauntlet Tony is currently deconstructing, stuck through Jane's hair.

"Seriously. Death. Fiery death. With glaring," Tony continues to rant. "And . . . I am missing pieces. How am I missing pieces? Dummy! You!"

Bruce says nothing, but smiles faintly, knowing Tony won't notice.

Jane says nothing because, in all likelihood, she doesn't even remember putting her hair up, much less what she used to do it.

"It's good to have you back for a bit," Bruce offers.

"Thanks!" Jane glances up long enough to smile brilliantly. "I needed readings from this end, and don't tell Thor this, but I'm still really not used to their nomenclature for energy or distance, I'm not even really sure they understand distance the same way we do on a macro scale because they've never not had the Bifrost so it doesn't really make sense to them to think of inter-galactic space as . . . as space, you know, they have this concept that's sort of like space-time-cold, or maybe space-time-void? It's fascinating, but it'd be way more fascinating if I knew what they were talking about more than half the time -" This is accompanied by raised brows and a wry little shake of her head. "- so . . . so it's good to be back working with people who speak my language? The All-tongue doesn't really cover physics, mostly because they don't really have physics, they have 'Lore', and sometimes it's just frustrating, you know?"

"Not really," Bruce concedes, when she runs out of air.

Tony is still ranting at his robots and ducking under desks, searching. Bruce feels momentarily a bit bad for Dummy and U, but figures that if they were in danger of getting their feelings hurt, JARVIS would probably intervene - JARVIS has to know exactly where Tony's missing piece is, after all, given he has a perpetually complete and unobstructed view of the lab.

Jane flashes Bruce another smile, this one faintly rueful, and rubs at her lower back. "You're welcome any time, you know."

"Maybe Natasha and I will come visit after -" He gestures vaguely at her belly - at a little more than seven months along, her pregnancy is a bit overwhelming on her small frame. It looks like the baby is taking after Thor in size. He hopes they're familiar with c-sections on Asgard.

"That'd be great!" Jane says. She gives the keyboard a few more pokes, biting her lower lip, glancing between screen and papers. "You want to look at this? This is in your area, it's wave -"

"You're having a baby shower," Bruce blurts out.

"Disappointed glaring!" Tony throws over his shoulder, along with a flailing gesture presumably meant to convey extreme unpleasantness. "I think she's actually killed board members that way."

Tony is picking up errant pieces of disassembled suit and actually shaking them. Bruce hopes JARVIS is getting video of this, because this is pure gold.

"What?" Jane asks, straightening up and staring at Bruce, aghast. "Why?"

"Um," says Bruce.

"I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's related to the fetus currently occupying your ladyparts," Tony throws out. "If I'm wrong, then you are flagged on the mead."

Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose. "Can you do me a favor, Tony, and never, ever say 'ladyparts' again?"

"Yes Tony, you are very smart and shiny and I am paying lots of attention to you," Jane says absently, while still staring at Bruce. "Are you serious?"

"Ladyparts, ladyparts, ladyparts!" Tony sings out. "Vaginas?"

"If the baby were in my vagina right now we'd be having a different conversation, with more screaming," Jane tosses in his direction..

"Yeah, I wasn't a fan of the screaming," Tony acknowledges, momentarily serious, head cocked to one side before he gives it a good shake and continues more or less destroying his section of the lab.

"I don't need anything," Jane protests. "I have servants. I have handmaidens. I have reduced the better part of Asgard's scientific-religious elite to bringing me cushions and hot beverages if I frown. Why am I have a baby shower?"

"Um, because Pepper? Duh?" says Tony. Bruce shrugs apologetically, and Jane's shoulders sag.

"When?" Jane asks resignedly. "Wait, does this mean Darcy's back too? She's in on this, isn't she? I thought she'd been avoiding me."

"She only got back this morning," Bruce offers, cringing. "And, um . . in about an hour?"

Jane gives him pleading puppy dog eyes. "But I'm only here two weeks, and I have all this data to translate! This is just . . just mean!"

"We could run your numbers while -"

"No," Jane says flatly. "Just like the last 837 times you tried to get at my equipment. Make your own."

Tony looks up to give her his best boys-will-be-boys smirk, and then - then his mouth actually drops open. It's priceless. "You!" he exclaims, pointing at Jane. "You, you you - you!"

"I think you want to finish that sentence 'are the smartest person in the room'," Jane offers sweetly, while Tony trips on bits of suit trying to get around a table.

