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Crimson & Clover

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"I cannot believe this," Alice groaned, throwing aside the third and last pair of pantyhose she had tried on. "They can’t be all torn." 

Maybe I should wear pants, she thought to herself.

She waded through the piles of clothing on her bedroom floor and pried open the closet door, only to be impeded from opening it further or even closing it completely. Upon closer inspection, she discovered one of her blouses had gotten stuck under the edge.

"Dammit," she whispered. She knelt to try and clear a path.

"TWENTY MINUTES TIL GO TIME, BABE!" she heard from the other room.

"ZEKE, I NEED HELP!" she called back.

Her fiancé peeked his head in the bedroom door, his short black hair still wet from his shower. White button-down and black slacks on, he was looping his tie around his neck. He entered the room and studied her, brow knitted. 

"Well, I won't lie, Stark will definitely hire you if you walk in like that." He gestured to her 'outfit': a grey camisole and white panties. 

She smirked and shook her head."No, really, what am I gonna do? All my pantyhose ripped. Should I go with pants?" she asked desperately, her Southern accent getting thicker the more upset she became. Zeke crossed the room to the mirror and began tying his tie.

"Well, you could go sans pantyhose…" he trailed off, "or you could go back in time and trim your toenails so you don't shred your nylons with your wildcat claws," he teased, a smirk forming on his face.

Alice glared at him, hands on her hips.

He formed a claw with his free hand, and growled softly, imitating a wildcat.

She pursed her lips and squinted up at him. Standing at over 6 feet, he towered over her 5 foot nothing frame.

"Actual help or input would be nice. I haven't shaved my legs, so I can't go without pantyhose, lest someone mistake me for a Sasquatch."

He chuckled at that. "I reckon where you're going, they wouldn't find that unusual," he drawled, his own Southern upbringing bubbling brightly to the surface. He tightened the tie, measuring the ends; he still wasn't good at tying one, even after 4 years of working for SHIELD and wearing one on each of those working days. Alice stepped in to help him fix it. "You could fulfill every single fantasy I've ever had, and wear thigh highs," he waggled his eyebrows comically while looking directly over her head at his reflection. She crinkled her nose.

"I wanted the pantyhose because they were control top." She tightened the knot and stepped back so he could admire it. "They would help hide my belly." She turned to the side and stuck her stomach out, rubbing it for emphasis.

"What belly?" asked Zeke, meeting her eyes in the mirror. She turned to walk away, but he grabbed her hand and slid to his knees in front of her. He wrapped his long arms around her waist, resting his head on her stomach. "This belly? This one here?" He placed a kiss right above her navel. "Hon, your tummy's so flat, I could balance a bowling ball on it." He smiled up at her, his crooked smile never failed to melt her heart. It widened to a full toothy grin, his blue eyes sparkling. He abruptly blew a raspberry on her stomach and laughed when she pushed him back onto the floor.

`"Way to ruin the moment, jack-ass," she said, smiling despite herself. "Fine, thigh-highs it is. Gird your loins," she smirked.

He scoffed, "Gird yours, darlin', and promise me you won't take them off until I come home this evening." He flashed his most debonair smile and waggled his eyebrows again.

She walked over to the dresser, rolling her eyes at him in the mirror. "No promises, I hate these things."

She fished a pair out of the top drawer, checking them to be sure they were a match. She slowly rolled them up her legs, being careful so they didn't suffer the same fate as the discarded nylons in the corner. She took out her new skirt, pencil, charcoal grey and her green cap-sleeve button up. Her new "professional clothes".

They weren't really her style, she had a more neo-bohemian/hippie thing going on, but since she'd come to New York, she'd dulled it down to jeans and a bright flowing skirt here and there. Zeke had convinced her to drop it altogether for this interview since he was convinced that her 'juvenile' style decisions were what was holding her back. She was inclined to agree with him. If for no reason other than it was the only opinion she'd asked for.

"There," she said, looking at her reflection in the mirror. She grabbed the black heels she planned to wear, making her way out of the bedroom and into the bathroom.

