Bruce's Excuses
Bruce/OC – Movieverse

1 – We Barely Know Each Other

I should be focussing on my Loki/OC story right now, but this is the best plot bunny I've had in a long time, and I want to get it written down before it goes stale. Not big on plot, mainly just fluff, but I hope you like it anyway! Note: Mark Ruffalo is 45, but in this story Bruce is around 40. NB. This story is fully written in advance and I'm editing before uploading. Just so you know. And if any of you are editing pros and fancy making me a cover photo, that'd be lovely.

I don't own the Avengers or Bruce Banner; I only own the plot of this story and Zoey. She's confused, bless her.

21st December 2012.

I, Zoey Monroe, was still in shock.

You'd think that three weeks after I'd received the invitation, I'd have gotten used to the idea. After shelling out $200 on a dress, and borrowing $150 from friends and family for shoes and a bag, I should have accepted it. But I hadn't. I'm a 23 year old English graduate, for crying out loud. I don't even have a job! Sure, I finished in the top 5% of Columbia's class of 2012, but still. I've done nothing to deserve to be invited to the (in)famous Tony Stark's Christmas party.

To be frank, I still have no idea how it happened. One minute I was circling job ads in the local paper...the next I was picking up an embossed envelope that contained a ticket for myself and a plus one to attend the Winter Ball at Stark Towers.

I cast a critical eye over my reflection in the cracked mirror, frowning. The dress looked lovely, hugging my body in all the right places, the midnight blue colour making my too-pale skin look almost translucent. My smoky eyes matched the dress, and my coppery hair was poker straight, brushing my collarbones as I walked. I looked good, and I knew it. But I was terrified, and the expression on my face coupled with my nervous posture made that all too obvious. My mind raced at a thousand miles an hour, listing all the things that could go wrong. Maybe I'll fall over. I could have got the dress code completely wrong. Someone else might be in the same dress. I'd arrive and be told that there had been a mistake: 'there's no Zoey Monroe on the guestlist, ma'am, I'm afraid you'll have to leave'.

I groaned and dropped my head into my hands. Maybe it would be better if I just stayed at home...

"Monroe! I know exactly what you are thinking and you are not bailing on Tony. Freaking. Stark's. Christmas party! This is the best damn thing that's ever happened to you and you know it." A whirlwind in baby pink flew into my room, grabbing my hands and pulling me up from where I was sat on the end of my bed. Victoria Kay ('Jesus, call me Tori, I'm not some English tea-and-crumpets monarch!') was my best friend, but her constant exuberance was tiresome. "Girl, you are going to crease your dress to hell if you don't sort your posture out." I batted her hands away, laughing.

"Alright then Queen Vic." I teased and ducked to avoid the smack that was aimed at my head. She wasn't my original plus one, but when things had fallen through a couple of weeks ago, she stepped in, swept up the broken glass and then practically set fire to it. You'd never guess that this was the girl who'd spent the first two years of college stoned out of her mind, begging favours and cash from all the people who tirelessly covered for her. She'd changed so much. And thankfully, it was for the better.

"Damn, we look hot." She smirked happily at me and bumped her hip against mine. "We're gonna have all those sexy men drooling at our feet, and Tony Stark will realise that we're a must for every party he throws for the rest of forever." She collapsed into a fit of giggles and I frowned at her.

"Are you okay, Tori?" She covered her mouth as her giggles continued. "Are...are you drunk?!"

"Nooo..." Shaking my head, I grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the kitchen, switching the coffee machine on. "Okay okay, I may have had a couple of pre-party drinkies. But only two. Or maybe it was three..."

"Or more." I spied a half empty bottle of tequila on the counter and sighed. "Dammit Victoria."

"Don't be mad, Zo. You know that I love you and I'm super mega grateful for you letting me be your plus one." I handed her a mug of strong coffee, wincing as I remembered the last person to say 'You know that I love you...' to me.

"Just drink. We need to get going." She nodded into her mug, smothering a fresh fit of the giggles with a too-big mouthful of coffee. I left her snorting into the coffee to check my lipstick and to grab my bag and coat, making sure that the invitation was tucked inside my purse. If Tori was already drunk...tonight was going to be a long night.

