Pepper’s in a board meeting when her phone goes off. Usually, she ignores it outright because she sets it to vibrate and her personal ring tones don’t go off, but even though it’s on vibrate, it somehow manages to play the chorus from “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar.
Fuck, Pepper thinks. She does not lunge for her phone. That would cause panic. She reaches for it and grins when two of the board members sing along as she steps outside.
“What the hell happened?” she asks in a whisper. The Caller ID shows a blocked number, but Pepper knows there’s exactly two people who have that ringtone, and she knows that ringtone is dangerous. She’s the one who programmed it to be the alarm it is.
“SHIELD’s corrupt,” Maria answers. “We’re hip fucking deep in neo-Nazis. Tasha’s about to spill all her secrets to the Internet to take them down.”
“She can’t,” Pepper says because she only knows probably one-fifth of Natasha’s secrets, and only half of those aren’t terrifying.
“It’s the only card we have to play,” Maria says. Pepper can picture her, head up, face a blank slate. “It’s not just her secrets, Pepper. It’s all of ours. All of SHIELD.”
“Shit,” Pepper says. She presses a hand to her head, then drops it. She can’t look weak, not coming out of a board meeting. Stock prices will sink. “Shit, Maria.”
“I know,” Maria says, and there’s a soft edge to it, like she wants to be reassuring. “You’re not listed,” Maria adds.
“Like I give a fuck,” Pepper snaps because that is completely not the point. “I know how much I don’t know about Tasha,” Pepper says. “How much don’t I know about you?”
“You’re about to find out,” Maria answers, and her voice shakes, just a little. “You have anyone in DC?”
It takes a moment for Pepper to adjust to the topic change. “No,” she says after running the staff list through her head. “No. Why?”
Maria laughs. It’s short and hard, but it’s a laugh. “You’ve been in meetings all day, haven’t you?”
“My entire life is meetings,” Pepper says as she double-times it for her office and clicks on the television. It comes on to CNN, and Pepper stares as she watches a helicarrier fall out of the sky. “Maria, what the hell—“
“I have to go save the world,” Maria says. “I just—I wanted to warn you.” She disconnects.
Pepper stares at her phone. She puts it on the desk. She sits behind her desk. She takes a deep breath. A second helicarrier falls out of the sky.
Her phone rings again. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Tony had tried to make his post-breakup ringtone “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” but Pepper had overruled him and when Tony had programmed it anyway and tried to lock her out from changing it, Pepper had taken it to Jane Foster, who’d had it unlocked and changed back in ten minutes.
“Tony, I don’t—“
“Are you okay?” Tony asks over her.
“I’m in New York. You know that.”
“I don’t mean physically, Pep,” Tony replies. “I mean, like, your girlfriends—are we still going with girlfriends?”
“I run a multinational company. The word ‘partner’ is not romantic or even particularly fun,” Pepper says.
“Right. Okay. Your girlfriends, their history’s all over the Internet.”
“How—that just happened, Tony. Two minutes ago it happened, if that.”
“One minute, twenty-six seconds,” Tony replies.
Pepper lets her head drop into her hand this time. “Fine. Whatever. How do you know?”
“That was a bad joke. I’d never use Google Alerts. They’re terrible.”
“I—I’m not having this argument with you for a fifth time,” Pepper says. “Just—“ She doesn’t know what to ask. It’s not that Tony is her ex. It’s that he’s Tony.
“Pep,” Tony says, soft like he rarely talks. “What can I do, Miss Potts?”
“Tell me their secrets, Mr. Stark,” Pepper replies.
“I don’t know when I’ll see them again. I need to hear it from someone I can trust.”
“In person or over the phone?”
“I’m sending you a car right now.”
That makes Pepper laugh. If there’s a small sob in the middle of it, they both ignore it. “I run your company, Mr. Stark. I have a car at my beck and call.”
“Right. Of course. I knew that.”
“Are you at the tower?”
When Pepper walks in the main doors of the tower, Tony is waiting by the elevator. He does not hover, exactly, but he stands very close, and once they are on the elevator, he holds out his hand, no judgment on his face. Pepper takes his hand and squeezes hard, and then Tony pulls her into a hug, and she gives a shuddering breath.
“How bad is it?” she asks.
