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Useless in Different Ways

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Useless in Different Ways

 

“If you glare at Dr. Stark any harder, he’ll burst into flames,” Steve deadpanned. “He’s the best pediatrician at this hospital so I am asking you to stop.”

 

“I will not,” Natasha replied.

 

Steve opened his mouth, then closed it again, letting a long, slow breath out of his nose. Finally, he tried again. “I know you’re jealous of him, but that’s no reason to—”

 

“I’m not jealous,” Natasha hissed, cutting him off.

 

“You are,” Steve insisted. “And I can sympathize! I am also upset that Dr. Stark is no longer on the market—”

 

“Oh gross,” Natasha complained.

 

“—for me,” Steve added, giving her a sharp look. “Dr. Stark is no longer on the market for me. So I know how you feel because the beautiful, out-of-your-league person who you like is already in a relationship, dating someone just as beautiful and out of your league.”

 

Natasha gaped at him, offended. “First of all, I don’t think Pepper is out of my league—”

 

“You do, you cried into a margarita about it,” Steve argued.

 

“And even if! If! She is, Dr. Stark definitely isn’t!” she continued. “I have watched him walk directly into the glass doors at the hospital entrance. Twice.”

 

Steve crossed his arms and frowned at her severely. “That doesn’t mean anything, Natasha. The reception desk has a running tally and it’s up in the two-hundreds now. Dr. Potts is still somehow attracted to him.”

 

Natasha scowled at him, about to argue some more, then paused. Her scowl faded into a frown of concern. “In the two-hundreds now? Really?”

 

“He thinks his glasses make him look old, so he doesn’t put them on until he’s in his office or an exam room,” Steve said with a shrug. “Poor vision and freshly cleaned glass doors don’t mix.”

 

“I can’t believe Dr. Potts is dating an idiot who won’t wear glasses when she could be dating me,” Natasha muttered petulantly. She said it without much heat, though, because as she watched, Dr. Stark squatted down to tell his patient a joke, and when the boy laughed, Dr. Stark turned a beaming smile on the boy’s parents.

 

Dr. Stark really was good with children. Sometimes, when he was especially stressed, he’d go to the nursery and hold the babies. Natasha had never been a particularly mushy person, but one time she’d walked in just in time to hear him telling a bunch of interns, “Babies need to be held,” and it had punched her right in the gut. As jealous as she was that he was dating Pepper, she could admit that he wasn’t a bad man. Vain, maybe, and oblivious, but his heart was definitely in the right place.

 

“He could at least be an asshole so I could hate him properly,” Natasha finally said.

 

Steve gave her a disgusted look. “He is an asshole. He cheats at cards and won’t let me get in fist fights at the bar.”

 

She stared back at him, unimpressed, then finally grabbed a stack of files that needed to be gone through. “Steve, I cannot for the life of me figure out how him not allowing you to be arrested for assault is an asshole thing to do, and I’m not inclined to. Get back to work before Jan comes back and needles us for gossip.”

 

“Fine, but only because I’m tired of the way she rolls her eyes at me when she realizes I’m stupid-in-love with Dr. Stark,” Steve declared.

 

.-.-.-.

 

“You will not believe the day I just had,” Pepper complained, slamming her tray down in the seat across from Natasha.

 

“As you are the medical director of the hospital, I probably will,” Natasha replied.

 

Pepper flashed her a sweet smile before it was immediately replaced by a scowl. “Hammer got three more complaints for being a smarmy asshole—”

 

“Am I allowed to know this, should I lie if questioned,” Natasha asked.

 

“You should absolutely lie if questioned unless it’s to detail a situation in which Hammer was acting like a smarmy asshole,” Pepper replied. “Anyway I won’t go into details. Just know that Hammer is a fucking bur in my shoe and I am slowly but surely building a case to terminate him.”

 

Natasha nodded, already flipping through her mental rolodex of nurses who worked closely with Hammer who would be willing to talk and mentioning it to Jan. Jan pretended to be an airhead, but she was a cross between an elephant and a pit bull—she never forgot anything she heard, and if she did hear something that needed to be reported, she bit in and didn’t let go until it was. She could definitely find the right people and finesse the information she needed out of them.

