The Last Light Left
An Avengers–HariPo crossover
Note: The Harry Potter characters belong to J.K. Rowling, and I praise Stan Lee and Marvel for their wonderful brainchildren, too. My second ever crossover! :D *Set after Marvel's The Avengers, as well as past the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, though I don't plan on spoiling much. Please excuse my toying with timelines, too. Read, review, and enjoy! Note: This is in the same universe as "unwarranted variables," and while it is not necessary to read that first, you might enjoy this better reading it after that. :]
The computer made explosion sounds. Luckily, it wasn't because he'd blown up something major. Well…that depended. Some people thought it was pretty serious to lose a game of Minesweeper…Bruce Banner was not one of those people.
He sighed and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. How long had he been staring at the computer today? He didn't bother thinking about minutes; he knew for sure that it had been hours. Thinking on that, Bruce groaned and stood up from his desk and stretched. Good god, he ached.
The scientist had only just turned around to grab his cup of Earl Grey tea—yecch, it'd gone cold ages ago—when he heard the familiar ping of a call. His electronics rang like a regular telephone after the initial ping, and Bruce poked the touchscreen of his tablet. "Hey, Tony. What's up?"
"Well, would you look at that? You're up," Tony Stark said from his end.
"Of course I'm up. It's morning."
"Exactly—you're a night owl." Tony winked and smirked, and Bruce rolled his eyes.
"Is there a point to this call, Tony?"
"Hullo, Bruce," came a second voice, and the next thing Bruce saw was a face lighter than Tony's, set with blue eyes and framed by red hair. Bruce grinned.
"Hi, Victoire. How are you?"
"Splendid!" the Englishwoman replied. "I woke up this morning to find that Tony had set his closet on fire this morning while tinkering with his Iron Man suit."
Bruce furrowed his brow in concern. "Jesus! Was anyone hurt?"
"Of course not. I'd fallen asleep on the couch, waiting for him to come up for air from his gadget room," she replied.
"Hey, hey, hey—I'll have you know that I am a very responsible person and I wasn't trying to start a fire," Tony said, pushing his way back in front of the screen. Victoire stuck her tongue out at him.
"Is someone going to tell me why Victoire's happy about a fire?" Bruce interrupted before the couple could start a true bickering match.
"Oh, I'll be employed for months, of course," she stated happily.
Bruce nodded, finally grasping the situation. Ever since Victoire Weasley had been nominated to make a nice suit—of the dress-up sort and not the Iron Man variety—for Tony months ago, Tony had been a lot happier. Bruce was glad for his friend. Since their first Avengers mission, Tony had been sore about his ex, Pepper Potts; he'd sent her away for safety's sake, and yet she had cared more about Agent Phil Coulson's death than she had about Tony's near-death situation that had happened to save the world. Still, Pepper did a better job of running Stark Enterprises…not that Bruce would ever admit that aloud, and certainly not in Tony's presence…and Tony was better at focusing on Iron Man's national and global involvement. Tony still was a part of his father's company, though, which was why Victoire had been hired. Of course, Tony had never been able to resist hitting on a pretty lady, Bruce had learned in the short time he'd known the man, and Victoire had only resisted Tony for a little while. Victoire was now over there half the time, so Bruce had gotten used to seeing her, and he didn't mind. She was genuinely pleasant, not very nosy, and was not as concerned about Tony's hobbies as a certain other redhead had been.
In short, Bruce was jealous. But nice guys always finished last—wasn't that how the saying went?
…of course, it Bruce was being honest with himself, he would not apply that saying to him. No way in hell.
"…an idea for you," Tony said, drawing the scientist out of his thoughts.
"And what could that possibly be?" He pointed at the camera in Victoire's direction. "And please don't suggest what Tony's suggested a billion times. I like the way I dress—I call it comfy. Or slacker chic," he added, gesturing to his baggy pants and oversized sweater.
"No, no, nothing at all like that," Victoire insisted. "I use up my energy anyway, keeping after this one," she said, poking Tony in the ribs.
"Ow. You totally just poked me in the arc reactor."
"Did not. Is your reactor in your side?"
"You know, you really should be more careful with me. Poking me in the mini arc reactor is like poking someone in the pacemaker. The consequences would be damaging."
"Oh, get over yourself."
"Guys!" Bruce cut in. "Please. If you've got nothing more to say, then I'm going to hang up—"
"Wait!" Victoire demanded right as Bruce reached for the "End Call" button. "Wait, hold on!" There was a noise and Tony groaned as Victoire glared at him. She'd kicked him.
"Uh…is there something I should know…?"
Tony cleared his throat. "We, uh, thought maybe you could use some help over there."
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "What, you mean here in the lab?"
"Tony, I'm fine on my own. I can more than manage." He gestured all around him. "You gave me everything I needed. And, to be honest, adding an 'assistant' would probably only bug me. Unless the assistant's smarter than me in most ways… I can't see how it would be a good idea."
"I thought you'd say that." Tony crossed his arms in front of his chest. "But this assistant would also be responsible for looking after you, too—"
"What? What the hell, Tony? I don't need some babysitter—"
"—I was not done, big guy—"
Bruce clenched his jaw. "Tony, I told you to stop saying stuff like that."
"What, you're afraid of the big guy inside?" Victoire looked between the two of them and took a step back so that she was out of sight. No doubt Tony had told her at least something about the "big guy."
"Don't start, Stark." In the reflection of the tablet, Bruce thought he saw his eyes lighten… He panicked and counted to ten. His eyes remained dark. At that, he breathed a small sigh of relief.
"I'm not trying to start anything, Banner" was the philanthropist's response. Tony was stern, not joking. "Come on, Bruce. Look in the mirror. You look like me on one of my benders."
The comment made him chuckle. "Thanks, Tony." He gave Tony's proposal some thought. "But please…don't send an assistant. I can do find without him."
Tony cleared his throat and released a nervous chuckle. "Ah, um, yes, that… Not 'him.'"
"Her." Tony raised his eyebrows, waiting for a reaction.
"Oh, great," Bruce said. "Just what this place needs—some estrogen to balance out all the testosterone in here."
"My thinking exactly."
Bruce sighed. Knowing Tony… "So when should I expect her?"
Tony grinned as though Bruce was one of the many women Tony had successfully bedded and not his closest friend. "Good question." He looked around the camera, and all Bruce saw was the light from the mini arc reactor beneath Tony's shirt. "Vic! When's she coming?"
"She flew—er…flew in last week and is at my place. She can be up tomorrow."
"There," Tony said, looking at the camera once more. "Tomorrow. That work for you?"
Bruce took off his glasses as he stared suspiciously at the other man. "Tony…who is she?"
"Someone trustworthy. I think."
"You think?" The scientist rolled his eyes. He worked on experiments that were of the highest government classification—as well as experiments that were more top-secret and personal than that. "Tony…," he warned.
"Don't worry. Victoire's introducing me to her today. I'm sure you'll be fine."
Before Bruce could get another word in, Tony waved and ended the call. Bruce gaped at the screen for a moment before shutting his mouth and staring down at the cup of tea in his hand. What had just happened…?
He sipped the drink, hoping it would clear his mind. But then he spit it out. Yecch, it had gone cold…!
A shower and a shave did him some good, but the best thing had been the catnap he took right after. Though it was probably much more than a catnap, considering he woke up many hours later to find it dark outside.
Bruce rolled out of his bed—for once, not out of his comfy work chair—and disappeared into the tiny kitchen that was across the hall. He liked this place altogether, even if all the components didn't seem quite "Bruce" to him. Nevertheless, Tony had been more than kind to build it for him. Once the Avengers had split up, Bruce had not been sure where he would've gone next. He couldn't exactly fall right back into his, for lack of a better term, charity work. He'd been uprooted…which was a funny thought, considering he hadn't had any roots before.
But once he'd gotten back into a lab and once he'd worked as part of a team…he kind of liked that. He missed the teamwork bit, to be honest. Though the environment wasn't exactly healthy for his…condition, he at least had been surrounded by people who knew him, understood him, and rather accepted him. That was more than he could ask of civilians if they ever saw the green guy within him.
However, as he'd thought, it was also the lab work. After being outside of a lab, away from machines for so long, Bruce had managed fine. He could almost think without the high-end technology. Then S.H.I.E.L.D. had dropped him into their state-of-the-art workplace, and he wasn't like a kid in a candy shop—he was like an addict back on the street corner looking for his next fix. Making that analogy, Bruce offhandedly wondered if Tony was the same way, with all his gadgets and gizmos around him. Their love for technology was more of a passionate obsession beyond human reasons.
And yes. There was that distinction, too. The human one.
Sometimes, when Bruce was very tired or not in that good a place within his brilliant mind, he'd refer to it as the H-word. It bothered him, it really did. And yet he couldn't escape it. Of course not. Half of his ongoing research involved it.
