To see her in the hallways at SHIELD, or in the field, one would suppose that the majority of Natasha's covert ops placed her in underground subcultures of one kind or another. Her attire tended to favor black and leather, with flat-heeled boots, even when she wasn't in her Black Widow field suit. And indeed she had infiltrated a murderous motorcycle gang, a shady BDSM club selling information about its clients, and for a while had sung in a rock band.
But Natasha was also quite good at portraying a young, super-competent corporate worker on the make. Superficially professional blouses that might come unbuttoned at any time, plus intelligence and a general enthusiasm for whatever topic was under discussion was more than enough to seduce the entrepreneurial or corporate male. With women Natasha had struggled at first, until she found the great leveler: shoes.
And it didn't work only with the stereotypical Carrie Bradshaw-like Manolo freak, either. Women were also enamored of their brightly colored Chuck Taylors, their tough combat boots, their sweet ballet flats. Those in Naturalizer oxfords or stretch-laced ergonomic walking shoes like to be complimented on their practicality. Shoes didn't carry the body-image minefield that clothing did. They were the universal app.
So at the start of her second week in the legal department at Stark Industries, she said, "Oh, Ms. Potts, those shoes are amazing."
Pepper looked down and smiled wryly. "It's my one extravagance." She turned her ankle and Natasha saw the flash of a red sole.
"Those are real Louboutins?" she asked, looking excited.
"You want to try them on?" Pepper asked, stepping out of her pumps.
"Could I?" Natasha asked, hopping up from her desk and slipping off her own shoes.
"You're so tiny, you'll probably be swimming in them."
They were a little large, but now with Natasha in heels and Pepper in her stocking feet they were nearly the same height. She hadn't noticed before the deep blue of Pepper's eyes, or that her makeup didn't cover the freckles on her cheeks—perhaps wasn't even meant to.
Natasha put her attention back on the shoes. "I admire that you wear heels that make you taller than Mr. Stark. That takes real confidence."
Pepper waved her hand. "Mr. Stark has dated far too many models to care about that. He wears a little heel himself sometimes, though I think that's less about being taller than that he thinks it makes his behind look good." She rolled her eyes.
Natasha saw Pepper glance at the old but well-cared-for shoes she'd kicked off. They were her favorites for undercover corporate ops—modest, with a t-strap so she could run in them if necessary. Besides, it was never good to have better shoes than the boss; it not only attracted undue attention but also didn't endear one to the other ladies in the office. The key to a successful corporate op was to be privy to the office gossip but never be its subject.
Aloud she said, "Oh, I'm still wearing my interview shoes. I was thinking of getting some new ones, celebrate the new job, but there are so many boutiques out here."
"Tell you what," Pepper said, cocking her head. "We have to come in on Sunday morning for that A-Pac status call. I was going to get a spa pedicure afterward. Why don't you come along, and then we can get you some shoes. My treat—or really, Mr. Stark's treat."
"Oh but I couldn't—"
"You've been doing good work, Natalie," she said, putting her shoes back on. "I'm very sure Mr. Stark can afford a pair of Jimmy Choos."
"Then I'd love to," she replied, and it might have been the first sincere thing she'd said all day.
The last time Natasha had been in a spa this upscale, she was giving massages, waiting for a certain client to come in so she could relieve him of the documents he carried with him at all times. Along the way, however, she had to give seventy-eight massages to strangers. She didn't touch another person for almost a month.
Sitting in the spa chair was rather a different experience. Pepper ordered them salads with grilled chicken and white wine while Natasha picked out a pale pink shade that felt appropriate for Natalie.
"I have to warn you, I'm probably going to get a little incoherent before this is over," Pepper said. "I love a foot massage." She placed her feet in the warm water and hummed.
"Me too," Natasha replied, sliding further down in the spa chair. She glanced at Pepper, whose pupils were larger than usual, and made a guess. "It's almost erotic."
