Archaic Kinds of Fun

that way lies madness

August 16, 2014

It’s been a little over two weeks since the big fight with Zodiac, and everything has been pretty quiet. There haven’t been any major attacks, and they’ve all fallen into a routine. Thor and Darcy cook breakfast, so Jo and Steve take care of the morning dishes. Then either Natasha or Jo trains Darcy for an hour, while everyone else goes off to do their own thing. Everyone has their own little lunch ritual. Jo knows that Steve usually makes lunch for Maria since her ribs are still broken, and Thor eats his lunch with the assassins. Darcy fixes Tony’s lunch and takes it up to him, and Jo does the same for Bruce. She normally stays with Bruce until a little before seven, when she meets up with Steve in the kitchen to fix dinner. She quizzes him on the past seventy or so years while they cook, and Clint and Natasha wash the dinner dishes. Then she dances with Darcy in Tony’s lab, until it’s time for her and Tony to go to bed.

It’s a routine that works for everyone. It’s simple and is somehow making them closer, because they eat two meals together and mingle randomly throughout the day. Natasha’s been teaching Steve how to work a computer, and he’s got more skills than Jo now. The Cap’n is a really quick learner. Thor and Hulk spar nearly every night, and Maria has started leaving her room a little more. Clint and Jo still dance whenever the mood strikes them. If she had to pick a favorite time of the day though, well…it’s probably between the hours of one and seven. The six hours she spends with the Doc are so relaxing, and they’ve started talking more. Real talking. About stuff that matters. He’s told her about the people he helped while he was on the run, and she’s talked about some of the things she did while she was retired. So they haven’t gotten into the messier parts of their lives, but she’s calling it progress.

Unfortunately, she’s not going to get her Doc time today.

“You two can’t go out on your own!” Tony yelled. Jo crossed her arms, and she watched the way that Steve’s jaw tensed.

“Fury asked for us,” Steve repeated.

“Also, they’re small-timers,” Jo pointed out.

“You’re not going out there alone.” The assassins were standing on the sidelines but keeping quiet, and Thor looked conflicted.

“You heard Fury, he wants to keep this small. Jo and I are the best options. No offense,” he said to the rest of the room.

“He’s right, Tony. You, Hulk, and Thor would cause too much attention. This needs to be handled quickly and quietly.”

“Then why aren’t you two going?” Tony turned his glare on Natasha, but she didn’t seem fazed at all.

“Because we’re still not cleared for field work,” Clint said from between clenched teeth.

“What? Why not?”

“Tony! We don’t have time for this. Me and Cap gotta get out there now, before someone gets hurt.”

“If we need backup, we’ll let you know,” Steve said and raised his wrist. He’s wearing a watch that’s really a comm, and Jo flicked her ear. They’re both wired and connected to JARVIS.

“I still don’t like this.” Jo smiled a little and stood on her tiptoes to whisper in Tony’s ear and give him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“We’ll be home soon. Ready, Cap?” He’s already dressed in his battle gear, and the dark blue suit does wonders for his physique. Maybe she should get a superhero suit. It’d be better than trashing her everyday clothes. She’ll probably have to throw the black skinny jeans and green tank top away, but she’ll bet five bucks that her steel-toes come out just fine.

“We can take my bike.” She looked at Tony one last time, winked, and followed after Cap. Because he is Cap right now, not Steve.

“Captain! Eris!”

“On the way, sir!” Steve called out while dodging traffic. Jo just hung onto him a little tighter and prayed to Thor that they wouldn’t crash before reaching the bad guys. The crash won’t kill her, but it’ll hurt like hell.

“Dynamite and Stonewall got tired of waiting and hit the bank early. Get inside, clear out civilians, and take them down.”

“Yes, sir!” It’s a little weird how they answered in perfect unison, but they’re both in “agent mode” right now. Steve pulled the bike over a block from the bank, and they both circled around to get to the back of the place. The cops have the front covered, and they need to be real careful about how they get in.

“Are you strong enough to break through?” They’re standing at the back of the bank and looking at a cement wall, and Jo pressed her hand flat against the rough wall.

“Yeah, I can get us through. What if it startles them?”

“They should be at the front, with the hostages. They shouldn’t hear anything.” Jo nodded and took a step back. It’s been a while since she got to tear down a wall. Ah, the good ol’ days.

“Cover your eyes, Cap.” She took a deep breath and swung as hard as she could, and they both watched as the wall cracked and started to crumble. Two more hits and there was a hole big enough for both of them to get through. Jo shook the dust out of her hair once they were inside, and they both held still to listen.

“Any plans?” Steve asked. Jo looked around at the small room they were in, and she smiled when a little sunlight glinted off some metal.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Clint, it’s that the people up top tend to have the advantage.” He followed her gaze, and a small smile curved his lips.

“If this works, we’ll have to thank him.” Cap gave her a boost so she could pull the cover off, and she waited for him to crawl up behind her. They moved as quietly as possible, and Jo tried to figure out how Clint fought off the claustrophobia. This isn’t her first time in an air vent, but they always make her feel like she doesn’t have enough oxygen.

