Episode Three: Girls Night Out
“Are you sure about this you guys? I feel…wrong somehow.”
“What, for busting out? C’mon, Pepper, live a little. You’re allowed to have a life outside of Tony,” Natasha pointed out.
They were all sitting in the living quarters at the Avengers Tower: Natasha, Pepper, Jane, and even Maria Hill, Nick Fury’s right-hand. Natasha had a martini in hand, her legs folded underneath her on the nice white couch. She had just finished painting her nails and toenails a bright red, but with her extra-quick drying nail polish, there was no fear that it might end up smearing on the couch.
Pepper was doing Jane’s nails presently—a pretty coral color that Natasha had found after a lot of rummaging through her dozens of colors—and Maria sat quietly with a magazine in her lap, her dark hair out of its usual tight bun and falling all around her shoulders. All of them were dressed up a little for a night on the town, even Pepper, though she kept on hinting that this wasn’t something that they should be doing.
“No, I know that, I do, but when I’m not with Tony, I’m worrying about Tony or trying to save the company or dealing with dozens of press meetings and board of director meetings and team-planning meetings and—“
“Exactly!” Jane said, stopping Pepper by taking the nail brush out of her hands and placing it back in the glass container, screwing the lid shut tightly. She then took Pepper’s hands in her own. “You need a break.”
“We all do,” Maria pointed out, turning another page in the magazine she was holding. It seemed strange, somehow, seeing Maria outside of her uniform and such. She turned one more page and then closed it, setting it aside on one of the end tables and lacing her fingers together, stretching them up above her head. She was wearing a dark blue little number, with dark stockings and green heels that somehow completed the look.
“So,” Natasha said, standing up and putting her hands on her hips. “What’s the problem with going? It’s just one night out on the town with some girlfriends.”
Clint stepped into the room. He had on headphones and boxer shorts and nothing else. As he walked in, he gave a little impromptu drum solo in the air, spinning on his way to the kitchen.
“Clint!” Natasha called out loudly, bounding over and wrapping her arms around his waist. He jumped a little, then when he realized it was just her, slid the headphones to his shoulders.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Tell Pepper that she needs to lighten up and get out a little,” Natasha said, batting her lashes at him.
He glanced at Pepper, who had put her head in her hands and was shaking it, muttering stuff like “Ohno” and “Oh my gosh.”
“You need to lighten up and get out a little,” Clint repeated dutifully. “I mean, Tony sure is. I haven’t seen him around since last week. Why shouldn’t you have a little fun?”
“He’s probably just working in his workshop or attending benefits for the company. He’s still the face of Stark Industries, you know, and he’s very busy and—“
“And do you think he would shirk a chance to get out?” Jane asked, arching an eyebrow. Her dress was pink, with a light floral pattern and nice gold accessories. A little more conservative than what most wore to the club, but definitely not prudish by any stretch of the word. “Or, better yet, do you think he would want you to shirk a chance to get out?”
“He told me once that he didn’t like it when I had plans,” Pepper pointed out.
“Then we won’t have plans,” Maria stated, standing up and grinning at them when they all stared at her like she’d grown an extra head. “I mean, we could just…wing it?”
“You guys are going to get me in trouble,” Pepper said, but there was a tone of resignation in her voice and they knew they had her.
“Good!” Clint said, preparing to put on his headphones once more and continuing on his way to the kitchen. “Trouble is always fun.”
“So you say,” Pepper called after him, shaking her head, “But fine. We’ll go out.”
The girls all whooped and scurried around, the girls who hadn’t had their shoes on rushing to find and put on theirs. Before long, they were all assembled at the door.
Clint returned from the kitchen, and with a mouth full of apple and an arm full of snacks ranging from chips to fruit cups and sodas, called to them, “Careful, ladies, and don’t come back until the sun’s up!” before disappearing back the way he had come, presumably returning to the game of poker he’d been having with Bruce and Steve down the hall. Thor was back in Asgard for a few days—his duties as crown prince and heir to the throne didn’t stop just because he wanted to be a superhero on Earth.
“Let’s hit the town, girls!” Natasha said, wrapping an arm around Jane and half dragging her from the tower, the other ladies following obediently behind. Pepper was the last one out, and as she pressed the button on the elevator for the parking garage, she sighed, looking up at the ceiling.
“I hope I don’t regret this,” she muttered, and then, the doors closed and they were on their way.
