"You know, it really chaps my ass that Brad Pitt gets ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ again," Tony grumbled and slapped the text visible on the clear-topped desk where he’d been tinkering with a prototype micro-communicator. The headline he’d been reading showed up easily enough for Pepper to read as she strolled by with her fresh cup of coffee.
"I mean, he's got to be about as old as I am and wasn't everyone saying he looked a little wild man Woody last year?" Tony put down the circuits he'd been fiddling with and stared resentfully at the movie star's grinning face.
"I don’t know,” Pepper said, pausing to sip her coffee as she regarded the celebrity's face over Tony's shoulder, "he’s done a lot of good with his charity, rebuilding all those homes in New Orleans. And he is dead sexy, especially now that he's shaved that scruffy beard off!"
Tony wheeled around in his chair to regard Pepper reproachfully. "Are you saying that men with beards aren't sexy?"
Pepper raised an eyebrow, gracefully suggesting the "As if!" she couldn't be bothered to voice while her boss spun his chair back around to dismiss the People magazine feature from his virtual desktop.
"I bet I could be 'Sexiest Man Alive' if someone just brought up my name," Tony muttered.
"We are not buying out the company just so you can put me on the board," Pepper warned.
Tony assumed a look of complete innocence. "Who, me? No, just maybe if my name was in the news for some of the same things like Brad Pitt did, maybe they'd think of me when it was time to work on next year's cover."
Pepper drank some more of her coffee as she leaned back against the cabinets in Tony's office cum workshop. Her wary expression showed that she was still wondering what horrible duty the titular head of Stark Industries would devise for her in pursuit of his newest whimsy.
"I'm not hiring a hit man to take out Brad Pitt," she quickly advised, just wanting to take that option off the table.
"As if I would, Pepper," Tony replied in a deeply injured tone. "I am an Avenger! No, something else. Look, you mentioned that charity housing thing and so did the magazine. So, he can build, what, a few dozen homes for needy people somewhere. Well I can do better than that."
With a few eager taps of his fingers, Tony summoned up a webpage on his desktop and the staccato beat of his fingers against the virtual keyboard let Pepper know he was on the hunt. She levered herself off of the cabinet and strolled over to see what website he'd called up.
"The Make It Right Foundation?" she asked curiously.
"Yeah, this was the guy who helped Brad Pitt out, according to People. Some Canadian super-fix-it man. I'll call him up and see what I can team up with for him to outdo that Brad Pitt!" Tony seemed to vibrate with energy.
Pepper was ready with a few questions to burst his bubble but before she could pose any, Steve was at the door, politely waiting. "Ah, if I'm not interrupting, Ms. Potts, Tony?"
Pepper pursed her lips more in amusement than negation, "No, Captain Rogers, go right ahead."
The tall blond ducked his head in seeming abashment. "I told you to call me Steve," he said.
Pepper smiled. "When you call me Pepper," she offered. At his sweet smile, she waggled her finger at Tony and sashayed out the door. "Have fun, boys!"
Tony leaned back in his chair, contemplating Steve's troubled expression. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Steve dropped gracefully into one of the other chairs in the office. "It's just, there was a story on the news today out of Los Angeles," he began, his eyes not focusing on anything in the room as he spoke. "The Veteran's Home that's been vacant now for decades isn't going to be turned back into housing for the veterans like everyone had hoped. The building's in bad shape and needs a lot of repairs. Nobody has the time or money to do it in government, it seems."
Captain America sighed deeply. "It's just, such a waste! When there are so many veterans who need housing and nobody will do anything."
Tony leaned forward over his desk. "Won't they? Well, we'll just see. JARVIS?"
The AI promptly responded, "Yes, sir, what may I do for you?"
"Get me Mike Holmes from the Make It Right Foundation on the line. See if he'd like to help us fix this problem," Tony requested.
Steve's confusion turned to joy as he listened in on the phone call JARVIS promptly arranged. "You're going to get those veterans their housing? That's fantastic, Tony. I can't thank you enough! America can't thank you enough."
Tony smiled genially. "You know me, I'm a People person."
From the open office doorway, Pepper could be heard sprazzing her coffee in the most unladylike fashion.
"It sure is good to be back in Southern California," Mike said as he followed Tony and Steve onto what was already becoming a bustling construction site. The three men wore hard hats in deference to the demolition ongoing at the decades-old grand building. "And for such a great project."
"Isn't it?" Steve offered eagerly as Captain America waved to several of the construction workers.
Tony adjusted his sunglasses with a small smirk. "It's the least that I can do for all the men and women who've served."
