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02 November 2012 @ 04:48 pm
Fic: The Door To Nowhere - R, Gen, Drama, Horror, Darcy, Pepper, Bruce & Tony  
Halloween fic for everyone! When I started this, I just wanted to write a little haunted house fic. Three weeks later I had more than 13,000 words. I almost doubled my record monthly word count. This is the second longest piece of fanfic I have ever written in my life. And, though this fic is Gen, I totally ship Darcy/Bruce now. Now go search the phrase ‘Door To Nowhere’ on the internet and see what comes up.

Thanks to the amazingly awesome rhymephile, who turned this thing around for me in two days.

Summary: If only Darcy had listened to Tony and not gone down into that part of the basement. Now the nightmares won’t stop, even when she’s awake. -- Gen, Drama, Horror with Darcy, Pepper, Bruce, Tony & a little Coulson. Rated ‘R’ for vivid nightmares about imprisonment and torture. 13,463 words.

Dedication: For all my Flisties for Halloween, the most wonderful time of the year! And for liptonrm and vikingprincess for basically getting me to discover the awesome of Darcy in the first place.


Title: The Door To Nowhere
Author: The Artful Dodger / dodger_sister
Fandom: Avengers
Category: Gen, Drama, Horror
Characters/Pairing: Darcy, Pepper, Bruce, Tony & a little Coulson.
Rating: R
Warnings: Mild language, possession and vivid nightmares about imprisonment and torture.
Spoilers: Mildly for the Avengers movie.
Summary: If only Darcy had listened to Tony and not gone down into that part of the basement. Now the nightmares won’t stop, even when she’s awake.
Word Count: 13,463 words.
Date Written: October, 2012
Disclaimer: Avengers belong to Marvel and Stan Lee. Not me. I wrote this fic though and yet I am a lot poorer than Stan Lee. It’s all for fun, not profit.
Feedback: Bring it. dodger_sister / TheArtofDodger@comcast.net
Beta’d: By the amazingly awesome rhymephile, who turned this thing around for me in two days. Seriously, you guys.
Author's Notes: I don’t know what happened here. I wanted to write a little haunted house story for Halloween. The next thing I knew I had 13,000 words. In less than three weeks. I broke my monthly word count record by almost 5,000 words on this fic alone. This is the second longest piece of fanfic I have ever written. I blame Darcy and Bruce - it was too much fun writing them together. I totally ship them now. I am kind of blown away by how this fic came pouring out of me. As for the title, I wasn’t sold on it until I researched the phrase ’Door to Nowhere’ and found out that is the name of the door in The Winchester Mystery House that literally opens up to nothing but a 12 foot drop to the outside. Now the title seems perfect. I did look into the song ’Haunted’ by Evanescence because that song so fits this story, but none of the phrases worked very well. Also, I gave myself nightmares and a few jump scares writing this fic, which is just awesome. Thanks go to the 'Supernatural Wiki' for the exorcism spell.
Dedication: For all my Flisties for Halloween, the most wonderful time of the year! And for liptonrm and vikingprincess for basically getting me to discover the awesome of Darcy in the first place.



The house is looming over them, up on a hill and blocked partially from view by old dead trees with barren branches, save for the crows sitting on them.

It looks like something straight out of a horror movie and Darcy shakes her head vehemently and moves back in the direction of the car.

“Uh-uh, no way,” she says and pushes past Agent Coulson.

“What’s the problem?” he asks and doesn’t even try to hide his exasperation.

“It’s looking at me,” she says and holds up her hand to stop the driver from unloading her bags.

“It’s looking at you?” Coulson repeats and glances back at the house. “The house is looking at you?”

“Hey!” Darcy hollers and turns on him, one finger pointed right at his nose. “Don’t say it in that voice.”

“Which voice would that be?” he asks and Darcy knows damn well that he knows what voice.

“The ‘I am dealing with a crazy person’ voice. I am not a Norse God or a Super Soldier, so don’t patronize me.”

“You think the house is looking at you,” he tells her dryly and she hates how he makes her sound so irrational.

