Archaic Kinds of Fun

thank you

August 22, 2014

“Where’d you learn to do that?” Jo still had a towel wrapped around her head and was tugging on a pair of Tony’s silk boxers (striped red and gold this time), so she knows that she looks ridiculous. Bruce is only wearing a pair of loose pajama pants and his hair is sticking up from the towel rubbing she gave him just a minute ago.

“It’s not really something you learn. It’s more of an…instinct.” He really does look too adorable when he blushes; it’s gonna be the death of her. She tugged a tee shirt over her towel-wrapped head (one of Tony’s plain black shirts) and slowly walked over to Bruce. He’s just standing in the middle of her bedroom, looking a little lost with his pink cheeks and dark eyes, and she can’t stop smiling.

“Your instincts are awesome. Best instincts ever. My thighs are still wobbly.” She pressed her smile against the side of his neck as her arms wound around his shoulders, and his arms moved to loosely wrap around her hips. He’s so warm and shirtless. After they left the library, Jo pulled Bruce into her room and they took a shower. Together. Well, first they got a little dirty and then they cleaned up. There’s a part of her that wants to stay in this moment forever, but they’ve still got a few things to clear up. First things first though, “Can you braid my hair for me? Maybe tell me where you learned how?”

“I can do that.” Her eyes crossed a little when Bruce kissed the end of her nose, and she’s two seconds away from cooing at him. Bruce took her hand and pulled her over to the bed, and she dutifully crawled to the center and crossed her legs. She listened as Bruce grabbed the brush on her bedside table, she’s got brushes stashed all over the mansion, and rocked with the bed as he moved to sit behind her. His legs spread so that they were resting on either side of her, and she lightly cupped her palms over his knees. She just wants to touch him.

“Alright, so what’s the story?” she asked once the towel was pulled off. The brush was gentle as it moved through the thick tangles of her hair, and Jo closed her eyes against the light pulling sensation.

“I worked with a lot of sick patients in India; adults and children, men and women, young and old. Some of the women would get so sick that they wouldn’t be able to lift their arms, so one of the women helping me taught me how to braid. My first time was with a little girl, about seven. Her fever kept her sweaty, and her hair was even longer than yours. Her mother was sick as well and couldn’t help her, so I had to do it. It got easier after that first time.”

“That was very nice of you, Doc.” Jo’s voice was quiet, and she felt his fingers lightly touch against her back before going back to her hair. There’s so much of it, but he’s already started braiding it. She’d normally still be trying to brush the stuff.

“It made things easier for her, and that’s what mattered. Has your hair always been this long?” Jo tried not to think about her time at ROSE; they shaved her head, and it took so long to grow it all back out. She spent over a year without its weight to hide behind, and her eyes tracked its growth every time she looked in the mirror for months after her rescue.

“Ma always wanted a little girl with long flowing hair, and she got what she wanted. Not that I mind! I love my hair, even if it does get in the way sometimes. I’m just no good with it, with fixing it up. Ma used to braid it all the time, but I never got the hang of it.”

“Your hair hasn’t been braided since…”

“Since Ma died, yeah.” Her voice was a little lower from the admission, but it feels good to talk about her Ma. “I think she would’ve liked you. Ma was always sayin’ that she wanted me to find some nice boy to settle down with, and she loved curls since the both of us had straight hair.”

“I’m not sure if I’m the kind of nice boy that your mother had in mind.” Jo blindly reached back to swat at his arm and then held still again.

“Don’t forget that Ma was a mutant. I’m technically not human, remember? Ma would’ve liked you because I do.” She’s not reading Bruce’s mind, but she’s pretty sure that he’s happy about what she said.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“You do that. How’s the hair comin’?”

“Almost…done.” She felt a few more tugs as Bruce wrapped a hair tie around the end of her hair, and she pulled the length of hair over her shoulder when he was finished. Her fingers lightly ran over the length, and it’s perfect. She moved onto her knees and spun around, and she saw Bruce’s eyes widen right before she jumped him. They tumbled back onto the bed with a laugh from Jo and a small grunt from Bruce, and Jo nuzzled against Bruce’s chest once they were still.

“You know we have to talk about other stuff, right?” Her fingers are dancing across his chest and she can hear his heartbeat; he’s got one hand on the back of her neck and the other is spread out against her lower back under the tee shirt.

“Like what?” He sounds…peaceful, not worried.

“Like, what are your thoughts on public displays of affection? Can I hold your hand or cuddle you at the breakfast table? Are we going to tell the others now or wait a bit? We live together already, so how’s that supposed to work? How are we going to handle Tony? Because he’s going to be way too smug once he finds out about this.” She was breathing a little heavier when she was done, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Everything was so much simpler when she was just ogling the Doc in his lab and having inappropriate thoughts. She wants this to work though, and she knows that relationships take work. Right?

“I’m okay with public displays of affection, within reason, so hand holding and cuddling is completely okay. Of course we can tell the others. We live together, so it’d be hard to hide and I don’t want to. Do you?”

“No, I want to cuddle you over pancakes. Didn’t I already make that clear?” She was smiling when she tilted her head back to look at him, and Bruce smiled back. It was a little smile, but it calmed her rapidly beating heart a smidge.

“Right. Where were we?”

“Living together.”

“We do live together, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take things slow.” Jo snorted, because the library table knows that they’re not taking things slow, and Bruce lightly pinched her back before continuing. “We still have different rooms, so it’s more like living in the same apartment building. As for Tony, I don’t want to change the relationship you have with him.”

“Wait, what?” When she mentioned Tony earlier, she only meant that he was going to be insufferable because he was right. She did have a crush on Bruce and things did work out, just like he said they would.

“I don’t think Tony has had many friends, and it’s obvious that you mean a lot to each other. I don’t want to come between that, in any way. Tony is my friend too, and I want what’s best for him. And, uh, I think you two need each other.” Jo slowly lifted herself up, so that she could really look at Bruce, and she noted the nervous look in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, what?” She’s still a little lost. Bruce reached up a hand to scrub through his hair, and Jo watched the way that the drying curls bounced before falling into disarray.