 

“Good riddance,” she said, because Steve had once been one of those nurses until they eventually got into a screaming match because Hammer insisted on giving a patient penicillin and Steve kept trying to tell him the patient was allergic to it. Hammer had simpered that it was all a big misunderstanding to the previous medical director, Pierce, and the only reason that Steve hadn’t been told to pack up and get out was because Dr. Stark had stepped in and had him transferred to pediatrics. Both Hammer and Pierce had looked incredibly sour about it, but as the hospital had been built and was partially funded by the Maria Stark Foundation, getting on Dr. Stark’s shit list was a bad idea.

 

“Oh, how was the foundation gala last week?” Natasha asked, perking up. “I know you worked hard on it.”

 

Pepper smiled, then just looked very tired. “Exhausting. But good! We got lots of donations. I had to dance with a lot of grabby old men. Tony rescued me eventually, of course. His mother still terrifies me,” she added, frowning. “Like… it feels like she knows more about me than I do, sometimes. I forget that Tony only pretends to be oblivious most of the time, and that he sees more than you expect.”

 

“But he can’t see a door in the morning,” Natasha blurted out, forgetting that Pepper was his girlfriend for a moment.

 

Luckily, Pepper just laughed. “Well,” she mused fondly. “If his dumb ass isn’t going to wear the glasses he was prescribed, he deserves it. What is it now? Three hundred?”

 

“Only two-ninety-eight,” Natasha admitted. “The front desk bought party poppers and everyone’s waiting with bated breath. I checked because Steve wanted to know when to order the cake.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Pepper muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose. “And he’ll fucking love the attention. Do you want to come over to mine after work and drink a box of wine with me? I am so fucking tired.”

 

Natasha perked up. She thought that she should wonder why she wasn’t scheduling a spa night with Tony like she usually did after a gala, but mostly she was just pleased to spend time with her. “Sure.”

 

.-.-.-.

 

The day after the party celebrating the three hundredth time Dr. Stark walked into the glass doors, Dr. Banner asked him to come into his office, and Dr. Stark left with the knowledge that he had a growth on his brain.

 

“He is taking a leave of absence when he gets his surgery, but his prognosis is good, and he’s afraid we’re going to treat him differently, so we’re not going to mention it,” Jan said once she had all of the nurses corralled. “We’re going to treat him like we would if we didn’t know about this, because technically we don’t, and Dr. Hammer is being fired as we speak because he gossiped about it.”

 

Everyone knew that, too. Dr. Hammer had tried to use the information to show that Dr. Stark’s decisions as a doctor were no longer trustworthy, and it had given Pepper the exact ammunition she needed to pull the trigger on him. Natasha had actually been having a margarita and taco night with her when she’d gotten the call, and she’d watched Pepper’s face turn white with the information. Natasha had tried to pretend she hadn’t heard anything, but she was certain her face was horrified as she heard Tony’s tinny voice wailing over the phone that the mass probably wasn’t even cancerous and the only symptoms he’d had were migraines and an inability to smell or taste, his decisions weren’t affected by it at all and he’d given his patients the same excellent care he always had.

 

Pepper had told her that she needed to go to the hospital and get some answers, and Natasha had actually helped her into a coat and gotten her keys for her, because the idea of Dr. Stark, newly diagnosed with a brain tumor and wondering if it meant he was fired from the hospital his family had built, alone at the hospital, had made something within her throb with anger.

 

“Are you telling everyone to pretend they didn’t hear about my brain tumor,” someone asked from behind them, and they all whipped around. Dr. Stark blinked at them slowly, holding two cups of coffee.

 

“Tony!” Jan cried with too much enthusiasm. “What brain tumor are you talking about?”

 

Dr. Stark just blinked at her again. “The one that Hammer told everyone about and got fired over.”

 

The group of nurses shuffled awkwardly. Finally, though, Jan barked, “Do your rounds,” and everyone scattered.

 

Natasha was actually on her way to go check on a patient’s pain levels when Dr. Stark called her name. “What?” she asked, and then, “Can it wait until my break?”

 

“This is for you,” Dr. Stark said, holding one of the cups out to her. “A latte with almond milk and two raw sugars, right?”

 

“Uh,” Natasha said, taking it. “Yes? How did you know?”

 

“…I asked Pepper?” Dr. Stark answered slowly, looking confused.

 

Well, she and Pepper did go to brunch every Sunday that they both happened to have off, Natasha figured. “Oh. Why did you get this for me?”

 

“…Because Pepper told me you guys were having dinner when I called?” Dr. Stark replied, brows furrowing together. “And I wanted to apologize for spoiling it for you.”

