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If anyone were to ask any of the Avengers: Tony Stark was an awesome landlord.

No, really. Tony was sure if any idiot got past the Tower's bio-thermal scanners, laser triggered hallways, retina readers, and the arrow firing ranges (Clint's idea. Pepper nixed his catapult suggestion. Spoilsport.) to ask any of them, he or she would agree.

It wasn't just the fact the Avengers each got a floor to themselves, free room and board (okay, maybe not free but SHIELD could always expense it out as a couple of rolls of million dollar toilet paper) and a kick ass training room (because no, he is not flying to the Helicarrier to run laps around some track like an armored greyhound). It also wasn't because the security here was far better than the Helicarrier because—seriously?—an arrow almost took out the 155,000 ton ship. Tony's brain still hurt trying to figure out the engineering WTF logistics over that one.

No, those were minor—albeit equally amazing—reasons why Tony Stark made for a great landlord. No, as the unofficial landlord of the Avengers (trademark pending, copyright reserved), Tony knew how to leave them alone.

After Loki's epic "Oh my Gods, I was adopted. I have issues" tantrum and the unexpected move from Malibu to Manhattan, the Avengers had trickled in, settling into the partially finished floors Tony designed. And at no time whatsoever did Tony harass them, intrude into their meals, or invade (no pun intended) their space. He was a team player when needed, whenever a supervillian decided it was therapeutic to work out his frustrations on the city, or whenever Dr. Doom decided getting repeatedly defeated by the Fantastic Four was passé. When it was time for the Avengers to assemble, he assembled. Team player. Yay.

Tony knew when to back off when Iron Man wasn't needed. Anyway, there was too much to do: too many incompetent construction workers to fire, too many concrete floors to jackhammer through to deal with team-building meetings, "Hey, Tony, we're getting pizza", quirky circuitry, funerals of people he should know, suit modifications, or airless constellation-filled dreams wanted to take from his time.

Besides, he can't help it if his eating times didn't coincide with their quaint "three square meals a day" regimen. And it's merely a coincidence that each time he went for coffee, a protein shake, protein bar, or coffee coffee coffee that no one was around. Better this way; no awkward "Oh, that's right, you live here, too, hey" or obligatory good-for-camaraderie conversations, because awkward makes for awkward which makes for bad Avengers assembling.

A lifetime of boarding schools, nannies, and revolving door dates taught Tony that most people found even limited exposure to Tony Stark hazardous to their mental health. Not even dear old mom and dad could keep up with Tony's pachinko of a mind and found they could be better parents from a distance, their affections paid out in personal checks and trust funds.

With the exception of Jarvis and Hogan, but that's because they were paid (or programmed). Oh, and Pep and Rhodey, but that's because they're weird.

Too much exposure to people, "friends" (industrial espionage spies), paparazzi, avuncular pals who put contracts out on you and made grabby hands with arc reactors was bad for Tony's well-being and binary happy place. So you know what? Fine. He'll leave them alone and he's pretty sure they're happy to return the favor. Not a tragedy.

In conclusion: Tony? Best. Landlord. Ever.

A spark bit his fingers as he poked and prodded the innards of the EMP canceller he was making out of the casing of the DVR. It had pissed him off because its idiotic circuits decided to record thirty hours of Rachel Ray instead of Sugar Ray's classic fights and if he was going to dismantle it anyway, might as well make it into something useful.

Locked in his basement workshop, holding a blowtorch in his left hand, the other taking the coffee Dummy just passed him, humming the equation for the pulse frequency to AC/DC's High Voltage, Tony nodded absently when JARVIS squawked.

Wait. What? JARVIS does not squawk.

"Sir, we have a guest."

His shoulders tensed because someone (Steve) probably again felt obligated to come down here to make sure he was alive and not nodding off with a soldering iron in his hand. (Okay, it happened once. Once. ...All right, maybe twice.)

Tony pasted on a grin, was two syllables short of a polite yet insistent "Get the hell out. Uh. Please?" when he looked up.

Tony blinked.

Agent Coulson, first-name-really-Phil, blinked back.

So, of course, Tony threw his coffee at him.