“I’m okay with how close you and Tony are, and I don’t want any of that to change.”

“You know I sleep with him at night, right? Not like, fun sleeping, but cuddling. Well, he kinda just lays on me.” She’s babbling, because…this is something that she was worried about. She just didn’t even realize it until right now.

“Yeah, I know,” Bruce said with a little laugh. Right, Darcy does complain about waking them up. Loudly.

“And you’re okay with your girlfriend sleeping in another guy’s bed?” She’s kneeling next to him now and probably has the dumbest look on her face, but Bruce is still smiling. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and then sat up fully, and he reached up to lightly cup her face.

“Tony was your friend first, and he was my friend first. I know that what you have with him is different than what we have, so there’s no reason for me to be jealous. I trust you.” He really means it too. Jo can see that he means it. Relief flooded her as tension she didn’t even know she was holding left her, and she grabbed his wrists as she melted. Yep, she has found the perfect man. And he’s all hers.

“Does that mean you’ll come cuddle with us?” she asked with a grin.

“Never again. You, yes. Both of you, no.” They both laughed a little at that, and Jo nuzzled against the palm resting against her left cheek.

“So, what now?”

“I’ve missed a lot of lab time, so I was going to go work for a little bit. I’m guessing it’s about time for Tony to turn in?” Jo leaned to the side so that she could look around Bruce and see the clock on her bedside table, and it’s ten after midnight. Definitely Tony’s bedtime.

“Sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Yeah, she’s tired, but she can stay up for a little bit with Bruce.

“You need to rest.”

“You did wear me out,” she mused. Bruce’s cheeks flushed pink, and she laughed in triumph. She loves it when the Doc gets all shy and bashful. Her fingers curled in his hair as she leaned forward to kiss him, and it felt good to kiss him just to feel him against her. They pulled back at the same time, and Jo nuzzled their noses together. “C’mon, Doc.”

“I’ll see you at breakfast?” They’re standing in the hallway between the two labs, and Jo can hear the music pouring out of Tony’s lab from where she’s standing.

“I’ll be there.” Jo moved to turn away, but Bruce grabbed her hand to stop her and gave her a quick little kiss. She was still frozen in place a minute later, because this is all new and kind of amazing. Scratch that. Super amazing.

“Thank you, Thor, for this amazing day!” she thought as she strolled into the lab. She could see Tony’s feet and a little bit of his legs sticking out from under a car, and she hopped up onto a table.

“Where’s Darcy?” The music immediately lowered, which Jo was thankful for, and Tony made a few grumbling noises before rolling himself out from under the car.

“She went to bed…early. Oh my God!” He was still wiping the grease from his hands when he looked up at her, and now he’s just gaping up at her with wide eyes.

“What?” Has he finally lost it?

“You had sex!” Jo’s eyes widened as her mouth popped open, and she pointed a shaking finger down at him.

“There’s no way you can know that!” She took a shower! She’s clean, and she’s pretty sure all her hickies healed. There’s no way that he can know that!

“You’re…you’re…glowing! You had sex! You…had sex. With Bruce! I knew it!” He’s smiling now and gearing up to gloat.

“You don’t know anything! Stop laughing, you maniac!” She threw something heavy and metal at him, and it bounced off the floor and slid to a stop next to his foot. What? It’s not like she can actually hit him. He can’t heal like she can.

“What’re you doin’ in here, sweetheart? Shouldn’t you be cuddled up to your new sex monkey?” He barely got the words out because he was straining not to laugh, and Jo let out a war cry as she slipped off the table and tackled him. Tony yelped as they rolled across the floor, but he was back to laughing in no time. The smug asshole.

“I’m here because I wanna go to sleep, and you need a head washin’. Seriously, Tony, it’s always caked in grease. It’s like your hair has a personal vendetta against cleanliness.” She’s sitting on his stomach and pulling at his hair, which really is caked in grease, and Tony cocked his head as he looked up at her.

“You’re sleeping with me tonight?” He looks confused, and she can sympathize. She was lost for a little while too, but everything is going to be okay because Bruce is obviously the best boyfriend ever. And they’ve only been dating for about two hours.

“Bruce is gonna be in the lab for a while, and I’m sleepy now.” She saw the moment that Tony understood what she meant, because she felt him relax and his eyes softened. It looks like he was a little worried about how her relationship with Bruce was going to change things too.

“Why does Bruce get to stay in the lab after midnight?” Tony pouted. Actually pouted.

“Because Bruce took two naps today. Now, get up. We’ll hose you down and then get some sleep.” She flowed to her feet and reached a hand down, and it was easy to yank Tony onto his feet.

“He’s really okay with this?” Tony whispered. There’s no one else around to hear them, but she kinda gets it.

“Yeah, he really is. He knows how much we care about each other, and he knows that he has nothing to worry about. Now, move! I wanna go to bed.” Tony slung an arm around her shoulders and started walking, and she easily fell into step beside him. It’s almost like nothing has changed, but everything has.

“My hair isn’t that greasy.” Yeah, just the same old same old.

August 23, 2014

“Tony, are you still—oh. Good morning, Jo.” Dark green eyes slowly blinked open, and Jo took in her surroundings. Tony’s bed. Tony’s hair between her fingers. Tony’s face pressed against her stomach. Pepper Potts standing at the foot of the bed. Pepper!

“Oh! Hi! This is not what it looks like, at all. We were just sleeping! And I’m dating Bruce now! Also, sleeping-sleeping with Tony? That’s just gross,” Jo said quickly. Tony groaned and pawed at her face, and she quickly knocked his hand away without looking away from Pepper’s smiling face. Why is Pepper smiling?

“He told me about how close you two are and congratulations. Doctor Banner is a wonderful man.” Pepper’s smile was warm, and Jo knew without using any telepathy that the woman was being sincere.

