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Learning Curve

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Tony Stark, after living with the rest of the Avengers for nearly three months, had learned some things. And some of the things he’d learned had surprised him, not always in a good way. Especially when they were things he couldn’t do anything about.

The way SHIELD was under-paying their consultants was one of those things – although, to be fair, both Clint and Natasha had said SHIELD didn’t pay their field agents all that well either. And mentioning the pension he’d been sure Steve was getting had resulted in a lot of uncomfortable looks passed between everyone but him before Steve had quietly, embarrassedly, explained that the Army had refused to believe he was who he said he was unless he submitted himself for testing. To General Ross. Who had insisted that, if he really was the Captain Steve Rogers, they could ‘learn a lot from him’ once they ‘had him in custody.’

Tony had been unsurprised to find out that Steve and Bruce now had joint plans to prevent that from happening, and inexplicably saddened to find out that he and the others were not only not a part of those plans, but that the two men refused to even let them know what the plans were. “He’s our bogeyman,” Bruce had told him. “He doesn’t have any interest in the rest of you yet, we want to keep it that way for as long as possible.”

The ‘yet’ had actually sent a shiver down Tony’s spine. He’d made some plans of his own after that – plans which did include the rest of the team, although he hadn’t told them about it and wasn’t going to. If they all had to run someday – whether it was from the Army or SHIELD or someone else – he wanted to be damned sure that they had a place to go and resources to work with once they got there. And Tony was the king of squirreling away resources in unlikely places, just in case he needed them someday.

Tony had also learned, much to his surprise and Pepper’s amusement, that his teammates were people, actual people. With personalities and quirks and foibles and good and bad days and everything. Bruce was an unexpectedly sly practical joker, and absolutely nothing and no one was safe from him if he decided it was time to have some fun. Clint was a closet romantic who adored his long-time girlfriend – the HR department’s high-level computer nerd and not his beautiful but deadly partner, much to Tony’s shock. Natasha went dancing in the clubs for stress relief, but her first love was ballet and she dabbled in ballroom as well; she’d started teaching dance somewhere downtown to supplement her meager consultant’s pay. And Steve…well, Steve was twenty-seven. All the time unless he was being Captain America he was twenty-seven, which was almost young enough to be Tony’s kid. Which was a really disturbing thought that Tony tried not to have whenever possible. But he had gradually learned to accept Steve for who he was out of uniform – a real person who was not Captain America, National Icon.

A real person who was trying hard to balance being overjoyed to have family again with being sickened at having had that family made out of his genetic material without his knowledge or consent. Tony hadn’t twigged to that last part until Allison Clarke had contacted the Tower with the new revelation that Steve actually had more descendants from the same government experiment and the supersoldier had turned almost as green as the Hulk and spent the next five minutes hugging a trashcan while Bruce tried to calm him back down. And when they’d told Steve where one of those descendants was, and why…well, if Jarvis hadn’t been smart enough to lock down the elevators and the stairs right then Nick Fury might have gotten a very violent and unexpected surprise visitor. Clint and Bruce had dragged Steve down to the gym after that while Tony and Natasha finished talking with Allison and her team about plans that needed to be made and who was going to do what. Because it was obvious that the four HR people weren’t going to be able to pull off the whole multi-pronged operation needed to fix the situation by themselves. A meeting was set up for the next morning, and then Natasha had gone down to talk to the others and Tony had called Rhodey.

To say that Rhodey had been angry was an understatement – and that was without Tony even telling him everything. He’d gone to talk with his immediate superiors, and then he’d called Tony back and told him he’d be there for the meeting the next morning, with War Machine, and that his superiors were going to look the other way on everything except the pension issue – apparently figuring out the best way to stick it to the Army over that little slice of stupidity was going to be making some Air Force general’s week. Tony had gone to bed happy over that if nothing else. Since he now lived with two guys who’d had the Army stick it to them, a little inter-military payback sounded like a really nice thing.

Of course, he’d also been happy because Pepper had been there to go to bed with him, and because she’d mentioned that she was sorry she wouldn’t get to see Rhodey meet the other Avengers for the first time. Which had been when Tony realized that Rhodey hadn’t met any of them before and was probably going to show up expecting…well, he wasn’t sure what Rhodey would be expecting, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be what he got.

And Tony had been right. Rhodey had shown up at the ass-crack of dawn in full dress uniform and Steve – the only other person currently awake and dressed enough to be on visitor duty besides Tony – had immediately snapped to attention and saluted and addressed him as Colonel. Rhodey had nodded and told Steve to be at ease, he was only dressed up because he was meeting Captain America. At which point Steve had blushed the way only a twenty-something could and told him thanks, it was nice to meet him too because he’d heard a lot about him from Tony, which had made Rhodey almost have a heart attack because Steve was wearing jeans and tennis shoes and a t-shirt Clint had given him that had the Ghostbusters logo on it and he was really, really not looking like a national icon right at that moment. Tony had slapped Rhodey on the back, grinning. “Yeah, Pepper finally smacked that reaction out of me. You did realize Captain America was just the character he played for the USO, right? Steve Rogers is an art student who joined the Army, he’s just a regular guy when he’s not in uniform.”

Steve had lit up with the most honestly grateful grin Tony had ever seen, which hit him even harder than it did Rhodey. Who had risen to the occasion like he usually did, relaxed and grinned and held out his hand. “I’m even more pleased to meet you, then, Steve; I’m a regular guy when I’m not in uniform, too.”

Rhodey, Tony reflected as he watched the two soldiers – both his friends – settle in to become friends with each other, had never had a problem seeing people for who they really were and just accepting them that way. Pepper hadn’t ever had a problem doing that either, in fact, and it was a trait Tony was sometimes guilty of taking for granted. Now that he was on the giving instead of the receiving end, though…well, he was learning.