Disclaimer: The Avengers do not belong to me.


Pepper picked up her briefcase and then went to the kitchen for one last refill of coffee and to say goodbye to Tony. He was sitting at the island, and she stopped when she saw his expression. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Bruce is packing up to leave," he said.

Tony had been doing everything possible to convince Bruce to stay in New York permanently. After meeting the man, Pepper had immediately agreed with Tony (though she was a little surprised about how quickly Tony had warmed to Bruce) and tried to help persuade Bruce to stay. Obviously, neither of them had any luck. "I'm sorry, Tony, but if he's determined to leave-"

"I know we can't force him to stay, it's just- he's being an idiot," Tony said. "He's not leaving because he wants to leave, he's leaving because he thinks he has to leave. He-"

Pepper interrupted Tony before he could get going; she unfortunately didn't have time to listen to Tony's entire rant on how Bruce was cutting himself off from the world. "Tony, I know, and I agree, I think it'd do Bruce good to stay here. But like you said, we can't force him. All we can do is keep the offer of a place to stay open and hope he changes his mind."

"He refused to take the plane," Tony grumbled. "He won't even tell me where he's going. Hell, he won't even take a phone or a few hundred bucks."

She went over and kissed Tony. "He'll be fine," she said. "Now, I have to go. Number of press requests today as compared to yesterday?" They had started a bet on how many requests Tony would receive each day. The response so far to the battle had been insane - even worse than after Tony proclaimed to the world that he was Iron Man.

"Lower," he said.

Pepper smirked. "I say higher. I am going to enjoy my foot massage tonight." She started walking to the elevator - Tony got to his feet and followed her.

"How can it be higher? Hasn't every press outlet in the world already contacted us?"

"Possibly, but I have no doubt most of them will keep contacting us until they get a response they like."

"Wait a minute, we never said we were counting duplicates."

"We said number of requests," Pepper said. "That includes duplicates."

"I want to change my bet," Tony said.

She stopped at the elevator and turned, smiling at him. "All right. It'll cost you a foot massage."

Tony tried and failed to hide his amusement. "I'm the one who was tossed around in a metal suit a few days ago. I need my shoulder massage more than you need your foot massage."

"Good thing this is a bet, then, and not who needs it more," Pepper said. She knew he really didn't mind giving her a foot massage, and she'd probably end up giving him a shoulder massage too. She kissed him again. "I have to go. Enjoy your day in the lab. It might be the last quiet day I can swing for you for quite a while."


Later, mid-afternoon, she got a text from Tony.

"We're going to have a guest for dinner."

She blinked, then typed out a reply.

"Who? Did Bruce change his mind and come back?"

"Not Bruce. His girlfriend. (Former girlfriend?) Dr. Betty Ross. Showed up here looking for Bruce. She's pretty upset."

Showing up at Stark Tower, looking for a man she obviously still cared about, only to be told that he had left a couple of hours earlier? Pepper could certainly understand why Dr. Ross was upset. Her heart went out to the woman. Before she could respond, Tony sent another text.

"She came from California, been traveling since she heard about the attack. She's exhausted. Going to try and talk her into staying the night."
"Unless you object?"

Pepper smiled. Tony was still getting used to treating the tower as their home rather than his. "Of course not, she should absolutely stay. Is there anything she needs?"

"Everything. She didn't bother to pack before she left. Picked up a few basics while she was delayed in New Jersey but that's it."

She hadn't even bothered to pack. Pepper's heart went out to Dr. Ross again; she obviously cared quite a lot about Bruce. "Find out her sizes and text me back; I'll pick up some things on the way home."

"Will do."

"I'll be home in a couple hours. Be good. Don't leave her alone."

"I won't. We're complaining about Bruce. She just stepped out to freshen up."

She smiled again. Tony could be surprisingly sweet when he wanted to be. "Love you."

"Love you too."