“Yeah, he really is. So, I’m just gonna go and let you two talk. Tony, invite Pepper to breakfast.” Tony groaned as she rolled him over onto his back and slipped out of the bed, and she gave Pepper a little wave before quickly moving out of the room. She didn’t run, but it was a close thing. The door to her room closed with a quiet click as she leaned back against it, and her eyes closed as she took a few slow deep breaths. She just saw Pepper Potts. While she was in the bed with Tony Stark.

“Jo?” The low voice made her eyes snap open, and she looked across the room. Bruce was standing in front of her fireplace, dressed in a pair of black slacks and blue button-up that was missing one of the middle buttons, and Jo took a moment to just drink him in.

“Hey. Hi. What are you doing here?” She can still see the warmth in Pepper’s smile, and she’s so confused about everything. Is Tony okay? Seeing Pepper can’t be easy, and…Bruce hasn’t brushed his hair. Her fingers twitched against her thighs, because she wanted to go run her fingers through his curly hair and then pull him into bed.

“I thought we could go down to breakfast together?” He’s not blushing but it’s a close thing, and he’s wringing his hands together. Like she’d tell him no?

“Breakfast, right, yes. Just, uh, let me go freshen up?” He nodded, which made his wild curls bounce, and Jo bolted into the bathroom. Everything with Bruce is new and exciting, and she can’t remember ever feeling this way. She likes it. It only took a few minutes for her to go through her morning ritual, mostly because the braid that Bruce worked her hair into was still in place. When she walked back out into her room, Bruce was looking at the mantle over her fireplace.

“Is this from the fair?” Bruce asked once she was standing next to him. He was looking at the picture of her and Tony; she was laughing because Tony was choking on the last piece of funnel cake she’d shoved into his mouth.

“Yeah, and Tony won the unicorn in a dart game,” Jo said as her shoulder brushed against Bruce’s. Their knuckles bumped before Bruce shifted his arm to grab her hand, and Jo dropped her head onto his shoulder as their fingers laced together.

“And this one?” There’s still only one other thing on the mantle; it’s the picture that JARVIS took for her.

“It’s from Tony’s One Month Sober party.” Tony was still grumpy a lot of the time back then, but he’d caved eventually and let her celebrate. He even ate one of her lopsided cupcakes. Bruce hummed and gave her hand a little squeeze, and she took it as the thank-you that it was. He knows that Tony was slipping over the edge, and he’s grateful that she was able to pull him back. Like she’d let anything happen to her idiotic boss?

“Ready for breakfast?”

“I’m always ready for Thor’s pancakes,” was her answer. Seriously, the god was…well, a god when it came to breakfast foods. She relaxed against Bruce once they were in the elevator and brushed her smile against his bicep. Today is going to be a good day.


“You guys seriously eat way too much,” Darcy groaned as she carried yet another plate of pancakes into the dining room. Steve and Maria were already sitting at the table and talking quietly, and Natasha gracefully moved around Darcy and Thor to get to her seat.

“It’s because of the super metabolisms.” Okay, that’s Clint’s voice, but there’s no Clint. Has she finally lost it? Darcy set the plate of pancakes down on the table and turned around to go back to the kitchen to get the bowl of scrambled eggs. She took two steps and then Clint appeared in front of her. She screamed, fell backwards, and would’ve knocked over the table if Clint hadn’t caught her.

“What did…How did…Quit laughing!” she yelled and flapped her hands across his shoulders and head. She’s pretty sure she’s hitting him, but he’s still laughing so she’s guessing it’s not having much of an impact. “Where did you come from?!”

Clint pointed up at the ceiling, while still keeping one arm wrapped tight around her waist, and Darcy rolled her eyes. She remembers Clint saying something about mapping out the venting system, but she didn’t think he was serious! What kind of weirdo crawls around in the vents? Also, wow, his eyes are really pretty up close. A little bit of blue, a little bit of green, some golden streaks around his pupils. He’s also really strong. She’s no lightweight, and he’s pretty much still holding her entire weight off the floor with just one arm.

“Did I miss dance time?” Darcy managed to turn her head enough to see Jo standing in the doorway, and she’s holding onto Bruce’s hand. Jo’s touchy-feely though, so it’s not that surprising.

“What?” Jo’s eyebrows pulled together, and she used her free hand to gesture between Darcy and Clint.

“That’s a dip, right?”

“Clint dropped out of a vent and scared her. He caught her to keep her from knocking the food off the table,” Natasha explained calmly.

“You gotta stop doing that, Clinton. You’re gonna give someone a heart attack one of these days,” Jo said as she walked by. She ruffled Clint’s hair just as the archer finally pulled Darcy back into a vertical position, and she grabbed onto the archer’s shoulders as her blood started flowing normally again.

“What’d the birdbrain do this time?” Tony asked as he walked in. There was a tall and stunning redhead behind him, and that must be Pepper Potts. Wow, she is flawless.

“Scared Darcy,” Jo answered. Darcy should move and maybe use her words, but she can’t stop holding onto Clint’s very strong shoulders.

“Hey, no messing with my little girl,” Tony said with a stern glare. Darcy groaned and dropped her forehead against Clint’s chest, because this is her life and it makes no sense.

“I promise to be a gentleman.” And with that, Clint spun her around and pulled her chair out just in time for her to land in it. It was very smooth and more than a little hot.

“Oh, Pepper, you should sit with us!” Jo suddenly yelled out. Jo moved from her chair to Bruce’s lap, and Darcy felt her jaw drop just a little as Bruce’s cheeks flushed pink. That left Jo’s normal chair empty, which is where Tony sat so that Pepper could have his seat.

“Got something you wanna announce, Josie?” Clint asked. He was sitting in his usual place across from Darcy now, and she can still feel the heat of him pressed up against her.

“Right. Bruce and I are totally a thing now,” Jo stated and leaned back against him.

“Aren’t they just adorable?” Tony teased. Okay, so Jo and Bruce are together. Darcy knew that Jo was crushing on the doctor, and she had suspicions about Bruce feeling the same way.

