Author's Note: I was surprised it lead to this, but in retrospect, I should have expected it. I love the Marvel cinematic universe, but actions have consequences. Fortunately, this is fluff, not angst.
Thanks to everyone who's read, faved, and reviewed my first steps into purely Avengers fiction, not to mention Bruce/Darcy. Considering that this pairing is making a spirited attempt to eat my brain, there may be more. I also have (in addition to my other ongoing projects) a half-finished Thor fic, and a couple of Pepperony plotbunnies gnawing on me. Stupid awesome characters.
Disclaimer: Bruce Banner, Darcy Lewis, and all associated characters and concepts are property of Marvel Comics Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
One More Never Hurt: Darcy Lewis bounces back.
She takes a deep breath as the nurse cranks the back of her bed up, and tries to steady her nerves. She needs to, because for the first time in three days, she's allowed visitors. And she knows that in about thirty seconds, she's going to be face-to-face with a fluffy-haired heap of shame and contrition that sometimes goes by Bruce Banner, and she is not having that.
Darcy flexes her right arm, working out the kinks in the muscle. Her left is limp, with what remains of the hand bandaged and hooked up to what looks like every machine the hospital could find. That's going to be the first problem: he'll see that arm and it's shame, shame, shame, and she would totally make a Jewish guilt joke if Bruce wasn't still kind of off-kilter about that whole 'religion' thing. Though he might be okay with it if he thinks it'll make her feel better . . . but it won't, because all things considered she could be feeling a lot worse, and using pretend trauma to mock the fluffy doc is something she just can't do.
The door opens, there's a moment of silence, and then there he is.
He looks like hell.
Seriously. Darcy had a building fall on her, and she looks better than he does. Bags under his eyes, messy clothes that probably haven't been changed in the past three days, and maybe even a little more silver in his hair than before. His eyes flick to her left arm, his face crumples, and he almost turns around before he realizes that she's looking at him expectantly.
"Darcy," he says, and her heart breaks a little because he sounds like he wants to run away and never stop. "Darcy, I—I'm so sorry. I never meant . . . look, I mean, I'll understand if you don't want to . . . anything I can do to help, I . . ."
"Chill, science lord," she says. Immature? Maybe, but c'mon, she's still on the good drugs, and if she can't joke about his guiltiness she can at least try to get rid of it as fast as possible. "And have a seat. I asked the nurse to move the chair so it's facing the door—I know you don't like that whole back-to-potential-bad-guys thing."
He stops in the doorway, eyeing her uncertainly. She clucks her tongue and jerks her head towards the chair. After a moment, he cautiously skirts the end of the bed and pauses by the chair, but doesn't sit.
"Are you sure-" he begins.
"God, Bruce, if you even think about apologizing again I'm going to start fining you. Sit down, for crying out loud. You look like you haven't slept for days." She squirms a little, making herself a bit more comfortable against the raised back of the bed. "By the way, you're so lucky you have a Y chromosome. They won't let me wear a decent bra! Underwires mess with their equipment or something. I'm gonna have the backache of the century when I get out of here. I don't suppose you can get Black Widow to smuggle me in one? Baked in a cake or something?"
"Darcy," he says again, and he still hasn't sat down. Even the comment about her boobs isn't derailing the worry train, which Darcy can't help respecting—even if it does scare and annoy her too."I can't stay," he continues slowly. "I needed to tell you . . . I'm sorry."
The words seem to be wrenched out of him. Is it something he has to say, or it might eat him inside? Darcy doesn't know, but she senses that more sarcasm and babble might not be the right approach. Instead, she brushes a limp lock of hair away from her face and meets his eyes.
"You don't have to be sorry, Bruce. It wasn't your fault." She nods to the chair again. "Now come on, sit down. You can spare me five minutes, I bet."
Maybe being allowed to actually get his apology out has its effect, because he sits. His gaze has dropped again, though, and he seems to have trouble sitting still. His shoulders are bowed like he's carrying a massive weight on them. Maybe he is. Atlas has shrugged . . . and now it sucks to be Atlas, because the weight of the world's about to fall on his foot.
"SHIELD isn't going to fire you," he says, and there's steel alongside the worry in his voice. "You were injured in the line of duty, protecting people. You'll keep your job, and get the best care possible, if I have to have the Other Guy weigh in on it. I won't let them get rid of you." He runs a hand through his hair, disordering the already-messy waves. "I won't."
"Bruce," Darcy says, and his name comes out unexpectedly soft and tender. Et tu, larynx? "Relax."