“You just…I’m not…” she sputters and Coulson just cocks his head at her in the most infuriating way.

“Do you want the job or not?”

And damn, but she does want the job. Spending the summer being a lab assistant to Tony Stark and Dr. Banner is one of the best opportunities she’ll ever get, not to mention if she walks away now she’ll burn her bridges with Coulson - and Darcy is smart enough to know he is a man she wants in her corner.

Just in case.

“Fine,” she says. “But the minute I get attacked by a murder of crows, I’m outta here.”

“Duly noted,” Coulson tells her and motions for the driver to finish retrieving her bags.

***

“You wanna do what now?” she asks rather incredulously and hands Tony the wrench he asked for. “Next you’ll be telling me you want to build a flux-capacitor.”

“Tried that already,” he says through the screwdriver in his mouth. “Anyways, no good if I don’t have a DeLorean for it.”

“I can never tell when you are joking,” she tells him and untwists herself from the pretzel she was sitting in on top of the lab table. Though, let’s be honest, calling this room a lab is kind of ridiculous.

She’s been at the Stark family home, in upstate New York, for a week now and she has learned one thing of great importance: this is Howard Stark’s home and Tony will never see it as anything but. Which is why he has refused to use any of the old workshops and instead insists they operate out of what apparently used to be a dining room, though it hardly resembles one now.

Truth be told, Darcy kind of wishes they had just set up shop in Stark Tower, despite the complete un-structural soundness since that whole ‘alien-god’ incident.

“Ms. Lewis,” Bruce says and Darcy turns to see him standing in the doorway of the room, a bowl in his hand.

“Dr. Banner,” she replies because even though Stark had basically yelled at her to just call him ‘Tony’ on the very first day, Bruce seems unable to stop referring to her as ‘Ms. Lewis’. She hopes it doesn’t take him the whole four months to relax around her.

“I hate to bother you, but we seem to be out of milk,” he says rather sheepishly, almost an apology.

Darcy doesn’t mind though; she knew this was the job when she took it. She’s grateful Tony is going to let a cleaning company come in once a week and do the heavy stuff, but she’s fine with grocery shopping and doing their laundry and basically keeping the place tidy, as long as she gets to keep observing their work as well. She’s positive no one ever learned so much while washing dishes.

Her only real complaint is that no one has blown anything up yet. These two are kind of infamous for it, after all.

“You need milk for your proton experiment?” she asks Bruce in all seriousness.

He just raises an eyebrow at her and holds out the bowl in his hand. “For my cereal,” he tells her.

“Oh. Yeah,” and now Tony has his hand out like he wants another tool so Darcy starts randomly handing him objects, waiting for the tell-tale sign of his fingers closing over the one he wants.

“I’d go get it myself, but…you know.”

Sadly, she does know because on the third day of her internship, Tony had decided that they all needed their own set of tools - no one was allowed to touch his father’s - and was insistent that they all go to town together. Bruce had shrugged it off and then he and Tony had engaged in a heated discussion in the corner of the room - which to be honest had made Darcy a little nervous. She already knew how easy it was to lose patience with Stark. It ended with Tony storming out of the house, hollering over his shoulder at Bruce, “You can’t hide forever, Banner! There is a great big world out there and eventually you’ll have to be a part of it!”

Bruce looked decidedly embarrassed but Darcy just smiled at him and said, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t buy you a crappy set just to be a brat about it,” before following after Tony.

“Boss,” she says now and turns her best puppy eyes on Tony. She kind of wants a chance to get out of the house.

“Yeah, sure, fine,” Tony says with a wave and then, “Get me scotch. The good kind.”

Darcy hops down from the table and follows Bruce into the large kitchen off to the side.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Bruce starts and then sighs when he sees her exasperated expression. “I’m just being polite!” he insists.

“What can I get you besides milk?” Darcy asks him and starts going through the cupboards. She was told that Pepper had someone come out and stock the place before they got there, but apparently two men can eat a lot of food in a week.

