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Forgive to Forget

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For a moment, Tony just stared at the handwriting on the envelope he was holding. Then he hesitantly turned it over so he could open it.

Tony felt his breath catch in his throat as he pulled the first sheet of paper out. He had recognized the handwriting the moment he had seen it, even before he had glanced at the return address. Still, this . . . hadn't been what he was expecting.

Slowly, as carefully as he could, Tony pulled the top sheet out of the envelope and studied it. "Why on earth did you send me this?" he said softly.

Biting his lip, he carefully put the paper down on the small table in front of him. Then he pulled the second sheet out of the envelope, staring at it for a moment as recognition sunk in. A tiny smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, despite his best efforts.

Taking a deep breath, Tony put the second sheet of paper down on top of the first before pulling the last one out of the envelope. His eyes widened, and for a moment he forgot to breathe.

"Steve," he said quietly.


One month earlier…

 

"Spider-Man, duck!"

Peter didn't even hesitate at the sound of Tony's yell. He dropped to the ground immediately, not stopping to ask questions or argue like he would have just a few months ago. It gave Tony a clear shot at the H.Y.D.R.A. agent aiming a gun at his back.

Tony was careful to aim at the ground at the man's feet, just far enough ahead of him that he wouldn't accidentally blow him up. Bad guy or not, the Avengers were only supposed to be stopping them, not killing them.

It took Tony less than five seconds to blow up the ground underneath the H.Y.D.R.A. agent, sending the man sprawling in one direction while his gun went in an entirely different one. Peter was already back on his feet before the slight whining sound the rulpulsors let out had even stopped.

"You okay?" Tony asked, landing beside Peter.

Peter nodded. "Yep," he said. "Thanks for the help, Iron Man. That could have been bad."

"I think that's a bit of an understatement," Tony replied, nodding his head just slightly. He was trying to keep the amusement out of his voice, but he suspected that he hadn't quite succeeded based on the way Peter tilted his head at him.

Without saying another word, Tony flew back up in the air, surveying the battle scene and trying to see exactly what was going on.

Overall, it looked like the others had everything under control. Storm and Thor were both hovering a few feet in the air, a handful of rather singed-looking H.Y.D.R.A. agents sitting on the ground underneath them. Giant Girl had a couple of agents cupped in her hands, her fingers closed around them like bars of a cell. At her feet, a few more of the bad guys were standing very, very, very still, presumably in hopes that the army of ants covering their bodies from the waist down wouldn't decide to move up any more. Tony assumed Hank was shrunk down somewhere over there.

Over on the far side of what had once been a fairly nice park, the Hulk was—

Tony made a mental note to pretend that, if Steve asked, he hadn't noticed the Hulk sitting on several H.Y.D.R.A. agents while Tigra and Luke Cage stood a few feet away and smirked. That way, he couldn't get in trouble for not stepping in. He could see the bad guys struggling, so they were still breathing. That's all that really mattered.

There were some very scared looking H.Y.D.R.A. agents standing near some still-smoking trees. Their hands were resting on top of their heads, and they were holding extremely still. From the angle he was at, Tony couldn't actually see Wolverine anywhere near them, but there was no doubt he was there. Somewhere. The terrified looks on the bad guys' faces was all the proof he needed.

And then there was Steve. Who, actually, Tony didn't see anywhere.

Frowning, Tony extended the range of the armor's sensors, spreading out past the edges of the park. His frown grew when, a moment later, he finally found Steve, still fighting what he assumed were some H.Y.D.R.A. agents who had tried to escape, considering they were in the empty parking lot just outside the far side of park.

Tony flew in that direction, careful to keep his sensors running full-tilt as he did. There was some type of energy signature nearby, fluctuating wildly, but his armor couldn't quite figure out just what it—

Oh. Oh.

"Cap, get out of there," Tony said, hoping against hope that Steve hadn't managed to lose his communicator during the fight like he had the last four times.