Vaulting behind his workstation, he glared at the blowtorch still in his grasp. Great. He'd meant to throw what had been in his left hand.

Breathing hard, Tony dropped the torch and tried to gauge how fast he could reach one of his suits. When he didn't like his estimations, Tony hollered "JARVIS!"

JARVIS didn't reply. Override? Possession? Great, he may have a HAL 2000 in his hands. Or a Christine. Is JARVIS going to spit out motor oil and spin gears now? Is he going to need Bruce to do an electronic exorcism? What's Latin for "FUBAR"?

"I knew I should have built that proton accelerator," muttered Tony.

"I'm not dead, Stark." Coulson's usual bland tone was creepier attached to his ghostly self.

"That's what they all say," Tony shouted back over his workbench. He peered under. Huh. Polished black shoes. Wow, so much for dying with your boots on. You ended up stuck in them forever.

"And you've encountered enough ghosts to comfortably make that into a statement?"

Tony arched an eyebrow as he sat there, his station against his back, Butterfingers winching toward him with almost puppy-like curiosity, and his heart thumping painfully against his reactor.

"You're supposed to be dead!" Tony hollered over his workstation even as he reached out a blind hand, slapping around the floor for anything useful. Candy wrapper? No. Ruler? No. Screwdriver? Could be more sonic. Scalp—a scalpel? What the hell was a scalpel doing here?

"Seriously, we did the whole flag folding, the eulogy circuit, and wake thing!" Well, they did. Tony invented a new dual layer, lightweight puncture proof Kevlar vest within three days in Coulson's honor. He was going to call it mithril until Pep pointed out they'll probably get sued by the Tolkien estate.

There was a cuff of a well-heeled shoe against concrete: the Coulson's equivalent of "Aw gosh, shucks, I'm sorry I made people eat stale pigs-in-a-blanket at my wake."

"Fury," Coulson finally said stiffly as if the answer was pried out of him with a crowbar.

Tony stilled. "Fury?"


Yea, okay, that made a hell of a lot of sense. God damn, secretive pirate wannabe—

"You all needed a push."

Tony clenched his jaw. Someone needed a push. Preferably off his landing pad. He got up on one knee and glowered over the edge of his workbench.

"So you're not dead?" he ventured.

"No. Although..." Coulson's eyes shifted to the side. Tony tamped down the kneejerk reaction to bolt. Because shifty eye spies meant "Holy shit, look out!" in his experience.

Coulson coughed, cleared his throat and seriously, the urge to suit up and evacuate the city was overwhelming.

"I could use your assistance in telling the others." Coulson clasped his hands behind his back and looked like he would rather stay dead.

Tony narrowed his eyes as he slowly stood up. "You want my help telling the others you pulled a Tony Danza on them?"

"I was thinking Mark Twain."

"If we were still in the nineteenth century maybe." Tony pursed his lips. "Blue Mountain didn't have any e-cards that say 'Sorry for pretending I was six feet under'? You could add an Amazon gift card in it to ease their pain."

A silent look replied.

Tony threw up a hand. "Fine. Why me?"

Coulson's eyes flicked left and right around the workshop. When they landed on the couch and the blanket on it, his mouth flattened before a deliberately bland look settled on his face.

"Thought you could use the fresh air, Stark."

Tony narrowed his stare at him. "Everyone's inside the Tower."

"Close enough."

Tony set his mouth.

"Heard you made a new armor in my honor." Another mouth twitch. Coulson was forgetting his Vulcan training. "I'm touched."

"Don't be. I'm making a killing," Tony muttered.

"I heard you charged SHIELD a dollar."

Tony bristled. "What happened to 'need to know'?"

"Director Fury thought I needed to know."

Tony grunted. He considered the discarded blowtorch on the floor. He wanted to throw it on principle.

Coulson straightened and met Tony's gaze. "I am honored, Stark."

"Fantastic. My life is complete." Tony heaved a sigh. He stared at Coulson up and down, counted the limbs, checked for any new glowing chest accessories, and got the total of "Okay, not so dead after all."

Coulson offered a shoulder shrug and gestured toward his chest. "Came close, but no."

The modified arc reactor didn't seem to sit so heavily against his ribs today. Tony's mouth crooked to a smirk. "Can I see your scar?"