~X~

"Can you just act mostly sober until we get inside?" I hissed as we stepped out of the taxi. She nodded, immediately stumbling on the curb and grabbing onto my arm to keep herself upright. I gritted my teeth as I looped her arm through my elbow and pasted a smile onto my face as I approached the imposing doorman.

"Name." He grunted.

"Zoey Monroe." I answered, hoping that my voice was as confident as I wasn't feeling. He tapped a tablet a couple of times before nodding.

"The elevators will take you up. Don't press any buttons. Present your invite at the door." I smiled and stepped through the doors of Stark Tower. Tori waggled her fingers at the doorman and I elbowed her sharply.

"Behave, for Christ's sake, at least until we get upstairs." She nodded solemnly. I managed to get us into an elevator without any mishap, and grinned at the very British voice that welcomed us.

"Can you hold the doors please?" I heard a shout and jammed my hand between the automatic doors that had just begun to shut. A man with tanned skin and salt-and-pepper hair jogged across the lobby and into the lift, smiling at me gratefully. "Thanks."

"No problem. You here for the party?" I asked, taking in his rumpled attire that didn't seem to quite match the 'black tie' dress code.

"No, I uh, I work here. I need to go up to my lab to collect a couple of things." He flipped down a hidden panel next to the floor numbers, and pressed a button that flashed as it recognised his thumbprint.

"This close to Christmas?" He shrugged.

"I'm not really one for festivities." Tori let out a snort and I glared at her. "Is she okay?" The man gestured towards her, concern creasing his forehead.

"She's fine." I ground out, digging my elbow into her hip. She pouted at me, her eyes glassy. "She just had a couple of drinks to calm her nerves on an empty stomach." He nodded understandingly. The doors opened onto what was clearly the party floor and I stepped out of the lift.

"You have a nice night." The floppy haired man smiled.

"You too." I replied as the doors shut.

"He was cute." Tori sniggered and I sighed.

"Look, just keep quiet until we get in there and then you can do what you like, okay? I don't want to get us thrown out before I've found out why I was invited." She cleared her throat and smoothed her baby pink puffy dress down, toying with the hemline that fell to a couple of inches above her knees. We approached the door, and I handed the heavy invite over to the well-dressed doorman – a long shot from the huge hunk of muscle out the front, dressed in a white evening suit.

"Zoey Monroe and her plus one. Thank you for coming. All drinks are on Mr Stark tonight, and there are nibbles by the east wall. You can leave your coats in the cloakroom to your right. Have a nice evening!" He handed the invite back and I smiled at him, pulling Tori through the doors and into the most extravagant party I've ever been to. The biggest party I'd been to before was at one of the frat houses in my second year, and it paled into insignificance next to this. Tori slipped her arm out of mine and headed straight over to the bar. I shook my head after her. Well, it's her funeral. Even though I would be the one who would have to force her into a taxi and clean up her vomit when we got back to the flat. I left my coat on a hook in the cloakroom and stepped into the bathroom to check that my face hadn't melted since I last looked at it. I wiped away a stray smear of mascara, set my shoulders and went out to mingle.

In the course of my mingling, I found many important CEOs of companies that I had never heard of, several people who claimed they were the 'head of their field' (whatever that meant), four Olympians, one man who seemed set to spend the entire evening bemoaning the fact that he hadn't won the Oscar he'd been nominated for and countless journalists. I spent the longest time with an intern at the New York Times, and left with a promise that she'd put in a good word for me if I ever applied for a job there.

