Fandom: Avengers, Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters/pairings: Tony/Natasha, Pepper
Warnings (including spoilers): None
Wordcount: 1,603 words
Author's note: Written for rarepairfest 2016 for flipflop-diva, and inspired by a wonderful prompt from my friend h-c---n.
Summary: Tony isn't unhappy when he's informed he'll have to date the Black Widow to keep up his face to the media; in fact, he's looking forward to it. Too bad she isn't as interested as he is.
“Are you- is this actually you joking with me right now?” Tony cocked his head, waving between Pepper and himself with one hand. The other was mindlessly manipulating the blue hologram matrix that was cast over most of his lab. “Because if so, I’ll admit you got me, I wasn’t expecting free reign to sow my wild oats from my CEO.”
Pepper sighed in a quick way- not even distress should interrupt corralling Tony Stark- and gripped her tablet. “I’m not suggesting a return to the mid-nineties.” Tony choked on a laugh. “I’m saying that the public has started to lose faith in you, because, as far as anyone can tell, you gained about thirty years of maturity as soon as the Iron Man appeared. Which is not, really, all that far from the truth.”
He sneered at her. Very funny.
“Our stockholders have expressed concern with your lifestyle change when combined with the change in direction of the company. They want to see someone consistent and stable, even if that consistency is-”
“Disappearing with a different stunning woman at the end of each night.”
“So your official assignment, as CEO,” emphasized Tony, “is that I find another supermodel to accompany me around town for a few days.”
Pepper shook her head. “That doesn’t go with your new, responsible superhero image.”
Tony blinked, then shrugged.
“You need to find an intelligent, charismatic, and yes, beautiful probably wouldn’t hurt either, woman to publicly date you for a minimum of eight weeks, preferably longer,” Pepper explained. “She has to exhibit a big enough personality to be plausibly interested in you for that long, someone impressive enough that people will believe she managed to tie you down, and discreet enough not to give the game away.”
Tony sat back in his rolling chair. “Is that all? How much will purchasing this goddess’s services run me?”
Pepper smiled, a tad cruelly. “I’ve already found just the candidate.”
~ ~ * ~ ~
Tony actually thought that pretending to date his teammate the Black Widow could be fun. True, most of the time they spent together was taken up by combat training, and before that there were flying lizard-aliens and harsh language, and before that she’d stabbed him in the neck. But Tony was wise enough to overcome a bad first impression, and he liked what he saw now. Natasha Romanov had proven herself to be an intelligent and strong-willed woman (right up Tony’s alley) who was extremely capable in her chosen field (very sexy), which happened to be wearing tight leather to take down beings twice her size by wrapping her body around them, and also computer hacking (extraordinarily sexy). They fought well together in training, and he even thought her subtle teasing was beginning to take on a warmer vibe. Surely a joint undercover mission like this would be a cakewalk for the pair of them.
In reality… it was terrible.
Natasha showed up to their first ‘date’, a visit to an expensive restaurant, dressed to the nines and grimacing. She pasted on an effortlessly happy expression before they arrived, and spent the evening looked gorgeous and enamored with him. But through the whole night their conversation ranged from the clean-up efforts in New York City, to new research data about Loki’s scepter, to SHIELD’s recent intel regarding Tony’s missiles all over the world.
Despite making everyone around them think that she was having the time of her life, Natasha didn’t snap out of business mode from the moment they left the Tower to the moment they returned.
As soon as they passed through the Tower doors, the smile dropped from Natasha’s face and a resting look of mild disapproval set in.
“I’ll see you on Thursday night?” she said, barely making it sound like a question. “Formal dress?”
Tony confirmed weakly. “Charity gala. Saving the world one over-priced steak dinner at a time.”
Natasha nodded once, and headed for the elevator without so much as a goodbye for her teammate and- Tony had thought- friend.
He sighed. So much for the idea that the next few months might not be a complete trial.
~ ~ * ~ ~
Too soon, it was time for Tony’s second public appearance with Natasha. Pepper had confirmed that the reactions of several individual stockholders had been positive when they found out that Tony was romantically entangled with his beguiling fellow superhero, and there it was, he was locked in, no tacksie-backsies. Even if Natasha hadn’t warmed up to him after all and still thought he wasn’t suitable as an Avenger, even though she was only putting up with him to help her teammate in his time of public-approval need, there was no going back now.
