This chapter didn't want to happen. It didn't know which direction it wanted to take, and consequently, was rewritten about six times. Grrrr…. Anyhow…here it is, finally!
All of my readers rock. Thanks for sticking with this!
Bruce's POV! And Hulk too!
Waking up with a curvy young brunette sprawled across his chest was the best start to a day that Bruce Banner could remember having in a very, very, long time. It was a little surreal at first, like he was still sleeping and having the best dream of his life. But then she squeezed him, and it was all real, and he felt the huge smile that crept across his face. It felt…unfamiliar.
She sat up, and he couldn't help his appreciative stare. She hid an amazing body under her mostly shapeless clothes, and he could look at her forever. Well…and touch her too. He sprawled a little bonelessly deeper into the bed, staring up at the young woman who had changed his life so much in the short time he'd known her.
She bit her lip as she stared down at him, eyes sweeping over his mostly uncovered body. Last night, she had expressed her appreciation of his body time and time again, glad that she was allowed to look and touch now. It had been a terrible temptation before, she had admitted, to not look whenever he shrank down from being the Other Guy and was naked. Bruce didn't care. She had every right, now, to stare.
She apologized for the drool on his chest, and he apologized for the hickies he had left on her neck. There had been a lot of making out during the night, like they were teenagers or something. But it had been so long for him that he felt like it was all brand new again, and maybe he only had this one time, so he made the most of every second of it. Darcy hadn't complained at all, and had done the same thing to his neck.
Amid some light banter about a naughty Avengers calendar, they both seemed to realize that their waking had not been natural. As if on cue, knocking sounded at the door. Again. They both knew who it probably was, given that it was late morning and Bruce was usually already in the lab. Tony probably wanted to be geeky with him. It was a new experience for the genius, having someone he actually liked working with around.
Bruce rolled out of bed, snagging a sheet to wrap around his waist, and headed for the door. He could feel Darcy's eyes on him as he walked away, and finally couldn't resist calling over his shoulder for her to stop staring at his butt.
Tony was practically bouncing in agitation when Bruce opened the door, and he swept right in. "C'mon Banner. You don't get to play hooky from the lab just because you went all big green and crazy yesterday. Thanks for saving my butt, by the way. Seriously man, it's almost noon and you're just rolling out of bed? You getting lazy now that you don't have to live on the run anymore?"
"I think I'm occasionally allowed to indulge in some slothful behavior," Bruce told him. He marveled at his own personal evolution. A few months ago, standing in front of anyone, much less Tony Stark, wearing only a sheet would have traumatized him. Now? It didn't really bother him all that much.
Stark rolled his eyes. "No Brucey, I don't wanna hear your justification for being a lazy butt. Why don't you get some clothes on so we can go be geeky together, huh? And clean yourself up man. You're still dirty. Wait. Wait a minute. That's not dirt on your neck. That's…holy shit, Banner! That's a love bite! Oh Brucey! She figured it out, didn't she? She figured out how to keep the Hulk from busting out while you got some, didn't she? Look at you! I don't think I've ever seen you look so relaxed! See what being backed up does to ya?"
Taking in the wide eyes, gaping mouth smile, and frenetic gesturing, Bruce wondered if Tony was more excited about how things had worked out than he and Darcy were. It was nice to know that he cared.
He trailed, a bit reluctantly, after Tony who apparently had decided that he had to get visual confirmation on what had happed the night before. Darcy handled it like a pro, propping herself up on her elbows with the sheet carefully tucked around her. She listened to Tony's excited babble for a little bit until the billionaire asked about protection, insinuating that Bruce's gamma irradiated sperm could have weird effects on her. Then she kicked him out.
When she reached for him, Bruce's stomach went all aflutter. He could get used to this.
After an enjoyable morning tussle, they headed for the shower. Bruce had a moment of complete disconnect from reality when the young woman with naughty eyes, dripping wet and naked, soaped him thoroughly, as if she couldn't get enough of touching him. It was surreal and for that moment, he was sure he was stuck in the private hell of dreaming. Fantastic while it lasted, but excruciating upon waking to discover it wasn't real.
Somehow, she saw and recognized the moment. With a low, wicked laugh, Darcy pinched his side firmly, eliciting a protest from Bruce. He stared down into her impudent grin, soap sudsy hands pressed to his chest, and tried to keep the silly grin from spreading across his face. It was real. This was real, and this wonderful young woman, for whatever reason, had chosen him.
