Pepper Potts stared at the piles of requisition forms, draft press releases and other miscellaneous paperwork still left on her desk and resisted the urge to sigh. After a morning filled with departmental meetings and Tony Stark’s never-ending ability to aggravate those around him, Pepper wasn’t sure she had the enthusiasm to deal with all that unfinished paperwork as well. Thankfully, she was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Looking up, Pepper saw her secretary standing in the doorway to her office. “Sorry to disturb you, Miss Potts, but you wanted to be reminded about your lunch appointment with Agent Coulson at one?”
“Thank you, Susan,” Pepper said gratefully. “You’re a gem.”
Susan smiled. “And just so you know, Miss Potts, your schedule is cleared until three o’clock.”
When she walked into the rather cozy Thai restaurant, Pepper wasn’t surprised to find it wasn’t just Agent Coulson who’d fled the office for a long lunch. Sometimes, world crises and dangerous top-secret missions permitting, SHIELD agents actually got to enjoy a lunch break. It was rare and novel enough that they were usually determined to enjoy every second of it. Agent Sitwell and Maria Hill were sitting with Phil at their favourite table (the one with the clear lines of sight of the kitchens and several nearby points of exit); or rather Sitwell and Phil were sitting. Maria was slumped over, her head resting face-down on her arms and was apparently glaring at the table cloth. Pepper gave her order to the waitress that appeared since it seemed the others had ordered without her.
Pepper smiled at Phil in greeting. “Is Natasha joining us?” she asked as she slid into the empty seat beside Phil.
Phil’s eyes crinkled in amusement and shook his head. “Apparently, she and JARVIS had other plans.”
Pepper blinked. “JARVIS?” she asked, before she felt an amused smile cross her face. “That sly dog.”
Sitwell grinned and toasted her with his tea cup. “And that, Pepper Potts, is why we love you so much,” he said. “Because you don’t even find that weird.”
Laughing, Pepper wasn’t sure if she wanted to admit this wasn’t the first time a thought like that had crossed her mind. Tony Stark created things with truly terrifying levels of sentience. When Maria still didn’t say anything or even raise her head, Pepper turned to her. “Okay, what’s wrong?” she said, poking Maria in the arm. “Did one of the junior agents destroy something?”
Maria raised her head enough to glare balefully at everyone through her rumpled fringe. Pepper blinked, because even in the middle of chaos, she’d barely seen Maria with a hair out of place. “It’s all my mother’s fault,” Maria groaned, before slumping back down.
“The wedding,” Phil explained, idling sipping his cup of green tea.
Pepper hummed in understanding sympathy. The wedding of Maria’s younger sister had been driving her crazy for the last month. “What happened now?” Pepper asked. “I know you hate the dress and you think you’re probably only going to survive the reception by getting drunk, but I thought you had a plan for this?”
“That was before my date cancelled on me,” Maria growled, finally sitting up and shoving the fringe out of her eyes.
“He’s been dealt with,” Phil said calmly and in his deadpan and terrifying way.
They paused briefly as the waitress placed their orders on the table, before Maria turned an accusing glare on Phil. “I don’t see why you won’t let me borrow Barton,” she grumbled. “I need someone pretty and he’s really pretty.”
Pepper had to bite back a laugh at the way Phil’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tensed. “You get handsy when you’re drunk, Maria,” he said, the edge of irritation in his voice.
Looking up from where she was pushing her food around her plate, Maria scowled at Phil. “And why would that matter?” she countered. “Barton’s single, isn’t he?”
“Is there something you’d like to tell us Phil?” Pepper couldn’t resist teasing, reaching across the restaurant table to put a comforting hand on Phil’s arm. “Whatever it is, we promise it won’t leave this table.”
Phil’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“What about Woo?” Sitwell suggested in an effort to cut the tension.
“What do you mean, what about Woo?” Maria said darkly.
“I mean,” Sitwell said, seemingly unconcerned by the glare being leveled on him. “Why don’t you take Agent Woo as your date to the wedding? He’s well-dressed, polite and you can order him to shoot anyone you don’t like.”
“He also had a rather large crush on you and would probably rejoice in the attention,” Phil added.
Maria rolled her eyes. “I still think Barton’s prettier,” she said, smirking as she glanced at Phil. “Don’t you think so, Coulson?”
Phil shot her a look. “Fury’s left hand or not, I will taze you.”
Pepper thought she should be given credit for not so much as cracking a smile. Unfortunately, that was when their rather peaceful lunch stopped being quite so peaceful. Tony Stark usually had that affect. Hiding her exasperated smile behind her tea cup in case anyone mistook it for fondness, Pepper watched as Tony marched into the restaurant, flashing his charming grin and demanding a table in a loud voice. Behind him trailed a rather bemused-looking Clint Barton.
Everyone blinked in surprise at the sudden intrusion and when Tony spotted them, Pepper could have sworn Phil sighed. “Pepper!” he said with a grin, before turning back to the waitress. “Never mind the table, just bring over some more chairs to that one!”
His commands given, Tony then marched straight for the senior agents and Pepper. Maria groaned and hid her face in her hands again. Pepper couldn’t blame her. Behind him, Clint was blinking in confusion, before he glanced apologetically at Phil, as if he could somehow have prevented this disaster.
“Playing hooky Pepper? That’s not like you,” Tony said with a grin. “And Coulson, seriously, I’m actually shocked to see you outside your office. I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Tony…” Pepper began, feeling a headache coming on. “Did you hack my electronic schedule again?”
“I wouldn’t have to Pepper if you didn’t keep disappearing off to super-secret club meetings with Agent here,” Tony replied. “And can I just ask what you’ve done with JARVIS? Last time I checked he was my AI. I built him.”
“I believe JARVIS is on a date,” Phil said calmly, a hint of amusement back in his eyes. “With Agent Romanoff.”
“A date?” Tony echoed. “With the Black Widow?”
“Ah!” Pepper said, holding up her hand and halting the words about to spill out of Tony Stark’s mouth. “We do not want to hear it, Tony.”
Reluctantly, Tony closed his mouth, only to narrow his eyes when he noticed the look Phil and Clint were sharing. The warm grin that spread across Clint’s face in response had Tony’s entire demeanor turning immediately suspicious and internally Pepper winced. A focus Tony Stark was a dangerous Tony Stark. When Clint caught Tony’s look, he looked away from Phil but a faint blush stained his cheeks, giving him away.
“So, who’s going to explain what that was?” Tony demanded, looking pointedly between Phil and Clint.
Phil arched an eyebrow. “What are talking about, Stark?” he said, neither his voice nor his face giving nothing away.
“That look,” Tony accused, “between you and Barton.” Tony paused, a sly look coming over his face. “Coulson, you totally think Barton is a hot piece of ass, don’t you?”
Pepper sighed and resisted the urge to bury her face in her hands. “I think Barton is a workplace hazard,” Phil replied and if Pepper didn’t know what Natasha had told them, she might have begun to doubt if there really was something going on. “There’s an entire section devoted to him in the training manual.”
“You flatter me, sir,” Barton replied dryly.
Phil just gave him a wry look. Then, rising gracefully to his feet, he gave Pepper a warm smile. “As always, Pepper it was a pleasure,” he said. “Stark, if you’ll excuse me, I really have to get back to that office I never leave.”
“I’ll come with you, sir,” Clint said, leaping up to follow him.
Pepper could see Tony watching as Phil and Clint left the restaurant. His eyes narrowed a beat later when Clint leaned close to Phil and whispered something in his ear that had Phil’s lips quirking in amusement. Pepper could just tell Tony wasn’t going to let that go and that could only mean one thing.