"Yeah, no, still not -"

"Bifrost."

"Miniaturized arc reactor."

"Instantaneous interstellar travel."

"Green energy for all."

"You know on Asgard they actually have -"

"La la la do not explain things to me," Tony interrupts loudly, while he stalks up and plucks his missing bit of gauntlet from her head. "Killjoy. And, thief."

"Oh," Jane says, actually sounding faintly apologetic. "I just grabbed -"

"Yeah, I know, it happens," Tony waves it away.

"Pretend to be surprised? Happy surprised?" Bruce asks. "Natasha sends her sympathies."

"You owe me," Jane grumbles, shooting a glare at Tony.

"What? Why do I owe you?" Tony demands.

Jane is already diving back into her data with feverish intensity, as if determined to make up for the time she's about to lose. Papers are flying. "Because Bruce warned me, and you didn't."

"Suck-up!" Tony tosses at Bruce.

"I've been told there will be gourmet cupcakes," Bruce offers. "That sounds sort of fun. It might not be so -" Jane gives him a look of utter death. Bruce retreats, both hands in the air. "- or not. I'm the one who warned you, remember?"

"One hour's warning - don't push your luck," Jane retorts.

***

The security outnumbers the attendees, despite that - as Pepper had repeatedly pointed out - half the attendees are quite capable of being security, and the whole thing is held in the Tower under JARVIS's watchful eyes, anyway. The extra guards are excessive as paparazzi deterrent and probably useless against anything that would present an actual threat to the partygoers - but apparently pointless-yet-showy security measures are just what happens when the Queen of Asgard pays a (very hush-hush) visit.

The men and women in black are all outside the room itself, at least - Natasha thinks Pepper may have resorted to actual blackmail to achieve that, but achieve it she did. The ongoing war of wills between Pepper Potts and Nick Fury is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.

Other than that, it's a baby shower. The cupcakes are good. Jane is terrible at hiding how bored and antsy she is - at least to Natasha's eyes. It's possible she's fooling everyone else; Pepper seems contented, anyway. Sif looks charmed by the whole thing, probably owing to Darcy's very colorful running commentary on the proceedings. The only time Jane really perks is when the conversation turns to ultrasounds, which she explains very precisely and with great glee. Frigga looks politely interested, and Natasha actually can't get any further read on her - she supposes a few millenia of politics will cultivate a talent for being opaque. It also comes out, about then, that Jane is having a boy.

Natasha was given the task of cataloging gifts. Jane has recieved:

- a complete set of Avengers-costume onesies in every size up to eighteen months, including an outfit that consists of a Smurf tee-shirt and a pair of tiny jeans, which is apparently Jane's unfairly-less-marketed superhero costume (Darcy)

- a set of waterproof sheets and a breast pump (Darcy's mother, not in attendance).

- a boho-chic diaper bag that looks not dissimilar to, but vastly more designer than, the sort of purses Jane carries, and a matching backpack-style baby carrier (Pepper).

- a beautiful set of throwing knives and the promise of instruction in their use (Sif - apparently of the opinion that mothers should be well-equipped to defend their children. Natasha likes her.)

- a baby monitor that, within a 10-foot radius of the baby, can report not only sounds of distress, but heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and blood glucose level (Tony and Bruce, not in attendance, ignoring gender conventions)

- a framed sketch of herself round-bellied and distant-eyed (Steve, not in attendance, see above re: gender conventions)

- a leather-bound collection of journal articles on the latest in infant neurological development (Natasha - and she gets a genuine smile. She wins.)

- a bejeweled set of bracelets probably worth more than the Tower (Frigga).

Magpie, perched on Jane's knee and true to her name, is using the bracelets as teething rings within moments. Frigga is watching with a soft, approving smile on her face, not offended in the least.

It makes Natasha feel momentarily better about the universe in general. Bruce teases her that babies make her philosophical, but she would dare him to find a better example of why they're still trying, why any of what they fight for makes any difference, than what Frigga clearly sees - not in the baby, Natasha thinks. In Jane.

Tiny, absent-minded, fierce Jane, who fixed a broken universe for a man she'd known all of three days - the man who'd broken it for her - and ended up bearing the heir to it.

Jane may not have wanted a baby shower, and Natasha may sympathize with that completely, but Pepper was right - she needed to have one regardless. They need to celebrate their happy endings where they can - to mark the good days.

***