This started out as a one-shot, but I think it might turn into a series of sorts... perhaps an exploration of how everyone's favorite SHIELD agent's tragic end effected our intrepid heroes? Yes, perhaps. The title certainly suggests that, doesn't it?

Anyways, to start with, Tony reminiscences and takes stock of his life, still managing to make someone else's death all about him, because that's just how he rolls (as the kids say. Or used to say. Do they still say that? Geez, I feel old...). I have a tendency to be overly sympathetic with his various faults, so I apologize if that bothers you. I did try my best to keep him in character at least.

I am certainly not in possession of anything even remotely resembling the rights to Avengers and all the related stuff. I'm not sure who is, but whoever they are, Tony and Phil and anyone else mentioned are theirs. Just borrowing them for my own amusement. And hopefully yours.


Tony Stark couldn't remember when exactly he had become such a total narcissist. He supposed there wasn't an exact moment; more probably, it was just the convergence of events in his life that led to him becoming such a complete jerk that he wanted to punch himself in the face sometimes. On the other hand, for all that he was himself, and had always been himself, it was probably his parents' deaths that started it; it was the event by which he judged every other event in his life. All of it ended up being sorted into 'before' and 'after', and after, he had been so alone, so utterly terrified (except no one could ever see that, he had an image to uphold after all), he had pushed everyone away from him. It was an irrational thought, that everyone around him was doomed to die because he was somehow cursed or unlucky, but hey, who really expects rationality from a grieving teenager, even one with such an extraordinarily rational mind as Anthony Stark? And then, once the sharp, searing pain of loss began to fade to a dull ache, he found he enjoyed the solitude. He enjoyed being left alone. Fewer expectations, fewer responsibilities when you were left all alone. No one to disappoint but yourself, and no more broken hearts if he buried his in concrete and tried to forget it existed.

But that hadn't lasted nearly as long as he liked; in the end, the kindness of a stranger took a bulldozer to his heart's concrete prison, opened him up for all the world to see, and he didn't like it. He didn't like being vulnerable; he hid it well, but he was immensely uncomfortable with the fact that his life now depended on this little machine in his chest, absolutely hated that every single time it stopped working, even for a few seconds, every time he had to take it out to change the cores, or do minor maintenance, he was just that much closer to death. Suddenly, he was dying by nanometers; suddenly, he felt like the world was out to get him in a way he had never felt before.

So he turned the metaphorical armor he'd worn most of his life into real armor, so he would never have to feel vulnerable again; he wrapped himself in a metal suit in the hopes that no one else would ever hurt him, and amidst all of his selfish fears, he discovered a way that he could somehow try and make right all of the horrors that had been, ultimately, his fault. Agent Romanoff wasn't the only one with red in her ledger. He hadn't gone into this trying to be a hero; he had just been doing what he thought was right, what he felt he owed to the victims of his misused weapons. And maybe Cap had a point, maybe he was an unreasonably-selfish ass, but he did care, and he did genuinely want to help.

But now, everything had changed; now, another friend who didn't deserve it had ended up dead.

If Yinsen's death had torn him up, this was worse; not because somehow he felt like he should have been able to stop it (he knew he couldn't have), but because it wasn't just someone he had known for a few days in a cave in Afghanistan. It was not just an alliance born of desperation and a mutual enemy. Coulson was... well, he was Coulson, first name Agent. Irritating, idiotic Coulson, with his cliched Men in Black act, and his stupid sunglasses, always running around doing Fury's bidding, who was willing to speak his mind and stand up to the arrogant jackasses of the world. Coulson who had somehow become best buddies with Pepper (he still wasn't sure how that had happened)... God, what was he going to tell Pepper? This was all just… not right. It was not right to think that Coulson would never again evade his high tech security measures and come sauntering in with that self-satisfied little smirk on his face. It was not right to think that he would never try and boss Tony around again, however ineffectual it had always been. It was absolutely not right that Coulson would never be able to take him up on his offer to fly him out to see his lady friend in Portland. But it didn't matter how wrong it was, because it had happened, it was happening, and for all of his genius, and all of his billions, there was not a single thing he could do to stop it. Tony Stark could do a lot of things that most people thought impossible, but turning back time was not one of them.

He felt helpless, and so he reacted the same way he'd reacted before, when he'd rounded the corner in that cave and found his friend dying in a pile of rubble. Yinsen had died for him, and so had Coulson; he had died for all of them, and Tony wasn't sure they could do what he had wanted them to do. "Don't waste your life" he could handle; but take orders from Steve Rogers?

There was a reason he worked alone; there was a reason he didn't have a full-time sidekick. He could barely even handle doing the hero thing with Rhodey, who was probably his oldest and best friend. He just didn't play well with others, and it was a fact he had accepted long ago. Now, they were all expected to get along?


But he would at least try, because Coulson had believed in them, because he had been a friend, no matter what Tony had or would say on the subject, and good man besides; because he was tired of owing debts to dead friends.

But it wasn't just Coulson, or Yinsen; it wasn't just his fear that Pepper or Rhodey or Happy, or anyone else he cared about might be put in danger next. There were bigger things to worry about, and that, perhaps, more than anything else was what finally made him agree.

Because the whole world was at stake, and they were the extraordinary ones. If they couldn't save it, then what was the point of them?

He figured that's probably what Phil would have wanted.

As always, reviews are nice if you feel like leaving one. If not, no biggie, but hopefully you at least enjoyed it.