“That other helicarrier fell out of the sky on your way over,” Tony says. “And I think Romanov is maybe a hundred years old.”
“SHIELD recruiters guessed a little high, huh?”
“She lied to them,” Pepper says because she can’t see how that information matters now. “She didn’t like them at first, and they were hostile to her, so she lied to them just to be able to gloat later.”
Tony chuckles, and he hugs Pepper tighter. “No wonder you two fell for each other.”
“What about Maria?” Pepper asks.
“She’s exactly the age as it says on her driver’s license,” Tony replies.
“I know,” Tony interrupts. “I just…you probably want to be sitting down, Pep.”
The elevator dings, and they step out onto the level Pepper and Tony used to share. Pepper kicks off her heels and takes down her hair and takes off her jacket, and then Tony’s next to her, a tumbler almost completely full of scotch.
“That bad, huh?”
Pepper breathes in deep, releases it, and walks over and throws herself against the couch. “I can’t handle that much scotch.”
“What will it be, Ms. Potts?” JARVIS asks.
“You taught him to mix drinks?”
“Not for me,” Tony says. “It makes Betty laugh, and she’s extra-pretty when she laughs, and then it makes Bruce laugh, and—“
“You get laid,” Pepper finishes, and Tony shrugs. Pepper throws her head back and stares at the ceiling. “What’s that drink in that song I used to sing badly at New Year’s?”
“Vodka Stinger,” Tony replies. “It’s vodka and clear crème de menthe.”
“It sounds horrible,” Pepper says. “Make me a double.”
Tony makes the double, dumps two-thirds of the scotch down the drain, then sits next to Pepper and gives her the list. It’s long. It hurts. Maria’s done more damage on a hand-to-hand level than Pepper had guessed, and it turns out she only knows one-sixth of Natasha’s secrets, and so many of them are bloody.
The Vodka Stinger is terrible at first but mellows out as long as Pepper stirs it regularly. It gives her something to do with her hands, and that’s a relief as Tony finishes the list and goes quiet. “You had a program or an algorithm or something,” Pepper says. “You were going to find out all of SHIELD’s secrets.”
“I forgot about it,” Tony says. “After the fight…”
“Okay,” Pepper says. She doesn’t have the energy or will to comfort Tony right now, and he seems to know it. He reaches out and takes her hand. Stays quiet. She’s only halfway done with her drink. Maria and Natasha haven’t called her again. Pepper wonders if they’re dead. She wonders it more than occasionally with the way their jobs work, but this time, she can’t brush it aside easily.
Three helicarriers fell out of the sky today.
Pepper takes a hefty drink at the same time that JARVIS chimes on and announces, “I have been hacked, Sir. Two persons on the elevator.”
“What?!” Tony yelps. “Who?”
The projector in the ceiling flicks on, and there’s Natasha and Maria on the elevator. Natasha looks pale and sore. Maria’s got an arm around her, holding her close, her eyes flinty and dangerous.
“Leaving!” Tony announces. He pops up from his seat, pulls Pepper to him, gives her a quick, hard hug, and then he’s practically running from the room to the elevator along the back of the building.
“Ms. Potts?” JARVIS asks.
“Let them in, please,” Pepper replies. “And I would appreciate if you could go offline for a little while, JARVIS.”
“Of course, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS replies. The elevator opens, and there’s a quiet blip as JARVIS disconnects himself.
Pepper stands up as the elevator opens. Maria walks out, Natasha still curled in close against her. That’s all Pepper needs to see before she’s around the couch, up the three steps, and hugging them both hard. “Fuck,” she mutters. “Are you—“
“I was running tactical,” Maria says. “No marks on me.” This close, Pepper can see a bruise above her eye that says otherwise, but she lets it go because Natasha is mostly limp against her side.
“Honey,” she whispers into Natasha’s hair, and Natasha rallies enough to stand up straight, pull Pepper down into a hard kiss, and then pull away and say, “You taste like vodka and toothpaste.”
Pepper rests her forehead against Natasha’s and sees the way Maria’s shoulders relax at the reaction. “Crème de menthe,” she says.
“Is there still vodka?”
“You’re in Tony Stark’s penthouse; what do you think?”
