Bruce sighed when JARVIS called his name. “Yes, JARVIS?”
“You have a visitor, sir. Shall I open the door?”
He buried his face in his hands. “Tell Tony to go away, please. I’m not in the mood.” For the past several weeks, Tony had been trying to lift Bruce out of a bout of depression. After Thor had taken Loki back to Asgard--from whence he’d promptly escaped, of course--he and the other Avengers had moved into Stark Tower, which they’d rechristened Avengers Tower, and it functioned more like a frat house, with Tony as the president. Bruce had actively avoided that part of the college experience, so at the best of times, it was trying. At the worst of times, like now, it was downright unbearable.
There was a slight pause as JARVIS consulted with the visitor. “It is not Mr. Stark, sir. And before you ask, I’ve been instructed not to inform you of the caller’s identity.”
Bruce leaned back against the wall and thumped his head against the drywall. It didn’t help. “Okay, well, tell them to go away.”
JARVIS paused another moment. “Dr. Banner, your visitor has my override codes, and says that if you do not choose to answer the door, she will force me to admit her anyway.” The AI paused again. “I suggest you let her in, sir. She is quite insistent.”
There was only one woman that could have JARVIS’s override codes, and Bruce knew that Pepper wouldn’t hesitate to use them, especially tonight. She’d helped Tony plan some huge party--or, actually, planned it herself and slapped Tony’s name on it, as per usual--to present Doctors Without Borders an obscene amount of money in Bruce’s honor. No one said no to Pepper Potts, especially when one was the guest of honor--which was the main reason he’d avoided her for the past week. He rose from his seat on the couch and made his way to the door. He pressed the button to open it, saying, “Pepper, I told you this was a terrible idea at the beginning, and I’m not going along with it.”
“And that’s precisely why she sent me,” Darcy Lewis said with a smirk. “I’m here to convince you.”
Agent Coulson’s assistant was clearly dressed for the party Bruce was avoiding. Her burgundy dress clung to her ample curves in a way that was probably illegal in some countries, and in her black heels, she was nearly as tall as him. Her eye makeup was understated, which only emphasized her dark red lips in contrast. His eyes drift southward and--holy jesus.
It wasn’t as if Bruce hadn’t noticed Darcy’s figure before. A man would have to be both gay and blind not to realize something so obvious upon first meeting her, and he was neither, especially when it came to Darcy. He was only a little ashamed to admit that he’d been nursing an unrequited attraction to her since she the day she started working for SHIELD and turned down Tony’s lewd offer with a burn that left even Tony speechless. (When he’d recovered, he informed her that she should never meet Pepper, because that would be too much for him to handle. The two women were now, of course, great friends.) He spent more time than was probably safe in the administrative offices of SHIELD, just hoping to run into her, like a schoolboy with his first crush.
In the office, however, she took care to dress in stylish but conservative suits without even a hint of cleavage. This dress, while certainly stylish, was in no way conservative. The wine-colored fabric nipped in at the waist before flaring out just slightly around her hips, exaggerating her hourglass shape. The skirt was slim and long, the hem falling just below her knees, but the real star of the show was the bodice. It plunged from two wide straps to a deep vee, cupping and enhancing her already impressive bust into something that shorted out his brain for a few crucial seconds.
He swallowed hard and dragged his gaze back to her face. “Miss Lewis, I, um, wasn’t expecting you.”
Her smirk morphed into a full-fledged grin as she crowded toward him, forcing him to take a step back. She took full advantage and stepped around him into the room, pressing a garment bag he hadn’t noticed before into his hands. “I figured that out when you called me Pepper. And if you don’t hurry, we’re going to be late.”
“Late?” It seemed that Darcy’s attire was still having a chilling effect on his IQ, because as soon as the word left his mouth, he realized what she meant. “The party, right. I, uh, told Tony I wasn’t going to attend.”
Darcy paused in her inspection of his living room and turned toward him. “Right. Well, you know Tony. He saw that as less of a concrete refusal and more of a challenge.” She grinned. “Since you now have a tux,” she pointed at the garment bag he was clutching, “and a hot date,” she indicated herself, “he thought you should have no more objections.”
Bruce sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, gaze dropping to the floor. “I’m not really, um, a party-type person.”
