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One Month, 31 Days

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“It’s only for a couple of days!” Tony said desperately.

Pepper ignored him and stayed focused on her office door. All she needed was to get there and she’d be safe...safer than out in the hallway where Tony had ambushed her on the way back from lunch. This would never have happened if she’d stayed in her office with a few bookcases and chairs piled in front of the door.

“Okay, maybe it’ll be a week!” Tony said, his voice gaining volume as he got closer. Pepper briefly thought of breaking into a proper run, but she was wearing heels and she’d missed her opportunity to escape. She was done for.

“One month Pep! It’ll be like no time at all!”

Just outside her door Pepper stopped, turned, and jabbed a manicured finger in Tony’s chest.

“I am not taking over your job as Iron Man for a whole month Tony!” She said as loudly as she dared in the open office. Tony threw up his hands in defence, but that just made Pepper jab him harder.

“It won’t be that bad!” Tony promised. Pepper gave a frustrated groan and stormed into her office, thoroughly disappointed when Tony quickly slid in behind her before the door could shut. “The chances of anything actually happening are slim to none anyway! Odds are you won’t even have to look at the suit, let alone wear it.”

“Then why are you asking me to do this at all?!” Pepper snapped over her shoulder, and Tony winced.

“Because if I don’t ask then something will happen and there will be no one around to help!”

Pepper reached her desk and threw herself into her chair, trying desperately to not pull out her neatly styled hair.

“Why can’t you just ask Rhodey then? He even has armor of his own!”

“He’s been deployed somewhere secret and can’t make it back in time.”

“Well, don’t you have a whole team of superheroes to look after the city while you’re gone?” Pepper pointed out, but Tony shook his head.

“Steve is going to be with me, Thor is back in Asgard and Bruce is off chasing a new lead in Malaysia. Natasha and Clint will be around, but even they can’t protect a whole city by themselves.”

Pepper huffed and slid further down into her chair, glaring at Tony over the tops of the piles of paperwork she still had to finish. Tony took a seat in one of the chairs on the other side and clasped his hands together on the teetering pieces of paper like he was about to break into some kind of prayer.

“Please Pep,” He begged, looking ridiculous as he tried to imitate the cute puppy look, “You’ve been training with me on how to use the suit, and with Steve and trainers from SHIELD on how to defend yourself. There’s no one else I could trust more to pilot the armor. No one in the whole world.”

Pepper let her gaze sweep over her former boss, taking in the trembling lip and the whites of his knuckles as his hands clenched too tight together. He really needed her to do this she realised. Pepper had known Tony long enough to know he couldn’t just leave Iron Man behind useless when he could leave it in the hands of someone he trusted to take on the name, put on the suit and do the good work Iron Man was known for. But she had his company to run, and his tower to watch, and really, now he wanted her to be Iron Man as well?

It was times like this that Pepper wondered why the hell she had ever thought working for Tony Stark would be a good idea.

“Fine,” She gritted out eventually, arms folded tight across her chest, “If and only if the city is in complete and utter danger...I’ll put on the suit.”

Tony jumped out of his chair and darted round the desk to pull Pepper into a ridiculously huge hug from joy.

“I could kiss you right now,” Tony said as he pulled back, grinning from ear to ear.

“Not if you don’t want me to take back every word I just said.”

“...maybe I’ll bring you chocolate instead.”

 

~***~

 

The wedding of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark had been a ridiculous media circus that had given Pepper a headache that lasted for three months and Steve a brief look into what it really meant to be a celebrity. The bright flashes of the cameras everywhere he went and the prying questions about his private life had made him a bit weary, so it was Steve who had suggested their honeymoon be secret, armour free and away from the rest of the world.

Pepper had been more than happy to help arrange the perfect getaway for the pair, but now she felt like she’d done the wrong thing. No armour had lead to Tony needing someone to fill Iron Man’s boots while he was gone, and that had lead to Pepper being squashed under a giant robot’s foot.

It wasn’t even a nice looking robot, reminding Pepper more of something out of a bad 1950’s movie than the sleek, futuristic Iron Man suit Pepper herself wore. But the robot was big, and it was heavy, and the pressure threshold for the suit had passed critical at least two minutes ago and Pepper still hadn’t figured out how to get the giant foot off of her.

“Pressure is reaching secondary danger levels,” JARVIS chirped almost cheerfully in her ear, and Pepper glared at the flicking HUD, hoping the AI could see it.

“I can feel that JARVIS,” She gritted out, pushing back and gaining absolutely no leverage at all. “Are there any repulsors facing the right way to help push this thing off of me?”

“I’m afraid not Miss Potts, but we may be able to -”

Over the crunching sound of the armor came a loud boom, and suddenly the pressure on the suit was gone, allowing Pepper to fly out of the crater she’d been squashed in and into the open air. There was a lingering cloud of smoke around the robot’s helmet like there had been an explosion midair, and a quick sweep with the sensors found Hawkeye sitting on a nearby rooftop, bow still poised to fire but empty of arrows. Pepper headed his way, landing with a dull thud beside him to check her armour status.

“Hello Hawkeye,” she greeted him, voice changing from Tony’s metallic Iron Man tones back to her own as she flipped up the faceplate to the open air. Hawkeye grinned at her and then shook his head chuckling.

"Still so strange to hear Tony's voice when I know you're the one inside of there," He said, "Tony really thinks that by letting you fly around in the suit with his voice people will think he's still hanging around?"