Coulson was reassuringly nonplussed when he promptly said, "No."

Tony rolled his eyes and started walking. He snapped his fingers at Coulson, who scowled briefly before he followed, as if that was what he intended to do all along.

"You do know what Fury did with your cards, right?" Tony tossed over his shoulder as they entered his private elevator.

Coulson didn't say anything but the twitch at the corner of his eye pretty much said it all.


In hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to let Bruce know first.

Bruce had squinted myopically up from his spectrometer when Tony bounced into his lab and sing-songed "Look what followed me home. Can we keep him?"

There had been a moment of silence. Understandable. Bruce and Coulson didn't have quality time together or, you know, had held Tony hostage in his Malibu mansion until the particle accelerator was built. But, yea, there had been a deficit of bonding time between them.

So when Bruce just stared at Coulson, Tony waited.

In hindsight (yea, yea, he knows), Tony probably should have hit the panic button.

Because Bruce's eyes had widened, his mouth dropped open...

Then promptly Sybilled out into the big guy, tore up the anchored down titanium lab table, threw it on the wall behind Tony, stomped on the ion-stabilizing charger Tony built after Bruce feebly denied wanting one, punched a hole in the triple reinforced walls (Bruce insisted and, when Tony had scoffed, he'd narced to Pep and then Farmer's Insurance insisted), left Hulk-sized bunny tracks all over the concrete floor before he ate every. Goddamn. Test. Tube.

And then, the sprinklers went off.

Tony sat there, cross-legged inside one of the foot depressions. Hulk, grunting and snorting but cowed when Coulson pointed a finger at him, then stuck out a green paw bigger than his helmet to umbrella Tony as the sprinklers merrily spit fire suppression chemicals over their heads.

"Well," Coulson commented evenly, "that could have gone better."

Tony stared at a Hulk fist-shaped hole in his ceiling. Then, he dragged his glare to Coulson because he refused to turn it on the big guy. Because it wasn't not-so-Jolly Green Giant's fault.

"We couldn't have just texted everybody?" Tony grated out. "Or changed your Facebook status?"

"Wet," belched Hulk and began to shrink. Great, now Tony was wet, sitting with a perplexed and naked Bruce gaping at Coulson, who managed to still look dry because he probably Scotchgarded his body on a daily basis.

"Agent Coulson." Bruce managed to sound Kwai Chang Caine-Zen despite having no pants. "You're alive. That's good."

"One down, Stark." Coulson pulled out a tiny Moleskine and made a notation in it. Why couldn't the big guy have eaten that?

"Only millions of dollars of damage more to go," muttered Tony. Coulson's lucky he was disgustingly, obscenely rich.

"Uh, Tony...why is it raining in here?"


Telling Thor wasn't that much better.

"Son of Coul! You have arisen triumphant from battle!"

"No! Thor! Put him down! No squishing Agent Lazarus!"


Telling Clint was worse.

Tony had located him (JARVIS told him, no, he didn't GPS them; he'd promised Pep.) contemplating the archery range, twirling an arrow like a baton. He stood on a stool, balanced on the balls of his feet, mouth set, eyes unreadable behind those purple Ray-Bans of his. Clint was in one of his brooding moods again, usually triggered off by—who the hell knows? Getting his mind whammied then unscrambled by Natasha's punch pretty much guaranteed every moment was not going to be a Hallmark moment.

Everything was still a landmine with Clint. He returned to the Tower after whatever mission he went off after Manhattan. He moved in with a grimace, little sleep, and a mercurial mood that made Bruce look like a social butterfly in comparison. Broody McBroodyson was enough to make even the God of Thunder look hunted when he'd been found perched somewhere nearby. Last thing Clint needed was Tony poking sticks at him. Literally and figuratively. Tony didn't want to get the Captain America's Scowl of Disapproval. SI's stocks might drop a few points or get its listing booted off NASDAQ.

Tony made sure to back off on those rare times he's run into Clint. Dr. Phil, he wasn't. Tony knew that. He made sure the archery range stay updated, loaded with the latest simulations, and that the small fridge tucked under the munitions cabinet stayed stocked. The archer secretly has a fondness for peanut brittle from a shop run by a matronly woman down South that he'd known from his childhood in the circus.

