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Don't Let Him Go (just give him a chance to grow)

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Chapter One

Tony Stark was supposed to be charming, erudite, and brilliant, the kind of playboy that made women melt at his jaunty smile. The magazines and blogs were always full of stories and photographs – mostly Avengers stuff, these days, but you still got some photos of him holding wild parties or with women in totally slutty outfits on his arm, or doing some crazy thing that sent the media into an uproar.

The first time that Darcy ever met him he was wearing sunglasses because he had a hangover, and sitting hunched blearily over half a cup of coffee in the Avenger’s kitchen.

Darcy had been sent to get coffee, because she might be a poli-sci major working for an astrophysicist but she was a good assistant where it counted, which was following orders like ‘pass me the thing with the, you know what it is, the thing,’ and ‘get him out of my lab before he breaks something,’ and most importantly, ‘Darcy, can you get me some more coffee, please?’

As Darcy walked in Stark said something kind of like ‘uurghhnoise’ and hunched further over his coffee.

Darcy stared at him.

She’d heard a lot about Tony Stark, of course, who hadn’t, but she hadn’t exactly had a chance to meet him until now. SHIELD kept her away from all the most interesting people, except Thor, and that was only because Darcy had been co-opted for Thor-sitting duty to make sure he didn’t accidentally break any of the lab toys when he was visiting Jane or make the scientists cry (Okay, one scientist. But still.)

“Wait, did you just wake up now?” Darcy asked incredulously.

Stark cringed, and okay, maybe Darcy had said that kind of loud.

“Because seriously, it’s like, two in the afternoon, who stays in that late? Also, if you drank the last of the coffee, you’re going to have a pissed astrophysicist on your hands.”

“Ugh.” Stark actually raised his head this time, in order to glower at her. “You’re loud. Go away.”

“Whatever,” Darcy told him. “I’m just here to get Dr Foster more coffee, because walking up three floors to get it when has a project going is beneath her or something, like sleeping or eating.”

There was just enough coffee for one cup. Darcy poured out the last of it while Stark watched her balefully.

She couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses, but she could tell. It was the waves of possessive jealousy radiating from him as she walked out with the last cup of coffee.

So, Tony Stark: not nearly as charming as she’d expected, and a lot more scowly and hungover.

Darcy wasn’t impressed.

The next time Darcy saw him was when he blew past her with a sheet of schematics in one hand, and pushed in front of her to take the elevator just as the doors opened.

“Hey!” Darcy said indignantly, because, hello, rude, and she’d spent the last five minutes waiting for the damn elevator to make its way down from the 30th floor.

Stark turned his head and looked down his nose at her, apparently unused to people calling him out on being a jerk with no manners.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

His tone of voice suggested that he was about as likely to know her as he would, like, a frog, or slugs or something.

Darcy glared at him.

“I stole the last cup of coffee when you were hungover and you said I was loud. Also, I think Thor’s manners are better than yours, and he’s only just stopped smashing crockery as a sign of appreciation.”

Stark’s eyebrows crept up a tiny bit.

“Uh-huh.” He stared at her. “And you are?”

“Darcy Lewis,” Darcy said grumpily. “I’m Dr Jane Foster’s assistant.”

She couldn’t help noticing that Stark looked a lot more clean-shaven and sort of hot this time, now he wasn’t hungover and rocking the hobo look.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Miss Lewis, but I’m kind of in a hurry, so –”

And the elevator doors shut in Darcy’s face.

“Asshole!” Darcy shouted, hitting the ‘up’ button harder than she needed to, but the doors didn’t open, and the 2nd floor light about the door lit up to show that the elevator was still going up without her.

Darcy glared at the doors.

She was so siccing Thor on him.

Later that day, she updated the blog.

Darcy had kept a blog for several years now, although in recent months it had kind of devolved into reasons why the Avengers are not as cool as everyone thinks they are, why working with SHIELD sucks, and a whole lot of stories that basically boiled down to stuff like don’t invite Thor to parties, he will drink all the beer and break all your glasses.

Darcy was pretty sure that Agent Coulson et al kept a close eye on what she wrote, because that was how the Men In Black rolled, and because of the look Coulson had given her the day after she posted that if the Avengers were a movie he should be played by Jason Statham (it was a compliment, honestly.)