Bruce sighed and looked around the kitchen. He opened the fridge and held his nose; he didn't remember the last time he'd been out shopping. Grumbling to no one in particular, he opened a cupboard for the loaf of bread, found it half moldy, tossed it, and returned to his work. In all honesty, work was all he needed. Just work and a few good friends.
When the next morning arrived, Bruce was still up. He paused a little before noon to stretch his legs and grab the papers downstairs; yesterday's would still be there since Tony's call had kept him inside the other morning.
Outside, it was frigid, and Bruce hopped from one foot to the other as he looked around his front stoop for the newspapers. His place was a small brownstone that looked like a townhouse that had been separated from its neighbors. But that was for a good reason, because, as Tony had pointed out, Bruce was a night owl and he often made noise when his research carried into the night and into the early morning.
He checked the mailbox against the house's face and found only yesterday's paper. Great. As he rifled through the few pieces of junk mail he also had, he mused that today's mail had probably not yet come. After all, there were some times when the mail was late when it was a weekday, and today was a Thursday.
Bruce looked around the neighborhood, scanning up and down the streets. No paperboys and no postmen could be found. He was fine with waiting for a few minutes; watching the passersby was the closest to watching television that Bruce truly ever got.
To the right of him, the Collins family filed into their minivan, ready to go somewhere. To the left, Old Man Norm sat on his front stoop in a heavy jacket, his bare hands out as he whittled a little lute for his own amusement. Before Bruce, he saw cars squeezing by either way on the crowded New York street. A little to one side, on the sidewalk, came that dog couple that Bruce saw almost every time he ventured outside; on the other side, a very pretty woman with short, brown hair approached, and her eyes seemed to light up when she realized she'd be passing by a chocolate lab puppy in a few seconds.
All of them…Bruce envied. None of them had the secrets he did. None of them had to stow away a part of their personality. Not one of them had to realize that that hidden part of them was still a part of them, come hell or high water.
The scientist sighed, ready to return to the heat of his home. He couldn't wait any longer for the paper. He'd have to settle with yesterday's news.
Upon opening the glass door (he'd wanted a screen door to go with the front door instead, but that had been a useless request for commoner comfort in the eyes of Tony Stark), someone cleared her throat behind him. Bruce looked over his shoulder. It was that brunette.
She cleared her throat again and pushed her scarf away from her mouth. "Hello," she said. Her word fogged up her glasses.
"Hi," Bruce said, easygoing. He smiled easily. When had he last done that? Perhaps Tony had rubbed off on him…the thought scared him a bit.
"You're Dr. Banner, yes?"
Bruce's smile wavered a little for two reasons: first, he thought he'd heard the hint of an accent and, second, his neighbors knew him as "Mr. Banner." And he kind of liked to keep it that way. "Can I help you?"
"Maybe," the woman said with a tiny smile. For some reason, it only accented how red the cold had made her nose. "I would've been here a few hours ago, but I got a tad lost."
Now his smile was gone. "Who sent you?" God, it was like Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D. all over again! But he blinked as something clicked—this woman's accent was British.
"We've a friend in common," she continued, coming up the first step.
"Molly Weasley," she answered. She chuckled to herself. "I'm the second Molly in my family, actually."
He blinked again. Oh. So she was related to Victoire. Tony's Victoire. Bruce tried to lighten up again as he flexed his fingers to get them working again. He shook her hand. "So you're Victoire's…?"
"Cousin," Molly supplied. "On our fathers' side. Though, if Victoire's told you anything, you'd know that there are a lot of us."
Actually, he only knew Victoire a little bit. He knew that she had a big family, but now he wondered how big. He realized Molly was waiting for him to say something. "Uh, right, right… Why don't you come in from the cold so we can talk? Bruce Banner, by the way."
"Thank you," she said, and she stepped past him into the vestibule. He took her coat and scarf from her, and then she followed him into the living room that he never used. She looked questioningly at the sofa that had a thin layer of dust on it.
"Uh…sorry about the mess. I don't often have guests over."
If there was a witty quip on the tip of her tongue, she withheld it and smiled instead. Molly sat down, put her purse beside her, and folded her hands neatly in her lap. "It's fine. Spring cleaning gets the best of me, too."
Bruce wasn't sure what to make of her, and he sat on the arm of a chair he didn't remember buying or placing across from the sofa. "What brings you across the Atlantic?"
"Well, Victoire's new beau said…"
"It's okay. You can be honest. I can't possibly be the only thing to have summoned you here."
His comment gave her pause, and a quiet minute passed as she sat, observing him and scrutinizing him. Bruce guessed that she didn't know what to make of him, either. Finally, she seemed to relax, as her demeanor shifted a little and she appeared to be more at ease. "'Summoned' is a quaint term to use."
Bruce grinned gently. "I guess I'm just a quaint guy."
A hint of her smile returned. "I've never been to America before."
"Really? Then welcome."
She chuckled softly. "Thank you, Dr. Banner." She brushed a stray locked of hair behind her ear and pushed her glasses up her nose. "To be honest, America's a very loud and large place."
"Eh, it makes it loveable…though I kind of like the quiet, too."
"Yes, well… Once my father finds out that I'm here, I'm sure I'll see America as loveable, too."
He pulled a face. "Ah, father…?"
She blushed, realizing how that must've sounded. "Oh, please don't misunderstand! I'm only two years younger than Victoire. I'm an adult," she rushed, laughing awkwardly. "See, I worked at the same place as my father, though we were in different departments."
"What work did you do?" he asked, though he was fairly curious as to how old Victoire really was. He'd thought that she looked young, and Tony was known for going for anything as long as it was legal…
"Work for the, ah, local government."
"So, what? Your dad wanted you to follow in his footsteps?"
She snorted, not something he'd expected her to do. "Heavens no. He's more of a…secretary to an official. I worked with…" She paused, thinking. "I suppose you could've called me a crime scene investigator, of sorts, though I worked more on containment."
Bruce gave her an appraising look. He was impressed. Considering Victoire made clothes for a living, Molly was a character out of a completely different book. Not to mention that she didn't look the type to…well, to get her hands dirty. "You must be pretty smart, choosing to do that."
Her expression was tight at best. "Smarts and talent… I wish they had nothing to do with it." Molly sighed. "Alas, my work took a toll on me—"
"Containment? Was it really that bad?"
"I dealt a lot with victims and witnesses, Dr. Banner."
He shook his head, a migraine developing. "Please, just call me 'Bruce.' Calling me 'Dr. Banner' makes me feel like some evil scientist…"
Molly snorted again, but it was due to her effort to contain her laugh. She grinned. "But aren't you a mad scientist, working on your experiments well into the night?"
Had someone else asked him, he might've taken it the wrong way. But Molly did make it come across as a light joke. "I guess so."
"But outside of the office," she continued, getting back to their original thread of conversation, "I read and studied. Many things interested me, like science."
"But you must've used science at your crime scenes."
"Not in the way that you use science, no. Ever since you and your friends saved—well, saved the world, the media tried to dig up what it could on America's beloved superheroes." Molly pursed her lips. "Everyone seems to know every little detail of Stark's life—"
"He makes a habit of it," Bruce remarked with a roll of his eyes.
"—yet barely anything could be found on the…" She blushed, sensing the topic was inappropriate. "What I mean to say is that Victoire knows of my varied interests, and since she knows Stark and, by association, you, she thought I might enjoy learning from a quietly lauded scientist." She squinted as if in pain from her awkwardly-phrased words. "If that makes sense."
He dragged a hand over his face as if he'd just woken up and was still groggy. "Great. Tony spilled the gamma beans about me, did he?"
"Don't misunderstand," she repeated from earlier. "It's just… I've read so much by so many people in so many fields. None are quite as brilliant as you, Dr.—" She caught herself. "Ehm, Bruce."
"So I don't get an assistant or babysitter—I get an apprentice?"
Molly stood, firm in her decision. "You may think of it like that, if you'd like. I'd like to call myself an interested acquaintance." She twisted her mouth around, but she didn't exactly bite her lower lip. "I promise that I won't be underfoot."
This was beyond anything Bruce had imagined. The idea of having another person to talk to who would understand him was nice; Tony couldn't always stay all business when Victoire walked into the room. However, Bruce also had to consider the danger. And, frankly, the danger outweighed everything else. "Uh, Miss Weasley—"
"Please, 'Molly,' if the informality suits you better."
"Look, Molly…" Bruce stood and removed his glasses, putting them into his sweater's pocket. His eyesight wasn't completely terrible, but her image did blur the tiniest bit without his glasses. It was easier to dismiss silly ideas when he didn't have to look too clearly at the person. "I get it, I do. You've struck out on your own now. You want to do your own thing. But, as nice as you are, as polite as you are, I don't think you'd like it in here, with me." He gestured to the room and everything else on the other side of the entryway. "Tony's my friend, and he barely comes here. No one else does. I do better without…uh, without…"
"Distractions," she supplied evenly.
She shook her head. "No, no. I sympathize. When I heard about you, I should not have built it into my plans to come here."
"Yeah… So, the door—"
"However," Molly continued, "that does not mean that I don't recognize the opportunity before the both of us."