“Chamomile tea,” Banner says and rubs at the back of his neck when she looks at him.

“Trouble sleeping?’ she asks and then immediately holds up her hand. “Never mind, not my business.”

“The tea makes it so I don’t have trouble sleeping,” he tells her.

“Okay,” she says with a smile. “Chamomile tea and hot chocolate it is then.”

Bruce just raises another eyebrow at her and she shrugs. “It gets cold in my room at night. Like ‘the iceberg that hit the Titanic’-cold, you know. I even don’t mind so much when Stark wakes me up at two in the morning because he has an ‘idea’. At least the dining room isn’t so freaking freezing.”

She folds the shopping list into her pocket and looks up at the man. “Anything else? Last chance.”

Bruce just holds out his bowl of cereal, still clutched in his hand and says, “Some sort of cereal that doesn’t have a cartoon character on the front would be nice.”

“You’re no fun at all, Banner,” she tells him and heads out the door.

Later, she is slightly surprised and very grateful to find two large quilts stacked on the end of her bed.

It doesn’t seem to help much against the cold in her room though.

***

It’s Day Ten when something finally blows up. It isn’t nearly as exciting as Darcy thought it would be and mostly consists of her having to run around and shut off all the smoke alarms, which are insanely loud.

Bruce finds her in the kitchen, standing on a countertop, trying to reach the alarm over the refrigerator.

“Just come down,” he says and wraps surprisingly strong arms around her waist and sets her back on the floor with a little yelp. Then he reaches up and shuts off the alarm. “Should I ask?” he says and pulls a piece of burnt styrofoam out of her hair.

“We had an incident,” she tells him and holds up her hands. “Everything is fine now. We’re all fine here. Thanks. How are you?”

Bruce just stares at her and Darcy’s hands fly up to her hair.

“I’m not on fire, am I?” she asks him.

Bruce grabs the top of Darcy’s head, twisting her this way and that way before releasing her with a satisfied, “Nope,” and an even more satisfied smirk on his face.

“You,” she says and points a finger at him, “have been spending way too much time with Stark.”

“Darcy!” Tony hollers from the next room over and then appears in the doorway with an armful of what looks like the insides of a computer. “These seem to have inadvertently caught on fire. I need more from the storage rooms downstairs, on the left,” and he disappears from the doorway just as fast as he appeared with an added, “Make sure you stay to the left. Stay to the left!” just like he had insisted the first time he sent her down there.

“I will stay to the left!” she hollers back. “You got Sloth down there or something?”

“If I had a Baby Ruth bar, I’d throw it at your head!” Tony shouts back and Darcy grins for a moment before she remembers she has to go down in the dark, creepy basement that basically scares her more than the thought of falling out of an airplane, which actually scares her quite a lot.

She glances at Bruce and says, “No rest for the wicked, I suppose.”

“Indeed,” her tells her and picks more burnt ruins out of her hair as she walks past.

***

Every step down into the basement creaks and wails under her feet. She thinks maybe it would be less ominous if she just went faster, but she feels like she has to build herself up to this, give herself time to adjust to the way the air hangs heavier and yet somehow colder down here in the dark. The light over the stairs flickers and makes a hissing noise before calming back down again.

“It’s just a basement,” she tells herself but brings her arms up to cover her head. Basements have spiders after all and she has had enough random objects stuck in her hair today, thank you very much.

At the bottom of the stairs, she turns on the hanging light there and then veers left, keeping her eyes fixated on the door she needs to get to. It always feels like someone is watching her down here and she can almost imagine she hears breathing, but she knows it is just her own.

A cold breeze sweeps through the hallway, coming from behind and Darcy jumps and spins, heart lodged somewhere in her throat. There shouldn’t be a breeze in a basement that is completely closed off and she knows it feels wrong but Darcy is a logical person and she tells herself again that it is just a basement.

