Vital Communication Chapter 29

Disclaimer: Still don't own!

Warnings: None that come to mind. More of a filler chapter.

AN: BTW, stuff about the gov't is done as 'guess and by gosh'. Picking likely departments with a potential interest in the team wasn't easy, and I went by their Wikipedia descriptions. If it's wrong, that's on me.


Bruce was still feeling uncomfortable after admitting to the biggest secret to date regarding himself and the Hulk.

Tony got himself seconds and leaned against the same bit of counter Bruce had leaned on. He was actually close enough that Bruce could easily touch him without moving. It reassured him, when, not even two months ago, it would have sent him running away from it all.

When Bruce moved to put his empty plate in the sink, Tony broke the silence.

"So, update on your adventure in DC?"

Steve nodded, finishing off his order of Lo Mein and placing the empty dish on the counter. Bruce quietly put it in the sink to rinse. "Right. We managed to discover a few things, about Ross and the current plans for the Initiative," he said, shifting in his seat.

Natasha fished into one of Clint's vest pockets, withdrawing a USB stick and putting it on the counter before her. "Files are there, the last 10 years of orders for Ross, including Banner's project, and any prospectus regarding the Initiative. The current word on Ross is disavowal. General Cary wants him in custody and seems fine with SHIELD's help."

Clint added, "Joint Chiefs are very interested in the Initiative. Heard that Sec Def is practically foaming at the mouth to try and wrest control of the team from SHIELD and the WSC." He tapped the USB with a stubby, calloused forefinger. "There's a few files on here, detailing the JC's idea of how to 'steal' us."

Tony took the USB and walked to the kitchen entrance where an odd art print hung on the wide arching entrance. The print, an out of place item in his otherwise high end house, hid a computer panel. He pulled the print aside and slotted the USB and called on JARVIS to download the files to both servers and compile the most interesting to read later.

"What about clearing Bruce?" he asked, looking back at Steve.

"We spoke to the Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Defense and the Secretary of Health and Human Services," Steve answered, smoothly rattling off titles he was largely unfamiliar with. Bruce nodded in the background, he realized these were likely the first wave of individuals who could turn things around for him. "Without interviewing Dr. Banner, they are hesitant to say one way or another. And I think there will be a few hurdles before the President even sees the reports I gave them. The Attorney General really wants a meeting."

"That blowhard? Fine," Tony said, aggrieved. It spoke of old history, and not all of it good.

"Tony, I'm not sure your involvement," Steve began.

"JARVIS, call John Seacrest's office and find out when we can," Tony talked right over him, until Bruce turned to look at him. The woebegone look on Bruce's face neatly cut Tony off.

"Do I need a lawyer?" he asked quietly, nervous fingers fiddling with a spoon.

"It's not a bad idea to have one. I can ask Pepper if we have any available to work on this. JARVIS?" Tony recovered and shifted gears. He'd do pretty much anything to make Bruce smile again. And wasn't that something to examine later?

"Request sent to Ms. Potts, sir. Shall I continue the query with the Attorney General?" the AI said.

Tony looked at Bruce, who was looking more nervous and scared every second, and it tightened a knot in his gut. "No, we'll start here and call him in a few days."

Bruce visibly relaxed, the spoon clattering back into the sink. It made the knot in Tony unravel.

"All right, enough of this. Stark, you said you had rooms?" Clint broke the tense silence with an adequate distraction.

Tony snapped back to himself, and responded with his usual sarcasm. "I may even have one or two perches for you, Legolas."

Clint grinned and hopped off the chair. "Lead on!" he challenged.

The others gathered around, bemused. Bruce stayed behind, putting away leftovers and giving the kitchen a once over.

Tin Man help. Fix everything. echoed in his head.

He doesn't need to steamroll over everyone. He replied.

A snort and Tin Man knows only one way. Bull in china shop.

Bruce laughed out loud, surprised by the image that came with that statement. The sound of which drifted up the stairs as the others made their way to the living area.

