Pepper joins them at the house the next day and Darcy is actually happy for a little female companionship. Not that she gets any for the first few days. Both Tony and Pepper seem to disappear but sound travels easily in that house, so Darcy doesn’t have to guess what they are doing.
Darcy takes the time to work solely with Dr. Banner for awhile, something she hadn’t gotten the opportunity to do much before this. At one point she even convinces him to take a few hours off and go outside for a walk. They are out in the country, a bit away from any other houses, so Bruce seems almost relaxed about it, though he makes a face at her when she tells him that he hasn’t been getting enough sun anyways.
Eventually Tony does come out of his room, slightly disgruntled for a man who has been doing that for two days straight, and tells Bruce that Coulson called and is demanding some sort of Avengers meeting.
“Aliens?” Darcy asks. Then, “Dinosaurs? Oh, please say dinosaurs!”
“Legal matters,” Tony tells her and Darcy feels her whole face fall.
“I’m sure it’ll be boring enough for you to just completely tune out everything that Phil is saying anyways,” Pepper tells him.
“I usually do,” he answers and then looks at her sideways. “You aren’t coming? To see your good friend, Phil?”
“Sweetheart, let it go,” she tells him and pats his shoulder. “Anyways, I think Darcy and I should hang. Have a girls’ night.”
Darcy does think that sounds good, even if there is a part of her that is afraid to be in this house at night without Tony or Bruce.
“The two of you?’ Tony asks then. “Here, alone, together?”
“We’re big girls,” Pepper tells him and leans over to kiss him.
Tony kisses her back, but when he pulls away, he says, “That’s what I’m afraid of,” before walking out of the room with a snap of his fingers.
Bruce mills around at the lab table for a minute, just so Tony gets that he doesn’t answer to people snapping their fingers at him like he is a dog, before he starts to head out. He stops next to where Darcy is watching over Tony’s latest computer simulation and drops his voice low so Pepper can’t hear.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright here?” he asks and Darcy kind of hates that he could see her fear like that.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright going into the city?’ she asks him instead.
“No,” he answers simply.
Darcy hates the look on his face, so she reaches out and squeezes his hand in her own. “Yes, you will,” she tells him and somehow it makes her feel better too.
Bruce smiles his bittersweet sad smile at her and gives Pepper a nod as he leaves the room.
“Well, now that those two saps are gone,” Pepper starts and a grin spreads across her face, “what do you say you and I get down to business?”
Business turns out to be a frozen supreme pizza, a carton of double chocolate fudge ice cream and seemingly all of the movies John Hughes ever made.
Darcy is sitting on the couch, feet tucked up underneath herself. They’ve eaten all of the ice cream and Pepper has opened a bottle of wine and Darcy feels oddly warm.
“I never did,” she says again and Pepper shakes her head.
“But Tony says that you are a smart-mouth. How is it that you never got detention in high school?” Pepper asks her.
“I was raised to be respectful of authority figures,” Darcy insists.
“That’s not what Phil says,” Pepper tells her with a glint to her eyes.
“What? Why is everyone talking about me?” Darcy exclaims, indignant.
“I asked around,” Pepper tells her and fills her glass again, offers more to Darcy. “You think I didn’t do research when Phil asked Tony about an intern? I cover my man’s ass.”
“That’s not all you do to your man’s ass,” Darcy says and Pepper spits her wine out, spraying it across the couch and splattering onto her bare legs.
“Damn, woman,” Pepper says in between giggles. “Settle down over there.”
Darcy is laughing too and it feels so good to forget about everything else for a moment. Her face is flushed from the wine and the laughter and she wipes at her eyes.
“And here, Tony didn’t want me to come out to the house,” Pepper says off-handedly and Darcy crinkles up her eyes at that.
Pepper shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve known him a long time and he’s never brought me to the family home before.” Then she drops her voice to a whisper like someone might hear and says, “I always thought maybe he was afraid the ghost of his father wouldn’t approve of me.”
“I don’t think it is Howard Stark who is haunting this place,” Darcy says, because where she might not be convinced that this place isn’t haunted, she is pretty sure it’s not Tony’s dad in that room downstairs.
Pepper shrugs again. “He doesn’t really come here much himself. Don’t think he ever felt comfortable in this place. Shame really, for a kid to grow up somewhere he didn’t feel was home.”