She pushes the door to the storage room open and almost feels better. This looks familiar, stacks of seemingly random objects piled against one another, all somehow just the treasure a man with Tony Stark’s brain can conjure. She pulls the light cord overhead and waits while this light too adjusts itself. She leaves the door open, claustrophobic at the thought of being shut in among all this junk, and goes about gathering up the items Tony needs.

After about five minutes, Darcy stops to sit on an old computer monitor and wipe the grime from her face. It’s dusty in this room and she suspects no one has touched these items in a very long time. As her hand wipes across her eyes, Darcy sees a flicker of something in the hallway, a shadow that seems to pass across the wall.

She blinks, slowly, and wills herself to look again.

There is nothing there.

Then she hears a scratching noise, far off but insistent and a chill runs up her spine so fast that she feels goosebumps on her scalp.

“It’s just a mouse,” she tells herself this time, but gathers up all the items she has procured so far and hurries herself along.

She still has one more thing to find but there aren’t any in this room, so she heads to the room across the hall. The door swings open when she pushes it with her foot, arms too full of items for her hands to be of much use. All that is in this room are empty boxes. Darcy takes one and pours her armload into it, then hoists it up and goes onto the last room on this side of the stairs. It turns out to be a defunct bathroom and Darcy honestly wonders who ever felt comfortable enough in this creepy-ass basement to take a dump with their pants around their ankles, though the image of Tony with his drawers dropped getting freaked out by a spider is mildly amusing.

Darcy takes her box and heads back towards the stairs, where she carefully places it on the bottom step. She looks down the hallway to the right and takes a deep breath. Tony had been pretty adamant that she stay to the left, but she knows he’ll get all hand-flappy if she doesn’t bring him everything he wants, and then he’ll tell her how Jarvis always finds him everything he needs.

Every time he compares her to Jarvis she gets the urge to tell him how she can do so many things for him that Jarvis cannot, but she is always terrified Stark’ll try to take her up on that offer.

At any rate, she is down here now and Darcy doesn’t relish the idea of having to come back later when Tony insists she go look again, so she decides just to take a peek and see if there is anything worthwhile in the other rooms.

It turns out to be one room.

It seems odd to her but there are no doors on either side of the hallway, despite it being roughly the same length as the hallway on the west side of the staircase. It’s darker down in this part of the basement too, no lights except for the one at the bottom of the stairs to guide her way.

It seems colder somehow and Darcy thinks about how the whole east side of the house actually seems colder to her. There is probably a scientific explanation for this but Darcy can’t think of it right now because her heart is skipping in triple-beats at the entire eerieness of the situation.

The insistent scratching has started up again, only this time it seems louder, almost frantic to get her attention.

“Pull your shit together, Lewis,” she mutters to herself and moves farther down the hallway, eyes scanning for any sign of another door.

Something flashes at the end of the hallway and she tries to tell herself that it was a mouse scurrying away, almost believes it now that the scratching has suddenly stopped, except for the fact that the white flicker of light was at eye-level.

“The light behind me just caught a glare off a spider-web,” she tells herself this time and thinks it is crazy that she actually wants it to be a spider.

She takes two steps closer and the scratching starts up again, even louder this time.

Another cold breeze sweeps past her and Darcy feels like there is ice in her veins.

That’s when she sees it…a door. It’s brown and looks like it is made of metal. There is a window, at eye-level, and she feels marginally better because clearly the flash she saw a minute ago was just a reflection.

She takes two more steps closer and realizes the tip of her nose is cold and her breath is actually ghosting out in front of her. Now she can see the door is made of metal and there is an old padlock and a large hinge bolted into it. It all looks rusted, but the padlock is still secure and all Darcy can think is that whatever was locked up in that room must still be in there.

She really wants to go back upstairs.

The scratching is even louder now and Darcy thinks that if it is a mouse, it just needs to be properly scared away.

“Hello?” she says softly. “Little mousey?”

The scratching stops abruptly.

She’s standing directly in front of the door now. It’s almost pitch black this far down the hallway, the light at the bottom of the stairs a soft glow behind her. She is just below the window, so Darcy pushes herself up on her tiptoes and tries to peer in.

