Tony finished the renovations on Monday, and by Friday, the Avengers had moved in.
Steve came first; driving into the parking garage under the tower in a battered pick-up truck that Tony felt a driving need to set on fire. “Stark,” he greeted, hopping out from the driver’s seat and pushing a cardboard box into Tony’s hands.
Tony staggered under the weight. “Captain,” he managed. “What the hell is in here? Bricks?”
“Books,” Steve said cheerfully, pulling a large military-issue duffle bag from the passenger side door.
“You know, I could put all of these onto a tablet for you,” Tony said, wrinkling his nose at the dusty smell of the box. “Save you a lot of space. Better for the environment, too.”
“Don’t you dare.” Steve jabbed the elevator button. “I like them as books. They smell right.”
Tony was about to launch into the myriad ways he could get a tablet to emit the smell of cracked leather and fresh ink that Steve seemed to have such a fetish for when the elevator doors slid open. “Good morning, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS said pleasantly. “Mr. Stark, I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a coffee for you on Captain Rogers’ floor.”
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Tony said, and felt his headache recede slightly. He wasn’t used to being awake in the single-digit hours of the morning, but Steve had insisted on showing up unreasonably early. The elevator doors swooshed shut and they shot up fast enough to make Steve wobble a bit. “You’re on the eighty-seventh floor,” Tony told him. “But you’re the lowest of all of us. Figured you’d want to be at least sort of close to the ground. Less of an elevator ride, and you’re closest to the gym.”
“Oh,” Steve said, looking a bit green. “Okay. Good.” He shifted a bit under the weight of his duffle. “Is your computer going to talk to me all the time?”
“JARVIS? Only if you want him to. He kind of runs the place.” The elevator beeped at Steve’s floor and Steve gestured for Tony to lead the way into the apartment. “The whole floor is yours,” he said. “There’s an access code for it. You have it, JARVIS has it, and the rest of the Avengers have it—or they will, when they drag themselves in here—just for security reasons. Not likely someone will try to attack the tower, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.”
Steve nodded, but he seemed to be too distracted by his surroundings to pay attention to Tony’s security spiel. Tony sighed. He was woefully unappreciated. “This is your kitchen,” Tony said, switching to a topic he was at least decently sure Steve would listen to. “Fridge is stocked with the basics—” well, basics for normal people; Tony’s basics included coffee and Bailey’s “—and you’ve got dishes, silverware, normal cooking stuff. If you want anything more, just let JARVIS know and he’ll order it for you.” Steve gave another nod and Tony led the way through the rest of the apartment. “Here’s your living room. TV, Blu-Ray player, yadda yadda yadda; I took the liberty of stocking you with at least some of the movies you missed while you were busy being a popsicle. Bedroom’s through there, furniture is pretty standard. Same with the kitchen, if you want anything new, just tell JARVIS.”
Tony blinked. “How what?”
“How do I tell JARVIS?”
Tony stared at him. “Uh. You say, ‘JARVIS.’”
On cue, the AI spoke up. “Yes, sir?”
“Of course, sir. Mr. Stark, your coffee is on the kitchen counter.”
“Great.” Tony dumped the box of books unceremoniously on the queen-sized bed. “You’ve got a walk-in closet through there,” he said over his shoulder on the way out of the room. “Not that you’ve got enough clothes for it, probably, but I figured Pepper’ll take you shopping eventually.” There was a steaming mug on the counter and he inhaled the rich, fresh smell of Columbian roast, leaning against the counter and watching Steve look around the bedroom, touching the furniture with a cautious hands. Eventually, Steve wandered out of the bedroom, a vague look of awe on his face, and Tony grinned at him. “Any questions?”
Steve shook his head, and then the door off the living room caught his eye. “What’s that?”
“That,” Tony said, “is a treat.” He pushed off the counter, mug in hand, and strode across the room. “Eyes closed,” he said, and Steve, who was nothing if not good at following orders, snapped his eyes shut. Tony took his arm and opened the door, guided him inside, and snapped on the light. “Okay,” he said, “open.”
Steve opened his eyes, and Tony took a great deal of pleasure in how quickly his perfectly chiseled jaw dropped.