If Darcy wondered or worried at why he slid wet soapy arms around her and squeezed her tight, she didn't let on, just hugged him back. It was just what Bruce needed.
He couldn't stop smiling, he realized as they got dressed and grabbed some takeout leftovers from his refrigerator. Literally, the muscles in his face were starting to hurt from the stupid, goofy grin. Well, he deserved to smile, didn't he? It had been a long time since he felt as relaxed as he did right now. Relaxed and at peace. With someone who knew all of him and accepted all of him. It was a good way to feel.
He commented on it in the elevator, as they finally (finally!) headed out to resume their normal abnormal routine. Darcy smiled at him, and laughed when he suggested he probably looked like he was hitting up a large bag of weed.
When he told her he was going to cook dinner for them, she looked stunned and a little vulnerable. That told Bruce all he needed to know about the quality of guys (boys) she had dated previously. He hadn't asked. He didn't really want to know, but he couldn't imagine that she'd spent a lot of time alone. She was too pretty and too amazing. He wasn't sure why she had suddenly become interested in an older, damaged man, but he was grateful. So very grateful.
He left her at Foster's lab, and continued on to his own space in a bemused daze, lost in the memories of the night. He hadn't felt this relaxed in a very long time. He made a mental list of the ingredients he would need for dinner, and rattled them off to Jarvis with a request to have them delivered before the end of the day.
"Of course, Dr. Banner," Jarvis assured. "And may I just compliment you on your current cheerful demeanor? Ms. Lewis seems to have a very calming effect on you."
Bruce, thinking back to some of the very not-calming things that had taken place during the night, choked a little. "Uh…thanks Jarvis." He flushed red and then wanted to smack himself for being embarrassed about thinking naughty thoughts while talking to an artificial intelligence programmed by Tony Stark. He had heard some of the things Jarvis said to his creator. Jarvis was no innocent.
Bruce was sure he didn't imagine the faint amusement in Jarvis's voice. "You're welcome sir."
Even though Bruce's work day had started after noon, he had no intention of working late into the night. He finally had something to look forward to, instead of the never ending enduring he had previously suffered. Now…now he didn't feel like he was enduring. Now…life was something worth living.
Bruce honestly couldn't have told anyone what he worked on during the afternoon. He would admit to being a little, a lot, distracted. Luckily, Jarvis had his back. The AI several times had to call him back to attention in time to prevent messing something up in a big way. Tony was less than helpful. He just kept howling with laughter and speculating on exactly what kind of night Bruce and Darcy had had.
When Jarvis informed that the dinner supplies had been delivered, Tony was almost intolerable. "Oh Brucey! You're cooking for her? That's pretty heavy, Hulk man. No wonder you can't concentrate. You're too busy thinking about what might happen tonight." The billionaire sighed, appearing briefly forlorn. "What about me, Brucey? Are you abandoning me?"
Bruce tried not to smile. An insecure Tony Stark was something he was pretty sure that most of the world didn't even suspect existed. "Don't worry Tony. I'll always have time for you, too." He reached up to pat Tony on the arm. "But I've had some time with you since this whole thing started, and I haven't had much time with Darcy."
Stark pouted. "Just because she has a bigger chest…"
Bruce looked down at the floor and off to one side, hiding his smile. "Sorry Tony. If it comes down to a contest between your chests, Darcy definitely wins. And I'd much rather touch hers than yours."
Tony wilted. "Geez. And here I thought I was completely irresistible. That's what the media tells me."
Bruce snorted. "Um…yeah. I don't swing that way Tony. But if I did…"
The billionaire's sudden cocky smile almost made him laugh. "Ha! Knew it." Tony folded his arms across his chest. "I just want you to pay attention to me, Brucey. Hey! Tomorrow, let's spend some time testing the Hulk-proof level!"
Bruce blinked at him. "You put in a Hulk-proof level?"
Tony winked. "Yep. It's underground, but should hold Not-So-Jolly."
Bruce heaved a great sigh. "Yes, I think I can manage that."
Tony peered at him, walking around one of their hologram displays and coming to a stop right in front of him. He tilted his head to one side, probably looking at Bruce's tired, puffy eyes with a shadowing of dark circles under them. "Kick Ass totally wore you out, didn't she?"
Bruce looked away. "Maybe I'm just not used to…um…so much activity when I'm not the Other Guy."