"Look who's finally lurched out from the bowels of Stark Tower," Clint drawled. He didn't turn around but acknowledged Tony with a tip of a quiver over his shoulder. "Tony Stark, the walking dead."

"Speaking of dead," Tony said brightly, "guess who isn't?" He stepped aside to reveal Coulson, standing at attention, hands to his sides.

"Agent Barton," Coulson said.

Clint stared.

"It's good to see you have recovered from your ordeal with…" Coulson caught Tony's wince and changed gears. He cleared his throat. "I see you have moved into the Tower."

Still staring. Tony was tempted to wave a hand in front of him to see if maybe he fell asleep.

Coulson touched his tie briefly. "Although, with your relocation, I would need you to fill out the XR2—"

"You bastard."

"No, no, no, no, no—Clint, put that down! Those are the charged quivers I made you!"

"I spoke at your memorial service!"

After that, Tony's insurance agent stopped taking his calls. And the wiring on that floor never again worked right. And the holes on the wall were asymmetrical in shape, which drove Tony nuts.

There were days Tony hated his life. And then there were days (today) where Tony. Hated. His. Life.


After all the grief the others gave Tony, Natasha's reaction was anti-climatic.

The common area and its attached communal kitchen felt like the last bits of civilization. Or at the very least, still had electricity and none of its plumbing ripped out.

"I heard Agent Barton's eulogy was...moving."

Tony raised his aching head from his hands. He glared at Coulson and his stupid black tie and idiotic black suit and his ridiculous Moleskine notebook. Black, of course.

"I'm sure the damage to the range is only cosmetic." Coulson brushed off invisible lint from a sleeve. He only looked singed around the edges. Hm, charges in the arrows weren't strong enough then. Maybe add an intermittent pulse to the signal to boost the—

"Barton was understandably upset." Coulson was staring at Tony with unblinking eyes. It was unnerving. "It's been a hard few weeks."

Tony snorted. "You could say that. He went Manchurian Candidate on SHIELD, you played possum so we could play kumbaya on Loki and I played the role of Dr. Strangelove for the benefit of all mankind, or at least Manhattan. I think all of us could get away with being understandably psychotic."

"Actually," Coulson blandly corrected him. "Dr. Strangelove was the title of the movie. Major Kong was the one who rode the bomb."

Tony scowled at him. "I suffocated in space. That gives me the right to make my own analogies." He slumped back into the couch. They had stumbled into the living area to wait for Coulson's suit to stop smoldering. He dropped his head back and blinked at the ceiling empty of constellations. When did he get this couch? It was a nice couch. Nice boring, plush, warm...

With a jerk, Tony roused himself. He must have only dozed off for only a few seconds because he could barely taste the metallic tang of stale air trapped within his helmet. The chill of space slipped off his skin almost immediately.

Breathing raggedly, Tony waited until it felt like his modified arc reactor was no longer trying to vibrate loose out of his chest. Damn it. He should have been done with all this. He scrubbed his face with his hands, sucked in a breath deep enough to feel in his gut. He could sense Coulson studying him from across the couch.

"All right," Tony said too loudly. "Who's left on the calling list?"

Coulson pursed his mouth but said nothing. He glanced at something past Tony's shoulder.

Silent as a cat, Natasha padded barefoot into the area. She walked, or maybe that should be floated, past the couch, around the dining table, before standing in front of the fridge.

Tony clutched one armrest, ready to vault behind the furniture.

Natasha pulled the fridge door, stuck her head inside, and straightened with a yogurt in hand. Not noticing (or not caring) Tony staring at her, Natasha stuck a spoon in it. She paused.

"Fury?" she asked no one particular.

"Fury," Coulson confirmed sotto voce.

Natasha hummed, ate a spoonful of yogurt before adding, "The bastard."

"Debriefing's 0800 tomorrow," Coulson told her.

Natasha made a sound that could be agreement or a countdown to when she peeled them like a grape. She walked, toe to heel across the room, gave Tony's hair a ruffle (and arrhythmia for a good long minute) as she passed.

