Two weeks had passed since the "Battle of New York". Loki had been returned to Asgard, Steve had been visiting graves as well as sites from his past, Bruce had set up residence in the R&D Department despite the renovations going on in the Tower, Natasha had spent those two weeks guarding Clint's back against any type of recrimination from Loki's possession and Thor had returned to spend time with Jane. During all this time Tony Stark could be found working on plans for various additions to what was once Stark Tower and personally seeing to all the renovations as well as remodeling. There may have been minor explosions and some fire, but Dummy was always handy with a fire extinguisher.
The first two days Pepper was constantly at Tony's side. At first she was sobbing uncontrollably and then she was leaning on him as he drew up plans for the improved Tower. It didn’t take long before Tony began to distance himself from her. The amount of stress and pain he seemed to cause Pepper, who had only stood by his side through everything, had become more than evident. After everything he had seen before, during and after the huge battle, Tony Stark was focusing more on those around him. Especially the people who truly mattered and what was best for them. It was a change from the usual internal focusing, but it opened his eyes to things he might have otherwise missed.
Tony Stark noticed that the Avengers were basically scattered into the wind without keeping track of each other. The Avengers had extreme difficulty functioning together before the battle and it was obvious from how they had easily split up that the Avengers needed something. So Tony had JARVIS hack into SHIELD, which was easier since he had already opened a backdoor which made navigating the files SHIELD kept simpler, in order to discover what was known about his teammates' locations. It did not take him long to figure out how best to contact them and work on bringing them together.
Utilizing all of the information JARVIS had gathered about his teammates Tony found it easier to convince them to come together in one location for Shawarma and the fact that he personally sent transportation might have helped speed things up. So there the Avengers sat in the newly rebuilt Shawarma restaurant they had originally found after the battle and Tony noticed that there was an obvious gaping hole. No one mentioned the name or the fact that there had not yet been a funeral. There was a tense silence and an obvious lack of a certain important presence. The one common factor that had brought all of them together and had later compelled them to fight as a team. Agent Phil Coulson.
Even Thor, whose presence was larger than life, seemed subdued. Tony looked around at his fellow Avengers and made a decision that the plans he had already drawn up would be implemented. He knew the first true step to this super-secret-boy-band, though Natasha obviously wasn't a boy, working would be to get some form of closure. And the fact that Clint Barton's eyes seemed to be devoid of life, of the smartass nature that he had heard about and had witnessed only once, further solidified his decision. Which is why after Tony put his teammates up in various rooms that were still inhabitable at Stark Tower he had JARVIS hack once more into SHIELD with the soul intention of finding out every bit of information about Phil Coulson. He also had JARVIS run a face recognizing program to find any footage of Coulson that would aid him in discovering what exactly had occurred. Thinking back on the meeting with his teammates Tony wondered if Clint blamed himself for Coulson’s death. The archer had taken Coulson’s death very hard.
Twenty minutes later Tony was interrupted from the altered plans he was creating for a multipurpose gym that would work for two assassins, a super-soldier, a god and two mostly normal humans. The smooth British voice of his AI cut through the workshop.
"Sir? Would you prefer the most recent footage from today or would you like to start from the—" JARVIS was cut off abruptly when Tony jolted.
"Today? There is footage of Agent Phil Coulson from today?" Tony's body straightened and his muscles tensed a steady hammering started inside his head. "Where was this footage taken from?" his attention was directed at the screen where he watched a very alive Phil Coulson pace agitatedly in what looked like a medical room. His chest was wrapped where Loki had stabbed him; Agent did not look to be at his best which usually involved a sharply pressed suit, his signature sunglasses, a weapon and a calm, but completely unimpressed expression on his face. Tony felt the first stirrings of shock, disappointment and then searing rage as it burned through him. Fury had manipulated every single one of them and had done it staring them in the eyes. He’d twisted the knife that had been imbedded in the collective heart of the Avengers without a care. Tony noticed that Coulson was being held at SHIELD's HQ in New York as was indicated on the screen that JARVIS had pulled up for him.