The room is dark, too dark to see anything, and Darcy leans forward, tries to get a better view.

Then she feels it, behind her, on her back.

A hand. An icy hand that feels like it is sinking inside her body, through her.

It pushes her and Darcy loses her balance on her toes and goes crashing into the door.

She screams.

It’s shrill and deafening in the ominous silence. She reaches out with both hands and pushes herself off the door, spins on her toes and looks wildly back down the hallway.

There is nothing there. Just the light-bulb hanging at the bottom of the staircase, swinging back and forth and making shadows dance across the walls.

All Darcy can hear is her own ragged breathing and the sound of her heart jack-hammering in her chest.

Behind her, behind the door, the scratching starts up again.

She runs then, back the way she came, nearly tripping over the box at the bottom of the stairs. Darcy hefts it with both arms and runs up the staircase, every step moaning in protest under her feet as she goes.

She can hear the scratching the whole way up.

At the top of the stairs, she slams the door shut behind her and slides the all-too-flimsy chain-lock in place.

It’s only then that she realizes how badly she is shaking, the box clutched to her chest while the items inside bang against one another as her whole body trembles.

Darcy slides to the floor and stays there for a very long time.

***

She has the first nightmare that same night.

In it, everything is dark and black around her but she can feel something cold and metal against her wrists and somehow she knows that she is chained to the wall. When she tries to move, the chains drag across the ground and make a terrible scraping screech and Darcy cringes at the sound, afraid of attracting any unwanted attention.

The only light is coming from outside the room and it is with a shock that she realizes it is the window, high-up, on the door in the basement. It is with an even more terrifying shock that she realizes that she is on the other side of the door, inside the room.

Something flashes then and she looks up, sees someone shining a lantern or candle in through the window.

“Please?” Dream-Darcy says even as Real-Darcy is screaming in her head to keep quiet, not to speak to whoever or whatever is on the other side of the door. “Please, I’ll be good this time.”

The person on the other side of the door laughs, deep and echoing in the darkness. “I know you will, my sweet. I know you will.”

Darcy wakes up unable to breathe, legs twisted in the covers on top of her and the room is so cold, her sweat damp on her body, and she can see her own breath in the moonlight streaming in through the window.

She wants to cry, but she doesn’t.

Not then.

It isn’t until the third night in a row of having this same dream, of waking with her breath choked off and her wrists hurting from the phantom chains and the sound of his voice in her ears, that Darcy finally gives in and cries.

She lets the terrible anguish that she feels so heavily in her dreams wash over her as she sobs into her pillow.

It takes a long time for her to calm down.

***

Darcy still hasn’t told anyone about what happened in the basement. She has convinced herself to be logical and sound and that she had just imagined the hand on her back, worked up into a frenzy the way she was. There is nothing in the basement but mice and spiders and old dead memories.

There are certainly no ghosts.

In the daytime, in the bright summer sunlight and amid the buoyancy of Tony Stark and the behind-the-back grins of Bruce at his friend’s expense, Darcy almost believes herself. At night, before she turns off the bedroom lights, she chastises herself for her fear, for letting it run away with her. She has always had an active imagination, but if it is going to control her dreams, she would much prefer a naked Ryan Reynolds, thank you very much.

It takes her longer to fall asleep now, though the cold of the room doesn’t seem to come until she has. When she wakes; breath choked off, wrists aching, sweat stuck to every inch of her body, Darcy always has to will herself to roll over, to see that whoever invades her dreams is not there, in the room with her, watching her struggle in her sleep.

That none of it is real.

She never believes herself, in the dark of her room.

So the sixth night of terrible haunting dreams, she decides it would be better if she got out of the dark of her room. She gets up, still huddled under one of her quilts, and slides her feet into her favorite pink fuzzy slippers. She pads her way to the kitchen, flipping on every light switch as she goes, just for good measure.

She stops short when she finally gets to the kitchen, surprised to find Bruce there, huddled over a notebook and a cup of tea.