"It was the easiest way to help fool the press while he and Steve are gone," Pepper shrugged, trying to reign in the annoyed tone she seemed to adopt every time she remembered how much she was juggling at the moment for her former boss, "And I refused to let him build me a suit of my own."

"Why not?!” Hawkeye exclaimed, “That would be awesome!”

Pepper laughed.

"Not really, it'd just give Tony more excuses to go on holiday," She replied, flexing her arms and legs to make sure everything was still in working order, “And I don’t want to deal with that.”

Hawkeye laughed as Pepper finished her checks and snapped the faceplate down, both of them turning back towards their current enemy.

“Ready to finish this thing?” He asked her, and Pepper nodded, holding out her arms to steady herself as she rose back into the air.

“I’ll hit the head, you get the arms?” Pepper suggested.

“I’ve already got the legs,” Black Widow’s voice filtered in over the comms, and below them the robot pitched forward and fell as it hit a ridiculously thick amount of rope strung between two buildings.

“The old tricks are always the best,” Hawkeye admired, taking out another arrow to let loose on the fallen tech. Pepper made her way down to the head, finding a small control panel and blasting through it to find direct access to all the robot’s important wires underneath.

“Wonder what happens if I cut the red one?” She asked out loud, drawing up her hand and sending a few repulsor blasts through the flimsy metal. The robot groaned and shook as its systems failed, and after a few choice shots from Hawkeye, the robot finally went still and the city was saved.

“Anyone for pizza and a movie?” Hawkeye asked over the comms once Pepper’s scans had made sure the robot was down for the count.

“Only if I get to pick the movie,” Pepper answered with a smile, rising into the sky to head back towards Stark Tower.

“Ergh, is this going to turn into a chick flick night?” Hawkeye groaned in response, and Widow’s laughter followed Pepper all the way back home.

 

~***~

 

“I saw the robot on the news,” Tony said as Pepper put a packet of popcorn into the microwave and set the timer. “Looked like fun.”

“Only if you count being squashed by a giant foot as fun,” Pepper grumbled, rummaging around in the fridge for some butter she could drizzle over the top of her post-pizza treat.

“Well, actually -”

“That wasn’t a question Tony, and aren’t you meant to honeymooning right now? I’m surprised you’re even out of bed.”

“Who says I’m out of bed?” Tony asked suggestively, and Pepper could help but laugh as she spotted the butter at the back of the fridge and pulled it into the light.

“I just feel I should warn you that Steve might not be impressed if he knows you brought along your phone to your honeymoon just to watch Iron Man get beat up on TV by an ugly robot. And then to ring your pilot just to make sure the armor is okay.”

“What Steve doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Tony said dismissively, “But really, about the suit -”

“It looks a bit...flat, but JARVIS is working on repairs as we speak. In the mean time he’s brought up one of the newer models just in case we have anymore big problems,” Pepper told him. Tony sighed dreamily.

“Ah, the Mark 9,” He said happily, “I haven’t even gotten a chance to drive her yet, make sure you -”

There was a cough from the doorway, and Pepper turned to find Natasha leaning against the frame with her arms crossed and a small smile on her face.

“The movie is all set up and Clint is complaining about how long the popcorn is taking,” She said, walking silently on the tiled floors and looking towards the kitchen’s mini call centre.

“Shouldn’t you be climbing some gorgeous, American mountain right about now Stark?” Natasha asked innocently, and Pepper could practically hear Tony’s smirk through the laugh that followed.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be doing plenty of that later,” He promised, “I just wanted to check in on my favourite CEO first.”

“I’m your only CEO Tony,” Pepper pointed out.

“All the more reason to check up on you.”

“I’m fine,” Pepper promised, pulling the popcorn out of the microwave just before it went off, “Now go enjoy your honeymoon before I tell Steve what you’ve been up too.”

“I’ll helped too,” Natasha threw in casually, and Tony groaned.

“Bloody pushy red-haired women!” Tony muttered, ending the phone call without saying goodbye. Pepper quickly heated up the butter and drizzled it over the freshly made popcorn, handing the bowl to Natasha as they moved back towards the living room. There they found Clint sprawled over half the couch, which was quite an impressive feat as it took up most of the room.

“I’ve been staring at the title screen for hours, were you two making out in the kitchen or what?” Clint whined, eyes lighting up as Natasha set the bowl of popcorn on his stomach.

“Tony was calling to check in on Pepper,” Natasha explained, sitting near to Clint’s head to be within reach of the bowl. Pepper took a seat a little further along, wondering why she suddenly felt warm all over.

Making out in the kitchen...what had given Clint that idea? It was silly really. She and Natasha weren’t even like that. They were friends, or at the very least temporary allies while Tony was away. People just didn’t make out with their allies because they happen to find themselves alone together in a room. It was absurd. Ridiculous. Kinda…sexy?

“Pepper?” Natasha asked, wrenching Pepper out of her thoughts by putting a hand gently on her leg. Pepper jumped, startled, and Natasha retracted her touch quickly as if she’d been burned by Pepper’s flushed skin.

“Yes, sorry, what did you ask? I must have just drifted off,” Pepper said nervously, voice pathetically squeaky.

“Do you want to start the movie?” Natasha repeated. Pepper nodded frantically.

“Yes, let’s do that, JARVIS?”

“I’ll dim the lights now Miss Potts,” The AI replied, and as the room went dark Pepper hoped the shadows hid her heated cheeks.