“Ha! Good luck, Bruce!” Jo leaned forward to swat at Clint, but he easily moved out of the way and kept laughing as Jo yelled at him.

“Friends! We should be feasting!” Thor’s booming voice brought all noise to a halt, and Darcy twisted around in her chair to look at the god. He was carrying four bowls, easily, and looking around at all of them.

“Thor! Did you know Jo and Bruce were dating?” Clint yelled out. He yelped a second later, which means that Jo probably kicked him.

“Mhmm,” Thor said and nodded his head as he put the bowls on the table. “Jo prays to me often, and your union brings me great joy.”

“That’s why you’re my favorite god,” Jo said in the same serious voice that Thor had used. This morning just keeps getting weirder.

“Indeed. Now, feast!” You didn’t have to tell her twice. Darcy immediately started filling her plate, but she never eats as much as the others. Thor and Bruce eat the most, but Steve and Jo aren’t too far behind. The rest of breakfast was mostly quiet, because everyone was busy stuffing their faces, and Darcy kept sneaking glances over at Jo. The mutant looked perfectly content in Bruce’s lap, and she had her feet tucked under Tony’s thigh. Good. Darcy’s pretty sure that the world would explode if Jo and Tony separated.

“I have an order from Director Fury.” The whole room seemed to tense at Maria’s words, but the agent looked just as chill as always.

“We beating someone up?” Jo asked around her pancakes.

“Agents Barton and Romanoff need to be assessed before they are cleared for field work, and he would like for Captain Rogers and Eris to assist,” Maria explained.

“I call Clint!” Jo rushed out. Clint high-fived her, and Steve looked across the table at Natasha. The assassin nodded, just once, and a decision was made.

“Do you need me in the lab?” She’s looking at Tony, who’s looking at Pepper, so she kicked him under the table.

“Ow! What?!” He’s pouting, which means it didn’t really hurt. Maybe she should kick him a little harder next time.

“Do you need me in the lab?”

“Why?” Pepper’s looking back and forth between them, and she looks like a nice enough person.

“I wanna watch Jo and Steve take on Clint and Natasha.” It’s something that she needs to see.

“Fair enough. I guess I can survive without your assistance for a few hours,” Tony huffed. Such a drama queen.

“Let’s get this party started!” Jo swooped down to give Bruce a quick kiss and then she was sprinting out of the room with Clint hot on her heels. Steve helped Maria to her feet, and the agent held onto his arm as they slowly left the room. Looks like Maria is out of her wheelchair. Darcy slowly pushed her chair back and got to her feet, and she looked down at Thor.

“I will attend to the cleaning and then join you,” the god said with a wide smile. She watched him gather up all the dishes in one go before cheerily leaving the room, he was whistling, and she shook her head with a smile.


“Natasha.” When Darcy looked over, the two redheads were staring each other down. It looked like they were having some sort of conversation, but neither one of them is telepathic as far as Darcy knows. Well, Natasha might be.

“Darcy. Let’s go.” Darcy snapped to attention and fell into step beside Natasha, but she didn’t say anything until they were in the elevator.

“So, what was with the glaring back there?” That’s not the most casual way of asking things, but there’s no point in trying to be subtle with Natasha. Natasha always knows.

“Pepper and I are old friends. That’s just how we say hello,” was Natasha’s cryptic answer. Eh, she’ll just ask Jo later. The mutant can’t say no to Darcy’s puppy eyes.

“Go, team!” When they walked into the gym, Jo and Steve were standing side-by-side and holding onto Clint’s feet so that they could lift him into the air. Steve and Jo flexed at the same time, and Clint did a few backflips in midair before landing perfectly on his feet.

“Playtime is over, kids. It’s time to get to work.” Jo and Clint groaned at Natasha’s no-nonsense voice, and Steve ducked his head to hide his smile. Darcy moseyed over to where Maria was sitting and took the chair next to her, and she settled in to watch the show.


“Okay, I’m going to take Tony’s lunch up to him before he passes out,” Darcy said with a small roll of her eyes. Jo can sympathize because she’s been feeding the genius for a few months now, and it still amazes her that someone so smart can forget about something so simple as eating.

“I’ll be up later, kiddo. I wanna go check on Bruce first.” She’s got that warm feeling in the bottom of her stomach again, and she can’t seem to stop smiling.

“Hey, since you’re with Bruce, does that mean I get to two Christmases?” Darcy was paused in the kitchen doorway and smiling, and Jo chugged down a little more water.

“We still live together, so, no.”

“Ugh, you guys are so unfair,” Darcy whined out as she left. Jo can still feel the happy brainwaves coming off of Darcy though, so she knows the kid is happy for her and Bruce. Jo drank down the rest of her water, because Clint really did a good job of kicking her ass. Both of the agents are cleared now, and that’s all that really matters. There haven’t been any more side effects, and Jo’s hoping it stays that way.

“JARVIS, is Bruce in his lab?” She’s pretty sure that’s where he was headed after breakfast.

“Hulk is currently in sub-basement two.”

“Is he okay?”

“He is quite alright, Miss Jo. I would have alerted you if anything was amiss.” JARVIS sounded almost offended, and Jo rolled her eyes. JARVIS was nowhere nearly Tony’s level of divadom, but it’s pretty easy to tell who his creator is.

“I know you would have, buddy, but it never hurts to ask. I guess I’m going downstairs then.” She tapped her foot as she rode the elevator down, because she’s just a tiny bit anxious. Hulk shouldn’t be as angry as the day before, so maybe she’ll get a chance to see him do his thing. She’s normally with Tony when Hulk spars with Thor, and she has to concentrate on her own opponents when they go out to fight.

When she stepped off the elevator, the corridor was empty. She could hear Hulk’s growling voice farther down, so she quietly made her way towards his voice. She could’ve made noise and announced herself, since Hulk likes her just fine, but she’s curious. There weren’t any sounds of fighting or smashing, just the sound of Hulk’s rumbling voice. Jo stopped where the corridor opened into a cavernous room and, since Hulk’s back was to her, took a good look around. The room had giant rocks and metal beams, along with some giant metal balls and boxes, but Hulk wasn’t messing with any of that. Instead he was sitting on the ground, with his back to the corridor where Jo was standing so she couldn’t get a good look at what he was doing. So she listened.

