Tony would say that he remembers, but that's just it – he doesn't remember all of it. When he thinks of coming home, battered and patched and riddled with gratitude, there are gaps and half-thoughts where memory should be, and his sense of time is corroded, a gravel burn against his skull. Some of it could be alcohol – he remembers the rabid desperation with which he drank, chasing back the knowledge that it wasn't going to help with an olive; ice; the bright, bitter twist of lemon rind – but that doesn't feel right, or all of it, or true. He lost time, he knows it – lost the way back to his body, lost the words that meant 'the day after this,' lost the distance between his bedroom and the workshop doors.
He remembers that he can't remember when Steve wakes up with a start.
There were dreams – he remembers those, thick and vivid and so real that with his eyes wide open he could see the cave when he looked at the drapes. He remembers the taste of it, the choking, white-hot, sweat-chilled confusion of waking up unanchored, the metallic shape of the words in his mouth before he spoke them.
Jarvis? Jarvis, are you –
I'm here, sir.
"Tony – "
He can see the line of Steve's bare back, the breath that pushes into his body, too fast, uneven, and he wonders what Steve sees when he looks at the wall.
"What year is it?" Steve asks.
"Twenty-twelve," Tony replies, and he sits up slowly, lets the sheets slide loose, doesn't touch. He remembers this – how he felt sure he would shatter. There are grey spaces, empty time where he thinks perhaps he did.
Is this –
"It's not forty-three." Steve states, doesn’t question – he's reminding himself, and Tony's his back-up, his sidekick, his partner. Tony isn't sure which name to claim; watches a shiver work down Steve's long spine.
"Twenty-twelve. Still the same year as when we went to sleep."
Steve nods, and he swings his legs out of bed, curls his hands against the mattress. "We – sparred. Earlier. And you ordered – "
"Chinese food. The bad kind. The kind that has nothing whatsoever to do with China, if we're being honest – pure Americana, deep fried batter. Delicious, don't get me wrong, there's probably crack in the fryer or . . . well, no, not actually crack, please don't get ideas about the moral integrity of –" Steve sags, and in the dim light Tony sees him reach to scrub his hands over his face. "Anyway, that's sort of irrelevant – and then we came up here."
"My – our. Definitely our."
Steve turns a little. "No, right, it's ours. I'm just . . . I can't think." He gestures toward his head, and Tony feels the pull of his own sense-memory, the ache of a remembered panic.
Perhaps you might tell me what you see, sir?
"It's okay," Tony says. He knows what it is to lose a sure footing; he doesn't know how to put it into words.
Steve blows out a breath, pulls in another. "Your shirt's in the middle of the floor."
"And whose fault is that, hmmm?" If all else fails, fall back on saying everything the very moment it comes to mind. "If there are buttons left, I'll be surprised. The vacuum-system will be choking on the spoils of your handiwork forever."
Steve looks up at the ceiling, toward the far wall where the Picasso hangs, over to the dresser, the armchairs, the window. "I get lost, sometimes," he murmurs, slowly taking stock of everything he can see.
"Between then and now. Inside my head, it's just – "
"Steve." The bed's enormous – Steve's half a world away, a span of decades.
"Can I touch?"
"Please," Steve says fervently, and he crawls back across the bed, shudders out a breath at the press of Tony's hands.
"I've got you," Tony says, sliding them down amid the sheets, the blankets, shifting and turning to fold Steve in his arms. "I've got you. We're right here; it's right now." He kisses whatever part of Steve he can reach. "We're right here, I promise."
Can you sleep, sir?
I'll just work.
Is that wise?
Is sitting here wiser?
Steve's arm rests across Tony's torso, hand fisted as though Tony's his shield, a protection he can carry.
Just -- double the rate of feedback from the perimeters; wake me if anything –
Yes, sir. I'll keep watch.
"I've been lost, too," Tony whispers. " After Afghanistan, after the cave, when I came back, I'd wake up and . . ."
Steve's tightens his hold.
"We'd better stick together, that's all, just in case – two's better than one, no I in Team, you know how it goes."
Steve nods, and Tony can feel the fine tremor of dissonance that's grinding into his bones. "I'd like that," Steve says. "Together."
"Here and now."
Steve exhales shakily, pressed against Tony's side. "Here and now," he agrees, repeats it again, tucks it beneath his breath, into the warmth of their bodies – Tony feels it there, saves it. Remembers.