Pepper's eyes darted to Natasha's, who kept her expression open, just slightly on the positive side of neutral. Pepper's cheeks were already pink, but they flushed deeper. "Actually," she said, leaning in closer to Natasha and lowering her voice, "one time it was so good I came, right there in the chair!"
Natasha widened her eyes, then laughed.
Pepper laughed as well, though she covered her face with her hands. "I can't believe I told you that. I'm blaming the wine and the steam."
Natasha shrugged--openly, to make her feel at ease, but to herself thought that it wasn't Pepper's fault she was being played by a pro. "You hired me to keep Mr. Stark's secrets," she said. "No reason I can't keep yours as well."
"I would hope so, or I'd insist on an embarrassing story from you in return."
"Well, this one time, at band camp?"
Pepper giggled again, and Natasha was glad for the first time for Clint's truly shitty taste in movies.
Then, before she thought, she added, "Only it wasn't band camp; it was gymnastics camp. And it wasn't a flute; it was the club they use for the rhythmic events."
"Really?" Pepper asked. "How old were you?"
"Thirteen," she replied, and wondered why she was telling this story. Something to put the subject at ease, that's all this was. Use the truth when you can.
"Then we'll have to keep each other's secrets, won't we?" Pepper replied.
Natasha had nearly convinced herself that Fury would be proud when the manicurist started Pepper's massage. Pepper relaxed into the headrest and sighed, but it wasn't long before Natasha could well believe that a foot massage had once brought her to orgasm. Her breathing quickened, her whole face flushed, her fingers dug into the soft leather of her armrests. She gasped, and the soft pink inside of her mouth entranced Natasha; even as her own massage started, she found it hard to look away.
Of course, Pepper didn't actually have an orgasm, sitting there in the chair next to Natasha. After the spa, they shopped in easy companionship, and Natasha settled on some Manolo grey patent mary janes that cost a lot more than she would ever be able to talk Coulson into expensing. A good day's work had been spent bonding with the boss and gleaning information crucial to getting into Tony Stark's good graces.
The part where Natasha went home and lay in bed fantasizing about giving Pepper a foot massage before easing that slender foot with its perfectly manicured toes between her own legs did not appear in her incident report.
After it was over, or at least, after all was revealed, Natasha told herself that she had a very good reason to go see Pepper, above and beyond the whole "now we'll be sort of working together so it would be best if you don't feel completely betrayed by my secrecy" part. They were both professionals, and Natasha trusted that Pepper would understand that she'd just been doing her job.
So when the assistant let her in, Natasha said, "Don't hold this against Phil. A man in his position doesn't have a lot of opportunities to make friends, but I know he counts you as one."
Pepper looked up. "Does he?"
"What we can tell you is up to Fury, not us," Natasha said, walking up to her desk. "Blame him."
"Oh I intend to," Pepper said.
Natasha couldn't help but grin at the idea of Pepper making demands on Nick Fury. "Wish I could be a fly on the wall for that conversation."
Pepper smiled a little, as well. "I'll try to sneak in one of Tony's little cameras," she said. "But you're right. I'll give Phil a call."
"So you can live with a little secrecy?" she asked.
Pepper pushed her chair back from her desk. "Look who I work for," she said. "Why do you ask?"
Natasha, feeling emboldened, sat down on Pepper's desk and crossed her legs. "I was wondering--"
"Those boots are lovely," Pepper said, her eyes on Natasha's ankles. She blinked. "Sorry, I was distracted. What were you saying?"
She extended her leg toward Pepper. "The leather is very soft," she said.
Pepper ran her fingertips over the black leather, then lay her hand on Natasha's ankle. Natasha had another vision then, of Pepper on her knees, still in her crisp blouse and skirt, kissing those very boots. And suddenly it didn't seem quite so far-fetched.
"Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?" she asked. "You know, since we're both so good at keeping other people's secrets."
"I was beginning to think you'd never ask," Pepper said, smiling up at her.
Natasha narrowed her eyes. "You mean all this time--"
"Looks like I have a few secrets of my own," Pepper replied.