 

“Oh!” she exclaimed, surprised, but happily so. That was sweet of him. No wonder Pepper was dating him, if he did these sorts of things. She decided she still disliked him, but only because he had what she wanted and not because she thought he was an asshole. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that, though. If there was ever a reason to spoil margarita night, that was definitely it.”

 

Dr. Stark continued to frown at her. “…Okay,” he finally said, absolutely baffled. “But I do try not to spoil your dates.”

 

“Oh, well, that’s very—our whats,” Natasha sputtered.

 

“Your dates?” Dr. Stark repeated, but it sounded more like a question in the face of her confusion. “Pepper talks about them all the time, how they’re low-key and really nice after a hectic day at the hospital. She’s really excited for your six-month anniversary. I got her a table at this fancy French place that you usually have to make reservations for a year in advance, but you know… Starks.”

 

Natasha stared at him for a very long time. Dr. Stark was looking more concerned by the minute. Finally, Natasha closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out again slowly. She opened her eyes again. “But you’re dating Pepper.”

 

Dr. Stark stared back at her. “No I’m not.”

 

“You are,” Natasha insisted. “You guys give each other tons of kisses, and you’re always hugging, and one time she grabbed your butt in the cafeteria.”

 

“Pepper’s a lesbian,” Dr. Stark sputtered. “I give Jan tons of kisses and hugs too!”

 

“Yeah, but that’s just Jan,” Natasha pointed out. “And that doesn’t explain the butt grab.”

 

“…I mean,” Dr. Stark said after a moment. “Most of my friends grab my butt. It’s a nice butt. I guess you wouldn’t know because of my coat though…”

 

“Why do most of your friends—” Natasha began, feeling like the world was spinning around her. She put a hand to her head and took another deep breath. “But you have to be dating Pepper.”

 

Dr. Stark scowled. “We went to medical school together so of course we’re good friends. But Pepper is a lesbian. And she is dating you.”

 

Natasha stared at him, stunned silent, going over every time Pepper had invited her over to her place after work, or invited herself over to Natasha’s place, and their Sunday brunches, and oh, God, Pepper had told her she was really pretty and played with her hair and leaned in and told her that her perfume was nice.

 

Oh God. They were totally dating. And Natasha thought she’d been dating Dr. Stark the whole time.

 

“Natasha, come on, chop chop!” Jan called out to her, clapping her hands. “The charts aren’t going to check thems—Tony! Leave Natasha alone! We’ve got rounds!”

 

“I have done nothing wrong, ever, in my life,” Dr. Stark began, drawing himself up.

 

Jan pointed at him. “I know this, and I love you. Stop fucking up my nurses’ rounds. Come here and cry on me about your tumor.”

 

Dr. Stark obediently sat his cup down on the counter and walked over to her so he could bury his face in her neck and sniffle softly. Natasha continued to stare at him for a moment, wondering if she’d been infected with something and this was all just a fever dream.

 

“Natasha,” Jan ground out, arms already curled around Dr. Stark’s waist. “Go do your fucking rounds.”

 

She would never be able to imagine the bone-deep terror that Jan put into her, Natasha decided, and turned to go start her rounds.

 

.-.-.-.

 

“So,” Natasha said, dropping into the seat in front of Pepper’s desk.

 

Pepper blinked at her in surprise. “So?” she asked after a moment, perplexed.

 

“It’s come to my attention that we’ve been dating. Dr. Stark insists that it’s been four months, but I could swear that I had no idea we were dating at all,” Natasha replied. “Because I thought you were dating Dr. Stark.”

 

Pepper raised an eyebrow. “Why would you think we were dating?”

 

“First of all, because you guys kiss each other all the time,” Natasha began.

 

Pepper snorted. “Not on the mouth? They’re just friendly pecks on the cheek. Emphasis on ‘friendly.’ Tony passed out kisses like candy in undergrad and we never really stopped.”

 

“It could be argued that you were just doing it to be appropriate at work,” Natasha pointed out.

 

Pepper stared at her. “…What is it about Tony that you think he does anything to be appropriate for work?”

 

Natasha opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She didn’t really know Dr. Stark beyond his work in pediatrics, so she’d just been assuming, but now that she thought about it… she did remember rumors about how Dr. Stark had been a wild partier in school. Perhaps it was working with children that made him seem like a responsible person.

 

Pepper raised an eyebrow again, but it also looked like she was also trying very hard not to smile, too. “Second of all?”