“I can see them,” she whispered. They’re directly over the main part of the bank now, so she can see everything. They’ve got the hostages all in one area, one of them is standing close to the hostages, and the other is standing over by a covered window and peeking out. She relayed all the information to Cap and waited for his decision. She’s not really a thinker; she’s more of a doer.

“You drop down first and secure the one next to the hostages. I’ll drop down after and take out the one next to the window. Protect the hostages at any cost.”

“You got it.” She eased the cover off and waited until the woman under her shifted. She locked her eyes on the woman’s short blonde hair and dropped straight down. The woman screamed as Jo crashed down onto her, and she vaguely registered the sound of Cap hitting the floor behind her.

“You bitch!” The woman swung at her face, but Jo easily dodged it. The wall behind her exploded, and Jo turned wide eyes on the woman. This must be Dynamite. Who apparently has exploding fists. Awesome.

“Language!” Jo threw out a hit of her own, and she was a little satisfied when blood flew from the woman’s nose. A few more hits and a well-aimed kick sent the woman sailing through the air, and her body crashed into the wall before falling to the ground. A quick look around showed that Cap and the guy, Stonewall, were still fighting. She’d help him, but the hostages take priority.

“Okay, everyone, get up and follow me. I’m gonna get you out of here.” Cap and Stonewall are too close to the front door, but Jo just happens to know that there’s an escape route out the back. One of the women obviously had a broken ankle and was trying to carry her little boy, so Jo propped the little kid on one hip and wrapped her other arm around the woman’s waist. She’s gotta get these people out, now.

“Thank you.” Jo looked at the woman as the thirty or so hostages spilled out of the hole she punched in the wall, and she tried to think of what to say. People don’t normally thank her on missions.

“You’re welcome,” was all she could think to say as she passed the little boy over. Another hostage stepped up to the woman’s side to help her walk, and he nodded at Jo before they stepped through. Okay, now it’s time to get back to Cap. She’d just made it past the doorway into the main part of the bank when something hot hit her stomach, and she went flying backwards as parts of her were set on fire.

“Did you really think you could take me down that easily?” Dynamite is back, and she looks pissed.

“Is that rhetorical or do you want a real answer?” The woman’s smile turned into a sneer, and Jo raised her arms as another little explosion was hurled at her. Her skin is blistered and her tank top has been mostly burned away; she’s gotta get her one of those super suits. Jo was swinging the moment that the explosion was over, and Dynamite was so busy being on the defensive that she didn’t have time to throw out another bomb.

Jo was winning, and then the little blonde had to go and pull a fast one on her. Jo was holding her up by the neck of her shirt, to make it easier to hit her, when she suddenly went limp. Jo should’ve known that she was faking, but she’d been putting some real power behind her punches. The moment she lowered her guard, a powered up fist crashed into her cheek and ignited. Jo could hear her own rough scream echoing in her ears as the fire burned away skin and muscle, and Dynamite was able to slip through her fingers. Jo hit her knees and let her head fall forward, and she watched as Dynamite’s shoes got closer. Once she was in grabbing range, Jo wrapped her fingers around her ankle and pulled her onto the ground. Dynamite’s body slid between her legs until Jo was sitting on her stomach, and Jo smiled down at the trapped mutant with a piece of her face still missing.

“Who the hell are you?!” Jo had one hand locked around Dynamite’s throat, and the woman was clawing at her arm in an effort to get free. She’s not trying to blow Jo up anymore, so she must have reached her limit. That’s too bad. For her. For Jo, it’s wonderful.

“I’m the good guy.” One punch, to Dynamite’s temple, put her down. Jo even checked her mind to make sure it was quiet, and she listened as quiet footsteps got closer to her. She knows those boots, so she slowly raised her head and tried to smile for Cap. It was a little hard since her body is still regrowing the fleshy part of her cheek.

“You okay?” He’s got two deep cuts cutting all the way across his face and the way he’s holding himself tells her that he’s got a few broken ribs, but he’s still standing.

“Yeah, I’m good. You?” She slowly got to her feet and shook out her arms, and it looks like they’re mostly healed now.

“I’ve been worse.” He took her elbow to help her step over Dynamite’s unconscious body, and they both walked closer to the door as Fury’s voice started drifting through.

“Well, I still think you’re pretty.” Steve’s laugh sounded a little pained, and she smiled over at him as Fury stepped into the bank. He took one look at them, looked at the two unconscious bad guys, and nodded.

“Good work. We’ve got it from here.” Jo and Steve shared a look before looking back at the Director.

“You’re welcome, sir.”

“What he said.” Jo turned on her heel to follow Steve out of the bank, and she could feel Fury’s eye on them as they calmly exited the building. They kept up perfect poker faces until they were away from all the crawling agents and gawkers, but they dissolved into laughter once they were far enough away.

“Good work?” Steve muttered to himself once they reached his bike.

“You know, to be the perfect soldier, you sure do have problems with authority,” Jo grinned. Steve wrapped a hand around a handlebar, and Jo took note of his other arm. Broken. In at least two places.