There was pause. Then Steve's voice came through, a little breathless but clear. "I'm a little busy," there was a pause punctuated by a loud thud, "at the moment," there was a strangled cry that definitely didn't come from Steve, "Iron Man."

Tony pushed his armor even faster. "Cap, there's some type of bomb. Get out of there now."

There wasn't a response, but the armor's sensors told Tony that Steve was trying to move back in the direction of the park. He was going much too slowly, though, presumably slowed down by the H.Y.D.R.A. agents.

"Steve," Tony said warningly. He was almost there.

"Still busy, Tony," Steve shot back. "And don't use real names over the comms."

Tony was about to snap back a smart remark. Except just then, suddenly, there was a flash of. . . well, Tony wasn't quite certain what it was a flash of, to be honest. All he knew was that there was a flash of something that didn't quite read as energy, and the H.Y.D.R.A. agents disappeared from his sensors.

Magic, probably. It would be just his luck.

Whatever the case, Tony didn't have time to think about it right then. The energy readings that his sensors had been picking up were suddenly shooting through the roof, and there was no way that Steve was going to get out of there in time. Not without help.

There wasn't time to think.

Before he was even aware of what he was doing, Tony was flying straight at Steve, pushing his armor to the limits. "Cap, thirty seconds. I'm going to see if I can get it up in the air, see if it will do less damage that way."

"Iron Man, don't even think about it," Steve snapped. Tony could see him running, putting as much distance between the energy signatures, but it wasn't enough. He was too slow.

Besides, Tony wasn't even sure how big the bomb was. There was something mixed in, making it hard for his sensors to read. They couldn't just leave it on the ground. Most of the civilians who had been in the area had fled the moment H.Y.D.R.A. had shown up, but there were probably just a few huddled here and there, waiting for the fighting to end before they came back out. There usually were.

"Tony!"

Tony ignored Steve's voice over the comms as he flew over his head, straight at where the energy signatures were coming from. He could see it now: a small, nondescript box sitting on the ground beside one of the few cars left in the parking lot.

Twenty seconds.

Not giving himself time to think, Tony grabbed the box and flew straight up in the air. He had to get it as high up as possible; otherwise, it would do as much – if not more – damage than it would have done on the ground. He'd found that out the last time.

Ten seconds.

"Tony, that's far enough," Steve's voice snapped in his ear. "You're going to get yourself killed."

Five seconds.

"I hope not," Tony muttered.

He threw the bomb straight up in the air, with as much power behind it as he could. Then he immediately started back to the ground, pushing the armor as much he could. Too slow.

There was a roar above his head, his armor's systems immediately going haywire as they tried to process the unexpected surge of energy. A bright light surrounded him, blinding him for just a moment as he frantically tried to override the armor's systems to compensate. His chest ached, like it did when he was running low on energy, except that wasn't right. The systems were showing that he was fine, that nothing was wrong, but that was impossible because there had just been a bomb and now. . .

. . . and now . . .

Just like that, the world went black.


Tony's eyes shot open, and he groaned. His head was pounding, his chest was hurting in a way that was never a good sign, and if he was honest with himself his entire body felt as if he'd gone a few rounds with the Hulk. He was still in the armor, but it felt as if he was lying flat on his back.

Which would make sense, what with the whole "falling from the sky" thing.

He stayed still for a moment, trying to reorient himself. The armor was still working, albeit a little sluggishly, but a few systems did appear to be on the fritz. He was going to have to take a look at them once he made it back to his lab.

"Tony, can you hear me!"

The comm system came back to life, Steve's panicked voice much too loud for Tony's pounding head. He groaned again and told the armor to raise the faceplate.

Nothing happened.

With a worried frown, Tony tried again. This time the armor responded. The fresh air that came pouring inside was extremely refreshing. Too refreshing, actually, which made Tony think that maybe the air filtration system hadn't been working quite as well as the systems had shown that it was.

"Tony?"

Steve's face appeared above him. Tony knew he wasn't imagining the relief in Steve's eyes.