A second later, she was standing in front of him, her fingers warm on his chin. “Hey, look at me.” When he met her eyes, the smile on her face was gentle. “You know it’s not about the party or the money, right? Your friends are worried about you, Tony especially. This is the Stark version of a bad movie marathon with Ben & Jerry’s.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she talked over him. “We’ll make an appearance, you can accept the hilariously oversized check, take a couple PR pictures to make Director Fury happy, and then if you want, we can leave.” She dropped her hand and took a small step back, her smile twisting up into an amused smirk. “Now go shower and do whatever guys do to get ready. I’ll hang with JARVIS and have a cocktail or two. Dealing with Tony & Thor is always easier while slightly intoxicated.”
Bruce couldn’t really argue with her logic, so he did as she instructed, and in forty-five minutes, he was standing in front of his bedroom mirror, fully dressed and trying in vain to tie his bowtie. He huffed in frustration and walked into the living area, where Darcy was having a spirited conversation with JARVIS.
“I’m just saying, if Tony can create an entire person-suit, he could easily make a robot body for--oh, hey.” She turned on the stool, a crystal wine glass in one hand and a light flush to her cheeks that indicated it probably wasn’t her first. A few tendrils of hair had fallen from her updo to frame her face, and Bruce felt his heart stutter slightly at the sight.
Darcy blinked rapidly, her mouth open slightly as she took him in. He felt a blush rise in his cheeks at her blatant perusal, which deepened when her mouth turned up in a teasing smile. “Hel-lo, Doctor,” she sing-songed. The base of the stemmed glass chimed against the counter as she set it down and stood. “You clean up nice,” she said as she walked toward him.
He reached up to touch the hanging ends of his tie, and she batted his hands away. “Here, let me help,” she offered. With a few competent motions, she turned the strip of black silk into a perfectly proportioned bowtie. He raised a questioning brow, to which she replied, “Catering.” She brushed both his shoulders briefly and ran her hands down the front of his lapels to straighten them, then stepped back, eyeing him critically. After a moment, she shook her head and closed the distance between them again to fix his hair. Her fingers were warm as she ran them through his unruly curls, combing them into some semblance of order. Her red lips were mere inches from his own, and he had to clench his fists to keep from palming her hips and closing the distance between them.
Bruce didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until she moved away from him to get her purse. He exhaled slowly and closed his eyes, willing his heart to slow. The Other Guy didn’t seem anxious--well, no more anxious than usual--but he ran through a couple quick meditation exercises in his head anyway. When he opened his eyes a few minutes later, Darcy was leaning against the bar a few steps away, her purse in one hand and peculiar expression on her face. When she realized he was looking at her, she smiled brightly. “Come on, Doc. Your chariot awaits. And by chariot, I mean the elevator, because no banquet hall in the city would rent to Tony without an obscene deposit,” she added with a wink.
He smiled at her and offered his arm. “I can’t say that I blame them. He does have a tendency to blow things up.”
Her answering laugh made something in his chest loosen ever so slightly.
The party was much more subdued than Bruce expected. Instead of the usual socialites and celebutantes out to be seen spending their money, Pepper had filled the modest guest list with researchers, doctors, and program volunteers. Tony found them soon after they exited the elevator, and pressed a glass of champagne in both their hands. “I paid a fortune for this stuff, so don’t chug it like cheap beer,” he warned Darcy before walking off to go glad-hand some donors.
Bruce glanced over at her, and she shrugged. “He seems to think I can’t appreciate good liquor. Just because I brought Coors Light to one party.” Her cheeks pinkened slightly. “I was a little broke that week,” she explained. “And it’s really not that bad,” she continued on. “I mean, I could have brought, like, Natty Light, but even I can’t stand that stuff anymore.” Darcy stopped talking and took a long drink of the champagne. “Anyway, enough of my babble, this night is about you. Come on, let’s go talk science.”
Darcy tucked her free hand in Bruce’s elbow and the pair of them made a slow circuit around the room, stopping to chat with several guests along the way. She asked intelligent, if basic, questions whenever his conversational skills started to falter, and flirted outrageously with the more elderly gentlemen while deftly deflecting the obvious passes from the younger, more attractive ones. She also flirted outrageously with Bruce, her warm hands and teasing smiles causing him to lose the thread of more than one conversation. His colleagues smiled knowingly at him whenever he stuttered, their expressions a mixture of amusement and envy.
After two hours, Bruce was tired of discussing water treatment options and lack of funding. He’d found satisfaction treating the sick while he’d been hiding from Ross, but these men and women were more interested in discussing how the current political situation in Sudan impacted vaccine shipments than the people those vaccines were intended to help. It was frustrating, and he could feel the Other Guy’s displeasure as an insistent throbbing behind his eyes. He was glad he’d only had two glasses of champagne; any more would have been detrimental to his tenuous self-control.