 

~***~

 

Two days and three more giant robots later, post-battle movie nights seemed to become a tradition. It was a nice easy way to unwind, though by the third night Pepper had to request they order something other than pizza before she lost the ability to look at a supreme with all the toppings without gagging ever again.

The popcorn never changed though, and movie night tradition came to include a popcorn interlude where Pepper would make the biggest bowl she could find and Natasha would come in at the last moment to help deliver it to an always complaining Clint. Pepper tried not to think too much into it, but every time Natasha appeared she could hear Clint in her head saying ‘Were you making out or what?’ And the more she heard it the more Pepper had to find convincing reasons to explain why she kept blushing and sitting further away from the other red head on the couch.

It wasn't like Pepper had never had feelings for another woman before. During her first year of employment with Stark Industries she'd had a girlfriend who had turned out to be a reporter looking for company secrets. The end of the relationship had burned her, and so up until her brief fling with Tony almost two years prior she hadn't thought of dating for a long time…until she'd met Natalie Rushman who took her breath and made her heart jump. The attraction had waned when Natalie had revealed herself to actually be Natasha Romanov, but now she and Pepper were working so closely again Pepper felt her feelings returning. Sometimes she wondered if they'd ever actually left.

She had hoped no one would noticed, but she had taken to spending large quantities of time with agents trained to pick up on the small details, so she really should have been less shocked when Natasha cornered her in the kitchen just barely a week after the beginning of Pepper’s month as Iron Man.

Clint had gotten into a habit of asking for all different types of popcorn toppings, and that night he had request enough icing sugar to fill a bathtub. Pepper had raised an eyebrow at his request but done as he bid, only to find the key ingredient on a shelf too high for her to reach. Why Tony had shelves so high she didn’t know, but when he got back they would be having some serious discussions about renovations in the near future.

“Need some help?” A voice asked, and Pepper tried to spin around so fast she started to fall. Cool hands locked behind her back and pulled her upright, and instead of finding herself face down on the floor, Pepper found herself face to face with Natasha.

“Natasha!” Pepper exclaimed a bit too loudly, wanting to pull away but finding the experience of having those hands on her a bit too good, “Sorry it’s taking so long, the icing sugar is just...”

Pepper gestured uselessly at the top shelf, and Natasha gently let the other woman go to eye the icing sugar thoughtfully. She shifted her stance just a fraction and then leapt into the air like some graceful dancer, snatching the icing sugar as she passed somewhere near the ceiling and handing it over to Pepper when she landed lightly back onto her feet.

“I suppose that’s one thing you can use years of training for,” Pepper said in a bit of a daze, turning away from Natasha to dump the icing sugar on top of the cooling popcorn. When she turned back around with the bowl in her hands Natasha was still in the exact same spot, and Pepper almost dropped the dish as she bumped into her.

“I-is there something else?” Pepper asked, feeling like she’d unintentionally walked into a trap.

“Do I make you uncomfortable?” Natasha asked evenly. Pepper tried to swallow around the sudden lump in her throat.

“Uncomfortable?” She laughed nervously, “Of course not! What makes you think -”

“I can’t say we’ve ever been extremely close, but ever since our first movie night you flinch whenever I get near to you,” Natasha said.

“I don’t -” Pepper started to protest, but Natasha moved a quick hand towards her and Pepper couldn’t help the way she jumped away on instinct.

“Is this about what Clint said?” Natasha asked softly, letting her hand drop away again, “I thought with Steve and Tony being together you would be fine with this type of thing.”

Pepper’s mouth dropped.

“That’s not what it’s like at all!” Pepper protested hotly, fingers clenching against the sides of the popcorn bowl. “I just...he thought we were making out in the kitchen? Of all places? I don’t know if I should be insulted that he thought I couldn’t control myself for two min -”

Pepper stopped, heart thumping painfully in her chest. Oh no. Oh no no no no no. Had she just made a confession? It sure sounded like a confession, and she wasn’t even sure if there was something she should be confessing yet.

Natasha’s blank face broke into a smile, and she took a step closer. Pepper stood absolutely still as Natasha raised her hand again, bringing it up to run her fingers along Pepper’s still open bottom lip. Her touch left fire in its wake, and Pepper wanted to take those fingers into her mouth and...she didn’t know what exactly, but she did know she’d never been so turned on before in her life.

“Did you ever think that maybe Clint thought that I couldn’t control myself?” Natasha asked, her voice lower and promising and twisting around Pepper’s insides. With a lingering gaze at Pepper’s mouth, Natasha removed her hand to take the popcorn and leave the room with a new swish in her hips. Pepper nearly fell back onto the counter the moment Natasha turned the corner, her breathing all over the place and her heart beat just as crazy.

“Miss Potts,” JARVIS said, “You pulse seems to be climbing at an unusually high rate...should I call an ambulance?”

“No, JARVIS, I’ll be fine,” Pepper choked out.

At least she hoped she would be.

 

~***~

 

Pepper moved closer to Natasha and Clint on the couch after that, finding her jumpiness dialling down following Natasha's actions in the kitchen. Natasha grew bolder as well, making sure to trail her hands over Pepper's skin whenever they were close enough to touch and completely alone.

Pepper still had to fight a heart attack every time, but mostly she just found the experience...frustrating. She wanted more, but didn’t know how to ask, and Natasha seemed perfectly content with just teasing and watching Pepper squirm. Pepper had thought maybe they were heading down the road to a relationship past friendship, but every time she tried to bring it up Pepper felt her throat go dry, and Natasha never said a word about it either.

