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Moving Day

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Tony Stark was in his workshop when Jarvis abruptly turned off the music he’d been listening to. “Jarvis, what the…” 

“Sir, Ms. Potts is on her way down,” the AI told him. “As per your own instructions, I am to always make sure she does not come upon you unannounced.” 

“Oh, right.” Tony did not quite flinch. He liked being Iron Man, but it hadn’t been very good for him in certain areas – he tended to react pretty violently to being snuck up on now, and after scaring the hell out of both Pepper and himself once when she’d come down to the workshop unannounced, he’d told Jarvis to make sure it never happened again. Of course, Pepper hadn’t come down to the workshop again after that, which he tried really hard not to think about too much; the idea that Pepper was scared of him hurt, it hurt a lot. 

But she was on her way down now, and – he checked his phone – she hadn’t tried to call him first. He stood up. “Something must be really wrong. Jarvis, get the suit warmed up…” 

“No need, sir. Ms. Potts is agitated, but not afraid.” A pause. “She has just asked me if the guest quarters in the Tower are currently livable.” 

“The guest quarters? We have 93 floors, she’s going to have to be more…” Then he got it. “Oh no. Something must be really wrong…” He was already striding across the workshop when the doors opened and Pepper came hurrying in. “What on Earth is going on?” he demanded. “Did SHIELD blow up or something?” 

“Or something,” Pepper told him. She did seem agitated, but not to the degree she would have been if it was a bona-fide Avengers-type problem. “Allison called me, she wants the other Avengers out of SHIELD headquarters today. I told her it wasn’t a problem, but then I realized I didn’t know if you’d ever actually finished those rooms or not…” 

“They’re livable – not customized the way I’d like for them to be, but livable like a hotel room is livable.” Tony frowned. “Why today? What did they do to collectively piss HR off that much, and if they did that why is she letting them live?” 

Pepper smacked him on the arm. “Stop it, Allison is very nice and so is her staff. And the other Avengers didn’t do anything, according to her. She just said they were having contract issues and she needed them all to permanently relocate into a secure location that wasn’t under SHIELD control.” 

“Well, shit. Contract issues? I thought Bruce and I were the only ones who were independent contractors for this…”   

“Yourself, Dr. Banner, and Captain Rogers,” Jarvis corrected. “Captain Rogers only moved back into SHIELD headquarters after his apartment in Brooklyn was rendered unlivable during the initial alien attack on the city. Former Agent Barton…” 

Former?!” 

“…was moved to inactive status following that same incident,” Jarvis continued. “As was former Agent Romanov two months later; the extent of the media coverage during the altercation made her non-viable as an undercover operative, and she was reassigned to internal training operations.” A pause. “They were both removed from SHIELD’s active payroll this morning and put back into the system as independent contractors.” 

Tony frowned. “Do the files say why?” 

Another pause. “My access to SHIELD’s human resources files is limited. Director Clarke has, however, left a message in the system for me stating that if you wish to know details, you will need to request them from the other Avengers.” 

“Who will be here any time now,” Pepper told Tony, pulling him toward his private elevator. “I already told Security to send them up to the penthouse.” 

“Good thinking, that’s one part of the Tower they’ve all already been in.” Tony thought hard all the way up – and it was a long ride, since his workshop was in a sub-basement of the building and the penthouse was at the top. He pulled up schematics on the elevator’s walls a few times, tapping and poking and then telling Jarvis to order things for one room or another. Pepper had already sent someone to make sure the rooms were all supplied with fresh sheets and towels. “Thor?” 

“Not here,” Pepper told him. “He’s back home at the moment, but Allison’s staff sent a message to his girlfriend telling her to have him come straight to the tower when he does come back instead of checking in with SHIELD.” 

“Does Thor have a contract?” 

“No sir,” Jarvis answered. “SHIELD’s records list a unilateral assistance treaty with Prince Thor; he is to be considered an ally only in times of need, and SHIELD resources are not to be used to aid he or any others of his people unless the providing of such aid would be of particular and specific benefit to SHIELD or Earth as a whole.” 

“Ouch.” Tony continued thinking. If the other Avengers hadn’t pissed off HR, then they must have pissed off someone else. Or maybe someone else had pissed off HR, and HR had decided to take that person’s toys away from them as punishment? He started to grin, not able to help himself. It had to be Fury, it just had to be. And if the bastard had been stupid enough to piss off Allison Clarke…well, that was pretty damn stupid, especially for a guy who actually worked with those people in HR every day and knew what they were all capable of. Even Tony kept his mouth in check around the HR office. 