“I didn’t know anyone was up,” she says apologetically and feels suddenly silly for slinking about the house like a scared child with a bad dream.

Bruce looks up and his hair is mussed about and his glasses are askew, but he smiles at her. “Think I’m Tony tonight,” he tells her softly. “Woke up with an idea.”

Darcy snorts through her nose. “I promise not to tell him you’re stealing his shtick.”

Bruce smiles and pushes out the stool next to where he is sitting. Darcy scuffles over, rubs at her face to make sure there are no tear tracks there.

“Can’t sleep?” Bruce asks and his voice is so soft, Darcy wants to wrap herself up in it and drift into a more peaceful sleep. “Cold?” he asks then and pulls her quilt, slipping down around her shoulders, back up.

“Yeah, cold,” she says and then adds, “Nightmare too.”

“Would you like some hot chocolate?” he asks and gets up before she can answer.

“I can do that,” she says to him, as he starts fussing with the tea kettle.

Bruce turns what she thinks is supposed to be a stern face on her, but it just looks like he is trying to lift a boulder with his Jedi mind-powers. “Ms. Lewis,” he tells her, “you keep your little butt in that seat. Understood?”

“Yes, Dr. Banner,” she says in the most sarcastic sing-song voice she can mange at this hour.

Bruce goes about getting her hot chocolate and Darcy rests her elbows on the table, propping her head up with one hand. “You don’t suppose Stark would mind if I put some whiskey in that cocoa, do you?” she asks.

“That bad?” and Bruce sounds concerned, but he also gets the whiskey down and adds a bit to her cocoa cup.

“Have you ever had one of those dreams where it feels like it is you in the dream, except you have no control over yourself? And you keep telling yourself what to do but the dream-you just can’t seem to hear you? Like, watching yourself being a puppet?”

There is a long silence and when Darcy looks up, Bruce has an expression on his face like someone has punched him in the stomach with an iron fist.

He meets her eyes and there is something in his own that looks like drowning. “All the time,” he says. “Only I never wake up from mine.”

Darcy’s breath catches in her throat, different from the choked off feeling she has when she wakes from her nightmares, but somehow still just as horrible.

“I’m sorry,” she tells him, so soft, and he just smiles at her, sadder this time.

“Me too,” Bruce says before pushing her cup towards her and then gathering his own, taking it to the sink to rinse, though Darcy suspects it is just to put his back to her for a moment while he gathers himself.

When he is done, Bruce comes back over and sits down on the stool next to her again.

“You don’t have to sit up with me,” she says into the swirls of her hot chocolate.

“Drink your cocoa, Ms. Lewis,” he tells her and goes back to his notebook.

***

The nightmares get worse.

Now the person, the thing, shining a light in through the window has actually started coming into the room with her. She is still chained to the wall, though there is enough room for her to move a foot or so. It is instinct to pull away when the door opens, creaks and moans as he pushes his way inside, the candle light flickering off the wall.

Darcy always squeezes her eyes shut, doesn’t want to see him, or even the shadow of him, his features masked by the darkness. She knows he is coming closer and if she just opens her eyes, his face will be right there, right there for her to see.

She doesn’t want to see.

He touches her cheek with one cold sharp finger, trails it down to her neck. His fingernail presses into her flesh and Darcy wants so badly to pull away from the inhuman touch. She doesn’t dare though. She learned the hard way what happens if she pulls away from him. He will choke her, one hand wrapped so firmly around her neck, crushing her, while he whispers in her ear what a waste her short little life has been.

No, Darcy never pulls away now.

“Such a sweet little thing,” he hisses, breath icy against her cheek. “My sweet little thing.”

Darcy wants to scream, but she knows better than that now too.

She always wakes up at the same exact moment, right when he presses his cold fish-like lips to the shell of her ear and says, “Gonna taste so good.”

***

They are watching her.

She can feel it all the time, the way Tony and Bruce follow her every move, watch everything she does. She feels ashamed and she doesn’t even know why.

