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It Takes Three

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“I want one.”

It was the easiest no she’d ever had to give him. Tony let his libido lead him more often than not, and Pepper knew better than to let it lead him straight to picking a curvy redhead from the legal department , of all places, as his next assistant. That wasn’t just a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. That was an ugly, public sexual harassment suit that they were guaranteed to lose in court waiting to happen. The last thing she needed as the newly minted CEO was to spend her first few months cleaning up another of Tony’s handsy messes. Transitioning from assistant to CEO was supposed to be the end of those duties.

Still, she couldn’t deny that he had good taste. When Natalie had shown up at the Malibu estate, she’d been more than a little interested herself. Pepper didn’t make a big deal out of her occasional attraction to women--especially not where Tony could be made aware of it because nobody wanted to deal with that conversation--but one look at Natalie Rushman made her kind of want to start making a big deal. Her face and carriage said she was sweet, but there was a definite spark of mischief in those eyes.

The mischief was confirmed when she took Happy to the mat in seconds flat. Pepper couldn’t stop her shout of surprise or the jolt of sheer want that shot through her at the sight. She hated to admit it, but she definitely had an attachment to the dangerous type--case in point, Tony Stark--and seeing the other redhead be so competent in the ring… it was working for her. Everything about Natalie was working for her, which was another reason not to put the woman with Tony and end up seeing her more often. The last thing she needed was another beautiful, battle ready distraction constantly around in both her work and home life.

She only hoped that Tony hadn’t noticed her interest.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Pepper liked to play like she was secretive with her girl-on-girl sexy thoughts, but Tony knew. Of course he knew. The woman was wired with every available Stark electronics device and he wasn’t exactly a stickler for keeping his nose out of other people’s business. Especially if that business meant a browser history full of frankly hot lesbian porn and--his personal favorite--a not exactly small amount of erotica and videos featuring two ladies and one man. He’d gone looking on a whim when he was at three days without sleep and had gotten scandalized in the best kind of way. Sweet little Pepper had a delectable naughty side. He’d planned to hold onto the information for just the perfect moment to see if he could make her blush brighter than her hair.

That all went out the window when he realized he and Happy weren’t the only ones checking out the notary. Seriously, they even had the same taste in women (blatantly ignoring that most of his taste amounted to ‘breathing’). Virginia Potts: Perfection Personified. His brain started tossing out ideas left and right for all the different ways that double the redheads could be double the fun, particularly when one of them was already invested in the idea of three-ways.

And then she told him no.

No to kinky threesomes was one thing. Tony absolutely recognized the importance of consent, but no to him hiring a pretty assistant that they’d both be happy to look at? Well, that was just ridiculous. Tony knew exactly how to handle ridiculous. He’d just ignore what he was told and act in the best interest of everybody involved. Even if that meant waiting until Pep went into the office and then calling Miss Rushman back for an interview.

“Natalie--I can call you Natalie, right?” he chattered when Happy let her into the lab. “Natalie, what are your personal feelings on a little harmless flirting between a personal assistant and her boss?”

“As long as it doesn’t lead to wage gaps and actual harassment I don’t see that it does any harm,” she replied without hesitation. Something about her eyes--too open, like she was trying to make him believe she was innocent--made him a little wary, but it was probably just a side effect of whatever law school had spat her into the legal department at Stark. Being around lawyers probably gave her that ability to make people feel like something shifty was going on. “Though in your case I would assume a lack of flirting would mean you’re either sick or about to fire said assistant.”

He grinned and tossed a heavy brown envelope to her, not bothering to watch as it sailed end over end through the air. “Perfect!” In the reflection on one of his machines he saw her catch the envelope effortlessly. “Job comes with a considerable salary. Hours are kinda frantic. Pep says I have the sleeping schedule of a ten year old with a year’s supply of sugar and no crash in sight, so that means I might call at any hour. Dress code’s at your discretion, drinking with me at my request is a requirement, and I’m probably going to ditch you on the regular. Any questions?”

“Am I correct in assuming this is your idea of a job offer?”

“Right in one. Other questions?”

Although her eyes never left the paperwork, her smile was sin personified. “Where do I sign?”

Tony got the feeling that he might have just gotten himself in trouble.

