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First Dates and Second Tries

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“When were you going to tell me you had a date with Natasha?” Pepper sighs as Tony breezes into the kitchen. She’d been seconds from leaving, and she doubts his bad timing was accidental.

“I don’t have a date with Natasha,” she tells him as blandly as she can manage. It’s not even much of a lie. “But if I did, I wouldn’t be running it past you.” Pepper sets her bag down on the kitchen island, but doesn’t go so far as actually sitting back down. Not for the first time, she idly fantasizes about moving into an apartment outside of Stark Tower, where nobody would be around to hold her up like this.

Maybe a cat. A cat would be all right.

“What is that look on your face?” Tony opens the fridge, sticking his head inside to dig around. “I don’t trust it. Stop thinking whatever you’re thinking.” His head pops back up, and he fixes her with a look. “And stop lying to me about your love life. It’s hurtful.”

“Whatever you say, Tony,” she says, dismissing him in favor of checking her phone, which has just started vibrating inside her clutch. She takes it out and sees Natasha’s name on the display, and she pointedly ignores the undignified snort he lets out at whatever expression she must be wearing.

“I’m downstairs,” Natasha says without preamble when Pepper answers. “Do you want me to come up?”

“No, that’s fine, I’m on my way down. Sorry to make you wait.” She shoots a look at Tony, who just rolls his eyes. “I was unavoidably delayed.”

Judging by Natasha’s quiet laugh, it’s easy enough for her to guess who’s to blame.

“See you soon,” Natasha says before hanging up, and Pepper takes a long, deep breath.

“Use protection,” Tony calls as Pepper heads for the elevator. “I’m not ready to accept your redheaded babies as my new overlords.” That makes Pepper grin despite herself, but fortunately for her, she’s already stepping into the elevator where he can’t see.

---

The fact of the matter is, it’s not a date, but it’s not because of any aversion to the idea on Pepper’s part. She just knows that, for it to be a date, both parties have to be aware that it’s a date. As she slides into the backseat of the Town Car after Natasha, she wishes for the tenth time that she’d been less ambiguous in her invitation. ‘Do you want to get dinner,’ in retrospect, isn’t a very clear declaration of intent.

“How have you been?” she asks, and Natasha looks at her with a small, crooked smile.

“Busy.” She shrugs. “I’m sure you know the feeling.”

“I’ve encountered it on occasion,” Pepper agrees, returning the smile. Natasha looks beautiful like she always does, in a cowl-neck sweater, dark jeans, and boots. Her hair hangs loose and wavy, and it’s a comfortable sort of look that Pepper doesn’t see on her nearly often enough. “I hope this place is all right; I’ve only been there once, but I’ve been meaning to go back for ages.”

“I trust your judgment,” Natasha promises, and Pepper’s heart stutters a little. It might be a throwaway line, but coming from Natasha, that kind of statement feels a little more loaded.

It’s embarrassing, frankly, how anxious Pepper feels. If Natasha notices, and she obviously does, she’s kind enough not to mention it.

The drive isn’t a long one, but Pepper feels like she has a reasonable handle on her nerves by the time the driver stops and they climb back out of the car. That’s the only reason she notices when Natasha stops for a moment, frowning at the entrance to the restaurant. It’s understated and unassuming compared to the atmosphere inside, but that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Natasha would mind.

“Is everything okay?” Pepper asks, and Natasha’s expression smoothes out.

“Of course,” she says, but her smile is a little tight this time. Pepper wants to press, but it’s unlikely that would get her anywhere, so she just opens the door and gestures for Natasha to go inside. Pepper doesn’t miss the way Natasha’s eyes take in the entire restaurant in a few quick glances.

Once they’ve been seated, Natasha relaxes a little. “I’ve actually been here before,” she tells Pepper. “But it’s been a while for me, too.”

“Hopefully you liked it, at least.” Pepper raises an eyebrow.

“The food was good,” Natasha says, and Pepper recognizes it for the evasion that it is, but she lets it go. She’s got enough on her plate as it is, and there’s no need to add ‘attempt to drag information out of a spy’ to that.

They look over their menus, but once they have their wine on the table, Pepper sets hers down and takes a slow breath. Natasha looks up at her, raising an expectant eyebrow.

“There’s something I needed to ask you,” Pepper begins, and then she stops.

“Go ahead,” Natasha says, smiling faintly. It should be encouraging, but it just makes Pepper even more nervous. She hasn’t felt like this about someone she was romantically interested in since her early twenties at least, but Natasha is so different from the rest that it’s hard for Pepper to remind herself that she is, in fact, a successful, grown woman.

“I just don’t think that I was entirely clear, when I asked—”

“Nadia!” a man calls, approaching from over Natasha’s shoulder, and Natasha stiffens almost imperceptibly before looking up and allowing a bright, false smile to take over her face. Pepper’s stomach sinks.

“Laurent,” she says, her voice full of surprise and nothing like Pepper’s used to hearing, not even back when Natasha was Natalie Rushman. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here; what a wonderful surprise!” She stands, leaning in to exchange air kisses, and Pepper frowns as the man, Laurent, all but nuzzles her.