 

Tony and Pepper reached the penthouse just a few minutes before their new houseguests did, and when the elevator opened Tony took one look and shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, tell me there is a moving truck following you with the rest of your stuff, please.” 

The other Avengers looked at each other. Steve Rogers shrugged, dropping the worn army-issue duffle bag he was carrying next to his booted feet, along with the case that had to be holding his shield. “No, what we’ve got is all here – and my bike is parked downstairs. I rode over, everyone else took a cab. I offered to put my bag in the cab and let someone ride with me, but they were all too scared.” 

“For the record, nobody in their right mind rides on the back of your bike a second time,” Clint Barton told him, rolling his eyes. “I almost peed my pants the first time, and I jump off tall things for a living.” 

“He’s right, your enhanced reflexes make you an excellent but hellaciously scary driver, Steve,” Bruce confirmed. 

“And you’ve lived in India, land of insane traffic – how, I don’t know,” was Steve’s response. He smiled an apology at Pepper. “Sorry to barge in on you like this, Ms. Potts, but Allison said she’d checked first and it was okay. She really wanted us out of headquarters.” 

“Yeah, about that – why the rush?” Tony wanted to know. Pepper smacked him. “Hey!” 

“It’s not a problem, Steve – and just call me Pepper. Allison asked me first, she knew we had space set aside for all of you anyway,” Pepper assured him. “We are curious about why she wanted you all to move now, though. She said you’d tell us?” 

“Well…” 

“We kind of had some contract issues,” Bruce told her, smiling when she nodded. “Okay, yeah, that’s probably exactly what Ms. Clarke said too. Specifically, she wasn’t too happy that SHIELD hadn’t been acting in accordance with the terms of our contracts. Steve and I were supposed to be independent contractors, but they were treating us like probationary agents instead.” He sighed. “She was talking to me about my…um, wardrobe issues in the field, she said you suggested that Reed Richards might be able to help?” Pepper nodded. “Thanks for that; he was, and I won’t have to worry about any more indecent exposure charges once he gets my new…um, well…” 

“Mr. Fantastic is makin’ him stretchy underwear, so he and the Big Guy will both stay covered,” Clint supplied helpfully. 

“Yeah, that.” Bruce was blushing. “Anyway, thanks. But when Ms. Clarke asked me about talking to Reed and I told her we’d been forbidden to talk to any of the Fantastic Four, she told me my contract had no such restrictions in it. Then she called up Reed’s wife and sent me over to talk to him, and she said that if anyone at SHIELD had anything to say about it to direct them to her.” He cleared his throat, shifting his own battered knapsack and then setting it down next to Steve’s bag. “So I get over there and I start talking to Reed, and then his brother-in-law walked in and I almost fell out of my chair. He looks just like Steve, and I do mean just like Steve, only shorter. I pulled out a picture to show them what I was talking about, and Reed and Johnny thought it was just as creepy as I did so I called Ms. Clarke and asked her if they had any records of Steve having living relatives, and I told her why I was asking.” 

“So Allison called me, and told me to go meet Bruce at the Baxter Building.” Steve picked up the thread of the narrative with another shrug. “She told me the same thing she’d told him, to not let anyone stop me and to send them to her if they tried. So I go over there, and Bruce was all excited and once they made me stand next to Sue and Johnny it was kind of obvious that we were all related – Sue looks a lot like my mom. So Reed and Bruce disappeared into one of Reed’s labs and started doing things with DNA…” 

“You are so not a scientist,” Bruce mock-complained, rolling his eyes. 

“And after about an hour they came out saying Sue and Johnny are my grandkids,” Steve finished with a grin so happy that Pepper teared up and Tony’s mouth dropped open. “Bruce and I stayed for dinner and met their friend Ben – who is awesome, he was an astronaut – and then Allison texted Bruce and I and told us to come straight to HR when we got back, that we were having ‘contract issues’ and she wanted to discuss them with us before we could be ‘misinformed’ again.” 

“Aw, he remembered the air quotes,” came from Clint, and Steve swatted at him and made him dance out of the way. “Hey, do not damage the archer, man, I am your eyes in the sky.” 

“Thank goodness you don’t need to be my eyes on the back of my bike,” Steve shot right back. “I’d probably have to replace the seat after every ride.” 