“How are we supposed to get in? This is opening night and the people here are all like, at least B-level celebrities, and even they won’t all get inside,” Jane said as they made their way over to where a crowd was beginning to form outside of a club called Harlequin’s. They had parked their car in a parking garage three blocks from there and had just started walking down the street before landing here.
The crush of people was overwhelming. Everyone was calling out to the bouncer, name dropping as much as they could to try and impress them. Occasionally, they let in one of the more attractive or wealthy people in the crowd, but for the most part, they stood as stoic as statues, their gazes straight ahead.
“Leave it to me,” Natasha said, tossing her hair over her shoulder and sauntering up to the nearest bouncer. For a second, Pepper feared that they would tell her no and then they’d have an international incident when Natasha ended up killing one or both of them for their insolence, but she simply whispered something in the bouncer’s ear, tugged on his hair a little, gave a slight giggle of thanks, and then came back.
“Let’s go. We’re in.”
“What did you tell him?” Jane asked in awe. Pepper wasn’t sure she wanted to know, and Maria seemed to have an idea already and was hiding a slight smile by ducking her head.
“Honey, I deal with violent criminals and other spies for a living,” she began, tossing a wave over her shoulder as she lead them past the bouncers, ignoring the yells of anger from the crowd, some of whom had been waiting there since dinner time. “Do you honestly think a couple of bouncers would be able to keep me from getting what I want?”
“She has a point there,” Maria said, “It’s sort of her job to get people to…erm…do what she wants them to.”
“Well, we need to sort of keep a low profile,” Pepper said, though her words were almost drowned in the sudden influx of noise and heat and bright lights from the dance floor. “We don’t want people to think we’re irresponsible or using our skills for our own gain.”
“What else do we have those skills for!?” Natasha said, grabbing Jane. “C’mon, let’s dance!”
Pepper shook her head as she watched them go, already looking for a private table to escape to, but Maria grabbed her arm. “Don’t tell Tash I told you, but she made me promise to show you a good time! It’s sort of my mission. Think you could help me out?”
“Mission!? What!?” Pepper said, plugging her ears with her fingers as the music seemed to get louder.
Maria simply shook her head and pulled her towards the bar. “Let’s just get some drinks and find a table first!”
Sometime later, they were at a table not too far from the bar, where a young man was attending to them, bringing them drinks whenever he was asked to. They had had quite a lot so far, and already, Pepper was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol. She had always been a rather talkative and giggly drunk, and she tended to ask a lot more questions.
“So what’s your story!?” she asked Maria a little more loudly than she had intended after finishing another Washington Apple.
“My story?” Maria asked, sitting back in her seat and giving Pepper a long smile.
“Yeah!” she said, “You’re like this mystery, wrapped in an enigma. I don’t think I know a single thing about you, other than your name.”
Maria laughed. “What else do you want to know?”
“How about…where are you from?”
“Vancouver,” she answered, taking a sip from her drink. “I grew up close to the beaches there, and me and my brothers used to go swimming all the time.”
“You have brothers?” Pepper asked, giggling, “Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”
“Yeah, three. We were really close,” Maria said. “I don’t get to talk to them much anymore though.”
“Oh, that’s sad! How come?”
“Nature of the job.” Maria shrugged. “But enough about me! Let’s talk about more pleasant things. How are you and Tony?”
“Me and Tony? Honestly, I don’t know.”
Maria sat up in her chair, moving her elbows onto the table and resting her head on the tops of her connected hands. “What do you mean?”
“He just seems so…distant. Like I can’t reach him, no matter what. He’s always acting like nothing bothers him and everything is okay, but I can tell it’s not. He just won’t open up to me. I honestly don’t really know his true feelings about me or…or anything, really. I mean,” Pepper looked up, as if searching for the right way of saying what she wanted, her hands moving animatedly to her words and her face flushed in the flashy lighting of the place. “I know him probably better than anyone. Yet, at the same time, there’s a part of him that’s completely closed to me. And I honestly don’t know when, if ever, he’ll open that part to me.”
“What are you going to do about that?” Maria asked.
Pepper shook her head. “I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about it. But, if this is going to be a serious relationship, I need to know that he’s willing to show me who he really is. This can’t keep going on forever, with me sitting in limbo, giving it my all, and him closing himself off to me. I just can’t do that.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
“Talk to Tony?” Pepper laughed. “Have you ever tried talking to Tony about anything? Serious or otherwise?”
“Not at length, no,” Maria managed, sitting back and taking a sip of her drink with a smile.
