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higher than soul can hope

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Darcy was embarrassed to admit it, but she was probably the last person in the Tower to know. Sure, she’d noticed that he seemed to be calling her into his workshop more and more. It was always “Hold this, Double D,” or “Help me out with that, Short Stack.” But honestly, she’d spent the whole time thinking that Tony was finally growing up, learning how to ask for help. And if he regularly neglected to fill out his paperwork, forcing her to chase him down and cajole him into doing it, well. He was still Tony. There was only so much growing up he would do.

But everyone seemed to be laughing at her.

Jane regularly cackled when Tony would holler her name from the adjoining lab space or texted and called her incessantly to pester her into helping him with something. To be honest, Darcy brushed off her best friend’s reaction; Jane knew about the epic-sized crush that Darcy harbored for the reckless superhero. And like a true sister, she regularly mocked her friend’s discomfort. Which was fine, because Darcy always got her back by mimicking Jane’s starry-eyed gaze whenever she looked at Thor. That’s what they did—they pushed and they pulled and poked and prodded and absolutely nothing was off-limits.

But she did start to notice when all of a sudden every other Avenger seemed to find a reason to come by the labs. Thor was normal—he only ever had eyes for Jane. But then Bruce would stop by every now and then with a question for Jane, always with that shy, secretive smile on his face. And Nat suddenly perched on the edge of Darcy’s desk for hours at a time, ostensibly for no reason at all. She always smiled like a cat who’d gotten the cream, which was somehow both terrifying and hot.

Clint popped out of the vents regularly with a shit-eating grin on his face, making Jane and Darcy jump. They started a game to see how fast Darcy could pelt him with a crumpled-up piece of paper. Her record was 1.5 seconds; Darcy had always been good at whack-a-mole. And even Steve started coming by, albeit only after particularly frustrating conversations with Tony. He would come in, be polite, give Darcy his patented ‘Captain America is disappointed in you’ expression, and leave. It was all very strange.

In hindsight, she’d been pretty dumb about the whole thing.

It all finally fell to pieces when Tony pulled her into his office on a Friday evening, right when she was finally leaving the lab. She was grumpy and tired, and all she really wanted to do was fall face-first into her bed and not leave it until Monday morning, but she stepped into his workshop anyway. He didn’t even look up from the machinery he was fiddling with.

“There’s a takeout menu on the bench over there,” he said with a distracted wave of his hand, still not looking up. “I want the pad thai, extra spicy. Get whatever you want.”

She stared at him, dumbfounded, without saying a word. He finally looked up. “What? I know you like Thai food, Darcy. It’s not that hard.”

Enough was enough. “You’re right,” she said, low and venomous. “It’s not that hard, so you can get your fucking food yourself, Tony.” And walked out.

She went home in a daze, feeling crushed and small. Darcy had thought he’d seen her as somebody with value and intelligence, but clearly not. Her phone started ringing within an hour of her collapsing on the couch. It was Tony, so she ignored it. Then Nat called, and Tony again. Right when she was about to put her phone on silent, it vibrated again. It was Jane, so she picked up.

“What happened?” her best friend asked without preamble. Darcy told her everything, up to and including the fact that she was sitting on her couch bingeing ice cream. “Oh, Darce,” Jane said sympathetically. She hesitated, then asked, “Can I come over?”

“Can you come over and not talk about it?” Darcy asked shrewdly.

There was a huff and then her best friend confessed, “Probably not.”

“Then no offense, but I’d rather be alone tonight.”

There was a pause, like Jane wanted to say something else. “Okay, Darce. See you Monday?”

“See you Monday. Love you, Janie.”

“Love you too, Darce.”

After that, Darcy did turn her phone on silent. The weekend passed without any further incident; she cleaned her apartment, went to the gym, and generally tried not to think about how hurt she was, with mixed results. And on Monday, she went back to work.

None of the Avengers stopped by the lab for the next several days, which stung. She thought they’d been her friends, too. The following Friday, Steve walked into the lab with a grave expression. Offering a tentative smile, he asked, “Hey Darcy, Jane. Darce, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Sure,” she replied. Jane was already on her way out the door.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Steve said, “but the issue isn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon. Tony is moping and miserable and clearly not ready to try and fix things with you.” He rubbed a tired hand over his face, then looked up and met her gaze. “And it’s affecting the team.”

When she opened her mouth to argue, he rushed to add, “And I know that’s not your fault, Darce. Sorry, I’m just trying to explain why I’m saying anything at all. And I hope you’ll hear me out.”

If the disappointed expression was bad, the earnest expression was even worse. Darcy leaned back in her chair and nodded, sighing in defeat. “Tony was trying, in his strange, dysfunctional way, to ask you on a date.”

No. She didn’t say it out loud, just mouthing the word, but Steve responded anyway. “Yeah,” he said. And everything clicked into place.

“Please excuse me, Steve. I have someone to go beat the shit out of.” He grinned in relief, and then she was gone.

Tony was in his workshop. For once, no music was blaring, so she knew he heard her approach. His shoulders raised defensively around his ears, but he didn’t look at her. There were dark bruises under his eyes, like he hadn’t slept in days.

“Do you have something you want to tell me?” she asked, when it became clear that he wasn’t going to talk first.

“No,” he said shortly, punctuating the word with a loud bang on the metal in front of him. With a wrench, which clearly wasn’t even the right tool to be using.

This was not the right tactic, obviously. “Tony,” she said, softly. Pleading for him to look up. He didn’t, and she sighed and turned on her heel to leave. She’d have to tell Steve she tried.

“It was supposed to be a date,” he exploded, and she paused. When she turned back around, he said, “I do respect you. It wasn’t a—a—demand for you to lower yourself or anything. I respect you,” he said, finally meeting her eyes. He looked hurt, too. What a pair they were, she thought.

She smiled for the first time, and his face lit with hope. She stepped closer, and teased, “Normal people just ask someone out on a date, Tony.”

“Pfft,” he said, tossing the wrench onto the work table and stalking in her direction. “Normal is boring.” She rolled her eyes, smile still stretched across her face.

“Besides,” he said, waggling his eyebrows as his gaze dropped to her mouth, “you like me the way I am.” There was a slight uplift to his tone at the end, as if he was asking, not stating.

She had no problem telling him the truth. “Thor help me,” she said, reaching for him. “I really do.”

Their lips met in a sweet, tentative kiss. He held his hands away from her body, but she didn’t care about getting grease on her clothes, so she tugged him closer. Her mouth opened under his, and they were swept away with the release of feelings that had been building between them for months. His tongue was skilled but tender, stoking a flame of desire in her belly that simmered slowly. She clutched him to her as they both got swept away in the feeling. When the need for air grew too strong, they finally broke apart. His forehead pressed against hers and they just stood there for a long moment, eyes still closed as they savored the aftermath of their first kiss.

“I hope you don’t say Thor’s name in bed,” he joked weakly, a breath of a chuckle drifting across her lips.

She pulled away, but only far enough to grab his hand. “I guess you’ll have to find out,” she said with a wink, pulling him toward the elevator.