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Five Reasons the Avengers Don't Want To Live Together:

1. Because if your job is to be a superhero, you need weekends off.

"Please tell me this is some kind of joke," Tony said.

Fury looked at him steadily over the wreckage of Tony's Super Farmer Breakfast Platter and his own nearly untouched coffee. "Have I, thus far in our acquaintance, struck you as a funny man?"

"No, you know what? No. You're not going to lay claim to my property to use as a heroes' holding pen. You're not going to put us in a big house and make us be our super selves 24/7. Did it ever occur to you that people who save the earth all week might want to spend their off hours with normal people?"

Fury raised one eyebrow.

"OK, granted, I personally don't know any normal people, or at least any that will still associate with me, but the point stands. You have people here with special capabilities -- you might even say special destinies -- and what they need, for their own mental health, is some time off from each other."

"No offense, Stark, but I don't believe I'll be consulting you on the subject of mental health."

Tony took a morose bite of hash browns. He had already heard all this from Pepper, who'd told him firmly that he owed it to the world to let that motheaten monstrosity of a mansion do some good in the world for a change. I can't imagine that it holds very good memories, she'd said, as if that had anything to do with anything.

"None taken," he said.

2. Because they have lives.

"Anyway," he went on, dragging a sausage link through a puddle of boysenberry syrup, "we already have places to live. We have lives, Fury. OK, Captain America doesn't have a life, granted, since everybody he knows is dead, and Thor doesn't, since this isn't even his home planet. And I guess Banner doesn't have so much of a life any more, since he's spent so much time hiding out in society hotspots like the Arctic."

He had a cabinet full of real maple syrup at home, but he had a sentimental attachment to the purple stuff; it reminded him of a million midnight dinners going back all the way to middle school. "And Hawkeye, I don't know about Hawkeye. For all I know, he sleeps in the treetops with his eyes open. But the Black Widow, now, she has two separate lives that I'm personally aware of, and I believe her to be capable of having many more. And I myself have a life, too, one that's not compatible with a house full of ego problems that aren't mine."

3. Because people snoop.

Fury covered his coffee mug with his hand. The waitress went away with a thwarted look on her face. "If this is about your nude performance of 'Born This Way,' Barton told me it's already dropped off the YouTube Popular page."

Tony pointed his sticky fork at Fury. "That is another thing. Snoops are gonna snoop, and super snoops are gonna snoop superly. Superiorly? If you put a sniper with x-ray eyes, an enhanced soldier who probably has super hearing, and Miss Subterfuge of 2011 in the same house, nobody will ever get a good night's rest again for fear they might talk in their sleep."

"What do you have to hide? I was under the impression that you liked seeing your pasty ass all over TMZ."

"If you can't see the difference between 'Stark caught in love tryst with Sundance actress' and 'Stark caught on film trimming his toe hair with nail scissors,' I despair of you."

4. Because life is not a slumber party.

"Maybe if you had some real friends," Fury began in an insinuating tone.

"Hey," Tony said. "I've got friends."

"-- then," Fury went on, "you would have something better to do than worry about your toe hair."

"That was an example, not meant to be taken literally. And I have friends. I have many very good friends. I have Pepper -- well, I pay her, but above and beyond that, I consider her a true friend, and I think her willingness to visit me after breaking up with me is proof of her friendly feelings. I have Happy -- well, I pay him, too, but Rhodey is not on my payroll at the moment. And Jarvis, unless you're going to get finicky and require both intelligence and an independent body, which I would consider nothing but pure prejudice."

He was distracted when his phone, which he was quite sure he'd turned off, vibrated.



Tony swallowed. "You watch," he said. "This will come up again the next time he takes exception to a perfectly reasonable request involving materials that are almost entirely non-flammable." He had a lump in his throat, which made the coffee in this place even harder to swallow.

"Anyway," he went on when he'd choked it down, "look at what you're proposing as friends. A woman untrustworthy enough she makes lawyers nervous -- a throwback with such a stick up his ass that he can't see merit unless it salutes him -- a guy who's never had to compromise with anyone because, hello, he's a god -- shall I go on?"

Fury rubbed between his eyebrows with his thumb. Somehow he could do that without dislodging the patch. There was probably proprietary adhesive involved.

5. Because it would create pest-control problems

"Oh my god, fine," Tony said. "All right. Yes."

Fury's head rotated slowly. God, that was creepy. The man could swivel like a tank-mounted gun. "Yes?"