“Then you don’t know how hard it is to ever get in more than three words at a time,” Pepper explained. “And that’s without it being something serious or important. Everything just glances off of him and goes into space. It’s really a miracle I managed to ever get anywhere with him.”
“But you said it yourself—you know him better than anyone. I’m sure you could find a way to get him to shut up long enough for you to get in a few words.”
“Yeah, bring me some duct tape and maybe then we’ll see that happen.” Pepper stood from the table, emptying another glass of a bright pink drink she’d gotten on a recommendation. “But, we came here to get me away from Tony, I think, so why don’t we do some dancing instead?”
“I thought you’d never ask!” Maria said, standing as well and reaching over to grab her and pull her out onto the dance floor.
The heat was almost unbearable, the press of bodies increasing it, though Pepper was beginning to think that none of that mattered. Enough booze and music, and anyone would be at home in a place like this. She lost herself, closing her eyes and moving to the beat. She’d spotted Jane and Natasha some time ago, taking a breather after dancing for a while and fending off countless suitors.
She and Maria danced close on the fringe of the dance floor, close to the wall. Neither of them were spotlight type people, and the idea of being smack in the middle of all the others was not a comforting one.
Pepper could feel the press of Maria’s body against hers, and for just a moment, she forgot about where they were and who she was dancing with, and she leaned closer, her arms wrapping around behind her to pull Maria against her more. Their bodies moved together, the beat seeming to take over and transform them into a single machine.
Without even realizing it, she maneuvered herself so that she was now facing Maria, her hands on her hips as they moved. She hadn’t danced like this since she was a teenager, but it seemed a part of her was still accustomed to the movements. And okay, so maybe she still danced in the showers, singing and dancing and basically making an ass of herself in privacy.
But this wasn’t the privacy of her own bathroom. The reality of it crashed down around her and her eyes flew open, just in time to catch sight of Maria’s, the electric blue color of them seeming to freeze the blood in her veins. Time seemed to slow down as the dark haired woman leaned closer, and then suddenly pushed her against the wall, her lips crashing against her own as she pinned her arms above her.
Pepper was so stunned that she didn’t fight her, feeling the other woman’s body pressing against her own. She could feel the curves of her breasts, the jut of her hipbones, fitting and forming to Pepper’s body. Her lips were soft, though they kissed her with all the force of a hurricane, and tasted faintly of whatever drink she’d been having before they began dancing.
Unable to stop her body’s knee-jerk reaction, Pepper kissed her back, a slight surprised sound slipping from her mouth and into that of the other woman, who simply smiled into the kiss. And then their tongues met full force, and it was as if Pepper had just popped a penny in her mouth. A metallic current swept through her, igniting every nerve right down to the tips of her fingers and toes. Only then did Pepper come back to herself and jerked away, her cheeks turning bright red though they weren’t very visible in the lighting of the club.
“I can’t do this,” Pepper said, “What even was that? I’ve never, I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I just never thought about women like that and then you were kissing me, and I was liking it, and this just can’t happen. Tony—“
“Isn’t giving you all of himself,” Maria pointed out, “You were just telling me that you couldn’t keep holding onto this.”
“And you think you could give me all of yourself?” Pepper said, her eyebrows raised and her hands on her hips. The dancing continued all around them, unheeding of the proceedings between the women. It was like they were in a private bubble, just the two of them, and the rest of the club was simply a backdrop to their conversation.
Maria didn’t say anything, and Pepper shook her head. “Look, I appreciate it. I do. And…don’t tell Tony, but that was a great kiss. But it’s wrong. Tony trusts me, and I can’t just go around—“
“You’re not ‘just going around.’ I kissed you. That’s all.”
“Just going around kissing other women while he’s off being busy,” Pepper continued, ignoring Maria’s interruption. “I’m sorry.”
Maria sighed. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…I just thought that you…don’t worry about it. Hey, we can chalk it up to experimentation. Call it your lesbian experience. I hear everyone is supposed to go through that.”
Pepper managed a smile. “Well, it was certainly a good experience. But…” Pepper sighed. “Please don’t tell Tony?”
“When would I possibly get the chance to do that?”
“I don’t know. Just, if you do get a chance, don’t take it. I really don’t want to hurt him. He’s been hurt far too often in his life, and, well, he’s really all that I’ve got, even with his shortcomings. I need him.”
Maria smiled. “You have my word, although I won’t lie and say I’m not a little bit jealous. In any case, why don’t we just keep dancing and forget about this whole thing?”
“Deal,” Pepper said, although in the back of her mind, she knew that this was something she would always remember, whether she admitted it or not.