Wow. Surprisingly the longest chapter yet. Who knew Fury had so much to say. Read & Review, Comment & Kudos, or just PM me if you've got anything to say :) Happy reading! Update will be soon!

He didn't know what it was until it had his pulse racing so hard against his fingers like a rabid rhythm of angry drumming. Until he could feel his skin shuddering and shivering as goose-bumps crawled along his tired limbs, scratching against the thick leather of his jacket. Until his uncovered dark eye-lid slipped down and his eyelashes brushed against his skin, until the images forming and transforming the darkness and threatening abyss of his imagination were far more terrifying than those witnessed on television, or photographed in newspapers. It was something he had never completely understood. It was something which had his fingers tapping to an uneven beat against the soft fabric of the armchair, something that had him fighting hard to plant both feet solidly on the moving, carpeted floor of the plane.

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to make of this emotion. Of course he had felt it before. He had had it pulsing through his veins, crushing like solid metal weight against his chest, forcing his teeth so hard against his lower lip it bled a thin stream. It had rocketed into his arms and legs and held him down, choking him- suffocating him, making him gasp for breath as he struggled to part his lips and open his airway.

It had snapped at him and threatened to overwhelm him, drowning him, stabbing him, blinding him.

Yes, he had felt it before, impossibly surging in his veins and entangling itself within his very soul. Destroying him from the inside.

Yet despite that, he had never expected to feel it towards Tony Stark.

Yet despite that, he had never expected himself to feel it rage and hurl and hurt him from beneath the layers of solitude, barricades of protection, walls of security. Or insecurity.

Yet despite that, he had never expected to feel such guilt again.

Guilt.

Such a strong, powerful word. So short and dismissive and empathetic. It seemed misleading, to coerce so much pain and angst and tragedy relating to the emotion in a single, fleeting, indifferent set of five letters.

Yet it was more than that, wasn't it? It was more than a simple, irrelevant word. More than something used to describe the cursed sensations felt when empathy was ignored and intuitions acted against.

It represented far more than it seemed.

He had gotten past feeling this strongly about anything. Or at least he had thought he had. He hadn't remembered feeling the sensation of his eyes narrowing and his fists clenching in defeat in a long time. Because by the time the Avengers Initiative had congregated, he had thought- he had believed- that he had mastered the supreme ability to push away the familiar surge of such passionate emotions. And now, after so long, to experience something so powerful- well he couldn't help but marvel at the fact the guilt was aimed at the person he had least expected.

Tony Stark. He felt guilty because of Tony freakin' Stark.

Of course, the bastard would always make him doubt himself and question his decisions, even from beyond the grave.

In that instance, the moment in which one eye had closed indefinitely- hiding from the world of the living, and the other remained shielded beneath the leather of the eye-patch, he found himself taking a deep breath and forcing away the thoughts and visions of Tony Stark's mangled, bloodied corpse being fished out of the sea- from beneath the bricks and the concrete of his marvellous Malibu estate, from beneath the sand and the dirt and the mud and the blood coating him in a crimson blanket, not haven been completely washed away by the angry waves just yet.

He forced himself to remember that this was no ordinary man. That this was Iron Man.

But he was still Tony, beneath that hard-rock, superhero exterior, wasn't he?

He wasn't a super soldier like Steve Rogers. He didn't have an alter-ego that infused his cells with the infection of gamma rays to turn him into an indestructible being, he wasn't a god. He wasn't trained to be an assassin from a young age like Clint Barton or Natasha Romanov.

Beneath that hard-rock, superhero exterior, he was just a man.

And perhaps, maybe- just maybe- that was where the guilt had sprouted from. It might be that fact that had the self-doubt flourish from within Fury and awakening old, seemingly abandoned demons. Because Tony Stark was a civilian, and there could have always been that one fleeting chance that Fury could have stopped this from happening.

He had tried to tell himself it was a ridiculous notion. That Tony Stark was going to get himself killed whether or not Fury dragged him into a world so full of death and destruction and danger- that he was going to die one way or another. It was probably better that he died to his own accord anyway.

Only, that didn't make all that much sense to him. He hated it, he loathed it and wanted to crush the thought beneath one angry fist- but it was resilient, and as much as he tried to hide it, as hard and deep as he had attempted to bury it, it was still there. It was still there and it blamed him.

He remembered once, a while ago, he remembered saying something to Stark. Of course he had said a lot to, and about the man, but this one particular thing, this one peculiar phrase twisted and mingled in his brain, washing over him as if it were a revelation. He had said to Tony once that Iron Man was approved for the Avengers Initiative, but Tony Stark wasn't.

Fury reprimanded himself for being so damn naïve. He shouldn't have said that. He shouldn't have believed that. But he did and he had. He had figured; why not make the suit and the man two separate figures? Why not differentiate them, alter them- so that they weren't that one, same person? Because honestly, he never wanted Tony Stark. Tony Stark was brash and irrational and narcissistic. But Iron Man? Iron Man was strong and brave and clever. And that was who Fury had needed.

So he had done the cruellest thing imaginable, and forced Tony to separate himself from himself.

He hadn't realised it then. He had dismissed the strange, haunted looks lurking within Tony's dark intelligent orbs. The silent tremors in his hands. The thick shirts he would wear to hide the bright blue light of the Arc reactor. He hadn't come to the understanding that- yes, it was the Arc reactor which had powered Iron Man, but it was also the same thing that powered Tony Stark.

And now he felt like slapping himself because he noticed what he was doing. He was going over and filtering all the regrets relating to the man himself because somewhere deep inside, he could feel an estranged sort of fear building- the fear that he was really and truly dead, that Fury had never gotten to change anything or do anything differently for the future.

He finally peeled his eye open as he felt the weight on his chest thicken somehow and press harder against his ribcage. He leaned back further against the comfortable armchair of the airplane and glanced around the room, observing the other Avengers and Coulson.

They were all restless, he noticed. Steve had taken a seat by the window, near the back. His eyebrows were scrunched together softly and the tapping of his index finger against the window pane was far too evident. Anxiousness seeped out of him like an infection, and had apparently found its way into Doctor Banner, who was two minutes away from aggressively stomping his feet into the floor. Orbs staring intently into the outside world, gazing deeply past the thick glass bordering the side of the airplane. Clint and Natasha, as expected, were still and vigilante, though the Director could recognise the familiar slump of the shoulders and downward stare, posture sagging forward ever so slightly. Even Thor was silent, fingers tight around Mjolnir and eyes clenched shut.

They were keeping themselves composed, or at least doing so to the best of their abilities at the moment. And Fury was surprised that even SHIELD's very own Phil Coulson, who hadn't flinched at being faced with alien artillery and a mad Asgardian, sat far too still even for him. Shoulders held and arms stiff and rigid- the posture of a man who was trying too hard to keep alert and ready.

He couldn't understand what they were all feeling; and nor would he try to. There was no point in gaining empathy so far in when his own demons had begun to curl and waken within himself.

There was about an hour until they would land. Sixty minutes until they would breakdown the events and analyse the evidence. Only so many seconds until they would find Tony Stark.

And he would be alive.

He would be alive because Fury hadn't said he could die yet. Because he was still part of SHIELD and the team. Because Fury was far too selfish to let him die and live with the damn guilt that refused to let go of him.

Oh, but when they did find Tony, Fury would be sure to tell him that his little brushes with death were getting old. After all, it was only a few months ago that he had flown off to space and detonated a bomb set to destroy Manhattan. And technically, he did stop breathing. And now, he was, according to the news, technically dead.

And Fury was really getting sick of all these technicalities.