Natasha takes one step away, grabs Maria, kisses her hard, and then walks towards the kitchen. “The AI—“
“JARVIS is offline right now,” Pepper says.
“Fucking good,” Natasha mutters under her breath as she starts opening cabinets to find a glass.
“Hey,” Maria says and reins Pepper in. “Are you okay?”
“Your life’s work and all your secrets literally just exploded,” Pepper says. “And you’re worried about me?”
Maria pulls her closer, slides her hands from Pepper’s shoulders to the curve of her ass in a way that feels reverant, and then she rests her head against Pepper’s shoulder and says, “There’s a lot we haven’t told you.”
Pepper hugs her without thinking. “Tony told me everything before you got here.”
“And?” Natasha asks from the kitchen. She has the vodka in one hand. There are two martini glasses on the counter.
“And the vermouth is above the stove,” Pepper replies. “And I always knew I wasn’t hearing everything.” Maria kisses her collarbone, and Pepper kisses behind Maria’s ear in response. “I don’t care who you are when you’re not here,” she says to Maria, but the way Natasha pauses, Pepper knows she heard it, too.
“Bullshit,” Natasha says.
“Agreed,” Maria adds.
Pepper sighs and hooks an arm around Maria’s waist, dragging her over to the counter where Natasha is mixing the drinks. She makes sure Maria won’t fall down, and then she goes and retrieves her glass, rinsing it in the sink before putting it next to the other two glasses. “Fine, it matters,” she admits. “But it’s not like you were using cover stories to get around telling me. Feel guilty if you need it, but don’t feel guilty around me. I know who you are, and I don’t regret anything about knowing you.”
“The people we’ve—“ Natasha starts.
“No,” Pepper says.
“She makes—“ Maria says.
“No,” Pepper says. There is no place to stand so that she can reach them both, so Pepper simply puts her hands down on the counter, her left pointed towards Natasha, her right towards Maria. “Some of the things you did, they feel awful, and tomorrow morning, I might hate what you did. But right now…right now, three helicarriers fell out of the sky today, and I’m honestly surprised either of you are even here with what people know about you now, but you are here, and you might not be come the morning, so I don’t fucking care, all right? I don’t fucking care.”
Maria kisses her, leaning to the left and sliding her hand into Pepper’s hair and kissing her with an open mouth and a quick lick to her soft palette. Natasha comes up behind Pepper while Pepper is distracted, curls her hands over Pepper’s breasts from behind and bites at the side of her neck. Pepper gasps and arches her back, and then they’re both pulling her towards the couch, tumbling her down so she’s prone, and Maria hikes up her skirt while Natasha lies beside her and gets her own kiss in.
“No,” Pepper says, and she grasps at Natasha, at her biceps, then her waist, and then her hips. “I want—“ She groans when Maria sucks her clit through her underwear. “On my face,” Pepper says, and Natasha stands and strips and then straddles Pepper’s face. Maria pushes Pepper’s underwear aside and spreads her open with her thumbs before licking her carefully along her edges. “Don’t tease me, Maria,” Pepper says as she grabs Natasha’s hips and adjusts her position so she’s more centered over Pepper’s mouth.
Maria starts tongue-fucking her just as Pepper gets her thumb on Natasha’s clit and for one moment, Pepper thinks Natasha is feeling the shock going through Pepper’s system through Pepper’s thumb, but then Natasha undulates while Pepper bucks, and the moment disappears. What’s left is Pepper, her thumb on Natasha’s clit, Natasha’s cunt just a hairs-breadth away, and Maria eating her out with the clear intention of getting her off as quickly as possible.
Pepper grasps Natasha’s thighs and presses her down towards her mouth, and she sucks and licks, and when she feels the tingle that means she’s about to come, Pepper fights it down so she can let go of Natasha’s left thigh and rub her clit between two fingers until Natasha’s shuddering and clenching her hands above Pepper’s head and coming with a moan. Only then does Pepper throw her head back and give in to the tingle and come.
Natasha rubs herself against Pepper’s mouth once, twice, three times, then presses hard against Pepper’s lips until Pepper chuckles and sucks her clit. “Fuck,” Natasha mutters, and she clasps the back of Pepper’s head while she shudders a second time. She lets go gently, sliding down Pepper’s body until they can kiss, and she laughs against Pepper’s mouth.