"Hair up, or down?" she asked, gesturing to her wavy auburn tresses, which hung midway down her back.

"Up, definitely, looks more professional," Zeke conceded.

"Yeah," Alice agreed.

Personally, she liked it down, but this was a new beginning. She was 25 years old, dammit. She'd been out in the workforce for 4 years. She needed to start dressing for success or she'd never have it.

She closed the bathroom door to finish her preparations. She brushed out her hair and twisted it up into a French knot. It was the only up-do she could accomplish alone. Other than a bun, and that was more librarian than she was willing to go. She secured it with a comb and curled the few tendrils that escaped with her finger.

Alright, she thought, now make-up.

Powder on her pale, freckled skin, followed by eyeliner, mascara and a touch of eye shadow. Purple, to complement her green eyes. Finally, she applied a dab of clear lip gloss.

She inspected her reflection in the full-length bathroom mirror. She sighed. She looked like a little girl playing dress-up. The skirt was tailored, so it fit nicely, but the whole outfit was too confining, it made her stand differently. Wearing her hair up gave her face a pinched look. The heels were a mistake, she could tell that now, but she didn't have anything else to wear, nothing that would work with the skirt. She was altogether too clumsy to be allowed to wear heels this high.

"Done," she called. "Time?" She opened the bathroom door, walking into the living room. She placed her reading glasses in their case and tucked them away in her messenger bag.

"6 minutes," answered Zeke. "Want me to drive you?"

"No, I'd rather be alive for the interview." She paused. "What's the complete job title again? I need to know exactly what I'm applying for."

"Um…Public Liaison/Personal Assistant…" he muttered the last part.

"What?!" Alice exclaimed. "Why didn't I know about the assistant part of that title?"

"Al, I only left it out because I knew you wouldn't go for it if you knew," Zeke said apologetically.

"You're damn right I wouldn't!" she retorted. "What, so I'll be a glorified receptionist? I'm glad you told me before I got to the interview and made a fool of myself thinking I was applying for a PR position."

"C'mon, Al…I went through a LOT to get you this interview. It's more pay, better benefits, great connections, even you have to admit the perks are better," he pleaded.

She flattened her lips into a line and sighed, slipping on her shoes, "Yes, I'll admit that the perks are better, but it's STILL the same job I've had for the past 4 years."

"Well, at least we know you can do it," he chided. "4 years of experience, you're practically a pro!"

Alice ignored the last statement and spun around, wobbling slightly on the heels. "Okay, well, how do I look? Professional? Intelligent?"

Zeke looked her up and down. "You look like a sexy librarian."

She blinked twice. "Thanks for the objectification."

"What?" he pouted, "It's a compliment! You're hot! VERY Professional. Aren't you glad you listened to me about that skirt?"

"I guess so, it's definitely more…tight than any of my others…" she tugged up on the waist.

"Your others make you look like a hippie. A hairy-pits hippie."

"Okay, that's enough . The others made me feel like 'me'. This one just makes me feel…uptight. Like a wedgie waiting to happen..."

"Professional women are uptight."

" I’m not uptight."

"No, but you could act like it sometimes. You're awesome and wonderful and 'not like all the other girls' and all that…but…that's not going to make you successful. Changing yourself slightly…that's what everyone does. You're just lucky it's so slight."

Alice sighed and kissed him on the cheek. "Love you."

"Me too, babe." He placed a peck on her lips.

She walked to the door, grabbing her keys off the side table as she left.

She walked down the carpeted hallway to the elevator. She hurried as fast as her 4-inch heels would allow. She mashed the button on the elevator multiple times. She absently wondered why people did this kind of thing; it didn't seem to be hurrying the elevator along at all. She mentally shrugged and continued to mash the button as hard and fast as she could. When the doors finally opened, she hit the 'L' button for Lobby.

Once on the ground floor, she resumed her quick pace past the mailboxes, her heels clicking on the tiled floor. She exited her building, nodded to the doorman, and raised her hand for a taxi. She'd briefly entertained the thought of walking to Stark Tower but dismissed the idea just as quickly. As clumsy as she was prone to be, she didn't need to be tempting the fates any more than usual. Especially today.

