glorious_spoon: (troll)
[personal profile] glorious_spoon
Title: a heart worth breaking
Fandom: MCU
Pairing: Pepper/Natasha, background Pepper/Tony
Warnings: Vague spoilers for Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Rating: PG
Summary: Pepper might not be much good at this superhero business, but she’s pretty good at picking up the pieces afterward. Written for this prompt on [ profile] avengerkink.

Pepper lets herself in and closes the door quietly behind her. The shades are drawn, the air silent and still. It smells faintly of potpourri and dust.

“Hello?” she calls softly. There’s no answer, but she wasn’t really expecting one. This isn’t the only safe-house Natasha keeps in New York, she knows, but it’s the only one Pepper has a key to.

Natasha has rooms at the Tower, too, but she won’t go there. Not now; not after this. The only reason Pepper knows that she’s in New York at all is because Jarvis told her. Well. Jarvis told Tony, and Tony told her, and arranged her flight to New York from his hospital room without so much as a by-your-leave, because he’s Tony and that’s how he shows that he’s worried.

“Make sure she’s not going to give in to her supervillain urges from the stress--don’t look at me like that, Pep, everyone has supervillain urges from time to time, it comes with the job territory, and she would make a terrifying overlord, okay, so just.” He stopped, fingers tapping for a moment against his bandaged chest, and looked away. “Make sure she’s okay.”

Pepper is less worried about Natasha’s latent tendencies toward supervillainy than that she’ll decide to simply--disappear. She suspects that deep down, Tony is as well.

“Hello?” she calls again, a little louder. Silence.

She sets her bag down in the foyer, kicks her heels off and makes her way into the apartment. It’s spartan and impersonal, decorated in clean lines and muted catalogue colors. There’s a spray of silk begonias in a glass on the kitchen counter, the splash of color jarring and oddly whimsical in the grayish gloom. Pepper touches the flowers briefly with the tips of her fingers, feeling as though something has been rattled loose inside her.

There’s no reason, really, to think that Natasha will come here. But she can hope.


She fixes tea with the electric kettle she finds in one of the cupboards. The gleaming fridge is empty, but there’s a stunning array of protein bars in another cupboard. Pepper selects something sticky and chocolate-covered without even looking at the calorie count, pours herself a cup of tea, and goes to sit on the couch, tucking her stocking feet up under her.

She has a stack of paperwork stuffed into the side pocket of her overnight bag, even a well-thumbed Hemingway paperback that she’s reading for the tenth time or so, but she doesn’t go to get either of them. Instead, she wraps her hands around the cup of tea, letting heat bleed into the pads of her fingers to match the strange heat that’s always burning inside of her now, and lets her head fall back against the cushions.

It’s been a long, long couple of months.


She doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but it’s dark when her eyes blink open, long slats of dim yellow light from the streetlamp outside coming through the closed blinds. Her untouched tea is sitting on the coffee table. For a long moment, she’s not sure what woke her, and then a shadow detaches itself from the kitchen doorway, steps forward into the room.

There’s an instant of heart-stopping panic, heat flaring beneath her skin and the smell of metal and ozone, and then Natasha says softly, “It’s just me.”

Pepper sucks in a long breath, then another, willing her heart to slow.

“Sorry,” Natasha adds, sounding genuinely chagrined. She flicks on a lamp.

“It’s okay,” Pepper says shakily. “I’m in your apartment, after all.”

In the lamplight, Natasha looks tired and strangely young. Her hair is loose around her shoulders and she’s wearing combat boots, tight jeans, and an Air Force hoodie that’s several sizes too large. Her face is masklike, every hint of emotion tucked behind a pale, flawless shell, but that’s actually perversely reassuring. If she wanted, she could cover it up so well that no one would even know to look for it, shove it down behind a smile and a come-hither look, reflecting only what Pepper wants to see. This flat wariness is as close as Natasha gets to real vulnerability.

“Why are you here?” she asks.

Pepper unfolds her legs, wincing. She’s getting too old to be sleeping curled up on sofas like a college student. “I wanted to see you.”

Natasha sways forward slightly, but doesn’t move. “Why?”

“I was worried about you.”

A flicker of expression, something that might be a smile or a wince. “Sorry,” she says again.

“Don’t--no,” Pepper says, stretching out a hand. “Please, just--can you come here? Please?”

Natasha hesitates, then crosses the room to perch on the couch cushion next to Pepper, not quite close enough to touch. She smells like hospital shampoo and gun-smoke. Pepper holds out a hand, and after a long moment she takes it. Her palm is small and warm and thickly calloused, and she closes her eyes when Pepper laces their fingers together. “I’m okay,” she says finally, quietly.

Pepper nods. There’s a lump in her throat, and she’s not sure she trusts herself to speak. Natasha opens her eyes and looks at her, and Pepper knows that cool, clever intellect is taking in every line in her face, every moment of worry that’s buried itself into tense muscles, every sleepless night.

She smiles, finally, and it’s tired but real. “Your hair is a mess,” she says, reaching up to tuck a flyaway strand behind Pepper’s ear. She slides her hand around to the back of Pepper’s neck, and pulls her in for a kiss.

It’s brief, warm and almost chaste; just a brush of chapped lips. Pepper closes her eyes, and when it’s over she lets her head fall down onto Natasha’s shoulder, and Natasha doesn’t push her away. Her hands climb into Pepper’s hair, delicately pulling out the pins holding up her mangled chignon, carding out the tangles with gentle fingers. Pepper doesn’t open her eyes, doesn’t move to help, just stays there with her face pressed into Natasha’s neck, breathing in the smell of her skin.

“You’re okay,” Natasha murmurs. It’s in Russian, and if she were anyone else, Pepper would wonder if the slip was accidental, but Natasha doesn’t make mistakes. Not like that. “You’re okay, I’m okay. Go to sleep, дорогая.”

“Will you stay?”

Natasha’s fingers pause for just an instant, and then she sighs. “I’ll stay as long as I can,” she says, and Pepper knows she’ll be gone in the morning. She usually is.

For now, though, she’s here, warm and strong and alive beneath Pepper’s hands, and it’s enough. It’ll have to be.
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