Pepper was giggling and swiping at her eyes, and Tony was still in shock. Natasha, who up to this point had stayed out of it, raised an eyebrow at him. “I forgot you have never spent time around the three of them when we are not working,” she said, not quite rolling her eyes. “Some days it is entertaining, some days I consider killing them all.” 

Steve winced. “Sorry, Natasha.” She snorted, and he sighed. “Well, anyway, Bruce had already sent Allison the results of the DNA tests, and I guess she notified Fury about it…” 

“And Fury apparently hit the roof,” Bruce jumped back in. “Turns out he knew all along that Steve was probably related to half of the Fantastic Four –someone was monkeying around with samples from the supersoldier project back in the forties, there are actually records of some of the experiments they did and SHIELD has most of them – but he just didn’t feel like sharing that information. With anyone, ever.” 

“He was holding the information back until he had found a use for it which would benefit him.” Natasha snorted again, tossing her head. “A poorly chosen tactic when everyone involved is a superhero and their pictures are plastered on t-shirts on every streetcorner in the city. Johnny Storm does not even wear a mask, and he still competes in motocross events on a regular basis.” She raised one eyebrow at Steve. “Which means the daredevil tendencies in the riding style must be hereditary, very interesting.” 

Steve stuck his tongue out at her. “Anyway, Ms. Clarke hit the roof even higher than Fury did,” Bruce said, grinning. “SHIELD’s employee regs are kind of flexible in certain areas because of the kind of work SHIELD agents do, but a few of the rules are apparently set in stone and she’s the one who carved them there. She called Fury on violating not just the terms of our contracts but also our personal rights, he tried to say there were no personal rights in war, and she asked him to define exactly who we were at war with, which he of course couldn’t do. Things apparently went downhill from there, because the next thing I knew the four of us were all in HR, Clint and Natasha were signing new contracts, and then the rest of the HR staff personally escorted all of us to our respective rooms to collect our stuff before putting everyone but Steve in a cab and telling us to come straight to the Tower, that you would be expecting us.” 

Steve folded his arms across his chest. He was almost pouting. “Todji is not afraid to ride with me, so there.” 

Bruce and Clint both started to cough, and Natasha snorted. “Todji likes riding with you for reasons which have nothing to do with transportation, Steve.” 

Steve blushed but stood his ground, shaking his head. “Actually, I’m not his type. Men who are as big as I am make him feel like the woman in the relationship, and he doesn’t like that. We’re just friends, and he likes motorcycles. He thinks I’m a great rider.” 

Pepper was still snickering, and she reached over and used one finger to push Tony’s dropped-open mouth closed. “We already had suites set aside in the Tower for all of you,” she said. “They’re a little bare-bones right now, but we can fix that over the next few days while you settle in. When will you have to go check in with SHIELD again?” 

“According to Allison, we’re not supposed to set foot in headquarters unless something happens there that the Avengers are needed for,” Steve told her. “She said she’d keep us posted.” 

“All of my lab data came with me,” Bruce added. “I’ll have to re-create a couple of experiments that couldn’t be moved, but since people kept messing with them in SHIELD’s labs that’s probably for the best.” 

Tony found his voice again. “That happens here, their ass will be fired with extreme prejudice,” he said, scowling. So they’d been trying to make Bruce Hulk-out in the labs, huh? Lovely of them. He cleared his throat. “I’d always intended for all of you to move into the tower, it’ll be more convenient that way for all concerned – except for Fury, of course, and I could really give a shit what he thinks about most things. Meetings, briefings?” he asked Steve. “I know we have them.” 

Steve shrugged. “Teleconferencing. Allison said you’d have a setup for that already.” 

“Several,” Pepper assured him. “We use it all the time.” 

“And I have a conference room just for the Avengers up here already, and it has that capability too,” Tony added. He frowned at their bags again. “Okay, why don’t you pick up your pathetic little bags of stuff and I’ll show you where you’re going to be living from now on. And then we can have dinner and talk about why grownups aren’t supposed to be able to fit all of their worldly possessions into a sack.” Pepper smacked him again. “Stop that, woman! They don’t own anything, they’re letting down capitalism – especially him,” he pointed at Steve, “because he’s Captain America and rampant consumerism is the American Way.” 

This time it was Pepper’s mouth that dropped open. “It’s okay, Pepper,” Steve told her, chuckling. “And we’ll get more stuff, Tony, now that we have a place to put it. I’m already planning to go shopping tomorrow if nobody needs me for anything.” 

