"Hi. I know this is going to sound weird, but can you be my boyfriend for five minutes?"
Bruce closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, and turned around.
Going to a bar had been a terrible plan, and he was never, ever going to forgive Tony, because of course it had been Tony's terrible plan. Bruce wasn't sure how it had happened (although he suspected it had started with, "you should come by Stark Tower sometime") but he and Tony were in some kind of strange holding pattern wherein Tony suggested something, Bruce said no, Tony relented, and yet somehow Bruce ended up doing whatever Tony had suggested in the first place. Secretly, he suspected some kind of Stark Industries patented mind control device, because he had trouble believing that anything shy of that would induce him to go into a bar. Bars were where drunk people happened, and with drunks came loud voices, elbows in uncomfortable places, and spilled beer on his favorite blue shirt, all of which was very good for helping Bruce maintain his constant low level of rage but none of which was particularly good for ensuring that the rage level remained low.
The woman standing near his side was familiar, and the SHIELD employee badge clipped to the collar of her shirt was probably why. It took him a moment longer to place her as Doctor Foster's former lab assistant, who had been reassigned after the two had arrived at SHIELD due to her surplus of being grossly unqualified to work for one of the world's most brilliant astrophysicists, but who still stopped by with cups of coffee and boxes of strawberry poptarts and threats to go steal a sedative from the guys over in the bio lab if Foster didn't agree to go to bed and sleep once every forty-eight hours.
Bruce was pretty sure that last one had been a joke, because no one went into the bio lab willingly. There were strange smells in there, and things scuttling around in the corners, and he was pretty sure those creatures in the fish tank were supposed to be cuttlefish, except cuttlefish didn't usually have big tentacles and enormous, bright purple teeth.
"It's Darcy, right?" he asked, at a loss for how else he was supposed to respond to her greeting.
Apparently, she took his question as consent, because before he was entirely sure what was going on she was sliding up against his side, one of her arms looping around his waist. Her hip was pressed solidly into his thigh and he could feel the curve of her breast against his ribs, and for a moment Bruce's mind just went blank. He thought that his sudden inability to think, much less speak, might be a defense mechanism, because nothing that came out of his mouth right then would have been even remotely appropriate. He was pretty far removed from humanity at this point, but that didn't mean he wasn't (mostly) human, or that his body didn't have some very pronounced opinions on the matter of Doctor Foster's very attractive ex-assistant suddenly deciding that personal space was optional.
"Thanks, Doc," Darcy murmured, close enough that he could feel her lower lip catch on his earlobe. He could also, incidentally, feel his IQ drop several more points. "You're a life saver. Or a job saver, at least, because I've been informed in no uncertain terms that if I tase one more person without it being an actual, honest-to-God emergency, it'll be the sack for me. Probably literally. I mean, it's SHIELD. I'm pretty sure their idea of 'you've been sacked' is tying a bag over your head and putting some matching concrete shoes on your feet before dropping you in the Hudson, right? So hey, you're a life saver after all."
This probably ranked as one of the more surreal moments in Bruce's life. Considering the fact that he turned into a giant green rage monster, the bar was set pretty high. He was reasonably sure Darcy was attempting to limbo her way right under that metaphorical bar.
"I," he said, and it seemed that desperately wanting to be able to finish the sentence was enough to kick start his brain back into gear, because he managed to find the words that were supposed to follow that one, "think that SHIELD is a little more stealth than that. Doesn't the city dredge the Hudson once in a while?"
She laughed, the sound vibrating low and happy against his skin, and Bruce idly considered the possibility that Darcy was a demon sent from hell, or possibly by Tony, who was most likely the devil in human form. Bruce wasn't generally given to theology, but speculating on which of the people in his life might be wearing eau de cologne to cover up the smell of sulfur and brimstone was a good distraction. He needed that distraction, because otherwise he would focus on the extremely distracting Darcy, and that would lead nowhere particularly good for maintaining his dignity. Bruce ended up mostly naked every time he lost his temper; what little dignity he had left was as tattered as the pile of shredded pants on the floor of his closet, and he wanted to keep it.
"Who were you planning to tase?" he asked, while his brain stuttered, wait, tase?