Because Tony had built him an art studio.
The room had floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Shelves lined the other two walls, full of paints and brushes and ink pens and charcoals sticks and paper and sketchpads and books on art history and methods from a list that Pepper and JARVIS had compiled for him. There was an easel set up in the center of the room with a small wooden stool, extra canvases of all sizes stacked against one wall. Natural light shone through the windows, painting the entire room in bright, sunny colors and highlighting the pale blue paint on the walls.
“Tony,” Steve said, and his voice was hoarse. “You made this for me?”
Tony shifted a little, because the first moment of awe had been gratifying, but the actual shock and wonder in Steve’s voice made him feel just a little too nice. “Well,” he said. “I figured everything else you’ve been given is for Captain America. I thought maybe you’d want something for. Y’know. For Steve.”
Steve stared at him and for a second Tony was terrified that Steve might actually hug him, which would just be way too much. He seemed to think better of it, though, and put his hands in his pockets instead. “Thank you,” he said. “Really, Stark. Tony, thanks.”
Tony took a long sip of his coffee, waved a hand in a vaguely don’t mention it motion. “I’ll have some of the staff bring up the rest of yourself,” he said, high-tailed it out before Steve could say anything else.
Bruce arrived on Wednesday, with one duffle bag thrown over his shoulders and dark circles under his eyes. “Hi, Tony,” he said. “I hear you have a room for me?”
“Dr. Banner, I’ve got a whole floor for you,” Tony said. Bruce had arrived at a far more reasonable hour than Steve had, and Tony was already four cups of coffee into his day and feeling almost human. “Come on up.”
He showed him the lab floors first, six full stories devoted to R&D. Bruce looked like a kid on Christmas morning who’d gotten a bike and a puppy and a pony all at once, looking over the equipment with an expression that was almost giddy, the glowing computer readouts flickering in his glasses. “Tony, this is amazing,” he said. “How did you—?”
“I put in a few calls,” Tony said. “Come on, I’ll show you your place.”
He put Bruce on the floor above Steve’s and below his, because he figured that the two of them would be Bruce’s first calls if something went wrong. “All the floors have the same basic layout,” he explained as they exited the elevator. “But yours has some special features.” Leading Bruce through the apartment, he pointed out the red buttons in clear sight on the wall of each room. “Panic button,” he said. “You feel a little green, smack that and it’ll send an immediate evac order through the whole tower. We’ve run drills, full capacity to empty building in four minutes twenty-eight seconds.”
Bruce looked suitably impressed, following Tony through the rooms. Tony showed him the bedroom and Bruce ran his fingers over the furniture like he couldn’t believe it was his. Tony had chosen cherry wood for all of Bruce’s furniture, the bright hue catching the light from the windows and reflecting warm color into the room. He’d had the walls painted a pale green, gotten an interior decorator and a zen master to arrange the room with as much feng shui as possible.
“I tried to get them to do it, y’know, yoga chic,” he said, and Bruce laughed quietly, touching the bamboo-sprout pattern embroidered into the bedspread.
“It’s perfect,” he said, and Tony flashed his paparazzi grin.
“There’s one more thing.”
A door off the main hallway led to a sealed room, triple-enforced with layers of glass and steel and lead. “Just in case,” Tony explained. He motioned to the air vents. “If the cameras detect the other guy in the room, they’ll seal it off and the room’ll fill with gas—not enough to be lethal, just enough to knock you out.” He’d felt a little uneasy, installing a room to seal Bruce off from everyone else, but the look on Bruce’s face told him he’d been right. “We might have to do some experimentation, you know, just to work out the kinks in the doses. But I think—”
“It’s perfect,” Bruce repeated, and Tony clapped him on the shoulder.
“Great,” he said. “Then put your stuff away. It’s almost one and I’ve got a whole shitload of science for us to do before lunch.”
Coulson strolled in at 9:00 AM sharp on Thursday. “Heard you’re running a dorm now,” he said.
Tony gaped at him. “Uh. Yes. Pick a floor?”
“Thanks,” Coulson said. He picked up the handle of his rolling suitcase, slung the hanger of his garment bag over his shoulder, and headed off toward the elevator.