"Nice of you to show your face, Stark," Natasha cast over her shoulder as she left the room.

"That's it?" Tony twisted around to scowl at her back. "You're not even going to try and steal a kidney from him?" He stared at the space where Natasha was. He swiveled back to Coulson.

"I guess this means all we have to do now is let Captain Rogers know," Coulson declared. He snapped his small notebook shut.

Tony sank back down to the couch.

"Great," Tony mumbled. "This should be fun."


Tony could see it now on TMZ:

"Tony Stark made Captain America cry! We so saw this sudden but inevitable betrayal coming!"

Harvey Levin probably has the title on a notepad file, waiting for the day he could do some quaint cut-and-pasting the moment he gets wind of it.

This was going to be a PR nightmare. It always was, no matter how good Pepper waved her immaculately manicured hands or how well-intentioned Tony tried to be. Anything that was screwed up or unacceptable was always associated with Tony Stark.

Anything remotely heroic, like say, stopping a giant robotic praying mantis from gnawing all the treetops off in Central Park (Loki didn't have a monopoly on issues) or distracting a dinosaur from stomping all over a school yard by offering it a shiny red and gold chew toy, was associated with Iron Man.

So this? Standing in front of Steve's door with a not-so-dead-Coulson next to him? Bad idea.

Tony abruptly pivoted to look at Coulson. He was busy tweaking his tie, which was Coulson's equivalent of nerves.

"Look," Tony began. He screwed up his face, rebooted what he was going to say and tried again. "You don't want me here for this." He gestured between him and the door. "Cap and I...someone else should be doing this with you. What about Romanov? She seemed okay."

"Agent Romanov was upset," Coulson disagreed, his voice mild as he reviewed whatever he scribbled in his notebook. "She was seething with anger."

Tony stopped short. "Seething?"

"Seething." Coulson cleared his throat. "She barely restrained herself."

Frowning, Tony mentally played back that day's happenings. "How can you tell?"

"The yogurt," Coulson said sagely.

Tony folded his arms in front of him. "The yogurt?" he repeated. He raised an eyebrow. "Is that a euphemism for some creepy, assassin spy thing?"

Coulson stared back at him expressionless. Which Tony figured meant, "Hell, yes."

Finger pointing to Steve's door, Tony made a face. "Look, Rogers is the all American Boy Scout, genetically predisposed to save kittens and butterflies, and frown on jaywalking. Disney looks like a twenty-five cent peep show next to this guy. Barton got him upset when he told him he never believed in Santa Claus. And he's still 'disappointed' at me for throwing out half of a sandwich." The thing was the size of his head and Steve had insisted on giving it to him at noon for lunch, which was irritating because he'd been guilted into eating the breakfast Bruce had made just barely four hours before. What the hell? At this rate, he wasn't going to fit into the armor without a shoe horn.

Tony made a sound at Coulson's unimpressed face. "God! Trust me, the last person you want is me telling him he was Punk'd."

"I thought you two had settled your differences?"

"How did yo—don't tell me...Fury?" It seems to be Fury was the catchall response today, SHIELD's Ctrl, Alt, Delete to anything screwy.

"We've..." Tony rolled a few words over in his mind, discarding each one. "...come to an understanding." Like alien invasions bad; shawarma good. Everything long they didn't talk about his father, his wealth, his views, the way he fights, his—well, everything Captain America stands for and Tony does not, and so long Steve stopped trying to apologize for whatever it was he felt he needed to apologize for (he probably ate the last cookie or something equally horrible), they were all right.

"Then it should be fine," Coulson said, but Tony heard the question mark anyway. "I'm glad the team is coming together."

The scoff came out before Tony could stop himself. "We're doing fine. We're all under one roof, aren't we? There are dinners; I think there are even movie nights."

"You don't know for sure?" For some reason Coulson didn't look pleased, not that spies' facial expressions vary much. Maybe they were fed Botox in-between their "How to Kill With A Pinky" classes. Shrewd eyes scanned the hallway they stood. "Director Fury thought it must be going well if the Tower was still standing."

"It's still standing because I built an awesome tower." And despite aliens using it like an antenna to another universe. It was one good thing they could attach to him. Tony Stark: builder of awesome towers. "But that doesn't make it a good idea for me to break the news to your defrosted American icon."