“This place kind of creeps me out,” Darcy tells her quietly and wishes they would go back to talking about high school and sex.
“Yeah? I guess I haven’t seen much besides the bedroom,” and Pepper is smiling with a kind of wistful look on her face and Darcy’s mind brings up an image of Tony naked and then she burps up a little bit of wine.
“Sorry, excuse me,” Darcy says, embarrassed. “I just thought about your boyfriend naked and my body revolted a little.”
“Take it back!” Pepper demands, but she is smiling and kind of leaning over sideways like she has had too much to drink. “So, you’ve been here a while. Show me the scaaaaary parts of this house.”
“No, thank you,” Darcy says and sets her wine glass down. “You don’t want to go down there.”
“Come on,” Pepper says and nudges Darcy with her foot. “Show me the scary stuff or I’ll tell Tony you were thinking about him naked.”
“That’s mean,” Darcy says with a pout, because even if she tells Tony that the thought made her throw up a little in her mouth, all he’ll hear is the word ‘naked’. She likes Pepper but she is not interested in a threesome, thank you very much.
“Maybe it won’t be so scary if you aren’t alone,” Pepper tells her.
This actually sounds logical and Darcy wonders if it really is logical or if maybe she has just had too much wine. Probably both. Still, maybe it won’t seem as scary with Pepper at her side and Darcy will realize her imagination just blew the whole thing out of proportion and everything will be fine and her nightmares will stop.
She really wants her nightmares to stop.
“Okay!” she declares, sudden and quite loud. “Okay, I’ll show you but we need a flashlight. And…and a baseball bat! Does Tony have a baseball bat?”
Tony does, in fact, have a baseball bat, though Darcy thinks maybe they shouldn’t be using it for this since it seems to be autographed by Carl Yastrzemski. Darcy wonders if Tony would be impressed she knows who that was.
The basement stairs still creak under their feet, but it doesn’t feel as cold down here this time. Darcy suspects that is the alcohol-flush. Pepper is gripping her arm pretty tight too but Darcy actually feels comforted by this. She has a flashlight in hand and Pepper is holding the baseball bat aloft and Darcy thinks the boys would both get a kick out of this visual.
The light at the bottom of the stairs starts swaying when they turn it on and it casts shadows across the wall as they descend down the east side of the hallway. Darcy’s heart is hammering in her chest and she thinks about him and his breath in her ear and she really wants to go back upstairs.
But then she remembers how she isn’t alone and takes Pepper’s wrist in her hand and keeps going.
There is that breeze again, coming from the end of the hallway, and Pepper makes a little gasping noise just as Darcy realizes the temperature has dropped and she can see her own breath in front of her on the beam of the flashlight.
That’s when the scratching noise starts up. Only now Darcy knows it isn’t scratching, but rather the sound that chains make as they drag across the floor.
She freezes in place.
“Come on,” Pepper hisses at her, but Darcy can’t make herself move, can’t make her feet work, so Pepper lets go of her arm and heads toward the door alone.
“No,” Darcy whispers. “Pepper, let’s go.”
“I want to see what’s on the other side,” Pepper tells her.
Darcy watches as Pepper stops in front of the door and peers inside the window. “I can’t see. Bring the flashlight here.”
Darcy wants to go back the way she came but she can’t just leave Pepper down here and she tries to remember how she was supposed to be proving to herself that this is all ridiculous. It’s not easy with that insistent noise coming from the other side of the door.
She takes a step closer, just a few feet behind Pepper now, and she can feel the sweat clinging to every inch of her body.
“What do you think used to be in here?” Pepper asks and reaches over to jiggle the padlock, then yanks down on it in an attempt to break it off.
Another cold gush of wind comes through, stronger this time, and the scratching noise stops, abrupt and sudden.
“Wonder what that noise was,” Pepper says, but Darcy can’t hear her.
All she can hear is the harsh breath in her ear.
“My sweet little thing.”
It’s a hiss, right up next to Darcy, but loud enough that Pepper must hear it too because she screams and spins on her feet, striking out into the darkness with the baseball bat.
“What the hell?! What the hell was that? Darcy?!”
But Darcy doesn’t move. She knows what happens if she tries to pull away.
“Come on!” Pepper shouts and grabs Darcy by an arm, spins her around.