When the doors had closed, Tony looked up at the ceiling. “JARVIS.”
“Did Phil Coulson just walk into my tower?”
“Is he a zombie?”
“Huh.” Tony blinked. “Well. Okay. Make sure he gets anything he needs. And I need another coffee.”
Clint and Natasha showed up late Thursday afternoon, just as Tony and Bruce were putting the finishing touches on their latest experiment, which was either a biological contaminate that would wipe out all of humanity or the most delicious cookie spread ever created, Tony wasn’t sure.
“Sir?” JARVIS broke through the silence just as Tony was about to dip a cookie into the Petri dish. “Agents Barton and Romanoff have arrived.”
Tony put his cookie on the counter and headed down to the elevator, leaving Bruce to take over the cookie experiment.
They were waiting in the lobby when Tony got there, lounging against the reception desk, Clint flirting with a SHIELD security guard (one of Tony’s few concessions to Nick Fury) while Natasha looked on with barely-veiled amusement. It was still strange to see them in street clothes, Tony thought; Natasha in skinny jeans, black flats, and a soft-looking grey sweater, Clint in faded jeans, a leather jacket over a t-shirt, and a pair of battered boots. Natasha looked surprisingly tiny, and Tony realized with a start he’d never really seen her without high heels. Natasha caught sight of Tony first, nudging Clint with her elbow, and when Clint turned to him Tony saw that he was sporting a rather impressive new bruise on his neck.
“What the hell happened to you?” Tony asked, his suave, carefully crafted greeting shooting right out the bulletproof windows.
“I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might be incriminated,” Clint said calmly, and behind him, Tony saw Natasha’s lips twitch very slightly at the corners.
Aha, Tony thought. Well, that explains a lot. He looked down at the two duffle bags and, unexpectedly, the battered black guitar case next to the desk. “Is that all your stuff?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Natasha said, her voice the same mild deadpan Tony was rapidly adjusting to. “We have a U-Haul in the parking garage.”
“JARVIS, have someone take care of that,” Tony said. “Follow me, Agents.”
Clint snorted, shouldering one of the duffles and picking up the guitar case. Natasha slung the other bag over her shoulder and followed them. Her footsteps were silent, and Tony found it a little unnerving, and told her so as they stepped into the elevator.
“Tough,” she said. “I’ve still got a sprained ankle from the Helicarrier and I don’t feel like making it worse in stilettos.”
Tony raised his eyebrows at her, and then turned to Clint. “Is there an actual guitar in that case? Or is it lined with some kind of explosive I should be concerned about?”
Clint grinned at him. “Wouldn’t you love to know?”
Tony had put Natasha on the ninetieth floor, and when the doors opened, he held his breath. Of the six of them he knew the least about Natasha and Clint, and had left most of the decoration of Natalie’s floor to Pepper, hoping that at least some of Natalie Rushman had come from Natasha herself. He and Clint followed Natasha through the apartment and, unsurprisingly, she was most concerned with the security, checking the windows and the doors and the furniture and running her fingertips over the TV and sound system in the living room. She gave him a satisfied nod, leading the way into the bedroom like she’d lived there forever, and actually caught her breath in the doorway. Tony peeked over her shoulder and let out a low whistle.
Pepper had truly outdone herself.
The walls were a soft lavender, the color pale enough to catch the light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and fill the room with natural light. The bed was wrought in black metal, slim, curling designs, reflected in the full-length mirror that stood beside the dresser and another square mirror over the vanity. White bookshelves lined one wall, each one full to bursting with titles in English and Russian and some languages Tony couldn’t identify. The dresser, nightstands, and vanity were all whitewashed wood; the various accessories—lamps, small trinkets—were in crystal and black. A set of purple candles in crystal sticks sat on the dresser, another set on the vanity. The bedspread was in white, the embroidered pattern only visible at a close distance.
It was elegance wrapped in simplicity. Natasha looked around the room, her back to Tony so that he couldn’t see her face. She was very still and after a moment Clint cleared his throat.
