Author's Note: This catches us up to AO3. I hope to get the fourth interlude up within the next couple of days, and another full chapter by the New Year. I haven't been able to reply individually, but I promise I read and salivate over every review…I'm like an addict, I swear.
Darcy rolled her eyes as they watched the blonde flounce away. "Women like her make my teeth itch."
"Oh?" he inquired.
"Yeah," she answered. "If you want something more than a good time, you set the expectation up front. You don't just jump into bed and automatically get the right to demand things just because you have sex." Her lips twisted. "That's some kind of attempted entrapment or something. It's stupid. If you want commitment, you should get that before getting naked."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Somebody need to talk to Featherhead?"
"What?" She blinked at him. Horror filled her face as she realized who he was talking about. "Oh, God, don't you dare. You just leave him alone."
"Just making sure," he teased. "Can't have him running off one of the best girls in the house." He twirled her once before tucking her hand in his elbow and leading her towards the dance floor.
She laughed and rolled her eyes as they sashayed past an inquisitive group of people. "Okay, Dad, whatever. Don't you dare."
"But how responsible would that be, little girl?" he smirked. She nudged him with her shoulder. He laughed. "All right, all right, I leave it alone as long as he's behaving himself?"
"We're good," she replied with a grin.
He glanced around the room. "Actually, I'm surprised I haven't seen him yet. The way he hovers around you, I expected him to be here to protect you from the leering eyes of the filthy rich."
Darcy leaned closer and whispered. "He's in the rafters over the stage."
"Knew he'd be here," Tony nodded. "How did you figure it out?"
"I ran into Natasha in the ladies room. She's with one of the caterers."
He gave her a considering squint and pursed his lips. "Is she here to babysit you or me?"
She started giggling as he gave a wicked smile. He pulled her onto the floor as a new song started. "Let's avoid the chattering for a bit."
"Works for me."
They shared a couple of dances before going back to the crowd. Darcy noticed them getting some strange glances and strained smiles. She was not quite sure what was going on, but Tony promised to have Pepper look into it the next day, so she decided to ignore it unless someone started a fight. No one did, and they finally escaped to the limo.
She sat back against the seat with a groan.
She shot up with a shriek at the unexpected voice. Clint grinned at her from where he sprawled in the opposite seat. Natasha sat demurely beside him.
"You…you…" She reached out and smacked him on the arm. He rubbed the spot, pouting at her. "Oh, please, I didn't hit you that hard. You scared the life out of me!"
He smirked. "We figured we'd grab a ride since we're heading the same way."
"You couldn't have said something sooner?"
"Aren't they cute?" Tony broke in. His eyes glittered in amusement.
Natasha nudged his leg with a foot. "Leave them alone." She slid an arch look towards the pair. "If you'd have kept quiet, they might have gone on a bit more."
Darcy rolled her eyes and propped her feet on the seat between the two agents. "Let's just go home. I'm ready for my PJ's. Tomorrow morning is going to come way too early."
Clint rested his hand on her shin. He rubbed gently. "Close your eyes and get some rest. I'll wake you when we get there."
She gave him a grateful smile and let her eyes drift shut. She fell asleep in moments.
The next thing she knew, Clint lifted her out of the car. She stirred in his arms. "I can walk."
"I know, baby," he answered, pressing a kiss to her hair. Despite his acknowledgement, he simply tightened his arms and held her closer to him. She did not bother arguing. She just shifted enough to put her arms around his neck. She curled into him and tucked her head under his chin.
He did not put her down until they reached her room.
The next morning Darcy and Clint walked into an empty kitchen. She yawned. "Something simple this morning, I think."
Darcy frowned. She had never heard JARVIS sound quite so reticent before. "Is something wrong, JARVIS?"
"I know you normally do not view the society pages," the AI replied. "However, I believe it may behoove you to do so this morning."
"Okay," Darcy drawled out. She moved to sit next to Clint as JARVIS pulled up the relevant pages on the table screen. The New York Times society page included a large picture of her and Tony taken at the party the previous evening. The picture looked normal enough, but her jaw dropped at the headline.
IT'S A GIRL!
Surprise birthday guest refers to Tony Stark as 'Dad'
While high society has often watched with either disdain or amusement as Tony Stark waltzed his way through taboos as though they did not exist, last night's surprise has to be rated as one of the most unexpected of all. While the magnate's alter ego has often headed the front pages with his derring-do, his 'mild-mannered' self has usually paraded through various social outings with starlets, beauty queens, and princesses.