"Well, that was fun," Tony said weakly.

It took quite a bit of effort, but he managed to sit up. He expected at least part of the reason he managed to stay upright was because Steve was resting a hand on his shoulder.

After that initial bit of relief, Steve's face had gone curiously blank. "Can you stand up?" he asked gently.

"I think so?" Tony said. He expected it came off more as a question than a statement. "It would probably be better if I got rid of the armor first. It's not responding like it's supposed to."

Steve's mouth twitched, just a little.

Shaking his head, Tony gave the order for the armor to dismantle. When nothing happened, he gave it again. And then a third time.

"I can't believe you did that," Steve said. There was something in his voice, but Tony couldn't quite make it out.

Tony gave a half-hearted shrug as the armor finally fell off of him. "It's a good thing that I did," he said distractedly, flinching as he pulled up the loose T-shirt he had been wearing underneath. No wonder his chest was hurting; there was a huge bruise already forming on his left side, presumably from when he had hit the ground.

Steve stared at him. "A good thing?" he repeated.

Tony nodded. "That blast would have taken out half the park."

"That blast almost took out you!" Steve said heatedly.

Tony shrugged again, tenderly poking at the bruise. "The odds were better than they were that time with the dragon," he pointed out. "Or the time those high school kids over in New Jersey managed to open a dimensional portal."

Steve didn't say anything.

After almost a full minute of silence, Tony glanced over at Steve. Steve was staring at the bruise on his chest, and something flashed in his eyes that Tony couldn't quite read.

"What?" Tony asked, frowning. "You're acting like it's the first time I've gotten hurt or something. It happens all the time, you know."

"Yeah, it does," Steve agreed. He sounded exhausted. "That's my whole point, Tony."

Without saying another word, Steve turned and walked away, leaving Tony sitting in the middle of the parking lot. He stared as Steve disappeared into the crowd gathering around the edges of the scene, most of them staring and pointing at him.

"What just happened?" Tony asked, confused.


". . . and it's been almost a week, and Steve's still refusing to talk to me!" Tony exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air out of pure habit. He flinched as his bruised ribs protested and immediately brought his arms back down.

Pepper shook her head, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "Have you tried apologizing?"

Tony stared at her. "Why would I apologize?" he asked in confusion. "He's the one being a jerk."

She shook her head. "He's worried about you, Tony."

"Worried?" Tony repeated. He raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

There was a snort of laughter from behind him.

"No one's talking to you," Tony said, not even looking behind him.

There was a pause, and then Rhodey snorted again. "How many times have you been hurt since the Avengers started up?" he asked pointedly.

Tony crossed his arms in front of his chest. "That's not the point."

"That's entirely the point, Tony," Pepper said, cutting in. She rolled her eyes when he shot her a hurt look.

"You know that he considers himself to be the leader of the team," Rhodey said, getting up from the chair he'd been sitting in by the door and walking over to stand beside Pepper.

Tony blinked. "That's, you know, because he is the leader of the team."

Rhodey shot him an unamused look. "Look at it from his point of view then," he said. "If he's the leader, then it's supposed to be his job to make sure no one under him gets hurt. You keep getting hurt, so that means he's not doing a very good job at being in charge."

"That's ridiculous!" Tony exclaimed. He started to throw his hands up again, but he remembered at the last second why that would be a very bad idea.

Pepper was staring at both of them now, the expression on her face making it quite clear that she thought they were both extremely dense.

"I can't believe you haven't figured it out," she said, shaking her head.

A confused look appeared on Rhodey's face, but he had enough sense not to say anything.

Tony didn't. "Figured what out?" he asked.

Pepper sighed, reaching up to rub her temples. "Tony, how long have you known Steve Rogers?"

"You already know the answer to that question," Tony said, frowning.

"Humor me," she replied dryly.

Tony's frown deepened. "Since we pulled him out of the ice," he said. "So close to three years now, I guess."

"And how long have the two of you been friends?" Pepper asked.