“I’m not a perfect soldier,” Steve said as he gestured to the bike. He’s asking her to drive instead of trying to act all macho. She knew there was a reason that she liked Steve, and his ability to not care about gender is just one of the many reasons.

“Then what are you?” Steve slowly got on behind her, and Jo tried not to hiss as her skin closed back up. Her cheek is going to be tender for a while.

“A good man.” He said it quietly, like it was a secret, and Jo nodded.

“Yeah, you really are. Now let’s get home.”

“And Jo?”

“Hmm?” She eased through traffic, and Steve had his good arm wrapped around her middle.

“You’re a good guy too.”

“Thanks, Steve.”

“One more thing.”


“Let’s order pizza for dinner.” Jo’s laugh disappeared into the wind as she sped towards home, but she’s pretty sure that Steve heard her anyway.


“They’re back!” Darcy jumped up from her chair, where she’s been watching the monitor that shows the front door, and Bruce and Tony watched her race from the lab.

“We should go check on them,” Bruce said quietly. Tony is still mad about Steve and Jo going off on their own, but Bruce knows that he’s just worried.

“Why? They’re both fine,” Tony said without looking away from his current project. Something about new arrows for Clint.

“You don’t want to see Jo?” Bruce has seen them together, at dinner and just walking around. They gravitate towards one another, and they’re always touching in some small way. They move at the same time and are always reaching for each other. If it was anyone else, Bruce would swear that they were together.

“I’ll see her later.” Tony must still be mad, but Bruce does want to go downstairs and check on them. Steve or Jo might need medical attention, and Bruce is the only actual doctor in the house. He has been teaching Clint how to stitch though. Bruce lightly gripped Tony’s shoulder before leaving the room, because he’s learning that sometimes a small little touch means more than a single word.

Darcy, Thor, and the two assassins were already standing in the foyer around Steve and Jo when he got downstairs, so he couldn’t really see either of them. He could hear both of them talking, answering questions, so they must not be too hurt. No one seemed to notice his presence, at first, until Jo bounced up onto her toes and met his eyes over Clint’s shoulder. Her left cheek looked raw and was a dark pink, and her left eyebrow was missing.

“Hey, Doc!” Jo somehow slipped between Clint and Darcy, and Bruce got a good look at her. The bottom half of her tank top was burned away, and her midsection had the same raw and scraped look to it. Her arms were about the same, but she was smiling.

“Are you okay?” She looked down at herself, lightly placed a hand against her stomach, and then looked over at him.

“Still a little fried. I hate the ones that make things explode,” she said with a smile. They’ve been talking, little by little, every day for the past two weeks. He knows that Jo dances when she walks, that she’s done horrible things that she regrets and horrible things that she doesn’t, and that she’s a little addicted to chocolate and cheesy romance novels. When she really smiles, there’s a dimple in her left cheek. (The one that must have gotten horribly burned.)

“How bad was it?” He caught sight of his hand as it raised, but he stopped himself before he touched her cheek. Jo stepped forward, and his knuckles lightly touched against the stretched and shiny skin.

“Burned down to the bone on my face, just some burns everywhere else. It’s Steve that needs to be looked at. Some broken ribs, broken arm, cuts on his face. I know he’s a fast healer, but those cuts need to be cleaned and the bones need to be wrapped.”

“I’ll take him down to medical,” he said quietly. He can still hear the others, but Jo is standing right in front of him and he’s still touching her burned cheek.

“Tony still mad?”

“A little. I think he’s more worried than anything.” Jo nodded, and Bruce’s pinky finger got hooked under her jaw.

“I’ll give him some time to calm down and go get myself cleaned up.” It was said quietly, just for him to hear, and she smiled at him before looking over her shoulder. Bruce dropped his hand, which is something he should have already done.

“Steve! The doc’s here to patch you up!” Jo stepped to the side as Steve walked towards them, and he was holding himself stiffly.

“Thank you, Bruce.” It’s still a little strange sometimes to look at Steve. The program he was working on was meant to copy what happened to Steve, the super soldier serum, but that’s not what happened. Before, he would have said it was a complete disaster and that the program ruined his life. Now? He’s not really sure.

“Take it easy, Steve, and I’ll take care of dinner.” Steve smiled over at Jo, and Bruce felt a hand gently brush against his before Jo’s footsteps moved farther away.

“She’s really something,” Steve said quietly. The respect in his eyes was showing clear for anyone to see, so Jo must have really impressed him today.

“Yeah, she is.”


Jo stayed in the shower for as long as she could, even though the hot water made her new skin sting. There’s something about lava hot water and being surrounded by steam that makes her forget about everything for a little while. Reality has to come knocking eventually though, and she eased herself out of the shower and into some loose clothes. So, her usual pajamas of Tony’s clothes. She balled her hair up so that it wouldn’t touch her cheek, which is still a little sensitive, and thought over what to do. Dinner isn’t for another several hours, so she could take a nap, but she doesn’t really want to. Well, that’s not true. She really wants to take a nap, but there’s something else she wants to do more.

“Jo!” Darcy’s big blue eyes lit up, and Jo smiled over at her. Darcy’s enthusiasm at her being alive was just adorable.