I weaved my way through the crowd and ordered a sparkling apple juice at the bar. While I was waiting for my drink, I used the slightly raised area as a podium to look for Tori. No sign of her. Dammit. I hoped she had her phone on her. I saw the famed Tony Stark standing in the centre of the room, a glass of champagne in one hand and the other resting on Pepper Potts' hip. He was holding court, a constant stream of people waiting for a sarcastic comment or empty promise. I shook my head wryly. The events of earlier in the year, the 'Battle of Manhattan' (as the media had taken to calling it), had only inflated his ego. I scanned the room, raising my eyebrow as I saw a tall man with chiselled features and blonde hair that could only be Captain America (or as he was referred to within our clique, 'Captain Booty'). I wondered idly whether to supposed rivalry between him and Stark was as huge as the media made out. Accepting my drink, I edged around the throngs of people to the wall, keeping it close to my side as I found a secluded table in the corner of the room. I sat, perfectly content to people watch on my own, when I sensed someone making their way towards me.

"Mind if I join you?" I looked up and saw the soft spoken man with the floppy hair from the elevator a couple of hours ago. He was wearing the same slightly crumpled purple shirt, but had added a black tie, black trousers and a suit jacket.

"Sure. Didn't you say you were working tonight?" He pulled out a chair and sat down, fiddling with his tie.

"I planned to, but Tony was having none of it."

"Tony Stark dragged you down here? Like, personally?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me. He laughed.

"Tony is very invested in forcing me to socialise." His voice was slightly rueful.

"So you work with him?" He nodded. "I didn't catch your name earlier." I gently hinted.

"That was rude of me, I didn't introduce myself." I waved his almost apology away. "Bruce Banner."

"Zoey Monroe." I shook the hand he proffered, mentally noting the name for research later. If he worked with Tony Stark and not for Tony Stark, there must be more to the guy than floppy hair and a mild smile.

"So what brings you here, Zoey Monroe? What landed you your coveted invite?" He took a sip from his glass (I guess cider or beer).

"Honestly? I do not have a clue." He raised an eyebrow. "No, really! I graduated this year and I haven't even managed to get a job yet. I've done nothing to attract the attention of Mr Stark! I was certain it was some sort of mix up right up until they let me in!"

"Where did you graduate from?" Bruce looked interested, but maybe he was just a very good actor.

"Columbia – I majored in English, minored in Journalism." I reached for my glass as he nodded.

"Were you by any chance top of your year?"

"Not quite, I was in the top 5% though." I said, feeling like I should be more modest but not having a clue how to play it down.

"That'll be it then. Pepper had Tony invite a selection of the highest achievers from all the local schools, something about picking up talent before talent got snapped up by other companies." I smiled to myself. Apparently I was 'talent'. "Where's your friend?"

"Tori? I have no idea, she disappeared as soon as we arrived. I'll call her in a while, make sure she's not lying in a gutter somewhere..." We sat in silence for a few more minutes, looking out on the hoards of people, sipping our respective drinks...all my past experience told me that this should be awkward but it wasn't. It was...nice. "So, what do you do?"

"Huh?"

"You work with Tony Stark, that I know, but what do you do?" Small talk. I'm getting good at this whole civilised thing.

"I'm a doctor. Medical mostly, now – I did some work with uh, radiation, but it wasn't really for me." Bruce was suddenly very interested in his hands.

"So are you like, Mr Stark's personal doctor then?"

"No, I help him in the R&D department. The last time I practised medicine for a living was nearly a year ago now, in Calcutta."

"You were a doctor in Calcutta?" I asked, surprised. He nodded. "Wow...that must be quite hard."

"Actually, I much preferred the environment there." Bruce smiled as if there was some sort of joke that I missed. I suddenly felt self conscious.

"I'm sorry about all the questions, you must think I'm terribly nosy." I blushed lightly under my makeup.

"No, it's okay. It's quite nice, actually. Round here...it's kinda difficult to have a 'normal' conversation." He shot a smile at me, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I noted how his smile lit up his 'old' face, making the wrinkles less obvious and the sprinkling of grey hairs sort of...fade.

"Brucey boy! Good to see you out of the lab buddy, though I had hoped you wouldn't secrete yourself in the darkest corner of the room." A loud voice cut across the conversation and I looked up in shock to see Tony Stark himself strutting towards us, leaving Pepper to talk to whichever executive or Senator he'd just deserted. I felt my heart pounding in my chest – it had never occurred to me that being invited to this party might mean actual interaction with Tony Stark. "I see you've made a friend." I felt like a rabbit caught by headlights. "What's your name?"