"I don't know," Tony said. "Something like two and a half years, maybe? It took six months or so before we—"

"Stopped hating each other?" Rhodey suggested.

Tony shot him a dirty look. "Figured out that we had more in common than we'd thought."

Pepper broke in before Rhodey could say anything in response. "How much of your free time do you usually spend with Steve?" she asked Tony.

He shrugged. "No idea."

"Make a guess," she said dryly.

Tony blinked, but he thought about it for a second. "I don't know, half? Maybe a little more?"

"And who else do you spend your free time with?" Pepper pressed.

"You," Tony replied promptly. "Rhodey. Reed Richards, sometimes, but it's usually at least tangibly related to Avengers business."

Pepper raised an eyebrow. "And who else?"

Tony paused for a moment. "That's about it," he said. "What's your point?"

She sighed. "Think about it, Tony. That's all I ask."


Storm tilted her head thoughtfully as Tony dropped down into an empty chair in the rec room, balancing a stack of papers precariously on his knee as he tried to get his laptop set up. "Do you not typically do this work downstairs?" she asked curiously.

"I thought I'd do it in here today," Tony said. His voice came out a bit more irritable than he had planned. "You know, maybe have some company.

"Ah," she said, sound much too understanding for Tony's tastes.

He shot her a suspicious look. "Ah, what?" he asked.

Storm stood up, stretching a little as she did. Then she walked over and gently patted him on the shoulder. "Captain America is not here today," she said lightly. "I believe he was spending the day with the Falcon."

Tony tried not to let his disappointment show. Judging by the way Storm raised her eyebrow, he suspected that he hadn't succeeded.

"It has already been two weeks," she said lightly. "Are the two of you still not speaking?"

Tony didn't quite meet her eyes. "You know how he is," he said petulantly. "It's hard to try to fix things if he won't stop avoiding me."

Storm smiled. "Just give him some time," she suggested. Then the expression on her face became a little more serious, though there was still a slight twinkle in her eye. "And perhaps think about trying to avoid any explosions, dragons, or dimensional portals for little while?"

"Despite what people seem to think, I'm not trying to get myself hurt," Tony said, rolling his eyes.

She raised an eyebrow, but she didn't say anything.

Tony crossed his arms in front of his chest, barely even noticing when the stack of papers in his lap hit the floor. "I'm not," he repeated.

"Perhaps not," Storm agreed, "but I think you could try a little harder to not get yourself hurt."

"Oh, not you too," Tony muttered.

Storm smiled. "Good luck with your work," she said, gesturing with her eyes to the papers now spread out all over the floor.

Tony groaned.


"Go away, Wolverine."

Logan raised an eyebrow. "It's a free country," he said, taking a sip of his beer.

"Maybe," Tony agreed, "but I was here first. Can't you go find another roof to hide on?"

Logan took another drink.

Tony closed his eyes. "Weren't you supposed to be spending this weekend with the X-Men?"

"Yep," Logan agreed. There was a pause that Tony assumed was him taking another long swig of his beer.

When that pause didn't end, Tony reluctantly opened his eyes again. "I'm almost scared to ask," he said, "but if you were spending the weekend with the X-Men, then why are you here?"

Logan's mouth twitched. Not much, admittedly. Most people probably wouldn't even have noticed. But it twitched. "Weekend's over."

Tony stared at him.

Logan stared back.

"What?" Tony finally asked, frowning.

Logan saluted him with his beer. "It's Monday," he said. "Hope you didn't have a meeting this morning."

Tony kept staring at him. "Please tell me you're kidding."

Logan raised an eyebrow.

"Pepper is going to kill me," Tony said, hitting his forehead with his hand.

"Probably," Logan agreed. "You still haven't kissed and made up with Cap, huh?"

Tony blinked, bringing his hand down. "What?"

His voice probably sounded a bit strangled. He honestly didn't care at that point.

Logan grinned, saluted him with his beer, and turned to walk away.