 

~*~*~*~

 

For all that she was upset that Tony had gone behind her back to hire her, Pepper was grateful for Natalie after Monaco. She’d settled in on the couch with paperwork and a phone and gave Pepper more help than she had ever expected. The woman from legal was shrewd, calculating, and had a gift for talking circles around reporters, business associates, and government officials alike. She only wished that there wasn’t something that felt so off about having her around. It wasn’t like she could write off everything that made her uncomfortable on jealousy since she really wouldn’t mind Natalie hooking up with Tony so long as she got to be a part of it. It just wasn’t that simple.

“When was the last time you ate?”

Pepper looked up, startled from her thoughts by the other woman’s question. It was well after midnight, and they’d been working non-stop for the majority of the day. She had to think fairly hard to remember when her last meal had been. “I’m not actually sure. It’s been a long day.”

Natalie nodded in understanding. “He certainly wasn’t lying about frantic hours.”

“I’m surprised he mentioned it at all,” Pepper admitted with a brief laugh. Reminded that food was a thing that actually existed, her stomach gave an angry rumble. “It seems that it’s been a while since the last time I got some food.”

“I have an idea.” Natalie kicked off her heels and got to her feet. “Why don’t I send Happy to get take out and while we wait for him to get back the two of us will do literally anything else but deal with more of this mess?”

Tugging her bottom lip between her teeth, Pepper hesitated. “I don’t know. There’s still so much left to do.” Natalie padded across the smooth floor, her phone already pressed to her ear. Pepper listened while the other woman ordered her favorite--when had she learned her order?--from an all night diner a few miles away and directed Happy to go pick it up.

When she was finished, Natalie settled right next to Pepper on the couch instead of returning to her chair. “We can’t keep staring at this stuff without a break. It’ll make both of us crazy.” She reached for the remote and flipped through the channels until she found a lighthearted comedy. “Plus, it’ll be nice to watch something that isn’t a news report which will be giving us headaches for the next week.” She rolled her shoulders. “Is it always like this working for him?”

“It comes and goes.” Thinking on it, Pepper was pretty sure that Tony had only been getting worse since he’d randomly handed his company over. In all the excitement of him appointing her to the position she hadn’t stopped to consider why he might do such a thing. “I never thought I’d wish for the days of kicking out his one night stands in the morning.”

“That sounds like an experience,” Natalie snorted. “I don’t think he’d appreciate the way I would handle something like that.” There was a devious little smirk on her face. “I had to take care of a one night stand for an old friend once.”

“Oh? How did that go?”

“I asked her to fill out a customer satisfaction survey to rate his performance.”

Pepper’s snort of laughter was possibly the most unladylike sound she had ever made. Not that she’d ever tell him, but Tony hiring Natalie against her wishes might just turn out to be Pepper’s favorite thing. “If you ever do that to Tony I swear I will give you a raise.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Pepper was livid.

Monaco was one thing. It was her first out of country trip with the man, and Tony always did have a way of sneaking around his handlers. But allowing Tony to make a drunken fool of himself in the suit at a highly publicized party? However pretty she might be in that little leopard print dress, however helpful she might have been over the last couple of days, however funny her plans for dealing with Tony’s amorous indiscretions were, Pepper was not ready to allow Natalie Rushman any leeway. In spite of the attraction, there was something about her that drove Pepper’s not-good instincts completely berserk. She’d tried to push it aside after the time they’d spent working together on this disaster, but she clearly couldn’t do that any longer. The very minute the dust had cleared at the Malibu house Pepper went looking for Tony’s assistant.

Only, she couldn’t find her .

Natalie wasn’t among the party goers that had hung around at the end of the drive to watch the drama unfold. Happy swore he hadn’t seen her leave. She wasn’t anywhere in the house. None of the vehicles were missing. Even JARVIS couldn’t trace her location from the footage he’d collected.

There was something interesting in that footage, though. Pepper watched it several times over, then went frame by frame to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. She wasn’t. It played out in the video as plain as day. The ceiling caved in when Tony and Rhodey crashed through. Like she’d expect any woman who worked in an office to do, Pepper had jumped in shock and stumbled back. Natalie didn’t. Instead she dropped immediately into a defensive pose. Even Tony wouldn’t have transitioned to battle ready so smoothly.

