Romantic pairings in this work include Tony/Pepper and Clint/Coulson, but they're not the main focus of the story.

"Agent Romanov." Nick Fury acknowledged the woman who had silently entered his office.

"Waiting for Psych to clear Barton is pointless," she answered, without preamble.

"He's been bullshitting Psych since the day he got here."

"Which is why they won't believe a word he says now."

"He hasn't requested to return to the field."

"Being on the Helicarrier isn't helping. The people here, they saw him kill their friends, their colleagues. Even the ones who know exactly why it happened can't help making a face or standing a little stiffly when he walks by. He's got good eyes, sir. You can't think he doesn't notice."

Fury nodded silently.

"And he spends a lot of time at the spot where Coulson was murdered."

Fury didn't react to that statement at all. Instead he said, "Bio-engineering still hasn't come up with a way to test for lingering magical influence."

"No one's come up with a way to test for lingering KGB influence. You still put me in the field."

"I! AM! IRON MAN! Nyah-nuh nyah-nuh nyah-nuh-nuh-nuh nyah-nyah-nyah."

Pepper hid her face behind her menu. They were in the far corner of the restaurant, but drawing attention was Tony's specialty. Also, she didn't particularly like Black Sabbath.

"I nuked space. I actually nuked space. Do you realize how awesome that is?"

"Does Iron Man know what he's going to order?"

"Iron Man does know, because Iron Man always knows. Incidentally, Iron Man will be referring to himself solely in the third person from now on."

"Iron Man will be doing so from the sofa."

"Tony Stark is sorry." He made puppy dog eyes. "Although, Pepper, that's not really a good threat. I mean, even with the damage, there's still about 6 functional bedrooms up there, 8 if you don't mind a nice cross breeze. So I really wouldn't be sleeping on the couch, is what I'm saying."

"Have you heard back from Steve?"

"I may not have actually messaged him yet." He raised his hands to shield himself from her disapproving look. "It's awkward, Pepper. I mean, he's him and I'm me."

"I thought you were Iron Man."

"I'm really getting mixed messages from you this morning."

"How about Dr. Banner?"

"Yeah, he's game as long as I'll meet him someplace besides New York City. I suggested Tokyo and he managed to glare at me over the phone. I don't know how you do that in general, but it's even more impressive since he's living in a cave in the Yukon or Antartica or the Sahara or something, I wasn't really paying attention. I wonder if I could talk him into bringing me a penguin. The point is, I want to know who he's getting his cell phone reception from and I think we should buy them out."

Steve Rogers was strongly considering dyeing his hair. He was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, but he still kept getting recognized. He was just here to help clear rubble; the heroic rescues had all been finished days ago.

He knew his clothes weren't really quite right, that he still looked pretty old fashioned, even without suspenders. Maybe if he wore something more standard, he'd stick out less. It couldn't be that hard to match what most people were wearing, but he really hated clothes shopping, always had.

He looked up at what remained of the Stark Industries tower. It still offended him on an architectural level, though not on a personal one, not anymore.

"Oh my god, are you-?" A passing woman gaped at him.

"I'm just a soldier, ma'am." It was the truth. He tried not to lie point-blank, but avoiding the uncomfortable attention was worth being a little deceptive.

"Oh." She blushed. "You just, you look a lot like-"

Steve shrugged. It wasn't technically a lie.

"Well, it's…um, it's so kind of you to give your time."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Steve, because that was the polite thing to say. But really, all he had was time; giving it away was almost a meaningless gesture, like a grain of sand from a man who owns a beach. Seventy years wasted, frozen in the sea. And now, now he really had no work, nothing to accomplish, just endless time and nothing to do with it. He had money, enough to live comfortably. First, SHIELD had claimed it was his 'back pay' but Steve pointed out that he was hardly working as a soldier while he was frozen. Then they'd put him on salary as a 'consultant' despite the fact that Steve was hardly qualified to consult on modern technology and politics. Finally, they had just told him that the money would be there in his bank account whether he liked it or not.

So he didn't need to work.

Except he really, really needed to work. If this Avengers business had taught him anything, it was that having a mission, having a battle made the world seem right again.

Clint Barton sat on the port side of the Helicarrier, his legs hanging over the side. He was looking down through a pair of high tech binoculars, an egg in his hand.

Natasha watched him perch that way, perfectly still, for almost fifteen minutes before she spoke. "What are you looking for?"


She sat down next to him, cross legged, a few inches back from the edge. "There's going to be a memorial service for all of the agents who…it's on Thursday. It's up to you if you want to come."

"Who notified Coulson's family?"


Clint opened his hand and let the egg drop. It was almost a minute before he let out a satisfied whoop. "Some asshole is going to have a hell of a story about his commute."

This was how conversations with Barton went. Natasha was used to his resistance to serious topics. "You sitting on the ledge out here isn't really reassuring Psych."

"Eh, they've always had it in for me."

She took pity on him and changed the subject. "So how exactly do you remember Budapest?"


"You said we remember it differently. I remember a horde of scaly dog-beasts climbing out of the sewers."

"Yeah, we agree on that part. It's the part where you broke my arm that's always been a sticking point."

"I didn't break your arm, I straightened it."

"Arms are supposed to bend. That's what elbows are for."

"Yes, but your shoulder was knocked out of the socket and you couldn't hold your bow properly unless your elbow stayed straight."

"Yeah, you remember that as really clever. I remember that as really painful."

"I remember that you wanted to keep one of the subterranean demon dogs as a pet."

"No, see, you're completely twisting the story. It wasn't a demon dog, it was more of a hellfire puppy larva."

"Good pets do not have a larval form."

"I need to borrow your login. They've shut me out of medical records."

"They'll recover or they won't, Clint. It was Loki, not you."

"That's not what I-" Hawkeye sighed. "Phil would have followed up on his agents, but I'm not Phil. I have other plans."

"Don't have plans. Your plans are awful."

"Hand me another egg."