Bruce felt his cheeks grow warm. "For both of us?"
"Yes. I could learn from one of the world's most brilliant minds. And you could learn how to deal with people—and, not to boast, I've dealt with many people. I've five uncles, four aunts, two sets of grandparents, my own two parents, a younger sister, and ten cousins, not to mention numerous family friends." Even without his glasses on, he could see the glint in Molly's eye, especially when she took a few steps toward him so that she stood right before him. "And somehow, we all mostly manage to fit into one house for Christmas every year. And without killing one another." The last bit she said with a smile on her face, and in that expression Bruce could see how she was related to Victoire. Though politer, Molly was just as devious.
He went into defensive mode. "Well, sorry, miss, but you can't stay here." He grabbed her purse off the couch and nudged her to the front door, where she huffed and took her coat and scarf.
"I thought you had better manners than Stark," Molly said. But then the door shut behind her.
Bruce rested against the jamb. He needed to focus, to defog his mind from all this nonsense. So…he went to work.
He couldn't stay holed up inside forever, unfortunately. The food he found that was still good disappeared after two days and, unless he went grocery shopping, he was going to have to lose even more precious work time by having to go out to eat for every meal.
Grumbling, Bruce dressed for an outing. After locking up his lab, he left and locked his front door. However, he couldn't make it all the way down his front steps. Someone was blocking the way.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said, standing on the step behind her.
Molly looked up at him, her nose red again. How cold was it out here? "Good morning, Bruce."
"I've changed my mind. You can go back to saying 'Dr. Banner,'" he told her as he pushed his way past her onto the street.
"Where are you going?"
"To get food—is that all right with you?" Sheesh, sitting there like that…she really was like a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
"It's nothing to do with me," she said.
"Then we both agree on something," he retorted. He looked behind him as he went up the left side of the street, but Molly sat there, not moving from her spot. Whatever. It was a free country. As long as he could still get in and out of his house, he was okay with her sitting there.
Just in case, though, Bruce went to the convenience store two blocks over and one street down instead of to the usual bodega one block up. He didn't get the feeling that anyone had followed him and, returning with his purchases in hand, he'd almost forgotten about his annoyances. But then he got back to his street and his house came into view…and Molly Weasley was still there on the bottom stair.
He pointedly ignored her, despite having to push past her again to get to the door.
Molly said nothing. She merely sat there as though nothing odd was happening.
Bruce was glad to close the door behind him, putting a barrier between him and her. Victoire, he thought, was nice. A little bubbly, but nice. Molly, he could do without.
As luck would have it, Molly did not agree with that line of thought. Every single time he had to emerge from his little cave, she was there. Any time he dared to look out the window, she was there. He bitched about her presence to Tony, saying he couldn't focus with her bothering him. Tony told him to suck it up. "What, you could beat the crap out of a maniacal Norse god, but you can't handle one wi—uh, woman?"
Bruce narrowed his eyes at the tablet screen. He could've sworn Tony had almost said something besides "woman." What, he didn't know. "For the record, it was the other me that treated Loki like a ragdoll."
"Hey, you're the one who said that he's angry all the time in order to control the 'other you.' You've told me that you can willingly become him as long as you control that anger. So, you two are really one-in-the-same."
The scientist bit back a curse. He hated it when Tony was right. And he hated it more when Tony recalled every little thing he'd ever said to him. "Doesn't Molly want to hang out with Victoire or something? Isn't she just visiting America?"
Tony whistled. "I…am not at liberty to say."
"What? Tony, you really set something up, didn't you? This wasn't just some casual plan—"
"You know, you're breaking up there, friend. I'd get—checked—out—I were—you—" He faked bad reception (impossible with their tablets!) and ended the call.
Bruce took a deep breath and counted to ten, which was always a good idea to keep him from throwing something. And the only thing in reach right now was his tablet.
He sighed and flipped through some of the applications on it. His fingers stopped at the calendar. Oh. No wonder the Collins family had left. Christmas was right around the corner. Bruce tossed his head back. Crap. Something like a week and a half had passed, with Molly being outside every day. Hadn't she said something about family? Wasn't that important enough to return to for Christmas? Though Tony had mentioned that he and Victoire had plans of their own. Perhaps once Weasleys got old enough, they didn't have to return to the family home every year for the holidays.
He frowned. He was jealous of Molly, too. At least she had a family to go home to.
The scientist shook his head as he left the lab behind him and headed to the front door. "Sometimes it'd be nice to be without a conscience," he mumbled under his breath as he opened the door. Through the foggy glass, he could see her sitting there, almost as though she'd never moved. That was a lie, of course, because her clothes were never the same as the day before. However, it was snowing, and a thin layer of white had gathered on her shoulders and head. He opened the glass door. "Hey. Get inside."
Molly turned, unsure he'd spoken to her. When he motioned, she blinked and stood, but she quickly entered. She stood right inside the door, patting herself down and shaking her hair. Once more, she was standing right in front of Bruce. "Thank you."
"You're not going to give up, are you?"
Her smile was sincere. "No, I'd like to think not." She removed her glasses to clean them, and Bruce finally saw her face plain and simple. Her eyes were a very pretty dark, reddish brown.
He shook his head and looked anywhere but in her eyes. "Look… I'm not offering you a place to crash—"
Her face lit up like the Christmas tree in Times Square soon would.
"—and I'm not expecting you to be my nanny or anything, no matter what Tony and Victoire might've told you—"
She opened her mouth to say something, but Bruce held up a hand.
"—but I'll let you stick around here. That is, if you've got nothing better to do."
She shut her mouth and grinned. "Apprentice?"
Molly put her glasses back on. "Well, then, I'll see you tomorrow, Bruce."
That caught him off-guard. "Come again?"
"With all due respect, I've been outside every day for almost two weeks. Parts of me I didn't know could freeze are numb from the cold." She reached up hesitantly and then decided what-the-hell and patted his shoulder. "So, I'll see you tomorrow." She nodded to him and headed right back out the door, as she clearly had won.
So the only question left was whether Bruce could handle losing.
Something rang. It was a little off in the distance, Bruce assumed. At least it wasn't in his ear. God, if it was in his ear, he would definitely let the green guy out.
The ringing persisted until Bruce was awake enough to recognize that the source was a doorbell he often forgot he had. Tony never used it; for some reason unbeknownst to Bruce, Tony insisted on knocking. And as Victoire had never been here, there likely was only one person at his door.
"Molly," he breathed, and his eyes flew open. He sat up straight, since he'd fallen asleep at his desk again. The scientist looked down at himself. He didn't look ready to work with anyone…then again, Molly had seen him in his pajamas with his five o'clock shadow. Yeah. Appearances didn't matter anymore.
He rushed to the door to let her inside, and she dove past him as a strong gust of wind grabbed a hold of the glass door. Bruce struggled to close it.
"'Morning," he said.
"Good morning. I think a storm's on the way," she added as she peeled her jacket off. It was damp from the snow.
"Right… Does England ever get the snowstorms that the Northeast does?"
She shook her head. "England just loves the rain."
"Right. Wait until you've suffered through a Nor'easter."
Molly gave him a quizzical look. "A what?"
"Never mind…" She shrugged it off and followed behind him. "I guess I'll give you a quick tour, then. You already know where the guest closet and the living room are." Down the hall, he pointed to the left and then to the right. "There's a guestroom there, and the kitchen. Upstairs is the bathroom, my room, and a storage room, as well as another guestroom…which is kind of ridiculous. I don't know if Tony was ever thinking he might need a place to crash, considering Stark Tower has more than enough room for him." Bruce pointed directly up. "There's an attic, too, which is empty."
Molly looked around, quietly impressed with his home. "Is there a basement, too?" she inquired.
Bruce clenched his jaw and went into the lab. "And here's my workplace. It's the biggest room in here, and pretty much has everything I need—even a containment room for when I'm working on dangerous stuff." He closed his mouth. Should he, or shouldn't he…? He turned to Molly.
"If you're going to be around as often as I figure you will…I'll only let you hang around on one condition."
"All right, shoot."
Bruce locked eyes with her. "There is a basement. It's reinforced steel and titanium and several other strong metals and even a few of which I'm sure you've never heard. Personally, I just call it the Chamber."
She was slightly apprehensive. "What's it for?"
"You know who I am."
"Yes. You're Dr. Bruce Banner—"
He nodded. "You've got to promise me one thing. If there's ever an instance where I can't control him—and it happens," he added when she opened her mouth to protest. "I want you to shove me into that door back there." He pointed to a large, dark silver door in the back of the lab. It had a thick bar that dropped in front of it as a safety precaution, and alternating bolts hummed with electricity on the edge of the door. As always, it stood half open. He looked back at Molly and nudged her shoulder to get her attention back on him. "There's a button to the left, and hitting it will close the door. Under no circumstances are you to open the door once he's inside."
She bit her lower lip and furrowed her brow. "But you'll be trapped inside."