Pepper knew she had to say something, but it all felt wrong somehow. She knew she wanted Natasha, and she knew she wanted to explore more of whatever it was they had. But she also wanted to know why Natasha seemed so quiet on the subject despite being the one trailing her hands all over Pepper’s body.

It came to a head during the appearance of Ugly Robot number 14, who started to attack the harbor just as Pepper was about to walk into a very important board meeting at the end of her second week as Iron Man. Clint intercepted her in the elevator, dropping down from a hole in the ceiling like it was a normal everyday thing.

And, well, for Clint it probably was.

“We’ve got trouble at the harbor,” He said in way of greeting, pressing the hidden button that immediately sent the elevator to Tony’s secret top floor armory. Pepper tried not to groan aloud in frustration.

“If this is a plot to spend the day at the sea side -” Pepper started, but Clint just shook his head.

“Nope, we’ve just got another Ugly Robot on the loose.”

Pepper sighed and tapped at the small piece of communications tech in her ear, getting a reply from JARVIS almost instantly.

“JARVIS, let the board members know the meeting has been postponed till tomorrow...hopefully,” She said, and JARVIS promised to send along the message. Laying a hand on Clint’s shoulder, Pepper carefully removed her high heels then pulled off her jacket and slacks to reveal the body suit underneath. By the time she had straightened up they had reached the top floor, and a scanner just above the doors of the elevator checked they had authorization to move beyond that point.

Thankfully they did.

Pepper had to fly a bit slower than she usually would to account for the extra weight of an archer on her back, and the extra few seconds meant that when they reached the harbor the robot had already trashed half a dozen boats and ripped up most of the pier. Pepper dropped Hawkeye off at the tallest building she could find, and then flew towards the robot to try and distract it from destroying some fish markets. An arrow whizzed past when Pepper finally stopped a few metres from the robot, hitting it squarely between the eyes and exploding on impact.

“Doesn’t look that much different than the last ones,” Pepper reported over the comms, hovering while she tried to find the heads weak spot.

“Whoever is building these things doesn’t have much of a mind for upgrades, do they?” Hawkeye scoffed back, shooting another arrow at the robots arm which jerked and fell useless at its side. “They don’t change the weak points, don’t change the outside plating…it’s more like they just enjoy watching the playbacks of us defeating the things on the late news or something.”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore,” Pepper said, finding and shooting the weak hatch that was always the robots downfall. The robot stopped and then toppled over as its systems failed, falling into the sea and sending a spray of water high enough in the air to hit the suit.

“Good job Iron Man,” Came Black Widow’s voice over the comms, “You can head back to the Tower, I’m inbound on a quintjet to pick up Hawkeye.”

“I have visual,” Pepper confirmed, HUD bringing up the image of the jet from the outside cameras, about three minutes from their position. “Let me know when you’re done with debriefing and we’ll -”

Without warning there was a boom from beneath Pepper’s position, and she looked down just in time to see a missile shoot up from where the robot had fallen moments before. The missile turned and headed to the right, straight towards the inbound quintjet.

“Evasive manoeuvres!” Black Widow yelled over the comms, and Pepper watched the jet dive, narrowly missing being blown to pieces. The missile turned when it missed its target, heading back in for another attempt.

Pepper didn’t think, just turned towards the action and flew. Watching the quintjet avoid the missile was like watching a very bad game of tag, and each time the missile got closer and closer. Pepper tried to shoot it out of the sky but it was too fast and she couldn’t get a proper lock before it disappeared to another location.

“Widow! It’s too damn fast; you’re going to have to get out of there!” Pepper yelled.

“I’ll get the pilots to eject from their seats, and then maybe I can -”

The jet swerved again, and two objects flew from its front and into the sky where parachutes blew into the wind and slowly brought the pilots down. The missile ignored them, going again for the quintjet and narrowly missing when it jerked sideways.

“Widow, you need to get out too!” Pepper said desperately, trying to block the missile and sending it upwards as it attempted to fix back onto the quintjet’s position.

“There’s no time, and even I can’t survive a jump that big,” Widow’s voice came back, and Pepper’s heart seized. No, it couldn’t end like this. It couldn’t.

“You won’t have to worry about it!” She yelled, shooting at the missile again and watching it go into the distance. “Pull the hatch and jump now! I’ll catch you!”

There was no confirmation call, but Pepper saw the back hatch blow and a dark figure fall down towards the water. Wasting no time Pepper flew after the falling object, grabbing Black Widow around the middle and pulling her up into the suits arms just as the missile turned around and made a direct hit with the quintjet. Pepper swerved through falling debris, heading back towards the building she’d left Hawkeye on. Every second was agony, and all Pepper could hear was the dull beat of her heart in her ears, and the continued thought please be okay please be okay please be okay please be okay…

The minute she touched down on the roof she gently laid Natasha on the concrete, raising her face plate to see everything with her own eyes. Natasha was breathing, but she was pale and not moving.

“Natasha,” Pepper whispered, wishing she wasn’t encased in metal and could touch the woman in front of her, “Wake up Tasha, come on.”

Clint appeared on Natasha’s other side, taking her hand in his and holding it tightly to his chest.

“She’s still breathing, I’m sure she just needs a minute,” He said firmly, and Pepper wanted to believe him, she did, but -

Natasha’s eyes sprang open and she gasped; her breaths deep and eyes blinking in the sunlight. Clint gave a small relieved chuckle.

