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Ladies Who Lunch

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New York City is the home of many famous, well-known restaurants, but Haven 73 was not one of them. In fact, relatively few people knew about Haven 73, and even fewer were able to make reservations there. Those special few were people who might otherwise have been harassed or even attacked in other, lesser establishments, but could be perfectly secure and paparazzi-free in Haven’s elegant dining room or on its charming outdoor patio – which just happened to be over a thousand feet above street level. 

Today the sky was gray and drizzling rain, closing the usually popular patio, and the restaurant was nearly empty with only the last of the late-lunch crowd still lingering at their tables. At a table occupied by three pretty blonde women, Sue Storm-Richards fussed with the napkin in her lap and then took another sip of iced tea. “We really don’t get to do this often enough.” 

“We all have very demanding jobs,” the smaller of her companions, Allison Clarke, demurred. “Speaking of which, I didn’t make things too much worse for you last month by moving the Avengers out of headquarters, did I, Pepper?” 

Pepper Potts shook her head. “No, but Tony may never be the same again – not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s been a shock for him to have…” 

“Brothers?” Sue inserted, laughing. “I heard. Steve was asking Johnny and Ben for advice, I stopped them from giving him any. I told him just to be himself and Tony would get used to him eventually.” 

Pepper snorted. “The thing Tony’s having trouble getting used to is Steve acting his age when he’s not in uniform, Bruce being a practical joker, and Natasha being Clint’s big sister instead of his girlfriend.” It was Allison’s turn to laugh. “I know, but he had convinced himself they were together. You should have seen the look on his face when Clint left to pick up Amanda for their date Saturday night and Natasha straightened his tie before he left and told him to say hello to Amanda for her.” 

“Amanda’s been crossing her fingers for weeks that something wouldn’t attack the city that night,” Allison said. “She said the show was worth the worry, though.” 

“Clint said the same thing.” Pepper toyed with the sprig of mint in her glass, smiling. “He was still bouncy and gushing the next morning, it was so cute – yet another thing Tony’s having to adjust to, Clint being Clint. I don’t think he realized before he started seeing the rest of the team every day that they were actual people, different people, when they weren’t…well, working.” 

“He’ll adjust,” Sue assured her. “It will even be good for him – it was good for Reed.” 

Pepper cocked an eyebrow at her. “So how is Reed handling having an in-law around?” 

“He was nervous at first,” Sue admitted. “But once he realized that Steve wasn’t judging him…” Allison choked on her tea, and Sue shook her head, smiling. “I know, but Reed’s insecure about things like that. He’s calming down. And it helps a lot that Steve turns into a wide-eyed fanboy when Ben is there – he just can’t get over the idea that Ben was a real live astronaut, he actually read up on the space program so he could ‘ask intelligent questions instead of annoying ones’.” She snickered. “Of course, Ben is eating it up.” 

“I can just imagine,” Allison said. “I don’t think many people remember he was someone special before he became a professional superhero.” 

One of Haven’s very efficient waiters appeared, refilling glasses and whisking away plates. A tall, slender man in a white chef’s coat approached when the waiter was finished, smiling. “Ladies, I trust everything was as wonderful as expected?” 

“It always is, Chef Jim.” Sue smiled back at him. “We really don’t get up here often enough.” 

“You don’t,” he agreed. “But I understand how busy the three of you are; believe me, we’re happy you manage to visit us as often as you do! Now, dessert?” 

Pepper made a face. “Oh, I don’t know…” 

He looked at her. “My pastry chef will pout for days if you don’t, Ms. Potts.” 

“It’s true, I will.” Another man in a white coat joined him, this one shorter, stockier, and older. “Ladies, I know you want dessert. So what am I doing for you today?” They looked at each other, Pepper’s resolve visibly weakening. “I can make you something very light, with fruit,” he wheedled. “Fruit is good for you…” 

Pepper gave in. “I don’t eat enough fruit.” 

“None of us do,” Sue agreed. “We should all eat more fruit.” 

“I eat plenty of fruit,” Allison disagreed, and glanced up from under her eyelashes at the pastry chef. “But I really don’t get nearly enough chocolate.” 

“Oh, you make me a happy man,” he told her, clasping his hands over his heart in a very melodramatic fashion. “I will have dessert sent out for you all momentarily – two with fruit, and one very special one with chocolate.” 

He hurried back to the kitchen, the chuckling head chef going with him, and as soon as they were gone Sue turned on Allison. “Allison!” 