She knows there are dark circles under her eyes and she keeps her head bowed to hide them. At least, that’s what she tells herself. The truth is probably closer to how she just can’t look at them, is afraid they will see, see what he does to her, how he touches her and whispers terrible things in her ear and how she doesn’t even scream anymore.

Darcy jumps, shakes the whole table she is leaning against when Tony reaches over her shoulder from behind to grab his coffee cup.

“Whoa, there,” Tony says but it is right up against her ear and Darcy goes completely rigid and her breathing turns instantly shallow.

She doesn’t pull away though. She’s trained not to.

“So, you aren’t even going to attempt to spruce this place up before Pepper gets here?” Bruce suddenly demands from the other side of the room.

Darcy looks over to see Bruce staring at Tony, though his eyes quickly flicker to Darcy and then away again.

“What?” Tony asks and pulls away from Darcy, coffee cup now in hand.

“Maybe some flowers?” Bruce suggests and he is staring at Tony with an odd look on his face and one of his eyebrows raised.

There is a long silence that follows and Darcy watches in fascination as they literally have an entire conversation with just minimal facial expressions. Someone should really be studying these two.

“Oh!” Tony suddenly shouts and it is oddly comforting to Darcy, loud and unexpected as it is. “Right, flowers.”

“What?” Darcy asks Tony and then, “What are you two babbling about?” this time directed at Bruce.

“Trip to the store!” Tony shouts and Darcy side-eyes him. It was probably best that he didn’t try to hide the fact that he is Iron Man from the public because he is a terrible liar.

Still, a chance to get out of the house sounds really nice so she decides to let it go this once. “Okay,” she says. “We can go to the store.”

Which is how she finds herself in the car with Tony, listening to him chatter at Jarvis over the car’s computer about the new modifications he wants to make to Stark Tower. She falls asleep listening to Tony talk about temperature regulations.

For the first time in almost two weeks, Darcy sleeps soundly.

***

She wakes up to the jarring sound of someone slamming the trunk shut on the car. Darcy sits up and blinks, looks around her.

They are parked in the lot outside the local supermarket. The sun is shining down on her face and she is warm and sleepy. Darcy wonders how long she was asleep.

When she looks over at the driver’s seat, Tony is not there. She cranes her neck and looks behind her to see Tony coming around the back of the car, a ridiculous arrangement of flowers in his hand. He opens the door to the driver’s seat and leans in.

“Morning, sleeping beauty,” he says to Darcy and hands her the flowers. “These are for Pepper,” he tells her and then winks and adds, “As gorgeous as you are with the awesome bed-head.”

“What?’ Darcy says and balances the flowers with one hand while hastily patting down her hair with the other.

Tony gets in and starts the car and Darcy feels her confusion rise with her embarrassment. “What about the groceries?” she asks and Tony just smiles at her.

“I took care of it,” he says.

Darcy groans. “Oh no, no,” because the one time she had texted Tony on his way back from the city and asked him to pick up milk, he had returned with coffee creamer, Twinkies and porn magazines.

Not that she hadn’t appreciated the Twinkies.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” she says then.

“I thought you needed the sleep. Bruce says I have been waking you up in the middle of the night too often.”

“No, no,” she tells him quickly. “No, you haven’t.”

“Really?” he asks as he pulls the car out of the parking lot and heads back towards the house. “So, you are enjoying the job then?”

Darcy doesn’t know what to say. She is loving the job. She loves working with Tony and Bruce - like two polar opposites in the way they work and it is fascinating and amazing to be a part of.

But she really just wants to go home. She cries every night now, sometimes before she has even fallen asleep, before the dreams have even come yet. The house is dark and negative and she hates it. Oh, she hates it.

“I love the job,” she says at last and the little lines on Tony’s forehead disappear instantly, like he was actually worried about her leaving them. “I think I’m just terribly homesick,” she lies at the end.

“Oh,” Tony says. “I suppose that makes sense.” He doesn’t sound like he believes her though. “If there was anything else, you’d tell me?”

“Of course,” Darcy says and is grateful when he lets it go.

