Natasha stepped into the lobby of Stark Tower covered in a light dusting of snow. It wouldn't have bothered her even if it had lingered, but of course the building had driers inside the door that made the snow vanish long before she reached the elevators. Unlike other buildings in the city, there was still a hint of moisture in the air, too.
The express elevator to the penthouse opened with a "Greetings, Ms. Romanov".
"Hello, Jarvis." Natasha stepped inside and began to unbutton her coat. "You've told Pepper that I'm here?"
The doors slid shut, and Natasha took her hat off. A few strands of hair fell in front of her eyes, brighter in hue than the walls around it. By the time the doors opened again, she had everything in place again.
Even though the penthouse's dark woods were generally warm, the gray skies and swirling snow outside the floor-to-ceiling windows took away any cozy feeling. That was less disconcerting than the chill in the air - Natasha had been in plenty of places where big windows meant cold in winter, but never anywhere Tony Stark called home.
Pepper was sitting on a sofa in one of Tony's shirts, legs bare, holding something to the back of her neck. Since her head was hanging down, her hair covered her face.
"Hi," Natasha said cautiously. "Is the heating broken?"
"I wish." Pepper took whatever was on her neck off and tossed it with disgust on a nearby coffee table. "Sorry I called you out here in this."
Natasha shrugged her coat off. "I've been in a lot worse."
Pepper stood up, and as she brushed sweaty hair out of her face, Natasha got it. Maybe it was the pink in her cheeks, or recognizing the ice pack on the table. It was likely a combination of both, and seeing Pepper's outfit, and the slightest sweet taste in the air.
"You're in heat," Natasha said, sounding only a little surprised.
"Tell me something I don't know." Pepper padded over to the bar and bent to grab underneath. "And of course Tony's off with Rhodey building...ugh, none of these packs froze again."
Natasha crossed the room toward her. Pepper seemed to be radiating heat, but since Natasha was a beta, she wasn't feeling more than a mild buzzing on her own skin in response. She didn't rub a hand on her arm even though she wanted to, and she didn't touch Pepper. She grabbed a plastic bag and stuck ice cubes from the bar inside instead.
"You have a towel?" Natasha asked.
Pepper pulled one out with a triumphant "Ha!", and when Natasha wrapped it around the bag, Pepper snatched it back and pressed it against her neck.
"Looks like I have to change my suppressants again," Pepper sighed, sounding both annoyed and relieved at the same time.
Natasha had known that Pepper was an omega and that she had been on suppressants; not only had Natasha worked for Pepper, she'd collected information on her (and she'd been aware that Pepper had known - not much happened that Pepper didn't keep tabs on). Natasha had also known Tony was an omega long before people had started muttering about it on the helicarriers. He liked to complain about his suppressants and which ones interacted badly with alcohol.
"You don't mind, do you?" Pepper said.
"I know heat's usually a..." Pepper made a face. "Sex isn't what I had in mind when I called you."
"Oh. I've helped omegas through heat before."
"And that's great. But I don't..."
Pepper went quiet, and Natasha didn't say anything. She was definitely curious what Pepper was thinking - she had been ever since she'd gotten Pepper's terse voice mail - but she also wasn't going to push her into talking. She even slid past her behind the bar and took a seat to give her some space.
It seemed to help. Pepper leaned against the bar and said, "Sex doesn't do much for me. Not even during heat."
"So what does?"
"Cuddling." She sounded vaguely scornful.
Natasha felt herself smiling. "I like cuddling. If that's what you're asking for."
Natasha got up long enough to switch to the couch Pepper was stretched out on earlier and holds out her arms. "I'm very good at being a pillow."
Pepper laughed and walked around the bar. "Pillows don't actually help. Just make me feel hotter."
"But people don't?"
"You'd think, but no." Pepper settled on the couch beside Natasha. Natasha wasn't sure if her long sleeves would be a problem, but she didn't bother pulling them up as Pepper settled against her. If Pepper needed it fixed, she would say. "Oh, that's better already."
Natasha dropped her fingertips on Pepper's arm. It was already cooler than what she was feeling off her a few minutes ago. "How long do you need this?"
"Mmm?" Pepper's eyes were drifting shut. "I don't know. About the length of a nap, usually."
Natasha smiled a little and brushed a little of Pepper's hair out of her face.
When Natasha woke up again - she hadn't thought she would be tired enough to fall asleep, but the snow outside the window and Pepper's warmth were oddly soothing - Pepper was tapping along on a tablet, still leaning against Natasha's side.
Natasha yawned, and Pepper turned around to grin at her. "Thanks," she said. "I'm feeling a lot better now."
They sat in silence for a few more moments. Pepper only moved when Natasha stretched her arms out, and when Natasha was done, she stayed where she was until Pepper moved back into her space. She was definitely less warm than earlier.
"How would you feel about doing this again sometime?" Pepper paused, and Natasha wondered if she was going to add something about Tony, but she didn't say anything else.
"I could stand to catch up on my sleep," Natasha said. "But your supplements?"
"No guarantee they'll work. I've gone through most of the big names in the market right now."
Not for the first time, Natasha was very glad she wasn't an alpha or an omega. "If I'm free, I'm all yours."