"No, seriously, what?" Tony repeated.


"It's been three weeks," Peter's voice said from somewhere above Tony's head. "Are you and Cap still not talking to each other?"

Tony paused. Then, reluctantly, he looked up.

Peter waved at him from the ceiling, what looked like a turkey sandwich clutched in his hand. He crawled over to the wall, coming down about halfway and perching there. "You look horrible, by the way," he said brightly.

"Thank you," Tony replied, rolling his eyes. "You always know how to make a guy feel better."

There was a sound behind him, and Tony glanced over his shoulder to see Jan walk in through the kitchen door. She stopped just inside, raising an eyebrow as she stared at the two of them. "Did I miss something?"

Tony shook his head. "No."

"We're talking about him looking like he hasn't slept since he and Cap started fighting," Peter said brightly.

Jan raised the other eyebrow too.

"No, we're not," Tony said firmly.

"Uh-huh," Jan said slowly. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but instead she just shook her head and started walking again.

She pushed past Tony to get to the refrigerator, pulling out a carton of milk and sniffing at it. Then she made a face and walked over to the sink, pouring the carton's contents down the drain.

"You do look horrible," she called over her shoulder.

Tony groaned, giving in to the inevitable and sitting down in one of the empty chairs around the kitchen table. "I don't get it," he grumbled. "I save the day, and in return Cap stops speaking to me for three weeks and everyone else in the world decides to insult me."

"It's not an insult," Jan said, rolling her eyes. She walked past him and dropped the now empty milk carton in the recycling bin. "It's a fact."

"Same difference," Tony muttered.

"Besides," Jan continued, as if he hadn't said anything. "The dark circles under Cap's eyes are just as bad as the ones under yours."

At that, Tony looked up. "Wait, what?"

"Yeah," Peter said from where he was perched on the wall. He took another bite of his sandwich. "You both look horrible."

Tony blinked a few times, not quite certain how to respond.

Jan was rummaging in the fridge again. This time she pulled out a bottle of orange juice, and – apparently deciding that it wasn't going to poison her – she grabbed a clean glass from the dish rack and poured some in it. "The two of you are going to have to talk again at some point, you know."

"It's hard to talk to someone when they're avoiding you," Tony muttered.

Jan smiled a bit at that as she walked over and sat down in one of the other empty chairs at the table. "Give him a bit more time," she said. "Hank and I have gone weeks without talking to each other too, if we're mad enough."

Tony frowned at that. "Yes, but you and Hank are dating. Cap and I are just friends."

Her smile grew a little brighter at that, but she just shook her head. "Be patient," she repeated. "And figure out what you're going to say when you apologize."

"Why does everyone keep telling me to apologize?" Tony blurted. "He's the one who should be apologizing!"

Jan rolled her eyes.

"It's no fun when Mom and Dad fight," Peter chimed in.

Tony looked up. Peter had climbed back onto the ceiling and was dangling a few feet over their heads.

"We're not your parents," Tony said, rolling his eyes.

Jan had been taking a sip of her juice, and she ended up half-laughing and half-coughing at his words. "Believe me, Tony, we know and are forever thankful that you aren't."


"No, Thor."

Thor frowned at Tony, a puzzled look on his face. "But I thought you desired Captain America's forgiveness?"

Tony brought his hand up to scrub his face. "Just out of curiosity, was Spider-Man the one who told you that locking two people in a room together was how humans work out their differences when they're fighting?"

Thor's frown disappeared, replaced by a broad grin. "Yes," he said eagerly. "He explained the practice to me in great detail."

"I'm sure he did," Tony said with a sigh. "Thor, I need to go have a talk with Peter. Can you please go unlock the closet door and let Steve out before he breaks it down?"

Thor tilted his head. "But what about—"

Tony groaned. "We'll work it out ourselves, Thor. Eventually."

The grin was gone again, replaced by a deep frown. Thor reluctantly nodded in agreement. "If you insist, Iron Man."