Despite his recent attachment to his longtime companion, Miss Virginia "Pepper" Potts, his appearance with a dark-haired beauty seemed a sign that the still-unengaged bachelor had returned to his philandering ways. No such luck ladies!
Instead it appears Tony Stark has been hiding an even deeper secret than his heroic "Iron Man" persona. According to reliable sources from the party itself, the young lady, tentatively identified as a Miss Darcy Lewis, referred to him as "Dad". In addition, rumors from inside Stark Industries tell us the heretofore unknown Miss 'Lewis' has been seen spending a great deal of time with Pepper Potts, giving even greater credence to the idea of a long connection between the two.
Society gossip is simply hungry for more information.
"Oh my God," Darcy moaned, putting her face in her hands. "I made one smart-assed remark to Tony and they do this? Pepper's going to kill me."
Clint leaned back in his chair, balancing it on the back legs. "Why? It's probably the least scandalous after-party report Stark's ever caused."
"A daughter?" Darcy gaped at him.
He shrugged. "It could be worse."
"How?" she exclaimed. "How could it be worse?"
"They could have decided you were his 'trade-in' or 'bit on the side'." Pepper remarked as she strolled into the room. "Frankly, it's one of the few times we've ever been able to give a complete denial without worrying about evidence cropping up. I should warn you though - Tony thinks it's 'awesome'." She picked up a muffin and joined them at the table. "I'm more concerned about you."
"What about her?" Clint frowned.
Pepper blinked at both of them. "We will put out the denial of course, but a lot of people will still believe the gossip." She paused before continuing carefully. "Have you considered what it means personally to be a Stark? To be a member of the Stark family? Especially one Tony obviously likes? Even if unrecognized?"
Darcy shrugged. "My school loans could vanish?"
Pepper smiled, but Clint sat up slowly, a dark look crossing his face. "She'll be a target."
Both women looked at him; Darcy with confusion, but Pepper nodded, the smile dropping away.
"Exactly," she replied.
His eyes hardened, as if a glaze of ice dropped over them. "Damn it."
"Now, hold on," Darcy held up her hands. "Don't overreact. I was already a target, right?"
"Not like this," he insisted, his eyes pinning hers. "It's one thing to be a Stark employee, even a highly placed one. This is different. There are a lot of loonies out there, and the idea of Tony having a daughter? Of Iron Man having a daughter? They'll be coming out of the woodwork."
She looked at him for a long moment before turning her gaze to Pepper. The older woman nodded, regret shining in her eyes. Darcy folded her arms on top of the table and propped her chin on them. "More security then?"
"Already in process."
Everyone turned as a new voice joined the conversation. Natasha slid in the seat next to Darcy. She reached out and tugged on a lock of dark hair. "Don't worry, mladshaya sestra, it just needs a little more caution."
"At lunch we will come get you instead of meeting you somewhere. You will take a car instead of walking or using the subway." She tapped her finger on the table. "We already have a tracker on your phone."
Darcy summoned up a smile. "I know. Jane told me." At that she poked Clint in the side.
He jerked away. "Hey, I'd have told you! Jane beat me to it."
Natasha gave a small smile. "You'll need to be a little more careful, and a little less spontaneous. Let JARVIS do the shopping. We'll set you up with some passwords."
"Shouldn't we handle that?" Pepper asked.
"Stark Industries will need its own passwords for her as she is an employee," Natasha nodded. "SHIELD is doing this because of her connection to the Avengers Initiative."
The two women started discussing various security measures and how they could be split between the two organizations. Darcy felt her eyes growing wider and the room seemed to shrink. It stole her breath.
"Baby?" Clint's voice drew her attention and the women fell silent.
"I don't…" She trailed off. She tried again. "I can't…"
As her voice trailed off a second time, she decided she needed air. She darted out of the room. A few minutes later she found herself on the roof with no memory of the elevator or making any conscious decision about where to go. She paced, her hands clenching and unclenching in a spastic fashion. Darcy had no idea how long she continued, just walking back and forth on the roof, her mind grappling with the insanity of her life. As the outside world finally intruded on her senses once more, she spotted him.
Clint leaned against the wall by the elevator door – his arms folded across his chest, his feet crossed at the ankles, and his eyes focused on her. She stilled, pausing a moment under his intense gaze, before walking towards him. He pulled away from the wall as she drew close. He opened his arms. She burrowed into his chest as he embraced her. He rested his chin on top of her head.
