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Inception of the Marvelous Mind

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"Shit, Nat! Look—" Tony started to call out but he cut himself off when, before she could turn around, the sniper was thrown off the roof and landed headfirst into an SUV.

Clint came running around a corner, Bruce hot on his heels, and it was almost comical how they skidded to a stop right in front of the mangled SUV. Natasha looked back over her shoulder from across the street, strands of her hair loose from her ponytail and flying about her face. Tony, back in his own body and his favorite pinstripe, paused in hefting a bazooka over his shoulder.

They all turned their faces up to see Coulson standing on the ledge of the roof. He tugged on the bottom of one sleeve, straightening the line of his jacket, then he touched his ear.

"What would you kids do without me? Honestly."

Tony grinned and waved the bazooka up at him. "Ahh. There you are, sweetheart. Glad you decided to drop in on us. Children, thank your mother."

"Thanks," Natasha said dryly.

Clint grabbed Bruce's headpiece out of his ear and ignored the punch he got when he stuck it in his own. "Where's Thor?"

"Sneaking into the master bedroom. The target is in the basement and most definitely down for the count."

Natasha grimaced as she disarmed the dead projection she'd been fighting. "Ugh, Stark. You're disgusting. Can't you keep it in your pants for one job?"

"Nat, babe." Tony tossed the bazooka into a nearby trash can as they met up and walked down the street. "You've seen our mark. I know you have. You were the one who gave me the dossier. Tell me you wouldn't have been able to resist. And with me, playing his long-lost love..."

"Spare me the details," she said curtly. She pulled out a wicked looking knife from the back of her belt and idly flipped it around her fingers as they walked across the city.

They followed Clint, who led them to a bridge with a flat stone railing. Coulson strolled up from a different direction with a brown paper bag in his hand. They all stared at him, a little dumbfounded when he handed them each a soft pretzel.

"What?" he asked as they all blinked at him. Bruce looked irritated and Tony was sort of smirking, but that was par for the course. "We don't want to cause undue attention, and Thor's still got a good five minutes left on the clock. A lot can happen in five minutes."

"Now you've gone and done it," Bruce grumbled under his breath. He took a reluctant bite from his pretzel and made a face while chewing it. "Sticking around to baby-sit?"

"Oh, calm down, darling." Tony patted Bruce's arm. Then he gripped his bicep and gave it a little squeeze, happily surprised. "Ooh, nice."

"You're disgusting," Natasha said again. Bruce shook Tony's hand off with a flat look and Tony smiled widely at him.

"You've missed me," Tony said to her, still grinning at Bruce. Clint groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's okay, Nat. You don't have to admit it, I know."

"I know you're cracked in the head," she snapped back, but she was smiling behind her pretzel. "It's been like Christmas these past eight months without you around."

"Don't be cute. It's not like I can come running every time you call with a job. I've got a company to run," Tony said, shrugging. "People to tend to, money to be made."

"National heroes to debauch," Coulson tossed in, flippantly. He crumpled the bag into a ball and tossed it over his shoulder. It landed neatly in a trashcan fifteen feet behind him. It kind of freaked them all out a little just how comfortable Phil was inside Clint's head, but they were all wise enough not to comment on it. "Nice to see you've grown, Anthony."

Tony grit his teeth. He didn't use his first name in this business, and he certainly didn't use that particular one anymore at all. Only four people have ever gotten away with it, Coulson included. Who tended to use it rarely, but it still grated on Tony's nerves.

"Have I mentioned how much I've missed you lately, honey?" Tony asked, sotto voice. The corner of Coulson's mouth lifted the tiniest bit, which Tony hated to admit made him feel a little gushy on the inside. Under his irritation of course. Damn that weird psuedo-parental bond they shared.

"Friends! And Mr. Coulson! What a pleasant surprise to see you on this day." Everyone turned to see Thor making his way to the bridge, his arms spread out jovially. "I have procured our intel. We should depart these lands immediately."

"Jesus. How are you a real person, Thor?" Clint dropped his head into his hands.

Bruce rolled his eyes and chucked his pretzel into the stream. "We've been jinxed. Thanks a lot, Phil," Bruce said, wiping the excess salt off of his hands.

"You do realize you're inside the mind of a military strategic operational planner, right Thor?" Tony asked, eyeing the family playing frisbee with their retreiver. They were all staring at them. Tony waved his pretzel at them and moved casually to the right, trying to block their view of Clint. "It might not be best to loudly proclaim that we've come to rape his mind."

"How many times can I get away with calling you disgusting in one day?" Natasha asked, moving to stand back to back with Tony as she stared off in the opposite direction. There was a small group of teenage guys playing baseball on the other side of the park, and the one who was holding the bat started to walk towards them. "I'm jumping. See you topside."