He sighed, caving a little at her slight pout. Offhandedly, he wondered if Tony got the same treatment from Victoire. Then he internally kicked himself. He wasn't Tony, Molly wasn't Victoire, and he was not the type to fall victim to a pretty lady. No matter how smart she might be. "Look, there's an intercom down there. When I'm back in my right mind, I can buzz you to hit the button, which will activate the lift as the door opens. But swear that you'll stay safe if…"
"If a transformation is on the way."
"Yeah." He released a breath he hadn't known he'd withheld. "Good to know."
Molly nodded and looked around the lab again. "Can you show me my way around some of the stuff in here? I see lasers, chemicals… Is that a model of an anti-electron collider?"
Bruce blinked, stunned that she'd recognize it. "Uh…yes. But—"
"Oh, it's not a model!" she said, delighted. She glanced at him. "It's so small, I thought—wait, does it really work?"
He chuckled. Her curiosity was cute. "Sometimes. Okay, once. I'd leave the miniaturizing up to Tony, to be honest."
She nodded. "That thing in his chest—"
"Mini arc reactor."
"He's the only one of you with something like that, right?"
Bruce nodded. "Tony's got that. I, on the other hand…" He ran a hand through his hair. "There was a serum that made our teammate, Steve Rogers, into Captain America. I tried to replicate it decades after it had been created. I failed."
Molly pursed her lips and settled him with a stern gaze. "Why call it a failure? It's just one step on the road to success, isn't it?"
He opened his mouth to answer. But…really, he had no answer for that. And he thought he hated it when Tony was right…!
"We missed Christmas."
"Ah. So we did." Molly looked up from…well, whatever chemicals she was toying with. He hoped there wouldn't be any damage from what she was mixing.
"Why are you so nonchalant?" he asked. A week had passed since she'd started coming around with his approval, and Christmas had been two days ago. He knew. He'd just looked at his tablet and it had told him as much.
Molly shrugged. "Once you've been to one Christmas with my family, you've been to them all." She paused for thought. "Well, all right, there were two Christmases that were quite…intriguing, shall we say."
Bruce chuckled. As he'd quickly learned, Molly was a different personality altogether from the others he'd met. She could be light and airy one minute, and the next she'd be back to business mode. It made her kind of hard to read sometimes. However, even if she didn't always join in, she didn't mind little jokes and stuff, so Bruce thought that was a good sign, at least.
"What are you working on?"
He allowed the topic change. "Eh, some medicines. I'm going to copy the remainder I have of this one vaccine that way the people who really need it can get it."
"That's admirable," she commented.
"I was acting as a physician instead of as a physicist in the time before…well, before the Avengers."
"I know a little bit about your team. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want."
He nodded his thanks. "Anyway, I was actually enjoying caring for others in poverty-stricken countries."
"The Avengers made you stop?"
"It wasn't their fault, because I didn't have time since we were, ah, working on saving the world." He blushed, and he was glad that Molly's back was to him. He didn't exactly like talking about having helped to save the world. It made him feel like a braggart, which he wasn't. "But I'd been away from modern civilization for so long. It's kind of nice to have that disconnect, but it made it that much harder to get away from it after the time apart." His hands fell in his lap. "Now I'm back in the game."
"Staying away from something you've known for so long—it can be tough," Molly said. She bottled her work and set it aside so that she could clean up. It was one of the many things she did around his home. Mostly she cleaned up after him in the lab, but she'd taken it upon herself to make the rest of the house presentable, too, and she was learning his likes and dislikes to be able to keep the fridge and cabinets stocked. About the only places she hadn't been were the Chamber and his bedroom, thank god.
"You talk from experience?"
"I actually quit my job two months ago, before I even knew what Vic was up to over here." She moved about the room, putting things back where they belonged. "It's been a little hard, trying not to think of my old work and the people I used to know at the Mi—at the center."
Bruce opened his mouth to say something, but her words distracted him. He noticed that she had a habit of starting to say one thing and then saying another. He had noticed the same habit had cropped up with Tony months ago…around the time he'd started seriously seeing Victoire. Bruce wondered if Victoire did the same thing, and he decided he didn't like that habit, even if he had no grounds to bother any of them about it.
"So," Molly continued, oblivious to Bruce's quiet, "you pointed out that we missed Christmas." She paused behind him, her eyes scanning his onscreen work as she asked, "Are you keen on celebrating it?"
He gave it some thought. "No, I guess not… I just, I thought it would be a bigger deal for you and Victoire, with the Weasley family gathering as usual."
Molly gave him a kind smile. "No, it's quite all right. Yes, we might be missed, but we'll hardly be the only empty seats at the table." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Our parents seem to forget that our generation's growing up. Oh, and by the way—if you changed the material of the vial coverings for the vaccine, it would be more cost-efficient but the product would be just as safe from spoiling." She pointed to one of the diagrams on the screen to the right.
Bruce considered her suggestion and jotted it down. Molly really knew how to be all business.
"Do you not like the holiday?" she queried, returning once more to the previous subject.
…or maybe she didn't know. He shook his head. "I don't really feel about it one way or another. It's not something I would even prioritize, really."
She nodded. "So what things are your priorities?" She slid her seat across the floor so that she could join him in his task.
"Definitely him," he answered, pointed to the door to the Chamber. Only a week, and Molly had learned quickly that the Hulk was only ever referred to as "him," if he needed mentioning at all. But her question made him take a break. No one had ever asked him such a thing before, so he'd never given it much consideration. "I mean, besides that… I guess the people this will help," Bruce added, holding up his notes about mass-producing the vaccine. "Then, maybe…maybe the Avengers."
"Stark doesn't count? I thought you two were close friends."
"We are. But I have a hard time putting people on my priorities list."
Molly gently smiled in the beat of silence, and the only sound was the whir of Bruce's machines. "I see that you didn't include yourself on that list. And you, I mean, Bruce—not him."
The scientist glanced at her and frowned. "Does that matter so much?"
She shrugged. "It does and it doesn't. I used to be the same way, not only putting myself last but not even caring much for myself." Molly leaned on the table and cupped her cheek in her palm as she stared at the swirling graphics models displayed on the monitors. "But you hit a point where you must start caring, or you lose sight of the things that you thought mattered more than you do."
Again, he wanted to say something, but he was at a loss for words, and not because he'd been unfocused. He had to wonder what Molly had done with her life, to be so young and yet so…well, so wise. She wasn't even wise in that way some young people got and they thought they knew everything to the point of everyone else's annoyance. She was wise in the way that she had had a few experiences but more than her fair share of stories to tell—stories that likely would never all be shared.
With Christmas long forgotten and January almost through, Bruce didn't feel as though he'd had Molly's assistance for only a short time. In fact, he felt towards her the same feelings he felt towards Tony, that he'd known her and worked with her for years. They truly were on the same wavelength.
And yet, Molly was not Tony. There were things, obviously, that Tony knew and Molly never would, but that was more because of the two men's Avengers' and personal experience. However, the longer Molly stayed around, the more used to her that Bruce got, and he'd come to think of her as a friend. Considering how she'd been when he'd first met her, he never would've thought he'd take on a friend like her. But Molly was a rare case, and it was definitely worth getting to know her.
He'd learned more than just her work habits in the lab. He knew that she didn't like talking much about her immediate family, but she loved to gush in small bursts about her extended family, in particular about Victoire and about their twin cousins, Roxanne and Freddie, whose shenanigans had long kept Molly scolding them until her voice was hoarse. She also dressed like a casual businesswoman because that was how she preferred; Bruce had finally begun to take a little shame in how he dressed and tried cleaning up his image to feel more like a professional when she was around. She also had a quirk, where she often would purse her lips, whether conversing with him or thinking quietly to herself. That, Bruce thought, was kind of cute, but he regarded that thought as a symptom of their familiarity and not of his thinking of her attractiveness.
There was also one more thing—Molly Lilandra Weasley was allowed nowhere near the freaking kitchen.
"Oh, good Merlin," she'd stated offhandedly one afternoon on a weekend in early January. "It's nearly three and neither of us has eaten."
"There's food in the kitchen," he'd pointed out. As if he'd had to; Molly was the one that went shopping, because she could more easily pull herself away from their work.
"Yes, there are ingredients, aren't there? Could I make you something?"
He'd blinked. He couldn't recall the last time that anyone had offered to do such a thing for him. "Uh…sure. A grilled cheese would be nice."
"Grilled cheese. Right. I shall try my hand at it."
He'd turned to give her an incredulous look. "You've never made grilled cheese?" Her red face was adorable; he'd had to stifle a laugh as she'd narrowed her eyes at him in an almost-glare.
"No, but I'm an eager learner. I've seen my mother and Grandmam Weasley do such a thing loads of times. One butters the bread, drops it in the skillet, puts the cheese on, closes the sandwich, and flips it a few times." She'd scoffed. "I'm not completely inept."
"Okay." He'd returned to his work. "Then you can fix lunch and I'll be out in a few to join you."