His friend howled with laughter. "Poor Brucey. You'll adapt eventually. But sleep? It is kind of essential?"
Bruce heaved another sigh, running a hand through his hair in agitation, with a rueful smile. "I know. I'm just…enjoying the moment, you know?"
Stark's face twisted into faked wide-eyed astonishment. "Enjoying something, Dr. Banner? Isn't that against your nature?"
"Maybe before," Bruce admitted. "But Darcy helped open up possibilities of better times."
Tony's smile was genuine as he clapped Bruce on the shoulder. "She's helpful like that. Tell her to come play tomorrow too. I want to test her Hulk whispering abilities."
Darcy would probably enjoy that, Bruce mused. She loved demonstrating her control over his angrier self. "I'll do that." He tilted his head to one side. "Why a Hulk-proof level?"
Tony grinned. "You know, so the big guy can let off some steam without causing as much property damage."
Bruce's mouth twisted up in a wry smile. "Uh…thank you. You didn't have to do that."
The billionaire shrugged. "It's cheaper in the long run than paying the lawyers to defend against the lawsuits."
Dinner was totally a win, judging by Darcy's effusive praise. He liked that she had a hearty appetite. Betty had always eaten so lightly, overly concerned with her slender figure. Darcy wasn't afraid to have a few curves, and Bruce liked the raw honesty in her actions. The second helping she took, while babbling positive points about his cooking, assured him that she wasn't just saying she liked it.
They were sharing a laugh over Tony's forlorn abandonment issues when Darcy stilled suddenly, and frowned. Bruce was instantly alert. "What?"
She sighed, and met his eyes. Hers were twinkling a little. "The world is cruel, Bruce."
He raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"
"Because I'm totally dating an Avenger, and I can't tell anyone. That is just cruel. A girl should get to brag about banging a super-hero, right?"
He choked on his food, and had to spit it out into a napkin. Darcy helpfully hopped up and circled the table to pat his back while he coughed, eyes watering. Finally, it ebbed enough that he could take a drink, and that calmed the tickle in his throat. Darcy pressed a kiss to his temple, started to turn away, and then turned back to give him a messy, food-tainted kiss to the mouth.
"Thank you, for making dinner for me," she breathed, pulling back.
Bruce blinked a few times as she circled the table to retake her seat. "You're welcome," he told her finally. "You taste delicious."
He watched her twitch in surprise, fork dropping from her fingers to somersault down her front. "Dammit Bruce. You can't say things like that when I'm trying to eat food. Look what I did!"
He tried to hide his grin, but it came through anyhow. "Sorry. When should I say things like that?"
Darcy rescued the fork from her lap, and met his eyes with a wink. "Oh you know. When you're going down on me."
Bruce actually managed to knock his plate off the table with that one.
He would admit to being a little nervous, and simultaneously awed. The Hulk-proof level was an enormous domed underground chamber, with tons of giant sized 'toys' for the Other Guy to play with, smash, etc.
Darcy and Tony stood to either side of him. Stark was looking around in satisfaction, while Darcy rubbernecked in fascination. She had been beyond thrilled when Bruce had mentioned Tony's new level and wanting to test both it and her calming abilities.
They hadn't expected Coulson to join them. Tony had stared in surprise when the elevator halted on the ground floor, instead of going to the sub-level like he'd instructed. When the doors had opened to Coulson's tired countenance, he hadn't protested, or berated Jarvis. He'd just stepped closer to the wall to make room for the agent.
Coulson had stepped in and turned to face the elevator door. "Miss Lewis. Dr. Banner. Mr. Stark."
Now the agent stood slightly behind them. He still looked like he was staying on his feet by sheer willpower. The doctor in Bruce wanted to make him sit, but the fighter inside appreciated Coulson's determination to get himself back to form. He hadn't seen the stabbing, but Thor had, and the God of Thunder had gone pale when recounting the story. That told Bruce all he needed to know. Loki had been brutally efficient in plunging his spear through Coulson's back and out through his chest. The agent should have died, but the dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D doctors had fought for him.
Even though Bruce barely knew him, he admired the hell out of Coulson. Anyone who could fight through the grievous wounding he'd received deserved admiration.
"Here to oversee Big Green's playtime?" Darcy asked cheekily, breaking the silence.
Coulson barely twitched. "Just observing, Miss Lewis."