The obvious fight training and the frightening competence with political matters reminded Pepper of Phil Coulson. He’d always been impressively calm and collected when they’d interacted. Being reminded of Phil put her in an entirely different mindset when ‘Natalie Rushman’ sauntered into the CEO’s office the following afternoon.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After a revelatory breakfast, Agent Romanov shuffled Tony into an SUV to drive him back to the Malibu house. It wasn’t exactly comfortable riding shotgun in the suit, but he’d been in worse situations. More prominent than the physical discomfort, of course, was the knowledge that his hot assistant was actually a plant. The lengths people would go to in order to keep tabs on him shouldn’t still be surprising, but he found that he was inclined to be a little hurt that she’d only been flirty and accommodating because it helped with her super secret spying.

Not that she’d been particularly flirty. Well, she’d been a little flirty. She might have made a few comments about the cut of his pants framing his backside. And then there was that whole arm of the chair, super suggestive schtick she’d laid on him the night before when he was getting ready for the party. Actually, now that he was thinking about it, she’d been even flirtier than he’d realized.

“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to call you,” he snapped after several long miles of silence. He was determinedly not looking at her. As far as he was concerned the world zipping by outside the window was the most interesting sight on earth.

“Natasha works.”

“Natasha Romanov, Natalie Rushman. Why did they let you keep the same initials? Seems like that would be against some sort of agent protocol.” He really did try to keep the petulance out of his voice, but some things couldn’t be helped. It’s not like he was expecting an honest response anyway.

“Natalie Rushman was the cover created for me to build a life in the States.”

Tony’s ears perked up. He’d never heard it before in their conversations, but there was the faintest hint of an accent in her voice. She’d also given him what sounded like a truthful answer. “What, they couldn’t just put you through immigration like a normal person coming to work in this country?”

“I have a… complicated history,” she admitted, shifting in the driver’s seat. To his surprise, she didn’t stop there. For the rest of the drive she gave him an abbreviated tale about being trained in Russia and how a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had taken a chance to bring her to their side instead of killing her outright. Her accent got a little thicker as she talked, though it never quite reached the same prominence as most of the Russians he’d met. She wove such a tale that he forgot she was probably lying to him again until they pulled up in front of the house. He shook it off. She was an agent, and he couldn’t let himself fall for that mess again.

“Great fairytale, Red, but--”

“Tony,” she cut him off with a tone that brooked no argument. He turned until their eyes met, the dark lenses of his shades the only thing between them. “Everything I’ve just told you is classified. Please don’t repeat any of it. Fury’s not big on transparency.”

“Hazard of being a spy,” he quipped. “What makes you think I’m going to believe that was truth?”

Natasha shrugged, looking down at her lap. On any other woman he’d say she was trying to play coy, but the way she was picking at her nails said otherwise. “I don’t really have a reason to make up a past for you. Now that you know I’m an agent you’re not likely to trust me again.”

That… was actually a very good point. Tony’s mind was whirling, but he didn’t think he was going to be able to puzzle her out while sitting so close that he could smell her shampoo. He reached into the backseat for the helmet he’d set there and made to get out of the car. Fury was supposed to meet them and he’d rather not be in the suit for his next conversation with the man.

“One more thing.” She stopped him with a hand on his thigh. He couldn’t feel it through the suit, but the jump in his heart rate was making him think he could. “If all you were was a target, I wouldn’t have bothered flirting.”

She was out of the car before the words really sank in.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Tell me something,” Tony began while they watched the emergency crews put out the fires at the Expo from what he was quickly coming to think of as ‘their’ rooftop. He’d settled the suit down on an air conditioning unit where he could lean against a wall. Pepper was situated on his lap, her butt settled on one of his thighs and her feet dangling over the other. “When we were on that three-way call with Natalie during all that mess why weren’t you surprised to see her in enemy territory wearing a catsuit?”

Pepper rolled her eyes. “Did you honestly think I’d watch some random woman let you destroy half the house during a party and then immediately let her back on my staff the next day if I didn’t know she was an undercover agent?”

Tony blinked in surprise for a couple of moments. Slowly, he turned his head until he could look her in the eyes. She looked calm and collected, just like always. “You knew?”

