Thanks to all for the comments. They really kept me going through the tricky parts, and when my sense of humor fled for a little while there.
Tad has always enjoyed moving. He knows this is an unpopular opinion, but that is merely because the majority of the population lacks organizational skills and refuses to commit. Moving is a fresh start, a chance to get rid of things that no longer work and leave the frustrations of an old place behind. So long as one has a comprehensive plan and sticks to it, moving can be a smooth process.
Tad’s preparations for the temporary move to New York had started five weeks ago, and he has managed to stay on track despite a few hiccups with Miss Lewis’ things. His comprehensive plan is linked between his phone, tablet, and computer. It has nine points, from transportation to disaster preparation. He knows every piece of luggage Miss Lewis is transporting, both from London and New Mexico. He also knows how many life rafts are standard on the Stark Industries jet.
He is at ease. He is prepared. Tad is calm and in control, and not affected by Oliver’s mismatched sweatpants and half-smashed boxes. Tad does not care that one of the boxes is leaking orange liquid, beyond directing the ground crew to quarantine it.
Oliver has lost the key to his flat twice now, forgotten his coffee on the roof of his SI car, and now can’t find his passport. Tad has no sympathy, he’d offered the template for his moving document. Oliver’s boxes could all be colour-coded. His passport and other credentials could be zipped into his carry-on, as well as saved to his tablet. Tad hasn’t asked, because he doesn’t need the second-hand stress, but it’s likely Oliver hasn’t even made his lodging selections at Avenger’s Tower.
At least Oliver is on time. Tad had made a quick coffee order, and he suspects the cup Dr. Foster is clutching as she scowls at the sun is the only reason things are still relatively calm. She’d objected, loudly and frequently, to the five am departure.
Tad glances at his watch, noting that it’s now half past.
He’ll have to have someone go to check on Hannah and Patrick. That’s all there is for it. Surely they didn’t both oversleep. Perhaps there was a problem with their car?
Just as he hits the refresh button on his inbox, because he would have been notified of any snags on the SI side of things, he hears a familiar wail of distress. Tearing his eyes away from the three emails Tony Stark had sent in the past thirty seconds, he spots Hannah and Patrick.
Patrick’s rolling suitcase - not regulation carry-on size - is on its side, one wheel broken off. Hannah is on her knees, despite the fact that she’s wearing tights, attempting to right things.
The brightening morning sun makes Patrick’s loud Hawaiian print shirt positively garish, but even that spectacle is topped by the sight of the other man’s sock clad feet jammed into a pair of rubber sandals. A small grey dog runs in circles around them, tangling them both in a long leash.
Tad doesn’t realize he’s started towards them until Hannah catches sight of him, her hazel eyes widened in distress. Today they look more green. Tad gives himself a mental shake.
“Tad!” She looks down at the broken wheel she’s now attempting to attach to the suitcase with some goop she’s scooping out of a lip moisturizer bottle. “Oh, no. We’re late, we know, we’re sorry.”
“The car came to my house first.” Patrick is digging in a pale yellow satchel Tad recognizes as Hannah’s. He comes up with something that appears to be a hair dryer. After more than a year at Ms. Lewis’ side, Tad knows better than to trust appearances. “It was supposed to pick up Hannah first. I was still sleeping, and then Hannah thought she’d been forgotten. I almost forgot to wear my travel sandals.”
“So I called the office, and Anita sent another car.” Hannah accepts the hairdryer from Patrick and turns it on despite the cord being cut off a few inches from the bottom of the device. A sound more suited to a lawn mower starts, but cuts off quickly when Hannah turns the machine off. She gives the newly attached wheel a testing spin. “But then my car passed Patrick’s car on the way to get me. So Patrick switched to my car.”
“Why travel sandals ?” Oliver asks. Tad had possibly been absorbed in deciding if it would be polite to offer Hannah a hand up - and then worrying that his hands are sweating, and worrying about his hands sweating always makes his hands sweat - and had not noticed Oliver’s approach.
He startles so badly that some of his coffee spills over the rim of his cup. At this point, he doesn’t understand how the coffee didn’t land on Hannah.
“In case we have to run, of course.” Patrick tips his head back, frowning up at the sky. “Looks like it’s going to be sunny.”
“It’s raining in New York.” Tad finally manages. Actual words, an entire sentence even. He’d checked the weather as a matter of course, but he’d been pleased when he noted the rainy forecast. Hannah and Patrick prefer the rain, working outside under umbrellas when they can. Something about thinking more clearly and also smoother skin. Tad doesn’t profess to understand.
“Really? Arnold!” Hannah attempts to catch the small dog, but it dodges her hands and barks twice, sharply. Tad has to step over the leash three times, and nearly trips when Hannah latches onto his hand as she stands. Only Oliver grabbing the back of Tad’s belt keeps him upright.
She doesn’t notice, thank god because he’d choked a little, as she’s busy brushing at her knees.
“I am so sorry about Arnold.” Hannah says, glancing nervously at Tad. She looks away again before he can recover and smile. “The veterinarian prescribed some travel pills, they were supposed to calm him down.”
“It turns out a rare side effect is to make some dogs hyperactive.” Patrick lunges and comes up with the dog in his arms. “Medical doctors. Can’t trust them.”
“Patrick, hush.” Hannah begins to untangle the dog’s skinny legs from the leash. The dog squirms and licks her in the face twice.
Tad can’t believe she touched him. His hand is tingling. He should say something. Offer to help. Her coffee! He ordered her a coffee and a croissant!
“There! Back to rights!” Hannah flips Patrick’s suitcase back onto the wheels and grasps the handle. “Don’t worry, we’re ready.”
And Hannah hurries past him, Patrick following with the wriggling dog cradled in his arms.
With their arrival, the group surrenders to momentary chaos as they all board the jet. Prince Thor is terribly hard to wake, and he’s fallen asleep on the luggage ramp. Captain Rogers returns from checking Oliver’s car for his passport, said missing essential document in hand along with a box of pastries. It quite outshines Tad’s sad croissant. Which the dog is now eating anyway.
Tad manages to give Hannah her coffee before she disappears to another cabin so the dog won't bother anyone. The dog pees on Tad’s leg just as Tad is about to compliment her lovely dress, and Hannah looks near tears. Telling her that he, of course, has a back-up suit does not reassure her and she darts past the curtain, the dog’s pointy little face on her shoulder almost mocking Tad.
He stands there staring at the curtain for several minutes, until the jet lifts off and he realizes there are things he should be doing.
He needs to double-check that the flight bags Miss Lewis had packed for everyone had been distributed properly. He should confiscate Oliver’s passport before he loses it again and throws off their entire schedule when they arrive. He needs to see what the emails from Tony Stark are about.
Oliver clamps a hand on Tad’s shoulder. “You should go change into your back-up suit.”
He should change into a suit that doesn’t have urine on the pant leg.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: No dogs
The tower has a strict no dogs policy. The animal known as ‘Arnold Rotherwick Rivers’ can be delivered to the nearest animal shelter upon your arrival. Or you could just turn back.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Someone decided not to stock my lab with more palladium. If it was you, consider yourself fired.
I don’t know what this pile of goop I just found in my fridge is, and I don’t want to know. I don’t eat pasta salad, Lewis.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: re: What
Re: No dogs. Pepper totally already got Arnold a special memory foam bed, and put Hannah in an apartment bordering one of the natural courtyards. She likes Arnold’s bow-tie collars.
Re: Palladium. Records show, if you had bothered to check, that Dr. Banner removed the palladium from your lab at 10:27 this morning, while you were still sleeping. Until I actually arrive today and sign some final paperwork, I don’t actually have administrative power over Dr. Banner. If you still wish to fire him once I’m there, we can discuss it.
Re: Pasta Salad. We sent the pasta salad as a gift thanking everyone for being so kind in helping us arrange this move. We all know that you haven’t been kind or helpful, but Hannah is the nicest person ever and insisted on including you. My apologies, I’ll keep her dad’s county fair winning recipe pasta salad far, far away from you. There are plenty of people who will be happy to have your serving.
Guess who won this afternoon's riddle so she could claim the last helping of pasta salad? Guess who went to get it from your lab fridge and found an empty plate?
Even better, Tony, guess who is an absolute idiot who got taken off the pasta salad list thanks to his petty, untrue complaints?
You owe me pasta salad.
How do you feel about pasta salad? Just wondering.
Subject: re: Question
You’re an idiot is how I feel about pasta salad. Why?
Darcy is really glad that Steve isn’t in the apartment. He’d ask if everything was okay. She’d have no filter and say that everything is not fine, and then he’d look at her in that way he has and ask what he can do to fix that.
There would be at least a forty percent chance she might cry. Not so bad, usually, because he’d wrap her in a blanket and she’d get to pick what they watch for the night.
But tonight, there isn’t time for blankets.
She’d had the brilliant idea to host dinner at their apartment this first night in New York, for all the new arrivals. It’s Oliver, Hannah, and Tad’s first time in the U.S., but Patrick had done some kind of study abroad thing in highschool and had lived in Minnesota for a year. (No matter how much Darcy tried, she couldn’t convince him to leave his freaking mountain of sweaters and snow gear at home.)