A cab pulled up and she got in.

"Stark — Avengers Tower," she said, still not really used to calling it that.

The cab driver reset the counter and they were off.

"Job Interview?" asked the driver jovially.

"Yeah, how'd you know?" she asked, smiling.

"Oh, I dunno, you just look nervous. Hopeful. That's usually how people look when they're on their way to interview for their dream job," the cabbie replied.

"I don't know about 'dream job', but it's a different job.”

The driver looked at her in the rearview mirror. "Hey, working at Avengers Tower would be a dream job for a lot of people."

"I suppose it would be and if I'd gotten this interview 4 years ago, I might be more excited. As it is, I thought I was moving on, moving up, but it turns out I'm moving sideways, know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I getcha.”

She suddenly felt embarrassed, complaining about a cushy desk job to someone who drove cabs for a living.

There was an awkward silence for the rest of the 20 odd minute ride. A short trip for NYC. At least this job would be closer to home than her previous one was.

An apartment in the Upper West Side was not cheap, so truth be told, Alice was hoping for a successful interview. She and Zeke split everything down the middle and he made considerably more than her, being an agent of SHIELD.

That was as much as she knew about his job, though. He worked long days, longer nights and sometimes didn't come home for days at a time. There was never a warning, never a sign that he'd be away. She'd just taken to good faith that he'd always find his way back to her, even though it still made her nervous.

She checked her make-up in her compact mirror, made sure she had copies of her resume in her bag and cleaned a fresh scuff off her new shoes.

"Well, here you are," said the driver.

She took out her wallet and paid him. "Keep the change," she said, tipping him graciously as if that would make up for her faux pas earlier.

She turned and stepped up onto the sidewalk in front of Avengers Tower, looking up…and up…and up.  This building is MASSIVE. She chuckled to herself. Tony Stark. Overcompensating, much?

She trained her gaze back down to the front entrance, focusing on the doors leading to the atrium and lobby.

Great. Revolving doors, my old friends.

She was suddenly sent back to her very first experience with revolving doors. Picture a Tiny Alice, only 4 years old. She got stuck in one for 5 minutes before her grandfather rescued her. She smiled fondly at the memory.

She thought about what Grandpa would say. He was so disappointed when she'd dropped out of the music program in college. But, Zeke was right, she'd been big shit back in Southmeade, TN, but once she stepped into the college environment, she was one of a million. PR and management was the best route for her. She'd excelled quickly.

Never mind that she'd had to give up a dream job in LA to come to New York with Zeke. Her current job at the publishing firm left much to be desired. She'd worked her ass off to see others promoted before her. Stark Industries would definitely be a step up if she got hired.

She started working her way towards the revolving doors and saw, much to her delight, a set of normal doors to the side. She smiled; her day was starting to look up already. She walked inside.

Remembering the instructions Zeke had given her, she crossed the lobby to the reception desk. She smiled warmly at the receptionist, a brown-haired man, impeccably groomed. "Alice Vorso, for Virginia Potts."

The receptionist was in the middle of stirring his coffee. "What time is your appointment, sweetie?" he asked brightly.

"9:30," she replied.

"Okay, you're a little early, but I'll call up and see if she's ready for you."

"Thank you," she said cordially.

She walked over to one of the armchairs nearby and perched on the edge of it, messenger bag in her lap. She looked it over, wishing she'd cleaned it up a bit. It was the same brown leather bag she'd gotten for a going away gift when she moved to New York. Looking around the posh lobby, it seemed sparsely decorated for the lobby of such an important building.

"Ms. Vorso?" the receptionist called. Alice stood up and straightened her bag, walking over to the desk. "Ms. Potts will see you now. Just follow this gentleman here and he'll escort you up to the office suites," the receptionist gestured to the foreboding figure approaching the desk.

He had short dark hair and wore the stereotypical black suit, black tie, and dark sunglasses. "Really, Johnson? Where's your name tag?" He gestured to the receptionist's shirt.

"Sorry, Mr. Hogan, I forgot again."