“Th-ey…ro-ar-ed…th-eir…terrrrible…ro-ars…an, and…g-g-nashed…th-eir…terrrrrible…teeeeeth.” Even as choppy as Hulk’s speech was, Jo could recognize the line. If she closed her eyes, she’d be able to hear her Ma whispering into her ear, “And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth.”

“Hulk?” She watched the way the giant muscles bunched under his green skin, and she smiled when green eyes peeked over his shoulder. He looked like a kid who’d just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Jo had to blink rapidly to get rid of her stupid tears.

“Jo sneak up on Hu-…me.” Jo blinked at that and gently looked into Hulk’s mind.

“I was teaching him how to speak properly before we came here, but sometimes he forgets when there’s a lot going on. We’re working on it again. He’s getting better,” Bruce said quietly. It was so weird hearing Bruce without seeing him, but Jo understood what he was saying. Lately whenever Hulk made an appearance, it was in a high-stress situation. Except for when he was sparring with Thor, but he was usually too busy fighting then to have a chat.

“Not stupid, Banner.”

“I know you’re not stupid. Jo knows it too.” Hulk was still looking at her, and Jo watched the way his eyes flashed from brown to green as the two talked.

“I’ve known it all along. So, Hulk, will you read to me? Where The Wild Things Are is my favorite book.” Hulk huffed and turned back around, which Jo took as an invitation. She walked around the big guy and after a moment of thinking decided to just go for it. Bruce was Hulk and Hulk was Bruce; she was safe with both of them. She crawled up and sat on top of one thigh, and Hulk’s giant hand rested against her side so he could hold her against him. Jo pulled her legs up and pressed her cheek against his stomach, and the position was insanely comfortable. Jo was a tank, so she didn’t need anyone else to make her feel safe. Sitting in Hulk’s lap and being surrounded by the big green guy was the safest she’d felt in a long time.

“Hu—I start at the beginning?” The book was in the air in front of Hulk’s face, courtesy of JARVIS.

“That’s the best way to start a story.” She smiled up at him, and Hulk huffed as the first page showed.

“The…night…Max…wo-re…his…w-wol-f…s-uu-t.” Jo closed her eyes and let Hulk’s measured breathing rock her, and she let Hulk read at his own pace. When he finished and wanted to read it again, but didn’t want to say that he wanted to read it again, Jo asked for him to tell the story one more time. Then another time. And come on, big guy, one last story time? Jo wasn’t sure how long they sat in the basement with Hulk reading, but he got it to the point where he knew every word. There were no more pauses or mix-ups; he could read it perfectly, complete with sound effects.

“Where he found his supper waiting for him, and it was still hot,” Hulk finished. Jo twisted around to look up at the big guy and grinned as big as she could. Hulk looked so proud of himself, Jo could feel it reverberating inside of his mind and mixing with Bruce’s own pride, and she felt herself tearing up again. This whole crying thing really needed to stop.

“Good job, big guy!” She wanted to say more, about how ridiculously awesome Hulk was, but she was still worried about the waterworks.

“I did good job?” She could see, from Hulk’s memories, a small little Bruce reading alone. Sometimes his mother would kiss his cheek and tell him that he was a good little boy, but Bruce always had to hide. He started reading at such a young age, and it just made his father that much more suspicious. And abusive. Yeah, okay, that was definitely a tear tickling her cheek. Before any more could squeeze out, Jo got to her feet and was able to climb up Hulk’s body. He gave her a boost so that she was sitting on his shoulder, and she dropped her forehead to his temple for just a moment.

“You did an amazing job, Hulk. I knew you could do it, and I’m so proud of you.” She placed a gentle kiss on Hulk’s cheek and then nuzzled against the spot. The big guy was starved for affection, she could feel that now. The only touch he knew came from bullets and bombs, and it wasn’t fair. Hulk deserved kindness, and Jo was going to make sure he got it.

“Jo likes me.” She laughed at the sound of his smug tone, and she felt Bruce shifting inside of his mind. She knew he was aware of everything, but he was letting Hulk stay in control.

“Of course I do. Don’t tell Bruce, but you’re my favorite.” Hulk huffed, but Jo could tell he was happy. “Now, how about reading me another story?”

“If you want,” Hulk huffed out.

“I do,” Jo said quickly. Hulk reached up to lay a hand over her thighs, keeping her steady, as JARVIS pulled up another book. Jo settled herself more comfortably on Hulk’s shoulder and waited for storytime to begin.


“Rise and shine!” Jo startled awake and nearly head-butted Tony as she jumped up, and she glared over at the smirking billionaire.

“How’d I get here?” She’s definitely in Tony’s lab, but the last thing she remembers is…Hulk! She was having storytime with Hulk.

“Bruce dropped you off about two hours ago. Said he was working on something noisy and didn’t want to disturb your precious slumber,” Tony said with the worst British accent she’s ever heard.

“He did not say that!” She tossed one of the little pillows on the couch at Tony’s head, but he easily caught it and threw it back to her.

“He said something close to it. It was so adorable I nearly swooned!” Tony put a hand to his forehead and made to fall backwards, and Jo took the opportunity to throw the pillow as hard as she could at his chest. The force caused him and the chair to topple backwards, and Jo was still snorting laughter when Tony crawled onto the couch and tried to smother her with the same pillow.

“Okay, okay, you win!” Tony sat back on her thighs and tossed the pillow onto the other end of the couch, and Jo relaxed back against the cushions.

“So, what’d you wake me up for?” Jo drawled out.

“Steve’s waiting on you to cook dinner.” Jo felt her eyes widen and then she was pushing Tony off of her. He toppled back onto the couch with a quiet oof, so Jo smacked a kiss against his forehead before sprinting from the room. She broke into a run as soon as the elevator doors opened and slid into the kitchen.