So, yeah. She is moving into Steve’s apartment, unpacking boxes of things that Tad had somehow arranged to be shipped from storage in New Mexico, flipping out a little over how nothing of hers goes with anything of Steve’s , and getting ready to host everyone.
Yes, everyone. Because Steve had asked if he could invite the team, since everyone had missed Thor. And Darcy had agreed. Because she’s inviting her people, so she can’t really say no to his people.
Plus, he’s Captain freaking America, the leader of the Avengers , when he’s not making her omelettes and having cutest puppy picture text wars with her. If she’s gonna be his girlfriend, she’s gonna have to get used to this kind of stuff.
And she’s going to have to figure out how her crochet vegetable pillows will fit on his giant leather couch. Cradling the carrot pillow, she looks back at the pile of her things on his gray striped rug.
The burst of color is almost garish. She’s heard that before, of course. It’s just never looked that way to her, but here in Steve’s apartment, surrounded by his things, trying to fit, things look a little different than they had before.
Maybe it’s also because it’s been over a year since she crammed this stuff into boxes, ready to follow Jane to London. A lot had changed in a year. Aliens had come again, and it had sucked.
Her eyes trail over warm wood furniture, framed sketches, and a TV that was really approaching wall-sized. It’s strange to think Steve had been messaging her as Grant from here. He’d been watching Lost on that TV.
Nerves she’d been shoving down for days begin to skitter over her skin as her eyes catch on three wire baskets shoved underneath a shelf. A vinyl collection fills them, and curiosity pulls her across the room.
She’s got the Doors playing while she flips through the rest of the albums when Steve emerges from the hall.
“I was kind of hoping you’d be napping, so I could join you.”
She doesn’t look up from the grease-streaked note on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust . In direct opposition of the grimy condition of the paper, the handwriting is immaculate. Just like it had been on just about every other album.
Darcy turns to ask him if Tony Stark had given Steve a freaking awesome starter pack.
He’s sprawled on the couch, his head cushioned on her artichoke pillow. Darcy smiles, because maybe she’ll fit in just fine. He smiles back at her, because they are a literal pile of goo together and they make her sick. Sick.
Her phone dings, and Darcy takes the opportunity to hide her widening smile and check it. Maybe it’s Jane, and she and Thor broke the crockpot again and they aren’t bringing dip. Or maybe it’s Pepper, with another terrifying detail Darcy hasn’t thought of, like do they have enough plates.
3:41 PM: Steve
Come to the patriotic side. We have naps.
“You’re a dork.” Darcy tells him, and she is not smiling so wide that people are going to start mistaking her for a Miss Universe contestant. That is not a thing that she’s doing.
But he’s rolled over, so all she sees is his back. And his mussed hair. Steve with messed up hair is irresistible. He suddenly looks all boyish. And usually when he’s got messed up hair it’s because they’ve been sleeping or cuddling, and after both of those things, he’s usually extra smiley. An extra smiley Steve is also irresistible.
He’s her kryptonite. She just needs to accept it.
3:42 PM: Steve
You like it.
Darcy jerks, for a second sure that he’d somehow managed to read her mind. And who could judge her? Last week she walked in on him lifting the fridge to clean up spilled French Toast Crunch.
3:42 PM : Steve
Tad is keeping an eye on Tony Stark. Hannah, Patrick, and Oliver are all some combination of star- or science-struck.
Tony Stark had stepped down from his role as CEO. He is merely a scientist now, and Tad operates completely in the business and administration world. Miss Lewis may walk both sides of the line, but Tad doesn’t.
Pepper Potts? Yes, Tad is having some issues with staying unflustered when he finds himself in her general area. But he doesn’t care about Tony Stark. The man has no power in Tad’s world. Does he know how to fill out a T-34 workplace complaint form? Doubtful.
Tad had learned early that one must play to one’s strengths. He’d landed a temporary internship with Stark Industries in his sophomore year at university. His sophomore year. By his senior year he’d turned it into a two year, paid internship answering directly to Michael Curtis and Prudence Kirkland.
He knows corporate landscapes, he knows contracts, he knows proper protocols. And he’d worked harder and smarter than the other three interns, and now he’s the executive assistant to Darcy Lewis.
He didn’t get here by backing down, and he isn’t going to start now.
Thus far he’s stopped Mr. Stark from reorganizing Miss Lewis’ music collection in ‘the only way that is right and good,’ prevented the ‘improvement’ of Captain Rogers’ coffee maker, and offered Mr. Stark the correct paperwork to ‘make Tad go away.’ Mr. Stark ‘doesn’t do paperwork,’ proving Tad’s earlier hypothesis (the scientists are infecting him!) that Tad has nothing to fear from him.
Mr. Stark is powerless in the middle level floors, cubicles, and filing rooms in which Tad operates.
Tad watches Mr. Stark slump onto the couch next to Ms. Potts.
Whatever the man whispers in her ear, it makes her smile. Tad must admit a small level of fascination with them. Ms. Potts has been his personal hero for years now, and now to see someone so obviously business-minded with a scientist - well, why shouldn’t he be intrigued?
Tad sneaks a look over to the patio, where Hannah and Patrick had been involved in deep conversation with Dr. Banner and Dr. Foster for most of the night. When his eyes find only empty space, he nearly drops the plate he’s been making.
Dr. Foster is sitting on the arm of Captain Rogers’ chair. Dr. Banner is getting more dip. Patrick is using some kind of hand held device to scan Prince Thor.
Finally, Tad spies her. And is immediately horrified.
Oliver sees him looking and winks.
Tad forgets getting some dip and hurries over.
“And here he is,” Oliver smiles, “Tad, I was just telling Hannah that you’ve got a knack for fixing televisions. Hers didn’t work earlier when she plugged it in.”
What? They employ an IT department for a reason! Tad hasn’t hooked up an electronic device in years. When he last moved, he’d called his brother to figure out the wifi. Maybe he can call John now? But would John even know how American devices worked?
“It’s fine, I’m sure.” Hannah’s cheeks are bright red. She’s uncomfortable! They’ve made her uncomfortable! “Jarvis already scheduled someone to come tomorrow to fix it.”
“From the IT department?” Tad asks, the tightness in his chest already receding.
“Yes. Someone called Sarah?” Hannah smiles uncertainly.
“Sarah! From IT!” Oliver smiles like that’s the best news he’s heard all year. But he’s too loud, and he startles Hannah, who fumbles as she’s taking a drink. She chokes, hand slapping over her mouth in time to contain a red spray of punch.
Tad whips out his handkerchief and Oliver drops his head into his hands.
But Hannah looks at Tad gratefully as she takes it, dabbing first at her face and then her hands.
“It was probably the dip. Terribly spicy.” Oliver says.
“It wasn’t that spicy.” Hannah and Tad say at once, then share a smile.
“Oh look, this one has anteaters too. And he’s wearing a little scarf.” Hannah says, brushing her finger over the embroidering at one corner.
“My Gran makes them.” Tad says, and it’s like his mouth has a mind of it’s own. Oliver stares at him in horror.
“Does she? That’s lovely.” Hannah smiles down at the handkerchief, then gasps. “Oh, no! I’ve stained it. What was it that Patrick said about the purple dye? Seltzer and lime and some rum? Mint! Mint was important!”
“No, that’s a mojito, I’m pretty sure.” Oliver points out.
“It is, isn’t it? Oh, dear.” Hannah stands before Tad can tell her that one, he has literally stacks of them, and two, he knows just the trick to get the stain out. “Patrick!”
“I don’t understand the two of you.” Oliver says, watching Hannah dart away.
"Why would you tell her I can fix televisions?” Tad demands, still recovering from that miniature heart attack.
“You fixed that radar thing that one time.” Oliver shrugs.
"Hannah taught me that!” Tad realizes that was a little loud and tries to calm down. Deep breaths.
“Easy, mate.” Oliver pats Tad’s back as he twists in his seat. “I think she likes the handkerchiefs. She definitely likes you. And how can you say the dip isn’t hot? It almost melted my face off.”
“Shut up, Oliver.” Tad hisses. “And of course she likes the handkerchiefs. Civilized people do.”
“What the fuck, man? I’m civilized.”
Tad says nothing. But maybe he will give Oliver the whale handkerchiefs Tad’s Gran is making for him. She’s very excited Tad has a new friend, and won’t be put off no matter how many times Tad explains that Oliver is a work friend.
Oliver does look a little put out, though.
“That’s a nice shirt.” Tad compliments. He’s thought about it, and he’s pretty sure that’s how he even started talking to Oliver: suit jackets, and how hard it is to find stylish ones that fit. Tad struggles with his narrow build, and Oliver with not allowing his gun and holster to ruin the line of the suit.
Oliver cuts a look at him, but seems to let it go. “Thanks. I got it from that shop you recommended. You were right, the tailors were great.”
Tad nods, relaxing back into his seat.
Oliver whacks his arm, and Tad manages to catch the liquid sloshing out of his drink. Of course, Oliver’s next words have Tad’s fingers turning clumsy and he bobbles the glass. “Hey, look alive! She’s coming back, and look, she put more peppers on top the hellfire dip. That’s great. Okay, stop looking like someone electrocuted you, what’s wrong with you?”
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Laboratory Medical Requirements
Welcome! I hope that you are settling in well at SI New York.