“Hey, kid. Mind if me and Tony have some alone time?” Darcy’s head bobbed as she grabbed her book and iPod, and Tony still hasn’t turned around to look at her. His mind is whirring like crazy, so she can’t tell just how mad he is yet. Darcy paused next to her, and Jo raised her recently regrown eyebrow.

“Do not have sex in this lab. I eat in here,” Darcy said in complete seriousness.

“I think we’ll be able to control ourselves,” Jo said with a small twitch of her lips.

“See you later, hot mama.” Darcy sashayed her way out of the lab, and Jo waited until she was out of sight before making her way over to Tony. She moved up onto the table and scooted over until she was sitting in front of him, but Tony made a point not to look up at her.

“Are you really going to give me the silent treatment?” she asked after a few beats of silence.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered and kept working.

“Tony, you can’t still be mad at me. Steve and I were the best ones for the job, and we’re both fine.”

“Yes, I understand that perfectly. You and Steve had everything handled. Is that why you got half your face burned off?” Jo felt her teeth grind together as she slipped off the table to straddle Tony’s lap, and she gently took his face into her hands and turned him to look at her.

“See? I’m fine.” She can see his thoughts now, so she knows that he hacked into the bank’s security footage and kept watch over them. He saw Steve facing off against a man made of stone, and he saw Dynamite punch her and melt away a chunk of her face.

“What if you weren’t?” Yeah, he definitely still sounds mad.

“I’ve been on my own for years and have survived just fine, and nothing is going to keep me from coming back.” That’s a small lie, because she can’t see the future, but sometimes little lies are necessary.

“We should have come back together.” Jo’s fingers are tangled in his hair, but he’s not touching her. It makes her feel unsettled.

“You almost died, Tony. I think you might have actually died for a few seconds. Do you have any idea what that was like? I carried your broken body, I listened to you struggling to breathe, and your mind went completely silent. There was nothing. You were gone, and I am in no hurry to repeat that.”

“So you want to keep me locked up here?” Jo bent forward and curved her back so that her forehead was pressed against the arc reactor, and she sucked in a slow breath.

“No, Tony, that’s not what I want.”

“Then what do you want?” Jo stayed in the same position as she thought it over, and the arc reactor felt cool against her overheated skin.

“I want us to be a team. I need you.” Tony’s hands smoothed against her spine, and Jo wrapped her arms around his middle and locked her fingers behind his back.

“Are you listening?” Jo nodded as Tony kept moving his hands over her back, and she moved up just enough to press her cheek against his chest. The recently burned one. Tony’s thinking about the white flash of bone as her cheek was burned, at the dark look in her eyes as she wailed on Dynamite, about her not being able to heal. He’s scared of her being alone (in a black hole) and realizing that she’s going to die alone (in the dark in the cold).

“I’m not going to die, Tony. Someone has to look after you.”

“I need you.” He can’t say it, but he can think it loud enough for it to echo in her mind until all she can hear is him.

“Will you take a nap with me? I’m a little tired,” she whispered. Tony didn’t answer; he just stood up with her still wrapped around him. Jo held onto him as he walked to his room, and she let his thoughts overtake her own. He was thinking about how worried he’d been, for her and Steve, and about how Fury was wrong. They’re a team, and they should fight as a team. That’s how they’ll survive, and Jo agrees. Sure, her and Steve did just fine, but it would’ve been done faster if more of the team was there.

“Is everything…?” Tony lightly touched her stomach, and Jo smiled up at him.

“All healed. Your favorite pillow is A-Okay.” She made sure to keep looking into his tired brown eyes, because all of that worrying really did wear his genius brain out, and he slowly lowered himself down against her. Her stomach rebelled against the pressure, but she took a few slow breaths and the pain ebbed away. If Tony knows that she’s still hurting, he’ll move away and she really needs this right now.

“I love you, Jo.”

“I love you too, Tony.”


“Dinner is served!” Darcy and Clint let out a loud cheer, and Jo ducked down in a deep bow. As soon as she straightened up, Thor swept her up into a hug and proclaimed her the perfect balance of warrior and mother, which just made the mutant laugh. Tony was laughing at the state of his bodyguard, and Bruce was smiling as he watched the way that Thor spun Jo around. Even Natasha had a small smile on her face. When she looked to her side, Steve was already looking at her and smiling.

“It is really good pizza,” he said in a quiet voice.

“It looks like neither of you were up for cooking tonight,” Maria said in the same tone. Jo was thrown over Clint’s shoulder now, and Thor had Darcy actually sitting on his shoulder.

“I don’t know how she does it.” Steve was looking at Jo as Natasha told them all to settle down, but Tony was egging them on.

“She’s a mutant,” Maria shrugged. There wasn’t any kind of distaste in her tone, because she doesn’t have a problem with mutants. Unless they threaten the security of the world. Then she has a problem.

“Have you worked with her a lot?” Steve looked back at her, and Maria wanted to shift under his gaze but couldn’t. Damn her broken ribs!

