Despite being Iron Man, Tony does not plan on saving anybody today.
He’s flying, yes. In his brand-new Iron Man suit, yes. But it is, as Pepper and Bruce drummed into his head before he left, Only. A. Test. He is not to break out the tank missiles on any buildings he might come across during the flight ("no, Tony, not even the Westboro Baptist Church"), he is not to "rescue" Rhodey from that yawn-inducing Air Force meeting he is currently stuck in, and he is certainly not to attempt to take down that entire HYDRA base without the rest of the Avengers. He is to fly around the world and that is freakin’ it.
So here he is flying across the Pacific Ocean on the final leg of the trip and by now he’s pretty confident that his suit is working properly (and thank freakin’ goodness, because it’s currently the only suit he’s got), but oh sweet mother of French-fried donuts is he hungry right now. Surely it won’t make much of a difference if he stops to get a burger. The big guy and the resident guardian angel didn’t say anything about going to Burger King, did they?
Tony’s train of thought is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a plane. A SHIELD plane, from the looks of it. He wonders vaguely what it’s doing out here—he distinctly remembers Steve telling him that SHIELD collapsed shortly after what shall charitably be referred to as The HYDRA Incident—before it drops what appears to be a giant pod out of its back hatch.
Wait just a freakin' minute.
He knows what's happening here. He heard a similar story from Steve just last week—how him and that guy Sam found a formerly SHIELD plane in the hands of HYDRA, how the Nazi flunkies panicked and tossed the incriminating evidence overboard, how Capsicle and his new best friend only just managed to save said evidence from a watery grave.
And here we have history freakin' repeating itself. Just my luck.
Cursing every Nazi known to man under his breath, Tony flies full speed towards the runaway pod. He catches it in a blur of color and sound, the wind rushing around him, his stomach rumbling in his ears. I'm definitely getting a burger after this, he decides as he begins to fly the pod to solid ground, taking extra care not to let the blasted thing slip between his iron fingers.
Then he gets a good look inside and omigod there's people in there.
Suddenly, all thoughts of Burger King fly from his mind like birds abandoning a tree that's about to be cut down. He takes a closer look and yes, he can definitely make out two terrified faces on the other side of the glass. Freakin' human beings, presumably sent to their deaths.
Not while I'm around, you psycho Nazi sons of mothers.
It's one of those crazy moments when the lines begin to blur and Iron Man takes over like a freakin' autopilot. He soars across the ocean depths, all other cares forgotten, barely even registering the sound of the wind in his ears. He's running on adrenaline and perhaps a bit of heroism, determined (as always) to save these people, whoever the heck they are, or go down in flames in the process.
With one last burst of speed, he reaches the coastline and sets the pod down, taking care not to break the cargo while he's at it. Once the thing is stable, he collapses on the ground, and Tony Stark regains control of his mind.
"You can come out now," he shouts to the occupants. "You're safe."
And come out they do, inching their way into the sunlight like bewildered caterpillars from under a leaf.
There are two of them. A guy and a girl. (Tony's mind briefly jumps to conclusions before he thinks better of it.) He's got a blue plaid shirt and a matching tie and a pair of baby blues that look suspiciously like a puppy's, and she's wearing a dark-colored top and her hair in a cute-yet-professional ponytail. Both of them are clearly in their twenties, but there's something about their faces that makes Tony think kids.
"Hey," Tony greets them, for lack of anything better to say.
The guy stares openmouthed at him, apparently still processing what just happened. The girl, though obviously equally shocked, is a bit quicker on the uptake and manages to stammer out "You're…you're Iron Man!"
Tony shrugs. "That's me." Unable to resist a sarcastic remark, he adds, "What tipped you off? The giant metal suit?"
A shaky laugh from the girl. A nervous smile from the guy.
"And you are?"
"Fitz," mutters the guy.
"Simmons," murmurs the girl.
"Fitz and Simmons." Being the genius that he is, Tony takes less than ten seconds to hit upon the obvious connection. "So…Fitzsimmons?"
Enthusiastic nodding ensues. Right away, Tony decides he's gonna like these kids.
"And what is a Fitzsimmons doing falling out of planes in the middle of the ocean?" he asks. "Didn't you little idiots hear what happened to the dude who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel?"
"We're with SHIELD," Fitz explains, reaching instinctively into his pocket before hastily drawing his hand back out. "Simmons 'n' I…we were captured, and..."
"It was Ward." Simmons's voice turns cold at the mention of the name, and Tony supposes he'd be mad too if he had the foggiest idea who she's talking about. "Grant Ward. He tried to kill us."
Fitz whimpers and puts his head in his hands, rocking back and forth in place as he mutters under his breath. Simmons moves closer to him and puts a hand on his shoulder, murmuring quiet reassurance into his ear. They stay like that for what seems like forever, and even Tony can't help but get the warm fuzzies. He wonders offhand how anybody could possibly look at these kids and think, Ah, yes, these are the people I'm going to murder. Whoever this Ward guy is, he clearly has no soul.