My records show that Dr. Hannah Rivers and Dr. Patrick White both do not have their full vaccinations and immunizations. Due to the nature of the materials handled in certain labs at SI New York, the requirements are different at this location.
Please stop by the medical floor at your earliest convenience to receive additional immunizations as required by company policy.
Head of Medical Labs
Subject: Scientist Nutrition
I finished with the data you sent. If you’re absolutely certain you don’t want to try to encourage them to adapt more regular sleep patterns, I do concede that a late evening (early morning?) meal would be more successful here than brunch.
In fact, I ran the numbers and before noon on any given day, less than half of the scientists are at work. Inexplicably, the highest traffic hours for SI New York scientists is from noon to three AM. I cross checked these numbers with the rest of SI. Only the pyromaniacs at Sydney have similar numbers. They also share similar numbers of lab explosions, perhaps there is a correlation?
Subject: Re: Scientist Nutrition
No explosion-shaming, Tad. You know this. Explosions are part of the process.
Okay, so we’re looking at Tea Time, maybe around three? Let’s do savory scones, check with the chefs here and see who we could approach about sneaking in some extra veggies. And then Twelvsies, I’m thinking full-on comfort foods and a coffee bar. Contact Michael Nye and see if we can get his Cauliflower Mac n Cheese recipe.
Lastly, why are you even working right now? Early start tomorrow. Go do something fun. Idea! If you feel you must work, you should go confab with Hannah on teas for tea time. She has excellent taste, remember that lavender tea she had?
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Final Menus
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Medical Requirements URGENT
Dr. White has yet to visit the medical lab, and must do so to be able to continue working in his temporary labs.
I am also willing to visit him, if he would schedule a time. I am available this afternoon.
Head of Medical Labs
Subject: Just wondering
Would you say that an individual specializing in frequent, unplanned experiments in gravitational pull would be welcomed at Twelvsies? Might they, possibly, qualify as an amateur scientist?
Subject: Re: Just wondering
You’re welcome to join the science side, but if you can’t non-judgmentally deal with fire, explosions, and the rare accidental poisonous gas, you’ll find yourself banned just like Steve and Natasha.
[BLOCKED NUMBER]: Bring me butternut squash lasagna. Thursday is Lasagna Night.
11:41 AM Clint: What’s in it for me?
[BLOCKED NUMBER]: Those chocolates Laura likes, and if you keep me in steady supply, one free weekend of babysitting.
11:42 AM Clint: I want that in writing.
[BLOCKED NUMBER]: Of course.
Subject: Official Science Contract
Darcy says I’m an official scientist now, and it just so happens I need a contract to protect my interests. Are you the guy I see for that?
Subject: Re: Official Science Contract
I can see you at a quarter past three.
I must insist you use the door this time.
Subject: Further Clarification
It has come to my attention that some of you may require further clarification regarding my instructions to ignore Mr. Stark’s emails as of 05/22/2015, 05/26/2015, 06/10/2015, and just last week.
Allow me to be blunt. You will not be fired if you do not bring Mr. Stark your own, your parents’, or your grandparents’, or any other relative and/or acquaintance's pasta salad. Nor will you receive a bonus, promotion, flying car, photo opportunity and/or date with Captain America or Darcy Lewis.
As of now, all Stark Industries locations are observing protocol 8 . If you are uncertain what that entails, please familiarize yourself with it at this time.
Oliver’s day had started out so nicely. It’s Tuesday, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays Darcy skypes SI London during brunch. It’s an early start, but it means all of the London transplants gather in her office for a long breakfast, usually in their pajamas.
That’s how Oliver figured out what he was getting Tad for his birthday - extra important now that Tad had given Oliver sweet handkerchiefs with whales hand embroidered on them by Tad’s grandma. Tad loves Oliver’s custom pajamas.
Oliver had placed an order when Hannah and Patrick got into an involved conversation about alloys with Mayumi.
Birthday shopping done. French toast eaten.
Hannah and Tad had even talked. Kind of. And Tad had won major points by corralling that tiny hellbeast Hannah calls a dog. Hannah’s cheeks had flushed, while she curled her arms around her middle, wrinkling her Never trust an atom, they make up everything shirt.
The miniscule progress had meant that Tad had been much more receptive to Oliver’s advice.
Then the cafeteria had poppyseed dressing back in stock. Finally.
Tad had been summoned to Pepper Potts’ office, and had been on cloud nine, because that’s totally becoming a Thing. Oliver had ridden in an elevator with the two of them once. They’d started talking about schedules in contracts, and within three floors Oliver hadn’t been able to follow the conversation.
While Tad was in his meeting, Darcy had decided to visit Jane. Oliver loves when Darcy visits Jane. Jane’s lab is locked down, and Oliver gets to kick back on the couch and watch truly terrible American television.
But today? Today Darcy had started yelling, and a machine had started spinning and smoking, and Oliver ended up tackling both women as it exploded. Earning himself a hole in his favorite blue shirt.
It could have possibly been repaired, but he’d never get the bloodstain out.
Now on the medical floor, he’s thinking his day is looking up again. He’d decided to be a pal and help Tad out with Hannah.
Oliver just needed to find a date. He’d been thinking about Allison down in legal, he’s got a thing for glasses.
But that had been before he’d seen Dr. Helen Cho. Besides, Hannah will totally get along better with a fellow doctor, right?
“Please remove your shirt, Mr. Brent.” She taps her fingers against a metal cabinet, and multiple trays zoom out, hovering without a sound.
“If you wanted to get my shirt off,” Oliver tries a charming smile, but her eyes flick up towards the back of her head before she turns her back, pulling a metal tray off the hovering cart. “I guess you’ve heard that one before.”
“Only a few times. Please sit back, Mr. Brent.” Dr. Cho waves a small cylindrical object the size of a pen over his shoulder.
“Okay. I can do better than that.” Oliver looks around, for any of the normal things one could find in a doctor’s office. Tongue depressors, blood pressure monitors,-
“What are you looking for, Mr. Brent? Maybe I could help you, since this procedure requires you to be absolutely still.”
“Stethoscope.” Oliver sits back, chastised.
“I can listen to your chest through the tag I placed on your back.” Dr. Cho narrows her eyes at a scan of Oliver’s shoulder, zooming in with a quick motion of her hand. “Unless you were going to advise me to listen to my heart and acquiesce to an evening out with you?”
Her expression remains completely flat, so he can’t tell if she’s playing along, or calling him out.
“I don’t know very much about all of this medical stuff.” He taps over the center of his chest. “I’m having this problem here - Are you a pulmonary-”
“-embolism because you can’t breathe around me?” She finishes pulling another screen closer. She doesn’t look away from her work, but he catches the corner of her lip turning up.
He smiles as she guides the bed into a flat position. “Do you guys supply life alert here because-”
“You’ve fallen for me and you can’t get up. Hold still, Mr. Brent. We’re just doing the initial scan.”
“Just so we’re both on the same page, we’re flirting right? I’m not creeping. If I am, give me a pamphlet to read, and I’ll shut up.”
“I don’t know if I’d call this flirting, but if you were creeping me out, I’d leave you here to bleed. Hold still .” A circular arm passes from his head down to his feet and back up again. The entire right hand side of the cradle lights up with screen of information. “But I should warn you, I don’t date people from work.”
“I would argue that we don’t technically work together. I’m based out of security, London security at that.” He starts to sit up, but she puts a hand on his uninjured arm and holds him in place. “And if you’re worried about going out with someone you don’t know, I have excellent references. And we’d be double dating with Tad and Hannah.”
“Hm. I’m going to start the regeneration process. You will need to be completely still. After ten minutes, the cradle’s work will be done, and you’ll be able to move so long as you remain lying down. Do you understand?”
“Can I have my phone?”
“After the cradle is finished.” She casts a stern glance over him, but Oliver thinks there might have been some appreciative appraisal in there too. He can work with that. “ Still .”
Once ten minutes had passed, she sets his phone on the hovering metal tray, promising to return soon to tell him his results.
It gives him enough time to rip a blank page out of the notebook attached to his phone case, scrawl a quick note above his phone number, and sketch a terrible rendition of a human heart.
Are you made of fluorine, iodine, and neon? Because you’re F-I-Ne.
Name the time and place, I’m there.
She pronounces the procedure a complete success. Despite the fact that the wound has all but disappeared, with no remaining evidence on his skin, she warns that he’ll be sore for at least a few days.
He strategically dresses, flexing his muscles. Then he hands her the note.
She looks down at it impassively. “This is terrible.”
“I’m betting you like it.” He winks.
“Did you just wink at me?” She shakes her head and turns, leaving through the door that leads back into the medical labs. But Oliver knows women, he loves women. He knows what that miniscule dip of her chin means.
He doesn’t hear anything from her, and decides on one last attempt. Mostly because he totally caught her checking out his butt in line in the cafeteria. And she’d blushed all the way to her ears, then stared him down and that’s a hell of a combination.
After making sure she wasn’t allergic to flowers, he ordered a custom arrangement comprised of only two colors to be delivered with a note.
Blood is red, cyanosis is blue, I get tachycardia when I think of you .
Another day passes, and he’s starting to think he’s going to have to let it go. Then he gets a text message from an unknown number that JARVIS confirms is her.