Darcy seemed to sense that something was wrong and smoothly interrupted their companion. “I’m very sorry, Dr. Matthews, but I’m really not feeling well all of a sudden, would you please excuse us? I think I need some air.” Without waiting for a response, she dragged him to the balcony and flopped down into one of the conveniently placed benches.
“Oh, thank god,” she muttered as the door shut behind them. Bruce took in long breaths of cool fall air and tried not to stare at where Darcy's skirt had ridden up, exposing a long expanse of creamy skin. “I don’t think I could have taken another minute of that. I was about ready to strangle someone in there. Especially that smarmy Dr. Havers, ugh.” She shuddered theatrically. “I was about a half-glass of champagne away from tazing his lecherous ass.”
Bruce sat down next to her, consciously leaving a few inches of space between them. “You don’t care for Dr. Havers? He’s one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers, pretty much the rock star of third world medicine.” He hoped his tone sounded dry and joking rather than brittle and jealous, but he couldn’t be sure. Of course he’d noticed how the young virologist had been leering at Darcy throughout the evening, how he’d managed to corner her when she’d come out of the ladies room. He’d watched their conversation with sick fascination, wondering what sort of excuse she would use to ditch him for the younger man. He’d been shocked to see her eyes narrow in distaste, and though he couldn’t hear what was said, it was pretty clear that Havers had been dismissed with extreme prejudice.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he’s a rock star. And he knows it. He also seemed to have a problem with his eyes--they kept wandering to my boobs.” She toed off her shoes and turned so she was laying on the bench, her now-bare feet on one end and her head on Bruce’s thigh. “Plus, he was really disrespectful. I mean, it’s pretty obvious I’m not here alone.” She licked her lips and tilted her head until she met his eyes. “I’m here with you.”
Bruce swallowed hard. “I, uh, I wouldn’t have been offended. I mean, if you wanted to leave with... him or someone else. I know Pepper put you up to this in the first place.”
Darcy blinked several times, then frowned. “Pepper didn’t... I wanted to do this.” She looked confused, and even a little hurt. “But, if you want me to go--”
“No!” The word popped out of his mouth before he could stop it. “I mean, I like spending time with you. I... I just, I know this can’t be what you wanted to spend your Saturday night doing, babysitting a depressed Dr. Jekyll.”
She laughed then, a sharp, humorless sound. “Is that what you really think?” She shook her head and sat up, tucking one leg under the knee of the other and pressing close to him. Her fingers ghosted over his jaw, and he turned to meet her eyes. “First of all, everyone gets down sometimes. I mean, I went into a week-long depression when Coulson stole my iPod in New Mexico, and it was ten times worse because I couldn’t listen to Hootie & the Blowfish on repeat because I didn’t have my iPod. Vicious cycle, you know,” she said with a self-deprecating smile. “And you’ve got more reason than most people to feel that way--shitty childhood, that whole giant green rage monster thing, your ex-girlfriend’s dad wants to make you a lab rat, best friends with Tony Stark--but most of the time, you don’t! Instead of hiding out in the wilds of the Arctic or whatever, you went to India and helped sick people. You save the world on a weekly basis, and are so fucking smart it literally boggles my mind--and I was Jane’s assistant for three months.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I honestly can’t think of anyone I would rather spend a Saturday night with than you, Bruce.”
Stunned, Bruce sat silently, gaping at her like a fish. “Oh,” he finally managed.
Darcy’s answering smile was small but hopeful. “Is that... Is that a good ‘oh’ or a ‘well this is going to be really awkward on Monday’ oh?”
He reached up to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear. “It’s definitely a good ‘oh,’” he murmured, and leaned down to kiss her. Her lips were soft under his, and she tasted like champagne and strawberries.
When Bruce pulled back, he was pleased to see that her skin was flushed. “So,” she said, a little breathily, “wanna blow this popsicle stand and go back to your place and, uh, watch a movie?”
He laughed, long and hard, like he hadn’t in weeks, twining his fingers into hers. “‘Watch a movie’? I seem to recall you explaining that bit of dating code to Steve last week.”
Darcy pouted. “Well then,” she amended, reaching up to cup the back of his head and pull it back down, “you know all my secrets.” She sucked his bottom lip into her mouth as her free hand trailed up his inner thigh. Bruce groaned and kissed her back, licking hungrily into her mouth. He was panting when she kissed her way to his ear, tongue darting out to tease the lobe. “So... movie?”
“Christ,” he muttered. “You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”
Darcy just laughed.