Problem

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As you followed Maria to the line of black vehicles that had been parked behind the hospital, your mind raced with the worry that Tony would run back to the team and tell them that he had found you alive and living this alternate life. It was bad enough that you had to face him, but the idea of having the rest of them searching for you with him just left you feeling exhausted at the prospect of running. With every few steps further away, you turned back to glance over your shoulder, looking for your teammate to be following, but he was never there. A part of you was relieved to see that he wasn't giving chase, so that you could focus on moving into the next life chosen for you, but a larger part of yourself was feeling an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Tony had come all this way to find you, and now it felt as if he had given up all too quickly. At least it felt that way until he stopped you from taking your first step into the vehicle with a gauntlet-covered hand pushed out in front of you.

"I can't let you leave, (Y/N)," he commanded, "because I can't trust them to keep you safe. If you want to be hidden, then fine. I can learn to be okay with that. But let me hide you, not them. It was too easy for me to find you, and I can't stand by and let that happen with someone who's actually a threat to you if I have the means to stop it."

"Wait, if you had a suit this whole time, why did you drive?"

"I can't be subtle and sneak my way in if I'm wearing this," he answered as if the reasoning should have been obvious to you.

"Okay, but your car is bright orange, and we're surrounded by snow," you replied with a confused squint of your eyes, "so I'm lost on where you're finding subtlety."

"Tony, this isn't your problem to handle," Maria said, growing frustrated and trying to break in, but she was almost immediately interrupted with yet another gauntlet thrust forward angrily.

"She's not a problem, Hill. She's a person that I...that we happen to care about, and I'll be dammed if I'm going to let you screw this up again."

A few light snow flakes began to fall from the night sky, and as beautiful as it could have been to watch, all it did was make you shiver even more as they landed softly on your bare skin. With Maria and Tony beginning to delve into what would surely be a lengthy argument filled with venom and sarcasm, you tried to push past them into the car, but they stood firmly in your way.

"Guys," you interrupted, "can't feel my face."

"See? You can't even find a place that she's comfortable in," Tony scoffed. "If you expect her to live somewhere that you're forcing her into, you could at least make it somewhere enjoyable. This is just cruel."

"It's Minnesota, Tony," Maria groaned, "not Siberia."

"That's what Phil..." you stopped yourself abruptly, now facing the surprise from Tony's expression and the reddening anger from Maria's at the mention of Coulson, "...would say," you covered. "He hated the cold too."

After nearly giving away one of the best kept SHIELD secrets in years, Maria could only sigh and look at you pitifully; you thought that maybe she was starting to realize the predicament she was putting you in, but being the good soldier of Fury that she was, you wondered if it was all just a well-trained acting job to throw you off. "Alright, (Y/N)," she began, "tell me this. If you were given the choice, would you want to go back? Would you want us to take you back to the tower?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation in your answer, and you could feel Tony's smile emanating from behind the mask.

"Even knowing that the risk is still there?"

"Yes."

Her lips pursed as she thought about the consequences that she would face if she released you into Tony's care rather than bringing you to your next destination; she could almost hear Nick's voice yelling in her ear and the berating she would receive for disobeying his direct order. On the other hand, could she stand to listen to Stark whine one more second about how he wasn't getting his way if she left with you in her custody? The two options facing her were dire to say the least, but if she had to choose the lesser of two evils, the choice was becoming clear to her.

"Alright, (Y/N)," she sighed, taking a hold of your arm once again, "if you're so sure that what you want is to go back to that life, then you can take it up with Fury when you see him. Get in the car."

~~~

Much to your relief, Tony wouldn't tell anyone that he had found you alive that night, and your short time of living within the confines of Phil's SHIELD bunker wasn't all that bad so far. Yes, you still missed your team terribly and you couldn't wait for the day when you could see them again, even if not as a part of the group. There were hushed conversations around the base when Tony would seem to be getting on your trail again, followed by a flurry of activity to lead him away in the wrong direction, and then several days of calm. It had become an almost regular pattern, and his insistence of returning towards the coordinates of the base left you to realize that your days here were numbered as well. You had anticipated the order from Phil to move at any given second now, but it never came; in fact, as suddenly as it had begun, any trace of Tony moving in your direction had just...stopped.

"I don't get it," you asked Phil with a furrowed brow, "he was so persistent. Where did he go?"

"Maria should be back with a report soon. Just try to keep your mind occupied until she gets here," he answered calmly. He shuffled a few papers around on his desk, bringing them up to read with a slight squint, glancing over the top of them every few seconds to watch you. "I'm sure he's just busy with Avenging or Enterprising or whatever it is that he does with his time. I guarantee you one thing though; he didn't give up on you."

"I know."

"Okay, so let's have it. What is it with you two? Why is he so insistent on finding you and bringing you back to the team? I've never seen him like this, and I knew him when he was dying and giving away all of his toys."

You crossed the floor of Phil's office slowly, your arms crossed over your chest as your mind hurried to put it all together, but you were coming up blank. You watched each slow step of your feet until you made it to his chair, turning to drop yourself into it with a heavy exhalation jostled from your chest in the force. "He's not the same guy as when you last saw him. That was forever ago, and the guy he is now is...I don't know...softer, maybe?"

"How do you mean?"

"He cares almost too much. Whenever he tries to do something right, it gets screwed up, and he just keeps on trying harder and harder. When Hydra started to make their move to take me, he became really protective; I can only imagine the panic he felt when they finally got it right."

"I would imagine that it's like the panic you're feeling now?" Phil asked with a faint smile. He moved to your side and knelt down, gently resting his hand over yours. "He'll start looking again, (Y/N). I'm sure he's okay, just probably sidetracked with team business or something. I know it's the only connection you have to him right now and how much it means to you that he's out there."

"Thanks, Phil."

"Sure-"

"Coulson, we need you in the hangar. Hill just showed up," Daisy interrupted, nodding her head to the side to draw you towards the right direction and to follow her lead. "She's here for you, (Y/N). I don't know what you could've done while you're locked up out here with us in the funhouse, but she looks pissed."

"I didn't do anything!"

"The guilty always say that," Phil snickered, standing and moving quick to fall into step at your side when you began hurrying down the hallway, "and I guarantee you learned that from Stark."

"Steve."

"Shut up!"

"Mr. Honesty can lie like a cheap rug, Coulson. Pick your idols better." You continued on without waiting for his reply, and you really had no interest in hearing it anyway. The only thing that you wanted to hear was that Maria had come to get you to bring you back home and to the team that you missed more and more as each day passed. The sudden disappearance of Tony from SHIELD's radar had you feeling terribly anxious, so anything that she could give you now to ease your nerves would be welcome. You just wanted anything that would give you a shred of normalcy again. "Maria, what's going on?" you asked urgently, hurrying to stand before her as she exited her jet.

"I need you to pack your things as quickly as you can. We have a situation brewing that's getting worse the longer we wait. I think it's time to bring you back to life, (Y/N), for your team's sake."

"Why? What's happening?" you asked cautiously.

"Honestly, I don't even know anymore. All I know is that I need to get you to Germany, and fast. Everything is about to explode."

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