The light at the bottom of the stairs is still swaying back and forth and they see it then, the shadow of a man along the wall, a flash, there and gone.
They both scream.
Pepper is digging her fingers into Darcy’s arm and dragging her down the hallway, back towards the stairs.
Behind them, they hear the sound of the door, creaking open.
They keep running.
At the top of the stairs, they slam the door shut and Pepper slips the chain-lock in place, little gasping noises coming out of her as she does.
They are both uniquely sober now.
“What’s down there?” Pepper asks and her eyes are wide and terrified.
“The shadow man,” Darcy tells her and she sounds oddly calm to her own ears.
“Who?” Peppers demands, still clutching the baseball bat to her chest.
“I dream about him,” Darcy tells her. “You’re going to dream about him now too.”
Pepper is sheet-white and shaking.
Darcy wipes at her face. “Don’t tell Tony we went down there,” she says. “I’m going to bed.”
She sleeps that night in Bruce’s room.
It doesn’t stop the nightmares.
“You promised you’d be good. Don’t you want to be good for me?”
“I was good. I was. I’ll be good, please,” she pleads. Dream-Darcy is as confused as Real-Darcy, both watching him descend on her, coming closer and there is something in his hand that looks like a knife and Darcy feels the panic rise up in her.
She doesn’t know what she’s done, when she misbehaved, why he wants to punish her now.
“I don’t like it when you run away from me,” he tells her and Darcy realizes she is as far from him as she can be, straining hard against the chains around her wrists, but she somehow thinks he means yesterday, in the basement with Pepper.
She thinks about Pepper and tries to make herself wake up, feels the need to get to her friend.
Bruce came back from the city, but Tony stayed to check out a few things at Stark Tower first, which means Pepper is alone in her bed and having the same dream. Only Pepper doesn’t know the rules, hasn’t learned not to pull away from his touch.
“Come here, little one,” he hisses and grabs Darcy by the hair, yanks her across the floor.
Darcy squeezes her eyes shut, but not before she sees the whites of his own eyes, deep and sunken into his face like a skeleton.
She feels the knife then, blade pressed against the skin of her arm as he runs it down towards her wrist. Then he twists it and slides it up under the metal of her chains and Darcy sobs out a noise of pain.
“So pretty for me,” he says and pushes into her flesh.
Darcy can feel herself bleeding.
‘I’m going to die,’ she thinks and that’s what does it, in the end.
“No!” she screams and jerks away from him, feels the blade swipe across her skin as she yanks out of his grasp. “Get away from me!” and she opens her eyes, looks straight into his. “Keep. Your. Hands. Off. Me.”
He opens his mouth and all Darcy can see are rotting teeth and then black smoke is coming up and out of him.
Darcy screams and her eyes fly open.
She is lying in her bed and the moonlight is streaming in through the window and she knows she is not alone.
She sits up and looks across the room and there, in the far corner, is a black shadow of a man.
She can’t make her voice work. She can’t make her legs work.
The books on her shelf go flying across the room, one after another, thudding hard against the wall. Darcy throws her covers off at last, just as he turns towards her.
She sees the whites of his eyes, sunken into his head, and then he is running, flying towards her and Darcy is on her feet before she can think about it. She goes tearing out of her bedroom and down the hallway, doesn’t even bother with the lights, her bare feet skidding under her as she rounds the corner.
She doesn’t look back to see if he is following her.
The kitchen light is on and Darcy stops short, unable to breathe properly, the room tilting around her. She reaches out to support herself on the wall and notices there is something sticky on her sleeve.
“Ms. Lewis!” Bruce is yelling and he is right in front of her now and she doesn’t even know when he got there.
“What?” she says, voice sounding almost broken.
“”What happened?” he asks and takes her wrist in his hand, squeezes hard.
It hurts and she realizes he is trying to stop the flow of blood.
She is bleeding.
“I don’t know,” she says and lets him lead her to a stool, sit her down.
Bruce grabs some hand towels and wraps them tight around Darcy’s wrist, though the cuts aren’t deep and the worst one seems to be a swipe that goes up her arm instead of around her wrist.
She knows it is from the moment she pulled away from the knife, out of his grasp, and the thought makes her almost hysterical.
“Ms. Lewis?” Bruce says again. “What happened?”