"JARVIS?" Tony asked, pausing on the stairs.

"Everything is in order, sir. Dr. Banner is fine, and all of my sensors can detect nothing."

"Tell me if it changes," Tony finished leading the others to the top floor.

"Of course sir," the AI replied, then fell silent.

The foursome reached the top floor, and the long hall to either side of the flight of hardwood stairs.

"The two at this end are for Bruce and me," Tony indicated the right side of the hall. "There's a single room, then six on that side." He waved at the rest of the hall. There was just the one door, painted a dark brown, in sight. "There aren't any furnishings. Didn't want to presume. JARVIS has remote access to the rooms, can handle passive scanning. But it's not the level like it is in the Tower. All visual record stops just inside the doors. If you want more or less than that, we can work on it. Remember, we're not relocating here, it's a 'home away from home', for downtime."

Each of the others nodded, accepting the information, before heading down the empty and dark hall. Tony left them to it, going in the opposite direction to see how the new bathrooms were coming along.

The privacy also gave him time to think.

"JARVIS," he called as soon as he entered what would be his room.

"Yes sir."

"Tell me what happened downstairs." He considered it less an invasion of privacy and more an opportunity to keep the team safe. He knew Bruce would feel reassured that Tony kept an eye on him this way.

"According to the new parameters, it appears that Dr. Banner was conversing with the Hulk. The only recorded sign was in the doctor's eyes."

"All right. Do we need to add to the sensor array?" Tony checked out the bathroom as he worked with JARVIS to keep Bruce safe and comfortable. The house was more a getaway than a new base of operations.

Downstairs, Bruce finished in the kitchen and headed for the lab. He had work to do if they were going to repair or upgrade the armor.

The others finished their self-guided tour and chose rooms for themselves. Natasha and Clint picked one large room at the front of the house, and Steve took the one closest to the stairs. They were excitedly discussing possibilities when they met back up with Tony.

Steve garnered everyone's attention. "All right, we obviously can't stay here past tonight. Are we all returning to the Tower?"

"We have to get back to SHIELD, reassignment," Clint reported, eyes shadowed and face closed off when it was previously open and happy. Natasha had become her usual stoic self with this admission. They had yet to reach a decision regarding SHIELD, but they would have to, soon.

"You have positions with SI," Tony leered, getting a glare from Tasha, making him grin. He had an idea they would likely jump from SHIELD, and knew job security would help. They nodded, accepting the offer. Steve had no particular loyalty for SHIELD, outside of being grateful they had recovered him from the Arctic. No one knew how Clint and Natasha would decide their future.

"I will either stay, or go back to the Tower. Depends on Bruce," Tony said, rubbing his hands together.

"How is he doing?" Steve asked the question that was on everyone's mind.

"It's a daily thing. I think everything is a little better out here, but," Tony shrugged

"The deposition went well?" Clint asked. He figured they'd be called next.

"Eh, it was dry and boring, as depositions usually are. Bruce sent in a report of his own. Maybe the police won't need to see him," Tony said, looking at the floor.

"Well, that is the hope. If they need him?" Natasha asked quietly.

"We'll try and hold it in the Tower, just in case. No need to tempt fate," Tony replied. It would have to be good enough for the authorities in charge of the case. Bruce wouldn't want to run the risk of Hulk making an appearance, and Tony knew it would be better to host any interviews involving Bruce where he was the most comfortable. That was either the Tower, or now, the mansion.

Steve and the others soon left to head back to the city. Tony meandered through the house, taking in the changes that had been done, and that which were still to come.


AN: Hi! Still here, just now back from NaNo, and trying to play catch up with all the stories. I've started several more, but you won't see them for awhile. I've also gone and joined a trope-bingo, so I have that to work on before the deadline. Still on a roughly once a month posting cycle. If I write faster, great, I'll post, but nothing I know will speed that up. Cya soon!