"Hmm. Doesn't matter, he's gone. Thanks again." She laid a smacking kiss on his cheek, smiled at him, and turned to saunter away.
He was pretty sure – not entirely, but mostly sure – that she had given his butt a little pat before unwinding her arm from around his waist. Bruce just stood there, philosophically wondering over the idea that his bar for the surreal had just been raised a little higher, for the half hour it took Tony to rejoin him.
"You know," Tony said, "I really thought it would be easier to beat Fury at pool. I mean, his depth perception can't be that good." He lifted a hand into the air, undoubtedly preparing to illustrate some finer point in the matter, but the hand halted when he finally took a good look at Bruce, and he started snickering.
It wasn't until some time later, after they had returned to Stark Tower and Bruce had gone into the bathroom attached to his suite to brush his teeth before turning in for the night, that he looked in the mirror and realized he had a perfect imprint of burgundy red lips on his cheek.
He was definitely never going to forgive Tony.
"Doctor Banner," Darcy said, as she swanned into his lab a few days later. "Quick, I need your help. The boyfriend shtick again. Five minutes, I swear."
He managed to put down the tablet in his hands before she deposited herself in his lap. He took a deep breath, and worked hard on maintaining his heart rate at something lower than a thousand bpm. The heart rate had stopped being so much of an issue once he had figured out that the trick to keeping the Other Guy in his box was to just be constantly mildly angry at everything and everyone, but he didn't think that hyperventilating was generally considered impressive and, God help him, he kind of wanted to impress Darcy Lewis.
A few seconds after Darcy had settled herself comfortably in his lap (and he really and truly wished that she would stop shifting around so much), Jane Foster walked into the lab. There was fire in her eyes and purpose to her step; this was obviously a woman on a mission. However, she stopped short when she saw Darcy snuggled into Bruce's lap with all the comfort of someone who often sat in the laps of near-strangers.
"Oh," Jane said. "Ah. I'm so sorry." Her cheeks were stained with red, and she backed up toward the door. "I should have knocked. I didn't know – Darcy, of course NGC 6369 can wait. You should've said. Sorry." She groped blindly for the doorknob, and escaped out into the hall, pausing only briefly to shout over her shoulder, "Have fun, you two! Be safe!"
"Why?" Bruce said, which was about all he could manage.
"Nebulas," Darcy said, in the same tone of voice that most people would use to say dog shit. "She wanted me to look at nebulas. For fun."
"I'm pretty sure it's 'nebulae,'" Bruce said, since that seemed the safest of the possible things he could say.
"You're cute," Darcy said, and slid out of his lap.
It was possible, Bruce reflected, that he wasn't actually going to survive being acquainted with Darcy Lewis.
"Five minutes," Darcy said, and held out her phone beseechingly.
Bruce took it from her with firm misgivings, but also with the knowledge that, having never said no to her before, he probably wasn't going to start now. He pressed the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"This is the man who is dating my granddaughter?" rasped the person on the other line. The voice sounded a little like Darcy's might in sixty years, if Darcy had been born somewhere in Eastern Europe and were to spend the next forty years chain-smoking. "I hear you are a doctor, yes?"
Bruce looked at Darcy, and mouthed the word what as distinctly as he could.
"If she asks," Darcy said, completely unrepentant, "tell her you're Jewish."
Most of the time, Bruce didn't remember much from when he was the Other Guy. Bits and pieces, yes, but as jumbled together and confused as his memories of the action flicks that Clint sometimes chose for team movie nights, if somewhat more visceral than any of those ever were.
Which was why, when he woke up with what he knew full well was an Other Guy-induced Hulk hangover and a very clear memory of Darcy Lewis smiling up at him against the backdrop of a street that bore all the markings of just having been through some kind of Avengers related melee while saying, "I need a minute. Like, five, actually. Do me a favor, Big Green?" he decided that not getting out of bed for the rest of the day was really an extraordinarily well thought out plan.
In the end, the realization that he probably hadn't eaten in over twenty-four hours and a pressing desire to make sure that his alter ego hadn't mauled the lunatic girl of his dreams drove him out of bed quite a bit sooner than that.