"All right, yes, the house is now Avengers headquarters as of, hm, nine-thirty this morning. Pepper ran the paperwork for me yesterday." Fury blinked at him, and he grinned. "You don't get to be a billionaire by only having a strategy for when you win. "

Fury shook his head. The waitress materialized out of thin air as he slid a sleek, matte, black-on-black credit card into the cracked vinyl folder. Man, Tony had to get one of those.

"Just one warning," Tony said. "If you move six superheroes into one house, you might as well put a billboard in Times Square; every two-bit malcontent on the Eastern seaboard is going to show up at the front door."

And Five Reasons Why Maybe They Do After All:

1. Because when you go up against the tough pests, you want the best team there is.

"I have never been so unhappy to be right," Tony said.

Captain America wiped his forehead with the back of his arm. What came off was part sweat, part smelly purple goo, and part microscopic bits of what had once been a Gone With the Wind-style staircase that Tony's father had been very fond of. He turned his still-dirty face on Tony with a skeptical expression. "You predicted this?"

"Not this in particular -- not, you know, enraged former sanitation worker calling himself the Wingman and attacking us with the poisonous droppings of genetically engineered pigeons, but, yes, the general --"

"Got him," Hawkeye said, and a moment later there was a muffled thud as the Wingman hit the ground at their feet. Somehow or other, Hawkeye had managed to get him with a tranquilizer dart and wrap him head to toe in ropes, all while the Wingman crouched in Tony's second-floor window like a weak-chinned, balding gargoyle.

"This basic idea. I distinctly told Fury," Tony began again, but was interrupted when Thor arrived with an unconscious figure over each shoulder. "I discovered these intruders arriving through an opening in the cellar wall." He dropped them next to the Wingman: a man and a woman in white lab coats and latex gloves.

"Guess we ought to seal up the tunnel they were using to --" Captain America began, but there was a distant, muffled bellow. "Ah. Hulk's taking care of it."

"What I told Fury was that it was inevitable, if you concentrated this much superness in one house, that all sorts of --" He paused to watch the Widow roll by in an acrobatic embrace with someone who was orange from top to bottom and sporting some extra limbs. "Think she needs any help?"

"Nope!" the Widow said behind him, only slightly out of breath. The orange person said something, too, but it was the kind of thing you said when someone had a grip on a pressure point that deactivated your spinal muscles.

"Then inevitably you would attract," Tony began again.

"Duck," Captain America said.

"Why?" Tony said, but he was ducking as he said it.

The Captain almost idly elbowed his shield arm into the space where Tony's head had just been. There was a thud and a groan. "You were saying?"

"Oh, never mind. Which do you think would be a better use of money, a lap pool or a bowling alley?"

The Captain's mouth quirked. "I'd vote for a perimeter fence."

2. Because actually slumber parties rock.

The mansion had a state-of-the-art home theater. Cutting-edge sound, sharply sloped floor, every seat a perfect view. It sat there empty until it got dusty.

But stream a kids' cartoon on the TV in the smallest den, and all of a sudden the place was crawling with bored superheroes.

"But," Cap said, with that same wrinkle in his forehead that he got when he was plotting trajectories with the shield, "how come all the adults sound Scottish and all the kids sound American?" At everyone's look, he sighed. "This is one of those mysteries of the future, isn't it?"

He looked honestly kind of sad, like it mattered. Tony sat on the arm of the ratty couch and slung an arm around his shoulders (or as far as it would reach, anyway). "Listen, Cap, I'm going to tell you a secret. When you don't understand something about this century, bet you three to one it's because it's just stupid. No good reason. Just stupid."

It had taken about ten days for the onslaught to wear itself out. By the end of that time, Tony had developed perimeter security that ultimately generated thirty-eight separate patents. Most of the materials for the exterior had been reinforced so that they could stand against Cap's shield, Thor's hammer, and Banner's alter ego. They'd worked out the basic outlines of fighting together as a team.

They had also sustained scrapes, fractures, equipment damage, power struggles, and bruised egos, but on the whole, Tony called it a win.

There was even a decent chance they were going to get to see the movie all the way to the end.

Tony had kicked his boots into the corner, and Cap had already been barefoot when he came in. He did that a lot. Apparently human perfection meant you didn't have to worry about stubbing your toe, or maybe he didn't get that in the future a person could have more than one pair of shoes. Thor had been next, with that puzzled, hopeful, puppylike expression he sometimes got when he did "Midgardian" things, like he was waiting for some magical sensation of truly understanding humanity. Anyhow, by now they were all barefoot.

