6 – It's Hard To Stay In Control
We've now officially passed the halfway stage, and with that landmark, I'm reeling in the fluff a little in place of some drama. I hope I'm not boring you too much. This chapter was quite difficult to split up and so there are some quite large blocks of text, particularly in the first half. Sorry.
I obviously don't own the Marvel-movieverse. All credit where it's due. I do own Zoey though, and she doesn't know what to believe anymore. Poor girl.
(EDITING NOTE: Sorry for the delay in this chapter, blame work and college and birthday and socialising. Also blame Thor: The Dark World. I've seen it twice already. Dear lord).
23rd September 2013.
"So have a look round, let Jarvis know if you want anything else in here – this is your place to do with as you please, but try to keep the wild parties to a minimum, hm?" I nodded mutely as Tony Stark led the way into my new office, trying to stop my jaw dropping in astonishment. "I'm sure this comes as a bit of a shock to you, but really, we couldn't think of anyone better for the job."
"A bit of a shock is an understatement, I think." My voice was faint as I looked around. It was only half an hour ago that I'd sat down at my desk to find it empty of everything but my computer – even my stash of biscuits and tea bags in the drawer had disappeared. I'd clicked onto my email with shaking hands, finding a message from Tony Stark himself with the subject like 'I like you'.
Hi Zoey Zoey Monroe-y,
Pepper tells me you've settled in really well and that the work you're churning out is exemplary. Good job. Obviously I only hire the best, so most of the credit goes to me, but you can give yourself a pat on the back regardless.
Obviously, since you've become so comfortable at S.I., the logical thing to do is to uproot you from your nice cushy job as a 'Media Advisor and Liason' and push your limits, throw you out of your comfort zone etc etc. Some may argue that this is unorthodox and that this is a job that should go to someone with more experience but I do things my own way so they can shove it. You might get a few dirty looks from people who've been working at the same level as you for longer, but I'm sure you can deal with that. I'm sidetracking. Okay.
So the thing is I like you. You seem like a good kid. Smart too. You can handle yourself, and you're friendly enough. So I'd like to formally offer you the role of the Avengers' Media Liason. That means you'll have to organise press conferences, vet what gets published, write glowing reports on our good deeds to send to the press, give statements, kick us under the table if we start saying too much...you get the idea. Don't worry, we're all perfectly friendly, and I'll bring you up to speed on all of our ins and outs. Pepper will help you if you have any questions, but I'm assuming you'll take the job, which is why I've already taken the liberty of moving your stuff into your new office. These biscuits are good.
By the time you've finished reading this, I should be just about to appear above your desk to whisk you away to distant lands, so look sharp. (By distant lands I mean your office, which is a few floors up). Yes, it's a sudden move, but here at Stark Industries you gotta be adaptable. Hence my suit.
Tony Stark (aka the best boss in the world).
PS. Did I mention the few thousand dollar yearly pay rise?
And sure enough, the moment I looked up from my computer screen Tony Stark was walking towards me, wearing sunglasses even though we were indoors and a suit jacket over an ACDC shirt. There were murmurs around me from twenty or so other people who worked in the department and out of the corner of my eye I had spotted one of the interns flailing slightly at her first sighting of Tony Stark in the flesh. Apparently it was nearly unheard of for him to be on this floor, let alone walking among us. The whispers rose in pitch as he stopped behind my computer screen, grinning widely.
"Hi Zoey Zoey Monroe-y."
"Hello." My voice could only be classified as a squeak.
"Since when were you a mouse? I had you pegged as a guinea pig at least. I take it you accept?" I made some vague noise of affirmation and he clapped his hands together. "Fantastic, let's go." He waved to the other people in the room as he strutted back towards the elevator, leaving me fumbling to log off the computer and grab my bag. I was still putting my flats on my feet properly as I followed him, trying to blank out the stares and accusations of favouritism.