But none of the Avengers themselves or anyone Darcy worked with personally seemed to have discovered the blog, so Darcy felt perfectly comfortable being completely honest in what she wrote.

Judging by the several thousand hits she got every day, people appreciated this honesty. Also, the Thor stories.

For those of you that ever wondered what Tony Stark’s like in person, he’s a dick, Darcy wrote. Apparently, if he doesn’t want to sleep with you he feels free to be a completely obnoxious asshole. Last time I met him he was hungover and I didn’t want to judge, but trust me, hungover Tony Stark is totally preferable to non-hungover Tony Stark. Hungover Tony Stark doesn’t have the energy or enough ability to articulate to be an asshole.

Darcy followed this up with another one of her Thor stories – today, Thor had used the exclamation ‘by Fury’s eye!’ much to the boss-man’s displeasure and everyone else’s general hilarity – and hit ‘publish.’

Darcy kind of hated the SHIELD events, a little. She had to come, because Thor always came which meant that Jane came, which meant that Jane wanted back up and Darcy had absolutely no choice about whether she got to come or not.

The only consolation was the wine, which was plentiful and expensive but completely free, and the fact that Darcy got to ogle the hot guys in suits. She usually found herself a quiet corner alone with her wine, at least until Jane dragged her out to socialise or whatever.

“So,” said a smooth voice by her ear, “I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot.”

Darcy jumped and almost spilled her wine. When she turned around, Tony Stark was standing there, wearing his most charming, insincere smile.

“Um,” said Darcy.

“As I recall, I was kind of rude to you,” said Stark.

“You were an asshole,” Darcy said bluntly, because she didn’t believe in politely sugar-coating things.

“Yeah.” Stark’s grin was rakish and debonair and exactly like the totally unsuitable guy in every Regency romance novel Darcy had ever read. That was probably highly significant. “I have to say, convincing Thor to challenge me to a duel to defend your honour was a stroke of brilliance, as acts of highly unusual revenge go.”

Darcy grinned, because that really was one of her better revenges.

Not that this meant that she was feeling any friendlier towards Stark, or anything.

“I thought that maybe an offer to dance would be an appropriate form of apology,” Stark added solemnly, and then gave her a look with his eyes opened very wide, and a hint of mischief in them.

Dammit, that face was kind of charming.

“Fine,” Darcy acquiesced grudgingly. “Let’s dance. But that doesn’t mean I forgive you or anything, and it better be a really good dance, buster.”

“Noted,” said Stark, as Darcy thrust her half-empty glass at the nearest server and stalked out onto the floor.

o O o

Stark turned out to be a good dancer. Like, really, really good. And he kept up a flow of amusing remarks the entire time, and okay, when he was like this instead of a complete asshat he was actually really freaking hot.

Darcy tried to pretend that she wasn’t enjoying herself, and glanced across the room at Jane, who appeared to be also enjoying herself, even though Thor danced like a guy whose limbs all had separate ideas on exactly what dance it was they were doing.

Apparently Jane liked having her feet stomped on. Whatever.

Stark let the conversation drift to a stop. Darcy looked at him.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve just spotted someone I promised a dance to earlier,” he said easily. “I really should… do you mind…?”

“No, it’s fine,” said Darcy. He was totally lying, but hey, he lied with style.

Stark raised his eyebrows at her.

“Then thank you, Miss Lewis, for the dance.” He paused a beat. “Any chance I’m forgiven?”

“Maybe,” Darcy said reluctantly, narrowing her eyes at him, because yes he was, but he didn’t need to know that.

Stark grinned at her – damn – all mischief and more appeal than should be allowed in a human being, and actually gave, like, a tiny bow before he went away, and again, damn.

Darcy sighed, and went to find more wine.

o O o

She had just found a new glass of wine and started enjoying it when a curvy blonde in a really short dress who had clearly exceeded her alcohol tolerance wobbled up to her.

“So!” the blonde said loudly, in that I’m going to compensate for my difficulty speaking by talking really LOUD voice of drunk people everywhere. “I saw you dancing with Stark.”

Darcy just sort of nodded.

“He is fantastic in bed,” Drunk Blonde confessed.

“Really,” said Darcy. She wondered why people always seemed to feel the need to tell her these things.

“But boy, is he an asshole,” the blonde finished bitterly. “The next morning was the most humiliating of my life, with him gone and that PA of his looking at me like I’m a five-dollar hooker. Whatever you do don’t sleep with him, honey, because that man is an A-grade dick.”