“We worked together a bit before she retired. She’s not an ideal agent, but she knows how to get the job done.” Fury only sent Jo out on the really tough missions; the ones that either required information or for someone to be terminated. Jo was Maria’s first big responsibility; she was the handler of the mutant that the younger agents called the Tank, even though Jo wasn’t really an agent. Jo never complained about the jobs and rarely asked questions. Maria can still remember the anger that burned in her eyes, and later, the way her shoulders would slump under the weight of what she was asked to do.

“You respect her?” Maria blinked to clear away the old memories and nodded.

“Yes. It’s hard not to.” The room was so loud that it was hard to hear the quiet pop of Natasha’s gun, but it was easy to hear Jo’s yelp as she toppled off of Clint’s shoulders. Jo easily jumped back to her feet and looked like she was gonna say something to the woman that shot her, but Thor was already quietly reprimanding Lady Natasha. Clint and Darcy were giggling like schoolgirls as Thor lectured the hardened agent, and Jo collapsed back into the chair between Tony and Bruce with a smile on her face.

“Are you feeling better tonight?” It’s what Steve asks her every night, and it’s too endearing for her to find it annoying. Which is oddly frustrating.

“Dr. Banner removed my stitches. I’m just waiting on the ribs now,” she answered.

“I think turning down Tony’s miracle cure was very admirable,” Steve said and slid a plate in front of her. He’s always doing little things like that. Fixing her plates. Opening doors. Wheeling her around. Fluffing her pillows that one time.

“I don’t know about that. Clint fainted the other day.”

“I did not faint! I slipped!” Clint’s hearing is above normal; how did he hear her with all of this noise?

“Dude, you fainted,” Jo laughed out.

“Dude, did not,” Clint huffed out.

“He didn’t faint. He just, uh, got dizzy?” Darcy said/asked in an effort to help.

“Okay, so there are some lingering side effects. I’m working on it!” Tony said as the two assassins glared at him.

“Wasn’t that hard to say no,” Maria whispered. It was said just loud enough for Steve to hear, and he ducked his head and smiled over at her. She really doesn’t get why he keeps doing that. Smiling all shy-like at her.

“Cap’n! How’re the ribs?!” Jo asked over the loud arguing. It sounds like Natasha is threatening to cut off something vital, and Thor is trying to calm the woman down while Clint and Darcy just laugh. Bruce is scribbling on a napkin and looks completely checked out.

“Healing!” Steve called.

“Well, your face sure looks pretty again!” That got Tony’s attention, and he started making kissy faces down the table. Jo put him in a headlock, and Natasha crossed her arms and sat back now that she didn’t have Tony to argue with. All of these people are crazy, but they still insist on eating two meals a day together. Steve was blushing a little as Tony kept trying to catcall at him, even though Jo’s grip was pretty firm.

“She’s right. Your face does look as pretty as it usually does,” Maria whispered. Steve’s cheeks turned a darker shade of pink, and he took a quick drink of his water. She kind of understands them now, why they insist on coming together. To the world, they’re heroes. They’re stoic and serious; they’re saviors and guardians. Here? Here they can relax and be themselves. They can argue like children and blush at little compliments.

“Jo, Tony’s face is turning the color of a rhineshorm.” Jo let go of Tony at Thor’s odd comment and patted his cheeks, and Tony wheezed out a laugh as she apologized for making him look like a rhinestone.

“Thank you.” Steve said it so quietly that she thought she’d imagined it, but he looked at her from the corner of his eye.

“You’re welcome.”


“Knock, knock!” Bruce slowly looked up from his work and twisted around, and he saw Jo’s eyes first. How’d she get so close so fast?

“Hi, Jo. Feeling better?” She tapped her cheek and smiled, and he could see the dimple in her cheek.

“All better. Mind if I crash in here for a bit? Tony’s got Darcy helping him with his suit, and I feel like being lazy.” They normally have lunch together, but they didn’t today because of her mission with Steve. Is that why she’s here? “You’re thinkin’ mighty hard, Doc. I can go if you’re busy.”

“No, no, of course you can stay. I just thought you would want to be with Tony?” They looked okay at dinner, they laughed and joked around, but Bruce knows that sometimes people keep up appearances for the sake of others.

“Nah, we worked everything out earlier. Then we took a nap. Besides, I’ll see him at bedtime, and I missed my Doc time today.” She’s smiling at him again, in a way that makes his stomach hot and his mouth dry.

“You’re really feeling better?” He can still see the way that her skin was stretched over her cheek and feel the heat of her hand as it brushed against his.

“Yes, Bruce, I’m really feeling better. Wanna check me over?” Her smile was a little crooked and there was a shine to her eyes, and Bruce felt himself flush.

“I’ll take your word for it.” Jo’s smile widened a bit more, and she turned around to walk over to the couch in the lab.

“Such a tease, Doc. You better be glad I like you.” She flopped onto the couch, crossed her legs in the air, and closed her eyes. “So, what are you working on tonight?”

