Sometimes I write fanfiction instead of studying for the human physiology exam that's on Monday. Also, sometimes I watch Marvel movies after thermodynamics tests for reasons. And I have to say that The Winter Soldier was excellent. I liked it better than Iron Man 3 and Thor 2, which is saying a lot because I loved the other two a lot.

Anyways, on with the show.

Warning: Spoilers.

If Tony Stark had realized what was waiting for him in the lounge, he would have forced Bruce out of the lab and dragged him downstairs with him.

On second thought, scratch that.

Because as of now he didn't yet know who was waiting for him in his lounge. The only information he'd been given, halfway down in the elevator, was from JARVIS that his security systems had been breached, and that there were intruders awaiting him. And really, he liked to think of himself of an optimist (or a slither-outer, as Pepper put it bluntly), and he would rather not have the Hulk smash his tower unnecessarily.

Which didn't mean that he wasn't planning on turning around and nabbing one of his (new) armors. Except that plan went out the window as soon as JARVIS announced that Miss Potts was already on the floor, and, if the intruders were unfriendly, would reach her before he'd even have the chance to suit up.

The last three seconds in the elevator stretched on forever, and as soon as the doors opened with a melancholic ding, he was racing out much faster than anybody who had had open heart surgery within the last year should move. He was an optimist, maybe, and a good many other less complimentary things aside, but he wasn't stupid. He'd seen the news and everything that had gone down at SHIELD, kicked himself thrice over for helping improve the helicarriers, and knew how close he'd come to being an unwitting casualty just because he was a threat.

He skidded the last corner, shoes failing to build up the needed traction and sliding instead into the opposite wall, giving out a cry of surprise as he nearly collapsed into a heap.

"Shhhh!" Pepper glared at him from where she stood behind the couches that had their backs to him. The sight of her immediately calmed his heart, and in approximately 0.4 seconds he changed from 'protect Pepper mode' to 'why is she holding blankets' mode. It took him another three seconds to actually put the thought into words.

In reply, he got another angry shushing, and a pantomime gesture to come see for himself. And quite honestly, he wasn't at all certain what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and some…other guy, crashed on his couch. And honestly, it was kind of cute, like a pile of puppies. Deadly puppies, which was a good bet even for the guy he didn't know, judging from the type of company Rogers and Romanoff tended to keep.

They were rumpled, but in a way that implied a long road trip rather than a world-ending coup of the government's most secret agency. Some part of Tony resented that they slept so easily now, when he still woke up panicking, although not nearly as often.

As if on cue, Romanoff stirred, opening one of her gray-green eyes to examine him. She looked ready to disregard him altogether (rude, much?) but instead sat up, stretched, and kicked Rogers just hard enough to bring him from whatever coma he'd launched himself into.

Before long, there were three bleary-eyed former-soldier-spies sitting on his couch, while Pepper looked on with a worried grace, and Tony crossed his arms across his chest trying very hard to emanate disapproval to a bunch of people that could probably kill him without thinking twice. Romanoff looked coolly rebellious, Steve almost shy, and the other guy just looked at him with his mouth hanging open (which was the appropriate response, thank you very much). But most of all, Tony felt like a he and Pepper were mother-henning a bunch of teenagers who had stayed out overlong and were now coming hungover, with matching tattoos, and police records to match.

"I hope you kids have a good explanation," Tony said, after an awkward silence. And to his horror, Romanoff smirked, leaning back with that air that told him he had already lost whatever argument he was about to begin.

"Steve started it."


"So let me get this straight," Tony said, mind trying to catch up on dozens of facts starting with, Steve's zombie ex-boyfriend to crashing three hellicarriers into the SHIELD capitol in Washington DC to Howard's death was not an accident. (Honestly, he was going to save that last one for later, because if he thought he needed therapy before, man was this one going to screw him over again.) "Hydra was SHIELD, and somehow I missed that!?"

"You?" asked the other dude, Sam, with a raised eyebrow.

"He hacked SHIELD's network back during the Battle for Manhattan." Romanoff explained. Sam was just nodding along, clearly in information overload as it was. But he was managing, which was definitely a lot better than Tony had done the first time he got dragged into this freak show. "Actually, I was going to ask you the same thing, Stark."