5: 49 PM Helen: Hannah Rivers?
5:49 PM Oliver: Yes.
5:50 PM Helen: Donovan’s Pub on McElester Ave. Saturday at 8.
It’s easy getting Hannah to agree to a double date so Helen feels comfortable going out with Oliver. And Oliver makes certain to meet Tad at the door of the pub with a suitable date tie, so the other man can’t complain too much about Oliver surprising him with all this.
What Oliver hadn’t counted on? Hannah and Helen getting on like a house on fire, bonding over their tattoos and how hard it is find a decent lab coat. Tad choking on his beer when Hannah pulled her shirt collar aside to expose her tattoo of all the planets ( sorry, the eight planets and five dwarf planets) and then going silent for a quarter hour. As a last ditch effort to save his friend, Oliver orders the spiciest things he can find on the menu before challenging Helen to a game on one of the many pinball machines crammed around the walls of the pub.
Something else Oliver hadn’t counted on? Helen completely destroying him on the pinball machines.
And how absolutely gorgeous she looked in the dim golden light coming off the machines as she did an over the top, and frankly, distasteful, victory dance.
3:24 PM Pepper: What did you just do?
3:24 PM Tony: Moi?
3:25 PM Pepper: Don’t give me that innocent look. You just looked happy. You never look happy in board meetings.
3:25 PM Tony: You’re the one that asked me to apply myself a little more at these things, and now you’re tossing around unfounded accusations?
3:27 PM Pepper: Unfounded huh? Is that why I just received multiple reports that the noxious fumes emergency removal systems were just deployed in the cafeteria during tea time? And that Jarvis for some reason can’t tell me anything about how that might have occurred?
3:28 PM Tony: Must have been a glitch. I’ll look into it.
3:29 PM Tony: Aw, don’t look like that.
3:31 PM Tony: Pepper.
3:32 PM Tony: Pep.
3:32 PM Tony: Pep.
3:34 PM Tony: I’ll make it up to you.
3:34 PM Tony: Maybe a stuffed animal?
3:35 PM Tony: I saw that smile. You can’t fool me.
3:35 PM Pepper: At least one of us should be paying attention.
3:36 PM Tony: Uh huh, one replacement bunny. Ordered.
3:36 PM Pepper: Tony. No.
Subject: Try Me
If you continue to sabotage tea time, I will be forced to wonder just what might be making you so cranky and anti-social. Is it something in your diet? Maybe we need to cut carbs. Maybe it’s sugar? Caffeine? Fiber! Constipation could make anyone cranky, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I know, maybe it’s lack of sleep, and Jarvis should cut the power to your lab at nine PM?
If this cry for help continues, I promise I will not rest until I figure it out.
Your concerned lab manager,
Subject: Twenty Days
We have twenty days until departure. I need you to tell me how likely it is that we can get Darcy to sign a contract before you go back to London.
Subject: Re: Twenty Days
It’s possible. That’s the best I can give you. She’s cautious about signing anything until she’s absolutely sure that everyone is going to be happy.
Subject: Re: Re: Twenty Days
What aren’t you telling me?
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Twenty Days
Lots of things, but you already know that.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Twenty Days
What can I do to help? Besides reigning Tony in.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Twenty Days
I’ll keep you in the loop. And don’t bother with Mr. Stark. We can handle him.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Twenty Days
And that’s why I can’t let you disappear back to London for good.
Darcy had made Steve late for his interview, which yes, she feels bad, because it was for a super cool podcast she’d totally convinced him to do, but she’d had good reasons.
Namely, she had to deal with Tony today. Face to face. It’s not her fault that the steps to achieving the perfect mood for dealing with Tony - one part I can conquer the world, one part bone deep satisfaction, and two parts rainbow spewing fluffy happiness - includes kitchen counter sex.
She swears Tony can sense when she’s looking at him and feeling smug that she’s had mind-blowing sex more recently than him. Thus far, it’s been the only way to fluster him.
And this morning’s sex? It had certainly been mind-blowing.
A year. She and Steve are coming up on their one year anniversary. She doesn’t quite understand how she’d gotten so lucky. And she’s not the kind of person to look gift horses in the mouth, or to belittle herself or her own accomplishments. She’s a kickass person, and in her own opinion, she deserves only the best.
Before Steve the best had been supportive partner, consistently good sex, and at least some passions in common.
After Steve, the best had become extremely supportive partner (he’s one hundred percent willing to live wherever she chooses, insisting he can work from anywhere, and he seems to genuinely believe she’s the most amazing thing in this century), consistently amazing sex (she can’t seem to stop wanting him, and as far as she can tell, he’s in the same boat with wanting her), and they have a remarkably similar outlook on world issues (which honestly gives her hope for America, because so far no one has gained much traction on getting him to relinquish the name Captain America despite his ‘untraditional’ political views).
She’s smiled more in the past year than she ever has. She’s so happy, that she smiles just thinking about him. Anyone else, she’d be gagging at the cloying sweetness, but it’s not anyone else, and she’s just going to keep banging Steve.
He’d put up a good resistance this morning. For him.
But a year is a long time, and seeing as they’d lived together for their entire romantic relationship, she’s had plenty of time to learn his weaknesses.
He’d managed to stay on his side of the breakfast table when she’d taken to stealing bits of blueberry syrup from her plate with her finger, licking it clean each time. But she’d been impatient, and kind of turned on already, so it hadn’t taken her long to accidentally drip some onto her chest just above the neck of her tank top.
Okay, so some got on her tank top, whatever. Steve didn’t care, he had her pinned to the pantry door, his lips against her sticky skin, before she could even begin to consider if removing her shirt would be the responsible, adult thing to do.
So yeah, morning sex that makes her feel tingly just thinking about it, the coffee shop downstairs had decided to try lavender lattes and Tad had brought Darcy one, and the first item on her agenda had been a visit to Lab 43. Officially, by post-it decree, the most fun lab at SI New York three weeks running.
Their anti gravity boots? Even more fun with a toggle that makes it so she can walk on the ceiling.
Then they’d made a quick stop by medical to make sure the loss of sense of smell isn’t permanent, and she’d gotten to witness Oliver, Oliver , flustered around Dr. Cho. Mr. Smooth himself, tripping over his tongue.
In the middle of texting that development to Steve, she notices Tad and Hannah holding hands. So she just backspaces her entire message and sends his name. He knows what that means.
Plus maybe he’ll bring some of those nachos he’d sent her a picture of from his lunch with Nat and Clint. Darcy is ninety percent certain they don’t actually need to have those meetings away from the tower, but Nat makes it happen that way so she can go to that restaurant down on the south side.
The quickest he’ll be able to make it back still gives her a couple hours, which means she has plenty of time for another face off with Tony.
Tony has locked her out of the lab again. She can see him working on something with Bruce and Jane through the glass.
“J-man, can you get me in?”
“Of course, Darcy. One moment.” The AI answers promptly. Having Jarvis on her side? Best ever. Plus, it drives Tony insane.
“Why is he this way?” Oliver mutters, his ears still slightly red from their visit to medical. “So petty. Tad, should I have shaved today?”
Darcy and Tad both turn, and Oliver rubs a hand over his dark, stubble-covered chin.
Tad goes back to his email. “No. You can pull off scruffy.”
Oliver looks to Darcy for a second opinion, and she gives him a thumbs up as the lab doors slide open.
“An hour, tops.” Darcy promises, as they both pull up a chair. Tony doesn’t allow them in his lab.
Oliver flaps a hand at her. As she walks away, she can hear him pestering Tad. “Were you even paying attention up there? Did she check out my ass?”
In the lab the three mad scientists are staring up at a huge red hologram of some kind of machine. Darcy looks it over, identifying it as something engine-like. Bruce sees her first, eyes widening. He catches Jane’s elbow and pulls her backwards.
Jane protests until she catches on, seeing Darcy striding across the lab. Then Jane and Bruce scurry towards Bruce’s lab. The cowards.
“Hello Tony, how are you today?”
“I thought I felt the temperature drop a good twenty degrees in here.” Tony turns away from the work table, and the hologram disappears. “What do you want now? My first born? Don’t think I don’t know about your little tete a tetes with Bruce. What next? Dum-E? My Rhodey? ”
“Calm down. You are the most over-dramatic person I know, and I have seen Jane after an unsuccessful four day science bender.” Darcy pulls a lime water from the fridge and jabs the straw in, setting it in front of him.
He freezes, turning slowly to look at the drink, then back up at her.
“You do want something.”
“I do.” Darcy holds his gaze, then they both jolt into motion, looking away. “Whoo, that was intense. I felt like I was marrying you.”
“And then you said it with the words.” Tony shudders.
“If we don’t acknowledge our feelings they fester.” Darcy tells him. “Which you would know if you attended our Tea Time talk. Bruce hosted today, and I think he expected you to be there.”
His eyes dart over towards Bruce’s lab.
“Don’t worry, I’ll send you an e-vite the next time he’s talking.” Darcy promises.
“We would make a terrible couple.” Tony says, picking up steam again. “You-”
“Stop! Obviously the only reason we would marry would be in some kind of post-apocalyptic world where we’d be forced upon point of death to do it. And Steve and Pepper would be very understanding, and we’d just have decades long affairs during our sham of a marriage in which we’d never, ever touch each other. Ever.”