“There’s a walk-in closet, Tash,” he said. His tone was deceptively bright and Tony suspected he was dispelling a Moment before Natasha could, God forbid, show something akin to emotion. Tony knew the feeling. “You might even be able to fit half your shoe collection.”
Natasha gave herself a little shake and turned to them with a roll of her eyes. “Doubtful,” she said. “Unless Stark’s invented some kind of fourth dimension.”
“I’m working on that, actually,” Tony began, but Natasha was already tossing her bag onto the bed and heading out of the room.
“You get used to it,” Clint assured him, and Tony waggled his eyebrows at him. “Unless you keep making faces like that,” Clint amended. “They don’t call her the Black Widow for nothing.”
He’d put Clint on the ninety-first floor, the highest floor he’d reserved for the Avengers. It had taken all of twelve minutes for him to realize that Clint liked high places—Hawkeye, they called him, and didn’t that just explain everything?—and so Tony had built him as much of a nest as he could. His were the only windows above the third floor that opened, and a three-foot ledge ran along the entire exterior of the floor. Tony had put harness loops on them as a formality, but he was fairly confident Clint would have no use for them. He didn’t seem the type to be concerned with things like safety features or security contracts or surgeon general warnings, and Tony liked that about him.
Clint was grinning as they made their way through the apartment, giddy like a kid in a toy store, and Tony caught Natasha smiling as she watched him. His grin had widened further when he put his guitar case down in the living room and gone back to inspect the kitchen, running his fingers over the stainless steel appliances and marble countertops and state-of-the-art equipment, and Tony filed that information away for future use.
“This is great, Tony,” he said, and Tony was pretty sure that was genuine thankfulness in his voice.
Clint’s suite was the least customized of them all and Tony felt guilty about it. He hated feeling guilty, especially when Clint looked so delighted. “I didn’t really know—y’know. What you wanted. Personalized, I mean. So if you want any upgrades, or anything new, or anything more to your taste, just let JARVIS know.”
Natasha hopped up onto one of the stools in front of the breakfast bar and propped her chin in her hands, watching Tony with what looked like a mixture of curiosity and amusement. “What?” Tony said irritably, his guilt fading.
“You put a lot of effort into this,” she said, ignoring Clint as he rummaged in the fridge JARVIS had stocked that morning, pulling out eggs and milk and then standing to open the cabinets above the counter. “Making all of us comfortable.”
“You make that sound very suspicious,” Tony said, leaning against the wall and watching Clint pull down a container of flour and a mixing bowl. “Dude, what are you doing?”
“Crepes,” Clint said cheerfully. “Do you want one?”
Tony squinted at him. “What are you?”
“Hungry,” Clint said. “Natasha made me pack all morning, I didn’t get breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. You’re kind of an asshole, actually,” he said, the last to Natasha.
She shrugged. “Put strawberries in those,” she said.
Tony wasn’t sure whether to watch what was apparently a rather practiced crepe-making exercise or back out before he saw something that could potentially scar him for eternity.
JARVIS made his decision for him. “Sir, Dr. Banner requests your presence in the lab. He’s detecting some weather anomalies above the Tower.”
“Oh, good,” Tony said. “That’ll be Thor.” He turned to head to the elevator and then paused, turning back. “Hey, did you two know that Coulson’s alive?”
Natasha arched an eyebrow at him. “Of course.”
Clint didn’t bother looking up from his mixing bowl. “Didn’t you?”
Right, Tony thought. Spies. The elevator doors slid shut in time for him to catch Clint feed Natasha a strawberry.
Tony had given Thor a full bar, a king-sized bed, and a state-of-the-art coffee machine copyright to Stark Industries (limited edition, the only other copy residing in Tony’s personal kitchen). The god grabbed him in a bone-crushing hug and Tony rasped out a “you’re welcome” and made a mental note to prepare a seminar about the appropriate amount of time one could hug a team member before it became sexual harassment or potentially fatal.
Once he got past how ludicrous the entire situation was, things became surprisingly normal.