Jo seemed to sink into the couch in complete relaxation as Bruce talked about his current project, which was looking into Tony’s healing accelerant in the hopes that he could figure out when the side effects would stop. Clint fell off a table while dancing, and Natasha felt light headed while sparring with Darcy. They need to know if the two agents will be able to return to the field soon, because there is no way of knowing when someone else will attack. Jo listened to him rattle off equations and percentages, and it felt better to talk out loud. Even if all Jo does is hum and tell him how smart he sounds. (If he blushes, she has no way of knowing.) After nearly an hour of him talking and Jo humming, he pulled away from the microscope and pushed his glasses into his hair.


“Yeah, Doc?” Her voice was a little slurred, like when she’s drunk. Or really tired.

“Can I ask you about something?” That got her eyes to open, and she let her head fall to the side. The light streaked across her cheekbone and made it shine, and he saw the burns again. Jo’s not burned.

“Anything, Doc.” Her smile was soft, and she looked so at peace that Bruce almost changed his mind. Almost.

“Do you remember that night we talked when you were in Scotland?” Her cheek twitched, like she was biting the inside of it, and she slowly nodded.

“Yeah, unfortunately, I can’t get blackout drunk. I was hoping that would be one of those little things that we never mention in the light of day.” She’s smiling, a little, so she can’t be too upset at his bringing it up.

“It’s nine at night.” She slowly lifted herself into a sitting position, and Bruce watched as she patted the spot next to her. Talking up close would be better, but there’s something about Jo that makes him…unsettled.

“C’mon, Doc. I promise not to bite.” Her grin showed a flash of teeth, but Bruce still walked across the lab anyway. She relaxed back against the couch and raised her legs up onto the cushion once he was beside her, and she was twisted around enough that she was facing him.

“I know it’s not my place to ask—”

“Lemme stop ya there, Doc. We’re friends, and I meant it when I said you could ask me anything. I trust you.” He can feel her looking at him, and he pressed his hands together. His fingers trailed over the pulse point in his wrist, even though he’s not worried about Hulk anymore. Old habits.

“You said that the telepathy wasn’t right. That you were not meant to have it.” He finally looked over at her, and it was a little strange to see her without a smile. Without even a hint of a smile. Her arms are wrapped around her legs, and she’s just looking back at him.

“I’m not a born telepath. It came…later.”

“Secondary mutations are rare.” He’s done research, and there are very few cases of a mutant developing a secondary mutation that has no direct correlation to the first one.

“Yes, they are.” She looked down at her knees, took a deep breath, and then looked up at him again. Her eyes look a little darker than usual. “The telepathy was implanted, against my will.”

Bruce kept quiet while she explained what had happened to her, and he watched Jo as she talked. She’d only been eighteen when they found her, still a child, and Bruce knows firsthand what happens in places like that. The experimentation, the torture, and the anger that comes afterward. He can understand now why she went to work for SHIELD and earned the name Tank; she must have needed an outlet. As for how she first met Clint and Natasha, he wasn’t expecting that. She called it a failed rescue mission, but she’s still alive.

“About a year after the implant, I couldn’t keep all the voices out. The Professor recommended Dizzy, but she wanted me to accept the telepathy when all I wanted was to shut it down. It led to a lot of fights, until she taught me how to build blocks and kicked me out on my ass.”

“What about now?” She said it herself that night on the phone, she uses the telepathy on Tony all the time. Bruce has watched them talk, somewhat, with Tony thinking and her just listening.

“Now…I don’t know. I still hate it, I’ll always hate it, but it’s handy sometimes,” she shrugged. Her lips twitched, like she wanted to smile, but she propped her chin on her knees instead.

“Have you thought about trying anything new?” Her head tilted to the side a bit, like she was studying him.

“What are you thinking, Doc?”

“Tony fought a woman that can siphon energy, and you fought a woman with exploding hands. If she had hit you a little higher, your comm could have been damaged.” Jo reached up to touch her ear, where her comm is, but didn’t look away from him.

“I’m not going to like where this is going, am I?”

“You can always say no.” Her dark green eyes rolled upwards, but she smiled at him. A real smile.

“You want me to learn how to project my thoughts. Like the Professor, and Dizzy.” Jo straightened her legs out and let them touch the floor, and her shoulder brushed his when she sat up straight. “Are you offering to help me, Bruce? Because if you are, it means I’ll be in your head.”

“I trust you.” He held completely still as she placed her head on his shoulder, and he felt her body shift as she took a few slow breaths.

“I don’t want anyone to know, except for Tony. I’m not good at keeping things from him, so I’m not even going to try. I don’t want the others to know though, just in case I really suck at it.” Her tone is light, like she’s only joking, but he can feel how tense she is.

“You don’t have to do this. It’s just a thought.”

“It’s a good thought, and you’re right. If our communications go down, we need a way to communicate. It’ll be a last resort, but we need to always be prepared. Are you sure that you’re okay with this?” He’s been thinking about it since their first lunch together, because Jo is the third telepath that he’s met but the only one that hadn’t spoken into anyone’s mind. Knowing what he does now, it makes sense.

“I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t sure.” He felt her nod against his shoulder and lightly tapped his fingers against his knees.

“Can we start tomorrow? I’m still a little worn out.” She sounds really tired too; she probably wants to go rest, somewhere else.

“Of course. Whenever you’re ready.” She hummed quietly, and Bruce waited for her to stand up and leave.