Tony folded his arms in front of him; usually that was enough to tell people the conversation was over.

"I still don't see why you telling the Captain is a bad idea."

Apparently Coulson's Universal Translator wasn't working.

Tony huffed. Fine. It didn't matter what happens because it'll be on him anyway. He narrowed his eyes at the door, curled up a fist and knocked.

No one was home.

"Son of a bitch."


JARVIS, having recovered from its shock over Coulson (his AI defragged himself twice before determining his CPUs weren't compromised), informed them Steve was in the training room.

Tony should have taken the opportunity to compose what he was going to say.

Tony should have kept trying to convince Coulson to say it himself.

Tony should have taken the chance to make a tiny robot on wheels, stick a Post-it Note on it that says "Look, he's not dead! Yay!" and program it to go into the training room.

Instead, Tony stormed in, got in-between Steve and the punching bag (probably a bad move, yea, most likely), pointed to Coulson and declared, "It was Fury's idea."

Steve paused, mid-strike, lowered his fists, and slowly turned toward Coulson. He blinked.

"Captain." Coulson stood stiff with his hands clasped behind his back. "Director Fury regrets the...misunderstanding."

"No, he doesn't," muttered Tony.

Coulson ignored him and continued, "I confess I did play a minor part in this."

"More like eighty perce—What?" Tony bristled at the sideways look Coulson gave him. He rolled his eyes. "Cap, just bestow him your 'I'm very disappointed in you' lecture, he'll fling himself at your feet for mercy and I can go back to my workshop and..." Wait, what had he been doing? " stuff," Tony finished lamely. It felt important at the time. He was talking to Pep yesterday and she had asked if he'd ever called Coulson's cellist in Portland, but of course Tony hadn't, because he needed to finish what he was doing, busy, busy, busy and besides, why couldn't Pep find someone to do it, someone who didn't have board members bitching about their future shares, one-eyed grumpy directors insisting on psych evaluations and debriefings and superheroes obsessed with eating around a table?

Steve studied Coulson as if he had x-ray vision and was checking if Coulson was really Coulson and not a cyborg. (Which would have been cool and hysterical if he had came back from the dead, wearing dorky sunglasses and intoning "I'm back," but no, Tony is never that lucky.)

After a moment, a second before Tony was sure he was going to see some unmanly begging for forgiveness that may or may not show up on YouTube, Steve's mouth spread into a broad smile. He clapped Coulson soundly on the shoulder.

"It's good to see you're okay, Agent Coulson," Steve rumbled. "Tony was pretty upset."

"That's it? No lectures on how they sho—Wait a minute. I was upset?" Tony sputtered. Since when this was about him—all right, most of the time it is or at least it should be but wait, what, no. "I'm not the one who tore up a multi-million dollar lab because he said 'boo.'"

"I didn't say 'Bo—'"

"And," Tony said louder, "I didn't try to hug him so hard that his suit actually wrinkled."

"It might have creased a littl—"

"And," Tony cut in forcefully. He shot Coulson a scowl. "I didn't try to ventilate him or..." Tony nodded to Coulson and lowered his voice.

Steve obediently tipped his head closer.

"...get out the yogurt."

Steve screwed up his face. "Yogurt? that a code word?"

Tony gestured toward Coulson and if there was any reported hand flapping, you're a vicious lying liar. "I don't even know his first name!"

"I thought it was 'Agent,'" Coulson remarked dryly. He was unmoved when Tony glowered at him. Laser vision. He needed to develop laser vision.

"I..." Tony sucked in his breath. "I was not upset. I am probably the only one in this building right now not having an emotional crisis and a candidate for gossip in tomorrow's Page Six!" He waved toward the ceiling. Again, with no hand flapping, so shut up. "Even JARVIS was having a blue screen of death moment!"

"But I feel much better now, sir," JARVIS interjected, sounding smug right down to his microchips.

"You didn't go to his funeral," Steve pointed out.

Tony stared. "Newsflash, Cap. Nine out of ten people say I'm a self-obsessed bastard." Nine out of ten still thought he was the Merchant of Death, too, but that went without saying. "Besides, I was busy."