In fact, he doesn’t speak again until they get back to the house, which may be the longest stretch of time she has ever seen Tony be silent, because at the least he usually finds something to sing along with, at full volume.

She doesn’t realize that he has put the car into park at first. She is just staring up at the house and it still seems like it is looking at her, only now it almost seems to be mocking her, telling her that this is the time she enters and never gets to leave again.

“Are you having bad dreams?” and this breaks through to Darcy, startles her with how low and serious Tony’s voice sounds when he asks it.

“Wh-what?” she stutters out and keeps her gaze on the house, doesn’t want him to see how rattled she is by the question.

“You heard me.”

Darcy is taken aback by his tone, accusatory almost and she whips her head around to look at him. “Excuse me?”

“This house has that affect on people,” and he isn’t looking at her, instead gazing out the front window of the car very intently.

“There is this room in the basement…” she starts even though the words are getting caught in her throat, like she doesn’t really want to tell him her secret.

“I told you to stay to the left.”

“I did!” Darcy lies because Tony sounds angry and she has never heard him angry before. “I just saw the door and it spooked me and sometimes…sometimes I have bad dreams.”

Tony is staring at her with an expression she can’t place and he looks so very young all of a sudden, like a small child who is afraid of a monster in his closet.

“It’s no big deal,” she adds then, her voice quiet and unconvincing.

“Don’t go down in the basement anymore. Just…don’t,” and suddenly his whole face changes and he is smirking at her like nothing is wrong anywhere in the world. “We’ll just make Banner do it. Guy’s gotta be good for something, right?” and he winks at her before popping his door open and sliding out of the car.

Darcy feels sick to her stomach and she looks at the house and thinks about how she doesn’t want to go back in there. Tony walks past her with an armful of groceries and she knows she should get out, should help him because that is her job after all.

She takes a deep breath and reaches for her purse.

That’s when Darcy sees it…the communication button for Jarvis.

She pushes it before she realizes what she is doing.

“Good afternoon,” Jarvis says and somehow knows he isn’t talking to Tony because he adds, “And to whom am I speaking?”

“Uh, Darcy Lewis,” she says and wonders if Jarvis will tell on her.

“How may I help you, Ms. Lewis?” Jarvis asks her and Darcy is reminded of Bruce and smiles to herself.

“I was wondering if you have the floor plans for the Stark family residence?”

“I do,” Jarvis tells her. “Would you like me to look up something specific?”

“I just wondered if you knew what the room on the east side of the basement was used for? It looks like no one has been in there for a long time.”

There is a pause then and Darcy wonders if Jarvis is looking up the information, but she has never known Jarvis to have to pause for information, so finally she says, “Jarvis?”

“Yes, Ms. Lewis,” he answers. “I am sorry, but there is no room on the east side of the basement.”

“Uh, yeah there is,” she tells him incredulously. “I saw it.”

“I am afraid you are mistaken. There is no room on the east side of the basement.”

“What are you saying?” she asks and now she feels goosebumps break out on her skin. She knows there is a room down there. She saw it.

“I am saying that there is no room on the east side of the basement,” Jarvis tells her again.

“It’s not in the house plans?”

“There is no room on the east side of the basement.”

“Okay, okay,” she says quickly because she can’t hear him say it again. She can’t. “Thanks anyways.”

“Is there anything else, Ms. Lewis?”

“No, no, thanks.”

Jarvis’ communication light goes off and Darcy has to will herself not to vomit. The car seems to be spinning and she thinks maybe she is having a panic attack, when suddenly someone is tapping on the car window.

She looks up into the bright summer sunlight that she hadn’t noticed at all a minute ago and sees Tony smirking in at her.

He pops her door open and says, “Nap time is over, sweetheart. Time to get back to work,” before taking the flowers she had completely forgotten about out of her hand. “Come inside,” he says then and Darcy nods.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll just be a minute.”

She watches Tony walk back into the house and all she can hear is Jarvis in her head.

There is no room on the east side of the basement.’

...

Part Two here.