 

“Uh,” Natasha stuttered, trying to remember what she’d been talking about. “Oh! You guys are always hugging! And one time Jan sent us a snapchat of you and Tony sleeping together on the couch!”

 

“…Well,” Pepper said thoughtfully, leaning her chin on her hand. “So, as far as the hugging goes, once Tony is friendly with you, he gets really touchy, and he loves hugs. Between you and me, I don’t think he actually got enough of them as a child. A quick squeeze here or there is no big deal. As for the sleeping together picture… sometimes I work sixteen hour days and need a nap before I drive home and he basically lives here, so he lets me stick my cold toes on his legs like a little ice gremlin and doesn’t complain about it.”

 

“Nice,” Natasha found herself saying before she could stop herself. The last time she’d put her cold toes under Steve’s thigh while they were watching a movie, he'd yelped and skittered over to the other side of the couch like a coward.

 

“Anything else?” Pepper asked, full-on grinning now.

 

Natasha scowled at her, feeling like she was being made fun of. “…You grabbed his ass in the cafeteria that one time. And like… you’re grabbing another man’s ass when you’re supposed to be dating me?”

 

“I… did do that,” Pepper admitted, finally looking a little flustered. “But like—it’s a comfort thing.”

 

“…His butt,” Natasha repeated slowly.

 

Pepper opened her mouth, then closed it again, lips thinning into a straight line. Finally, she picked up her phone, tapping in a number without looking. “Hey, Tony, hi. No, yes, your leave of absence is definitely going to be—I actually have a favor to ask. Could you come up to my office please? No. You’re not in trouble. I would never preface a scolding by asking for a favor. I would just track you down and kill you. Thanks!”

 

Natasha was a little bit angry about how attractive she found Pepper casually threatening murder. She wondered if it was just because it was Dr. Stark, but then she remembered Pepper basically foaming at the mouth threatening some doctor in dermatology who made fun of a teenager within earshot, and that had been very sexy of her too.

 

There was a timid knock, and then Dr. Stark was stepping in, looking very nervous. “You’re never this nice to me so I’m scared.”

 

“Tony,” Pepper said, appalled. “I’m nice to you all the time.”

 

“Yeah but… that was the voice you use when you’re trying very hard to stay calm and then you write someone up,” Dr. Stark mumbled.

 

“Are you going to write me up?!” Natasha sputtered, offended.

 

“No!” Pepper barked, glaring at both of them, then took a deep breath and clasped her hands in front of her mouth. She waited a moment, then put her hands back down, turning her attention to Dr. Stark. “Tony, Natasha would like to know why I grabbed your butt in the cafeteria while I was ‘supposedly’ dating her.”

 

Dr. Stark blinked at her. “Because I asked you to?”

 

“Why were you asking my girlfriend to touch your butt?!” Natasha sputtered.

 

Dr. Stark frowned, looking between them in confusion. “…So I could see if it made Nurse Rogers jealous. But it didn’t,” he added, sagging. “He didn’t care.”

 

Steve had gone to the gym and punched a bag until his knuckles were bloody, but Natasha decided not to tell him that.

 

“Show her your butt,” Pepper ordered.

 

“Don’t fucking show me your—” Natasha began sternly, but Dr. Stark was already following Pepper’s order obediently and turning, lifting his white coat out of the way. “bu—oh wow.” She couldn’t help but duck her head to squint at it, then looked up at him in offense. “Is that real?”

 

Dr. Stark frowned, confused. “I own a Stairmaster.”

 

“He uses it for an hour to destress as soon as he gets home and has ever since we got our own apartment in college,” Pepper added.

 

“You can touch it if you want,” Dr. Stark offered.

 

Natasha’s hand was moving before she realized, and she jerked her arm to a stop with an offended squawk. Whether she was offended with herself or with Dr. Stark’s offer or with Pepper’s blasé shrug when she looked at her, she could not tell. “If we’ve been dating for four months and you think I’m your girlfriend, why haven’t you kissed me?!” Natasha finally blurted out, whipping around toward Pepper.

 

Pepper’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Her eyes darted toward Dr. Stark, but he saw it and immediately fled with a terrified squawk, door slamming shut behind him.

 

Natasha crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, resisting the urge to tap her toe on the floor. “Well?”

 

“I… thought you were asexual,” Pepper admitted.

 

Natasha stared at her. “What.”