His mind flew over all the catalogued expressions and reactions to Coulson's death. Next Tony began to think about the lack of a funeral and how that fact had distressed his teammates. Thought over Fury's words and the blood soaked Captain America cards that Coulson had loved; that he had treasured. His eyes darted over to the case of cards he’d acquired for Steve to sign for Coulson’s funeral. Carefully he placed it into his pocket before staring back at the screen. Tony was unaware of the moment he had started storming through his workshop, up the stairs and past the assembled group of people in the kitchen as he headed towards his elevator. The Avengers looked at each other wordlessly before following Tony Stark because anything that could put that kind of blatant rage onto his features needed to be investigated. It wouldn’t be smart to allow him to leave unaccompanied in such a state.
"Stark! Where are you headed?" it was Natasha who finally spoke up. She had seen most of Tony Stark's moods while undercover and then during the fight with Loki, but she had not seen the undeniable rage he was displaying. A part of Natasha worried for his emotional state.
"SHIELD." The response was clipped as they strode through the parking garage toward the vehicles Tony had brought with him to New York.
"Why? What's wrong?" her small hand wrapped around his forearm as she spun him around. Natasha kept her stance strong and unrelenting. There was no flinch as she noted that his eyes were nearly black in his anger and that his body was thrumming with tension.
"Fury lied to us. He lied to me!" there wasn't disbelief in his voice because Fury lying was not news. But Tony’s anger was fueled by the fact that his teammates had suffered because of Fury’s lie; he had suffered due to that lie as well. It was because of the broken look in Clint's eyes. Fueled by the guilty agony that had stolen over Steve's face. Anger burned as he thought of Natasha's blank expressions. For Thor's stolen good humor and Bruce's lost expression. It focused on the pain Tony had felt rip its way through him as he thought of all the people he had failed. All of that for nothing. The Avengers could have banded together to save the world without that lie and even if Fury felt it was necessary why had he kept up the deception? After the battle they’d had the right to know Phil Coulson had survived.
No further answer seemed to be forthcoming as Tony turned back toward his vehicles and proceeded to climb into one. Natasha climbed into the passenger seat while the others followed Clint to his vehicle. Even though they had trouble functioning as a whole and were probably one of the most broken groups of people it was obvious that Tony needed to either be watched or helped. The Avengers would follow one of their own. They would not stand aside while Tony obviously needed them.
It wasn't until they arrived in Fury's office that the cause of Tony's ire became evident. "How dare you?" it was said coldly as Tony stared the Director of SHIELD down. It was the voice of someone who knew how to command a room, of someone who knew how to be in control and it matched cold expression on his features. This was a Tony Stark that the Avengers had not truly gotten a glance of up to this point. There was none of that cocky arrogance or snarky personality. Tony Stark was a force to be reckoned with.
"And what did I dare to do, Stark?" Fury gave the billionaire before him an unimpressed look as he leaned back in his chair as he regarded the group gathered before him.
"Phil Coulson is alive." Silence followed the statement as the others waited for Fury to deny the accusation, but Tony left no room for further comments or possible denials. "You shattered this team and then forced us into the shape you wanted. You manipulated us. Couldn't even let us decide to save the world on our own and then you take away one of our own. Phil Coulson is part of this team. He pulled us together and believed…he believed that heroes still exist and believed in the Avengers Initiative. There is no excuse for this."
Steve was wearing a look of horror on his face as he stared at Nick Fury, Bruce was noticeably controlling his anger, Thor's face was a thundercloud, Natasha had been absentmindedly stroking a dagger and Clint was visibly shaking. Tony did not even realize that he had moved in front of his teammates in a decidedly protective gesture as he continued to stare Fury down. He would not allow any more harm to come to them and would use himself as a shield if necessary. Fury was a threat to their emotional state.
"Here is what is going to happen. You're either going to take us to Coulson's room or you're going to tell us his location and release him to us. Those are your choices. Now…which is it going to be Cyclops?" Clint actually snorted behind him which Tony took to be a positive. It appeared as though Barton could appreciate his brand of humor. Tony idly thought there might be a real chance at friendship there. Possibly an alliance.
