Pepper realizes she's been standing at the door to the private elevator with her hand resting above the fingerpad for at least a minute and shakes her head at herself. She presses the call button, swipes her finger over the lock.
Tony flirts. Tony has always flirted with women, always will flirt with women, and Pepper knows there's no reason to be jealous of Natasha Romanov, she does. For years she's been the constant and now things have changed enough she shouldn't need to throw anyone out after a one-night stand ever again. But she can't stop thinking about the avaricious gleam in Tony's eye when Natasha had introduced herself.
The elevator opens on the penthouse floor of the newly re-christened "Avengers Tower" — and that's the rub, Pepper thinks, stripping off her suit jacket and crossing the floor to the bedroom. She can run in four-inch heels and manage a multi-billion dollar company without breaking much of a sweat, and she can fight with Tony but she can't fight with him.
And Natalie — Natasha — she's right there in the thick of things. With all of them, and in a way Pepper just can't be. Wouldn't want to be. That's not who she is. She'd make a lousy superhero anyway; she considers possible names while she's changing out of her suit and passing it to the closet AI for dry cleaning. Boss Woman? Mega-ultra-organized Girl?
She laughs at herself despite her underlying worry; after changing into a pair of cut-offs and one of Tony's collection of t-shirts she ties her hair into a ponytail and decides to go down to the room Tony refuses to call a cafeteria. She doesn't feel like cooking, there are no crises at the moment — at least, none she's aware of — and last time she checked Tony and Bruce were frontal lobe-to-frontal lobe in Tony's on-site laboratory.
And that little twinge of green-eyed monster is nothing on her fears about Natasha.
Her sandals are much quieter on the floors; she's headed for the communal dining area when she's stopped by Clint's voice.
"Dammit, Tasha," he says, followed by a curse in what sounds to Pepper's ear like Russian. Natasha answers him in the same language, her voice sharp.
Pepper glances around the doorway; she can see Clint's shoulders over the back of a chair and the top of Natasha's head just over his shoulder, her hand holding his arm up. Her fingers barely close around his forearm, Pepper notices, though she's tugging until he curves and hisses.
"Bez truda ne vytaschish y rybku iz pruda."
"Yeah, I've already had the pain, thanks," he says; Pepper watches Natasha straighten up, still holding his forearm, and glare down at him. "Byla ne byla," he continues. "And boltun — nakhodka dlya shpiona."
For a moment, Pepper worries he's said something truly offensive and then — though Pepper sees no change in Natasha's expression — she softens and shakes her head.
"Not if that chatterbox has a knife. But volkov boyat'sa — v les ne khodit'."
"Wolves, no. Spiders — ow!" He pulls his arm free of her grasp and down to cover his ribs. "Vremya — luchshiy doktor."
They're playing a game, Pepper realizes. Though when Natasha finishes straightening up Pepper can see blood red on her fingertips.
"You're right. It's shallow," Natasha says, with the faintest crook of her lips.
"Wouldn't even be bleeding if you hadn't insisted on pulling on it."
Pepper knows if it were her and Tony, she'd say something about not getting in the way of a weapon, or whatever had happened, but Natasha doesn't say another word, just settles on Clint's lap with her forehead pressed against his temple and her arm along his shoulders.
"Zhizn' prozhit' — ne pole pereyti," he says; Pepper sees him settle her weight more comfortably, hears her soft "da" in response.
She slips away, knowing one or the other of them will hear her, and continues on her way a little lighter of step. She really does know there's no reason to be jealous of Natasha Romanov — but now she has the best kind of proof.