 

“You never,” Pepper began, then sighed and put her face in her hands, shoulders clenching up by her ears with embarrassment. “Jan said you never talk about sex or crushes or anything when you guys go out for drinks, even when she pesters you, and I’ve been pestered by Jan before, okay, she doesn’t stop until she knows everything. So I thought you just… didn’t have an opinion on it. And that was okay! I just wanted to be with you all the time. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable if you didn’t like that stuff, because you’re so smart and pretty, you could have anyone, and I just felt so lucky that you chose me.” Her shoulders dropped, and she looked up, face flushed and eyes damp. “But you didn’t really, did you? You thought that we were just friends.”

 

“…Yeah,” Natasha had to admit softly, looking down at her lap. She winced a little, then added, “But, um, really good ones.”

 

Pepper sucked in a breath that sounded a little bit wet. “I’m sorry. I thought we were… but I was mistaken. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Natasha. If you’d like, I can… apply for a transfer? Or I can—I can make sure we’re not alone together again—You’d probably be uncomfortable working with Jan still, too—”

 

Natasha went through every interaction she’d had with Jan and realized that no, she’d never mentioned her stupid crush on Pepper, because she’d spent her formative years in Russia before being adopted by Americans and being anything but straight was A Problem. Had she literally only complained to Steve about it, she thought frantically, and realized that yes, she had, because Steve was obviously upset about Pepper and Dr. Stark ‘dating’ and she’d recognized that in him and commiserated.

 

“I’m such a fucking idiot,” Natasha said.

 

“Natasha, don’t say that about yoursAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH,” Pepper shrieked as Natasha leapt over the desk at her.

 

Natasha mashed their mouths together in the most inelegant kiss she’d ever given. It was off-center and a little too wet, but Pepper’s lips were soft, and they tasted like whipped icing. She broke the kiss and blinked, frowning. “Whipped icing?” she couldn’t stop herself from saying, because Pepper didn’t really indulge in sweets.

 

“I saved my piece of cake from Tony’s door party and had it after lunch today,” Pepper admitted, lifting a hand to wipe her eye. “Are we—what is this? Did you seriously jump over my desk to kiss me?”

 

“Yes,” Natasha told her seriously. “Because I’m not asexual, just intensely private. I’m also an idiot. Because I thought you and Dr. Stark were dating, not you and me. It’s also why Steve did not show he was jealous when you grabbed Dr. Stark’s butt in the cafeteria.”

 

Pepper was quiet for a moment, then covered her mouth. “Oh my God.”

 

Natasha frowned in concern. “What?”

 

“You guys are so fucking respectful,” Pepper whispered, then slid her hand up to cover her face, giggling a little. “That’s so hot what the fuck.”

 

Natasha couldn’t help but smile back. “You think it’s hot that I was respecting your non-existent relationship? That I didn’t walk up and punch Dr. Stark in the mouth?”

 

“I mean, we work in a very misogynistic field, and I got here all by myself, so I can definitely protect myself,” she mumbled. “So yeah, the fact that you were going to respect my relationship is actually really hot. Oh my God. I’m so lame.”

 

“Pepper,” Natasha said seriously. “Please allow me to do this right and let me respect the fuck out of you.”

 

Pepper let out a bark of laughter. “Natasha!”

 

“Please let me date you properly I have such an ugly stupid crush on you please,” Natasha continued, rubbing her face on Pepper’s shoulder. “I’ll make up for not knowing for four months and we can still go to that French place that Dr. Stark pulled strings for it’ll just be for our two-month anniversary instead of our sixth.”

 

Pepper laughed again. “Okay.”

 

Natasha jerked back, going up on her hands and knees above her. “Really? You’ll give me another chance?”

 

“I’m pretty gone on you,” Pepper admitted, and then her lips twisted into a grin. “Especially if I get to kiss you this time.”

 

“We’re gonna kiss so much,” Natasha promised her. “But please don’t tell anyone what an idiot I am.”

 

It was Pepper’s turn to wince. “Oh, honey,” she said, and Natasha almost whimpered at the pet name. “Tony’s probably telling Jan about this as we speak.”

 

“Fuck!” Natasha shouted, then sagged on top of her and buried her face in Pepper’s neck. “Please transfer me to a different hospital.”

 

“Jan means well,” Pepper tried.

 

Natasha sat back up so she could give Pepper the full effect of her unimpressed expression, raising an eyebrow at her. “And just who are you trying to convince here? You or me?”

 

Pepper opened her mouth, then closed it again with a defeated sigh.

 

.-.-.-.