Darcy looks up at him and he looks so worried and she can’t think of an answer that will make him happy, so she simply says, “I had a bad dream,” and starts sobbing. She can’t hold back the tears now and she just keeps crying, even as he pulls her towards him, cradles her head against his chest.
He just lets her cry.
She doesn’t know how long they stay like that; Darcy sitting on the kitchen stool with hand towels tied around her bleeding wrist and Bruce standing over her, one hand around her shoulder, the other cradling her head to him, fingers carding through her hair as he shushes her sobbing.
They are broken apart by a thump at the kitchen doorway and Darcy jerks hard at the sound, fear washing through her like a stream.
It’s only Pepper though, leaning against the open door, whole body trembling.
“Pepper?” Bruce asks and takes a step towards her.
Darcy meets her eyes and Pepper has been crying. Her face looks puffy and Darcy thinks there is an accusation there.
Darcy should have told her the rules.
“Are you alright?” Bruce asks and he reaches for the light switch, turns the overhead from dim to full-on.
Darcy can see it, even from this distance, the discoloring on Pepper’s neck. Bruce reaches for her and Pepper starts to pull away, then instantly freezes in place. Bruce puts a hand on her collarbone, pulls the top of her pajama shirt down just enough to reveal fingerprint bruises all around Pepper’s throat.
“Jesus Christ,” Bruce breathes out. “What the hell happened to you two tonight?”
Pepper just looks from Darcy to Bruce and then back again and says, “I think we have a ghost.”
Bruce is stomping around the house, angry and out of sorts and it does nothing to put Darcy at ease.
He had cleaned them both up - given Pepper an ice pack and wrapped Darcy’s wrist in some bandages - and then put them in his own bed and sat down in the large cushioned chair on the other side of the room.
He’d sat by their bedside all night.
Now his eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep and he keeps mumbling to himself about Stark putting people in danger. That, coupled with the fact that Pepper had declared she had some work to do and had taken off first thing that morning, has pretty much put Darcy’s anxiety levels through the roof.
She is huddled on the couch now, blankly staring at some BBC America marathon of Doctor Who and trying to ignore the fact that Bruce comes and stands in the doorway every ten minutes or so, just to check on her.
She is mostly tuned out to everything, until she hears the creak of the door.
“Bruce!” she screams, because it is most definitely the basement door and even though nothing has ever happened during the daytime, she is already close to pissing herself.
He’d promised they’d talk to Tony as soon as he got back, make arrangements to set up shop some place else. Darcy had spent all day cleaning up the lab so it would be easy to pack up and got her own luggage ready to go.
She’d thought she had until nightfall.
But the creak is louder now and Darcy knows the basement door is open and Bruce isn’t answering her.
“Bruce!” she hollers again and jumps to her feet. She creeps around the corner of the living room and sees the basement door standing wide open.
“Bruce,” she hisses and hears the sound of the basement stairs, one after the other.
Darcy creeps closer, peers down into the basement, where the overhead light is flickering as it settles. Bruce is there, heading down the stairs, flashlight in hand.
“What are you doing?” Darcy cries and runs down the stairs, grabs the sleeve of Bruce’s shirt before he can hit the bottom step. “Are you crazy?”
“I need to see whatever this room is,” Bruce tells her, calm and simple. “I can’t very well mount an argument with Tony unless I know what I’m arguing about, can I?”
“Please,” and her voice sounds so small and inadequate. “Please, don’t.”
Bruce turns on the stairs to face her, and he looks so full of pity for her, and Darcy hates it but she holds fast to his shirt.
“Everything’s okay,” he tells her and Darcy just shakes her head.
“You’ll wake him up,” she says adamantly.
“No, there has to be a reason for this. I’m just going to figure it out so that you don’t have to worry anymore.”
“Please don’t tell me there is a scientific explanation for all this,” she spits at him.
Bruce just raises an eyebrow at her.
“Then don’t leave me up there alone,” she tells him, though she knows it doesn’t matter. Upstairs, downstairs, alone, with someone - if he wants her, he’ll come get her anywhere. Maybe even leaving this place won’t matter. Maybe this is Darcy’s life now, until he kills her and she spends the rest of eternity locked in that cold, dark room.
Bruce just smiles, sad and soft at her, and pulls his arm from her grip. He slides his hand down and entwines his fingers with hers. His hand is surprisingly soft and warm and Darcy tries to relax into the touch. But then he starts leading her down the stairs again and Darcy wonders if Bruce will start having nightmares as well now.
