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Natasha barely glances up when Pepper walks into the kitchen, and she suspects even that much is just to make Pepper more comfortable. Natasha is cutting an onion into perfect squares, knife moving quickly enough that with anyone else Pepper might be wary of an impending trip to the emergency room.

"Tony isn’t here," says Natasha, finishing the onion and picking up a carrot. It, too, is diced into perfectly even pieces. "He and the suit are spending some quality time together."

Pepper settles herself on the bar stool and watches Natasha work. It's almost hypnotic, the knife flickering across the vegetable, guided by capable fingers. "Tony isn't the only reason I come here."

Natasha looks up, and Pepper is gifted with a rare smile, her eyes softening and crinkling at the edges. "Let me finish with this first," she says, sliding the onions into the large soup pot waiting on the stove.

The kitchen fills with the scent of frying onion and crushed garlic. Natasha never chooses to cook "gourmet" -- she says that eating rich food means she's on the job. For Pepper, it's a relief to occasionally escape the world of exquisitely constructed canapés and molecular gastronomy in favour of a good, hearty stew.

Natasha adds the carrot to the pot, then a bowl of finely chopped celery. Pepper laces her fingers together and rests her chin on them, watching. Natasha never looks entirely relaxed, but here her hair is a little less perfect, her outfit casual and practical. It's a good look.

Finally, Natasha adds the stock and a cup of dried beans, and puts the lid on the pot. "That will be an hour," she says, stepping out of the kitchen and walking to the window with the unconscious grace that Pepper would admire if she didn't know its source. "Do you have anywhere to be?"

Pepper slides off the stool and moves to stand beside Natasha, sliding her hand into the crook of her elbow gently and just waits, watching the city shuffle beneath them. "I have the evening to myself."

She lets Natasha make the first move, stepping closer into Pepper's space and cupping her cheek, thumb brushing just under Pepper's left eye. The scent of onion and garlic still clings to Natasha's hair, and Pepper breathes it deeply.

The kiss, when it comes, is no less powerful for the anticipation.