"Busy making the Coulson hi-density under armor," Coulson said matter-of-factly.

Tony clenched his jaw. "SI is still under a defense contract. That was defensive, ergo, I was contracted to do it."

"You kept yourself in the workshop a lot since you came back from Malibu," Steve added.

Tony rolled his eyes. "I like my workshop." It has machines and electricity and science!

"You could come out sometimes," Coulson argued, because, of course Coulson would gang up with Steve. He was probably thinking up a secret handshake to share with his bestest of best buddies right now.

"I do!" Tony jabbed a finger on Steve's chest.

Steve blinked down at it.

"I don't live down there. I do come out. It's not my fault these guys keep weird hours." June Cleaver here had a thing for meals at eight, noon, and six. What was up with that?

Steve has the nerve to pat Tony on the shoulder. "It's okay, Tony. I understand. I mourned Agent Coulson's death myself."

Coulson fidgeted. "Yes, well..." He cleared his throat. "I'm honored, Captain, that you were upset over my supposed demise. Of course, I don't mean I was glad you were upset, but—"

"Oh God, will you get it over with and swoon already?" Tony grumbled. He glared at Steve, who looked like he was about to pat Tony on the back now.

Steve wisely lowered his hand.

"We're glad you're alive," Steve told Coulson. He was oozing sincerity, like radioactive levels, poring over with the stuff.

Tony bristled when Steve turned to him, smiling.


"Glad you're alive, too." Steve's clap on his back staggered Tony forward a step. Show off. Not everyone drank the super-soldier Kool-Aid.

"Yes, yes, I'm glad I'm alive, too," Tony grumbled. He clapped his hands together. "Well, this has been excruciatingly not fun. I'll leave you two to wallow in your Hallmark reunion. Try not to look directly into the camera lens, it'll look posed. I—"

"It gives me a chance to apologize for misjudging you," Steve added. Cheating bastard got it out before Tony could make his exit (escape). "I'm grateful Agent Coulson here convinced you to come out of your workshop."

Steve nodded to Coulson.

Coulson squirmed and, Jesus, Tony was waiting for the fanboy hilarity to start but no, SHIELD trained the fun out of their people. Coulson recovered and solemnly nodded back.

"You can call me Phil," he muttered.

Steve beamed like he was in a toothpaste commercial. Tony was getting cavities from all this sap.

"Okay, fine." Tony rolled his eyes. "Coulson is alive. This is me, being ecstatic. See?" He indicated to his scowling face with a finger. "And I'm out of my workshop. Yippee. Let's hear it for—" Tony's eyes slid over. "I don't have to call you Phil now, do I?"

"You can call me Agent," Phil suggested.

"Great. Fine. Agent it is. It's a thing now." Tony crossed his arms. "Why do I get this feeling this was all some elaborate plan?"

Phil and Steve exchanged a look.

Tony stiffened. "It was, wasn't it?" Son of a…

"Director Fury may have forwarded some of the Captain's concerns about your...isolation to my hospital room." Phil smoothed down his tie.

Steve's brow furrowed. "Should you still be in the hospital?"

Phil carefully shrugged a shoulder. "On paper, I am." He eyed Tony with an indecipherable look. "The doctors do recommend some occasional fresh air."

Perplexed, Steve looked around the gym. "We're inside the Tower."

"That's what I said!" Tony burst out. "But instead, I get dragged out of my workshop to play telephone with undead-Coulson here."

"Ah." Steve grinned. "Good job, Phil."

Phil nodded minutely, as if to himself. Tony suspected if Phil hadn't had his emotions trained out of him, he would preen. "I thought so."

Tony squinted an eye at the two. If he could cast a pox on their house or whatever, he would. Maybe he'll just hack their phones and set their ringtones to the Hamster Dance or Happy Frog. Maybe a remix loop of both.

"Fine. Your evil plan worked," Tony declared. Suddenly, inspiration struck. He grinned. "Wait. There's one more person who needs to be informed of your resurrection." Tony waited because he loved a dramatic pause.

"You need to tell Pepper."

The panic on Phil and Steve's faces was darkly satisfying.