It is instantly cold down there and Darcy can see her breath before the door is even in sight. Bruce never lets go of her hand though and he, at least, is still warm next to her.
The scratching starts up then.
“Do you hear that?” Bruce asks her.
“It’s the chains. Whoever he has in there can hear us coming.” Darcy’s voice sounds far way to her own ears.
Bruce just side-eyes her and keeps going. The window on the door is actually an inch below Bruce’s eye-level and he leans over and presses his face against the glass. Darcy cranes her neck to look over her shoulder.
There is nothing there but the dancing shadows on the wall.
“I can’t see very well,” Bruce tells her and points the flashlight in through the window. “I think there is a bed in there.”
“No,” Darcy says. “No, bed. Just chains.” She feels like she is sleepwalking or underwater, heavy and dragged down.
Bruce yanks on the padlock. It creaks and clangs but doesn’t budge.
“Hang on,” he tells her and releases Darcy’s hand. He lifts the flashlight in both hands now and brings it down hard on the padlock.
A gust of wind roars through the hallway.
Bruce brings the flashlight down again and it flickers as it pulls against the lock.
Darcy cranes her neck and looks behind them again.
Bruce brings the flashlight down one more time and the light snaps off as the padlock hits the ground at their feet.
“Dammit,” Bruce mutters and whacks the flashlight against the palm of his hand.
The light at the bottom of the stairs flickers off too.
They are in complete and utter darkness.
Darcy reaches out and grabs a hold of the sleeve of Bruce’s shirt again.
Bruce whacks the flashlight against his palm once more and the beam lights up. In the back glow of the flashlight bulb, Darcy sees him, standing halfway down the hallway.
He is smiling at her with his rotted teeth.
“Bruce,” she whispers. “He’s here.”
“So am I,” Bruce tells her and Darcy doesn’t know if he is placating her or if he actually believes her but then he adds, “This ends now,” and Darcy wants badly enough to believe him that she stays still while Bruce pulls open the door to the room.
It makes a terrible wailing noise as it slides across the floor and then the room is right there, in front of them.
Bruce takes her hand again.
The first thing Darcy sees when she steps inside are the chains on the wall. They are just like in her dream.
“Christ,” Bruce breathes out and shines the flashlight on the chains. “How did you know these were in here?”
Darcy wants to say, ‘I’ve been chained up in them every night for two weeks,’ but instead she tells him, “I dreamed it.”
Bruce shines the light into the other corners of the room. In the first corner there is a pot and Darcy knows it is the only thing his victim had for a bathroom. In the other corner there is a bed, older like from a different century, and chains on the wall above it.
No one is ever free in this room.
It’s the final corner though that gets Darcy’s heart pumping. There is a glint on the floor, just a flash but when Bruce takes a step closer, tugging Darcy along with him, she can see clearly what it is.
It’s a knife.
Darcy’s un-bandaged hand flies up immediately to the wrap around her wrist, to the covered flesh that bled last night.
The room is so cold now that Darcy is actually shaking against Bruce’s side. Bruce feels cold too.
“What the hell was this room?” Bruce asks no one in particular.
Darcy answers him anyways. “A coffin. It’s a coffin.”
That’s when she feels the hand on her back.
“Be a good girl,” he whispers in her ear.
Bruce squeezes her hand, most likely an involuntary reaction to the sound of another voice in the room, but it is all it takes to remind Darcy that she is not alone.
“Go to hell,” she answers and feels his hand wrap around her neck from behind.
Bruce spins and his hand leaves hers, but then he is shining the flashlight up towards the face of the monster, of the ghost, and Darcy turns too, just in time to see him open his hideous mouth and screech, like the wail of an Arctic wind.
“Miiiiiiiiiiiiine!” he screams at them and the black smoke is rising up and out of his mouth and his eyes burn in his skull. “She’s miiiiine.”
Darcy feels urine running down the inside of her pant legs.
“No,” Bruce says and he looks white as the dead himself but he has pulled himself up to his full height and he hasn’t lowered the flashlight. “No, she’s mine and you better understand that.”
He shoves Darcy back behind himself, the deathly grip on her neck releasing, and Darcy watches in what feels like slow-motion as he reaches for Bruce, reaches straight at his chest like he wants to rip out Bruce’s heart.