“I told her when I went back to Stark Industries while you were under house arrest.” Natasha’s voice came from somewhere behind him and to his left. After the day he’d had, Tony couldn’t really say he was surprised that she’d ended up on the same roof. “Though, by the time I got to the office she’d halfway figured it out.”

“She went straight into a fighting stance when you and Rhodey fell through the ceiling,” Pepper admitted, shifting her legs until she was balanced on his thigh with both feet on the ground.

Natasha appeared at his left, one hand settling on his shoulder. “It’s a force of habit. I think I’ve been on alert for a fight most of my life.” Without waiting for an invitation she settled herself on the thigh Pepper had pulled her feet from and made herself comfortable. After a couple of moments, Pepper propped her feet up in Natasha’s lap.

“It made sense, really,” Pepper continued. “No one is actually that eager to deal with your shenanigans.”

“Are we just going to ignore that you’re both using me as furniture?” Tony asked when Natasha slipped Pepper’s heels off and began rubbing her feet. The two women seemed much more comfortable than a CEO and assistant should be with one another. The expressions they both turned on him--one eyebrow raised, unamused purse to the lips, no-nonsense attitude rolling off them in waves--were eerily similar. Maybe he did have a type beyond just breathing.

“Not that I’m complaining,” he mused, raising both hands in a gesture of surrender and glancing between them. He wished more than anything that he wasn’t wearing the suit so he could feel the weight of them against him. “I’m just kind of curious as to exactly what’s happening here. You two look awfully cosy.”

With a shrug Natasha shifted until she was leaning against his shoulder. “It could be cosier.”

“True,” Pepper agreed, taking a moment to lean against his other shoulder. “The armor isn’t exactly comfortable. We should do something about that.”

“I’ve got a van in the parking lot,” Natasha hummed in agreement, “and a safehouse about six miles away. We managed to salvage the apparatus to remove the suit from beneath the stage.”

Tony blinked as he looked between them. “Is this a thing that’s actually happening? Or are the two of you plotting my demise? If this is a Death by Snu-Snu situation I’ve gotta say that I appreciate your consideration and would like to confirm that this is exactly how I want to go.”

They both just rolled their eyes at him and got to their feet. Natasha helped Pepper balance while she slipped her feet back into her heels. “Nondescript panel van at the base of the building,” Natasha instructed. “You get Pepper down there, settle down in the back, and I’ll be along in a minute.”

“No one’s answering my Snu-Snu question.”

“Let’s see how good you are at sharing before we settle on the death option.”

 

~*~*~*~ Three Years Later ~*~*~*~

 

Mornings in Avengers Tower with all three residents of the penthouse suite at home were not a common occurrence. Being busy running Stark Industries meant that Pepper traveled a lot, and trotting across the globe helping Rogers dismantle HYDRA kept Tony and Natasha out just as frequently. So, on the rare occasion that fortune brought them all to New York at the same time they tended to make the most of it. Tony had even enacted a special protocol with JARVIS. Whenever all three of them were in residence, they all had a figurative “Do Not Disturb” sign attached for a minimum of twenty-four hours. Meetings and training sessions were cancelled and Science! was put on hold.

JARVIS handled a lot of angry phone calls when the power trio went on lockdown for Relationship Time.

On an average day they were all early risers. Tony had too much energy to waste sleeping. Natasha had spent so many years getting the bare minimum of sleep that she struggled to stay in bed longer than four or five hours. Pepper had been up with the sun every day for most of her life. But on Relationship Time? On those days they sometimes didn’t leave the bed at all.

That was why it was so disturbing when Natasha woke up alone at ten to noon.

It had taken years, but Natasha had finally managed to relax enough that she didn’t automatically wake up ready to fight. At least, she didn’t wake up that way when she came to curled up with her lovers. Without them in the bed beside her she reverted immediately to her training. Her eyes never opened, and after an initial increase she returned her breathing and heart rate to a resting state in a very short period of time. Swift, efficient, and the perfect cover for gathering information about her location.