“I was starting to think you weren’t going to show,” Steve said with a smile. They’re making homemade pizzas, and Steve’s already kneading the dough.

“Like I’d miss out on quality Cap time. Nuh-uh, no way,” Jo said as she made her way over to him. Steve gave her a task, and she started going through the motions of making dough. He’s a good leader, even when it comes to something as simple as making a pizza. Or several pizzas.

“So, Bruce.” Jo could hear the hint of a question, but she doesn’t look into most people’s minds without permission.

“Yep,” she nodded.

“I think you’re good for him. He relaxes more around you,” Steve said quietly. He’s right. Bruce is pretty relaxed around her and Tony, but sometimes he still gets a little tense around the others. Like he’s waiting for them to be afraid of him. To decide they don’t want him around. Which is ridiculous, because Bruce is super chill and Hulk is awesome.

“I think it’s because I’ve never been scared of Hulk, you know? And we’ve been spending a lot of time together,” Jo shrugged. They don’t normally talk about Jo’s personal life during these moments; not because Steve doesn’t care, but he understands that some things are private. He knows that if she wants to talk about something, she will.

“I’m happy for both of you.” Steve’s smile was blinding, and Jo wondered if he was thinking of Peggy. From the stories she’s heard, the woman was amazing. She’s pretty sure that if Steve had never been frozen, he would’ve married her and fought next to her side until they both needed hip replacements. Life never seems to work out right though. Steve deserves happiness.

“Thanks.” She’s not blushing. It’s just really hot in the kitchen because of the oven.

“But if he breaks your heart, I have to break something of his.” Jo’s laugh was startled out of her, because Steve is still smiling at her.

“Gonna have to play the part of big brother, huh?” Steve ruffled her hair a little and put an arm around her shoulders, and Jo relaxed against the super soldier. Steve normally isn’t big on hugging or cuddling, so she’s going to enjoy this while she can.

“I always wanted a little sister,” Steve mused.

“Really? I always thought having a big brother would be cool.” She looked up at him so that he could see her smile and then his face turned serious.

“Have you told Logan yet?” She groaned as she turned to bury her head against Steve’s side, which meant that her forehead was kinda in his armpit, but she didn’t care because she’s going to have to tell Logan that she’s dating Hulk. That is not going to be a fun conversation. Logan’s kinda like her father figure, and he’s convinced that no one is good enough for her.

“Ugh, that conversation is going to suck so hardcore!” she whispered. She could feel Steve laughing, so she pushed back and lightly punched his shoulder. “Go ahead! Laugh at my pain!”

“Go tell Bruce that dinner is ready.” She was about to protest, because JARVIS alerts everyone when it’s dinner time, but then she understood what Steve was doing. He’s giving her a little extra time to spend with Bruce, because he’s awesome like that.

“Aye, aye, Captain!” She snapped off a salute before exiting the kitchen, and she hummed quietly under her breath as she danced in the elevator up to Bruce’s lab. The doctor didn’t move at all when she walked inside, so Jo assumed he was hyper focused and didn’t even notice her presence. His back was to her too, so all she could see was the loose sweatpants he was wearing and a white lab coat. His head was bent over a microscope, and his shoulders looked tense as he worked. Jo had an urge to go work the knots out…and then she realized, she could. She was allowed to touch and soothe, because they’re together now, right?

Without saying anything, she walked across the lab and settled her hands on Bruce’s shoulders. He tensed up for just a moment before relaxing, and Jo smiled when he didn’t even look away from his microscope. She could feel his mind and was completely confused by all the thoughts racing through it, so she just focused on what she was good at. Which right now meant massaging the tense knots out of his shoulders and back. After a few minutes, Bruce sat up and leaned back. The back of his head pressed against her sternum, and Jo swooped down to press a kiss against his forehead. Right under his curls.

“Dinner is ready.” Bruce spun around on his stool and just looked up at her, and Jo shuffled a bit under the scrutiny. “It’s just pizza, so it’s nothing special. Well, it’s pizza cooked by Captain America, so maybe it’s a tiny bit special. The man knows his sauces.”

“You…you stayed with him,” Bruce said quietly. He was looking at her from under his hair; it was a move that Jo knew well. Whenever she felt shy, or scared, or vulnerable, she hid under the weight of her hair. It was one of the reasons why having it shaved off had been so horrible.

“Hulk? He’s a great storyteller,” she said with a gentle smile. Bruce’s mind was moving too fast for her to really focus, so she couldn’t tell if Hulk was listening or not.

“He’s sleeping right now,” Bruce said, as if he was the one that could hear thoughts. Or maybe she crossed over without realizing it? She’s really got work on this telepathy thing.

“He sleeps a lot. Is that normal?” It seemed like if Hulk wasn’t physically out, for the most part, he was sleeping.

“He’s never really had a chance to sleep. Before, when he was locked in the dark, I don’t think he could sleep.” Bruce wouldn’t meet her eyes, but Jo thought she understood. Hulk was always awake and hidden away, just waiting for a chance to come out. To come out of the dark. At least, that’s what she was picking up.

“Don’t sweat it, Doc. You’re makin’ up for all that now. I mean, you’re teachin’ him how to read. He’s pickin’ up pretty fast too.”

“I was thinking of moving to chapter books next week. I just, you stayed with him. You encouraged him. I wanted to say thank you.” Bruce looked so sweet and shy, like he was still worried about rejection, and how could Jo resist that? She grabbed fistfuls of his hair and molded her lips to his, and she sighed once she felt strong hands gripping her hips. She pulled back but stayed close, so that their noses brushed and she could still feel his breath on her lips.

“Don’t ever thank me for doing what any decent person would do. I know some people out there might not realize it, but Hulk’s just another guy. A big green guy, sure, but he’s no different than the rest of us.”


“He thinks, he feels, and he understands. That makes him no different than the rest of us. If he wants someone to read to, I’ll be there. No matter what.” Bruce cleared his throat as his hands flexed against her hips, and Jo’s lips quirked at the sound.