They remained that way for a long time. Still as statues, they stood, him wrapped around her, shielding her from the world.
"Don't," he interrupted. "You've got nothing to be sorry about."
"I don't even know why I panicked," she said. "It's not like this is crazier than meeting Thor."
He rubbed one hand over her back. "You suddenly faced the possibility of you being a target. Not Jane, not Pepper, not one of us, but you yourself." He took a breath. "You never truly considered yourself a possible target, did you?"
"Only by default," she replied.
He gave a small chuckle before drawing her to their chairs. She finally noticed the shield had been put up. Tony invented it as soon as he realized she, Clint, and Jane spent a lot of time on the roof. It gave people some privacy, hiding them from observation. They normally never bothered with it. She frowned and glanced at Clint.
He shrugged. "I didn't ask for it."
"My apologies, Miss Lewis," JARVIS chimed in. "I turned on the screen as soon as you directed the elevator to the roof."
"That's alright, JARVIS," she sighed. "Guess I'll have to get used to it."
She moved to sit in her chair, but Clint stopped her. He stretched out in his lawn chair and pulled her down next to him. She smiled and cuddled into his side. He curved an arm around her. They lay quietly for several minutes, listening to the noise of Central Park and enjoying the breeze. He ran his hand up and down her arm.
She took a deep breath, but he placed one finger over her lips. "Just relax right now. There's no hurry." She let herself drowse, warmed by his presence.
Darcy called Jane later that morning and took the day off so she could go over security with both Stark Industries and SHIELD. She had to go to the helicarrier to set up her SHIELD codes. Clint and Natasha went with her as both security and accompaniment. It was then that she really got to see how people reacted to the pair. The other agents flinched – almost to a man.
She watched as each sideways look hit Clint particularly hard. She saw it, and she knew Natasha saw it, but the other agents seemed blind to the pain tracking across his expression. Each whispered conversation caused his face to grow colder, more distant. By the time they reached Fury's office, he had taken on his 'stone cold' persona. He shadowed Darcy's movements, pouring his energy into being her bodyguard instead of a SHIELD agent.
Darcy's frown grew as she went through the whole rigmarole. She wanted to go home. She wanted him out of this place. Natasha felt the same way given her sheer lack of expression. Clint might be guarding Darcy, but the two women had him bracketed, trying to be a barricade between him and the rest of the world. Fortunately Fury seemed inclined to let them rush things through. Part of that might have been the deadly expressions on the faces of his two best agents, but Darcy really did not care. They got out of there in a minimum amount of time. This time it was Darcy's turn to watch over Clint as he shook off the visit on their way to lunch.
After lunch they headed for the Tower. Clint and Natasha planned to meet with Pepper to discuss security while Darcy headed for the labs. She promised to stay put and not go wandering anywhere, especially outside of the building. Since Jane had a conference call with Erik, Darcy decided to go see the household's other mad scientist.
She wandered into Bruce's lab. As usual, the doctor looked rumpled and scruffy. Darcy shook her head, amused at the picture he made. He was the epitome of the absent minded professor. Every so often his hand would stretch out and grab a handful of nuts from an open bag by his computer. He never looked up from his microscope though. Since he appeared particularly focused on his work, she headed for the window to watch the city. She stood there for several minutes before something close to her made a clicking noise.
She glanced around. The clicks started growing in both volume and frequency. Bruce's head came up. "Darcy?"
"Hey, doc," she replied distractedly. She searched her corner of the lab. "What is making that racket?"
"Nothing of mine," he answered, starting to move around the table towards her.
She turned in his direction just as the clicks gave way to a whirring sound. "Um…" she trailed off, moving so her back pressed against the window. "That doesn't sound-"
The pile of metal between her and the table gave a shudder. They eyed it cautiously. Bruce reached out. Darcy started to speak, "Is that a good-" when it jerked to life. It stood up.
Its face, or what Darcy took for its face, turned from her to Bruce and back again. Lights raced in dizzying patterns across large portions of it. Its movements were jerky, disjointed, like a marionette with only half the strings. It looked…unfinished was the best word she could come up with. It swung around with abandon. Bruce jumped backwards. Its clumsy movements knocked some equipment off of a shelf.
"JARVIS!" Bruce called out.
"Yes, Dr. Banner?"
"Get Tony," Bruce ordered. "This is one of his toys."
