“No, that’s boring; you know how much I hate signing things.”
“I don’t care if you think it’s boring; this needed to be signed last week and we can’t go through with the merger until you sign it.”
“I thought you already knew how to forge my signature; why can't you just do it? Really, Pepper, you’re slacking.”
Bruce hears the slight smack of Pepper’s hand hitting her forehead. “Oh, God, Tony, what will it take to get you to sign this?”
“I’ll do it later, I promise; right now, Bruce and I are on the verge of something awesome and we just can’t stop right in the middle of it.”
Pepper gives a frustrated sigh. Bruce hears the clack of her heels, and then the door to his part of the lab opens.
“Dr. Banner, please.”
Bruce looks up at her and smiles slightly. “What can I help you with, Ms. Potts?”
“I really need Tony to stop holing up in here and remember that he’s got a company to run, but he won’t do it as long as he’s got you around.”
Pepper sighs again and smooths one elegant hand along her hair. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate or enjoy having you here, Doctor,” she says. “But I seriously need Tony to focus on Stark Industries for a little while; maybe even an hour, but he just won’t do it.”
“And you want my help?”
“Can I convince you to leave the lab? Go get a massage or go out to dinner or something? I can have my assistant arrange everything; she’ll even go with you if you’d like. Just maybe Tony will listen to me if you're not here.”
Bruce hesitates, but when he sees the pleading look in Pepper’s blue eyes, he sighs and nods. “Sure,” he says. “Whatever you need.”
“Thank you,” she breathes, giving him a relieved smile.
Bruce receives a message from Pepper’s assistant, who he's never met and whose name slips his mind, to be at a restaurant downtown at six o’clock sharp; she tells him she will be wearing a red dress and will meet him there.
He steps through the door and sweeps his eyes across the mostly-full room. It seems to be filled with couples and groups of businessmen, and the air is filled with the low hum of their voices. He is beginning to think he’s come to the wrong place when his eyes land on a curvy brunette in a red dress sitting alone at a table in the corner.
She is staring at her nails when he walks up to her table, and she doesn’t look up as his shadow falls across the white linen cloth.
“Excuse me,” he says, nervously smoothing his hand down the front of his shirt. “I believe I was supposed to meet you here?”
Her jaw drops as her eyes crawl up his body until their eyes meet, and he is moments away from stammering out an apology when her lips curve into a welcoming smile.
“Sorry,” she says, gesturing for him to sit down. “Didn’t mean to gawp at you. I thought you weren’t coming.”
“I almost didn’t,” he admits as he slides into the chair. “Pepper asked me to.”
Her eyebrows shoot up. “Pepper Potts knows about this?”
“She’s the one who came up with the idea,” he says. “I thought you knew that.”
“Oh, my God,” she replies, and Bruce isn’t sure why that should surprise her so much.
“I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten your name,” he says and her smile turns mischievous.
“That was part of the plan, honey,” she says, her blue eyes sparkling. “Keeps the mystery alive, don’t you think? Why don’t you guess?”
He blinks at her endearment. This woman is not at all the sort he would expect to be working for Pepper, but maybe Pepper had lost a bet with Tony and he’d been allowed to choose, because this young lady seems like just the sort of woman Tony would hire for Pepper.
“I’ll even give you a hint, because damn if you don’t look like the most adorable lost puppy right now,” she says. “It starts with a D.”
Bruce can’t remember the last time he’d been so relaxed around a woman, and he isn’t sure if it is because she listens attentively to him as he discusses his work, even as she cheerfully admits to not understanding half of what he is saying, or because she’s cajoled him into splitting a bottle of merlot with her. Either way, both he and the Other Guy are calmer than they’ve been in a while, and just as Darcy is complaining about her landlord’s refusal to fix the pipes in her shower, a voice calls out his name.
“There you are, Doctor Banner! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Bruce looks up from his food to see a tall, slender blonde with patrician features standing next to the table. She is wearing a crimson silk gown that enhances her slim figure. “I’m Lisa, Ms. Potts’s assistant.”
Bruce turns his confused gaze to Darcy. “Then…who are you?”
Darcy smiles, and it seems a little sad. “I’m nobody. Just a girl who was about to walk out after being stood up by her blind date until you came up to her table.”
“Oh,” he says.
“It’s okay,” says Darcy, waving him off. “I understand. You need to go; important world-saving stuff to do, right?”
Lisa is about to answer, but Bruce speaks first, and he doesn’t know if it is the wine or his desire to see the sparkle back in Darcy's eyes talking. “Actually, no,” he says, smiling crookedly at Darcy. “Pepper kicked me out of the lab for the evening, so I’m entirely free.”
It works, because the unhappy tilt to Darcy’s lips disappears. “I’ve got two tickets to see Clybourne Park tonight, if you wanted,” she suggests.
His own smile widens. “I’d like that,” he replies. He turns to Lisa, who doesn’t look terribly pleased with this turn of events, and says, “Thank you, Lisa, and thank Pepper for whatever you planned, but I’m set for the evening.”
The guilt he would normally feel at the way Lisa’s face falls is overshadowed by Darcy’s dazzling smile.