Tony smirks. “Whatever you say, dear.”
Darcy tips her head back. She had awesome morning sex, she had awesome morning sex, she had awesome morning sex. Multiple orgasms. On both fucking sides.
She looks back at Tony and his eyes narrow. He even seems to shrink back a little. “How do you do that?”
“I’ll never tell, schnookums.” Darcy boosts herself up onto the nearest table. “Now, what I need from you.”
“I knew it!” He points at her with something that looks alarmingly like an electric screwdriver, and Darcy makes a mental note to steal it on her way out.
“I never denied it. Keep up, Tony.” Darcy plucks up a tablet, tosses it aside due to the grease streaked over it, and grabs another one. Tablets litter Tony’s work place like most people have pens. After her retinas are scanned, she pulls up his requisitions. “Hannah’s dad is coming to visit.”
“Hey, Lewis, come stand here.”
“No.” Darcy deletes his request for licorice. It makes his breath smell horrible, and he knows it. Until he learns about acceptable social behavior, she’s not facilitating his black licorice needs. Besides, he knows food requests go through the cafeteria, not through supplies.
“Ninety percent positive you’ll keep your shirt. Eighty percent. Forty-seven percent, for sure. Come on. For science.”
“You go stand there. I’ll press the button.” Darcy flicks the list away and sets the tablet aside. “Hannah’s dad. He’s coming here to visit. It’s part of our ongoing negotiations about possibly spending part of each year in New York.”
“You’re not gonna help me out?” Tony asks, motioning one last time to a testing area marked off with reflective tape. He groans. “Dum-E! Get over here.”
“You want Steve and Thor to stay in New York, right?” Darcy lifts her legs so Dum-E has room to get past her. Leaning back, she pulls out the big guns. “You want Jane to stay. So you can make sweet, sweet science together.”
“I don’t have time for this, Lewis. I’m very, very busy. Multi-million dollar company, saving the world, you know the drill. Get to the point.”
Darcy elects to keep quiet and instead take a minute to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Finally, after listening to him alternate between cajoling and cursing, she intervenes. “Dum-E, be still.”
“We don’t. Need. Your. Help. Lewis.” Tony bites out, as he finally manages to pull a M.I.T. sweater over Dum-E’s motor casing. “In the box. No, the box. Right there on the floor.”
Dum-E rolls into place, beeping excitedly.
“You know you’re going to have to get him some real sweaters, that he can keep, right?” Darcy asks as the bot plucks at the material with his claw.
“The point.” Tony makes a circular motion with his hands, the picks up his lime water. He shakes it. “Did you drink this?”
“Have I ever, out of the now countless times you’ve accused me of drinking your nasty lime water, drank your lime water?” Darcy demands.
“JARVIS?” Tony doesn’t take his accusing eyes off of her.
“Miss Lewis did not touch your lime water, sir.” Jarvis answers.
“ Anyway , as I was saying,” Darcy hops off the table, “Hannah’s dad. Coming to New York. He’s a big fan of yours, he wants to meet you. You should make that happen, for the reasons we have already covered.”
“Wait. Is this the pasta salad guy?” Tony calls after her as she makes for the door.
“Yep.” Darcy calls back. “Play your cards right, pookie, and you might just find yourself back on the list. Just so you know, he makes awesome scones too.”
The doors slide open smoothly and she finds Steve talking to Tad and Oliver.
“Is that for me? I am dying of thirst.” Darcy takes the to-go cup Steve offers.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Did you watch?
Were you guys even watching? I swear, she’s stealing my lime water.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Re: Did you watch?
You need to let this go.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Re: Re: Did you watch?
Besides, we got distracted by these results. It looks pretty unstable, so come take a look before it melts through the table. JARVIS is threatening containment.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Subject: Lime Water Bowl
As your official bookmaker, it is my duty to inform you Ms. Lewis once again managed to steal Mr. Stark’s lime water. This puts our totals at 17, which would mean Agent Barton is in the lead. However, Mr. Stark later attempted to view security footage of the event, adding another tally to our discovery attempts column, placing Dr. Foster in the lead.
Should Mr. Stark attempt modifying JARVIS’ programming again, Dr. Cho would have the board, but if he installs more independent cameras Captain Rogers would have the lead.
Remember you can modify your bets in Ms. Lewis’ offices with approved additions to the pot, or at any Tea Time. Lastly, after last week’s minor fire, explosives, combustible liquids and compounds, and other incendiaries will not be accepted unless they are properly contained according to company protocol.
Subject: Re: Lime Water Bowl
I write to you in honor of your victory on this day. I vow to help you celebrate most enthusiastically once you are home.
With all my love,
Subject: Re: Re: Lime Water Bowl
Yeah. Who’s gonna teach him about the hazards of Reply All?
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Lime Water Bowl
I’m on it.
Subject: Patrick URGENT
You need to help me get Patrick his immunization. I am out of patience, and though it is frowned upon, I’m about to knock him out with sedatives. I know about twenty different ways to do it, and at least three people who will help me.
He did actually come to his last appointment, mainly I believe, because Hannah dropped him off. But we spent the entire afternoon discussing the policy. He now knows why SI New York has increased requirements. But then the lab bathroom flooded. Suspiciously right after he used it.
The next time I saw him there was a small desk fire. Now he just points down to his ugly sandals every time I see him - which is rarely, because he’s avoiding me like the plague.
It is vitally important he receives these immunizations with the work that lab 54 is doing. I cannot allow him to continue working with anyone who has contact with people who have access to that floor. Or people who have contact with people who have access to that floor. As in, either you stop seeing Hannah, or Patrick gets a shot in his ass. Today.
11:12 AM Tad: Patrick still hasn’t gotten his shot.
11:12 AM Hannah: Are you certain? He says he did.
11:12 AM Tad: Helen says he flooded her lab and started a fire instead.
11:12 AM Hannah: Oh dear. I had wondered why he was wearing his running sandals again.
11:12 AM Tad: Helen says we’ll have to stop seeing each other until he does. Since I visit lab 54 with Ms. Lewis.
11:12 AM Hannah: Have Helen meet us at Twelvsies. It’s macaroni night. Can you get Steve a one-night reprieve from his ban?
11:17 AM Tad: Of course. You’re brilliant.
11:26 AM Darcy: I have a mission for you.
11:26 AM Steve: What did Tony do?
11:27 AM Darcy: Not Tony this time. I need you to go to Twelvsies with me tonight.
11:27 AM Steve: It’s macaroni night!
11:27 AM Darcy: Yep. And you’re going to challenge Patrick to another eating contest.
11:28 AM Steve: I’m game, but can I ask why?
11:28 AM Darcy: We need him too full to run so Helen can stab him.
11:29 AM Steve: Ah. He still hasn’t gotten his immunizations? Are you going to warn the kitchens?
11:30 AM Darcy: No he hasn’t, and do I look like an amateur?
Tad never thought he’d feel grateful for the years his brother John had played the tuba. In fact, he counts those seven years among the most trying of his life, given his bedroom had shared a thin wall with John’s.
However, his ability to tune out loud, disruptive sounds has served him well in the years since, both in the dorms and now in his career. He can handle repetitive beeping, small explosions, blaring alarms, and any other sort of the normal pandemonium that seemed inevitable around scientists.
Ignoring the triple score bell in the middle of Wilma’s Basement Arcade, Tad decides he owes John an especially nice birthday gift this year.
“Ha!” Oliver grunts, leaning in as he sends the pinball rocketing up towards the ramp. “Did you see that?”
“Hmmm.” Tad narrows his eyes. He’s just taking another look at the latest contract Pepper had sent.
Tearing his eyes away from his phone screen, Tad watches until Oliver misses the jackpot, the pinball instead veering towards the gobblehole where it wobbles and drops, ending the game. Tad has learned all of the vocabulary, having plenty of time whilst Oliver attempts to become adept enough at the sport to challenge Helen. Tad much prefers the nights Hannah accompanies them.
“I’m going to grab another round.” Oliver pushes away from the machine, swinging his arms to loosen tense muscles. They’ve already been kicked out of two other ‘less serious’ arcades thanks to Oliver and Helen’s intensity.
“Good idea.” Tad makes a quick note on an addendum.
Oliver is arriving back at the table with their beers when Tad’s phone rings. It’s his grandmother, and he does feel slightly guilty about ignoring the call. But it’s noisy here, and she’ll want to know how his date with Hannah went, and now Tad has had several, plus the nights they accompany Oliver on his quest to conquer pinball. And it’s all quite new and while he’s not superstitious in the least he’s absolutely positive talking about it will jinx the entire thing.
It’s only logical to call her back tomorrow. Or at the weekend.
“I ordered wings. Two baskets of normal, one of pure fire. You’re welcome.” Oliver tosses a stack of napkins and a handful of wet wipes onto the table.
When Oliver’s phone rings, Tad doesn’t recognize Ms. Lewis’ or Captain Rogers’ ring tone. So he’s focused on selecting from the bar’s truly subpar hot sauce collection, when Oliver’s loud greeting actually registers..
Tad slowly looks up. Oliver is smiling, phone cradled between the side of his head and and his shoulder while he rolls up his sleeves.
“Is that my grandmother?!” Tad hisses, with no small amount of horror.