It took a week to settle into a routine. By Thursday, Tony was waking up at nine (the inhumanity of it all) and staggering up to Clint’s floor in time to eat breakfast around the kitchen counter, a ridiculous spread of eggs and fruit and waffles and crepes and Tony had no idea how Clint whipped it all up, since Tony knew for a fact he woke up at five to go running with Natasha and the two of them spent two hours in the gym together, sparring and shooting and toning. Steve joined them at seven and they all went for another run. Abominable, in Tony’s opinion.
After breakfast Tony headed back to his own floor for a shower, stumbling out around ten in time for Pepper to show up with his itinerary for the day. Tony would listen with vague attention but mostly just trust Pepper to get him where he needed to go in some sort of coherent manner, and sometimes Coulson would join in on those meetings. “Do you mind?” Tony asked him on Monday, clutching his towel around his waist.
Coulson regarded him mildly over the rim of his coffee mug. “No,” he said. “Carry on.”
(Tony had sputtered for a few minutes until Pepper had thrown a pair of boxers at him and threatened to put them on him herself.)
Then it was press conferences and appearances and general PR because New York was still rebuilding and Fury wanted as much good press for the Avengers as he could get. Tony put on a hardhat and fixed wiring, put on the suit and lifted heavy beams, worked with the mayor on rigging up an arc reactor large enough to power the entire city for a year (it wasn’t a miracle, but he figured it was a good start). He posed for photo ops with Steve, who was much better at photo ops than he was. He watched Thor summon a tiny rainstorm, just enough water to fill a brand-new fountain, and then take off his boots and splash around with the kids who’d decided that a fountain was enough of an invitation for a pool party (Thor, despite what had happened in New Mexico, was apparently great for their image). He watched Bruce go on talk shows and explain the potential environmental consequences of the attack and ward off questions about the other guy with a savvy that had even Tony applauding in his head.
Clint and Natasha were kept, for the most part, out of the public eye, because what good were spies if everyone recognized them? But Tony saw them anyway, Clint showing a crowd of kids how to make slingshots and shoot pebbles at the back of Tony’s armored thighs and Natasha teaching them to school their faces into perfect expressions of innocence. (God help them all if the two of them ever reproduced.)
And then the sun would start to fade and they’d traipse back to the Tower, wash a day’s worth of grime and dirt and sweat off their bodies. They’d order in dinner or Clint would throw something together in his kitchen, and they’d carry pots of food and stacks of plates and silverware and napkins and several bottles of wine down to Steve’s room, where Tony and Clint would fight over what movie to show Steve and Natasha would ignore them both, plucking something from the shelves and popping it into the Blu-Ray player. Sometimes Coulson would join them, sometimes Pepper would, and they’d watch in mostly-silence, except for when Thor began to ask a question and Tony would hiss “you’ll find out if you watch the movie” and then Bruce would shush them both and by then they’d all have missed something and Steve would be confused so they’d go back.
Sometimes Tony sat next to Steve, and Steve smelled like classic Old Spice and mint toothpaste, but under that he smelled like fresh clean skin, and Tony sometimes just leaned close to him and sniffed him a little, partly because he wanted to figure out if there was something in that serum that made Steve super-fresh in addition to super-everything-else, and partly because he just smelled good. Sometimes Steve shifted a little uncomfortably when Tony did that, and sometimes he didn’t.
By Friday, Tony was sleeping better than he had in years, since before Afghanistan, hell, maybe since before high school. Pepper told him he looked healthier, and he’d cut his morning caffeine intake down to four cups before noon.
By Saturday morning it wasn’t even an effort to get up to Clint’s for breakfast, and when he got there there was already a coffee waiting for him in his usual seat next to Steve, and Steve passed him the Science and Technology section of the Times before Tony even had to ask for it (even if it was incredibly arcane to be reading it on paper instead of a tablet) and Clint served him eggs exactly the way he liked them. Natasha stole a piece of his toast and went back to her stool next to Coulson where the two of them were working on the crossword puzzle, and Bruce nodded at him over the pencil he was using to do the kenken and Thor sprayed his plate with orange juice when he burst out laughing over something in the comics.
It took him a few minutes, looking down at his eggs, to realize that the feeling he’d had tugging at his chest for the past few days was happy.
Of course, that was when the alarms went off.