“Good morning, Miss Romanov.” Years of spy training still couldn’t get the drop on an AI that had been fine-tuned to analyze her every move. “Miss Potts has asked that I reassure you on waking that she and Sir are both fine. You are in the penthouse at Avengers Tower. There have been no major disasters that the Avengers will need to attend to, though Captain Rogers has requested that the team remain prepared for the next mission at all times as a precaution. Current local time is 11:52am.”

Natasha smiled. She could do without Steve’s daily reminder of constant vigilance, but the thoughtfulness behind the rest was appreciated. Pepper always had an uncanny way of knowing when she’d need reassurance. “Thank you, JARVIS,” she responded quietly. “Where are they this morning?”

“Sir decided that he would like to make you and Miss Potts breakfast in bed.” How exasperated the AI managed to sound with his creator would never cease to impress her. “Miss Potts felt that he should not be left near a stove unsupervised, though she promised to return to bed so Sir can serve the food appropriately.”

“Pepper does have the most sense out of all of us,” Natasha laughed, not bothering to hide her fond smile. She started shifting from the center of the massive bed toward one of the sides to crawl out.

“Indeed.” JARVIS practically sighed before he continued. “I regret to inform you, Miss Romanov, but I have been asked to encourage you to stay put until your breakfast is delivered.”

Waving a hand vaguely toward the ceiling, she got to her feet and shook off the last of the sheets. “Don’t worry. I’m only going to the bathroom, JARVIS. It’s way too early for clothes.” She shuffled to the attached master bath while the banter with the AI continued.

“If the attire Sir and Miss Potts are currently wearing is any indication you wouldn’t need clothing.”

Now that was an interesting thought. “Is Tony cooking naked?” she called as she went through an abbreviated morning routine. The master suite in the penthouse boasted a master bath built for three, but she always found it easier to brush her teeth and tame her hair when she wasn’t trying to stay out of the way of Pepper’s morning whirlwind and Tony’s wandering hands.

“I believe he is wearing the apron Miss Hill gifted to you last Christmas.” She remembered that apron. It was pink. With ruffles. And polka dots. And the phrase ‘I bake so I don’t kill people… but killing people is more fun’ across the front in loopy red script. Maria gave it to her as a joke after they’d decided one margarita night that Pepper and Stark were domesticating her.

“That I have got to see. Can I have the kitchen feed on in the bedroom, please?”

As she padded her way back across the lush carpet the screens lit up. Tony was making an absolute mess of the kitchen while wearing her apron and nothing else. It looked like omelets were the name of the game. They were really the only thing Tony knew how to cook. Pepper had seated herself on one side of the island wrapped in a throw blanket from one of the couches. She was watching him like a hawk. If he was allowed to get distracted he tended to forget what he was doing and wander off to get covered in grease and buried in R&D.

If she’d been asked three years ago whether she thought her relationship with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts would ever amount to anything Natasha probably would have made a reference to orgasms and avoided a straight answer. She’d never expected to end up with something serious. She expected the two of them to have ups and downs but make it to some sort of relationship endgame. She hadn’t thought they were going to insist on bringing her with them. The idea of it hadn’t even crossed her mind.

Yet, every time she’d thought her part in the story was coming to an end there they were to push her on to the next chapter. She’d been busy for a long time. After the smoke cleared from everything with Vanko and then Thor falling in New Mexico it seemed like there was always one more mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. She didn’t see them for a long time. Then she’d been in Germany hunting for Barton with a legend from World War II and suddenly there was Tony. He’d waited until they were on the helicarrier to corner her. Natasha had known he’d be involved in the incident eventually when she got Coulson’s call. She’d thought he would yell at her for disappearing and maybe make a few lewd comments before sending her on her merry way. The press, after all, made no secret of the fact that he and Pepper were not only involved but very happy.

Instead, he’d tugged her into an empty room and wrapped her in a tight embrace. He’d muttered a number of things. Concern that something had happened to her. Happiness that she seemed to be fine. A vague joke about whether he and Pepper should be jealous of her attachment to Clint. Then he’d pulled out his phone and insisted that they video call Pepper. Pepper’s delight had been sincere and infectious. They talked for as long as they could, and Natasha found herself apologizing for disappearing and promising not to do it again. When they eventually had to hang up and get back to business Tony kissed her with meaning and sauntered off to his work like it happened every day. She was forced to admit that she was going to have to reevaluate her position on where the three of them stood when the world wasn’t ending.