“Yeah.” Oliver lays a napkin across his lap. “Tad and Hannah? They’re great. I mean terrible. Awful. You know how Tad is, thinks he’s going to jinx it, so it’s a disaster .”
Oliver winks at Tad, then laughs into the phone.
“What? What? How did you even get her number?” Tad tries again.
Oliver covers the mouthpiece of his phone, and gives Tad a look like he’s being rude. “We talked while you were getting your fitting last weekend. She called while I was holding your phone, and I had to thank her for the handkerchiefs.”
Great. Well, it is great that Oliver had thanked her, she’d been wondering if he’d liked the whales. And in Tad’s opinion, his grandmother goes vastly underappreciated. He’s certain, however, that he will regret the two of them knowing each other.
"What’s that Winnie?” Oliver braces his chin in the palm of his hand, propping his elbow on the table. His eyes dart towards Tad, then away again. “Well, you know how he is.”
Tad decides to add some flavor to Oliver’s teriyaki wings care of the small bottle of fire oil.
“No, no. Several dates now. Darcy gave them a copy of this hand-drawn map of New York, and they’re going to all the places she put on it.” Oliver rolls his eyes. He’d thought Tad should take Hannah dancing. It turns out that Hannah dislikes dancing in public. She’s self conscious since her height makes her stand out anyway. Tad only counts Oliver half wrong, seeing as Hannah had quite enjoyed dancing in Tad’s apartment. “Well, I think it could be quite serious. By all appearances, Tad is the only person Hannah’s monster Arnold cares to listen to.”
Tad ignores it for as long as he possibly can, but about six wings in, he’s hit his limit. Oliver smirks as Tad hurriedly wipes his hands clean, then hands over the phone when Tad wiggles his fingers insistently.
“Nan? Nan?” Tad attempts to break in. Oliver pulls a basket of wings over. “Nan!”
“Oh. Tad, dearest. Hello.”
“Yeah, hi Nan.” Tad leans back in his seat. “Have I told you about Helen yet?”
Oliver narrows his eyes, leaning across the table with one arm extended for the phone. Then his eyes go wide and he slaps that hand over his mouth. Realization dawns and he looks down at his wings, then up at Tad accusingly.
Their disagreement continues all the way until Hannah and Helen arrive and demand to know what’s going on. Tad can only guess that Oliver realized that unless they bury the hatchet, they’ll have to explain their phone call to the two women and how Winnifred Weatherby of Sheffield now knows quite a bit about both ladies.
Best to save that conversation for when the embroidered lab coats arrive.
“Alright then!” Oliver leaps to his feet to help Helen with her coat. After carefully draping it over the back of her chair, he cracks his knuckles. “I challenge you to the Star Trek machine.”
Tad shakes his head. Oliver had won the high score twenty minutes ago. He should have challenged her to the Lethal Weapon machine, he’s nearly as good at it, and he’d get to keep his record longer on the other machine.
Hannah brushes her fingers against his shirt sleeve, where he’s cuffed them. She likes how soft his shirts are, and he may or may not have several women’s styles bookmarked on his tablet for Christmas.
Which may be getting ahead of things. He’s not quite sure. He knows that he has never felt this way about someone before, this certain and ready and hopeful. And they have spent the last four nights together, quite comfortably.
“What are you worrying about?” Hannah asks, folding her arms, hands cupped around her elbows. She is perpetually nervous, and had confessed after a few glasses of wine that she feels ungainly, and always had. While Tad had been an average boy, only falling behind in the size department once puberty set on, Hannah had always been tall.
Tad can’t see it though. Maybe when he sees the pictures Hannah has promised, of her in clothes her father had sewn extra fabric onto to accommodate quickly growing limbs. Probably not though. When he looks at her, he sees grace and softness. Where she worries about the jut of her collarbones, he is drawn to their delicate strength. She despairs over dresses, and how they always seem too short due to the amount of leg that stretch below the hem, and Tad has made it a personal mission that her fingers stop fluttering where the fabric ends.
“Tad.” Her slim hand takes his. “Is it something important?”
“No.” Tad smiles, putting everything away for now. Then he tips his head, hesitant, but unwilling to leave things dangling in uncertainty. “Actually, maybe we should discuss the new contract.”
“The contract?” Hannah straightens slightly in surprise. They had agreed that they’d table work during dinner. They didn’t always stick to it, but they tried.
“The new contract. It provides for quite a bit of travel.” Tad is dancing along the lines of what he’s allowed to reveal - or really, what he’s comfortable revealing. He is loyal to Ms. Lewis, and for him that means keeping her secrets, even if she doesn’t think it’s necessary. “Ms. Potts considers Ms. Lewis’ position to be a global one, anchored in both New York and London.”
“That did seem to be the way things were going.” Hannah smiles her thanks when the server drops off her beer and Tad’s refill.
“Ms. Lewis is planning for several scientist advisors on trips longer than two weeks.” Tad steels his nerves. “What I’m getting at, poorly, is that I like what has grown between us these past few weeks. And I would like it very much if you would like to accept one of the scientist positions.”
Hannah’s lips part in surprise.
“I realize that would mean living in New York part of the time, I know you’ll have to talk to Patrick, and you’ll have to consider your father, and-”
“I would like it very much.” Hannah interrupts softly. Her cheeks are flushed pink, and it’s a bit of a problem for Tad, because now he knows her skin flushes that exact color in lots of places.
“Hi, Hannah.” Oliver drops into the empty seat next to Tad and pries Hannah’s hand from Tad’s, replacing it with his own. “Mate.”
“Oliver, go away.”
“Mate,” Oliver takes a gulp of his beer, makes a face of distaste, then drinks several gulps of Tad’s colder beer before continuing, “Mate, I need your help. I never thought it would come to this. Asking you for help with a woman. But I need to know how to impress a scientist.”
“How many spots did you say Darcy had?” Hannah hides a smile behind her hand.
“Enough.” Tad mutters, because there actually is a brand new spot on their roster for a medical specialist.
To test out the biomedical facilities of course, Ms. Lewis had said, not fooling Tad for one second.
Subject: I TOLD YOU
She’s taking Cho now. I hope you’re happy.
Subject: Re: I TOLD YOU
I am privy to all contracts bearing my signature Tony. So I already knew that Darcy had added a possible position for Dr. Cho.
What I don’t know is why you are reading confidential contracts. Or how, since you obviously wouldn’t hack into them after I got so upset last time.
Besides, I thought you said you didn’t care what Darcy does now. Why are you snooping?
Subject: Re: Re: I TOLD YOU SO
I wasn’t snooping. I don’t snoop.
JARVIS and I were just running a few security checks, and the algorithm flagged something in the contract. Rightly so, since now we’ve apparently lost Cho, Steve, Thor, and Foster.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: I TOLD YOU SO
I am not discussing this any further with you. I’m on a conference call finalizing the budget for the next fiscal year.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you are all happy. Because of your fraternizing with the enemy, Steve, Thor, Foster AND Cho are all jumping ship.
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Re: Congratulations
Actually, Clint and I signed on as security as needed.
But cheer up, Bruce is still negotiating his terms and I hear Helen hasn’t signed yet.
Was that necessary?
Subject: Re: Really
Yes. Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you.
BRUCE! You’d let her take Bruce from me? Foster was bad enough, but Bruce? Wait. Why is there a spot for a mechanical engineer? Nobody talked to me about that.
You can tell her that I will never sign one of her contracts.
Subject: Re: BRUCE!
Is she actually considering taking on a different engineer? Who is it? Williams? Williams is a hack. She actually proposed a helicopter blade attachment for the suit.
Subject: Re: Re: BRUCE!
Is it Gonzalez? Tell me it’s not Gonzalez. The man is working on wearable solar panels, Pep.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: BRUCE!
Arteta. She looks great on paper, I’ll give her that much. But one, she lives entirely on Cheez-Its, and her breath is awful. Two, remember that car engine that blew up on you? Arteta.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: BRUCE!
The Cheez-It thing was actually Rob Weitz from plastics.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: BRUCE!
Ryan Deconde. He’s just Lewis’ style. Whiz kid playing on that whole shy thing. He’s the one that came up with the ‘the floor is lava simulator’. But look at that name. That’s never gonna sell. How smart can the kid be?
I have no part in selecting anyone to fill positions on Darcy’s team. Any SI employee is welcome to consider signing a contract with her.
You may consider that Bruce and Jane will need an engineer of a certain level of skill to continue any work the three of you have while they are away.
That’s all that I have to say about this subject.
Subject: Re: Enough
I see what you’re trying to do there, Pep. I’m not falling for it.
Subject: Re: Re: Enough
Just so we don’t lose our progress, I’ll go to London with you. Just until they find someone who won’t ruin everything.
But I’m not signing a contract. And I’m not on her team. I’ll fly out with you.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Enough
I’m flying with the Lewis Party.
Oliver dodges an explosion of glitter and cuts a look at Patrick. Everyone is hyped, and Oliver has had about enough of it.
It’s contract day, which means Tad is both gleeful and about to crawl out of his skin. For the past week, Darcy has been in the zone. It’s impressive, the way she sails through the halls, totally in her element.