“Maria’s still down there,” Pepper says.
“Apparently,” Natasha replies, and the way she rotates her hips tells Pepper that Maria’s hard at work. Pepper and Natasha kiss again, then Natasha pushes up with her arms and swings her leg back over Pepper’s body, and then she stands and walks back to the kitchen.
Pepper sits up, grabs Maria by the shoulders before she can do more than reach a sitting position, and presses her backwards until she’s flat on her back. The tactical suit only unzips to the waist, but Pepper’s used to working with it, and she undoes the belt and yanks everything down around Maria’s thighs and slides two fingers in as she kisses Maria as hard as she can.
“Shit,” Maria says between kisses. “Pepper.”
“I’m taking care of you,” Pepper says against Maria’s left breast. She sucks on Maria’s nipple, kisses her rib cage and her belly button, and she keeps fucking Maria with her fingers as she laps softly at her clit.
“Tease,” Maria gasps out, and Pepper keeps up the soft, slow flicks of her tongue and hard, fast thrust of her fingers for the seven minutes until Maria raises her hips hard and comes against Pepper’s tongue.
Pepper rests her head against Maria’s hip and hums with pleasure when Maria runs her fingers through her hair.
Natasha comes back over, balancing the three martini glasses, and when she passes them out, a little of the drinks spill on Pepper, so she leans down and laps it up.
“And Maria called me the tease,” Pepper mutters.
“We all know that’s not true,” Natasha says as she lifts Pepper’s legs and sits down, draping Pepper’s legs across her lap as she does so.
They’re quiet for a few minutes. Maria and Natasha sip their drinks. Pepper just holds hers, letting the cold of her glass sink in. She finally rouses and kisses Maria’s hip as she sits up. When she’s upright, Natasha ducks under her arm and nuzzles her shoulder.
“What now?” Pepper asks.
“I gave up all my covers,” Natasha says. “I can’t be around for awhile.”
“I need a job,” Maria replies.
“When do you leave?” Pepper asks Natasha.
Natasha rolls her eyes at Pepper’s tone and refuses to answer.
Pepper looks at Maria. “A job?”
“No one’s surprised I killed a few people,” Maria says. “70% of the country thinks every spy lives like James Bond, so it’s not really damaging to my credentials.”
“Stark Industries could use a senior analyst,” Pepper says. “We need someone who can review what we output and what gets input and what it could mean five or ten or fifteen years from now.”
“And when they find out I’m fucking the boss?” Maria asks.
Pepper laughs. “There’s a lot of sexist bullshit I hear about myself, but most sources still think I’m with Tony.”
“Really?” Maria asks. She sounds disappointed. “You are very obviously not.”
“He has a magical penis that traps me like the spinning wheel in Sleeping Beauty,” Pepper replies. “Or so it’s been widely reported.”
“Hrm,” Maria says, a smirk starting to curve her mouth. “I wouldn’t mind shattering a few misconceptions.”
“And being a tactical genius,” Pepper replies.
“You could hide there, too,” Pepper says to Natasha. “The only one who remembers Natalie Rushman is Happy, and he’s terrified of pissing you off.”
Natasha smiles. “Good. But no. It’s better I’m not easily connected to anyone for awhile. My reputation is mine to ruin, but I don’t want it sullying other people.”
Pepper reaches out and cups her cheek. Natasha looks at her, giving nothing away. “You have done things I have a hard time imagining,” Pepper says, “but if you think you sully anyone, you’re mistaken.”
“Ditto,” Maria adds, and that makes Natasha smile.
“I still have to leave,” Natasha says.
“Okay,” Pepper and Maria say at the same time. “Just don’t forget to write,” Pepper adds.
“I’ll communicate when I can,” Natasha says.
They have their drinks and fall asleep together, and the next week when Maria Hill walks into Stark Industries unannounced, she finds she has an interview scheduled at her convenience. And when Natasha calls from Virginia, clearly on the trail of someone--and Pepper isn’t asking who, but she’s pretty sure his initials are JBB--Pepper wishes her good luck and takes Natasha’s, “thank you,” like the warm blanket it is. When Natasha calls a second time, just as Pepper and Maria happen to be sitting down to a one-on-one meeting, Pepper thinks that they’ll come out the other side of this pretty much all right.