“Right after you lose the lab coat,” she said as she stepped back. Bruce’s hands just hovered in the air over the empty space where her body was before he reached up to pull at his lab coat. “Fuck, Doc, are you tryin’ to kill me?”

“What?” The white lab coat was resting on his now empty stool, and Jo shook her head at the confused looking doctor. One day the man would realize just what kind of effect he had on her.

“Do you always go shirtless under the lab coat? Or is this a special occasion?” He looked down at his bare torso and let his hand rest against his naked stomach. Jo had to remind herself that there was a perfectly good meal waiting downstairs, and she wasn’t sure how the Doc would feel about dirtying up his lab.

“Oh, I just came up after Hulk went to sleep and I must have forgotten to grab a shirt.” His hand ruffled up his hair, giving him that porcupine look that should not be arousing, and Jo groaned as she turned around to head back to the elevator.

“You should forget more often but right now it’s dinnertime. So we’re gonna grab you a shirt for now and maybe later we can have dessert,” Jo said as she stepped into the elevator. Bruce followed in after her, with a confused look and his stupid hair.

“Oh? What’d you make for dessert?” Jo listened as the elevator doors closed with a quiet whoosh and then pulled Bruce’s lips to hers. She didn’t let him go even after hearing the doors open, and she only stopped after JARVIS said he wasn’t going to keep the door open for them any longer.

“Hurry it up, Doc, I’m starving.”


“Okay, so, let me make sure I’ve got this right. Tony has always been in love with Pepper, but they didn’t start dating until after he became Iron Man. As a result, Tony only focused on how awesome Pepper was and buried all the horrible things that happened to him. And that kept happening to him. Pepper knew what he was doing but didn’t know how to help, until you showed up. She trusted you to keep him safe, so she dumped him in order to make him face up to all the bad stuff that happened. And now that he’s doing better she’s back.”

“That about sums it up, yeah,” Jo said with a slow nod. Darcy hummed and looked off into the distance, so Jo left her to her thoughts. They’re lying around on Darcy’s bed because Darcy asked Jo up after dinner, and Jo can’t really say no to Darcy’s puppy eyes. Then again, if she hadn’t followed after Darcy, she probably would have jumped Bruce in his lab.

“She just wanted to help him, right? Because if she’s here to hurt Tony, we’ll have to kill her.” Darcy sounded so serious that Jo couldn’t help her quick bark of laughter, and she reached over to lightly pat the top of Darcy’s head to stop the kid from pouting.

“We can’t kill her, because that would make Tony sad. Besides, she still loves the idiot so we don’t have anything to worry about.” Pepper showed up at dinner and talked a little more to everyone, but Jo didn’t miss the way that the redhead and her boss looked at each other. She just really hopes that Tony doesn’t get his heart broken.

“Fine. But I’m keeping an eye on her.” Jo hooked an arm around Darcy’s neck and pulled her closer, and she held in her laugh when Darcy started struggling to get away.

“You’re such a good kid. Best lovechild ever,” Jo said and loosened her hold. Darcy slumped against her and took in a few slow breaths.

“Darcy! I have acquired the mallows of the marsh!” Jo twisted around to see a beaming Thor standing in the doorway, and he’s holding the biggest bag of marshmallows that Jo has ever seen. A familiar bag of marshmallows.

“Did Maria help you out?” Jo asked as she stood up. Darcy is still lying spread out across her bed, but she is laser focused on the bag of marshmallows.

“Lady Maria was a great help, yes,” Thor said with another wide smile.

“We’re making s’mores tonight!” Darcy yelled and suddenly darted past Jo. Thor scooped her up as soon as she was in grabbing range and tossed her onto his shoulder, and Darcy cheered as they left the room. “To Clint and the chocolate!”

“Kids these days,” Jo muttered and slowly made her way out of the room. Steve and Maria were waiting for the elevator, and Thor and Darcy were nowhere in sight.

“Feeling old, Jo?” Maria teased as she stopped next to the pair. The agent was holding onto Steve’s arm to help stay upright, and Jo raised an eyebrow.

“You know we’re the same age, right?”

“I’m older than you,” Maria reminded her. Older by about six months.

“I’m older than both of you,” Steve said just as the doors opened.

“Yeah, you look it too.” Steve and Maria both looked over at her, but she kept her eyes trained forward and commanded her face not to smile. She heard Maria snort out a laugh a second later and then Steve huffed at her. “Have fun making s’mores! And try not to burn the house down!”

“You mean like you burned down that one dignitary’s summer home?!” was Maria’s parting reply. Jo could follow them into the backyard and explain about how that was most definitely not her fault, but Maria’s never believed her. Plus, she’s really thirsty. She chugged down a bottle of water in the empty kitchen and then decided to go check on Tony. She’s missed him today.

“Jo.” The mutant paused out in the foyer and met a pair of clear blue eyes.

“Pepper.” The woman looks just as flawless as always and has one of those little smiles that always seems to hover around her lips, and Jo shifted her weight onto her right foot.

“I never thanked you, for helping him.” It was right on the tip of Jo’s tongue to just say that it was her job and smile like she always did, but she held back. She might never get another chance to say this.

“He didn’t just break after you left. He shattered. The only way to help him was to grind him into dust and rebuild him from scratch. I had to listen to his screams, night after night. I’ve seen you fall into the fire so many times that sometimes I feel responsible for what happened. I hold him at night because he’s still covered in cracks, and it’s only going to take one strong wind to break him down all over again. I need to know that you’re not bringing a storm with you.”

“Will you read my mind? I don’t know how to say what I felt before I left, or how I’ve felt since leaving. Will you?” Jo took a few steps forward, until she was close enough to reach out and touch the other woman, and looked straight into her eyes. It took a moment, but images slowly started filtering in.

A younger Tony, minus the iconic facial hair, is looking her dead in the eye. She made sure to dress in her most unflattering business suit, because she wants this job to be based on her skills. After what feels like an eternity, Stark clicks his tongue and spins away on a heel.