Plus, Greg Rivers is here. Tad is on edge, worried about impressing Hannah’s father, when in truth the man seems endlessly willing to be pleased with his daughter’s choice. As always, Oliver’s advice to just chill out a little had not been well received.
Luckily, Tad is mostly distracted by trying to contain Arnold, who is in raptures over seeing his ‘Pop-Pop.’
Oliver had wondered what sort of man Greg would be. Hannah always spoke of him with obvious affection, just as Tad spoke of his grandmother. Oliver has never been particularly close with his family. His grandparents were the sort who disapproved yet also demanded great-grandchildren. His parents had divorced, and each had started new families to which they were much better suited.
Greg is six-four with a narrow build. He wears cardigans, is overflowing with pride in his daughter, calls Arnold his grandpup, and is seriously star-struck over Tony Stark.
Greg seemed to clock on to the fact that Tad thinks Hannah is just as amazing as he does. As far as Oliver can see, Greg views Tad much in the same way he views Hannah, as if they are both odd in the very best way. He listens as Tad answers questions about his work, head tipped to the side as if he’s making mental notes.
The older man had taken it to heart when Darcy had said he could shadow Hannah for the day. He’d shown up in his bathrobe and slippers for the London brunch call, looking quite pleased.
And the glitter eruption? He’d only leaned closer, so Patrick could explain the inner workings of the machine.
So: contracts, brunch skype, Tad’s girlfriend’s father visiting. Oliver has an altered security docket for the day, and a deadline. Normally, Oliver is all about deadlines. He knows his skills, and he’s good at using them. It’s that simple.
But at some point today, Darcy is going to approach Helen about possibly coming in some kind of medical lab advisory position.
Darcy meddles, and right now Oliver can’t decide if he loves her for it or hates her for it.
What Oliver does know is that Helen is driving him nuts. She’ll often stop in for Tea Time or even Twelvsies. At work she wears buttoned up blazers or smart smocks. He really, really wants to unbutton, unpin, and generally muss her perfectly put together look.
And when she’s not at work? She wears leggings. Sometimes with a button down, other times with a sweater. Helen has great legs. Fantastic legs. Helen looks better in leggings than any of his other dates have ever looked in literally anything else.
It’s the only redeeming thing about how he still can’t beat her at a single pinball machine. The victory dances.
Oliver isn’t ready to meet the parents, practically move in together, and whatever else Tad and Hannah are doing. Or whatever cohabitating bliss Steve and Darcy have going on.
He’s surrounded by tooth rotting sweetness between those two couples. Hannah has practically moved into Tad’s place, dragging behind her a truly obscene amount of dog gear. (Arnold may have more bow ties than Tad and that is both impressive and scary.) They’d arrived here together, Tad carrying Arnold and Hannah wearing a of quartz I love geology pajama shirt.
And experience tells Oliver that Steve will show up towards the end of the skype call, to pick over the breakfast leftovers and escort Darcy back to their apartment.
While he can’t even find the words to make it clear to Helen that no, he’s not ready to buy a ring or move in together, but he really, really doesn’t want this to be the end of them.
He likes how she either eats ready-made meals or spends all day making complicated recipes from her childhood with ingredients Oliver can’t pronounce - there is nothing in between. He likes how she doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit.
He loves how over-competitive she is, and how he has to practically carry her out when they get kicked out of arcades. He likes the way she’ll turn and look for him and raise one eyebrow, and he knows that if he joins her he’ll find some kind of nonsense going on. Patrick explaining how people still die, so what good are doctors actually, or Stark expounding on his latest lime water theft theories, or Dr. Banner talking about lab safety like he’s the reasonable one.
Throughout the rest of the day, Oliver goes over various versions of the conversation he wants to have. He pesters Tad for advice, and wishes Greg wasn’t in town so he could suggest another nacho night.
They go to lunch at a place that does bagel sandwiches, and ride the subway since Greg had insisted. He decides to take a page out of Steve’s book and sends Helen a picture of his pesto prosciutto sandwich. She responds with want .
So at least he has an excuse to talk to her, which he hasn’t needed for weeks, but now he’s all twisted up and second guessing himself. Is she expecting a declaration? It doesn’t seem likely, she doesn’t like big gestures or gushy romance.
But she had really loved the lab coat Winifred had sent. That woman is magic. Hannah’s had been all big swirls and bold colors. Somehow Winifred had known that wouldn’t be Helen’s style, and Helen’s lab coat has subtle little flowers, almost like hidden details, which had prompted her to smile softly as she flipped up the collar and cuffs to find more.
When he drops off the sandwich, Helen is busy repairing something on Barton. Oliver now knows the man well enough to know that it could just as easily be from walking into traffic at the sight of a taco truck as saving the world from a mutant bear. Oliver doesn’t even ask anymore.
She does give him both a thankful look and that raised eyebrow look through the glass.
Then their day is thrown off schedule because Stark made it so none of the sensors recognized Darcy or Tad again and they get trapped in lab 15. They only manage to escape when the first of the day’s snack deliveries comes in, slipping out the door past the cart.
JARVIS apologizes profusely, as always.
If Oliver had to guess, he’d say that Stark had finally seen the new contract.
Oliver wants to know if Helen’s seen it yet. He worries over it all afternoon, and finally decides to text her about it. But that’s not what he ends up sending. He has a feeling this isn’t what Tad meant when he recommended sending her texts sometimes so she knows he’s thinking about her, but he doesn’t interrupt her work.
3:47PM Oliver: Is your name osteoporosis, because you’re giving me a serious bone condition.
3:47PM Helen: That sounds pretty serious. You better come up to my place and let me check it out.
3:48PM Oliver: Already home from work? Did something happen?
3:49PM Helen: Reading over this contract. Are you coming or not?
3:49PM Helen: ;)
3:50PM Oliver: See you in a few.
Tad follows him to the elevator, still clicking away on his tablet. “Big talk?”
“Maybe just good sex.” Oliver says, half hopefully. The other half of him, the responsible half, knows they need to have this conversation.
the contract, how could you not-” Tad cuts off and takes a deep breath. “Letting it go. I’m letting it go.”
“Do you want my lucky tie?”
“Hey, Helen’s contract is the only one we’re waiting on, everyone else has signed. At least, everyone that’s going to sign. But we have Mr. Stark right where we want him.” Tad’s eyes narrow for a second with single-minded determination, but then his expression clears. “I’m giving you the tie to go close the deal.”
It’s the tie Oliver had brought for Tad for that first double date. Oliver would maybe tease Tad about it now being his lucky tie, except it worked. “Yeah, okay.”
Tad rolls up his collar and unties his tie. He tosses Oliver’s discarded tie over his shoulder, then sets to work securing the lucky tie around Oliver’s neck.
“Just remind her about the travel bonus. And, I managed to work in a better 401k schedule for her, and stock options.” Tad mutters, eyes focused on the tie. “Page seventy-seven especially, I would start there honestly.”
Tad huffs out a breath. “There’s flex days. But fine, don’t talk about the contract.”
“Did Hannah care that much about the contract?” Oliver asks, as the doors open to Helen’s floor.
“Just about the flex days. And about what the different inoculation requirements were for the locations we are likely to visit. Patrick doesn’t handle stress well.”
“Okay, I’ll just be smooth. I used to always be smooth. It’s going to be fine.”
“Very smooth.” Tad agrees, smoothing the tie one last time. “Text me if she has any questions about the contract.”
Oliver nods, stepping off the elevator. “Charles and the guys wouldn’t recognize me right now.”
“Sure they would. None of the other security team members dress so well.” Tad grins as the elevator doors close again.
Helen’s door opens as soon as he reaches it. She’s wearing the periodic table leggings he got her off one of the websites Hannah gets her science shirts from. “That took forever.”
“Tad wanted to talk.” Oliver follows her into her apartment.
“I like dating you.” Helen says, turning the volume down on the television. “I want to keep doing it, and the contract they offered me is very competitive. It has flex days. It looks like a win-win. I mean, I’m not ready to marry you or anything, but I think I should sign.”
“Oh, thank god.” Oliver blurts. Then he freezes. “I mean, sorry, not that I wouldn’t want to marry you someday, maybe-”
Helen’s face screws up. “I’m the one that said I didn’t want to get married. Why are you apologizing?”
“I used to be smooth.” That’s all that Oliver can really offer her.
Her eyes flash with humor and anticipation. “Oh yeah? Do you think maybe it has something to do with that bone condition?”
“Steve?” Darcy turns in a circle, knowing there is no way that Oliver would leave her on her own in a strange place unless Steve is around. Unless Steve had arranged it.
It’s dark and cool, and her voice echoes. The overhead lights shine off of the rows of empty cars. The tail lights of the car carrying Oliver and Tad away disappear around the corner, and she’s alone.
Only not, because she knows Steve.
“Steven Grant Rogers.” Darcy stomps her foot. They’re supposed to be packing, and then she’d made plans with Jane to celebrate the new contract out at a bar. Because Darcy being in charge of coordinating all of SI’s labs? She needs a few drinks as the reality sinks in. There had been far too much champagne yesterday, and she’d been rendered untouchable by the combination of elation and the bubbly.
She’s still a little bit dazed that it actually happened the way it did. That everyone signed on to split their lives between London and New York. Except for Tony, technically.
“Sorry doll.” Steve jogs out of the stairwell.