The next thing that happens will be forever engrained in Darcy’s mind.
A woman appears in the space between Bruce and the ghost. She is young, eighteen perhaps, and she is dressed in a flowing white nightgown. Her long dark hair is matted to her skull, her eyes huge and bright in the darkness and through the beam of the flashlight that Bruce is still holding in his hand, Darcy can see all the flesh on her wrists has rotted away, like she spent months with chains around them.
She meets Darcy’s eyes for the briefest of moments and Darcy sees a smile, small and sad, form at the corners of the girl’s torn mouth.
Then she turns towards the other ghost and her hand reaches up, wraps around his throat and she squeezes.
He looks almost shocked by it and then he is throwing her against a wall and screeching once again and Bruce is shoving Darcy towards the door.
“Run!” he shouts at her.
Darcy takes one last look at the girl and then takes off running.
She tears down the hallway, the light at the bottom of the stairs still off so that there is nothing around her but darkness. Someone is coming behind her, but she doesn’t look back to see who it is. She can only hope it is Bruce.
She bounds up the stairs, never pauses, and makes to slam the door shut. But Bruce is there and he pushes past her and shuts the door himself, slides the chain lock in place.
There is a long silence then, the only thing filling it the hammering of Darcy’s heart and the harsh breathing of Bruce next to her.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Lewis,” he says at last and Darcy looks up at him.
“You should have believed me,” she tells him and it comes out less accusatory than she would have liked. She’s shaking too hard for venom.
“Yes,” he says and brings one hand up to touch her cheek softly. “But also for getting in a fight with another guy over you. It’s very unclassy of me.”
Darcy just stares at him.
One corner of Bruce’s mouth turns upwards and then he is smiling at her and Darcy collapses against his chest, lets him wrap his arms around her and hold her there.
“I’ll believe you next time,” he says against the top of her head.
“You better,” she breathes out and closes her eyes when he places a soft kiss in her hair.
Tony was on his way back and all Bruce had told him over the phone was that they needed to talk…immediately. Then Bruce had gone to pack up the rest of the lab and Darcy had gone to her room to change her pants and get her bags.
She laid down on the bed, tried to will her heart rate to slow down and at some point she must have fallen asleep, because now she is waking up to a semi-dark room and her heart hammering in her chest. It is still evening and the sun should be visible, but there is a storm, loud and cracking outside her window, so the light in the room is muted.
And she isn’t alone.
Darcy turns her head to see Bruce, about six feet away from the side of her bed, just standing there.
“Shit, Banner. You scared the piss out of me,” she says and swings her legs off the bed.
Bruce doesn’t say anything.
“Is Tony back yet? Are we leaving?”
Bruce takes a step towards her and Darcy suddenly realizes how cold it is in the room.
He takes another step and now she can see his eyes. They are pure white and staring right at her.
“My sweet little thing,” he says and it is not Bruce’s voice.
It’s his voice, coming out of Darcy’s friend and she feels the bile rise up in her throat.
“No,” she whispers and shakes her head.
“Be a good girl,” he tells her and Darcy screams.
Then she goes flying across the room. She hits the wall hard and slides down it. On a streak of lighting, Darcy can see the color of Bruce’s skin. It is green, like a sickish color of rotting flesh, but it is the stilted steps he takes towards her that makes her understand what is happening.
That thing, that ghost, is inside of Bruce. And Bruce is fighting it. He is fighting it with the other thing that lives inside him. With the Hulk.
Darcy is oddly comforted even though neither option bodes well for her.
“I said, be good,” he hisses at her and Darcy struggles to her feet.
“And I said, burn in hell,” she spits back and then his hand is around her throat and he is lifting her off the ground and squeezing at the same time.
She knows she won’t last long.
“Hey! Freezer brain!” someone shouts from the other side of the room and Darcy tries to see who it is through her swimming vision. “Put my friend down!”
The ghost just opens his mouth and laughs and more of that black smoke comes billowing out of him. As he throws his head back, Darcy can see behind him, through his throat, and there is Pepper in the doorway of her bedroom, Tony standing right next to her.
“Could have done this the easy way,” Pepper says and Tony puts a hand on her back.
“Go to work, babe,” he tells her, before stepping into the room.