“That’s my girl,” He said.

Natasha’s eyes fixed on him for a moment, and then to Pepper just as she broke into a huge grin.

“You caught me,” Natasha said, almost sounding disbelieving. Pepper laughed.

“Of course I caught you. I wouldn’t let you fall,” Pepper said quietly, vaguely aware of Clint’s gaze fixing on her as well. Natasha drew her lips together, then slowly brought up the hand that wasn’t clutched in Clint’s to press against the side of Pepper’s face. Pepper leaned into the touch, not caring what Clint might be thinking, letting a tear slip onto Natasha’s fingertips.

“Thank you,” Natasha said, and Pepper just nods, not trusting herself to speak.

 

~***~

 

Pepper received a message later that afternoon from Clint saying movie night was cancelled on account of Natasha being put into the helicarriers medical ward for observation. Pepper is disappointed, but she breathes a bit easier knowing someone is watching Natasha and making sure she’s okay. With the extra time suddenly on her hands, Pepper finds herself at a loss of what to do. She could go back to her offices and catch up on all the paperwork she’s horribly behind on or she could check her emails or get an early night’s sleep for once.

Instead she still ends up putting on a movie, sitting alone on the vastness of the couch and missing Natasha’s smirks and Clint poking holes in every movie plot. She gets about 15 minutes in and is about to call it a loss when JARVIS politely tries to get her attention.

“Miss Potts, there seems to be someone in the elevator,” He says, and Pepper doesn’t really know how to reply.

“Are they uh, headed towards this floor?” She asks eventually, and JARVIS says they. Pepper knew JARVIS wouldn’t let anyone unauthorized to the Avengers floors, but that still didn’t answer the question of who was in the elevator. Pondering the choices, Pepper paused the movie and made her way to the elevator doors, waiting for them to open and reveal her visitor.

When they finally slide apart, Pepper can’t help but drop her mouth in shock.

“You’re meant to be under medical supervision!” Pepper scolded, coming forward to offer her arm. Natasha took it with a smile and leaned in close.

“JARVIS will alert the proper people if needed,” Natasha said dismissively, “I’m made of strong stuff Pepper, I’m fine.”

“You fell out of a plane today!” Pepper pointed out hotly, leading Natasha to the kitchen and seating her in one of the stools there. She turned to make tea, but the minute her hand slipped out of Natasha’s the other woman grabbed it back and held it tightly.

“And you caught me,” Natasha said, that disbelieving tone creeping back into her voice. Heart in her throat and arm burning, Pepper pulled out of Natasha’s grasp and crossed her arms.

“Of course I caught you! You think I would just let you fall into the ocean and…and…” Pepper can’t really finish, finding herself angry. Why couldn’t Natasha understand? “I have feelings for you Natasha. I was so scared when you didn’t wake up. I thought I’d caught you for nothing and it…it hurt.”

Natasha looked towards the floor, avoiding Pepper’s gaze and it just made her madder. Weeks of frustrations and touches that apparently meant nothing and Natasha’s pale face against concrete flashed in her mind.

“I thought you felt something for me too,” Pepper said quietly, trying to not give in to the anger in her gut, “Every time you touched me I thought…I thought it meant something. But obviously it didn’t, and if you were just teasing or making fun of me I don’t care anymore.”

Natasha jerked, and her eyes met Pepper’s again.

“It meant something,” She said firmly, “Of course it meant something Pepper! I just thought -”

“You thought what?”

“I thought you just wanted something physical,” Natasha said, and Pepper stiffened.

“You do know who you’re talking too, right?” Pepper asked aghast, “I’m not exactly a one night stand type of -”

“Seducing people is part of my job,” Natasha cut in, her eyes blank. “And I’m good at it. Sometimes I think I’m too good. I’ve had to deal with infatuations from colleagues and friends before. It tends to make a person guarded.”

Pepper pressed her lips together, not sure what to say. Noticing the silence, Natasha continued.

“You responded to my touch. I knew you…I knew you craved it, looked forward to it. You never mentioned it outside of those times and I just assumed it was because you had nothing else to say about it.”

“I never mentioned it because I thought you didn’t want to mention it,” Pepper said softly, starting to really see the mess they’d gotten themselves into. “You’re right. I looked forward to movie nights for more than just the company and the popcorn, but I just assumed you didn’t want more than what you were getting. I thought you might have just taken pity on me and my silly crush.”

Natasha’s eyes lightened, and her lips quirked up slightly.

“I think I’m starting to see where the problem is here,” Natasha said, and Pepper nodded.

“Okay, how about this then,” Pepper suggested. “Let’s throw everything out of the window and start again.”

Pepper took a deep breath, looked into Natasha eyes and smiled.

“I have feelings for you Natasha,” She said clearly, “I have for a while now, but I didn’t know what to do about them. But if you feel the same way, I’d like to try to make this work.”

“I think I’d like that too Pepper,” Natasha smiled, bringing her hand up to touch Pepper’s face like she had on the rooftop. Slowly she pulled Pepper’s face down until their lips hovered within an inch of each other, than she moved forward and they were kissing. It was soft and sweet, and when they pulled back Pepper felt like her stomach was about to explode from the amount of butterflies inside of it. Emboldened, Pepper was about to kiss Natasha again when JARVIS came over the speaker to announce a phone call.