'Mr. Hogan' puffed and shook his head. "This way, ma'am, follow me," he directed towards Alice. He set a quick pace. "Hogan, Head of Security," he nodded curtly, clearly not expecting a reply. She supplied one anyway.

"Pleased to meet you."

This man demanded respect in his very stance. He stalked to the elevators, placed his thumb on the pad outside of one. The doors opened, they went inside and the doors shut again.

"Identify yourselves," a voice said, it sounded male. And British.

"JARVIS, it's Hogan," said Hogan. He looked expectantly at her.

"Oh! Um…Alice Vorso," she squeaked, looking around.

"Ms. Potts is expecting you, Ms. Vorso," said the voice.

Alice felt the elevator start to move. She took several deep breaths to calm herself. She snuck a quick peek at Hogan, who was standing stoically, unmoving. She cut her eyes back front and fiddled with the strap on her bag. The elevator dinged.

"Office Suites," the voice said. "Good luck, Ms. Vorso."

"Thank you…?" She faltered, unsure of how to address the disembodied British voice.

"JARVIS," supplied Hogan.

"Thank you, JARVIS," she replied.

The doors opened, Hogan exited first and turned to the left. Alice followed. Hogan walked to the end of the hall, where there was a set of double glass doors. He opened one for her and followed her inside. 

There was a large waiting area with black leather couches and a desk off to the right side. There was a large glass office on the opposite wall. Seated at the desk was a slender redhead, who was talking on the phone. She chewed on the end of a pen before scribbling something down on the pad in front of her. 

As Hogan led Alice towards the desk, the redhead looked up and smiled warmly. She held up one finger, asking them silently to wait. Hogan stopped just short of the desk, and in her zeal to inspect the waiting area of the office, she ran into his back. He turned his head to the side, stifling a chuckle. Embarrassed, she backed up and looked at her shoes. Her face grew hot.

The redhead ended her phone call and made one more note on the pad. She stood up, smiling, and extended her hand towards Alice.

"Julia Morgan. Current assistant and public liaison to the C.E.O."

She took her hand. "Alice Vorso, applicant for assistant and public liaison to the C.E.O."

Julia chuckled, "I'll go tell Ms. Potts that you're here. We'll both be interviewing you today if that's alright." It was a statement, not a question.

Like I have a choice in the matter , she thought.

"If you'll just have a seat here, "Julia said to Alice and then turned towards Hogan, "and that's all we needed, Happy. Thank you."

"Don't mention it, Ms. Morgan," Hogan replied, turning to leave.

Happy?! She thought incredulously.

She went to sit on one of the chairs but she'd barely seated herself before Julia was back.

"We're ready for you, Ms. Vorso."

Alice got up again and straightened her skirt, smoothing out the creases. She followed Julia into the big glass office. Another slender redhead sat behind the desk inside, her hair was more strawberry blonde than bright red like Julia's, though. So many redheads.

Wow. So, Tony Stark definitely has a type. I guess that's a good thing for me?

The woman behind the desk stood, she was tall, almost a head taller than herself. She smiled and extended her hand.

"Virginia Potts, C.E.O of Stark Industries. You can call me Pepper, everyone does."

"Alice Vorso, Ms. Potts, I'm pleased to meet you."

"Please, Alice, call me Pepper." Pepper walked out from behind the desk and went over to a cluster of chairs on the right-hand side of the office. Julia followed. She walked over too, noting that Pepper was barefoot and still a head taller than herself, who was wearing heels.

Good grief, the woman's an Amazon. If she fell down, she'd be halfway home.

Alice sat in an unoccupied chair, crossing her feet at the ankles and turning her knees to the side, just like her Grams taught her. She pulled her messenger bag into her lap and took out a folder. It contained several copies of her résumé and a few memo samples, as well as cover letters if they asked for them.

Pepper began speaking, "I know you've probably heard that this job is for Mr. Stark's assistant, but the official job title is 'assistant and public liaison to the C.E.O of Stark Industries', which is me. I hope that's not too shocking," she smiled.