Which was basically confirmation of everything Darcy thought about Stark, so yeah.

“I hear you, sister.”

Darcy and Drunk Blonde exchanged serious understanding nods, and the blonde woman walked away unsteadily to hit on Captain America, who looked pretty alarmed, the poor guy.

Darcy grinned, because for a national hero Rogers was actually pretty shy and blushing and all-round adorable, which always made it pretty hilarious when a fangirl homed in on him.

“Darcy!” Jane exclaimed, appearing out of nowhere and looking disproportionately relieved, which probably meant that Thor’s Level of Embarrassing had exceeded his Level of Hotness, again, and Jane had decided to quietly escape.

“Hey,” Darcy greeted her. “Where’s Tall, Blonde and Hot? You guys were really getting down last time I saw you.”

Jane groaned.

“He was offended by the hors d’oeuvres, and I think he’s trying to convince them to bring out something a bit larger.”

“What, like a dozen turkeys or something?” Darcy asked. “Because I’m pretty sure that anything less than that would offend him, too.”

“Honestly, sometimes I wonder how he eats so much,” Jane sighed, looking put-upon, because she was usually the one who had to feed Thor, which was no easy task.

“And then you take a look at those fantastic pecs and abs and think, oh yeah,” Darcy finished for her.

Jane tried to pretend she didn’t want to laugh, and ended up making a sort of snorting sound, looking away and smiling.

“Come on,” Darcy said bracingly. “Let’s get you some more wine, and then we can go and explain to Thor that you’re supposed to starve at these things, it’s tradition.”

Jane smiled, and let Darcy drag her away.

Hey, internet. Last night was one of the usual SHIELD shindig things where everyone has to dress up and act polite and pretend they’re actually enjoying themselves. Normally I kind of hate those, because I end up in a corner somewhere drinking wine and checking out all the hot guys, but last night wasn’t too bad.

For a start, Thor got really offended by the hors d’oeuvres, because they were all pretty small, and “THE SONS OF ASGARD EAT LIKE KINGS!” apparently, and ‘TO OFFER SUCH A NIGGARDLY MEAL IS AN INSULT TO OUR STRENGTH AND VITALITY!” which is true, because normally Thor eats, like, enough for five people. It costs a lot of money to feed him, but his girlfriend thinks it’s worth it – I mean, have you seen Thor? He’s like a 6’3” wall of muscle and youthful vigor. Women swoon in his presence.

Anyway, we eventually convinced him that the organisers weren’t trying to anger him or imply that he was weak and feeble, that it’s customary to starve your guests at these things because Midgardians suck as hospitality, blah blah, and promised him that on the way home his girlfriend could stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken and get him a few  variety buckets.

The other thing that happened? Tony Stark asked me to dance. No, seriously. You guys remember me telling you all about my revenge on him, right? With Thor challenging him to a duel to defend my honor? Well, apparently he was impressed by my devious ways, or maybe just didn’t want to end up fleeing for his life again, because he apologised to me and asked me to dance.

I’ll say this: Stark is a fabulous dancer. He really is. And when he’s actually making an effort, he is TOTALLY charming. No man should be allowed to have that much charm, it’s unfair. And when he’s cleaned up and wearing a suit? HOT. Like, smokin’.

So. I still think he’s an asshole, but he’s a hot and charming asshole.

Darcy kind of liked Agent Coulson. For a government stooge who never let anyone do anything fun and was basically a supernanny who could kill you if given like, five minutes and a spoon, he wasn’t that bad.

Besides, he was supernanny to people like Thor and Stark and Clint Barton, so you kind of had to feel for him. Darcy liked Clint – they both had the same opinion on absolutely everything about SHIELD and the Avengers and the fact that Banner occasionally Hulked out when there was a computer problem, which always meant that shortly afterwards SHIELD had to shell out for new computers, because the Hulk broke everything – but he had this habit of sitting at the top of high things and dropping out of ceilings and threatening to shoot things, and what Fury called ‘a distinct lack of goddamn team spirit here, Barton!

So anyway, when Darcy saw Coulson in the hallway, there was no way she wasn’t going to say hello.

“Yo, Son of Coul,” Darcy greeted him, because she was never, ever letting that one go.

Coulson received it with his usual composure, but Darcy saw the flicker of pained irritation in his eyes. Score.

