Work Header

Problem Solved

Work Text:

Allison Clarke looked at the man who was slumped in the chair across from her, frowning. “Dr. Banner, it is only polite to look at the person who is speaking to you.” He jumped, but he did look up at her from under his eyelashes, like a little boy expecting to be yelled at. The HR director allowed herself to roll her eyes. “Dr. Banner, please. We need to discuss this problem, but it is obvious that you are not at fault – SHIELD is. You are an independent contractor for us, yes, but your contract specifies that we are responsible for incidents which occur while you are working under our auspices. This,” she tapped the papers in front of her with a perfectly manicured fingernail, “is a problem we should have solved months ago.” 

He straightened a little in the chair, although he still looked like he was trying not to cringe. “I’ve tried…” 

“I am aware of that,” she told him. “And I have had words with our supply staff; I found their approach to the problem unsatisfactory in the extreme.” 

Bruce shrugged. “If you mean they think it’s funny, yeah, I know that. I might think it was funny too if it wasn’t me it kept happening to.” 

She snorted delicately. “I do not believe that your finding such a situation amusing would have prevented you from attempting to help the afflicted individual solve said situation,” she countered. “But Supply is not your problem, nor should it be – and it will not be again.” 

All right, that had sounded ominous, but it wasn’t directed at him – yet – so Bruce let himself relax a little bit more. He was never quite sure what to make of SHIELD’s HR staff. They were all nice to him, but not in the overly-nice we’re-so-scared-of-you way most everyone else was. Bruce was starting to suspect that they actually kind of liked him, in spite of all the problems the Other Guy caused for SHIELD. Like the current one, which was becoming a recurring non-favorite of his. He ran a frustrated hand through his already messy dark hair. “I know I need to do something to put a stop to that,” this time he waved at the papers, one of which he had just signed for her, “but nothing I’ve tried has worked. The transformation…the Other Guy is just too big.” 

She pursed her lips. “Has Stark Industries attempted to find a solution?” 

This time Bruce was the one who snorted. “Tony’s a genius at inventing things, but only if they involve metal or electricity.” 

Allison nodded. “That is what his CEO communicated to me as well when I spoke with her. She suggested that Dr. Reed Richards might be able to help…” Bruce shook his head. “No?” 

“We’re not allowed to talk to him.” 

One perfectly arched blonde eyebrow went up. “Your contract restricts you from discussing classified information with anyone who does not have security clearance of the appropriate level, but it does not in any way bar you from interacting on either a personal or professional level with anyone you choose to outside of that.” 

Bruce started to get tense again. “That’s not what I was told – have been told, since I got brought here.” 

“And who told you that?” 

Allison’s overly-sweet, chirpy voice gave the question a sort of creepily dangerous-sounding edge that made the hair stand up on the back of Bruce’s neck – and made the Other Guy stir interestedly, which kind of worried him. “Um, Director Fury.” 

“I see.” Still too sweet. “Did he say why?” 

Bruce nodded slowly. “He said we weren’t to interact with the Fantastic Four because they won’t work with SHIELD, so he doesn’t trust them.” He fidgeted. “I don’t agree with his reasoning, but…the one time I asked about asking Dr. Richards for his opinion on something, I was reminded that I like having Fury trust me as much as he does…because him not trusting me could seriously curtail my freedom.” 

Her lips tightened into a thin line. “I see,” she said again. She appeared to think for a moment, and then the anger he was seeing – and that the Other Guy was reacting to – just disappeared. She shook her head. “I will take care of that, Dr. Banner, and I am sorry you were misinformed; this is why it’s always advisable to thoroughly read both your contract and the Employee Handbook, so you understand exactly what your rights and responsibilities are.” Just barely a reprimand, but he nodded quickly anyway and she smiled. “Good. Now with that out of the way, I believe I can solve your other problem fairly easily.” 

She pulled out a sparkly pink cell phone, ignoring the phone on the desk, and dialed a number. After a moment Bruce heard what he thought was a female voice pick up. “Hello Sue,” Allison said. “I hope I’m not…oh good. No, actually I need to set up an appointment with your husband as soon as possible. It’s for one of our contractors, he has a problem I believe Dr. Richards would be able to solve quite easily…yes, it is Dr. Banner. Yes…oh, you saw that? Yes, that is the problem. I know it would be quite a simple matter for Dr. Richards, since he already had to address that issue for himself…Yes, yes, that would be perfect, thank you – and please let him know that I appreciate his willingness to lend his expertise, and that any expense should be billed to Supply and sent to my office. I’ll see that it’s taken care of in a timely manner.” She smiled. “Oh yes, we should do lunch again sometime soon – just let me know when you’re free, I should be able to work it into my schedule so long as nothing attacks the city.” She laughed, and Bruce thought he could hear Sue Storm echo it. “Of course. Thank you, Sue, I’ll talk to you later.” 

And then she was disconnecting and putting the sparkly pink cell phone down. She wrote something on a notepad, tore off the sheet and pushed it across the desk to Bruce. “Dr. Banner, you need to be at the Baxter Building at 2pm sharp this afternoon, you have an appointment with Dr. Richards to discuss your uniform issues. If anyone here at headquarters asks you why you are going out, or where, or attempts to stop you, please refer them to me.” She leaned forward, blue eyes suddenly and almost alarmingly intense. “I want both of you to remember that you work with SHIELD, not for SHIELD,” she said, and Bruce’s brown eyes widened when he realized she was talking to both he and the Other Guy – and that the Other Guy was actually listening. “You have rights, gentlemen, as well as responsibilities, and I expect you to keep both in mind. We will not need to have this conversation again, correct?” 

And damned if the Other Guy didn’t grunt an affirmative at her even as Bruce nodded. Allison smiled at him – or maybe that was at both of them too – and sat back in her chair. “In that case, Dr. Banner, you should probably be going; it is just past one o’clock now. Will you need directions?” 

“I know where the Baxter Building is,” Bruce assured her. “And I’ll refer any questions directly to you.” 

“Good!” The chirp in her voice was back, and it was almost – almost – enough to make him forget that she was more than a little scary. “I’ll look forward to not fielding any more indecent exposure charges on your behalf, then, Doctor.” 

“Yeah, I’ll look forward to that too. It’s been embarrassing, you know?” Bruce stood up, smiling. He was feeling better than he had since he’d started working for…or rather with SHIELD. “Thank you, Ms. Clarke. I really appreciate your help.” 

She waved his thanks off. “That is my job, Doctor. But I am happy our office could straighten things out for you.” The smile became just a little bit hard, maybe even just a little bit predatory. “And don’t worry about the misunderstanding regarding the limits of your contract, it will be addressed today and you shouldn’t have any more problems in that area.” 

“Thanks.” And Bruce got out of there and made tracks back to his room so he could get his jacket, taking a route that he knew Fury wouldn’t be anywhere near. Because he had a feeling that the HR director’s next phone call would be to Fury, and that Fury would probably be heading for HR’s inexplicably maroon-carpeted office right about the same time Bruce was making his way out of SHIELD headquarters to keep his appointment at the Baxter Building. 

Bruce thought about the predatory smile that had been on Allison Clarke’s face when she’d talked about addressing Fury’s ‘misunderstanding’ and decided that he was really, really glad the HR staff kind of liked him…or rather, liked both of them. And the Other Guy, not surprisingly, agreed with him.