She was fine, of course. She was sitting next to a laughing Jane in the lab, and when he came in she shoved a newspaper across the lab table at him. "Look, baby, we made the front page."
The newspaper had printed a picture of Darcy leading the Hulk by the hand through a street strewn with debris and overturned cars. The accompanying headline read: HULK IN LOVE? Bruce might not have been so concerned by that had he not recognized the faintly bemused, why am I going along with this again? look contorting the Other Guy's features as one that he, himself, often wore.
"Thanks again, by the way," Darcy said.
"Darcy," he said, as calmly as he could, "never tell me how this happened. Or why. Or what happened."
"Okay," Darcy said.
"No one died, right?"
"The big guy and I pretty much decided that wasn't necessary."
"Alright. Then never tell me."
The door to the lab banged open.
"No," Bruce said. It felt good.
"What?" Darcy paused at the threshold, her head quirked adorably to one side. Bruce refused to be swayed.
"No. I will not pretend to be your boyfriend. Not even for five minutes. Even I have my limits, Darcy."
"Don't you have more limits than most people?" Darcy asked, and conveniently ignored the fact that she had essentially been thrash dancing all over his limits for the past several weeks. She approached the computer console he was working at slowly, cautiously, like she wasn't the most dangerous thing in this lab.
Oh. Wait. No, that was probably fair. She wasn't.
Bruce took a calming breath.
"My point still stands."
Darcy cleared her throat. "I was actually coming by to ask you to sign some papers for HR, but we can talk about this too. I'm sorry if I bugged you with the whole fake boyfriend thing. I mean, you seemed pretty okay with it, and a girl always needs a couple good guy buddies who can loom convincingly and keep the creeps off."
"And the Janes, and the grandmas," Bruce pointed out dryly, and thought he did a good job of sounding serenely unbothered and not at all like some corner of his mind was repeating buddies? in a vaguely disbelieving tone. Since he was nearly certain that was the corner where the Other Guy lived, it was best not the dwell on the matter.
"Well, yeah, those too," Darcy admitted. "I mean, if I thought you were actually interested in dating me, I would have asked about that instead, but—."
"Wait," Bruce said, and raised a hand for emphasis, because his brain always needed a moment to parse Darcy-speak into something resembling an actual human dialect. "Run that by me one more time."
Darcy looked at him dubiously. "Would you like to go out on a date with me? See a movie? Allow me to stop livin' the lie with my granny?"
The corner of his mind Bruce had previously been repressing with all his might started threatening to smash if he said no. That was definitely where the Other Guy lived, and Bruce tried very hard not to consider how it likely reflected on Darcy that the Hulk approved of her. He really, really would be a happier man if Darcy kept her word and never told him the story of how that had happened.
"Yes," he said, once he had finished arguing his violent subconscious back into compliance. "I'd like that."
For once, Darcy was the one left looking a little stunned. Bruce attempted not to feel too smug about that, and mostly succeeded. "Cool," she said, after a moment. She tossed the file she had been holding on the table nearest him, shrugged, and said, "Uhm, if you could sign those, that would be super. I'll – see you later, I guess?" She started toward the door, and made it one step before she stopped. "Forgot," she muttered, seemingly to herself, and turned back to him, weaving around the table until she was standing beside his chair. Bruce watched her with the resignation of a man who just could not be surprised any longer, a sentiment which he maintained for just about as long as it took her to lean over, tuck a few strands of loose, soft brown hair behind her ear, and kiss him.
Because Darcy never did anything by halves, it was not a quick peck on the lips.
When they finally broke apart, Darcy's lipstick was gone, which most likely meant that it was smeared halfway across Bruce's face. The universe was inherently unjust, so Tony would probably come into the lab before he had a chance to wipe it off, but Bruce was of the mind that the kiss had been worth whatever mocking awaited him.
"Later, Doc," Darcy said, and rubbed some of the lipstick from the corner of his mouth with a smile before she left.
Bruce had been unsure of his chances of survival when it came to being acquainted with Darcy (he had estimated them to be around 67.2%). He was entirely sure that he wasn't going to survive dating her, although he hadn't yet run the numbers.
He was remarkably okay with that.
Response to a prompt over on Tumblr's fuckyeahdarcylewis group.