"So what do you think?" Tony's voice was excitable as he leant against the...my...desk and grabbed the packet of biscuits laying on top of it. The room was as big as probably half my entire apartment and furnished in a much classier way – monochrome was the word that sprang to mind. I hesitated, trying to work out how best to phrase my next words.
"I think that I haven't done anything of merit to deserve this job. I mean...surely there are people who are more suited? Not that I don't appreciate it, because I really do, Mr Stark, but...I'm not sure that I'm the right girl." He scoffed.
"One, it's Tony, not Mr Stark, I'm not your teacher. Two, your lack of experience makes you perfect for the job. We don't want someone who's set in their ways and can't get their head around change – we need someone who relies on their instincts, which I think is exactly what will make you perfect for it. Plus, Bruce likes you, and I trust his opinion." I blushed involuntarily at mention of Bruce, which of course did not escape his notice. "And there's that, too. Having you up here on the higher levels means you'll see more of each other, which I am actively encouraging because Bruce really needs to get laid." My mouth fell open with an audible 'pop' and Tony laughed. "Don't look at me like that, you think it too, and you wouldn't mind being the one to lay him. He certainly wouldn't mind it being you – I know all about your little lunch dates." I scuffed the toe of my shoe against the waxed floor awkwardly. "And I approve, by the way." I shot him a look that very clearly said please shut up oh my god and he held his hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay, fine. Tell you what. I'll leave you to get settled in – all your things are in those boxes-" he pointed, "-apart from these biscuits which I'm confiscating on the grounds of 'they're nice and I want them'. In the top drawer of your desk are the full files on the Avengers – that is, myself, Captain Spandex, Black Widow, Pigeon Boy, God of Poptarts and the mean green fighting machine – and they are not to leave this room. That's very important. I'd have to serve your head on a platter to the highest bidder if anyone got hold of those."
"So familiarise yourself with each of us, go out on your lunch date, and then I'll come and find you this afternoon to give you all the salacious gossip on everyone. You're gonna be great, Zoey Zoey Monroe-y." I frowned at him.
"Why do you still call me that?" He clapped me on the shoulder as he walked past.
"Everyone needs a petname, Pickle." Tony slid out of the door, leaving me questioning the name 'Pickle' even more than 'Zoey Zoey Monroe-y'.
I walked around the room slowly, taking in my surroundings. There was a counter against one wall that had a kettle, coffee machine and microwave on, and under it were a couple of cupboards and a fridge. Next to that was a large filing cabinet with a Post It note stuck to the top corner – closer inspection revealed that this cabinet was already filled with Avengers-related files and clippings, but could be reorganised to my heart's content. The desk was the centrepiece of the room, but I eyed a very comfortable looking sofa that was against the opposite corner to the fridge, alongside a wall of ceiling to floor bookcases. Overall, it was very nice. I crossed the room and slid into the large spinny chair that made me feel very important and tested its spinning capability. My delighted laugh echoed off the walls as I whizzed around and I had to grab hold of the edge of my desk to steady myself. I walked (in a mostly straight line) over to the two cardboard boxes and lifted them onto the desk (being careful not to knock the computer off – I wasn't going to start breaking things on my first morning of the job). I spent the next half an hour arranging my meagre amount of possessions across the room, making a note on my phone of stuff that I needed to get – some more pictures for my desk, artwork or posters for the walls, and a few books to go on the shelves. Plus supplies for the fridge, obviously the most important part.
Finally, the of-my office was beginning to look at least a little lived in, and I reached into the drawer (that had a fancy looking lock on it that only opened with my fingerprint), pulling out six brown files with some sort of bird insignia stamped on them; red writing in the top corner declared the files 'Classified by S.H.I.E.L.D', whatever S.H.I.E.L.D was. I made myself a large mug of tea and went to curl up on the large sofa, my shoes abandoned on the floor.