Clint, of course, thought the whole thing was hilarious when she explained it to him after the Chitauri incident was over.  “Only you could be in your perfect kind of relationship and not even realize it, Nat,” he’d laughed. “Make Stark give you one of his fancy encrypted phones and start checking in like a good girlfriend.” She still hadn’t told Pepper and Tony the whole truth about Clint, but she’d made sure to tell them that he was her best friend. They both understood the need for secrets in her line of work.

She’d done as Clint had suggested and gotten the phone. Tony was thrilled to be able to give her something, and Pepper was happy to be able to get regular updates. Arrogant to a fault, Tony had an effortless way of making it seem like he always expected her to come back. Still, it hadn’t taken her long to learn the cues that said he was actually insecure about it. Pepper would always give her a heads up when he needed a particular round of reassurance. Pepper was the balance of all three of them. She didn’t get so wrapped up in work that she neglected her own health like Tony or struggle to understand the emotional needs of a relationship like Natasha. It certainly didn’t hurt that she was blunt about anything she thought any one of them was doing wrong.

The end of S.H.I.E.L.D. had complicated things. Natasha hadn’t thought before she’d dumped the files for all the world to see. She hadn’t just put herself in the firing line of the public for her sordid past. She’d realized after, once Steve was recovering in the hospital, that she’d released all the dirty details she wasn’t proud of before she’d told her lovers about them. She’d steeled herself for the final end of their relationship only to be surprised again. Pepper and Tony showed up in D.C. together, presenting the public with a united front that backed the Black Widow. The entirety of the Stark Industries Public Relations department worked overtime to spin a tale of redemption, reminding the world that the company had been on all the wrong sides of the weapons business until they’d made an effort to change.

Tony, of course, took things a step further and immediately outed the nature of their relationship to the media. She had to admit, feeding the world juicy celebrity gossip was a very effective way of distracting them from ugly realities. While politicians were calling for her head late night talk show hosts wanted to know how a relationship between three people seemed to work so smoothly. When she appeared before Congress, the building was surrounded by citizens loudly voicing their support.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Pepper’s voice startled Natasha from her memories as the other woman crawled back into their bed. Natasha snuggled into Pepper’s side almost immediately. “I didn’t want to have to wake you, but I can’t suffer this mess alone.” Instead of responding, Natasha just kissed her.

“Hey, hey, hey! No sexy time until after breakfast!” Tony was still wearing the apron when he sauntered into the room bearing a tray of juice and omelets. “I slaved over this! You can at least eat before distracting me with your feminine wiles.”

Natasha raised one elegant eyebrow and tucked herself more firmly against Pepper. “What makes you think we weren’t going kick you out and just be sexy with one another?”

“Exactly,” Pepper agreed while Tony settled the tray over their laps. The omelets looked surprisingly delicious. “Why do you always assume our affection is just a display?”

“I assume nothing, but am always hopeful.” He gave them a winning grin before leaning in to give Natasha a good morning kiss. “Would you believe that Pepper wouldn’t let me cook alone?” he whined, clearly angling to get Natasha on his side.

The Black Widows speared a bite of omelet and chewed thoughtfully, a smirk crossing her face. “She really is a very noble woman,” she insisted. “I probably wouldn’t have let you cook at all, and she sacrificed her morning sanity and the comfort of our bed to keep an eye on you.”

He sniffed in a show of hurt. “I don’t know why I bother with you two. All you do is gang up on me.”

“You prefer it that way and you know it,” Pepper teased, dragging him under the blankets beside her. She tucked into her own omelet with a sigh of contentment. “Besides, you wouldn’t know how to handle just one of us, and neither of us is cruel enough to leave the other to deal with you alone.”

The Iron Man rolled his eyes with a snort of laughter. “You say that like you think either one of you wouldn’t be thrilled to have me all to yourself.” Tony preened as he said it, but both Natasha and Pepper knew that one of them leaving was a thought that plagued him sometimes.

Natasha reached around Pepper to tug at the ties of the apron. For all the hell she helped Pepper give him, there really was nowhere else she’d rather be than with the two of them. “Oh, no,” she assured him. “When it comes to dealing with your ego, Tony, it definitely takes both of us.”