Steve Rogers had moved from watching the Director to watching Tony Stark. He took in the defiant stance, the tense line of his shoulders, the stubborn tilt of his chin and the subconsciously protective position he had taken in front of them. Any doubts he had that Tony Stark was anything but an inherently good man were erased in that moment and guilt swamped him in waves on top of the anger brewing underneath at Director Fury's deception. He had regretted telling Stark he wasn't a hero when Tony had flown that nuke into another dimension with no real thought of coming back and had subsequently fallen back to Earth unconscious.
Nick Fury paused and took in the group of heroes that was composed of what had once been referred to as lost creatures. "Medical 35." The room was emptied quite rapidly. Tony arrived at the room first but only a step before Clint. When they filed into the room Coulson was actually resting. That did not seem to matter to Clint who crossed the room in five strides, climbed onto the bed to straddle Coulson and pull him up into a hard kiss. Those eyes that were always so alert snapped open before locking onto Barton's face. The strain that had quickly seized Coulson's body fled when he recognized Clint. At the sight that greeted him Tony felt the tension leave his body and realization of the real reason for Clint's actions flooded his mind. The obvious underlying anger that had charged the group faded as varying expressions of relief crossed their faces. It was then that Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out a small case that he handed to Steve. Inside it contained the mint condition set of Captain America cards that Tony had gotten for Steve Rogers to sign so that he could place them with Phil Coulson whenever the funeral occurred.
On them Steve had signed his name and a message thanking Coulson for believing that heroes still exist. The grateful smile that Steve flashed Tony caused him to pause and shake it off as he offered a small smirk of his own before turning back to the discussion going on. Once Clint had removed himself from being on top of the injured man Thor had seen fit to hug Coulson while expressing how sorry he was for Loki's actions. Thankfully Thor was mindful of his strength and did not further harm Phil. Steve wandered over toward the bed and offered a reluctant smile as he held out the case to Coulson who was staring at him in surprise.
"I'm sorry this took so long." If Tony was to describe the reaction that Coulson, a normally stoic man who could be a step away from maiming someone, expressed it would be that of a fanboy level of obsession as he took in the new set of mint condition signed Captain America cards. Tony was almost sure there were tears in his eyes that Coulson ruthlessly worked to squash down. It made the search he’d undergone to find them worth it. Then the calm mask was back and a grateful smile was directed towards Steve Rogers.
The sound of two sharp claps rang through all the noise. "Alright children, we've collected our stray member and have hopefully cowed Fury for the time being so it is time to escape this horrible room. JARVIS will happily place our pizza order for tonight and there is more than enough alcohol in the tower so let's get this show on the road! Come on Sleeping Beauty, you've rested long enough."
All eyes turned in Tony's direction and in true Stark fashion he withstood the attention with grace and a cocky smirk. Phil Coulson watched the lines of Stark's body and watched his expression before responding. "I've not been released from medical."
"No problem Agent. You've been released into my custody and I've decided you're coming with us." Tony turned before he strode from the room expecting and knowing the others would follow; hopefully after Coulson put on some normal clothes and collected his belongings. Now he really needed to finish the tower since it was going to be full of Avengers. It might help if Tony mentioned they were going to be living there officially to begin with.
"Still need to get the letters replaced." Tony muttered to himself as he took out a Starkpad and began inputting information, orders, and changing things around. "Only the A is left…" he trailed off to himself as an idea struck him. "Avengers' Tower." He tested the name out loud before mentally applauding his own genius. Tony proceeded to make a few corrections and then sent an email to Pepper to get paperwork started. "We'll all be living there after all." It was said under his breath.
Now that he had finally gone back to his email Tony could see that there were several emails about the reconstruction of New York. A few informing him of progress, some forwarded from Pepper from people thanking him for helping to relocate them while their buildings were being rebuilt and others mentioning the projects coming up. While reading through an email from a single mother thanking him a voice sounded next to his ear.
"The suit doesn't matter because even without it you're a hero." The comment, unprompted and without noticeable reason, caused Tony to falter in his steps and finally notice the happy voices trailing behind him as he headed towards the exit of the SHIELD facility. "I'm sorry, Tony. I had no excuse for the things I said to you when we first met and I'm sorry I haven't said anything since." Steve Rogers' voice was so painfully genuine and honest and filled with sheepish guilt that Tony felt his heart thud in his chest. It was hard to recall a time when someone had so honestly said something positive to him let alone apologize for something he more than likely deserved to hear on a daily basis because he knew that he was an asshole. On top of that he had been just as big of an ass to Steve on the helicarrier.