Now that he was here, Bruce was getting a little anxious to get on with it. The Other Guy was itching to get out, mostly because he wanted to spend time with Darcy. He could feel that desire from his inner self, and had to marvel at Darcy's skills. She had Hulk completely tamed.
Tony was fiddling with some controls on his phone type thing, rather than giving verbal commands. Probably safer. If the Other Guy started making a lot of noise, Jarvis would never be able hear him. He finally looked up with a somewhat manic grin.
Bruce heard Darcy's snort of mirth, even as he nodded. "Please step back," he instructed Darcy and Coulson. When they had taken obedient steps away, he opened the gates to let his unusually gleeful alter ego come roaring out.
Pretty. Pretty make happy.
"Hiya, Big Green. Looking handsome, as always."
Pretty pet arm. Mmmm…feel good. Metal man? Metal man come to play?
"Metal man play?"
"Hey big guy. You want to go a few rounds? Whoa. Okay. Yeah, don't smile at me like that, okay? It's scary. Uh…Darcy? You're ready to work your calming mojo, right?"
"What wrong, Tony? Big Green too much of a man for your tinfoil suit?" Pretty!
"Hey. That's not fair. Uh…hey big guy. Where are we going?"
Smash! Throw! Smash more! Pretty like? Pretty?
"Go Big Green!"
Smash! Jump! Swat metal man!
"Hey! No fair there, big guy! I'm not a play toy."
"Yet you've put yourself in the middle of Hulk's 'playthings', Mr. Stark. Naturally he assumes you're there to play."
"Whoa! I don't need snarky side comments, Agent. Geez, big guy! I'm glad you're on our side! Totally tougher than the Chitauri and their flying space slugs."
Jump! Smash. Swat metal man again. Play!
"I'll totally remember this, Brucey. Geez. Stop tossing me around!"
"Remember Tony, he really is only playing right now!"
"Yeah yeah. I know. I still have those Loki sized holes in my penthouse, remember? Big guy's not even trying right now."
"And yet he's still tossing you around like a rag doll, Mr. Stark."
"Seriously Agent…shut it."
"Augh! Jarvis? Structural reinforcement seems to be holding up quite well."
"Yes sir. Although, as you have pointed out, the Hulk isn't even trying right now. Should he wish to, I believe he could do serious structural damage."
"Do you think he could-shit!"
"Metal man talk to Voice in Sky too much."
"Ya jealous, Brucey? You don't have to go love tapping me just because you're jealous."
"Ohmigod, Tony. Did you have sugar today?"
"Ha! Just the usual amount of coffee, Kick Ass."
"Whoa! Okay…not a doll, big guy. Not a doll. Um…Darcy?"
Pretty! Pretty and not-dead man. Play?
"Uh…sorry Big Green. It's not really safe to play with you. We aren't in metal suits."
Drop metal man. "No play?"
"Sorry big guy. Tell you what though. You let Bruce come back, and I'll be sure to play with him."
"Oh Lewis! Yuck."
"Shut up, Tony. How about it, Big Green?"
"Play soft games?"
"Bwahahahaha…Tony – your face! You got it, big guy. I'll play some soft games with Bruce. You're there too, right?"
"That's what I thought. Damn, it's like a threesome. Tony? Tony? You okay?"
"I think I just threw up in my throat, Kick Ass."
"Sorry, Double Oh. C'mon big guy."
Bruce did not want Tony's 'up to no good' expression to be the first thing he saw, but it was. The billionaire was unusually tousled, like after a battle when he'd been crashing around in his suit.
"Your alter-ego is a love machine, Brucey."
Oh god….what happened? "What happened?" he asked, sitting up.
"Hulk totally propositioned Darcy. Like asked her if you guys were gonna play 'soft games' if he let you come back."
Bruce blinked. That was…different. "Is she okay? Is everyone okay?"
Stark waved dismissively. "Yeah, we're all fine. The Hulk-proof level stands up to medium level smashing so far, and your little Kick Ass is one of the scariest women I've ever met."
Bruce couldn't stop his smile. "You're just jealous. Where is she?"
"Coulson is debriefing her on the play session, even though he was there. He's very invested in your threeway dynamic."
Bruce shuddered a little as he remembered a threesome comment from Darcy. "I think I don't want to think about that right now."
Tony patted him on the shoulder. "Probably best for your sanity, Brucey. But you might want to take some wooing tips from your bigger, greener self."
That was right there in the column of things he didn't want to think about right now. "Maybe some time, Tony."