"Oh, that's completely fine," said Alice. "To tell you the truth, the thought of working for Mr. Stark is intimidating."

Pepper laughed and exchanged a look with Julia.

The rest of the interview was pretty routine. They were impressed with her resume and her memo samples. Julia seemed blunt and straight-forward. She contrasted well with Pepper's polite honesty. Julia was also loud, where Pepper was quiet.

"Did you find your way here easily, Alice?" asked Pepper.

"Oh, yes. I don't live far from here, it was only a twenty-minute cab ride."

Pepper smiled, "Well, you shouldn't have to take a cab every day when you start working here, we'll send a driver."

"Oh, that's not necess — " Alice trailed off. "Excuse me, did you say WHEN I start working here?" she asked, trying (and failing) to keep her voice level. Pepper and Julia grinned simultaneously.

"I'm so excited to have you work with me!" Pepper exclaimed. "Of course, it's not a done deal yet, even though you'll technically be my assistant, you'll be working closely with Mr. Stark as well. So, he has requested, nay, DEMANDED, that he be a part of the hiring process." She looked over to Julia who was biting her lip to keep from laughing.

"Don't look so worried," Julia chided. "Out of all the people who have met Tony Stark, MOST of them survived. "

As if on cue, the doors to the office swung open.

"Jules, why aren't you at your desk? Your smiling face is what I live for," said Tony Stark, strutting into the office like he owned the place…well, he did own the place, so it was understandable.

Pepper stood up.

"We're interviewing my new assistant, we just need the go-ahead to hire her," she informed him.

Alice stood, her folder fell open and papers flew everywhere.  "Shit," she whispered through clenched teeth.

Tony chuckled. "You picked a real winner." He knelt to gather some of her papers. He shuffled through them to find her resume. "Thanks, sweetheart, saves me the trouble of telling you I don't like being handed things." He let the rest of the papers fall back to the ground as he stood up.

"Tony…" Pepper sighed, as she and Julia rushed to help her.

"Vorso…Vorso, Vorso…" said Tony. "Is this the chick whose boyfriend got her the interview?"

"SHIELD Agent Ezekiel Powell recommended her, but her resume stood out above all the other applicants," answered Pepper.

Alice took a deep breath.  "My personal life is none of your business, the only thing you should be concerned with is my professional life, which is more than adequate for this job."

"Nice accent…Mississippi?" Tony asked, bemused.

"Tennessee…but that's not…"

"Tennessee? Well, Lord have mercy, we've got a real southern belle on our hands." He drawled in a poorly executed southern accent.

"Sir…" she intoned, trying to regain control of the situation.

"Pepper, I don't know, do we really need to hire Delta Burke?"

"Tony, Delta Burke was from Florida, and Designing Women was set in Atlanta," corrected Jules, winking at Alice.

"Well, there's no one famous from Tennessee."

"June Carter Cash…Minnie Pearl…Dixie Carter…"supplied Jules.

"Dixie Carter! I don't know if we need to hire Dixie Carter."

She ignored him, barreling forward, stubborn to a fault. "My personal life doesn't affect my professional life at all. It's true that my FIANCE got me the interview, but I hope to be hired purely based on my professional skill set, which to reiterate, is more than adequate. And since you've broached the subject, where I am from should have no bearing on whether or not I am hired. It's just geography."

Her mouth was a thin line, her green eyes flashed and unshed tears gathered in the corners against her will. She raised her chin defiantly, just as her knees started wobbling, she sat down quickly in the chair. Damnit…I locked my knees…she thought miserably, flexing her feet.

"And…I've lost interest," Tony shrugged. He turned to leave. "Hire her. I like her. She's saucy. Just remind her to breathe. And remind me to 'never cross a Sugarbaker woman!'" he laughed at his own joke. "JARVIS, is Bruce back yet?"

The voice returned, "No sir, Dr. Banner sent word that he won't be returning for at least another month."

"Well, I'm shooting back to L.A for a while. Break her in for me, Pepper." He turned and winked at Alice over his shoulder.

Pepper excused herself politely before proceeding to berate Tony on his "deplorable manners."