But, in reality, he'd ended up there sooner rather than later, because Molly in theory knew how to make a grilled cheese. But in practice…she had no idea what she was doing, and she'd ended up setting off the smoke detector. Bruce made it in time for the sprinkler in the kitchen to switch on, much to Molly's horror. Yes, he'd sighed, but it was more a funny thing than anything else and he'd ended up laughing. And though Molly hadn't laughed at first, she'd cracked a smile when Bruce had crossed the floor and pulled her into a hug to calm her down…not to mention, they both looked ridiculous, looking like two drowned rats.
At that time, Bruce had learned that she couldn't cook. But about himself? He learned that he kind of enjoyed having her not just close by, but close. He tried telling himself that it had just been the fault of the moment, with them both soaked from the sprinkler. But he couldn't put it out of his mind, looking down into her face and pushing away the few locks of hair that stuck to it. It wasn't a thought that was always at the forefront of his mind, but it never quite left his mind, either.
As for Molly, her curiosity over his condition never left her. When the first of February rolled in, she coaxed him from the lab and into the living room, where they sat in warmth and drank cocoa (made by Bruce, of course). "Can we do something different today?" she asked, her eyes glued to the television as Bruce channel-surfed, something he hadn't done in forever.
"Like what?" He gently scoffed. "You don't like work?"
"Oh, I love to work. It keeps my hands moving at the same speed as my brain," she answered. "But even I know it's important to think of other things sometimes."
"You have something in mind." There was no need to phrase it as a question. He knew her well enough by now to know when she was asking subtly.
She pursed her lips and sipped her drink. They got through an entire infomercial before she finally opened her mouth again. "The…" Molly sighed and tried again. "The gamma radiation." She looked at him, a frown on her face as though she was scared of offending him. "Did it hurt?"
It wasn't an expected question, but Bruce tried rolling with the punches when it came to Molly. Already he had done a lot of things differently, thanks to her, and there was no slowing down. "I don't really remember my first transformation."
She cocked her head to one side. "That's a lie."
"No, no, it's the truth." Bruce turned the TV off and tossed the remote on the coffee table. "Molly, I've transformed so many times that I don't remember the first time. And, I think, I've…become numbed to the pain." He shook his head. "That doesn't translate to me ever liking it."
Molly nodded in agreement and she finished her drink. "Don't take it the wrong way, but I rather wish that I could change in a similar way."
He looked right at her. "No, you don't, and don't ever say that again."
"I'm not saying it lightly, Bruce."
"Then why are you saying it at all?"
She pulled a face. "I'm not keen on going home anytime soon. To England, I mean," she added when he gave her a surprised look. "Because of my choices, Father now views me as a disappointment." She rolled her eyes. "Sad to say, I was still living at home, despite having been out of school for so many years. But he had plans for me, and when I didn't meet his expectations everything fell apart."
"He doesn't sound like a very nice man."
"Oh, no, no, it's not like that! My father is a good man. But he went through some tough times with my family. It's his nature to be very critical of everyone, though he got better about it after one of my uncles died when they were young. Father was the last one to speak to him right before he was killed."
Bruce must've misheard her. "He was killed?"
She froze. "I mean, when he died." She shook her head. "My point is that old habits die hard with my father." She shrugged. "And sometimes I wish that I could've met his expectations, that I could change what I am now."
There was so much more that Molly could've said, but her forlorn expression was disheartening. Bruce leaned back on the couch and edged towards her so that she leaned on his arm. "I wouldn't wish my condition on anyone, Molly. Besides, you're fine as you are now."
Molly snorted, but it was not out of derision. In actuality, she was stifling a laugh.
She grinned from ear to ear. "Oh, come now. If I tell you everything on my mind, where would the fun be in that?" And with that, she gently pushed him away, chuckling to herself.
A week after that, his tablet rang, and Tony's face popped up on the screens on which Bruce had been working. "Crap, Tony—give a guy some warning, will you?"
Tony laughed. "What, did I miss something?"
"No, you interrupted me."
That earned him a sly look. "And, uh, what exactly was I interrupting?"
"What kind of math?"
The scientist finally caught on. "Oh, god—Tony, get your mind out of the gutter."
"Well, a man's got to keep his porn somewhere—"
"What?" the philanthropist asked innocently. "I was only calling to ask how you two were getting along."
"Then please, next time, start with that."
"Yeah, yeah…" Tony scratched his head. "So are you ready to ship out that vaccine yet?"
"Yeah. I'm actually ahead of my planned schedule by three weeks. I'll ship the items to you tomorrow morning."
"No need. I can send a truck over to gather the supplies, and I'll do direct shipping from my business office."
"Are you sure, Tony? I have extra things that the Doctors Without Borders could use, too."
Tony grinned. "Two trucks, it is." Tony looked around his own workspace, as though anticipating Victoire to pop up. Then he turned back to Bruce. "My joking aside—how's Molly?"
"She's fine. She's actually napping in the guestroom up the hall." Bruce removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Truthfully, she's half moved into that room. I'm afraid I've been a bad influence, because all she does is work and sleep."
"Vic told me that she shouldn't be allowed to cook."
Bruce narrowed his eyes at his friend. "And you couldn't have shared that sooner?"
"I only heard recently. Why, you found that out on your own?" Tony snickered.
"Thanks a lot."
"But you're eating like a normal person now, right? And trying to sleep and get fresh air?"
"Tony, am I your pet or your child? Please, tell me now."
"Come on, Bruce. Let's be real here. I can't look after you, and there's no one else to do that either—but you need looking after." Tony grimaced. "Is it so wrong to worry about my friend?"
The other man was touched. "Thanks, Tony. That…that means a lot."
"It's nice to see that Molly's gotten rid of those bags under your eyes, though."
"Maybe I should tell Victoire that you were the one to bring up porn—"
"I mean, I will be butting out now."
Bruce gave him a wolf's grin and a little wave, and ended the call. He rolled his eyes. Tony was certainly a piece of work. However…Bruce knew Tony had a point.
The man exited his lab and closed the door, blocking out all the things that mostly occupied his brain. But then he took a few steps down the hall and stood at another doorway, where the door was cracked open and he could easily hear the breath of a sleeping woman.
With his brain closed to his work, Bruce dwelled on the thought of Molly, here, with him. It hadn't been all that long ago when he'd thought he was growing too comfy in her presence. However, now, he was ready to call it for what it was: He liked her, very much. All the little things and the big things he'd noticed about her—he didn't even have to count them off to know that he was very much attracted to her.
But attraction could be dangerous. Thinking on what he'd gone through before the Avengers and before even his time as a physician without roots… Bruce shuddered. For others, attraction and love and all that could be fantastic. For Bruce, people tended to get dragged through the mud and then some.
None of this took into consideration Molly and her feelings, either. She was much younger than him, and she had a whole life in England still. As far as he knew, she had someone waiting back home for her, someone probably like her and her age and waiting for her to get tired of this visit to the U.S.
He sighed. It probably was just a visit to the U.S. Molly had said on several occasions that she had no current desire to go home, but all that could change. She could suddenly get homesick, or she could just get sick of Bruce, or she could just get tired of withholding so much from Bruce…which was another problem. He had no idea what she'd left behind. And he kicked himself for worrying over it. He had no business butting in, even if he did care for her.
The next morning went smoothly, and Bruce felt triumphant, seeing the medicine and the medical supplies on their way. He couldn't always believe it had been him last year that had helped to save the world. But this action? It made him feel as though he'd won the Nobel Peace Prize ten times over.
Molly cheered as they saw the trucks fade into the distance down the street. She glanced at Bruce. "Good Godric! It just makes you want to celebrate, doesn't it?"
He laughed. "'Godric'? I guess that's a good thing." He laughed again when she stuck her tongue out at him.
"But seriously—shall we do something? It's a bit stuffy in there, Bruce," she remarked, jabbing her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the house.
He mock-pouted. "But I like it in there."
"All right, you introvert, march right back inside and clean up. I think we've deserved a walk at the park at least, no?"
Bruce listened and went inside. He showered, shaved, put on fresh clothes—it was so nice to feel like a new man when he smelled like clean soap. Back at the front door, he met Molly and blinked. She, too, had cleaned up. It wasn't as though she had been disheveled before, but she was certainly something to look at now, even dressed in slacks, boots, her wool coat, scarf, and hat. Her dark hair peeked out from under the hat and over her scarf. She held out her hand.
"Let's go, let's go!"
He shook himself to stop staring at her, and they left his home and walked up the street. In the opposite direction from the frequented bodega, there was a park overlooking a tiny lake that was more like a pond. Still, it was nice to look at, and the recent snowfall made everything look like—oh lord, he felt so mawkish for even thinking it—a winter wonderland.
But at least Molly was happy by his side. She wasn't clinging to his arm, but her hand was quite warm in his. It was nice, pleasant. He couldn't imagine how he'd ever found her annoying. She was stubborn, yes, but she wasn't a terrible person. She was…unique. Unquestionably.
