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the bruising of unfinished business

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Tony thinks he deals with it pretty well. He’s lost nine years, including the coma he’s spent the last five months in.

In nine years, he escaped from Afghanistan and joined a superhero team. Also dated Pepper, who is now his- friend? CEO? He’s still getting into the groove of things.

Also, Captain America white-knuckles his own knees the whole way through people explaining things to Tony. Because Captain America is alive, and is apparently one of Tony’s closest friends.

Pepper stutters over that last part, gaze darting over to the redhead- Natasha R-Something, who presses her lips together and looks away.

Tony glances over at the good Captain, who hasn’t looked Tony in the face since Tony woke up to the sight of him nearly crying and saying his name, an expression of unbelievable relief that Tony doesn’t think has ever been directed at him.

"Who the hell ‘re you," Tony had slurred, and the smile had dropped right off of Captain America’s face.

It’s been a few hours since then, and Tony has had to digest a lot of information, and some of that information is that he isn’t going to get his memory back, probably ever. The guy who tells him this- Stephen Strange, they call him- is hovering slightly in the air as he says it, and Tony tries not to stare too much, because apparently this is par for the course for him now.

"Like ever, ever,” Tony tries, and Strange nods.

"Take it with a grain of salt," Arrow-dude says. Clint, or something. He’s sitting in the corner with his arms crossed. "We’ve done all sorts of impossible things before, this wouldn’t be the first."

"Right," Tony says. "All sorts of impossible shit. After all, you found Cap, right?"

Captain America flinches at that, and Tony looks over at him with raised eyebrows. 

"Steve," Rhodey says firmly. "You call him Steve."

"Right," Tony says again. "Because we’re best buds."

Steve doesn’t flinch at that, but he does take a breath that doesn’t sound too steady and he finally meets Tony’s eyes. “Yes,” he says, and his smile isn’t anything like it is in the posters. “We are. And I’m- we’re going to get your memories back, Tony.”

"Captain," Strange says, and Captain America looks at him, face set in lines of pain. "I ask you to please not get your hopes up. There is nothing that suggests you will be able to retrieve-"

"Then we try our goddamn best," Captain America grits out, and Tony nearly recoils when Steve’s desperate gaze turns back to him. "We promise. I swear, Tony."

Tony- doesn’t know how to take that, Captain America promising something to him like he’d cross oceans for Tony. He isn’t sure how to take that from anyone, but least of all from this guy. 

He’s nodding on default, uncomfortable, fiddling with his pockets- his fingers catch on a lump, and his hand closes around it. He comes out with a black box, velvet-covered, and almost everyone in the room has a reaction to that

Redhead closes her eyes like she’s in pain, metal-arm guy clenches both his fists and moves towards the Captain, Rhodey starts rubbing his forehead.

"Oh, fuck, come on," Arrow-dude mutters from the corner, looking at the ceiling. The words sound hard to get out.

Tony looks towards Pepper, who has both hands over her mouth and a face like he just shot her in the foot.

"Apparently you left out the fact that I’m planning on proposing to someone," Tony chokes. Everyone in the room looks like they’ve just been told someone died.

He tries for a smile, because he’s good at that, he’s good at faking it, but apparently the people who know him have expanded from being just the people who work for him. “So, who’s the lucky girl?”

"I have to go," Captain America says, strangled, like he’s choking, and he gets out of his chair and actually wobbles. The guy on his right- Sam, Tony thinks- steadies him, but Captain America brushes him off and walks outside, catching his shoulder on the doorframe as he goes.

"Steve," Sam says, but metal-arm guy is faster, leaning in and saying something fast to Sam before following Captain America out the door.

Tony watches them go, and the hand that isn’t holding the box at arms’ length reaches for the handy-dandy bit of tech that he’s been halfheartedly examining since he woke up. He taps at it, and Redhead says, “Tony, don’t,” in a sharp voice, but Tony ignores her. 

"If you guys won’t tell me who it is," he says, and a screen appears in front of him, showing the hallway Captain America and metal-arm guy just walked into. Tony means to follow them to wherever they’re going, to wherever the girl is that they can’t tell Tony about, but all Captain America does is stumble towards a room, a staff lounge, and fumbles at the door before jerking it open.