Two hours later, I had read up on Tony Stark, Captain Steve Rodgers (that man had a fiiiinnnneeeee booty), Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye, and 'Pigeon Boy' as Tony had referred to him) and his partner Natasha Romanoff and was just coming to the end of a thrilling tale about the Norse God of Thunder appearing on Earth and being tasered by a Pol-Sci graduate. Darcy Lewis appeared to have some serious girl balls. Once I'd finished reading through the file, I took a sip of my now cold tea and grimaced. I decided to make myself another before I read the final file (the Hulk's) and did so before returning to my seat, wishing Tony hadn't stolen my biscuits. I looked at my watch. Another half an hour and I would be meeting Bruce for lunch, so I'd survive. I'd sent him a quick text earlier telling him to meet me in my new office (because naturally I wanted to show off), and he'd replied with a slightly hesitant seeming 'Ok'. Not even 'okay'! I was a little worried, but I didn't let it phase me too much – sometimes he was a bit down, which I just accepted and made sure to pull back on the innuendo on those days, because he'd snap at me and storm off (yes, I'd learnt that the hard way).
I had made a neat little pile of the files I'd finished on the floor next to my shoes, and I dropped Thor's file onto this before turning to the final one. My tea placed carefully on a piece of paper on the table (I didn't have any coasters yet, and didn't want to make an unnecessary mess), I picked up the final file and read the front.
It felt like my heart had been punched out of my chest.
Given Name: Doctor Bruce Banner
A knock on the door drew me from my reverie and I slammed the file shut. I'd finished reading it ten minutes ago, but I'd spent the time since them comparing the picture of Bruce stapled to the inside of the front cover to the one of the huge green rage monster alongside it. How could someone so nice become something so...horrific? There was a second knock and I noticed the time.
"Jarvis, who is it?" I whispered and his cool British voice replied instantly.
"Doctor Banner, Miss Monroe." I swallowed, standing up and smoothing out the creases on my pants on autopilot, ignoring the shoes abandoned on the floor.
"Come in." My voice shook. I was shaking slightly. I just couldn't comprehend what I had just read. Maybe it was all an elaborate prank. I'd heard that Tony was fond of them. Please let it be an elaborate prank. I couldn't bear the thought that Bruce didn't trust me enough to tell me. The door swung open and Bruce walked in, a wide smile on his face.
"Wow. Nice place. I take it Tony promoted you?" I nodded, pressing my lips together in a tight line. "So what's your new job title then?" He ran his hand over the edge of my desk before leaning against it, arms folded, looking at me expectantly.
"Avengers' Media Liason." My voice was little more than a whisper as I stared resolutely at the floor.
"Sorry, didn't quite catch that." How could someone so lovely be the Hulk? I had expected it to be some huge thug, not someone like Bruce...not Bruce. I cleared my throat, finally meeting his eyes.
"Avengers' Media Liason. I've spent the morning reading up." His face falling was the most heartbreaking thing I'd ever seen. He ran a hand over his face slowly, clearly hiding his emotions as best he could from me.
"So now you know." He spoke into his palm, his voice muffled. I looked at the file tossed carelessly on the sofa.
"Yeah. Now I know." I tried to keep my voice as gentle as possible. Bruce dropped his hand and looked at me, and he had never seemed so old or so tired in the entire nine months that I had known him.
"So." He seemed at a loss as to what he should say. I sighed and sat down heavily, moving the file and patting the sofa next to me. He warily crossed the room to me, sitting down a good distance away, maintaining a decent gap between us. I turned to him, grateful that I had worn trousers today, which enabled me to cross my legs as I faced him.
"You broke Harlem." I started simply and Bruce's hand immediately jumped to the back of his neck as he nodded. "And uh...smashed a lot of things." He shifted awkwardly. "And saved Tony's life." His hand dropped to his lap as he mirrored me, sitting with his legs crossed between us. Our knees didn't touch.
"One good thing out of a whole lot of bad." He hung his head morosely and I instinctively reached for his hands. He appeared taken aback as I threaded my fingers between his, as if he expected me to treat him like a leper now that I knew his secret. This was the classified area of his file that I'd come across all those months ago.
"I don't believe that."