The ghost takes his free hand, the one not currently choking Darcy into unconsciousness, and waves it at Tony. Tony flies across the room too, but it is enough to distract the ghost. Pepper has pulled something from her pocket and it looks a bit like the rosary Darcy’s grandmother used to pray with.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus,” Pepper starts chanting and the hold around Darcy’s neck loosens.
She can see his eyes flicker for a brief moment and Darcy almost thinks she sees Bruce in there, staring back at her. Then he is raging, throwing Darcy against a wall and turning on Pepper.
“Omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio,” she continues and Tony is scrambling to his feet and putting his body between the two of them, protecting Pepper as best he can.
Darcy realizes with a shock that Pepper is performing an exorcism. She springs to her feet just as Tony hits the wall again.
“Hey, cunt-face,” Darcy yells and her voice is absolutely wrecked. The ghost turns to look at her. “Get out of my…Bruce!”
Pepper hasn’t broken her stride. “Et omnis legio diabolica.”
Tony jumps up again, resilient bastard, and pulls something from his own pocket. It’s a whiskey flask but what he splashes at Bruce’s possessed body looks more like water and Darcy knows somehow that it’s holy water.
This time the ghost’s screech is inhuman, monstrous beyond compare and Darcy crumples to her knees with it and covers her ears.
He doesn’t stop. Just keeps screaming and screaming and then there is a flash of light so bright that Darcy can’t see for near thirty seconds afterwards.
Under it all, Darcy can hear Pepper, still chanting. “Omnis fallaciae, hostis humanae salutis.”
When Darcy’s vision clears, she sees Bruce struggling to his feet and every bit of his skin looks like it is pulsing, beating like a human heart. The ghost stands next to him, almost solid except that Darcy can still see through the part of him where his throat should be.
“Bruce?” she says and he looks at her and his eyes are sad and lost and all of his skin is green now and she knows he is turning.
“Run,” Bruce whispers.
Darcy pushes to her feet and wonders how she will get past both Hulk and the ghost, when suddenly Bruce is flying across the room. He soars through the air and hits the opposite corner, slams his head against a metal coat rack attached to the wall.
Darcy watches his eyes go wide and then closed and he is hitting the floor. She sees blood running down the side of his face.
“Bruce!” she screams and hurls herself at his unconscious body.
“Ab insidiis diaboli, libera nos, Domine,” Pepper says and now the ghost has turned his attention on her.
With a flick of his wrist, Pepper slams upwards, into the ceiling and then drops back to the floor. She falters in her recitation and Tony runs at the ghost, throwing what looks like little packets of salt from the local diner at him.
The ghost starts to laugh at Tony but then his whole body flickers, in and out and back in again.
Pepper struggles to her feet and starts chanting once more. “Ut Ecclesiam tuam secura tibi facias libertate servire.”
“Should have done this a long time ago,” Tony spits out.
The ghost roars at him, opens its mouth and pours out the black smoke.
Tony pulls a lighter from his pocket and flicks it, a flame shooting up out of it. The fire attaches to the ghost and Pepper keeps chanting and Darcy crawls to where Bruce is lying on the floor and throws herself over him.
It’s so hot in the room now, hotter than Darcy has ever felt in her life and she can’t look at it, but somehow she can’t look away. The ghost is on fire and screaming in pain and turning from a body into nothing but smoke and ash.
“Terribilis Deus de sanctuario suo,” and there is a roaring gust of wind pouring through the room and the bedroom window shatters with it.
Darcy clings to Bruce’s body.
“Et fortitudinem plebi Sua,” Pepper shouts and Darcy can see she is leaning over, unable to stand up, like that slam against the ceiling knocked her sideways, but she just keeps going. “Benedictus deus. Gloria patri.”
And then the whole room seems to be on fire, hot and billowing flames.
And then it is over.
Just like that, there is nothing where he used to be. Not even smoke or ash.
Tony is holding Pepper up now and she looks pale and shaken, but she is smiling.
“Really?” Tony asks her. “Freezer brain? That’s the best you could do?”
Pepper just leans against his side and says, “You know I like to leave the witty puns up to you, sweetheart.”
Darcy turns away from them and looks down at Bruce under her.
“Hey,” she says softly and shakes his shoulder. “Dr. Banner?”
His eyes slowly open and he looks dazed.
“Darcy?” and his voice is weak and shaking.