"Do you like it here?" he found himself asking. He worried that maybe America wasn't all the magic she might've hoped it would be.
She looked at him, aghast. "Are you joking? I love it here." She took in a deep breath of winter air. "The air's different. The people are different. The life's the same but different."
"You like that, don't you? Differences?"
Molly nodded. "I guess I do."
"Then…" He bit his lip. He had to know. "Then what made you come here?" Their pace slowed until they were standing in the middle of the park path. "Molly, what did you leave behind?"
She pursed her lips. "Look… I told you before, that I worked at the same place as my father. He's the secretary of an official, but…" The brunette squirmed. "We've got family in various parts of, ah, the local government. And there are various family friends in it, too. It was just nice to escape all that."
"'Escape'?" he echoed.
Molly groaned. "I really need to pick my words better, don't I?" She rested her head against his shoulder. "Oh, Bruce… There's no danger, where I'm from. I'm not looking for it, either. But it's nice to live a life where you don't constantly see familiar faces."
"You forget my face every day?"
She looked up at him and smiled. "I could never forget your face."
Maybe it was the effect of the cool air, but Bruce felt a rush of blood to his face. Their breaths came out in puffs of white smoke, little rainless clouds drifting away. He wanted to kiss her, but a part of him reminded him that, despite everything he knew about her, he still didn't know enough. Granted, falling in love involved getting to know a person better, but something still felt risky about Molly.
The feeling wouldn't go away. He began to feel on edge when they were in the lab together and she worked on her own concoctions. Sometimes, she worked so fast on some of the things she made that he thought it was impossible to have created them in that certain amount of time. One minute he would see her setting up an experiment and, the next, she'd be putting things away, having done what she'd wanted. A couple of nights, he glanced at the security footage from the one camera he had in his lab (installed only if there was a robber dumb enough to break into his place), but Molly didn't do anything out of the ordinary on them. She just…worked fast.
But he felt that it wasn't just that she was omitting part of her story. There was something big she was hiding, something she might not ever tell him. This idea of his gnawed at him. He hated the idea of not trusting her—hadn't he just convinced himself that he'd fallen for her?—but he couldn't work like this, not when his research was so classified.
He was bothered enough to call Tony halfway through February. "Hey, Tony, is Victoire around?"
Tony was distracted with his own work, and Bruce saw something gold and red gleam. No doubt Tony was working on some part of his Iron Man suit. "No. Why? Do you need her?"
"No. I wanted to talk to you…about Molly. Before you get started," Bruce quickly added when Tony raised his eyebrows, "I'm calling because I have a problem."
"Well, I doubt it's a problem if you've fallen in love with the woman. Vic told me that she's single."
Bruce blinked. "Oh, she is? I didn't know." He filed that piece of knowledge away, some part of him happy. Then he got back on track. "Uh, that doesn't matter. Look, I've been feeling that…lately, maybe I can't trust her."
Tony put down what he was doing, and he rifled through some papers. "That's an issue, Brucey."
"Tell me about it." Bruce frowned and glanced at the lab door. Molly was napping in her room—rather, the guestroom…no, it really had become her room, hadn't it?—and so Bruce needed to be quiet. He didn't want her to overhear any part of this. "Seriously, Tony. I think she's hiding something from me. It wouldn't have anything to do with Victoire, would it?"
Tony squinted, as if in pain. "Maybe it's just female stuff. Do you really want to know about it?"
"Tony, it's not just 'female stuff.' I think there's something awfully serious that she's keeping from me."
"I think you're overthinking it, Bruce." He grew quiet and looked down at his papers. With a groan, Tony flashed them to the camera. "But…I should've come straight with you a while ago."
"Um…blueprints. For S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new base and Helicarrier."
Bruce forgot about why he'd even called Tony. "…what?"
Tony scratched his head. "Yeah… Fury made contact a while ago…"
"And you didn't tell me?" Bruce sat down.
"Well, he asked me not to."
"But I've heard nothing from him…" The scientist's mouth hung open, for he was beyond stunned. He hadn't known anything related to S.H.I.E.L.D. had occurred. He hadn't even thought that the agency would be ready for anything yet. "I can't believe he didn't contact us both, at the same time."
Tony groaned again. "Fury wants you to focus on your research. Bruce, buddy, just leave this to me. You've got enough on your plate, pal."
Bruce's temper flared to life. "You mean I'm not trustworthy."
Tony paled. "Bruce, no one said that."
"It was implied."
He ended the call before Tony could say any more. He hadn't realized he hadn't done it in a while until he finally sat back in his chair and counted to ten, slowly, backwards and forwards. He might always be angry, but it'd been a long time since he'd been so pissed.
And the last thing he needed was to see Molly right now. So he got up, locked the lab from the inside, sat back down in his chair, and tried to find some peace of mind.
"I'm, uh, done with the scale."
"… You left your papers out the other morning. I organized them—alphabetized by subject—and put them in the folders over in the cabinet on your left."
"… … I bumped into your miniaturized anti-electron collider. And a part fell off."
Molly sighed. "I think I'm going to go through with the gamma radiation. I figure green will look nice on me."
Bruce looked up from his calculations and notes and gaped at her. "What did you just say?"
She frowned. "Apparently the only thing that would make you talk to me." Molly shook her head and plopped into the chair beside him, pulling it so close that they breathed the same air. She locked eyes with him, brown on brown. "Bruce, what's wrong?"
He shot her a look. "Nothing. And you really think that that was the best way to get my attention?"
"Well, it wasn't the first thing that came to mind, no," she replied, her cheeks pink. "But it's probably the best. You've been like this the past couple of days." She twisted her mouth around before asking, "What the hell happened?"
He raised his eyebrows. It was the closest to a curse that she'd ever said in front of him. "Really…it's fine."
"That's a load of hippogriff excrement."
"If you mean 'bullshit,' then just say so."
She glared at him. "I'm just asking you to be honest with me, Bruce. Rely on me a little. Or…" Her face fell. "Did you really just want someone to amuse you while you worked?"
He sighed. "No, Molly, you're a—a good friend." His chest felt tight. "But you want to talk honesty?" Bruce looked her in the eye again. "Then you should start. I know you've been keeping something from me. Is it that bad?"
Molly's face crumpled, but she didn't cry. Instead, she reached for his hand, covered it with hers, and gave it a squeeze. The next thing he knew, Molly looked at him over the rims of her glasses and leaned in to kiss him.
And it happened. Bruce had almost forgotten what a woman tasted like. Molly tasted like spearmint and cocoa. And he quite liked that.
The seats of their chairs touched, and her knee was brushing his as she leaned forward, almost leaning against him. His pen fell out of his hand, and his hands moved on their own to her waist as she rose out of her chair and truly leaned into him. She kissed him fervently, and wisps of her hair tickled his face. He leaned back in his chair—he couldn't get enough of her.
Then he tipped backwards and they crashed to the floor. Papers flew everywhere as Bruce hugged her to him and they both silently shook with laughter, blaringly aware of what had just transpired. "Oh. My…"
"'Merlin'?" she offered.
He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair. "Why must you surprise me at every turn?"
"That's not bad, is it?" She tucked her head under his chin.
"I just can't believe… But you actually know about me. Why aren't you scared by that?"
Molly looked up at him. "Because, Bruce, I know of real monsters. And you're not one of them."
Dare he think it? He believed her that day…that he might be human, all human.
It was as though someone had shaken a can of soda—and then dared to open it.
Any remaining barriers were gone. Inside the lab, there was still the professionalism, but without the business overtone. After their initial intimacy, there was of course a bit of shyness around each other…but that faded quickly. Once they both realized that they'd essentially been living the life without revealing their feelings, it was kind of laughable. Needless to say, Molly no longer stayed in the guestroom.
Bruce hadn't ever been this happy. He'd almost thought that it had been some time since he'd last felt this way…but he'd never felt this way before. It seemed as though this was all some dream. But a week passed. Then another flew by. And another went. And he still felt fantastic.
Molly appeared to be just as happy. She smiled all the time now. She cracked more jokes than before.
Though, it was funny. It was really as though little had changed. Sure, she might sit closer to him now, and a hug could turn into something more, but Bruce wanted to call them the two dumbest intellectuals he knew, because all the signs of their comfortableness with the other had been there—and almost all right from the beginning.
No way in hell was Bruce going to tell Tony and let him gloat…yet. Molly did let it slip to Victoire, though, and so Victoire rang them up when Tony was out.
The redhead scrunched her nose at them. "Oh, revered Rowena—lookit you two, so cozy."
"I'm not cozy," Bruce said. He glanced at Molly. "Do I ever get cozy?"
Molly laughed. "You don't want me answering that, Bruce." She looked at Victoire. "But don't share it with Stark just yet, all right, Victoire? I don't want him teasing Bruce. Besides, it's bad enough, having you tease me all the time."
Victoire rolled her eyes. "And what did I tell you? You'd learn a lot from America. You'd learn a lot from this man." She gestured to them and smirked. "And apparently you're still learning, aren't you?"