Bruce gave him a look. “Going to the art supply store does not count, Steve. He’s talking about furniture and clothes and things.” 

Steve shrugged. “I’ll get that stuff later. I need more pencils, and they have some new pastels that I wanted to try.” 

Bruce rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m not going with you this time; last time you were in there for two hours.” 

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Two hours? Is it a…” 

“It’s ridiculously tiny,” Bruce told him. “It’s a tiny little hole-in-the wall art supply store that’s been there since before he joined the Army – the first half hour was him shopping, the next 90 minutes were him and two other guys and the clerk arguing about perspective and playing with a historical reproduction of a camera lucida that none of them could afford to buy.” He, in turn, raised an eyebrow at Steve. “Go after your morning run? By the time you get back, the rest of us should be up.” 

“I can do that.” Steve seemed to be getting the blush back under control now. “Do I need a pass or something to get in and out of the building, Tony?” 

The other man’s eyes narrowed. “You totally run at the ass-crack of dawn, don’t you?” When Steve gave him a look that said ‘when else?’, Tony rolled his eyes. “Jarvis?” 

“Use the private entrance, Captain,” Jarvis told him. “I will let you out and back in again.” 

“I’ll run with you, Steve.” That came from Clint, and Tony noticed that Bruce didn’t look surprised. “What time do you usually get up, Tony?” 

“What happens if I say noon?” 

Clint chuckled. “I say, ‘It’s good to be the king’.” 

That made Tony grin. “That it is. No running for you, Bruce?” 

Bruce snorted. “The Other Guy runs for both of us.” He shook his head. “We’re probably all going to have some adjusting to do. I went from a shack in India to a closet-sized room in the bowels of SHIELD, Clint’s been living at SHIELD for years when he wasn’t in the field roughing it, and Steve was roughing it in the field before he got his apartment, which he only had for a few weeks before he had to move into the closet down the hall from mine after our first battle. So none of us are used to living in a house anymore, let alone a place like this.”   

For some reason that made Steve wince, and Tony raised an eyebrow. “What?” 

To his amazement, the other man blushed again. “I…what I said that one time…” He huffed out a frustrated sigh and pulled a little spiral notebook out of his back pocket. “Your building’s not ugly, and I’m sorry I said that to you. It’s just…” He flipped through pages until he found what he wanted, and then he held it out for Tony to take. “It may not make sense to you, but from that angle Stark Tower is…well, jarring.” His blush deepened. “And I was kind of over-jarred already at that point.” 

Tony took the notebook, and realized that it wasn’t a notebook at all, it was a sketchpad. And he was looking at a sketch of his building from street-level. The old buildings in front of his tower, framing it, had been captured in loving detail, stone walls and even part of a weathered gargoyle arching off one high-up corner. So yeah, the smooth, clean lines of Stark Tower in the background were sort of jarring when you saw them from that angle. 

And maybe when you just really desperately need to see something that isn’t new and shiny, something that looks like the home you already know you can’t go back to but wish you could anyway. Tony flicked through a few of the other sketches and realized something else. “Hey, you were hanging out practically right in front of…” 

“Before we first met, yeah.” Steve shrugged. “I didn’t feel like I could…well, aside from a one-page dossier SHIELD gave me, you were a complete stranger; you weren’t even a gleam in your dad’s eye when I knew him. And besides, I like the café down there by the cathedral.” 

“He likes the pretty blonde waitress who works there, too,” Clint ratted him out, grinning when Steve scowled at him. “The one who just happened to spot him out of his mask during our first battle and figured out she’d been flirting with Captain America.” 

“She stuck up for him on the news afterwards, too. It’s adorable to watch when the regulars at the café start tease them,” Bruce said. He picked up his bag. And frowned at it. “You know, you’re right – this is pitiful.” 

Tony rolled his eyes. “At least one of you gets it. Shopping, we are going shopping. Tomorrow, after the two crazy running people get back. Want to go see where you live now?” 

“Works for me.” Clint shifted his own bag higher on his shoulder, and picked up the long case that most likely contained his bow. Steve picked his bags back up as well. “Ready when you are, Your Majesty.” 

“Do not start calling him that, please,” Pepper requested. “His ego is too big to fit in some of the rooms as it is.” 

“I get no respect.” Tony herded everyone towards the private elevator, wondering just what he had gotten himself into – or rather, what Allison Clarke had gotten him into – and why Pepper thought it was so damned funny.