"He has already been notified, Dr. Banner, and is on his way. He should be here in 10.4 minutes."
"Great," Bruce groaned. "This thing's going to destroy half my lab by that point."
"I have also informed Agents Barton and Romanoff as they are currently in the building." JARVIS noted primly. "They should be here in 2.2 minutes." He paused. "Miss Lewis, Agent Barton asked me to inform you to, and I quote, 'Get the hell out of that lab.'"
"Good idea," Bruce agreed and waved Darcy towards the door.
The thing unexpectedly swung towards Darcy and she fell back with a small shriek. The sound seemed to unnerve the machine. A small weapon popped out of one arm. It fired in her direction. A laser missed her by inches. She screamed. Bruce reached out to grab the weapon. The thing fired in his direction. This time the laser grazed its target. Bruce stiffened. He made a strange shaking movement. His body began to ripple.
"Oh, crap." Darcy could barely breathe. She dropped to the floor and pulled herself into the furthest corner she could reach. Forcing herself to take in a lung full of air, Darcy tossed a desperate look at the door. "Code Green, JARVIS!"
The machine turned back in her direction, firing as it turned. She ducked down, but before it reached her a large green fist smashed against the side of its body. It staggered sideways, its midsection caved in on that side. A second hand tore the head off. Both hands proceeded to shred the thing until only scraps of unrecognizable shapes remained.
The Hulk gave a roar and glared around the room.
His eyes lit on Darcy curled up in the corner.
The tableau froze as he stared at her. He seemed to be trying to decide something.
"Um…hi?" she squeaked. "Please don't smash me?"
He snorted and moved forward slowly. His head crooked to one side as he examined her.
"Oh, boy," she muttered. "Clint's going to have a coronary." She locked eyes with the Hulk. He did not seem in a hurry to hurt her, but he also did not seem to know what to do with her. She tried to breathe normally. "You know, I'd really, really like to make it home in one piece tonight. It's movie night. We're supposed to be watching Harry Potter. It's the first one – we're trying for a week of movie nights so we can watch the whole series. Steve's never seen them, which was totally expected, but neither has Tasha or Clint, and that's just wrong. It should be a requirement for everyone to see those movies. I mean, really, everyone should have to read the books, but at a bare minimum they should see the movies."
The Hulk stared at her in some kind of fascination as she babbled. She did not know what was so engrossing, but if it meant avoiding a pissed off raging green giant, she was more than happy to go along with it.
Where the hell was Clint?
Even as the thought crossed her mind, she heard a soft thwap sound. The Hulk jerked around with a roar. An arrow stuck in one shoulder. He lunged forward then stumbled back before he wavered, and fell over. Darcy let herself collapse back against the wall. Clint dropped out of the ceiling and rushed over to her. Natasha followed him out and moved towards the figure of the Hulk, already diminishing and shrinking back into Bruce.
"Darcy? Baby?" Clint knelt in front of her.
She turned wide eyes on him. "Take your time next time, hot shot." She let him pull her up and into his embrace. He began guiding her out of the lab. "Is Bruce okay?"
Clint smiled down at her. "He'll be fine. It's a standard Hulk tranquilizer."
"Good," she replied. "That's good." A great shudder ran down her spine. "Oh, okay, I need to sit down." Her knees shook. Clint frowned and lifted her into his arms. She buried her face in the crook of his neck and let the shakes take her.
"JARVIS?" Clint asked.
"Follow the lights, Agent Barton. I shall guide you to Miss Lewis's Tower rooms."
Darcy felt herself settling as he stalked into her rooms, JARVIS opening the door before him. She gave a deep sigh and raised her head. His eyes swept the room before he turned back to her and lowered her to the ground.
"Hey, how are you doing?"
She leaned her forehead against his shoulder. "That was seriously not the way I wanted to see Hulk."
"I didn't want you seeing him period." He put his hands on her cheeks and tilted her face up to meet his penetrating gaze. Something in his stare and shoulders relaxed after a long moment. His hands moved into her hair. He leaned down and covered her lips with his in a slow, easy glide. Her hands settled on his waist, her eyelids drifted down and she let herself fall into the moment.
Clint's mouth pulled back slightly, his breath cool on her moist lips, before sweeping up her cheek. He rested his forehead on hers. "Are you okay?"
Darcy opened her eyes. "Yeah." She gave a small, breathless chuckle. "He didn't hurt me. Scared the bewillikers out of me though."
Clint gave a startled huff of laughter. "Where the hell did you learn to talk?"