“Try to keep up!”

The scene fades out and is replaced with a series of flickering images. Tony arguing with people older than him and winning. Tony laughing with food still in his mouth. Tony ordering flowers on the anniversary of his parents’ death; Pepper had to deliver them. A series of women that never last more than a few hours. Tony’s cocky smile fading when he’s alone.

Tony’s standing in front of her, and she knew it. She knew he couldn’t really be dead, like they all told her. She’d be able to feel it, because the world would change without Tony Stark in it. He’s here, standing close enough that she could touch him, but he’s different. There’s something in his dark eyes that she doesn’t like. The light in them has dimmed, like a part of him has been chipped away.

That was right after Tony returned from Afghanistan. That’s when he began to change; that’s when everything started to change.

She nearly got blown up, but now she’s standing on top of a rooftop and parts of the city are on fire. She’s completely freaking out, she can’t handle all of this anymore, and Tony’s talking about how he did okay while things are still exploding. Now he’s being reasonable and rational, which always seems to calm her down, and her mind is still spinning. Then he’s right there and he’s finally kissing her, and it’s better than she ever imagined. When she looks at him again, she can see the light in his eyes. It’s almost like looking at the old Tony Stark, but he looks a little softer around the edges. How long has she been in love with him? Was there ever a time when she didn’t love him?

Then Manhattan happened. She lost him after that, even if they did share a bed every night. He was lost in memories and fear, and she couldn’t reach him. When he looked at her, he was fine. The moment his eyes closed, he was gone again. Instead of trying to deal with it, he lost himself in work and in her eyes. That’s when the cracks started widening, and Killian picked the perfect time to strike.

At night, she can still feel the fire. The fire stroking across her skin is nothing compared to the flames racing through her veins. Even after the Extremis is removed, she can still feel the way her body strained to hold in the power she was never meant to possess. She knows that Tony can’t look at her without feeling like he failed her, despite the fact that he’s the one that removed the Extremis. He still looks at her like she can save him, but she can’t. She keeps trying, but she doesn’t know how to save him from himself. She’s spent so many years taking care of him, but she doesn’t know how to take care of him now. He’s falling apart, and she’s helpless.

Jo showed up right in the nick of time. Pepper couldn’t leave Tony alone, but who could she trust to take care of him? To help him? Pepper didn’t know Jo, but she knew the mutant would keep him alive. And she was right. She’s not sure how bad it got, but she knows that Jo was able to finally help him. To pull him out of the fire and the darkness.

She cries at night. Every night. She devoted her life to Tony Stark and turning away from him is the hardest thing she’s ever done. In the light of day, she knows that she made the right decision. She’s not going to be the one that saves him. At night, when all the lights are out and her room is quiet, she doubts herself. Doubts her decision to leave. She wants to be at his side. She misses her lover. She misses her friend. Tony’s the only person she’s ever been able to call hers, and he’s the only person she’s ever allowed to have a piece of her. She cries from the loneliness. She cries because she’s ashamed of her own selfishness, that she considers ruining his progress just so she can stand next to him again.

As soon as the sun rises, her tears dry up and she smiles. She is not going to be the one that saves Tony Stark, but she is the one that made it possible for him to be saved.

Jo stutters out a breath, because it’s almost too much. She’s never been a fan of feeling someone else’s emotions. The depth of Pepper’s emotions can drown her if she’s not careful.

Tony agrees to meet her for lunch, and Pepper can feel her heart beating in her throat. She’s afraid that it’s too soon, but she misses him. Surely they can still be friends? When he arrives, Pepper can see the light in his eyes before he catches sight of her. He might not be completely out of the dark, but he’s making progress. He smiles when he sees her, so wide that his eyes crinkle, and Pepper instantly relaxes. Tony has always made her feel comfortable, safe, needed, loved. He orders water instead of scotch, and she’s not sure if she’s ever seen his eyes so clear.

“It’s so good to see you, Tony.” She means every word, and she doesn’t cry that night. She made the right decision, and it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. She still misses him, still loves him, but she made the right decision.

“Do you understand now?” Jo blinked and rubbed the tears out of her eyes, and she slowly nodded. Pepper Potts just might be the toughest person she knows. Jo’s not sure she’d be able to function if she felt the way Pepper has felt since leaving Tony, but the other woman has carried on as normal.

“Yeah, I understand.” All Pepper has ever wanted is for Tony to be safe, to be happy, to be loved.

“Thank you.” This time when Pepper said it, Jo knew what she was really saying. Thank you for saving him when I couldn’t. Pepper lightly touched her shoulder as she walked past, and Jo turned to watch her walk away.

“He still loves you too, you know. He doesn’t remember when he started loving you, because it feels like he’s always loved you.” Pepper was looking over her shoulder, and Jo saw her smile. It wasn’t one of her polite smiles, this one was real. There was even a little bit of color in her cheeks. She didn’t say anything else, but Jo was pretty sure she got her point across.

She was still smiling to herself when she walked into Tony’s lab, until she got a look at the genius. He looked the same as always, in a dirty tank top with his hair all messed up and greasy. There’s something about him though, something a little off. It’s almost like he’s glowing. Wait a minute, glowing…why does that sound familiar?

“Oh my God! You had sex!” Tony’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open, but it looks like the man has finally been reduced to speechlessness. Jo doubled over in laughter and laughed until tears streaked down her cheeks, and she could hear Tony laughing as he hugged her to him.

“Is everything okay?” They both looked over to see Bruce standing in the doorway, and she can understand why he looks concerned. Her and Tony are hugging with tear tracks on their faces, and they both cracked up again as Bruce kept looking at them. “I guess everything is okay.”
♠ ♠ ♠
I know this chapter was really long and probably a lot to take in, so just take a moment and let it all sink in. I know a lot happened, so please let me know if there's anything that doesn't make sense. This chapter was written in two sittings, which means I kinda spaced out and just let the words flow. So if anything seems weird, that's why. Leave a comment or send me a message if there's anything you want to talk about!