It happened just after the two of them had finished sparring in one of the gyms in the Tower, and the both of them were chugging Gatorade as they headed to the showers to wash off all the and gross and sweaty.
“I was wondering,” Happy asked, mopping his face with his towel, “you wanna go out to dinner?”
Nat’s head swung around so fast her sweaty hair hit her in the face. “What?!”
“No, not like that,” Happy was blushing, but it was hard to tell since he was already red from exertion. “Are you kidding me, I still haven’t recovered from you slamming me into the mat the first time we met.” There was an awkward pause during which Natasha just stared at him, then he finally said, mumbling a little, “I just really want Chinese and I don’t like going out to eat alone. The servers all look at me like I’m pathetic, like I got stood up for a date. This could be a, you know, a friend thing, maybe.”
Natasha smiled around the mouth of her bottle, unexpectedly intrigued by his offer. It was definitely different from the offers she usually got from men, all of which tended to end with their idea of a sexual fantasy.
Shrugging uncomfortably, Happy continued, “I usually go with Tony or Pepper, but they’re having date night and I try not to third wheel when lingerie might be involved.”
Natasha promptly snorted her mouthful of Gatorade out her nose.
While Happy sniggered and apologized and used a clean corner of his towel to mop at her face, Nat thought it over. And when she could finally speak again (though she wasn’t sure she’d ever get the smell of Gatorade out her nose), she smiled at Happy.
“I like Chinese.”
Happy chose the place, and Nat liked it instantly. The staff was very fast, and the two of them barely had time to get their own drinks and sit down before their order was ready. The food was fantastic, all of it. Natasha wasn’t shy about chowing down when she wanted to, and after a couple startled looks, Happy shrugged off his surprise and let her steal some shrimp lo mein out of his box while he tried her sweet and sour pork.
They chatted as they ate, working their way from slightly awkward small talk to genuine conversation about everything and nothing in the way that only comfortable friends can do. They were nearly finished and Happy’s chopsticks were halfway to the last eggroll when they were blocked by Natasha’s. He looked at her, making a disgruntled noise.
Nat raised her eyebrow at Happy and grinned. “What, you don’t think a tiny little thing like me can eat the last eggroll?”
He just snorted, “Please, the last time I underestimated you, I ended up on the floor with your thighs around my head. I’m not about to do that again. I just want the last eggroll.”
She smirked, a spark in her eyes. “Gonna have to fight me for it.”
He clicked his chopsticks at her and couldn’t hide his smile. “You’re on, booty boot camp.”
They ended up sharing the shredded and mangled remains of the egg roll once they both stopped laughing and Happy flicked the last piece of cooked cabbage out of Natasha’s hair.
It became a Thing. Sparring and throwing each other into the mats (Natasha was giving Happy lessons), then going out to eat when they were done showering. They sparred and went out for Thai, they kickboxed and had fried chicken, they wrestled and went out for pizza, they boxed and Happy took Nat to the hole-in-the-wall diner that had the best bacon double cheeseburgers in the world. (She made such an indecent sound with the first bite that Happy had sucked up a fry and choked.)
They had to be careful about ordering even numbers of any food that came in pieces, because if they didn’t, there was inevitably a fight over who got the last one, and food fights were generally frowned upon in public. Natasha also tended to complain at length if she got any food in her hair, which made Happy want to shove her into a public fountain once or twice. They couldn’t take the food fight home, either, because Clint tended to show up and try to steal whatever it was Happy and Nat were fighting about, like a sixth sense for potentially free food.
So they went out for specifically ordered even numbers of chicken wings and mozzarella sticks after Natasha talked Happy into doing yoga. Nat found a restaurant that made decent Russian food that Happy couldn’t pronounce after they worked a couple punching bags over and both of them had ended up smacking themselves in the face. Every couple weeks they worked out then went out, and sometimes caught a movie afterward just for funsies.
Around the fifteenth time this happened, Happy happened to mention a particular restaurant that he and Natasha had liked when he, Pepperony, and Rhodey were just finishing up the workday at SI and discussing a location for their scheduled bi-monthly, third-Saturday-when-everyone-is-in-town brunch the next day.
“Breadsticks probably aren’t brunch food, but they’d be worth it anyway. Nat stuck like four of them in her purse to take home and then ate all of them in the car.”
Pepper opened her mouth to reply, but before she could, Tony stopped mid-sentence in his argument with Rhodey about pancakes vs. waffles and whipped around to face Happy. “Wait, what?! Nat? Nat who? Thigh-Crusher Nat? Happy, are you dating someone!? Are you dating the Black Widow?!”
His voice, which had escalated in both volume and pitch with every word, ended on a shriek that clearly communicated what in Thor’s name are you thinking?!
Happy couldn’t help a half-smile as he replied, “Yes, Thigh-Crusher Nat, I’m telling her you said that, and yes, but only the platonic kind.”
“Platonic kind of what?” Rhodey asked, looking like he was struggling slightly to follow the sharp left turn in the conversation.
“That’s a thing?”
Happy shrugged. “Pepper’s been doing it with Phil for two years, so I guess so.”
Pepper blinked in surprise, then nodded and shrugged too. “Yeah, that’s true.”
Tony looked absolutely betrayed. “That’s not fair, where is my platonic date friend!?”
Pepper rolled her eyes at him. “Tony, you’ve been platonically dating Rhodey for twenty-five years.”
He opened his mouth, then shut it and looked appeased as he picked up his ever-present coffee mug. “Oh, right.”
Happy nodded seriously. “I spent half the early 2000s trying to figure out if you were lovers or not.”
Tony’s mouthful of coffee went halfway across his office, while Rhodey, who had just stolen Tony’s mug right out of his hand and taken a drink himself, only dribbled it down his chin as he choked back a laugh.
Coughing and sputtering, Tony glared at Happy while Pepper sighed and went to grab the box of tissues on the desk. “Ew, no, STOP THAT! I’ve seen Platypus naked and I never need to see that again!”
Rhodey gave him a Look, absolutely affronted, but Happy missed the rest of his response when his phone rang. Stepping away, he grinned as he answered the call.
“Tony just called you Thigh-Crusher Nat.”
Without missing a beat, Natasha replied, “You want me to scare him?”
“Absolutely I do. Terrify him with no mercy.”
“Consider it done. Work out and pig out when you get back? JARVIS said you guys are leaving soon.”
Happy glanced at his watch. “Yep. Your turn to pick the place?”
“We’re having Hawaiian, I found a place that has a dessert menu too. I’m going to order so many tiny cakes.”
“Cool. I’ve got Iron Squad brunch tomorrow at that place with the breadsticks, you want me to bring you back some?”
“Do that and I’ll teach you how to crush a man with your thighs.”
Happy grinned. “It’s a date.”