"What's a 'Sugarbaker woman'?" asked Alice exasperatedly, after they had left. .

Julia laughed. "It's from 'Designing Women, didn't you ever watch that show?"

"Nope." She deadpanned, shaking her head. "We didn't have T.V." 

The other woman giggled.

Alice frowned, trying to appear puzzled.

"Oh, you're serious? I'm so sorry," Julia started backtracking like crazy.

"No, we had T.V. I'm just yankin' ya." Alice winked at her. "I never watched Designing Women, though, I mostly watched NBC sitcoms. That was the only channel we could pick up besides PBS."

Julia peered at her, questioningly.

"That, I'm being serious about," She smiled with a deep chuckle. "Now, I have pretty much every channel under the sun, and I still don't watch any of them.” 

Julia laughed, "To be perfectly honest, I barely have time. I DVR everything and watch it all at once on my day off."

"So…what's Mr. Stark's deal? Was he making fun of me? I couldn't tell."

"That's Tony. You get used to him."

Alice snorted, "Maybe I don't want to get used to it. Is this job really worth it?"

The other woman smiled. "Yes", she said simply. "Wait in here until Pepper returns. Make yourself at home. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Water?"

"Tea would be great, thank you, Ms. Morgan."

"Jules, please. We're going to be around each other non-stop once you start training."

" If I start training," she corrected. "When would that be, hypothetically?"

"Pepper will tell you when she gets back," Jules started to leave. "Oh! Also, how do you take your tea?"

"Milk and sugar," replied Alice. "Thank you."

"It's a pleasure and of course, a one-time thing. Once we're colleagues, get your own damn tea," Jules winked and turned to glide out of the office.

Alice was too wound up to sit down, so she walked the perimeter of the office and looked at the artwork. Jules left her tea by the door. She walked over to get her mug and the door to the office opened, Pepper rejoined her.

"Congrats on getting the job!" exclaimed Pepper. "So, it's already almost 11; I was going to take Jules out to lunch at 12:30, and she and I would love for you to join us." She continued, "After lunch, you can start shadowing Jules. For now, you'll need to get a name tag, and…"

"Wait…" she interrupted. "I'm sorry, but I haven't accepted the job offer yet."

Pepper smiled, "I apologize; I got ahead of myself…did you need to look at the benefits package again?”

"Well, there's the issue of my current job. I haven't quit or even given notice yet.”

"Oh, don't worry about that, we'll take care of it."

"What about my experience there? I was there for 4 years and I'd like to keep them as a reference."

"Again, no worries. If you ever leave us here at Stark Industries, you will have a glowing recommendation. So, without further adieu, I would like to formally offer you this job, Alice."

Alice thought about it. She knew the perks were better and there was the promise of moving up in the company; whereas, her current job held no such promise. Of course, she'd have to put up with Tony, but she'd mostly be working with Pepper. Yes, the benefits definitely outweighed the negatives.

"Okay. Yes, I accept."

"GREAT!" exclaimed Pepper. She motioned for Alice to follow her as she exited the office and walked over to Jules' desk. "Lunch at 12:30, but first things first, you need to go down to security to get a name tag/badge/thing, and to get your fingerprints scanned into the system. You will also need to sign some forms for legal and payroll. We'll start you off shadowing Jules after lunch. So exciting!" she reiterated. "Jules, can you call someone to escort her around and input her info for Jarvis, so she can use the elevators?" With that, Pepper walked back into her office.

Jules was on the phone, so Alice waited patiently. "Okay…" she said, hanging up the phone. "Happy says to just send you down to security."

"How do I get to security?" she asked.

"I'll take you down there myself; I need to get another copy made of my ID. New-ish policy. Total joke, the only one who makes a big deal out of it is Happy."

Jules stood and started to leave the waiting area. Alice followed.

"Um…can I ask? Why is he called Happy?"

"It's a nickname from his boxing days. He never smiled," grinned Jules, as they walked down the hall to the elevators.

"I thought it might be something like that," exclaimed Alice, "Like how sometimes the really tall guy is called Tiny?"