 

Jan did mean well, Natasha realized.

 

“—And she’s allergic to strawberries and Tony always forgets so if you see him with a fruit salad on his plate make sure that Pepper doesn’t absentmindedly eat off of his because she will mindlessly eat and she will go into anaphylactic shock. Between her and Tony there are maybe three brain cells between them, and somehow I end up with them anyway,” Jan continued, and then paused, raising her eyebrows. “Are you writing this down?”

 

“I will never forget that you once had to perform a tracheotomy on my girlfriend because she took a sip of Tony’s strawberry milkshake, not realizing it was a strawberry milkshake,” Natasha replied solemnly, and was a good friend and pretended not to notice that Steve was now coughing up his beer. “Janet, I mean this with the utmost respect. How are Pepper and Tony still alive. Like. What god is looking out for them.”

 

Jan rolled her eyes, corner of her mouth curling up in a reluctant smile. “Listen, they are brilliant doctors, and I always knew that Pepper was destined for an administrative role and Tony would be beloved by all his patients. They’re intelligent, witty, and beautiful. It would be unfair to the rest of the human race if they weren’t also a little bit stupid in ways you might not expect.” She looked toward the door and brightened, waving. “Pepper! Tony! I was just telling Natasha and Steve about how stupid you are!”

 

“Oh good,” Pepper deadpanned as Tony happily pranced over to the giant fishbowl full of alcohol that Jan had ordered for him. “I suppose this is revenge for teasing you for dating an entomologist.”

 

“Don’t be silly,” Jan scoffed. “Tony, do you think this is revenge?”

 

“You had to give Pepper a tracheotomy,” Tony said, not looking up at her, too busy poking through the fishbowl for a specific ball of melon or something. “But Natasha didn’t know they were dating so they deserve each other. Oh! Natasha finally touched my butt,” he added happily. “That means we’re friends.”

 

Tony,” Jan choked out, horrified.

 

“Good job, Tony,” Pepper told him.

 

Jan whipped around to give her an offended glare. “Pepper.”

 

Steve gave Natasha his best puppy eyes. “How could you do that, knowing I also want to touch Tony’s butt?”

 

“You can touch my butt, Steve,” Tony said cheerfully.

 

Jan looked like she wanted to do nothing but put her head in her hands and wonder where exactly her life had gone wrong. “Oh my God.”

 

Steve looked like he was in physical pain, because he clearly did want to touch Tony’s butt, but he also wanted it to be as more than friends. Natasha wondered if that’s what she looked like whenever Pepper suggested a couple-activity while she thought they weren’t dating. God, how embarrassing.

 

“The problem is, Tony,” Pepper began, looking very sympathetic. “Is that you want it to be a friendly ass-grab, and Steve wants it to be a romantic ass-grab.”

 

“What?” Tony asked, frowning. “But that can’t be right. You grabbed my butt in the cafeteria that one time and he didn’t look jealous at all.”

 

Pepper looked smug. “That’s because Natasha and Steve are respectful.”

 

Tony turned to look at Steve, eyes wide with shock. “Really?”

 

“Yes?” Steve asked, squinting at him in confusion.

 

Natasha could understand. She didn’t know why it was so shocking, but the concept seemed surprising to both Pepper and Tony, and she preferred not to think about why that was. Instead she leaned into the ‘respect is hot’ thing Pepper had going on and asked her if they could make out whenever she wanted to do that, and it sent Pepper into a very pleased tizzy. She chose not to wonder why this was either.

 

“Jesus Christ,” Jan murmured, leaning her head in her hands and looking very tired.

 

“You won’t like me when I have to have my head shaved for my surgery,” Tony decided morosely, dipping his head back toward his fishbowl.

 

“I think Steve will love your bald head,” Pepper declared.

 

Jan looked up from glaring at the table, scowling. “We only have to shave part of his head.”

 

“You’ll look like Charlie fucking Brown,” Pepper continued. “And Steve will continue to adore you! He bought you a fucking cake for walking into a door, Tony. If that isn’t commitment to your idiocy, I don’t know what is.”

 

Natasha curled her fingers around Pepper’s under the table as Tony shyly glanced at Steve out of the corner of his eye while Steve stared back, clearly smitten. Had she looked at Pepper like that? Probably. How embarrassing.

 

But not too embarrassing, she decided, as Pepper lifted their entwined hands to press a kiss to her knuckles. Clearly it hadn’t been seen as a bad thing, after all.