"Zoey. Zoey Monroe. It's great to meet you, Mr Stark." I stuttered.

"I won't have any pretty ladies call me Mr Stark, it's demeaning; call me Tony." Oh god no he's flirting with me what do I do help. "So what are you then, Zoey Zoey Monroe-y? I'm thinking child prodigy, director of some massive company...a media mogul. Now am I right or am I right?"

"Actually, I'm just an English graduate. I minored in journalism though." I felt very very small.

"Minored in journalism! I was right! Where's my prize?" Bruce chuckled and I smiled slightly, still feeling completely overwhelmed by the fact that Iron Man was FLIRTING with me. I mean, from what I've heard, he flirts with everyone, but it was still kinda...okay, very...flattering. "Where are you working right now? I'm betting NY Times have already snapped you up, you being in the top 5% of your year and all." I coughed.

"I uh, I'm actually between jobs at the moment." I felt my cheeks turn hot with embarrassment at my apparent inability to find employment.

"That won't do at all. I'll speak to Pepper, we'll get you hooked up with something." I felt my jaw drop as Mr Sta- Tony turned to Bruce. "It's great that you're out and about and all, but I want you home by midnight. Call me if you're bunking over anywhere, and don't do drugs."

"Yes Mom." Bruce mocked as Tony clapped him on the back and swayed away, grabbing a fresh glass of champagne from a waiter. Bruce turned back to me and laughed at my face. "Yes, he is always like that."

"Did he just...offer me a job?" I squeaked.

"In his own way, yes. Yes he did." He noticed my glass was empty and gestured to it. "Can I get you another?" He seemed awkward, like he was out of practise in talking to members of the opposite sex.

"Yes please." I smiled at him as I gave him the glass, his hand brushing mine. It was very warm. "Just sparkling apple juice, please."

"Staying sober to make up for your friend?" I hesitated slightly before shaking my head.

"No, I don't really drink anymore. My ex had a problem and it kinda put me off drinks with a percentage volume." He nodded, his forehead creasing slightly.

"Be right back." As he made his way through the crowd, I slipped my phone out of my bag and called Tori. After a mostly incomprehensible conversation, I established that she was in the 'club' area of the party by the bar, and that she was 'toshally shober'. Fantastic. Yet another reason why avoiding alcohol was appealing. Bruce didn't need to know that the reason I brought Tori with me was because I finally broke up with my (now ex) boyfriend about two weeks ago, even though I should have done at least six months before that. He didn't need to know that the sorrows I'd normally drown in alcohol had been drowned in ice cream, and as such, I'd had to have my dress for tonight loosened. I didn't want to ruin his night by forcing my petty troubles on him. Bruce seemed like a nice guy; I usually felt really weird talking to guys more than ten years older than me, but I was perfectly at ease in his company, even though I was certain he was (significantly) more than ten years older than me. I barely noticed him sitting back down and putting the drink in front of me.

"Penny for them?" I started slightly and he chuckled. "Your thoughts. Penny for them."

"Oh, it's nothing." He didn't push it, which I was grateful for. "I think it's best that I have this drink and then get Tori home. I have to deal with her hangover in the morning, I'd like to minimise the damage."

"I think the damage was done before you arrived."

"Touché." We tapped our glasses together and drank in silence. "What was it like? Working in Calcutta?" He swallowed.

"You don't ask the usual questions. Normally it's 'What's it like working with Tony Stark?' or 'What do you do while Tony is out saving the day?'" He didn't seem particularly annoyed about the 'usual' questions – more like, he was simply stating facts.

"I've read enough about Stark. Besides, it sounds interesting." I rested my chin on my hand.

"Well, I'm sure you can imagine that it's very different to here. Nearly everyone lives hand to mouth, and a lot of what medical help I could offer was improvisation, because of the limited facilities. It was...difficult, because there were cases where I knew I could help more than I did if I had the appropriate equipment or medication, but at the same time it was peaceful in a way that America is not. It was quiet. Here, I'm Tony Stark's wingman half the time, whereas there, I was just...a doctor." He fell quiet and I instinctively touched his hand.