"Sorry," he says, sounding exhausted, sounding drunk, when he sees the people inside. "Sorry, I- wanted-"

"Steve," Metal-arm guy says behind him, and Tony has seen him somewhere but he can’t figure out where. The metal hand lands on Steve’s shoulder, squeezing, but Steve is almost violent in shoving it off. Steve closes the door on the wide-eyed people and then takes several steps backwards, shaky steps, legs wobbling, and then he’s falling down, back slamming against the wall as his legs crumple underneath him.

Metal-arm guy says, “Steve,” again, and Captain America buries his head in his hands and spits, “Fuck,” and look at that, Tony’s enough to make Captain America swear.

Steve, his mind corrects, because somehow Tony can’t imagine Captain America having a breakdown in the middle of a hospital hallway.

On the screen, Metal-arm guy bends. He doesn’t try to touch Steve this time, but keeps close. “Steve. We’ll get him back.”

Steve shakes his head, burying his face in his hands. “Fuck,” Tony hears him say. “Fuck, fucking- fuck, Bucky, I told him not to- he never listens, he never goddamn fucking listens, I told him not to go in but he did it anyway, and he wouldn’t wake up for months, and he finally woke up and he didn’t- he doesn’t even, he doesn’t-“

Tony doesn’t hear any more words after that, the sobbing too hard to make anything out, and people are staring as Captain America absolutely loses it.

Steve cries like someone he loves has died in front of him, and Tony can’t tear his eyes away as Steve shakes violently, shuddering into his hands.

"Tony, turn it off," Pepper says, and numbly, Tony does. The velvet box with the wedding ring inside sits like a rock in his hand.

"Close friend," Tony says, and Pepper looks older, so much older than those nine years that Tony’s lost.

"Maybe a little more than that," she says, and then allows: "Maybe a lot."

The room goes quiet, and over the beep of the machines, Tony can hear the muffled sounds of Steve breaking down in the hallway.

 

 

 

Stepping on eggshells would be an understatement to describe the next month of Tony Stark’s life. Stepping in a minefield and only missing metal half the time would be more accurate.

First-off, Captain America- Steve, and apparently the love of Tony’s life- refuses to talk to him.

Tony doesn’t blame him. God knows what he would do if he was in Steve’s shoes. Probably handle it even worse, turning to booze and the like.

"You don’t drink that much anymore," Pepper tells him. She moves in for the time being, until Tony gets back on his feet. "You didn’t need it. You filled that hole."

Tony makes a dick joke, because of course he does, and Pepper laughs, but it’s fleeting and then she’s back to looking sad.

Pepper’s changed, that much is obvious. She’s more- more like a fighter, Tony thinks. Tony isn’t surprised when she tells him that she occasionally takes the suit out for battles when Tony is otherwise occupied.

He asks what he was occupied with, and Pepper’s smile, like everything else, is sad. “Date nights, sometimes. But mostly you two suited up even if it was the only date night you got all month.”

Because Tony has been having date nights with Steve for the past six years, and Tony can’t remember any of it.

 

 

 

 

He gives Steve the box with the ring in it about a week after he wakes up, and Steve stiffens at the sight of him and then even further when he looks at what he’s just been given.

"I don’t want it," Tony says, and then winces. "I mean, I- sorry. I thought it’d be weird if I kept it?"

"No, I understand," Steve says, voice hoarse like it always is when he speaks to Tony, like he’s trying not to break down. He always looks like it’s hard to meet his eyes.

Tony gets that it’s bad for him, he’s been told about how he’s been through this before, first with Peggy and then with Bucky, and now it’s happening with Tony, who Steve loves. Is in love with. 

Steve always looks at Tony like he’s searching for something he knows he isn’t going to find, always tried to hold back, always tries to look normal and fails so, so badly. Tony recoils every time anyway, at how much Steve must have loved him.

"Thank you," Steve says, fingers curling around the ring box like he doesn’t really want to be holding it in the first place, and his smile is the worst thing Tony has ever seen in his life, and he’s seen the long-healed scars that go around his arc reactor.