"What?" She poked him in the side. "You don't like Jewish-by-way-of-Appalachia?"
He shook his head, pure delight filtering into his face, before leaning down to capture her lips once more.
Darcy took a deep breath as she stood outside Bruce's lab the next day. She gave herself a shake and sauntered through the door. "Morning, doc." She suppressed a smirk as Bruce started at her voice. He looked completely flabbergasted. She gave him a strict look. "You missed breakfast."
"Now, I have almost completely given up on getting you science types to eat a decent lunch regularly. Dinner is still under discussion, and I'm definitely fighting that one." She pointed at him. "Breakfast is not negotiable. That meal is mine. Am I clear?"
"You don't sound too sure there, doc."
"Why are you here?" The question burst out of him.
She shrugged. "I told you – you missed breakfast."
He gaped at her. "You could have been killed yesterday."
"Yeah, I know," she agreed. "And believe me; I gave Tony hell this morning about leaving stuff lying around. His little toy nearly shot me! Twice!"
"No," he shook his head in bewilderment. "I meant the Other Guy!"
Darcy tipped her head to the side. "Hulk? Oh, yeah, definitely scary – that is not the way I'd recommend meeting him. Pretty sure he saved me though."
"This time," he noted, his hands shuffling the papers he held.
"Really all that matters right now," she said. When he remained silent, she bit her lip. "I'm not going to lie here, Bruce. I was seriously freaked when it happened. My plan was to always be on the opposite side of a TV screen from the big green guy." She lifted her hands helplessly. "That didn't work." He started to interrupt, but she held up a hand. "I think the important point here though? He didn't hurt me. He didn't even try." She shook her head. "He was injured, lightly sure, but still bleeding. He was pissed, but he didn't hurt me."
She interrupted. "Yeah, it could happen again." She stared at him for a moment. "And I could get hit by a bus tomorrow."
"That's not quite the same-"
"Nope, it's not." Darcy walked over to his table. She pouted a bit as he pulled away. "Clint and I talked it out this morning."
Bruce nodded in understanding. "He wants you to stay away."
"Actually," Darcy frowned at him, "he's the one who pointed out the way Hulk acted, pointing out how Big Green wasn't targeting me, how he didn't even raise a hand at me."
He stared at her, a mix of worry, curiosity, confusion, and a tiny spark of hope in his eyes. "Why are you doing this?"
"Doc, you need to consider my life." She leaned on the table. After she stared at her hands for a moment, she looked up and caught his eyes with the most earnest expression she could manage. "I was a poli-sci student living in the middle of New Mexico for six science credits. In less than two years my life has transformed to what it is now. I work part time for a brilliant Jekyll-n-Hyde genius who is rebuilding a rainbow bridge between two worlds. My second job is to be the assistant to the most scarily competent human being I have ever met – and she runs the most powerful corporation on the planet. I cook breakfast for the Avengers. I have Tasered the Norse god of thunder and am on a first name basis with the goddess of war. Gossip pages think I'm Tony's illegitimate daughter, and he thinks it's awesome. I watch movies with Captain America. Black Widow calls me little sister and I'm in a relationship with Hawkeye. I have regular conversations with an AI who has more personality than half my graduating class and can also hack every system in the known universe. Throw in the fact that both Clint and Natasha are super agents with a super-secret agency as well as being super heroes, and my new family is the most mixed-up, zany, insanely dangerous one around." She lifter her hands in a 'what-do-you-do' motion. "So you have a tendency to turn into a giant, green rage creature. Fits right in with the rest of the Wonderland cast."
His posture softened and relaxed as she rambled on. By the end a small smile hovered at the corners of his mouth. "Just…" He paused and his lips twisted slightly, his darkening a touch. "Just promise you'll stay between me and the door from now on." She frowned and he raised his hand in a gesture of peace. "Just in case."
"Okay," she nodded. "I can do that." She pointed a finger at him as he sighed in relief. "But you don't get to pull away from the team because of this. If there's anything this zany group of ours gets, it's being the outsider."
They stared at each other. Both looked up as the lab door opened.
Clint stepped in, giving Bruce a nod. "Darce? You finished lecturing?"
"Almost," Darcy replied. She turned back to Bruce. "You better be at breakfast in the morning or I am going to be very unhappy." She hooked her arm around Clint's. "Come on. Pepper's going to lecture Tony on leaving his toys lying around and JARVIS promised to let me watch."