"Oh, you cheeky minx!"
Bruce grinned. The two women fought more like sisters than like cousins. He backed out of the view of the camera so that they could talk. "But hey," he overheard Victoire say, "would you mind popping up for a bit? Tony and I have a date later tonight at some fancy new restaurant, and I can't pick an outfit."
Molly tensed for a second, and Bruce wondered why. He rubbed her back, which eased her. "Uh, yeah, yeah… I'll be up in a little while."
"All right. See you soon, Mols. Bye, Bruce."
"Bye, Victoire." He looked at Molly. "Hey—you okay?"
She nodded. "I'm fine." She plastered on a grin. "Just a bit tired, I suppose."
He wasn't sure he bought it, but she pecked the top of his head and left the lab to grab her coat. He walked her to the front door. "I'll see you for dinner then, I take it?"
"The commute—you probably won't be back until dinner, right?"
Molly spaced out and then nodded again. "Oh, yes, yes. I'll be back sometime around then." She leaned up and kissed his lips, and she regained some energy from that. "All right. I'll see you later, Bruce."
"See you, Mol."
She ducked out the door, and then the house felt so…empty. Holy cow. Bruce looked around the house, how clean yet lived-in it looked… Now, he couldn't picture it that way it had been before. Molly had left her mark.
The scientist ran a hand through his hair. He might as well save some work for later, so he decided that now would be a good time pop out and refill the fridge. Keeping it full was a thought at the back of their minds these days, with other important things coming first.
Out and about, Bruce took his time since Molly would not be back for a while. He ended up passing the bodega and heading towards the more urban part of the city. The people-watching was entertaining, and there was no sign of Valentine's Day in the stores anymore; things were beginning to turn green for the upcoming arrival of St. Paddy's Day. And yet, things always felt festive and special in New York City.
The tangent thought reminded Bruce of Victoire's call. Hmm. She and Tony were going somewhere nice to eat… Bruce wished he could do the same for Molly.
That dumb thought stopped him in front of a cab, and forced the driver to yell at him to stop causing a traffic jam.
But it really was very stupid. Why couldn't he take Molly out? The weather had gotten a lot nicer, though there seemed to be at least one more small storm on the way, a storm that the weatherman was convinced would be the last of the season. Still, that last frost was not for another few days, and Molly, he figured, should see the sparkle of the city now. And not because she couldn't later but because now was perfect. It just felt like the right time.
Then Bruce panicked, and he rolled his eyes. He might've dated before, but he had no clue about the special stuff. God, if it wouldn't kill him, he'd ask Tony for advice… It almost made Bruce wish that Steve was around; not only would Steve probably take him seriously, but he'd probably offer better suggestions about treating a woman like a lady, considering the era from which he originated.
The least he could do was buy her some flowers and think of where to go… There was a fusion place, something that was half Vietnamese and half Italian, though Bruce had never tried it. He hoped they'd both like it and, if all else failed, there was a bakery near his house that was open late.
"Now or never," he said to himself, sure that this was a good plan. He bought some yellow flowers—freesia, the seller said—and swung by the bodega, grabbed the cold stuff, and headed home. After putting everything away, Bruce wandered into his lab and wandered back out, determined to do something fun and not to work. He picked a random book off his shelf and began reading, and several hours flew by in no time.
When evening arrived, he cleaned up to surprise her. But standing by the door in a casual but nice suit and a pressed shirt, walking back and forth, made him feel like some kind of puppy. It started to get late, at least later than they'd anticipated she'd be back, and he fidgeted in the living room. He tried watching the news, but it was like having a fly buzzing in his ear. He just wanted her to be home.
Bruce almost called Victoire, but he didn't want to be a helicopter boyfriend, hovering over Molly's every move. To calm his nerves, he settled on walking around the block. He'd walk it twice, even…and then he'd call Victoire to make sure they'd lost track of the time and not that something had happened.
The door had just clicked behind him when he looked up the street. It was pretty barren for a weekday, not to mention that families were home for dinner as the sun set far off in the distance. Bruce set off towards the park, though not intending to go there. He made it to the end of the street and turned—and he heard a pop.
His eyes couldn't match what he saw with what he heard. He'd seen some strange things, but perhaps this could top them…but seriously? How could anything top the cube and all the demigods and aliens and weird peoples he'd met?
Still, Molly appearing literally out of thin air was a new one.
He gaped at her. "What the—"
Even in the warmth of the colors of the sunset, Molly's face paled and matched the white of the snow still on the ground. "Bruce—"
"What the hell?" He had no idea what to think, let alone what to say. He took a step back as she took one forward, and he recoiled when she reached out to touch him.
"Bruce, I didn't mean to scare you. I didn't even mean for you to see—"
"See what? That?" Had someone whacked him over the head with a two-by-four? Because that would explain this delusion he was having, even if he didn't see any stars in his field of vision.
Molly regained some of her color and spoke in her business tone. "I Apparated. Bruce, this is—"
He turned away, fast-walking back to the house. Molly was at his heels. "What the hell is that, 'Apparated'?"
"It's Apparition magic."
He couldn't look at her. Molly, his Molly, serious Molly—talking magic? This was clearly some parallel universe, because in what other universe would he have been in a happy, ignorant place in his mind, having gone for a carefree, contemplative walk…and imagined this?
He threw the door open, and Molly jumped in fright. "Bruce, please, calm down—"
"I wish everyone would stop telling me to CALM DOWN!" he roared. He wheeled on her and glared. "Tell me everything—NOW."
He growled, and she squeaked.
"Look, I'm a witch, I do magic, but this isn't something you should know. You're not a wizard, you're not magical, you're—"
"Not human?" he offered. He sneered, and his pulse quickened. The fear and panic in Molly's expression grew more noticeable.
Her words were drowned out by the almighty howl he loosed, and his remaining thought was that things had gone too far, that he'd been pushed too much. He whipped his head around, and he caught sight of green eyes in his reflection.
As the Hulk took over, Bruce could hear a smash, and he felt a dull thud in his side. And then he was falling. And then…he landed.
And then it all went dark.
He opened his eyes. Fathomless darkness greeted him with a hidden, sinister smile. His eyes adjusted, though, and a dim red light caught his attention in the corner. It was a small light, and he drew near to it.
Bruce sighed. He ached all over…and he groaned when he realized that he'd torn his nice clothes to shreds. He touched the red light, and an opening appeared in the wall, revealing a set of clean and unharmed sweats. Bruce slipped the pants on and hit the intercom above the red light. "Molly," he rasped. He paused, cleared his throat, and repeated more loudly, "Molly."
There was a fumble upstairs, and she answered. "Bruce! Bruce, are you all right?"
"Yeah. The big guy's head is thicker and tougher than mine." The intercom screeched as they fell silent. "Uh, could you get the door? I'm good to come up now. Promise," he added, for he could sense her hesitation.
"All right." A buzzer sounded, and the lift rose slowly with Bruce on it. He waited in the darkness that had returned while the bar lifted outside, and the heavy door creaked open.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, and Molly rushed into his harms to squeeze him. He held her just as tightly. He tried prying her off so that he could get a good look at her, but she wouldn't relinquish him. The man gave up easily. "What happened after he came?"
"The Hulk went hurtling into the Chamber," Molly said. Her voice was a little muffled by his chest, but he perked up his ears, not wanting the contact between them to be broken. "I had to shove him down there—think I bruised my shoulder in doing so—but the door swung into place as you said it should…would." She breathed in and out. "I slept outside the door until you calmed down and came back."
Bruce shook his head. "You should've left the lab. Doesn't your neck hurt? Or your back?" Her grip tightened, and he sensed something was amiss. "Molly. Mol, look at me." She shook her head, but he gently tugged her off—and his heart sank. Though her left eye was not swollen or discolored, there was a fresh lump along her cheekbone right beneath it, slowly purpling as he continued to stare. The left lens of her glasses was broken. "Shit."
"It's not your fault. You didn't do this to me," she insisted.
"Molly, I did—"
She shook her head and lightly slapped his shoulder. "No, I was the one that shocked you. I should've known that you could've lost your temper."
A few seconds of quiet interrupted them. "Mol, this is what I have to offer. This is how it will be." He almost added "if you stay," but it seemed that doing that would've caused unnecessary pain to them both. The two of them sagged against the wall by the Chamber's door until they were puddled on the floor.
Molly said nothing. She took out a wooden stick and, without saying anything, fixed her glasses. Her injury disappeared, too. She pocketed the stick and looked at him.
"Right," he said…not that he had forgotten what had set him off to begin with. But his anger didn't bubble up. In its place, disappointment and the desire to trust her again emerged. He wished she'd told him sooner; maybe she couldn't have shared everything, but knowing something would've been nice.
She cleared her throat, finding her voice. "You have to know…my telling you these things, my doing even non-verbal magic in front of you—there are repercussions."
He tensed, worried. "I don't care, then, if I don't know. Is it really that bad, what could happen to you?"
Molly gave him a sad smile, and she shook her head. "No, no, you're right… It's only right that I share all of me with you, as you've done."