"It's not like I have—"

Tony was interrupted by a quiet thwap! and they all braced themselves instinctively, assuming battle positions.

"What the—" Clint's hand flew to his neck and he yanked out a tranquilizer dart. "Oh, fuck me," he said as his eyes rolled back in his head. Clint fell to the ground in the middle of their circle and they all turned to see a familiar person at the far end of the bridge.

"Loki." Thor took a hesitant step forward. "What are you doing here?"

"You called me, idiot." Loki kept the gun in his hand steady as he walked toward the group. "I'm not impervious to your whims, what can I say?"

"What the hell, Thor?" Natasha asked. Tony looked down to see her at Clint's side, her fingers on his neck. "I thought you took care of this."

"Called you? Surely I did no such thing," Thor scoffed. Loki smiled at him and tossed the gun over the side of the bridge. Coulson immediately took two steps forward to him and then dropped to the ground when Loki shot from his hip with his other hand. "Loki!"

"Relax, he's not why I'm here." Loki paused, staring down at Coulson with a tiny smile. "Although I did get a certain satisfaction out of shooting him. Repressed daddy issues, brother?"

"That's it. I'm not taking jobs with you guys anymore," Bruce said, and jumped over the bridge. Tony would've snorted, if a new voice hadn't rung through the park.

"Base one, this is Captain Rogers! I have civilians under attack! I repeat, there are civilians under attack in the park on West!"

Tony blinked, because he was pretty sure Steve's dead ex-girlfriend left him in a boneless puddle of goo on a cement floor not half an hour ago. Then he grit his teeth, because Natasha was smirking at him.

"Down for the count, hmm? Is somebody losing their touch?" The baseball player stepped onto the bridge and she ran forward to subdue him.

"In my defense—" Tony started but he was interrupted when Captain Rogers collided with him, throwing him bodily to the ground. The sound of Loki's gun going off again rang through the park. Tony groaned under some two hundred pounds of solid muscle as he tried to get up and was pushed facedown again.

"Mr. Stark! Don't get up! There are men with guns! Back up is on the way, just lie low."

"I'm pretty sure they're not after me, buddy." Tony rolled onto his side and was suddenly face to face with Steve Rogers, national hero, face of the American Way and all that. If he hadn't already spent twenty minutes sucking on those lips earlier he would be sorely tempted to do so again. Instead he smiled charmingly. "Hello there, soldier."

Steve blushed hotly, his eyes dropping to Tony's mouth. "Mr. Stark. It's a honor to meet you again, truly." He looked up to see Clint's unconscious body laying next to them and Coulson bleeding out, his face dropping. "Oh, god. I'm too late. Your friends!"

"Oh, don't you worry about them, they're just— Wait, again?" Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. Steve looked down at him with such sadness that Tony's hand came up immediately to rub his shoulder.

"Yes. I'm sure you don't remember, it was so long ago, but I was there at the demonstration of the Jericho missile." Steve gave him a little smile. "You were amazing," he said softly, then his eyes went wide. "Your tech, I mean. Was amazing. Not you."

Tony raised his eyebrows, ignoring the possible scuffle/embrace happening between the adopted brothers on his right in favor of staring at the way Steve's face was turning a very fetching color of pink.

"Wait, not that you're not. I mean. You're a pretty swell guy yourself. We only said hello. You were very nice!" Steve blurted out. Tony bit back a grin.

He was one of the best forgers in the business, even though he only dabbled in this business as a sometimes-when-I-feel-like-it hobby, and it figured that he didn't even need to wear a skin for this job. And to think, Tony thought, all those hours researching the lovely Peggy, gone to waste. I could've been building a new car.

"Aren't you sweet," Tony purred. He let the hand that had been resting on Steve's shoulder trail down the front of his chest and enjoyed the way Steve's breathing sped up. "And so brave, saving me like that."

"Stark! Focus!" Tony and Steve turned their faces up to watch Natasha flip a man twice her size over the bridge. At that moment, a gentle guitar riff boomed through the air.

"What's that?" Steve asked, looking around. "I hear music." Tony pushed at his chest, scrambling to stand, then dusted the dirt from his suit.

"It's been lovely getting to know you, Cap, but I'm afraid our time has run out." Tony winked at Steve, still sitting on the ground looking up at them.

"You let him throw me out! You never loved me!" Loki and Thor were still embracing, Loki struggling against being held. "You said you'd always be there, and you lied to me. Where have you been?"

"I've been trying to find you. Where are you, Loki?" Thor pushed his brother back enough to grip his forearms and stare him in the face. "Tell me where you are!"

"This is very touching and all, but I'm feeling a little creeped out. I'm out of here." Natasha grabbed Clint's body and dragged him to the edge of the bridge. She kicked him over and immediately the ground around them began to shake as the dream fell apart. "Don't stay long!" she called before jumping herself.