“Is Natasha with you?” Clint asked as soon as the phone clicked on, and Natasha rolled her eyes as she let go of Pepper’s face.

“I’m fine Clint, really,” She said, and Clint sighed.

“I know that, but you’re doctors don’t and they’re kind of flipping out. Which means Fury is flipping out. Which means you need to get back here before someone’s ass gets kicked, meaning mine.”

Pepper took Natasha’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

“I can give you a ride there?” She suggested. Natasha was quiet for a minute, and then shook her head.

“No, it’s fine,” She told Pepper, then directed her voice towards Clint. “Tell Fury I’m spending the night with Pepper, and if he has any problems with that he can tell me about them tomorrow.”

“You’re spending the night with Pepper?” Clint repeated back blankly, and Pepper could practically hear the light bulb go off in his head. “Oooh. Right. Well, you owe me one Nat.”

“Add it to the tab,” Natasha grinned, and Clint scoffed.

“Don’t forget to use protection!” He said seriously, hanging up and leaving Pepper to blush to the roots of her hair. Natasha laughed and pulled her down for another kiss, hands on Pepper’s flushed cheeks and warming them even more.

“Is it okay if I stay the night?” She asked when they pulled apart again, “I suppose I should have asked before assuming -”

“You’re always welcome to stay with me,” Pepper said, and Natasha smiled.

 

~***~

 

The weeks that followed were some of the best of Pepper's life.

After making them swear they would avoid being super coupley during movie nights, Clint gives Pepper his blessing to date Natasha and doesn't complain if they start taking a little extra time to make popcorn. With the air cleared between them, Natasha becomes more open with her affections in public, not hesitating to take Pepper's hand when they go out for lunch or sometimes for night time dates. It gives Pepper a little thrill to walk the streets with their hands swinging together between them, and while her heart still goes a bit crazy from it all Pepper finds herself enjoying the feeling more than she thought.

When the days start to tick down to Tony and Steve returning, Pepper finds herself taking the Iron Man suit out more and more between giant robot battles and thinking about how much she'd miss it all. The flying, the acrobatics, even the bruises from the suit not sitting properly.

"You do make a good Iron Man," Black Widow admits when Pepper accidently becomes a bit too nostalgic during another Ugly Robot battle, "And you can even tell Stark I said that too."

"I told you to just get Tony to build you your own suit,” Hawkeye suggested again, and Pepper chose to not answer, not that it deterred the archer’s train of thought one bit.

“It would be helpful having three armoured guys - uh, people - flying around anyway. Iron Man, War Machine, and you could be -”

“Rescue,” Black Widow said, and Pepper found herself smiling. They’d talked about Pepper getting her own suit in an abstract it-would-never-happen way, and Pepper had decided Rescue fitted her. While she was pretending to be Iron Man she was mostly fighting, yes, but Pepper liked knowing she’d helped people too. During the fight with Ugly Robot 12 Pepper had saved a bunch of school children who had walked into a disaster zone on their way home, and knowing she’d been able to actually help them rather than be defenceless on the sidelines had been a huge moment for her.

“I was thinking something more like…Iron Lady or Iron Maiden, but I suppose Rescue is alright,” Hawkeye pouted, and Pepper laughed.

“I’m not sure if the real Iron Maiden would appreciate if I took their name,” She pointed out.

“No way!” Hawkeye protested. “They’d totally love it, you could even -”

Hawkeye cut off as the robot lunged towards his position, the building going up in smoke as the robots hand landed where the archer had been seated moments before. That was new. Apart from the missile that had attacked the quintjet, the robots had gone back to being the normal city destroying kind. They’d never even attacked anyone but Pepper before.

Something was wrong.

“Hawkeye, report!” Widow said, but all that came back was static. Pepper dodged a robot hand of her own and tried to scan the building, finding Hawkeye’s tracking signal coming from the next roof over.

“What did I ever do to the big ugly thing?” He grunted through the comms, and Widow breathed a sigh of relief loud enough for Pepper to hear.

“They might have changed tactics again,” She reasoned, “Get away from that building and we can regroup.”

“Aye aye,” Hawkeye replied, disappearing off the side of the roof. Pepper returned to her position high above the fight, watching as the robot searched the rooftop for Hawkeye. Never before had she seen the robots look like they were searching for something, and she was about to relay this thought to Widow when the robot's head rotated and its eyes locked directly on her position.

Its arms shot out from both sides, climbing higher than Pepper thought possible and grabbing her around the ankle before she could fly off. She tried to aim a repulsor blast at the stubby fingers, but its other arm came up quickly and wrapped around Pepper’s torso, squeezing till all her alarms went red.

“Iron Man!” Hawkeyes voice yelled over the comms, “Hold on!”

The robots head turned again, and suddenly the air filled with a loud hum that had the hairs on Pepper’s arms and neck standing. From the street Hawkeye fired two shots at the robots arm and they exploded harmlessly about 2 metres from their target.

“It has shields!” Pepper said, pulling up the HUD to display the shield generators attached to the robot’s back. They were new, and better tech than anything the robots had ever displayed before. How had they missed that?

“Can you take them out?” Asked Widow.

“Negative,” Pepper replied, then ordered JARVIS to divert all power to her thrusters to try and fly her way out. He did as she asked, but the robot seemed to anticipate her actions and swung her still clenched in its fist towards the ground. The impact made Pepper cry out, and the strain on the suit had alarms going off in her ears, but all she could hear was Widow’s frantic calls as her vision slowly faded.

