"Ugh!" says Pepper, her voice rising in pitch and volume as she paces around the room, briskly rubbing her arms.
Natasha is crouched on the floor trying to start a fire, flicking quick glances of amusement up at Pepper as she builds up into a rant.
"This is why I never go out on missions! It's not like I'm trained or anything, and really I am very, very happy to leave it to you guys, you're the professionals. You're all maladjusted enough that you actually seem to enjoy it when people try to blow you up, but I don't." She stamps her foot irritably. "Who were those guys anyway?"
Natasha shrugs. "Not sure. Managed to make a lot of enemies in my time. Sorry - not exactly how I wanted this evening to end."
Pepper's expression softens at that. "No, I know. I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at --" she makes an all-encompassing gesture, "-- all of this, you know? All the running around and people trying to kill us and then oh, hey, I know, there's a secret underwater base we can swim down to, won't that be fun." She huffs in irritation.
"Well, listen, it's going to be morning before the tide goes out enough for us to get out of here safely, unless you fancy swimming for a mile in freezing water, so we'll have to make camp. This SHIELD base has been abandoned for a while now but there should still be some emergency supplies somewhere. I'll go take a look around if you can keep an eye on the fire."
Pepper nods, looking grateful for having something concrete to do. She sits down by the fire and adds a few more pages from the instruction manual Natasha found by the door.
Natasha does a quick reccy and unearths some pretty unappealing emergency rations and a stash of scratchy blankets. It'll have to do.
When she gets back, Pepper's managed to get a fire going but she's shivering next to it. Natasha can practically hear her teeth chattering. She holds up the blankets. "You know, we're going to have to get you out of those wet clothes."
Pepper laughs at that. "Oh come on, really? I was hoping for a little romance, or at least some subtlety."
"That'll have to wait - I'm serious, you're not going to warm up like that." Natasha puts the blankets down near the fire so they'll warm up, and starts taking off her own sodden clothes, pulling her dress over her head. She can tell Pepper's watching her, and smiles a little to herself.
When she turns back round, Pepper's down to her underwear and carefully laying out her blouse and skirt in the ground.
"Hey, I like that shirt!" she says in reply to Natasha's incredulous look. "What do you want from me? You're the one who asked out a civilian."
"And you're the one who agreed to go on a date with a SHIELD agent," Natasha says. "Probably a bad call."
"Probably," Pepper agrees solemnly. "I guess you're just going to have to make it up to me. Someplace with more, ah, flattering lighting."
Even in the harsh strip lights of the underground bunker, Pepper looks beautiful.
"There's this little all-night café a couple of blocks away that I was going to take you to," Natasha says. "A little booth at the back, candles, good music. Guess that didn't work out."
"Next time," Pepper tells her. "Let's do it next time."
"Deal," Natasha says, grinning, then she pats the ground beside her and pulls out two blankets.
Pepper grabs one and sits down, wrapping the blanket around herself like a cape. Natasha spreads her own blanket out over the floor, covering enough space for two. She lies back invitingly. "Come on, you know what they say."
Pepper sinks back next to her, her head resting against Natasha's shoulder. "No, I actually don't know what they say about what happens when a first date ends in both of you having to run away from lots of men with guns."
"Well, I think they say that the person who was the target of the men with guns has to take her date out again, somewhere slightly more sedate and with better wine."
"Mm, sounds nice."
"But they also say that sharing body heat's a great way to get warm."
Pepper shoots her a look. "Do they now?"
"They do." Natasha wraps her arm around Pepper and draws her in.
"Snuggling for survival," Pepper murmurs. "I suppose I could go with that."
Pepper settles in, resting her arm on Natasha's waist and curling in. Her breath is warm and her skin is soft and although Natasha had really planned for a more tasteful environment for such a moment as this, it's nice anyway. She splays her hand out across Pepper's back and feels her gradually unwind, her breathing growing slow and even.
Natasha watches through half-closed eyes as Pepper's face gradually relaxes, her eyes falling shut as she lets herself drift into sleep.
Natasha is a light sleeper at the best of times, and she won't be able to relax fully in an unknown environment like this. But she's happy to lie awake in the dim light of the bunker, emergency lighting flickering in a corner, because all she can feel is the warmth of Pepper next to her, real and safe and good.
Next time, she promises to herself, they'll do this in a bed.