“Why do you have a crowbar?” Darcy looks around again. “Should I have a crowbar?”
She blames the celebration drinks she’d had with Thor for her slowness.
“Yeah Darce?” He looks like he’s having a hard time containing a smile.
“Are you about to do something adorable and super romantic?” She points towards the metal garage door blocking the exit ramp. “What are the chances that’s the Green Street exit, and we’re under the Hollis Building?”
“I’d say the chances are pretty good.” Steve drops a kiss on her cheek, then walks over towards the exit.
“Uh huh.” Darcy finds herself momentarily distracted when he jumps, catching the garage door opener track. The edge of his t-shirt stretches up, revealing the bottom of his abs and his hip bones. She’s maybe been a bit distracted these past few nights, working on the contract. “Wait, what are you doing?”
“You know how you’re not watching the next Sense8 until we can watch it together?” Steve asks, grunting in the middle as he adjusts his grip. Darcy attempts to tear her eyes away from his bicep and fails. She makes a vaguely agreeing, slightly annoyed sound. “And how I’m going back to London with you? And wherever else you go?”
That breaks through her sex brain fog, and she can’t help but smile. “Yeah?”
“I’m sure that David Louis is a really nice guy. I sent him a whole box of Avengers merch for his kids-”
“Wait, you met dlouis?”
“Had to. Led me to you.” He brings up the crowbar and pries something off the metal bar he’s clinging to. “I’ll have to apologize for this.”
“Did you just break it?” Darcy looks around quickly. There’s no one in sight.
“You know how you don’t wear rings?” Steve asks.
“Yeah, Steve, people are going to be getting off work soon. I’m gonna get buried in repair requests now.” Once again, Darcy’s brain catches up and heart leaps in her chest. “Wait, what?”
“And you said you’d never want an expensive piece of jewellry because you’d lose it?”
“Steve.” Darcy whispers.
“We’ve been together for a year. Living with each other, sleeping in the same bed, fighting about putting the lid on the toothpaste, and I still love hearing you say my name.” Steve pulls a necklace chain from his pocket.
"You’re not doing that.” Darcy clamps both hands over her mouth.
“Yep, I’m doing it.” Steve slides a gear onto the chain and holds it up, as if to illustrate that he really is doing it. “You know, a lot of these are plastic? I was kind of worried, but you know Tony.”
Darcy just stares at him with wide eyes.
“Prepare yourself.” Steve winks, and Darcy squeaks. Then he goes down on one knee.
From behind her now sweating palms, Darcy emits a long, “Eeeeeeeeeeeee”.
“Darcy Marie Lewis.”
“Eeeeeeeeeee.” Darcy dances from one foot to the other. He is the sweetest, but she’s not made for this.
“Will you marry me, even though I’ll write my own vows and read them to you, and I’ll do things like this every Valentine's Day?”
“Not in front of everyone!”
“What?” Steve cocks his head to the side, the gear necklace dangling from his hand.
“The vows. Not in front of everyone.” Darcy says after uncovering her mouth. “And you know I’m going to be just as worried about losing this, right?”
The corners of his lips turn up, and then his smile grows to beaming. “That’s a yes.”
“Shut up. Yes, that’s a yes.”
“And you like the necklace?” His smugness fades a little, and he stands, taking her hands. “If you want something else, we can-”
“I love it. It’s perfect.”
And the smugness makes a roaring comeback. “You’re such a romantic.”
“No I’m not.” She tugs the necklace free from his hand. The gear is actually heavy, and leaves grease streaks on her fingers. It’s dark metal and slightly smaller than a half dollar, and has good weight to it.
It’s ridiculous how much she likes it. She’ll never have to worry about it getting bent or ruined in who knows what kind of chemical bath in a lab.
“Are too.” Steve ducks his head, stealing a kiss.
“I’m just dating one.” Darcy curls her fingers into a fist around the gear.
“Engaged to one.” Steve corrects, after another kiss.
“Shut up and and give me a real kiss, soldier boy.” Darcy looks around one more time. “But maybe not here. I wouldn’t put it past Tony to let us be arrested for destruction of property.”
SI Paris is always prepared. Founded in 1964, they are one of the last SI locations built under Howard Stark during the period known in SI as the ‘Golden Age’. After the war, everything was looking up. And for decades, Howard Stark had been untouchable.
Life was a party, and unlike his son, Howard Stark took Stark Industries along for the ride. Perhaps such a lifestyle can no longer be seen as legitimate. Perhaps movie stars and Nobel Prize winners and presidents can’t be seen rubbing elbows at impromptu corporation galas.
That is possible.
Whatever the case, the locations built after SI Paris don’t have half the panache. SI Paris is awe inspiring, but it also has class. Unlike, say, SI Rome.
Everything works out as it should, as the heretics at SI Rome don’t have any style to speak of anyway.
SI Paris has gained their position of power within the company, despite being outmatched in size, personnel, and budget by being prepared. They have an entire team dedicated only to making certain they are prepared for any and every eventuality. From fashion trends to business mergers in Japan, SI Paris is always in the know.
No matter when Ms. Potts stops in, either with plenty of advance notice and eighteen meetings scheduled along with a press conference in the rotunda or with notice coming when the wheels of her jet touchdown, SI Paris is ready for her.
On this particular visit, they have plenty of advance notice. The trip has been planned for eight months, and SI Paris is more than prepared. This is, perhaps, the most prepared they have ever been.
Why? Because visits from Ms. Potts had seen a marked decrease over the past two years.
SI Paris knows why.
It all started with SI London. SI Paris knew there was a reason they hadn’t demoted them to a C rating along with SI Chicago (extremely poor presentation skills combined with being the hub of the company’s accounting operations makes them pathetically lackluster), and SI Los Angeles (still obsessed with conveyor belts).
It’s not just the long table tennis rivalry between SI London and SI Paris, started in 1978 and continued to this day even though they are now the only two locations that participate at the yearly conference, SI London is inexplicably competent. Year after year after year they show up at committee meetings and somehow walk away with new deals. Not the biggest, flashiest deals, but ones that keep them well ahead of most of the other locations. They’re stealthily competitive, but SI Paris can’t find any kind of strategy or plan behind it.
It seems they are merely stubborn, and through sheer will they refuse to sink into corporate futility.
And now, now they’ve somehow blazed out of their drudging march forward with the Lewis Method. It came out of nowhere.
The last time SI Paris was surprised by something was in 1983, when Return of the Jedi was released. Pictures of staff in their handmade “Luke x Leia” merchandise have been buried so deep not even the energy drink guzzling, gummy bear obsessed hackers at SI Austin could dig them up.
So yes, they’ve been surprised again. A thirty-three year streak ended. But they’re even prepared for this.
It’s what they do.
So when Ms. Potts’ helicopters land, they’re ready.
Code 6 is activated. Blue lights flash three times in every room in the building. Tables and desks are cleaned off, windows shine, and every employee is looking their best. (Excepting the scientists. According to the Lewis Method, they’re meant to be left alone. This is disconcerting, there is a table in Lab 5 that has begun growing blue moss, and Mathilde Roche from synthetics hasn’t changed her clothes for three days and counting.)
An entire team of assistants wait on the top floor, where the conference room has been prepared to Ms. Lewis’ exacting specifications.
It is to be a four week visit, and every eventuality and possibility has a plan, back-up plan, and triage plan. (If the blue moss in Lab 5 turns out to be either poisonous or sentient, they have eleven different plans for that.)
By the time Ms. Lewis reaches the lobby doors, every single floor of the building has had a last minute check. The cafeteria is ready with three different menus for every meal.
Everything is under control.
Code 6 is working out wonderfully.
Agathe Morvan, recruited two months ago from a small town in eastern France after a lifetime spent caring for her inventor mother, stands at the ready. She’s the official lab coordinator, and the only one who hasn’t run screaming after a few weeks attempting to use the Lewis Method.
She can’t believe she’s going to meet the Darcy Lewis. She’d stood at the window earlier, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other woman and get her excitement out of her system, but first some security guy and then Thor had blocked her view. Typical.
Now she’s at the conference room door, waiting for the stragglers to arrive. Inside, instead of board meetings and slideshows, there’s assorted science. Agathe knows everyone from her files.
Dr. Cho is barely visible inside a cocoon of blankets. Dr. Banner already has a cup of the tea they’d imported for him. Doctors Rivers and White are watching Dr. Foster as she somehow makes fire float over the table. Agathe has a special note in her file from the Tad Weatherby about Dr. White’s scheduled vaccination.
Prince Thor and Captain Rogers each sport a few bruises. Agathe remembers hearing something about more aliens. It’s not her department. Captain Rogers is taking a picture of his plate with his phone.
At movement down the hall, Agathe perks up.
Tony Stark meanders towards her.
“Hello. Are you with the Lewis party?” Agathe asks, as per explicit instruction.
The man twitches, but his eyes flicker past her. The tower of lime water is in full view. As are the grilled cheese on a stick Chef Claude had slaved over.
“Yeah.” He finally mutters, slinking forward. He brightens when doctors Banner and Foster call out for him.
The room rocks with a small explosion, and the two guards at the end of the hall take a step towards the room. They stop when Agathe holds up a hand.
“Explosions are part of the process.”