She held up a hand, determined to give him the truth, all of it. "I'm a witch. Magic does exist, the kind that's different and more accessible to those who are born magical… I'm not like Thor. We… Magic can crop up anywhere, though it's not guaranteed in even the purest of bloodlines. I'm a half-blood, as my father's pureblooded and my mother's a half-blood."
Bruce blinked, stunned. "If your dad's…then…"
She nodded. "Yes. Victoire's father, Bill, is pureblooded, too. Her mum's a half-blood, as well, making Vic a half-blood. There are communities of witches and wizards all over the world, and schools, and places just for us. All my family's magical. And I worked at the Ministry of Magic, as part of the Obliviator Squad." Molly frowned. "I worked to correct or erase Muggles, non-magical folk's, memories when containment was an issue. My father works directly under the Minister of Magic, the magical counterpart to the Prime Minister." With this little introduction, she began to divulge to him all about the Wizarding world—the people, the government, the abilities…her family and friends.
"My work was the most stressful thing in the Ministry," the woman commented with a grimace. "The Aurors—the policemen—don't often use the Obliviate spell, because it's tricky. But being talented enough to be a part of the Obliviator Squad…" She shook her head. "I found friends in the Ministry, I did. But I was the type of young person who got along better with those older than her. I developed a romance with Michael Corner, who works in the Office of Misinformation. But we kept it a secret because he's about the same age as my youngest uncles…who are about twenty years older than me. They were in the same class at school, even."
Bruce raised an eyebrow, withholding his comment. He could understand why any man would fall for her, though. With how Molly carried herself, one didn't think of age or anything save for her quick wit and intelligence. Not to mention that she was very mature.
"It was my first secret, or big secret that I didn't share with my parents." She leaned against him and sighed. "But that, coupled with the pressure from Dad to follow in his footsteps and the pressure not to change from being the girl who always followed the rules—it was too much. So I quit. I didn't stick around in England long enough for Dad to start asking what I was going to do with my life." She smiled. "Mum just wants me to be happy, since Lucy, my little sister, never is. I thought having this experience in America would be a good change of pace…" Molly looked up at him, and their eyes locked. "I had no idea that coming here would be the best thing—ever."
The way she stared up at him made him kiss her, and it was a contact full of love, exhaustion, and—certainly—relief. However, he thought back to what he said earlier. "I didn't have to know. Not if you're going to be punished by the Ministry in America for telling me."
She shook her head, her curls jostling, her cheek warm in the palm of his hand. "Oh, Bruce… You don't understand. I've never shared so much with anyone before. Besides," she said with a laugh, "how do you think half-bloods are sometimes born? One magical parent might tell the Muggle one about magic."
He paled at the mention of children—though it was cute, her blush when she realized what her words could have meant.
"Oh, I don't mean I'm—" Molly groaned. "Ugh, Merlin! I really, really need to watch my word choice around you…!" Her face lit up. "Wait a minute."
"What?" He froze. "Don't tell me you really are—"
"No, no, of course not. But word choice!" She hopped up, and Bruce felt lost as she began mumbling to herself.
He stood and watched her pace the room for a few moments. And then, she stopped. She wore a gigantic grin.
"I think, luv, this is what they call the 'a-ha' moment."
"I'm not following."
"Well, I told you when I was describing the Ministry and punishments for the revelation of magic…but! That's only for when Muggles find out. And you…" She fidgeted, her face bright red this time. "Erm, well, you aren't quite human, Bruce. So I think this means that you're not really Muggle."
He was grinning himself. "So no punishment?"
"None at all. Which makes sense, because Stark knows about Vic—oops, I should've let them tell you that."
Bruce shrugged it off, because things made sense now, though he wasn't entirely certain that he would easily get used to this. Knowing that she could do non-verbal magic (a tricky thing, according to her) when he wasn't or even was looking… Not to mention that her tinkering in the lab actually had been creating chemically-charged potions (not that he knew about such things, as the super-soldier serum was purely science). And, if he were being truthful, he'd confess that he wasn't entirely all right with all of this. Knowing Tony, Bruce guessed that Tony had gone with the live-and-let-live state of mind after learning about Victoire. But Bruce wasn't that same kind of guy. For all he knew…for all he knew, he and Tony had fallen for witches because they'd been put under a spell! He frowned, hating to think that what he had with Molly wasn't real.
Molly gently smiled. "I know that look—the gears are whirring a bit too fast in that head of yours." She kissed his forehead. "If you think there's a spell to make you love me, then you'd be mistaken."
His mood lightened.
"It's actually a potion. Oh, sorry, sorry! I just wanted to clarify—" She stopped, giving up. "Look, I've never used magic on you. And I can tell you with certainty that Victoire's never put Stark under a spell, either. We're not bad people, Bruce."
"How can I believe that?" Despite his question, he held his arms open for her, and she went to him.
"You just have to trust me," she replied. Molly looked up at him and winked as though nothing bad had ever happened. "Come now, good doctor—haven't you ever heard of chemical reactions?"
His qualms disappeared as he rolled his eyes and kissed her deeply. Yeah, they had chemistry, all right.
Three weeks later…
Bruce awoke, his left arm sore. It was terribly stiff at the elbow, and he bent it. In doing so, he disturbed Molly. But it turned out that she was already awake.
"Good morning," she said, the hint of her accent there even in those two words. He grinned.
"'Morning," he said. He moved his arm around before letting it rest by her head again. He bent his hand to brush away curls that had fallen in her face. How lovely it would be, if only every single morning could be just like this… But he knew they wouldn't. Assuredly, they would be much better from now on, with Molly in his life. But the Avengers were a part of his life now, too, and his research was important again, and there was the help he'd be giving Tony, too, with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s requests, no matter what Tony or S.H.I.E.L.D. said… It made him sigh.
"Is something wrong?" Molly asked. Her eyes were so brilliant, so big and brown. Bruce loved seeing them without the barrier of her glasses being there.
He went quiet. "Life's just…hectic."
"Good hectic or bad hectic?"
"When you're a monster for some of the time, hectic is just 'hectic.'"
She pulled a face. "I thought I told you—you're not a monster, luv."
"You said that once, that you knew real monsters… Something worse exists?"
She sighed. "There are, of course, the kinds of monsters that terrorize people—I told you about the one my Uncle Harry is famous for having defeated. But," she continued, scooting closer to him and taking more of the blanket as she did so, "I also know of someone who had an affliction similar to yours. My family tells me that since this man turned into a monster once every month, he couldn't separate himself from the beast. He considered himself and the beast one and the same. But that wasn't true, and he died very much the good man that he was."
"… But what was he?"
"Oh, just a werewolf."
His eyes bugged out of his head. "Is there anything about your world that won't shock me?"
She pecked his lips. "You tell me. Now, stop thinking of all the bad things and get up, darling—it's morning."
Bruce groaned as she sat up and pushed the curtains aside, letting in the light. …however, Molly highlighted in sunlight was a great sight to behold. It made his smile return.
Molly grinned and looked at him over her shoulder. "Hey, Bruce, take a look—winter's gone. Spring's already here."
He smirked and laughed. Spring…had definitely arrived, for him.
WELL! Having found time to work on this on and off for about a month, I'm proud to say that this oneshot is COMPLETE! X3 I had such a great time with my 1st Confundusverse (my Confounded Heroes universe) story, "unwarranted variables," that I knew this would be great to write. And it was! Mols and Bruce have the best chemistry—no pun intended—and the more I wrote Bruce, the more I loved him (which is quite the feat, because Mark Ruffalo made me love Bruce so much already). And there's also so much more that will happen, too…in the upcoming Confundusverse fics! ;] As a side note, Mols/Michael Corner is an M&MWP (please see my profile for details), so a mention would be nice if you used them, thanks! :) I want to give a big "THANK YOU" to those who fav'd and even more so to those who reviewed "unwarranted variables"—knowing these fics have a fanbase helps! Lastly, I will simply say that I have started the 3rd fic in my Confundusverse, titled "Actions Quieter Than Words," and though this fic was longer than "unwarranted variables," I am not sure the next fic will be even longer or even as long as these first two, so I hope not to disappoint. X0 Also, COOKIES if you find my X-men Easter egg. B) Very lastly, 2 things—Molly was allowed into Bruce's lab without being screened and whatnot because Tony trusted her, so Bruce trusted her from the get-go since he trusts Tony's judgment on such matters, and the freesia Bruce meant to give Molly…are symbolic of innocence and friendship, which these two definitely have, love aside. :')
So while you're awaiting "Actions Quieter Than Words" (which takes place while all this was going on, but elsewhere in the world), leave a review! Tell me that you've read this! Don't just favorite! …guess which Avenger and which next-gen come next? ;) (Though you can guess all you want, because I have the next 4—FOUR—fics planned, pairings and storylines matched a long time ago.)
Thank you very much for reading, and I'd love to see your thoughts in a review! See you in "Actions Quieter Than Words"!