"Your father would have appreciated this, I'm sure," Steve advised.
Tony paused briefly, considering. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Supporting the troops is a Stark tradition. And with your expertise, Mike - I can call you Mike, can't I?, call me Tony – we're going to get this project done-"
"And done right," the fair-skinned contractor finished. "Man, I love it when people really get behind a project. You've given us everything we've asked for to get this project going."
Tony spread his hands modestly, "Just doin' my part!"Mike led the way, threading his steps through piles of construction materials and pausing on occasion to wait for the camera crew and sound man who were recording this for the television special Tony had considered a nice little bonus. "Well, come on and you can see what we're tackling first. There are all these layers of additions that have deteriorated badly. Lots of water damage, too. So we have four crews going full out."
He stopped by one group of busy workers. "James, Damon, you have a minute?"
"For these guys?" the sunburned California construction chief drawled. "Sure thing!"
Damon waited while the other men shook hands. "Holmes buddy," he confided, "I thought that we couldn't top Brad Pitt, but, man, this is something! We've got Iron Man and Captain America!"
"Please, please," Tony intervened, grinning at the taller man. "Call me Tony!"
The greetings were soon over and the rest of the construction tour was accomplished. As they worked their way up into the attic, Mike continued the nonstop talk that told his audience anything and everything they needed to know about the problems with asbestos, outdated electrical and fire code issues they'd be tackling in the next few months.
At the end of it all, in the capacious but drafty and water-stained attic space, Mike turned to regard his almost shell-shocked followers with a broad grin. "Hey, don't look so worried! We know what to do and we're going to get this building turned around into some of the best housing these vets deserve."
Steve smiled back as he enthusiastically shook Mike's hand. "I'm just pleased that you're in charge of this. Fighting bad guys, I can understand, but all of this is beyond me."
Tony clapped his hands together. "Well, I think I'd like to speak with you a bit more about the power systems for this building. Stark Industries is preparing to donate an ARC reactor to the project but we need to talk to some of your electricians about how to prepare for the connection."
Mike's eyes widened in interest. "An ARC reactor? Now this I gotta see!" He signalled to the camera crew to wrap up their filming and, with Tony in tow, led everyone back down the stairs, eagerly interrogating his celebrity sponsor about the technical requirements of the Stark Industries generator.
***"Man, I could get used to this," Mike commented as he held the ice cream cone he'd just gotten from the vendor Tony had brought to the site.
Tony, dressed in stained khakis and wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt, nodded as he devoured his own double-dip. Once he was done, he met Mike's eyes with a grin. "The best thing about being so damned rich is that when it gets crazy hot in L.A., at least I can order my own ice cream truck."
"The boys and the girls," Mike said indicating Pinky and a few other female labourers who were still in the line, " all sure appreciate it. Especially all of us Canadians. If we were back home in Toronto? There'd still be snow on the ground."
Tony shook his head sadly. "That is not right."
Damon joined them, clinging tightly to his own chocolate cone. "We made it right: we came down here instead of staying up north. Sadly, we can't be here all the time, but that's what James and the other crews are for."
Tony finished off his own cone and jumped off of the stack of lumber he'd been sitting on. "I have to admit, I'm having the time of my life. I never realized that construction could be so much fun."
Damon snorted. "You call this fun? This old building has thrown us so many curve balls plus we have the county historic commission breathing down our necks-"
"Not so badly since Tony here and his buddy, the Captain, talked to them at their last meeting," Mike chided. "We're doing a respectful renovation but even they had to agree that we couldn't leave that section of brickwork that had fallen in. So now we're 'respectfully renovating' and everyone's happy."
He glanced regretfully over at Tony. "It'll mean a few more weeks on the time line, of course, but we'll have these vets in their new apartments before the Fourth of July."
Tony waved the worry aside as he pulled his safety glasses back down from his hairline. "That's what matters but, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I want to go try my hand at some more spot welding!"
***"Where is Iron Man?" Nick Fury's voice boomed with irritation clear across thousand of miles to the rest of the Avengers team crowded in their Quinjet.
Steve winced as he glanced around at his studiously unresponsive teammates. "Um, I think I have an idea, Colonel."
"Well, an idea isn't a hell of a lot better than nothing, now is it?" The sarcasm almost dripped off of the speaker and Captain America winced again. "Get him to join you pronto or we'll be in over our heads!"
"Yessir," Steve promised, cutting off the communication at his end, although it was clear that the SHIELD director had already ended their call.