 

 

 

 

Tony’s fit for his age, which, he notes with horror, is fifty-fucking-two.

He’s fitter than he ever was in his entire life, not buff but definitely with a six-pack looming. His arms are more defined than ever, his legs are cut with muscles. 

"What the hell was Rogers doing, dating a fifty year old," Tony asks Bruce once.

Bruce doesn’t miss a beat, eyes on the experiment in front of them, because he comes down to Tony’s workshop sometimes. “Loving you,” he says, and Tony’s throat swells shut.

He can’t deal with this.

 

 

 

 

One glass of whiskey turns to another, and Tony finds himself drunk at 9PM, walking the halls of a Tower he doesn’t remember building. He heads down to the workshop and stares at the suits, also which he can’t remember building past the big, clunky grey thing in a cave.

He’s not allowed to use the suits, not yet. They haven’t given him a reason, but that’s because none of them are comfortable saying that Captain America is a liability in the field if he can’t give Tony orders without choking up.

Steve tries, Tony knows. He’s good at compartmentalizing, the good Captain is. But there was something about Tony bringing the ring out of his pocket that Steve couldn’t take- another future that got stolen out from under him, all the while as Tony walks and talks and doesn’t remember loving him.

It’s not fair, Tony finds himself thinking. He looks at a framed photo on his workshop desk, the alcohol making it wobble in his line of sight. It’s a picture of the Avengers in the helicarrier, all laughing and streaked with dirt and blood from a battle that Tony doesn’t remember fighting.

They all look so happy. In it, Tony’s arm is over Natasha’s shoulder and he’s kissing Steve on the cheek, who is looking at Tony with a thousand things Tony can’t deal with, will never be able to deal with when he hasn’t been through them already, slogging through the years.

Tony throws a bottle at the picture. The bottle smashes on the corner of the workshop bench, because he’s wasted and his aim sucks. 

They tell him he’s gotten more mature over the years, and Tony doubts it.

 

 

 

 

Thor walks in on Tony staring at the arc reactor in the mirror, and shakes his head when Tony goes to cover it up.

"It is a battle wound," Thor tells him. "You ought to be proud of it. It proves you are strong, Tony Stark, and you are one of the strongest warriors I have had the pleasure of fighting beside."

Vaguely, Tony remembers learning about this guy in second grade.

"Yeah, well," he says, doing up the buttons. "Doesn’t mean I have to like it."

A pause, then Thor says, “Steven liked it. He told me once. He said it was the height of comfort to look over at night and to see proof that you were alive and well beside him.”

Tony shudders with it. He draws in a breath, his fingers moving over the buttons, pushing them into place so the blue glow is snuffed out under the fabric.

Everyone in this tower loves him, and they’re so blatant about it, even the ones who Tony knows keep their heart close. 

Tony’s fought beside these people. He’s bled, he’s held them as they bled, he’s patched them up and yelled and laughed with them, and they all look at him like they’re missing a ghost.

Tony never expected to find a family, but it looks like they found him anyway. 

 

 

 

 

He eats dinners with them, but mostly he hangs in the background and watches.

He watches everyone, but mostly Steve, trying to catalogue why Tony loved him in the first place. He watches Steve on the television, watches him pull people out of fires and slap his friends on the back and watch reruns.

God, I can tell why I fell in love with you, Tony thinks to himself as he watches Steve rub his thumb against a sketch of the New York skyline. 

 

 

 

 

Tony walks in to the lounge a month and a half after waking up in a body nine years older than he remembers to find his team suiting up.

"Where are you going," he asks, and Captain America, mask and all, picks up his shield from beside the couch.

"We’re going to get your memories back," he says, and Tony thinks of telling him it’s impossible, he’s reviewed the data, there’s no chance. 

But.

"I’m coming with you," Tony says, and Steve looks over him, at how his jaw is locked, how his arms are crossed, and for a moment Tony sees a genuine smile flash across Steve’s face.

"Of course you are," Steve mutters, and straightens. "JARVIS?"

"Captain."

"Get Tony’s suit ready."

"Of course, Captain."