Natasha arrived in Tony’s private underground garage from the elevator. Even in a concrete basement, Natasha cut an impressive figure in her clinging burgundy dress. When she came closer and greeted Tony, he saw the deep teal eyeshadow that made her eyes sparkle and felt a pang, somewhere deep inside, that this incredible woman didn’t even want him as a friend.
“Are you ready?” she said briskly.
Tony caught a glimpse of a fold under her dress and smiled; the Black Widow was armed and ready even at a high society event. “I’m feeling pretty confident,” he answered with a grin.
To improve on their last date, Tony tried to take the lead, shifting the conversation a little bit to happier subjects like Steve’s latest issues with cell phones and the devastation Clint had made trying to cook pancakes in the communal kitchen the other day. It didn’t make much of a difference. Natasha’s answers were succinct and even sharp; and once they made it past the photogs to the mingling part of the evening, she turned her undercover persona on so fast Tony didn’t get to finish his sentence.
By the time the event was halfway over, Tony was sick of the polite and plastic Natalie Rushman persona rather than the sarcastic, sneaky Black Widow he’d come to like. He tugged Natasha out onto a wide balcony overlooking a glowing fountain.
“What is your problem with me?” he hissed.
Natasha folded her arms. “I’m doing my job. I don’t have a problem.”
“Not very well you’re not. I get that you can’t stand my presence outside of saving the world, but if you don’t learn to hide it better someone’s going to figure it out before long, and then I’ll be in deeper shit than before!”
“I don’t hate your presence,” Natasha replied, scowling. “But I don’t have to like this situation.”
“Is it that much of a hardship to pretend to date me?” Tony spat, anger covering hurt.
“Pretending to date someone because everyone in New York is convinced I’m a heartless killer?” Natasha went to lean on the marble edge of the balcony. “Surprisingly, not my favorite mission.”
Tony was speechless for a good ten seconds. “Natasha,” he said, amazed, “that was never the reason for all this. I’m the one with PR issues.”
Natasha frowned, her shaped eyebrows turning down. “Pepper told me the PR team’s research suggested that if I pretended to date you, confidence in the Avengers would rise. That I’d be ‘humanized’.”
“Nuh-uh,” Tony shook his head, “Pepper told me that Stark Industries’ stockholders would be more confident in the company if I were seen dating you. Because you’re a beautiful, well-respected woman with a strong enough personality to balance out mine and a good sense of humor…” he trailed off in realization. “Basically exactly my type.”
Natasha held her hand to her forehead. “I’ve been tricked by a civilian,” she complained.
Tony moaned. “I’ve been tricked by my ex!”
Then, he sobered, stepping up to Natasha. “Hey. I don’t expect you to keep up this ruse if you hate it that much. You don’t need to be humanized. You’re plenty human. That’s why you do what you do,” he said simply.
Natasha studied his body language and tilted her head. “I don’t hate going out with you. I respect you.”
“You- you do?”
“I just thought you were only doing it to help your ice queen teammate seem more sociable.” She smiled and stepped a bit closer. “You’re a good guy, Tony. You’re smart, witty, and your energy is contagious, but you know how to get things done. You do have a big personality but-” Natasha grinned, with enough teeth to make Tony shiver. “I can handle that.”
The shimmering light from the fountain gleamed on her skin. Tony lifted his hand to brush her cheek, wondering that this incredible woman would allow him the gentle touch.
They moved closer to each other at the same time and Tony’s breath caught in his chest as they kissed. His hand cupped Natasha’s cheek while the other slid around her waist, holding her close. Her palms on his chest and shoulders tugged him even closer.
It was one of Tony’s top kisses in the last five years, for all that it was also one of the most chaste, but it was broken by a flash and surprised murmurs from the hall.
Tony sighed, watching the photographer who’d snuck a picture of them get escorted away quietly by security. “New front page,” he commented.
“I think that’s enough good publicity for tonight,” Natasha told him, gently leading him back inside toward the exit door. She wore a sharp, teasing smile and the twinkle in her eye promised heat.
Tony grinned back as he followed her. “I think it’s about time I disappeared with a stunning woman at the end of the night.”They left the gala hand-in-hand.