"Could have been Zola," Rogers volunteered, "He was one of the masterminds behind this whole thing."

"What, the AI?" scoffed Tony, "Please, JARVIS could have beaten him in everything from weapons maneuvering to chess. Right JARV?"

"I'm afraid my system's information on Zola is incomplete to make this assessment." It was a technical answer, but Tony could almost hear another note in the electronic voice. He almost could have called it…fear.

"So somebody beat you and your dad in tech, big deal Stark," Romanoff put it bluntly.

"No, no, no," Tony snapped back, "Incomplete information does not mean that I was beaten. Besides, that guy, thing, whatever was a dinosaur by the sounds of it. There's no way…" He trailed off, knowing that there were no words he could find to express himself, or hide himself.

"It's not your fault Tony," Steve said, and Tony wondered when they had reached a first-name basis. Still…it wasn't as painful as he thought it would be. But that may have been the overall numbness that had set in so that he could deal with this current situation. "I mean, we were all dragged into this, without seeing. If anybody, Natasha or I should have seen all the signs sooner…"

"Except that there weren't any," Natasha finished. "And ratting out the liars is my line of business. Trust me, I beat the god of lies, remember?"

"But there were signs," Tony argued, "AIM, remember? SHIELD was working with them too. That operation they were running was sketch enough that I was able to find their headquarters by myself. There was no backup or anything, and we were on a national terror alert! And don't try to tell me that all of SHIELD's noninterference was coincidence, because we all know it wasn't. I'll bet that Killian was on Hydra's payroll from Day One."

"You're right," Rogers said, "But it still wasn't your fault."

Some part of Tony's brain registered, briefly, that they were trying to make him feel better. Captain America and the Black Widow were trying to comfort him after surviving hellfire and brimstone in the last month or so. It was so humorous that it made him want to laugh, except that he couldn't right now. Not while he thought of the many innocent lives—SHIELD agents and others—who had died in a crossfire that he would have, could have, should have prevented.

"So what now?" Tony asked, wiping his hand over his face, "Just going to crash at my place? It's not as though we're cramped for space here, and there's a hot tub." He had no idea why he was extending that offer, because to put it lightly, he had 'trust issues'…and while Rogers seemed a pretty straightforward guy, the idea of a superspy like Romanoff would probably reduce his already limited sleep. But for a moment, they all looked as though they were considering it, and in that moment he realized that he desperately wanted them to say yes.

"Sorry," Rogers said at length, "But there's something I need to do."

"Right, right," Tony said, waving off any potential disappointment, "Track down the raccoon with a machine gun, got it. Just know the hot tub is always open…Steve." The name tasted weird in his mouth, but not altogether bad. He shrugged, simply hoping that the man lived long enough that they'd both get used to it.

"That offer stands for me too, right?" interjected Sam, perking up suddenly, "Because I had hoped there was something that you could, you know, build for me."

Tony raised an eyebrow, "Depends."

"Well, it might be too difficult, especially without the previous model."

And Tony knew suddenly that he had underestimated this Sam guy. That he was a lot smarter than he seemed, because dang, if a blow to his ego didn't convince him of anything, nothing else would. Steve and Romanoff (they still weren't first-name there, that one would take a lot of convincing), relaxed as Sam delivered an explanation of the Falcon suit, handing over whatever documents he had on it, and making arrangements to pick it up 'whenever'. Tony, despite himself, was intrigued and almost excited at the prospects of a new project, although the look in Pepper's eyes read 'I will kill you if I see you flying around the tower in that suit.'

And in the end it was…nice. The conversation slowly wound down, ending with Tony offering them private rooms for however long they would need them, and then getting up to leave. Halfway out the door, Tony paused and glanced back.

"By the way, you can tell Nick that the offer I made you guys doesn't stand for him. He can go rent a bloody hotel room."

"Nick Fury is dead," replied Romanoff without hesitating.

Tony snorted. "Right. You can tell that to the ghost that's been hogging my hot tub for the last two days then."