Jules snorted as she pressed her thumb to the pad on the elevator. "It's exactly like that."

"State your name," said JARVIS.

"Julia Morgan."  She looked over at Alice expectantly.

"Alice Vorso."

"Wonderful. To the ground floor, ladies?" asked JARVIS.

"Yes, thank you," replied Jules.

"What is JARVIS?" asked Alice.

"Just a Rather Very Intelligent System," replied Jules.

"What?" asked Alice, confused.

"I'm Mr. Stark's A.I.," replied JARVIS.

"Oh, your name is an acronym! Like the TARDIS!" exclaimed Alice.

"Quite. Except I, unfortunately, am not bigger on the inside," lamented JARVIS.

"Well, I still think you're amazing, nonetheless," said Alice reassuringly.

"Thank you, Ms. Vorso," said JARVIS, "Ground floor, Lobby & Atrium, Security." The elevator doors opened.

"Thank you!" chimed both women as they exited the elevator. They turned to the left and started down the hall.

"After this, Happy will escort you to legal, and then to payroll. After that, just find any elevator with a fingerprint scanner and ask JARVIS to take you to the office suites. Only elevators with fingerprint scanners can take you to the upper floors," explained Jules.

"I would think there would be tighter security than just fingerprint scanners," said Alice.

"Fingerprint scanners get you into the elevator. JARVIS runs the elevator. If JARVIS don't know you, JARVIS don't move," explained Jules.

She opened a door to their right. There was a tall counter that ran the length on the room; there were lots of CCTV feeds along the back wall, and quite a few security employees watching them. Jules addressed the guy behind the desk. He looked to be around the same age as Jules and herself.

"Thomas, is Happy around?" asked Jules.

"Yeah."

Jules waited impatiently, "Could you tell him we're here?"

"A 'please' here and there never killed anyone," chided Thomas.

"Mine might," she replied dryly.

Thomas noisily pushed his chair back and walked down the hall behind the counter. Alice looked at Jules and raised her eyebrows.

"We went on a couple of dates, but it never clicked…well, it clicked for him, not for me, he bears a grudge, I guess," she shrugged, "But, it's all an adventure, am I right?"

Alice shrugged, "I wouldn't know, I met my fiancé during my freshman year of college, and there's never been anyone else."

"Oh, well, that's great too!" gushed Jules. "Never had your heart broken, you've got someone you can depend on AND, you're way ahead of the rest of us schmucks trying to grab around in the dark to find someone we have anything in common with."

Alice smiled. "Yeah, it's pretty nice."

"He's an agent of SHIELD, right? What did you say his name is?"

"Ezekiel Powell. Zeke."

"I don't know him, but that doesn't mean anything other than I've never worked with him before," Jules smiled brightly. Just then, Thomas came back with Happy.

"Alright, here's your replacement badge, Ms. Morgan."

"Happy, call me Jules, we've known each other for 4 years!"

Happy raised an eyebrow and pressed his lips into a line. "Please try not to lose it again, Ms. Morgan."

Thomas snickered.

"Something funny, Riley?" Happy asked.

"No, sir." The other man’s smirk disappeared.

"Just because Ms. Morgan turned you down for a third date doesn't give you the right to act like a jack-ass, now shape up. Empty the trashcans." Happy nodded towards Jules. "Ms. Morgan"

Jules nodded, arching her eyebrow, "Mr. HOGAN." She turned to leave, winking at Alice. Happy watched her leave the room.

"Mr…Hogan?" she ventured quietly.

"Ms. Vorso! Congratulations on your new job!" he said loudly, overcompensating for the fact that he was watching Jules walk away. "If you'll follow me, I'll get you set up." He lifted the counter at the hinge and gestured to Alice.

"Thank you," she said as she followed him down the hall.

Outfitted with her shiny new security badge, fresh from signing piles of forms and non-disclosure agreements and with her direct deposit all set up, she pressed her thumb to a fingerprint scanner outside an elevator. She boarded and stated her name for JARVIS, excited to be using it alone for the first time. Once up in the office suites, she met up with Pepper and Jules, ready for lunch and to start her training.