“You are not sleeping with Haven’s pastry chef.” Pepper pretended to be scandalized. “Are you?” 

“Not confirming or denying.” Allison chirped. “Maybe he’s just partial to blondes.” 

“He doesn’t flirt with Pepper and I,” Sue countered. 

“He most likely doesn’t want to die at the hands of a jealous superhero,” Allison told her. “Not to mention, he and I are both very, shall we say, territorial.” Two sets of raised eyebrows, and she smiled, giving in. “Todji’s cousin introduced us. Seth is a charming man, very attentive, and he’s respectful but not intimidated by me being…me.” Her eyes twinkled. “We had an incident with some drunken idiot in a club one night; we went back to his apartment after I handled it…and he made me truffles.” 

Pepper and Sue both sighed in spite of themselves. They might be the girlfriend and wife respectively of a couple of rich, devoted superhero geniuses, but it wasn’t like either Tony or Reed could cook… 

 

In the kitchen, Chef Jim planted himself next to his pastry chef’s station, raising an eyebrow as he tapped the work table next to the elaborate chocolate confection he had just watched Seth pull out of the walk-in. “You knew she was coming today?” 

Seth nodded, not looking up from the very light, beautiful fruit desserts he was constructing on two frosted glass plates. “I made that earlier, it needed time to chill.” 

“I know you didn’t hook up with her here.” Jim knew that because in his restaurant – unlike the first one he’d trained in, which was also the place where he’d first met his pastry chef extraordinaire Seth – fooling around with the customers was seriously verboten. 

Seth slanted a look up at him. “Teddy’s cousin introduced us.” He looked at his two creations with a critical eye, and then added an almost translucent curl of white chocolate and a small sprig of fresh mint to each one as a garnish. “There, perfect.” 

Jim nodded agreement with that assessment, and moved out of the way of the hovering waiter so the three desserts could be whisked out to the dining room. He frowned as the chocolate concoction went past. “Were those…” 

“Candied violets, yes. Most people don’t like them, that’s why I usually don’t use them.” 

“Uh huh.” Jim perched on the edge of the now-empty table, eyebrow going up again. “Spill.” 

Seth grinned and shook his head. “Nope. A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.” 

“You’re not a gentleman.” 

The grin softened. “I am for her.” 

“Ooh, serious.” Jim got serious himself. “What about your little…problem?” 

Seth snorted. “Not a problem, since she’s insanely possessive too.” His sudden wicked grin took Jim by surprise. “Don’t suppose you heard what happened to our old friend Steven a while back, did you? He was out drinking in a club one night, got kind of belligerent and offensive with a pretty blonde and her date…”

“No.” Seth nodded, and Jim’s mouth dropped open. “But I heard he,” he dropped his voice, “totally got his ass handed to him. Really?” 

“I was standing right there and I didn’t even see exactly what happened,” Seth admitted, keeping his voice low as well. “One minute he was being an annoying ass and tried to make a pass at her by saying she could obviously do a lot better than me, the next minute he was on the ground and she was checking her nail polish to see if it was chipped. Then she takes my arm and suggests we go find chocolate because she wants some.” He chuckled. “I thought he was going to cry – although that may have just been because she hurt him, not really sure and didn’t really care.” He shrugged. “It was a boring night at the club anyway. We went home and made truffles.” 

Jim processed that for a minute, then shook his head and stood up. He clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’m happy for you,” he said. “It’s about time you found someone who’s as crazy as you are – and who actually eats what you make instead of just looking at it and sighing longingly while they suck on a mint.” 

Seth laughed. “My thoughts exactly.” He waved him off. “Now shoo, I have work to do before the dinner reservations start to trickle in.” 

Jim walked off, going back to his office to check the next morning’s delivery schedule. He’d have to keep his ears open for any word that Steven – or worse, Steven and his old boss Jack together – might be planning to try to get back at Seth for that ass-kicking incident. Because both men had a juvenile streak that sometimes got the better of their common sense, and messing around with a high-level SHIELD employee could take the game a really long way out of their league in a very short amount of time. Jim considered warning the two men before something could happen – after all, he’d gotten his start working under Jack – but then he had another thought and decided to stay out of it. Because Teddy had helped set Seth up with Allison, and if Teddy hadn’t already told Jack why he and Steven shouldn’t mess with them…well, then Teddy was probably setting Jack and Steven up for a fall, and there was no way Jim wanted to get in the middle of that. Haven was mostly drama-free, and he preferred to keep it that way. 

They all got more than enough excitement whenever something attacked the city, after all.