Tony started to pour out a Scotch, and then changed his mind and cracked a bottle of white wine. Most of the rest of them stuck to beer, but Cap raided the bar, and, with Jarvis's help, worked his way through about twelve weirdly assorted drinks -- peppermint schnapps on jalapeno vodka on tequila sunrise. "Can't get drunk," he said, though Tony suspected that only meant he hadn't really devoted himself to the attempt. "Might as well go for flavor."

Someone else unearthed a deck of cards, but it became obvious pretty quickly that there was no point to poker in this crowd. Nobody had any tells, except Banner, who was a comically open book. Kids' games worked better, because, one, they left more to chance, and, two, you got to hear the God of Thunder saying, "Go fishing."

Natasha liked to sit on the floor. By the end of the second movie, she had her head leaned back on the couch next to Banner's knee, and Banner said, "Can I braid your hair?"

That knocked the room into silence, and Tony braced himself in case she couldn't resist giving him the kind of setdown that would bring out his green side, but she just twisted back to give him an incredulous look. Thor said, "Do Midgardians also use grooming as a way of cementing friendships, then? I would be honored if you would share your talents with me."

Natasha watched them for a minute with an expression that was a smile and a frown at the same time, and then she padded off and came back with a handful of hairbands.

It went quiet for a while, with only the background noise of Kermit the Frog singing about rainbows. Thor's eyelids got heavier and heavier. Banner had the same expression of peaceful absorption that he sometimes got behind a lab table. Cap said in a low voice, "I'm startin' to wish I had long hair."

Natasha said, "Hang on a second," and slipped away again. When she came back -- silently, on little assassin's feet -- she had a shoebox full of nail polish.

3. Because some secrets need to be revealed.

Tony gasped awake in the silence, clammy with sweat, still seeing Pepper's face and his own hands pulling a reactor out of her chest.

After a moment, he unclenched his fingers from the edges of his own reactor and sat up, shaking the cramps out of his hand. There was a sour taste in his mouth.

He closed his eyes and opened them immediately. Fuck, it was getting more vivid. He had to stop staying up so late, or else stop going to bed at all.

There was a light on in the kitchen. Which other poor insomniac was up at this time of the night?

Oh. Damn it. It was Captain America, in stripy dad-boxers and a SHIELD T-shirt, hunched over a steaming cup. When he looked up, Tony could see the same thought flicker over his face: Damn it. You.

"That coffee?" Tony asked.

"Some herbal thing of Bruce's." Cap nodded at an old-fashioned brown teapot that Tony hadn't even known they had. "There's more."

Tony poured a cupful. Chamomile, lavender, maybe some peppermint. What he wouldn't give for a shot of tequila. If only he didn't know how the tequila would shoot back. "Any good?"

Cap made a face. "Like grass clippings. But warm." His hands were wrapped tight, dwarfing the biggest mug Tony owned.

Tony followed his example and sighed; it did feel good. He closed his eyes. Yinsen with his tie loose and his vest torn open and an empty socket in his chest -- Obie holding up a gleaming reactor -- He opened his eyes fast. He shouldn't have come down. He should have stayed in his own suite. A little tequila might make dreams worse, but a lot of tequila and you didn't dream at all.

He jumped when he felt a touch on his hand. Cap pried loose his fingertip-whitening grip on the mug and pressed a thumb firmly into the base of his palm. Tony took a quick breath, but it didn't hurt, exactly.

"OK?" Cap said, but now he had both his hands squeezing Tony's. It made Tony's fingers curl in, without his intent, and for some reason it also made the hair on his arms stand up. Cap's hands were warm and very big.

"Bucky taught me to do this." He might have hesitated over the name. Tony looked up, but all he could see was the top of Cap's tawny head. His hair was just as picture-perfect as the rest of him. "Said if a fellow carried anything long enough, it would hurt him when he put it down." He dug into Tony's other hand.

"Feels good." Tony hoped Cap didn't notice the bedroom note that had crept into his voice. He could have lived without knowing Captain America had such good hands.

"Might help you sleep," Cap said. "What were you dreaming of holding onto?"

Tony tugged, and Cap let go. "If I wanted a confessor, I wouldn't be choosing America's perfect soldier to pass judgment on mere mortals who have nightmares." Now his hands were cold again.

Cap closed his eyes briefly. "Tony," he said. Not Stark, not Iron Man, but Tony. "Why do you think I'm drinking yard waste in your kitchen at four in the morning?"