"I deserved it." It was simple and to Tony seemed like an inexplicable fact. He was an ass most of the time, he was selfish and rude and constantly strived to do things his way whenever he felt like it. Tony figured he wasn't really meant for human interaction and that was partly why he had been gifted with his unique genius that enabled him to create such advanced robotics and AIs. He loved people; it was just hard to get along with them most of the time.
"No. No one deserves to be spoken to that way. I have never liked bullies and in that moment I was nothing more than a bully. I was just so angry." Steve was now matching his pace and Tony started reluctantly reevaluating those negative thoughts he'd been harboring since those first interactions; those thoughts he had been using to keep Steve at a distance. The one’s he’d been using to keep someone he’d looked up to since he was a child at arm’s length.
"I'm sorry for what I said." He spoke softly and stared down at the Starkpad in his hand wanting to ignore the fact that saying 'sorry' most generally tasted like ash on his tongue, but when faced down with such earnestness that was Steve Rogers the apology came almost naturally and made him feel light. Tony decided it wasn’t too bad but elected to keep it to himself.
Finally he chanced a glance over at Steve to see a huge beam across his face and Tony’s mind went back to the thoughts he had been entertaining about those who meant something to him. This was his teammate who had basically gone to sleep during WWII via being frozen and woke up essentially misplaced in time. He had lost his family, his friends, his teammates, his girl and everything he had known only to be pushed into another type of war with people he didn't know. Tony weighed his thoughts and the man walking next to him. He took in the sounds of chatter behind him and took a breath before coming to a stop.
"I'm Tony Stark." He held out a hand and Steve's eyes lit up as he clasped Tony's hand. Something told him this was going to be one of his better decisions; something he would not regret.
"I'm Steve Rogers. It's nice to meet you." The voice was warm and happy in Steve’s polite voice accompanied with a bright grin. His hand was warm and steady, grip firm and grounding.
If either of them were to have looked over at the others they would have seen clear approval and in Coulson's eyes a hint of pride. Up in his office Nick Fury stared at the video feed from the hallway as he got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Why does this seem bad?" it might have had something to do with the glint that was clear in Clint Barton's eyes or maybe it was the smug look on Natasha Romanov's face. It might have something to do with the fact that Thor looked gleeful or maybe the quiet smile of satisfaction on Bruce Banners' face. But if he had to place money on the reason it was due to the fact that Tony Stark was attempting to befriend Captain America and the likelihood of that ending in the corruption of a national icon was almost guaranteed. That wasn’t something he needed.
Phil Coulson was being put down as the official handler of the entire Avengers team and if they were going to be living under the same roof then he was stationing Coulson right there with them. To this point Agent Coulson had only been assigned Barton, Romanov and Stark officially. Fury began to push through the necessary paperwork and wondered what he was thinking leaving them unsupervised for so long. It had been very neglectful.
The group had made it outside the building when Coulson's phone went off; pulling it out and reading the message caused him to turn accusing eyes on Tony Stark. The sharp glint was there and with the mildly normal clothes he was wearing once more it definitely fit closer to the cataloged image of Phil Coulson that Tony had stored. It was slightly disturbing now that he thought about it.
Coulson looked down at his phone once more but the message was still the same, You are officially assigned as the handler for the Avengers. It has become apparent that they will be living under one roof so you are required to supervise them constantly and make sure they don't destroy the planet.
"What have you done?" there went his peaceful evenings of watching Supernanny and relaxing away from insane billionaires and overexcited gods who destroyed towns. The pair of innocent brown eyes that Stark turned on him filled Coulson with a vague sense of dread that in a lesser man would have been identified as bone-deep terror. He had a feeling that the relatively calm life he had lived that had involved assassinations, terrorists, SHIELD, Barton and Romanov with the occasional Tony Stark moment was over. Anything that involved Tony in any capacity had a tendency towards absolute disaster. It was bad enough Stark had started to grow on Phil…that was the first step toward the end. He just knew it.