"The other guy isn't good, Zoey. He's ruled by...anger...and doesn't really take direction very well. Trust me, saving Tony pales into insignificance when it's up alongside all the other stuff." Bruce's voice was dejected and I tightened my hands around his.
"But he didn't turn on the other Avengers. There was that thing in the...Helicarrier?...but when it really mattered, he came through good...you came through good." He shook his head, remaining silent. I extracted my right hand and touched his chin, forcing him to look at me. "Why didn't you tell me?" He laughed bitterly.
"Oh, because that would've come up easily in conversation. 'By the way, if my blood pressure gets too high I go a little green, and by little I mean huge hulking rage monster green, now do you want coffee or hot chocolate?'" I bit my lip, unsure what to say. "For once, I just wanted to be taken at face value, and treated like a normal guy, and engage in some harmless flirting and not be treated like I was a grenade that could go off at any second. Can you understand why I would want that?"
"But why would I treat you any different?" He raised an eyebrow derisively. "Seriously, Bruce. I get that the first couple of times we hung out, you'd wanna keep it to yourself. But I thought you trusted me, and I certainly trust you. If you've kept the green guy under control all this time we've been hanging out, why would I not trust you to continue that clean streak? It doesn't make any difference...not to me." His brown eyes blazed with something I couldn't identify.
"It should, Zoey! Don't you understand – I'm constantly battling the other guy, keeping him at bay, and if stop concentrating, even for a second, I could lose it and he could take over. That should terrify you enough to send you running to the hills." He smacked my hand away from his face lightly and I took the hint.
"Bruce, I'm not scared of you. I'm not dumb enough to not be wary of the other guy, but you? You wouldn't hurt a fly. And I don't think you would hurt me." Bruce leaned forward suddenly, his eyes only a couple of inches from mine.
"I'm not the one who would be hurting you. And I should have removed all possibility of the other guy hurting you long ago." He stood up abruptly, pulling his hands away from mine. I didn't watch him as he crossed the room to the door, but when I heard it open I spoke.
"You'd be hurting me now. If you just walked away. If you pushed me away." A pause. I couldn't even hear him breathing. Then...the door swung shut. Footsteps in the room. He returned to my line of sight, sitting gingerly on the edge of the sofa. "The fact that I know now doesn't change how I'm going to treat you. It doesn't change anything. We all have our secrets. Mine's the fact that my ex posted sex tapes that he took without my permission on the internet. Yours is a little greener." His eyebrows raised at my omission and I reached for his hands again. "So now you know." I echoed his words from earlier and he smiled briefly. "Please. I'm not going to let the other guy affect this." I gestured between the two of us. "Please don't you let him." Bruce looked indecisive and I felt my lips slide into a pout.
"Well if you're gonna look at me like that..." I grinned and threw my arms around his neck, feeling him laugh as his arms wrapped around my waist. We hugged for a moment and I idly ran my fingers through the hair on the nape of his neck. He pulled back slightly and I rested my forehead against his.
"You never did say congratulations on my promotion." I nudged his nose against mine slightly, making it clear how he could phrase his congratulations, but I kept my distance, letting him make the first move. His eyes dropped, looking at my lips, but he shook his head minutely. I tried not to let the rejection get to me, and I smiled happily as he pressed his lips to my forehead, lingering for just a couple of seconds too long for it to be classed as a friendly kiss.
"Well done. I'm looking forward to working with you in the future." I debated just kissing him and throwing it all to the wind. And I decided to go for it. I mean, we'd been tiptoeing around it since my birthday, and that was nearly three months ago. I leaned in and angled my face towards his, and for a moment, I swear he leaned in too. But then his hands were on my cheeks and he pushed me away lightly. "Zoey..." His voice was coloured with regret and I shuffled back on the sofa slightly, putting some more space between us, looking away, embarrassed. "No, don't be like that...please...look, you know why now." I frowned at him. "The other guy. It's hard to stay in control. Yeah, when I get angry or hurt, then he appears. But...well, if my heart rate goes up too much...it's difficult. And you..." He shrugged helplessly.