“Yeah,” she says and lets him lean on her while he sits up. “You cracked your head open,” she tells him and takes the shirt Tony throws at her and presses it against the back of Bruce’s head gently.
“Did I hurt anyone?” he asks and reaches up to hold the shirt in place. Then his eyes go wide and his other hand flies up to her neck, to the marks forming there from where his hands had choked her. “Oh, god, no, Darcy, no, no, I hurt you.”
“No,” she says adamantly and takes his face in her hands. “No, you didn’t. It wasn’t you.”
“It’s never me, but it always still is, isn’t it?” he spits out and pulls his hand away from her neck.
“It wasn’t you,” she reiterates. “You didn’t hurt me. You tried to save me.” She can’t help but smile.
“I didn’t save you though, did I?” and then he stops and stares at her, one eyebrow raised. “Why are you smiling?”
“Because, Dr. Banner,” she tells him and feels her face burn hot, “you called me Darcy.”
“What? I…yes,” he says and Darcy just laughs and wraps both her arms around him and buries her face in the crook of his neck.
“I’m glad you’re okay too, Bruce,” she tells him and feels him wrap his free hand around her side and stroke down her back.
“No, no,” Pepper says from behind them. “No thanks necessary. Only saved your asses.”
Darcy pulls away from Bruce just enough to look over her shoulder. “We’re going to a hotel now, right, Tony?”
“Indeed,” Tony tells her.
“Good,” Darcy says. “I’d say first round’s on me, but Stark is loaded, so…first round’s on Tony.”
Bruce leans on her as he stands and Darcy smiles over at Pepper and mouths, ‘Thank you.’
Pepper just grins and says, “Cunt-face? See, I don’t believe a girl with a mouth like that never got detention in high school.”
Tony tells them afterwards, while he locks the house up tight, everything he knows about the previous owner and the room in the basement.
As a kid, Tony’s dad had been insistent that no one go in the east side of the basement hallway. Tony was always scared to go down there anyways and the one time he did dare to step to the right of the stairs, he had seen him, standing outside the metal door, grinning at Tony with his rotted teeth. Tony had stayed out of the basement altogether after that.
When he was ten, he remembers losing their best maid because of the haunting.
“Rosa went down there looking for something I misplaced. Six weeks later she said she couldn’t take the terrifying nightmares and the thing that watched her sleep. I never saw her again. I loved that lady too.” Tony almost looks heartbroken as he says it and Pepper lays a hand on his cheek, strokes her thumb there.
Once he dared to ask his father about it and all Howard would say was that someone had been killed in that room and Tony was best to leave it alone. Tony finally looked into it, when the house became his, and found that the previous owner had died in the home, in the master suite, of old age. When the estate lawyer went out to asses the property, he had found the body of a girl, still chained to the wall, in a room in the basement.
The police have never identified her.
“I always hated this house. Nothing good could ever happen in a place this dark,” he tells them and locks the front door tight.
Darcy wonders if he’ll ever go back inside.
The rain has stopped now and the sun is out, setting low over the horizon in its last stretch of the day.
Darcy is standing outside the house, watching Tony load up the luggage they need for the night. He’ll send someone back for the lab equipment once Pepper has secured them a place to set up shop.
It’s chilly after the storm and Darcy is grateful when Bruce slips a jacket around her shoulders.
“It’s sad,” she says and he drops his hand to her lower back and settles it there.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“Whoever he had down there, she didn’t have anyone to come to save her.”
They stand there then, in a long silence, until Bruce leans over and kisses the top of her head. “Come on, Ms. Lewis, let’s get out of here.”
“Coming, Dr. Banner,” she says with a soft smile.
She looks up then, one last time, and sees the woman in the upstairs window, in the room where Darcy had slept. Her long dark hair is flowing out behind her and the light of the setting sun is shining off her white nightgown.
Darcy meets her eyes for a moment and then lifts her hand in a wave, the only way she knows how to say, ‘Thank you,’ for what transpired in the basement.
The woman tilts her head and smiles and Darcy walks away.
In the car, Darcy settles in the backseat, tucked against Bruce’s side while Pepper talks with Jarvis over the intercom about a hotel for the night. Tony pulls out of the driveway.
Darcy looks back over her shoulder and watches the woman vanish from sight with the last light of day.
They drive on, the house fading away in the distance, and Darcy falls asleep to the lulling sound of the car’s engine and the heartbeat against her ear.