But then, Tony manages to catch a snatch of Simmons's words, and his brain dam near explodes.
"...have to find the team…Skye, May, Coulson…tell them we're all right…"
He must've heard her wrong. He must've. Either that or she isn't talking about his Coulson. Okay, their Coulson, the Avengers' Coulson, Phil aka "Agent" Coulson who very clearly got stabbed through the heart by a certain divine maniac. Dude's been dead for ages. Since New York. No freakin' way…
"Our team leader," Simmons explains. "Phil Coulson. I'm guessing—"
"—you've probably heard of him," finishes Fitz.
"He's dead," Tony says.
"Oh." Fitz stares sheepishly at the grass. "Well, uh, y'see—"
Simmons is, once again, amazingly quick on the uptake. "He was revived. Fury's orders. They used the T.A.H.I.T.I. program—"
"—gave him a dose of GH.325—"
"—and he's been kicking ever since."
Tony has maybe three seconds to marvel at Fitzsimmons's uncanny ability to finish each other's sentences before the realization of what they're saying figuratively socks him in the jaw.
Holy schmoke—Coulson's alive?!?
He remembers the SHIELD agent's death like it was yesterday—the lifeless body slumped against the wall, Steve Rogers's grief-stricken face, Maria Hill's very dramatic show of emotion, those dam Captain America cards stained with their owner's blood, the team's subsequent resolution to fight on in honor of their fallen friend. And now these baby agents are telling him that the whole thing was a freakin' sham? That Fury just took the opportunity to emotionally manipulate six innocent Avengers, only to then conveniently bring Coulson back using some creepy program and a few drugs? And then proceed to not tell the people who love him and miss him that oh, by the way, he's actually alive? And Coulson was for some reason totally okay with keeping Tony and the other Avengers in the dark?
The more Tony thinks about it, the angrier he gets. Which means it's probably time to stop thinking about it.
He turns his attention back to Fitzsimmons and notices, for the first time, the injuries their tumble so courteously gave them—the bruises up and down his arm, the small gash on her forehead. "Yeesh," Tony can't help but comment, before hastily adding, "Some battle scars you got there."
"It's nothing, really," says Simmons with a brush-it-off-little laugh. "We're fine. Honest."
"We'll deal with it later," adds Fitz. "We gotta find the others."
(Neither one, Tony observes, has truly noticed their injuries yet.)
Tony makes a split-second executive I-am-Iron-Man decision. "Nope."
Simmons blinks. Fitz opens his mouth to protest.
"You two," continues Tony, "are not going anywhere till somebody sees to those bumps and bruises. I mean, seriously." He gestures to Fitz's bruises and Simmons's gash. "Look at yourselves."
Fitz attempts to examine his arm and immediately winces in pain. "We've seen worse," he stubbornly insists, his teeth clenched, his arm hanging limply at his side.
But Simmons, who appears to have only just now noticed the state of Fitz's arm, gasps and puts a hand over her mouth. She then regains her composure and remarks, her voice shaking, "He's right, Fitz. We need to see a doctor. Immediately." Her eyes seem to be trying their hardest to look everywhere that is not Fitz's arm. "Preferably an orthopedist, to make sure you haven't broken that."
Fitz is about to argue, but then he, too, notices his counterpart's injury. "Omigod," he whispers, his eyes growing wide. "Jemma…your forehead…"
"It's okay," she replies in reassuring tones, a tear falling down her cheek. "I'm okay. You're okay." She takes a deep breath and hugs her friend so tightly it's a miracle she doesn't squeeze him to death. "We're okay."
"I'm still here," Tony reminds them.
They break apart, identical blushes dancing across their cheeks. "Sorry," says Fitz sheepishly, though he certainly doesn't look sorry. Neither, for that matter, does Simmons, whose hand seems superglued to Fitz's shoulder. I guess those early conclusions weren't so far off the mark after all…
"So." Tony clears his throat. "Tell you what. How would you guys like to come hang at my place? I've got a friend, Dr. Helen Cho—she's got magic machines and everything, she'll fix you right up." He smiles. "And I suppose you can maybe even meet my Science Bro while you're at it. Bruce wouldn't mind, I'm sure."
"Bruce?" Fitzsimmons, whose mouths had already dropped open at the mention of Helen Cho, now look as though their eyes are about to pop out of their sockets. Simmons, especially, seems overwhelmed, and her tone of voice reminds Tony of a kid in a candy store for the first time—a kid who's positive she's dreaming. "As in…Bruce Banner?"
Tony nods like a bobblehead. "Yeah, he's my best friend." Then, almost as an afterthought, "My second-best friend, that is. Rhodey's number one." He realizes he's rambling and gets back on track. "Bruce and I were actually in the middle of an experiment when I left—you guys into science?"
At the word "science" the kids light up like a pair of tiny Christmas trees.
Tony flashes them his trademark Tony Stark Smirk. "Then you're gonna love this."