Tony breathed in. Breathed out. Picked up one of Cap's -- Steve's -- big warm hands and pressed both thumbs into the hollow of his palm.

"Your kitchen, too, you know," he said.

4. Because this is their life.

Steve always seemed to arrive in the lab just when Tony needed a break. Tony had wondered whether Steve was monitoring his lifesigns, using either enhanced senses or Jarvis, but when he asked, Steve said, I show up when normal people would be eating supper, Tony, jeez.

This time he came through the door full of purpose. "SuperNet, please, Jarvis."

"Go ahead. Commandeer my AI. Be my guest." Tony pushed his goggles up and wiped his forehead. He never caught Steve ogling him, but he could swear he could feel the guy looking. Wishful thinking.

"... and the thanks of a grateful nation," the guy on SuperNet said. The new all-superhero network must be feeling well-disposed towards the differently powered; when they were on the other side, they used an adorable freckle-faced twentysomething who was the most vicious attack dog Tony had ever seen. He admired that, sincerely.

Steve boosted his very fine ass up onto Tony's workbench, swinging his legs. "Jarvis, can you play this from the beginning, please? I think Tony would get a kick out of it."

They'd tracked down a photo of Bruce staring morosely into the distance. He was probably thinking about equations or ice cream, but admittedly he looked rather poetically downtrodden. With that background, Jules or Joe or whatever he called himself was holding forth lugubriously on the sorrows of the young superheroes.

"Because the sweetness of the normal life that we take for granted is denied to them. The world doesn't understand them. They can't have relationships without providing their enemies with hostages. In truth, the lot of a superhero is ... lonely."

Steve smiled at Tony and Tony smiled back. "You miss having a normal life, Steve?"

"All this started because I was trying to enlist. If I'd wanted normal, I would've stood in Brooklyn." He raised his eyebrows at Tony. "You?"

"Hell no. I'm a billionaire genius's billionaire genius son. This thing where I live in a big house with five freakish friends, and we fight demigods and mad scientists, and some of us are demigods and mad scientists -- actually, this is closer to a normal life than I've ever had."

And it was true. He had these crazy roommates, and he had Pepper and Rhodey less as babysitters and more as pals, and he even had a moment of affection for the beady little eyes of the SHIELD bureaucrats. Bruce was distilling something in the office that Tony's father had shooed him out of so many times, and Natasha was storing her substantial wardrobe of black, black, and optional black in the closet where he'd kept his trophies as a kid.

And Captain fucking America was sitting on Tony's workbench, barefoot, in his shirtsleeves, looking --

Looking at Tony like --

"Hey," Tony said. "Hey, Steve."

"Tony, listen, I," Steve said. His voice was just as hushed. "Listen, Tony, I think --"

"Yeah?" said Tony nonsensically. "Yeah. Yeah, " and then their faces completed the movement and Steve's ridiculously lush mouth was on his.

Steve was big, and warm, and he put a big warm hand on the back of Tony's neck and pulled him closer. All that body there for the taking, but what Tony wanted to touch was Steve's face, the clean lines of his jaw, the wrinkle between his eyebrows that was how you could tell it was really him.

"Yeah," he said as Steve dragged him closer, body to body. "Yeah, Steve. To hell with normal."

5. Because if a superhero is going to take a day off, he needs the best damned backup in the world.

"Steve," he gasped.

"Yeah." Steve's voice was deeper, rougher than he'd ever heard it. Steve was hanging onto Tony's ass like he owned it.

"Steve, we should, oh fuck yes yes right there, wait, the feeds, we should check --"

"Natasha's turn on watch." Steve groped down Tony's ass with one hand and used the other to tip Tony's head back, dropping nipping kisses all along his neck and collarbone. "If you can't trust the combined forces of Black Widow and Jarvis," he said wetly, working his way down Tony's chest, "your security standards might be too high."

He treated the reactor just like he treated every other inch of Tony's chest, just space he was passing over on a determined path downwards. Tony tried valiantly one more time: "But if they need us --"

"Tony." Steve looked up at him -- no, seriously, he should take a second to appreciate this: Captain America turned his blue eyes up from where he was kneeling at Tony's feet, oh, fuck, this was probably the pinnacle of Tony's life. "If they need us, they know the override." He put his hand -- big, warm -- flat on the front of Tony's jeans. "All right?"

"Oh, my god," Tony said. "Yes."