"How can I relax?" he says, a harsh twist to the words as his head snaps up again. "You were hurt. You could have been killed. God, Darcy, your arm-"
"-is fixable," Darcy interrupts, and she reaches out her one good hand and grabs his fingers before they can clench into fists. "Bruce . . . and I say this as your affectionate and loyal lab slave . . . stop freaking out. I . . . look, I'm scared, okay? I was scared then too, but it was worse. I'll be okay now. I'm just working through it, and it's going to be okay." The words come tumbling out, and she's not sure where they're coming from. "I've been through bad stuff before. I was within seconds of getting my head fried off in New Mexico, all right? I did my time in bad dreams then, and I've accepted that this world is full of big, big things that might hurt me." Bruce's lip curls, and she knows he's getting ready to curse himself and the Other Guy again. She can't have that, and gives his fingers a squeeze. "And it's full of amazing things that can help me, too. Like you, and Hulk."
"If it hadn't been for him—us—you wouldn't be in this situation," Bruce insists, but his conviction is failing a little. Fifteen years older than her or not, he looks lost and very young at that moment. She wants to hold him and tell him everything's going to be okay. But she can't . . . maybe not just yet.
"That's not true. So we went out for coffee and I got a little banged up. You know what? My other SHIELD job is working for Jane freaking Foster. I almost got caramelized by the Destroy-o-bot when I hadn't even completed my internship with her. And if you want to talk targets, she's Thor's girlfriend. Who knows what kind of collateral damage I could wind up as if someone decides to kidnap her? And she can't kick ass." Darcy frees her good hand and wiggles her fingers at Bruce. "I go for coffee every day. And this time? If it weren't for you and Hulk, I'd be Swiss Assistant." She pauses. "Aswisstant?"
"Darcy . . . if this is your way of reassuring me, it's . . ." Bruce grapples with his words. "It's not very reassuring," he finishes lamely.
"The truth usually doesn't sound so good," Darcy says. "But I'll be okay. Better than okay. Honestly, I think you're more upset than I am."
His eyes flick over her, over what must be the bad hair day of the century—not to mention the bruising, the complete lack of makeup, and the maimed arm. He's definitely not reassured, and he's probably wondering just how much of a knock on the head she got.
"Aren't you worried?" he said. "You got . . . you almost lost an arm, and your hand isn't . . ."
"Didn't I say it was fixable?" she says. "Trust me. Or rather, trust Stark." Bruce looks blank, and she grins at him, just a little. "Okay, so you're sort of not my first visitor. More like first official visitor. When I woke up yesterday, there was an Iron Man outside the window." Bruce opens his mouth, and Darcy plows on before he can object. "He's going to put together something Luke Skywalker-y to fill in the gaps. And before you get guilty on me again, he says cybernetics is a natural extension of his tech, and he wants to give me all the bells and whistles since I'll be his first official test subject. I could probably get him to hide a taser in it."
Bruce looks like he's going to be sick for a moment, and then a strangled laugh escapes. Darcy squeezes his hand, and he squeezes back as he bends over, laughing in disbelief and exasperation and fear and, yeah, amusement. Not a chuckle, not a giggle—the Big Kahuna of L.O.L. The grin on her face must be a mile wide, and the nurse sticks her head in the door and looks at them both in shock, because evidently she never expected to see Bruce freaking Banner laughing.
Darcy likes his laugh. It rumbles down her arm into her, tickling her nerves, and even the good drugs don't feel quite like that.
"A taser," he says as he gets his breath back. His glasses have fallen into his lap, and Darcy snakes them away, polishing the lenses on the bedspread before she returns them. He sets them back on his nose with a grin of his own—weary, yeah, but he seems to have passed beyond grief and guilt into some kind of Zen state of humor, and Darcy's okay with that. "Why do the words 'joy buzzer' spring to mind?"
"Actually, I was just thinking I could use it on that Whole Foods cashier who keeps making fun of my lipstick, but that's not a bad idea." Darcy cocks her head. "You've got a pretty sneaky mind under that fluffy hair, don't you, doc?"
"I learned from the best," he says, and squeezes her one good hand. Darcy flushes and looks down at the blanket.
"Yeah, but Stark's not here right now, so you're gonna have to take remedial with me," is all she can think of to say. He laughs again, just a little, and she thinks she will have to put a joy buzzer in the new hand just for him. And maybe paint it bright Hulk green, because he'd smiled that one time she wore the knockoff Hulk top she got from Crazy Ahmed's cart in the Square and because even more than that she wanted him to know that she didn't mind, dammit. And oh boy, Darcy, you've got it bad don't you?
"That's strange," he responds. "You're a lot of things, Darcy, but I didn't think you were coy." His words are positively teasing, and her stomach flutters a little.
"You know me, science lord, I aim to surprise," she says.
"Yes," he replies. "You really do."
The hundredth time Darcy Lewis surprises Bruce Banner, he realizes that some people aren't as fragile as they appear. And he knows that he doesn't have to be afraid for her.
The hundredth and first time comes two weeks later, when she shakes Fury's hand with her new Hulk-green taser gauntlet and gets put on one month's suspension. It's kind of worth it, though, because as the guards escort her out she laughs and kisses him.