This isn’t how it usually goes, Pepper thought blurrily, and then passed out.

 

~***~

 

When she came too Pepper was still in the suit, though it seemed to be powered down to life support mode. As she woke, so did the systems, though weapons and flight seemed to be offline.

“So you’re awake,” A voice said, and Pepper looked up.

“Justin Hammer?” Pepper asked, shocked. Hammer looked different to the last time she had seen him. Cheeks sunken, glasses lopsided, hair a mess and suit covered in stains. “I thought you were in prison.”

“You can’t keep a tech genius in a prison, Stark,” Hammer sneered, “Let alone one with digital locks.”

Pepper didn't reply, trying to fight off the last bits of unconsciousness in her mind. Obviously Tony’s voice idea had fooled not only the press but also his old rival, and Pepper wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. She knew she had to keep pretending to be Tony though, at least while Hammer still seemed to think she was her old boss anyway.

“What do you want?” Pepper asked after a moment, and Hammer laughed.

“What I always wanted,” He hissed, “For people to finally see Hammer Tech as the best tech creators in the country!”

“Well if you created those robots that have been attacking for the last month, I’m sure you’ve lost customers, not gained them,” Pepper shot back, and Hammer growled and whipped out a remote from his pocket. He pressed the first button there, and Pepper screamed as an electric shock ripped through her. When it faded, Hammer laughed.

“I found all your weak spots and have plenty more tricks,” He promised, walking forward to crouch in front of Pepper. “I realise I was petty back then. I hadn’t realised my full potential but now…things are different now. I’m going to take back my company, and with your help I’m going to make my robots so powerful that everyone in the world will bow down to me or face my wrath.”

“If you think I would ever let my tech touch those robots you’ve got another thing coming,” Pepper promised, and screamed again as Hammer hit the remote.

“Do I really Tony?” He asked slowly, and reached forward to hit the emergency locks on the side of the helmet faceplate. Pepper had one moment of panic before it slid back, and Hammer’s eyes widened in shock.

“…Pepper Potts?” He whispered, stepping back with a dark look forming on his face, “No, you were meant to be Tony. YOU WERE MEANT TO BE TONY!” He screamed.

Time seemed to slow as he moved a finger over his remote again, and something in Pepper knew this was it. She was going to die. She’d finally found her place, and someone…god, someone she loved. And she never got to say goodbye.

I’m sorry Natasha, she thought, then there was a boom and she was thrown back just in time to see Hammer smash in the wall far behind him. Another Iron Man suit came into the room, followed closely by Captain America who immediately rushed to Pepper’s side.

“I’ve got you Miss Potts,” He said, and Pepper couldn’t help but laugh.

“How many times do I have to tell you Steve,” She said. “It’s Pepper.”

Against the other wall Tony was approaching Hammer, and Pepper could almost imagine the scary smile through his faceplate.

“Hello Justin,” He said coolly. “It’s the real Tony Stark here. Though it’s actually Rogers-Stark now, if you wouldn’t mind passing around a company memo.”

“I was so close,” Hammer snarled, hands grasping at the broken remote in his hands like a lifeline, “The world was going to be mine.”

“The world,” Tony said, grabbing Justin’s shoulder roughly, “Doesn’t belong to anyone, and just happens to be under the protection of the Avengers.”

He drew back a fist, but before he could strike the other man Pepper pulled herself out of Steve’s arms and stumbled forward.

“Wait!” She yelled, pain searing through her arm as she realised it was probably broken. “Don’t do it.”

Tony turned, the blank face of the Iron Man suit watching as Pepper came to stand beside him.

“He’s been giving me grief for a month. I’d like to do the honours, if you don’t mind,” Pepper requested. Tony nodded.

“He’s all yours.”

Pepper turned to look towards Hammer, finding fear in his eyes as he looked back at her.

“This is what you get when you make crappy robots,” She tells him, then punches him square in the jaw.

 

~***~

 

SHIELD orders Tony to bring Pepper to the helicarrier for treatment, but since he's Tony Stark and thinks it's better for Pepper to be in her own rooms, the doctor’s end up coming to see her instead.

They poke and prod, sling up her broken arm and give her stiches in at least six different places before ordering her to have plenty of bed rest and leaving. Tony helps her get washed up and into some clean clothes, then sits next to her bed looking like a lost puppy.

"You guys came back two days early," Pepper begins casually. Tony nods.

"We were half way back when SHIELD contacted us and said you'd been taken," Tony tells her, "I took the emergency armor I'd been carrying, bundled up Steve and we flew here as fast as we could."

"Must have been quite a sight," Pepper smiled. Tony shrugged.

"Maybe, I dunno, but Pep I just wanted to say I'm really sorr-" He begins, but she holds up her uninjured hand to silence him.

“Apology accepted,” She said with the best smile she could muster, “Not that it’s needed. We’d all been lulled into a sense of false security. I never expected the robots to actually hit a target.”

“It was a long, stupid Justin Hammer type of plan but it worked,” Tony grumbled, obviously not happy that his rival had any form of success. “At least we’ll be prepared for next time.”

“Next time?” Pepper asked.

“He swore revenge, but I made sure he’s in an old fashion prison this time. Just in case.”

They sit in silence for a moment, until there’s a crash outside and Pepper’s door flew open, admitting a pissed looking Natasha and Clint.

