"Okay but why are we even having this demo again?" Tony asked, watching from behind a crowd of onlookers as the Stark Industries sales rep laid out a velvet cloth on which rested several knives.
"Why did you design ‘em if you didn't want us to sell ‘em, Tony?" Obie asked, chomping on his unlit cigar.
"Thought experiment," Tony said absently. He'd just wondered how far you could engineer a knife for combat -- what you could innovate, that humans hadn't already tried in ten thousand years. The results were pretty, but they weren't exactly the next billion-dollar defense contract.
"Look, SI makes bombs, which means we have a perpetual image problem," Obie said. "This kind of thing gets us a lot of loyalty from the little guy. That's why we even make sidearms anymore. And now knives. Besides, they're good knives, why not show ‘em off?"
Tony was opening his mouth to reply, but then he snapped it shut sharply.
"Did I not mention my little innovation?" Obie asked, as a gorgeous blonde in skintight camo walked onstage. She had fingerless gloves and amazing breasts. "I'm calling her the Blade Babe."
"I'm more fully interested," Tony agreed.
His memory was patchy, because it was a convention and he spent those pretty perpetually at least two drinks in, but he remembered some things for a long time. The Blade Babe did one of the most amazing demos he'd ever seen; she moved like a dancer and she disemboweled the targets set out for her like a starving lioness. Seeing his designs in her hands was the most memorable part of the whole thing, really.
"So," he said backstage, after the demo, as she gathered up and laid out the knives for the sales rep to pack away. "You're, what, you're an aspiring actress? Most demo babes are, but I feel like you have maybe some untapped skills you're not marketing to their full."
She gave him a grin. "I'm not going to sleep with you, Mr. Stark."
"Harsh. Harsh but fair. Seriously though, is that like some kind of capoeira you were doing out there? You looked, uh, frankly murderous. What do you call that?"
"My job," she replied easily, watching with what looked like envy as the rep rolled the knives into the velvet.
"You're an enigma. Now I don't even want to have sex with you, I want to run a background check," he said.
"You won't find anything," she said.
"Challenge accepted. What's your name? Phone number would help too."
That smile again.
"Mr. Stark," she said, "I need you to understand that I'm here to do a job. You're not actually a part of that job. And, for you, that's a very good thing."
With a toss of her short blonde hair, she walked off.
The demo knives went missing that night; Obie suspected a light-fingered looky-loo at the SI convention booth. They were in production already so it didn't much matter. Just one of those things that sometimes happened at conventions.
Fourteen years later, in one of the training rooms at the Avengers compound, Tony saw one of the demo knives strapped to Natasha Romanoff's ankle.
"So," he said, eyes flicking down to the signature Stark blade, set into a grey handle. The demo blades had all been in grey. The production blades had been in black or dark red. "You weren't at the convention for me, huh?"
"And you should still be very grateful," she replied without missing a beat, kicking the shit out of a heavy bag. "If Obadiah Stane had hired me to kill you, you'd have died."
"Obliged for your honesty. Blade Babe was your way into the convention?"
"I had a target. If it helps, he was a very bad person."
He tilted his head. "If you hadn't been out to kill someone that night, would you at least have let me buy you a drink?"
She moved instead of answering, a vertical leap that turned into a twist midair; somehow between the jump and the twist she got the knife out of her ankle holster, and she broke her fall back to the ground by jamming it into the heavy bag, ripping a huge tear from top to bottom but slowing her descent.
"You can buy me one now," she said.
"I own the bar, here," he pointed out.
"Then you shouldn't have any trouble paying." She tossed the knife in the air, caught it, and tucked it away. "Pretty good workmanship," she said, patting his cheek as she passed. "Figure you've earned a shot."
"I'm in so much trouble," he said to himself, then hustled to follow her out of the training room, the bag still leaking sand behind them.