"I think it sounds great." He grinned and subtly pulled his hand out from under mine. "The most I've ever done to help anyone is raised a hundred bucks for charity."

"It doesn't matter about the scale of what you've done, the important thing is that you've done it." Bruce stared intently at his glass, drawing patterns in the condensation with a finger. I downed my juice and stood up.

"It was lovely to meet you, Bruce. I'd better go extract Tori from whatever alcohol induced stupor she's gotten herself into." I held out my hand and he shook it quickly, smiling. "Maybe I'll see you around?"

"Maybe." His answer was non-committal. I waved awkwardly as I braved the crowds and found the 'club' room, the smell of sweat and alcohol smacking me in the face the moment I stepped in. I saw Tori slumped on the bar and sighed. She never made things easy for me.

"Come on Tor, let's get you home." I pulled her up and wrapped an arm around her waist. She was significantly taller than me, even though I was wearing heels, so we didn't cut the most graceful figure as we stumbled through the room. She was mumbling incoherently, and could barely support her own weight. She was going to be a joy tomorrow morning.

We had reached about halfway across the main venue when I saw Bruce sidle up to me.

"I thought you might be struggling, so I spoke to a member of Security." He nodded to the 6 foot something man besides him and I gratefully peeled Tori off my side and into his arms.

"Be warned, she may try to hit on you, she does that when she's drunk and there are attractive males in the vicinity." I smiled apologetically at the guard.

"Don't worry about it. I work Stark parties, I'm used to ladies who have drunk too much. I'll get her into a cab?" The guard seemed friendly enough, and I didn't think he'd try to cop a feel while Tor was incapacitated.

"That'd be great – and if you could stay with her while I get our coats and make my way down?" He nodded and led her away. I turned to Bruce. "Thanks. I would've managed, but I'd probably have injured one or both of us."

"Don't mention it." Without discussion, he fell in step with me as I headed for the cloakroom. I grabbed Tori's fluffy monstrosity of a coat and pulled mine on with the other hand, smiling at Bruce over my shoulder as he took the fluff from me. "And I guess I should thank you too."

"What did I do?" I grinned.

"You were company. You kept Tony mostly off my back." I lifted my hair out of my collar, tilting my head up as I did so. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something green on the ceiling, and suppressed my blush when I realised what it was. I thought about ignoring it, but Bruce had already followed my gaze. "Mistletoe." I said nonchalantly. He looked...very awkward.

"Ahh..."

"Come on then." I tapped the corner of my mouth. "Where's my kiss?"

"Uh...we barely know each other, I don't think it's right." He wrung his hands together and I smiled.

"Going all shy now, are we Doctor Banner?" I teased and he grinned sheepishly. "Don't worry about it. Tradition is overrated, and I'm fairly certain that that-" I pointed to the innocuous plant, "-is a tradition made purely for horny youths looking for an excuse to make out. It's fine." He smiled gratefully, touched my hand in a friendly gesture before leaving. I shook my head, picked up the fluffy monstrosity and my bag and followed him out the room, going straight for the elevators. I had to get Tori home ASAP – from my experience, we had approximately 30 minutes before the vomiting starts, and I didn't have the money to pay for the taxi to be cleaned as well as the journey fare.

When we arrived at our decrepit apartment building, I leaned forwards, keeping one hand on Tori to make sure she didn't collapse into the seat.

"How much?" I asked, opening my purse one-handed.

"It's covered." The man's voice was gruff but kind.

"What?"

"Stark's got the bill, you get your friend to bed before she throws up all over my car."

"Are you sure?" I couldn't believe it.

"I'm sure, your doctor friend told me that Stark would pay, now go before she does." The driver smiled and I nodded, dragging Tori out of the backseat and waving as he drove away.

"Zoey I don't feel sho good."

"I know, Tor. Come on." I just had to hope that my run of good fortune would include getting my hammered friend to the bathroom in time.

Please leave me a review and lemme know what you think! ~Saskia xxx