“Hey, Bruce? Do you mind just sitting here with me for a minute? I’ll leave soon, but I just want to rest my eyes for a bit before facing Tony.” She’s going to tell Tony tonight? Of course, those two are really close so she wouldn’t want to keep something this big from him for long.

“Uh, yeah, sure.” He felt a slight pressure on his shoulder as she leaned back, and he moved with her. He rested against the couch, and Jo pillowed her head on his shoulder and let her eyes close. Bruce wasn’t really sure what to do, what was allowed, or what she wanted. “Can you read my mind now?”

“If you want me to.”

“I want you to.” He thought about how the situation was unfamiliar and how he didn’t know what to do; he didn’t want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable, but he wanted to…comfort her too.

“Such a gentleman, Doc.” She leaned up and grabbed his arm, and Bruce let her move him around. When she was done, her head was resting against his chest and his arms were wrapped around her. She was soft and warm against him, and she smelled like oranges and blood. Because Natasha shot her earlier.

“Over the past several months, I’ve learned that physical contact is more comforting than anything else. Especially when you’re not used to it.” Her rough voice was quiet, so quiet that he could barely hear her, and he examined the words one by one. Logically, they make sense. Realistically, he’s still learning what they mean.

“I’m getting there.” She shifted against him and held on a little tighter, and Bruce stopped being afraid of touching her. He let his hands settle against her instead of hovering, and she hummed in the back of her ruined throat. (It was a failed rescue mission.)

“Good to hear, Doc.”


“You should be the one in the tub.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I’m not the one that got blown up today.”

Jo stopped washing his back, and Tony twisted around so he could lay his arms across his bodyguard’s thighs. Fingers instantly moved through his wet hair, and Tony just enjoyed the sensation for a moment. Jo looks okay, but he knows that she must be tired. She still insisted on washing his back though, and Tony has discovered that he can’t really say no to her. It’s very frustrating, and he has a feeling that Jo knows he can’t refuse her anything. Then again, she can’t really say no to him either. (Unless his safety is involved, but he’s working on that.)

“I didn’t get completely blown up. Just singed.” White bone. Dark pink muscle. Dark eyes. Bloody fists. He knows exactly what went down today.

“Uhuh, sure.”

“Drop it, Tony.” Her eyes are closed as she plays with his hair, but her face still has a serious look on it.

“Fine. Then let’s talk about your crush on Captain America.” That got her eyes to open, and she tightened her fingers in his hair and lifted his head up.

“Come again?” He knew that would get her attention, but she could loosen her grip a little.

“You wash dishes together, cook dinner together, and go out on missions together. Are you telling me that you don’t have a crush on America’s Walking Wet—”

“I do not have a crush on Steve.” It was said slowly, like she was talking to a child, and Tony smiled.

“But you do have a crush on someone.”

“What?” Her brows were drawn together and her nose was wrinkled in confusion, and it was an adorable look on the badass bodyguard.

“You specifically said Steve. If you were crush-free, you’d say that you don’t have a crush on anyone. C’mon, sweetheart, spill.” Jo finally let go of his hair, and his scalp felt a little tingly. He tried to scowl as he watched her stand up and move her legs out of the tub, but he wasn’t feeling it. It’s been a really long day.

“Can we be serious for a second?” It’s just the opening he’s been waiting for. He really hopes that Jo still has that no-killing-the-boss policy.

“Does that mean you’re finally going to tell me about that rambly drunk phone call a couple of weeks ago? Or maybe about the little convo you had with the good doctor about an hour ago? Or that adorable little cuddle?” His stern little façade broke at the end, and Jo swatted at him as he tried to climb out of the tub. She still caught him when he slipped on the water that she tracked on the tiles, but that just meant she could smack the back of his head with ease. “Ow! Okay, okay! I’m sorry! Stop it!”

“You’re a horrible person,” Jo said and let him go. She tossed a towel at his face, and the fluffy fabric wrapped around his head. Tony wrestled it off and then glared at his stone faced bodyguard.

“You signed the no-privacy contract. JARVIS?”

“The contract does state that privacy no longer exists between you and Master Stark, Miss Jo.” She groaned and rubbed her hands over her face, and her cheeks were flushed when she looked back at him.

“We made up that contract after cleaning out your candy stash. I was obviously not in my right mind.”

“Still counts.”

“Shut up and put some pants on. JARVIS, did you tell Tony about my conversations with Bruce?” Tony took his time drying himself off, and he nearly slipped again when Jo threw his pajama pants at him.

“It is the protocol, Miss Jo.”

“To tell Tony about all my conversations?”

“Only the ones that mention his name.” He grinned as Jo questioned the AI and he pulled his pants up.

“You wouldn’t tell him if I was planning him a surprise party, would you? Because that would make me very, very, very…disappointed.”

“And I wouldn’t want that, miss.” Tony let out a laugh at that one, and Jo manhandled him out of the bathroom. Once they were back in the bedroom, Jo slipped into his closet to pull on some of his dry clothes.