“ ‘Son of Coul?’” a voice repeated, and Coulson’s irritation was a bit more obvious this time, as he and Darcy both turned to face Tony Stark.

Heh. It served Coulson right. Darcy still hadn’t gotten her iPod back. She’d had to buy a new one, and repurchase half her songs because she’d forgotten to back them up when her old computer died and she had to get a new one.

“Mr Stark,” Coulson acknowledged, not sounding very happy.

‘Son of Coul,’” Stark said again, a little like someone had given him a present. “That’s fabulous. Let me guess: Thor, right?”

“Yup,” Darcy confirmed. “Phil here has a name that’s a little misleading for Norse gods.”

“Phil?” Tony sounded weirdly delighted. “Special Agent Phil. Not quite as intimidating as Coulson.”

Coulson was sending Darcy a look that was only a little how could you why would you do this to me? because he saved the really reproachful look for when the Avengers did something he really didn’t approve of, like when Stark and Rogers and Thor got everyone in SHIELD banned from the local bar for life, or the time the Avengers held a mock-wedding to formalise the fact that Coulson was married to his job. (There had been some great cake, and Darcy still had the gilt-edged invitation pinned to her bedroom door, because it made her smirk every time she saw it.)

“Are you seriously telling me you never bothered to look at his SHIELD security pass?” Darcy demanded. “I mean, it’s right there, pinned to his shirt. With his full name on it.”

Stark blinked and looked at it.

Oh my God, you didn’t, you really never bothered to look.

“Well, you know –”

“You actually never bothered to look,” Darcy insisted, her voice rising, because this was ridiculous. “You’ve had this guy working with you for how long now, and you didn’t bother to learn his name?

“I know his name, it’s Special Agent Coulson,” Stark defended himself. “And besides, if he wanted me to know, he’d have told me. Right?” Stark looked appealingly at Coulson.

Coulson looked a little like he wanted to laugh.

“Or, you know, you’re just a self-absorbed asshole,” Darcy suggested pointedly.

Stark gave her a hurt look, all big brown eyes and pout, and it was a good thing Darcy was a Woman of Steel or she would have folded like a house of cards.

Instead she gave him a challenging stare, like she’d seen Pepper Potts do when he tried to pull that shit (Pepper Potts was all kinds of awesome, and Darcy wanted to be just like her when she grew up).

“I am hurt, hurt by your baseless insinuations,” Stark said loudly. “Come on, does that sound like me? You know what, don’t answer that, I can see by the look on your face that you would love to answer that with a level of detail that might make me uncomfortable.”

Darcy shook her head.

“You’re kind of insufferable,” she told him.

“But cute, right?” he asked, raising his eyebrows innocently, and oh my God he was flirting with her.

Darcy narrowed her eyes.

Coulson cleared his throat.

“Miss Lewis, I believe that I should remind you that you are forbidden from tasering any of your fellow SHIELD staff,” he said smoothly, because he was just naturally fantastic.

Stark gave them both a perturbed look.

“She does that?” Stark asked. He seemed to be trying to decide whether this made him less likely to flirt with her, or more.

“We’re trying to break her of the habit,” Coulson said, still deadpan, and damn if he wasn’t the best straight man ever.

Stark thought about that.

“Sounds kinky,” he said earnestly, and okay, now Darcy did want to tase him, until his brain came out his ears or something, and see if it taught him a lesson.

SHIELD’s resident supernanny stepped in before Darcy could take things physical – like, actually stepping in between the two of them and acting like a human shield. Darcy would have to take him down before she could get to Stark, and everyone knew that Coulson was secretly a kind of human terminator.

Darcy had heard the can-opener story. She wasn’t suicidal.

“Mr Stark,” Coulson said in a tone that said this is not actually a suggestion no matter how I’m phrasing it, “I believe you were on your way elsewhere?”

Stark eyed Darcy for a second, wary but still kind of interested.

“Not really, but I can take a hint. Miss Lewis; nice to see you again, enjoyed the chat, maybe we can discuss your desire to electrocute people in more depth some other time.”

Stark.” Coulson sent him a mildly stern look.

Stark went.

“You know,” Darcy observed, because it was worth saying, “you’re totally the best straight man ever.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Coulson said, staring straight ahead and not smiling, because a true pro didn’t smile.

Darcy was pretty sure he was smiling on the inside, though.