She wears blue.
It’s an old standby of hers, blue—she learned long ago that her hair and complexion didn’t lend themselves particularly well to experimentation with color.
Wearing the same rich shade of blue everywhere doesn’t bother Pepper in the least. She looks good, and she knows it.
Phil compliments her on her dress the instant she slips past the attendant into the main room.
“Thank you,” she says, and her smile is only a little bit forced. “You don’t look bad, yourself.”
That’s true enough. Phil in a tuxedo, though, is a strange sight—on anyone else, his outfit would seem excessively formal, but he barely appears to be dressed up. She’s never seen him out of a suit, after all.
“Would you care for a drink?” he asks her, and she nods, relieved. A bit of champagne is exactly what she needs if she’s to make it through this evening with her mind intact.
Pepper is already regretting agreeing to come. It’s disconcerting to know, as Phil walks her across the room, that many of the people she passes are trained killers. They all seem so normal, in their tuxes and their evening gowns—this could be any other high-society event, and if there’s one thing Pepper knows, it’s high-society events.
But then a redheaded woman brushes past her, and as she walks away, Pepper sees the gun at her hip. The illusion is shattered.
Phil looks up at her and frowns. “You remember Natasha, don’t you?”
She hesitates. “Natalie?”
He nods. “Don’t worry, I assure you she’s harmless.”
Pepper’s knowledge of trained assassins is limited, and she never knew ‘Natalie Rushman’ as well as she thought she did, but she can still tell that that’s bullshit. She raises an eyebrow at Phil, and he has the grace to look abashed.
“Well, actually, she’s quite dangerous. But not to you. She likes you.”
That’s news to Pepper, but she decides to take it as a positive sign. If she’s managed to find herself on the good side of a world-renowned assassin without even trying, perhaps she can just relax and enjoy the evening.
She takes a deep breath, letting herself feel it all the way down to her toes. Phil hands her a glass of champagne, and she takes a drink—it’s good. The party is good. Everything’s good.
Phil wasn’t wrong about her needing to get out of her apartment.
As the night wears on, though, Pepper begins to feel increasingly out of her element. She has always taken pride in her social skills, but here, she doesn’t know anyone but Phil. Small talk isn’t coming as easily to her as it usually does; do trained assassins even care about the weather?
She feels discombobulated; she’s dropped her clutch somewhere.
“Phil? Phil?” She drags him away from the cluster of men he has been talking to. “Have you seen my clutch?”
One of the men glares at her over Phil’s head, and she instantly feels guilty. “Never mind. I think I know where I left it.”
She makes her way through the throng of people, looking. She has to find that clutch. Her phone and all her cards are in there.
Someone taps her on the shoulder. She turns and sees a woman in a dark dress and glasses that frame her sharp eyes.
“Are you looking for this?” It’s her clutch.
“Yes! Thank you, thank you so much.”
The woman gives her an elusive smile. “No trouble. I found in on the floor.”
“Thank you. I’m a bit confused this evening—I don’t really belong here, I’m afraid.”
There’s something a little disconcerting about the way the woman doesn’t contradict her. “Coulson brought you, didn’t he?”
“You must be a good friend of his, then. Coulson doesn’t date.”
Pepper senses a way into conversation, and she seizes it. “Do you know him well?”
“Hardly. But they assigned Romanoff to him for a reason, everyone knows that.”
Pepper’s totally lost, and it must show on her face, because the woman continues talking—slowly, as if to a child. “They wanted someone who wouldn’t find her…distracting.”
“And you didn’t qualify?”
Pepper almost chokes on her own words; she has no idea where that came from. The woman gives her a look that suggests she doesn’t know, either. She turns sharply and walks away, leaving Pepper alone once more.
She’s standing above the sink in the restroom, staring at her reflection in the long mirror that stretches from wall to wall. She looks worse than she thought she did; it’s been several hours since she put her face on back in the hotel room.
One of the stall doors behind her swings open. Two sinks down, the sharp-eyed woman from before steps up to the mirror.
Pepper watches—subtly, she hopes—as the stranger begins to reapply her mascara.
This is SHIELD, though. No one is ever subtle enough for them.
“I didn’t catch your name earlier,” the woman says.
“I’m Pepper. Pepper Potts.” She feels oddly naked, as if she has already revealed all of herself to this stranger.
Victoria Hand hasn’t looked away from her own reflection in the mirror; she seems intent on retouching her already impeccable makeup. “Tell me, Miss Potts,” she says. “Are you a lesbian?”
“Very rude, don’t you think, to ask a strange woman if she’s gay when you aren’t yourself? That is what you did back there—you know that, don’t you?”
Pepper doesn’t know what to say. Luckily, she doesn’t have to say anything at all.
“Take off your dress,” Victoria says, and Pepper’s hands obey.
“And your bra.”
Victoria locks the bathroom door, and Pepper stands nearly naked in the middle of the room. Her nipples harden at the touch of the air. She feels so vulnerable, so exposed, and so beautiful.
“Come to me,” Victoria says, and Pepper does.
Victoria bends to kiss her breasts, and the act is strangely intimate, though it doesn’t last. Victoria’s hands urge Pepper onto her knees, guide her head between Victoria’s legs.
Pepper has never tasted a woman before, but she’s always thought she might like it.
Pepper leaves the party with Victoria half an hour later. She doesn’t tell Phil where she’s going.
She suspects he wouldn’t be surprised.