"Stark! Go!" Thor shouted as the bridge began to collapse. Steve looked around in wonder, a confused look on his face, as the trees and buildings began to crumble.

"Feel free to dream about saving me again sometime, Cap." Tony touched the side of Steve's face and then the bridge gave way and they fell through it.

Tony opened his eyes to see two empty chairs, no doubt belonging to Bruce and Phil. He looked across the circle to see Natasha pulling the line from her arm. Clint was crouched in front of Thor, slapping his face gently.

"Don't bother," Tony said, sitting up. He pulled his own line and began to coil it, nodding at Thor's prone body. "Loki made an appearance. We really need to find that kid and get this thing between them all sorted. It's not only unprofessional, it's icky."

"They're technically not related, you know." Natasha pulled a duffle out from under her chair and began to pack their things. "Leave him be."

"Loki? Again?" Clint slapped Thor a little harder and Thor jerked awake, a mournful look on his face.

"Still. Having the hots for your brother is a whole rack full of issues that even I wouldn't touch." Tony stood, stretched, and made his way over to the gurney that Captain Rogers lay on. He carefully slid the needle out and replaced it with the saline drip.

He didn't move away as he wrapped it up, his gaze travelling over the angled planes of Steve's face. He rubbed his thumb over the inside of his wrist and turned to find Natasha, Clint and Thor all staring at him. "What?"

Clint shook his head, then turned to Thor. "What the hell, man? That's the third time now a shade of yours has shown up. You said you were going to handle this! Getting shot in the neck isn't my idea of a good time. Go see a therapist or something, buddy."

"I know, I know," Thor said as he dropped his head into his hands. "I must find my brother and resolve these issues buried within my soul. However, is loving one who was raised as flesh and blood, but is truly not, somehow worse than holding a torch for a comatose patient who may never awaken?" Again, all eyes turned to Tony and he was beginning to question why he didn't hightail it out of there like Bruce had.

"Hey," Tony said, offended.

"He's right." Natasha gave him a look as she closed the silver briefcase with a sharp snap. He tightened his jaw and looked down at Steve again. His chest rose and fell with the aide of the ventilator and Tony sighed. "Agreed."

They finished packing up and left the hospital room together, Thor and Clint back in their white coats and Natasha in her green hospital scrubs. She walked down the hallway with purpose, her fake file grasped tightly in her hands, and Tony, silver briefcase clutched tightly in one hand, shook Thor and Clint's hands with the air of a businessman closing a deal.

"Malibu. Two weeks," was all he said as he turned to walk the other way. He stopped in front of an elevator and pushed the button. When the doors opened, he got inside and pushed the button for the ground floor. Just as the doors started to close, though, a hand shot between them and Phil Coulson got in next to Tony.

They rode together in silence until finally Tony got fed up with Coulson's bland nonstare and turned to face him, irritated.

"Okay, I'll bite. What?"

"It was good to see you today, Tony," Coulson said. He pulled off his sunglasses and began to polish them with a cloth he pulled from his jacket pocket.

"I'm sure you didn't just pop by in the middle of a job to say hi and that you missed me, sweet as the sentiment is." Coulson rolled his eyes, just a little. Tony smirked and called it a win. "What does he want?"

"He's got another job for you." Tony sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I just got off of one, and in case you missed it, Phil, it didn't go too swimmingly."

The doors opened and they got out, barely dodging a gaggle of teenage girls dressed in soccer uniforms. Tony nodded at the two mothers accompanying them and headed for the doors. Coulson waited until they were standing outside, away from prying eyes, and grabbed Tony's arm.

"He needs you specifically for this one. And he'll pay you twice your usual retainer. Just look at the file, okay?"

With that, he pulled Tony into a brief hug and tucked a flash drive into his pocket. Tony relented and slapped his back a few times before pushing him off.

"I was planning on retiring from this business. We're getting too old for this kind of thing, pal."

Coulson gave him another one of his rare smiles and squeezed Tony's arm. "No we're not. Think about it, Tony."

Coulson turned, walked over to a black sedan, and climbed inside. Tony pretended he didn't notice Clint climbing into the passenger seat on the other side and pulled out the drive. He turned it over and over in his hand as he made his way to his car.

He managed to get his key in the ignition before his curiosity won. He stuck the flash drive into a port on the dash and flipped down the sun visor. A tiny blue screen appeared where the mirror would be, the words "WINTER SOLDIER PROJECT" flashing boldly on it.

He grinned and pressed a button on the steering wheel as he pulled out of the hospital. Within seconds the clipped tones of Nick Fury came buzzing through the car.

"To what do I owe the honor, Mr. Stark?"

Tony grinned. "I believe you have a job for me."