“Where is the bastard? I’ll put an arrow through his eye,” Clint said, waving his bow dangerously in the air. Natasha made no threats, instead spotting Pepper laying in the middle of her bed and moving quietly to her side. She ran her fingers over some stiches in Pepper’s temple, and sought out her eyes.

“Are you okay?” She asked quietly, and Pepper nodded.

“Just a bit banged up, but I’ll be fine,” She promised. Natasha let out a breath and Pepper had a feeling she’d been holding it since the robot had grabbed her hours ago. With care not to bump into any of Pepper’s new bruises, Natasha leaned down and pressed a small kiss to her lips, and it made Pepper feel better than the drugs the doctors had prescribed her to ease the pain.

A loud shocked sound broke off the moment, and both Pepper and Natasha turned to Tony who was pointing at them accusingly and starring at Clint.

“Why didn’t you tell me they’d finally gotten together?!” He asked angrily, and Clint gave a confused shrug.

“I didn’t think it was important enough to interrupt your honeymoon?” He said, and Tony let out a loud annoyed sigh.

“All the exciting stuff happens when I go away!” Tony whined, “I am never going on holiday ever again!”

“Ahem,” Natasha coughed loudly, and Tony looked back towards the bed and Natasha’s hard stare and jumped up from his seat.

“Uh, well, you seem to have this all under control so…get well soon Pep!” Tony babbled, and then fled the room. Clint watched him go and sighed, also wishing Pepper a fast recovery and leaving again. Natasha turned to Pepper, obviously with a few choice words about Tony on her tongue, but Pepper gently took her hand and the words seemed to disappear.

“I was so worried about you,” Natasha admitted quietly, and Pepper tugged her up so Natasha was lying at her side with their fingers laced together on Pepper’s chest.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Pepper apologized, and Natasha shook her head.

“It wasn’t your fault,” She said, and Pepper took a deep breath to steady herself.

“I think he was ready to kill me when he found out I wasn’t Tony,” Pepper admitted, and the weight of the words crashed into her like a horrible wave. Tears began to fall and the enormity of everything she had just been through finally cut into the cocoon of shock she’d be wrapped in.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you, you’re safe,” Natasha soothed, kissing Pepper’s forehead and holding her while she cried. It seemed to go on forever, and just as she thought the tears were gone Pepper felt them start all over again, and by the time she was truly finished she felt so exhausted she couldn’t keep her eyes open.

“Sleep,” Natasha told her, “I’ll watch over you.”

“I…” Pepper started, a yawn cutting off her words. She was so tired.

“I realised something today,” She finally gets out, and Natasha’s lips quirk up a little.

“What’s that?” She asked softly.

“I love you. Which might be silly but I really -” Pepper starts, but Natasha just pulls her close, kisses her and smiles.

“I love you too,” She says, and Pepper falls asleep with a smile of her own on her lips.

 

~***~

 

Epilogue: 1 Year Later

"It's just for a few days!" Pepper said, finding way too much glee in the way Tony hovered on the other side of his desk, trying to stop her from getting around.

"Oh no no no," He said sternly, "You are not using my own tricks on me. It's not fair!"

"Maybe a week?" Pepper grinned, ignoring Tony's distraction tactics. "Okay, it's only for a month!"

"I am not doing board meetings and going into the office every day for a month so you can go and use my jet to fly around the world with your girlfriend, okay?" Tony said, arms folded tightly across his chest. "I have way too much other stuff to do!"

Pepper hummed thoughtfully.

"So, when you asked me to take over as Iron Man, you didn't think I had other stuff to do?" She asked innocently. "I ran your company, and looked after your tower, and battled at least two giant robots a day for a month. All I'm asking is you be there in person if they need you to be there."

"But I really hate -"

"And I got kidnapped and almost killed too," Pepper said innocently, "Just in case you forgot."

Tony glared at her, but Pepper just smiled her thousand watt smile and waited. Eventually he sighed, and lowered his arms in defeat.

"Fine, but only a month!" He said, "If you're gone any longer I'll...I'll make sure there are suspicious fires in all the board rooms.”

Pepper ducked around the table and gave him a quick hug.

"I'll even let you take Steve into the offices if you promise to be discreet."

Tony threw his arms around Pepper and squeezed her tight until she laughed.

"You're the best!" He said. Pepper laughed again and let go of Tony, heading back towards the lab entrance.

"Oh by the way, first meeting is tomorrow at 7am!" She called over her shoulder as she left.

"I hate you so much!" Tony called back before the elevator closed, and Pepper smiled as she pulled out her mobile and to call the number already waiting.

"What did he say?" Natasha asked as soon as she picked up, and Pepper laughed.

"You ask like you don't have Clint hiding in the vents to find out everything," Pepper teased, and Natasha gave a little guilty laugh.

“I already called ahead to the airport to have the plane ready,” She admitted, “We’re good to leave tonight if you want.”

“Sounds perfect,” Pepper said, stepping out of the elevator and into the company entrance.

“See you in 5?” Natasha asked. Pepper agreed.

“I love you,” She said.

“I love you too,” Natasha replied, and hung up the call.

As Pepper stepped into the sun, she tilted her head towards the sky and let its warmth bathe her face. Her new armor heavy in the suit case at her side, and her heart heavy from a love too good to be true, Pepper took a deep breath and went to call Happy when her phone went off with a text from Tony.

Can I back out? I changed my mind. His text message read. Pepper laughed and quickly typed back a reply.

You’ll be fine Tony. And she knew he would be too.

After all, what could happen in a month?

 

The End.