Natasha and Clint both turned slightly to regard their leader. "So, how do we find him?" Clint asked. "He's not answering any communications on any frequency and JARVIS says he can't tell us."
Steve set his lips sternly. "We're coming up close to Los Angeles, aren't we?"
"Yes," Natasha confirmed. "Do you want to detour to Malibu? Do you think he's at the house?"
"No," Steve answered grimly. "We're heading for the veteran's campus in West Los Angeles. Tony's got to be hiding out with Mike Holmes again."
"Who?" Bruce asked from the seat just behind.
"Again?" Thor chimed in.
***"What?" Tony barked impatiently from where he had wiggled his way into a crawl space, working with some wires.
"Uh, Tony, someone's here for you," Damon explained nervously. "A very important someone."
"Waitaminute, Mike, James and I are still working on wiring up the geothermal core for cooling and we've alllllmost got it," Tony demanded.
Mike's voice agreed on the last.
"Tony," Steve barked, "we need you out here and we need you now."
"Steve? What the hell? Why'd you track me down?" Tony wriggled his way out of the crawlspace and stood before the two men.
"Um, the world's on the line and we need Iron Man," Captain America regarded his dark-haired teammate standing before him in dirt-stained construction gear. "I sure hope you have your suit here with you."
Tony snorted as he grabbed the suitcase suit he'd left by the door and then glanced back into the crawlspace where Mike and James were still working. "Damn, I hate to miss the fun. Guys? I gotta go!"
"That's okay, Tony," Mike's voice came booming out of the crawl space. "We got this covered."
"This'd better be worth it," Tony grumbled as he followed Cap out of the construction site and off toward the waiting Quinjet.
"July 4th Salute to the Veterans" read the headline to the Los Angeles Times, just above a picture of Captain America and two grinning veterans flanked by Mike Holmes and the irrepressible Tony.
Pepper nodded admiringly as Tony brandished the paper with a flourish before dropping it on the kitchen counter. "That's very impressive," she accorded finally as Tony leaned on the counter with a broad smile on his face.
"Isn't it?," he answered, spinning the paper around on the counter so he could read the accompanying story. "I haven't had that much fun in ages. It was a real trick to work in that old shell of a building and bring it back to life. Mike and the crews were just awesome. I wish I could convince him to come work for Stark Industries."
Pepper patted him on the back in commiseration. "I know you tried your best but he loves his buildings more, I think."
Tony pushed off of the counter. "Still, gonna have them and all the crew over for a big blowout to celebrate the end of the project. JARVIS, do you have everything ready?"
"Of course," the AI smoothly responded. "The caterers are coming in half-an-hour and you'll notice that we have cleared permission with the city of Malibu for anyone who needs to park on the roadside."
Tony grinned, pressing a kiss to Pepper's cheek. "Sure you don't want to stay for the party?" he urged. "Steve's coming! So's Clint and maybe Natasha. I hear that Mike's pretty good on the drums and I'm going to pull out an electric guitar. We are going to blow the roof off this place."
"Please don't!" Pepper winced delicately as she sashayed her way out of the kitchen. "I'd like to but you know that the meeting with our Japanese office can't be put off any longer. Have fun!"
"Spoilsport," Tony grumbled as she walked out of sight. It wasn't his fault if she passed on the party of the year given by this fall's shoo-in for the 'Sexiest Man Alive.' That was definitely Pepper's mistake.
"You know what's great about the end of November," Tony asked as he strutted down the hallway of the Avengers Tower with Pepper at his side.
"The Thanksgiving celebrations you only see on TV because you're too busy to sit down to dinner?" Pepper asked obediently.
Tony shot her a disappointed glare. "No, it's some of the other aspects of the season I was referring to."
"Such as?" Pepper asked delicately as they turned down the short hallway to their offices.
"Such as the festive holiday publishing schedule chockfull of special events such as People's 'Sexiest Man Alive' issue," Tony explained, stopping before his desk. "And here it is!"
A glossy magazine ad featuring a pouting starlet greeted them. "The back cover," Tony noted, sliding the magazine across the desk so he could flip the cover over. "And now for what I've been waiting for-"
The cover of People blazoned 'Sexiest Man Alive' stared back up at them with the bright blue eyes of Captain America. . . .
"What the hell?" Tony roared, roughly grabbing the magazine and staring at the face before him before fanning through the issue to see a spread breathlessly extolling the virtue of a hero who fought all sorts of super-powered villains and who cared for the homeless vets.
Pepper smirked as she regarded the image over his shoulder. "Well, he is dead sexy!"