“So you know about both conversations; the embarrassing one and the one that I was going to tell you about tonight.” Her voice was a little muffled, since she’s in the closet, but he could still hear her okay. Her rough voice is good at drifting.

“The first one wasn’t embarrassing.”

“It was for me. What do you think of the Doc’s plan?” She stepped out of the closet in another one of his tee shirts and a pair of her leggings, so it looks like their closets really are combining.

“Are you mad at me for listening to your conversations?” He never wanted to make her mad, even though she gets this little wrinkle between her brows when she’s really mad and it’s kinda cute. In a terrifying kind of way.

“No, not really. It saves me the trouble of repeating it all to you. So, good plan or a disaster waiting to happen?” She crawled up onto the bed and into her sleeping position, and Tony moved to lay against her like it was the most natural thing in the world. Because it is. How did he live before her? (He’s not going to think about Pepper; that way lies madness.)

“A little of both.”

“Explain.” His eyes closed as her fingers combed through his hair, and he moved closer until he was completely pressed against her side with his head on her chest. After today, he needs to hear her heartbeat.

“There’s always a possibility that technology can fail.”

“Did that hurt to say?”

“Little bit.”

“Good. You can continue.” He pinched her side, just enough to make her jump, and laughed a little when she flicked the top of his ear.

“Like I was saying, technology can fail. If it does, it wouldn’t hurt to have a backup plan. I plan on doing a little research of my own, but this is all on you and Bruce.” He means that too. He has the Professor’s number, and he likes talking to the old man. He can tell that Jo feels…off when talking about him or her school days; it’s in her eyes and the way that she holds onto his hand. So he’ll call up the Professor when he knows what questions to ask, but he’ll be sure to talk to Jo first.

“And the disaster part?”

“Remember the phone call? Bruce wasn’t lying when he said that we all have things that we’d like to keep buried; everyone in this house has secrets that they never want told, and I’m pretty sure that Bruce’s secrets are very big. Possibly green.”

“You’re worried I’ll see the wrong thing and hate him for it? We both know that I’m not a saint, Tony.”

“No, that’s not it. You’ve seen everything about me, the bad and the ugly, but you’re still here.” He tightened his hold just a little and listened to the steady thump of her heart. (Pepper’s heart was always like a bird’s, so light and quick. Jo’s heart is like a battering ram.)

“Two hundred eight days and counting.” Tony’s thoughts paused, and he tilted his head back to look at her. Shining green eyes met his, and she smiled.

“You’ve been counting?”

“Clint bet me that I wouldn’t make it to three hundred days, much less three hundred and sixty-five.”

“How much are you going to get?” Jo’s smile looked downright evil, and Tony filed that information away for later.

“So what are you worried about?”

“I am worried that you will see something, and Bruce will run. Not because of you, but from himself.”

“Then I’ll just make him stay.” Jo shrugged, and Tony gently shifted with the movement.

“Just like that?”

“What can I say? I like the Doc.” Yeah, he knows. He can still see their little cuddle session very clearly, and he’s not sure what to think about it. Bruce looked both confused and comfortable, which he can understand. Jo’s a very easy person to cuddle with. Speaking of Jo, she’d looked perfectly content. Like she could stay in that one spot forever and never complain. He knows that eventually his bodyguard will fall in love (with someone who deserves her), but he’s not really sure how he’ll handle that. If Tony loses Jo…he’ll be lost.

“Love or no, I’ll never leave you. I meant it when I said that I’ve never loved anyone like I love you, so whoever I fall in love with, he’ll have to love you too.” Jo said it in the same way that she said nearly everything, like it was the absolute truth. He had to take a minute, not to compose himself or something ridiculous like that, but for her to start playing with his hair again. That’s all. Once her fingers started up the familiar movements, he looked up at her.

“Sounds kinky. You sure Bruce is up for it?”


When Darcy stepped out of Jo’s room, because she wanted to return her book before it got lost somewhere in this maze of a house, she was expecting to silently sneak back to the elevator. She was sneaky, but the sounds coming out of Tony’s room were anything but silent. She eased over to his bedroom door, which had a small crack in it, and held her breath as she tried to peek inside. She had to slap her hands over her mouth to keep from making a sound, and she ran to the elevator as fast as her legs would carry her. Once she was safely inside, she let all of her pent-up laughter out and held onto her aching sides.

“JARVIS? Please tell me you can get pictures of that epic pillow fight and have them sent to my room without Tony knowing?” Oh, everything hurts in the best possible way. She thought people were joking when they talked about pillow fights. She can’t believe that’s an actual thing! Also, aren’t Jo and Tony supposed to be adults?

“Of course, Miss Lewis.”

“Hey, what are they fighting about anyway?” She stepped off the elevator onto her own floor, which she is now sharing with Maria, and moved over to her room.

“Different lifestyles, I believe.”

“Oh. Weird. Night, JARVIS!”

“Goodnight, Miss Lewis.”
♠ ♠ ♠
I really had fun writing this one, because it has a little bit of everything. Some action, some humor, some angst, some fluff...yep, I think I got it all in this one. There was even a really good Jo/Bruce moment!

So...what should Clint have to do when Jo makes it to Day 300?