“You weren’t expecting to see me in my own restaurant?” Laurent asks, winking as Natasha slides back into her seat. “You needed only to call, Nadia. I’ve missed you, as well.” His accent is so painfully French that Pepper’s sure it’s an affectation, and Natasha’s face is entirely unreadable under the friendly mask she’s wearing.

“It’s good to see you,” Natasha says sweetly, “but I only came looking for dinner, I promise.” From her tone, it could almost be flirtatious, but the way Laurent’s mouth tightens makes it clear he gets the message.

“Nadia,” Pepper interrupts, and he looks her way for the first time since approaching their table. “You didn’t tell me you knew the owner when I asked you here!” She smiles at Laurent. “You have a lovely restaurant,” she tells him, relieved when he seems to relax a little.

“I’m sorry,” Natasha giggles, “I’m being so rude.” She reaches a hand across the table, and Pepper instinctively takes it in her own. “This is Ginny.” She honestly blushes, smiling at Pepper and then back up at Laurent. “It’s our anniversary,” she says, and now it’s Pepper’s turn to blush.

“Oh.” Laurent looks nonplussed, but he recovers quickly. “Oh. Well, I suppose congratulations are in order,” he tells them, and then he has the nerve to leer at them both. Pepper’s fingers tighten around Natasha’s. “You haven’t ordered yet? I’ll go speak with the chef and make sure he prepares something special for you both.”

“That’s so sweet of you,” Pepper says, keeping her face determinedly pleasant when he winks at her. She watches him until he disappears into the kitchen, and then she fixes her gaze on Natasha, who lets go of her hand.

“Yeah, uh, that’s a long story.” Her cheeks are still faintly pink. Pepper will have to ask her how she blushes on command, because she’s sure it would come in handy. “Do you want to get out of here?”

Pepper frowns at their wine glasses. “We haven’t paid,” she says, reaching for her bag, but Natasha catches her hand again.

“Trust me,” she says. “He owes me.” She widens her eyes in emphasis, and Pepper might not know the story, but she does, in fact, trust Natasha.

“Well, in that case…” Pepper picks up her glass and drains it, pleased at the way Natasha’s eyebrows go up in surprise. “Okay,” she declares, placing her empty glass back on the table. “Let’s go.”

Natasha grabs her hand again as they leave, and Pepper pretends that she’s blushing on purpose.

---

“SHIELD thought he was a mid-level distributor in a weapons trafficking ring they were watching a few years ago,” Natasha says after a few minutes of comfortable silence. They’re sitting in the park as the sunlight grows orange, juggling gyros and limeade from a food truck a few blocks down.

Their thighs are pressed together, and Pepper thinks it’s the best date she’s had in a while, even if it’s embarrassingly one-sided.

“So they assigned you to watch him?”

“Pretty much,” Natasha says, shrugging. “It only took a few days to figure out that he just let them use his warehouse once or twice, and he didn’t know anything.”

“But he’d already fallen for you,” Pepper teases. “You’re very efficient.”

“He fell for Nadia.” Natasha looks at Pepper, and then back at her food. “Not many people get too attached to Natasha, as it happens.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Pepper murmurs, idly peeling at the foil on her gyro before taking a bite.

“That wasn’t a date,” Natasha says suddenly, turning to face Pepper.

“I… what?” Pepper says before realizing her mouth is full. She covers her mouth with her hand as she finishes chewing, and Natasha smirks at the sidewalk, taking a long sip of her drink before setting it down.

“At the restaurant, tonight. That wasn’t a date.”

“Oh,” Pepper says, swallowing. “Of course it wasn’t. I know that.” She starts to shift her weight away on the bench, but Natasha just drops a hand on her thigh. Pepper stares at it, extremely aware of Natasha’s eyes on her as she tries not to react.

“It wasn’t a date because I didn’t know it was a date,” Natasha clarifies, “at least not at first.” She pauses. “Also, because I don’t want to have to remember our first date involving Lawrence from Jersey City.”

“I knew that accent was fake,” Pepper says triumphantly, and then she blinks. “Our first date?”

“Eating street food in Central Park,” Natasha says, meeting Pepper’s eyes as one side of her mouth curls up. “That’s a pretty good one, right?” She’s clearly aiming for flippant, but she just ends up sounding careful, like she’s not actually sure.

“One of the better ones I’ve heard, honestly,” Pepper tells her with a grin, and she feels a thrill when Natasha gives her a genuine smile in return.

“I know it’s not over yet,” Natasha says, leaning in. “But I haven’t actually been on a date in a while. Do you actually have to wait until the end, or is that optional?”

“I think we can make our own rules,” Pepper murmurs, catching Natasha’s mouth with her own. She tastes like limeade, and maybe a little bit like Greek food from a truck, but Pepper’s heart is racing by the time Natasha pulls back and presses their foreheads together.

“I like the sound of that,” she says, and her eyes are softer than Pepper’s ever seen them. She almost regrets it when Natasha closes them to kiss her again, but only almost.