"Are you saying I get your heart racing?" I managed to infuse a teasing tone, and he blushed. "I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Doctor Banner."
"It's not like you didn't know." He was rubbing the back of his neck again. "So...lunch?" My stomach grumbled in response and we laughed (and as cheesy as it is, the sounds harmonised perfectly). "Come on then. And it's my treat, today. Because of your promotion." He stood up and held his hand out to me. I slipped my shoes on and joined him, grabbing my blazer on the way out of the door. My mother's voice echoed in my head, telling me to be careful around the man who gave Jekyll and Hyde a run for their money, but I pushed it away, feeling safer than I ever had done before with my hand in his.
We arrived back at my office, laughing as we shook the rain from our hair. It had started to pour suddenly when we were on the way back, and we were both drenched. It hadn't escaped my notice that Bruce's shirt was clinging to his chest in a very appealing way, and his nervous swallow made it clear that he had definitely seen how the rain had made my shirt partially see through. I pulled my soaked blazer off and threw it over the back of the sofa next to the heater to dry. Bruce looked around the room, pulling open one of the filing cabinet drawers and leaning over to check out the fridge.
"I suppose you're planning on buying some stuff for the office then?" I nodded enthusiastically.
"Well I've had a pay rise, so I can afford it, plus I've still got a load of books and stuff in boxes at home that I don't have room for, so I can bring them in here." He sat down at my desk, sliding himself forward to look at the selection of photos in frames that I'd already arranged to one side next to the pencil pot. There was one of me and my parents at my high school prom, my grandparents and I at my graduation, a picture of me and a group of girlfriends drinking cocktails on a night out for Tori's 21st – we were all dressed up in different costumes that weren't at all practical but were fun to look at. There was another of me as a bridesmaid at my older brother's wedding alongside one of me holding his baby daughter ten months later. Most of my family lived out of town, but they were nice little reminders that I was loved. I pointed to each one and explained them to Bruce, leaning over the back of the chair, my damp hair hanging forward and tickling his neck. I dissolved into a fit of giggles while trying to tell a story about Tori, a sailor and Jaegermeister, leaning my head against his shoulder as I laughed and that's how Tony Stark found us five minutes later.
"Am I interrupting something here?" The door swung shut behind the billionaire as I looked up, still stifling giggles.
"Not at all, Tony. Zoey was just telling a story. I couldn't quite follow it, but I get the impression you had to be there." I snorted in a very unladylike manner as Bruce stood up. "I'll leave you two to do whatever you need to do. Tony, swing by the lab later, would you?" He stopped by the other man and gave him a hard look. Tony nodded, conveying what looked to be an apology with his eyes. "Bye, Zoey." He waved as he slipped out of the door. Tony grinned at me.
"So I take it you two are still in the honeymoon phase?" I rolled my eyes and looked pointedly at the pile of files on the floor by the sofa. "Ah. I'm guessing you had a big ol' heart-to-heart where Bruce told you to stay away from him because if he gets too excited the Hulk will come out to play?" I started to protest, thought about it and then nodded. "Sounds like him. Ignore him. He's just fixated on being alone because he blames himself for everything the other guy does. He needs to let off a little steam. In more ways than one." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at me.
"Shouldn't Bruce be the judge of that?" I picked the files up and opened the drawer in my desk, sliding them in and locking it again.
"He's far too masochistic. By the way, I like the wet shirt look. You should rock it all the time." I glared at him as I folded my arms across my chest, restricting his view of my blue bra. "Okay, okay, fine. Right, let's get you up to speed on the gang. We'll start off with Captain Spandex...he needs to get laid even more than Bruce does..."
I started writing a phone call between Zoey and her mum at this point, but the chapter's long enough as it is so I've taken it out. As a reward for your support, if you review this chapter I'll send you that scene (provided you're not anonymous and don't have PM turned off). Let me know what you think! ~Saskia xxx