Tony’s gotten used to the fact that JARVIS takes orders from people who aren’t him.

 

 

 

 

If Tony didn’t know any better, he’d say it’s muscle memory that lets him fly without a hitch. His hands flex with the repulsors at his side, he jettisons through the air and lands like he’s seen himself do in videos.

It feels normal, it feels natural, it feels like Tony’s been doing this seamlessly his whole life.

Tony fires a repulsor into an alien’s face and shoots a beam into Captain America’s sheild, and Steve moves it so the beam cuts through a line of aliens.

Tony grins, and Cap says, “Nice job, shellhead,” and Tony wants to remember so hard it aches.

 

 

 

 

They make it to the place Tony allegedly lost his memory at, the place he’s visited countless times before and yelled and kicked things, and it looks like it always does, just smeared with alien blood.

"You want him back," the girl- woman- the being says, all slick black hair that flows into her legs, which end inches above the ground.

"Yes," Steve says. "We do. We promised."

The being purrs, flowing closer. Its nails scrape Steve’s cowl, leaving marks that most things don’t. “What, exactly, would you give up to get him back, Steve Rogers?”

"Anything," Steve says, and Tony doesn’t doubt it a bit.

Another purr. Its hand creeps around his neck. “Anything, you say?”

"Anything you want," Steve tells her. "Please, I just- please," he says, and his voice cracks, and Tony sees its jaw open and he moves, moves to where Steve is closing his eyes, his mouth parting on what might be Tony’s name.

 

 

 

 

Tony wakes up in a hospital bed again, and promptly groans. “Ugh. Morphine. My tower for a morphine.”

"That wasn’t grammatically correct at all," Clint says, and Tony’s smiling as he opens his eyes. His gaze goes around the room, and his breath stutters-

"Steve," he says. "Steve, he was- he was-"

"Steve’s fine," Natasha tells him. "Tony, what do you remember?"

Tony’s brow furrows. “I remember some bitch saying she was going to take something from Steve he couldn’t get back and then taunt him with it, and-“

It hits him like a slap, like that one time the suit got struck with lightning while he was inside, and he’s out of bed and gasping before Natasha can hold him down.

Her eyes are wide. “Tony,” she says, and Tony gasps, “Steve, I need-“

Bruce runs out the door, and Tony lets Natasha put his IV back into place. “How long.”

"She wiped you for almost two months," Natasha tells him. She’s smiling in a way he barely gets to see. "Good to have you back, Tony."

"Yeah," Tony says. He blinks. It hurts. "Shit, the ring. I was going to- Oh, shit. Shit.”

"He still has it, deep breaths," Natasha assures him, and the door swings open and bangs on the wall, but Tony doesn’t care, he’ll pay for the mark it leaves, Steve is charging over to Tony with terrible hope in his eyes, the kind of fragile hope he’s sure will be crushed like it has been so many times.

"Tony," Steve says, his voice shaking with it, and Tony doesn’t waste any time, just blurts, "I remember, it’s okay, it’s all here, I got it all back," and kisses Steve through the last few words.

Steve’s hands tremble as they cup Tony’s face, kissing him desperately. “God- god, Tony, I missed you, I missed you, I thought I’d never-“

"Can’t get rid of me that easy," Tony promises, and he squeezes the nape of Steve’s neck, runs his hands through Steve’s hair, which has grown longer since Tony last did this. "Was gonna propose. Younger me completely screwed it up, I’m so sorry."

Steve laughs, choked. “Don’t care. You’re back now.”

"Marry me," Tony says, hardly drawing back enough to form the words. "Shit, Steve, I had this whole thing planned out, I can’t even get a refund, was gonna spoil you-"

"You spoil me already, it’s enough, I love you, I’ll marry you, marry the hell of you, Tony goddamn Stark," Steve says, kissing Tony for all he’s worth.

"I’m never leaving again, you hear me," Tony says, and they both know it isn’t like that, they’ll be kidnapped or have to go away or some other fate that they don’t know yet.

"I’m always going to come back to you," Tony promises, and Steve nods feverishly, his hands on Tony’s face, grounding him, bringing him back, always.