"Oh, believe me," Tony said, "I insist."


"Cap is upstairs."

Tony stopped, his hammer still poised above the sheet of metal he had been pounding on. He glanced over his shoulder, frowning when he saw Bruce standing just inside the door.

"It's, like, three in the morning," Tony said, glancing at the clock Steve had hung up on the wall ages ago, in hopes that it might actually remind Tony not to spend all night working. "I'm pretty sure everyone is upstairs by now."

Bruce leaned against the doorframe without saying anything.

Tony frowned. "Shouldn't you be upstairs too?" he asked, frowning. "I thought trying to keep a regular sleep schedule was an important part of keeping Big Green from showing up too often."

Bruce shrugged a little. "Couldn't sleep," he said. He paused and gave Tony a pointed look. "It seems to be a very common phenomenon tonight."

"Yeah, well, I've always been a night owl," Tony replied.

There was another pause as Bruce seemed to be thinking very carefully about what he was going to say. "You're not the only one I'm talking about."

For a moment, Tony wasn't sure what he was talking about. Then his conversation with Jan and Peter the week before popped into his head and a lot of things suddenly made sense.

Tony snorted. "Steve's not sleeping too well either, huh?"

Bruce tilted his head. "You sound almost happy about that."

"Well, what can I say?" Tony asked. A distant part of his brain, the part that wasn't running on way too little sleep, told him he should probably shut up. He ignored it. "I've had a rough couple of weeks."

"Tony—"

Tony glared at him. "Don't even think about telling me that I should try to fix this," he snapped. "We both know you're the last person who should be giving that kind of advice."

Bruce jerked away like he'd been slapped, a shuttered look appearing on his face as he closed his eyes and started the slow, steady breaths Tony recognized as the ones he did when he was fighting not to let the Hulk out. "I think that I should go now," he said quietly.

Tony stared at him for a moment, his fists clenched at his sides. Then, like a balloon deflating, he felt his anger drain away just as quickly as it had appeared. "Yeah," he said tiredly, "That would probably be a good idea."

There wasn't a reply, and Tony closed his eyes as he leaned against his workbench.

"Iron Man," Bruce called out suddenly.

Tony reluctantly glanced back at him.

"For the record?" Bruce said. "I wasn't going to suggest you try to fix anything. All I was going to say was that you look like you could do with some sleep."

Tony didn't quite meet his gaze.

Bruce didn't move. "Considering how smart you are," he said gently, "that wasn't a very bright move."

Tony couldn't help but give him a slight grin, though he suspected it probably didn't reach his eyes. "Well, you know me."

"Yes, I do," Bruce agreed, nodding. He sounded much more serious than Tony felt comfortable with. "I stand by what I said."

"I'll keep that in mind," Tony said. Then he paused, biting his lip for a second. "By the way, sorry."

Bruce smiled. "See?" he said lightly. "It's not that hard."

Tony managed a weak grin. "I thought you weren't going to try to convince me to go fix things with Cap."

"I'm not," Bruce said, shaking his head. "I'm simply pointing out that apologizing isn't as hard as you seem to think it is. That doesn't mean I think you should be the first one to do it."


"I hate magic," Tony grumbled, huddling behind a giant boulder.

He felt extremely exposed in nothing but his shorts and a T-shirt, the remains of his armor spread out in lots of little pieces a few hundred yards away. Tony still wasn't certain what had happened; one minute he had been flying, trying to guard Jan's back as she swatted at flying, carnivorous unicorns – how was this his life? – and the next thing he knew his armor had disappeared. Midair.

Tony made a mental note to thank Storm for sending that wind when she did. He had been high enough up that he might have ended up in lots of little pieces too if she hadn't.

"Tony, are you okay?"

Tony blinked in surprise when he found himself face-to-face with Steve. He was still in full costume, a cut on his cheek bleeding sluggishly.

Steve stared at him, worried. "Tony?" he repeated.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Tony said, shaking his head. For a moment, it was as if the past month hadn't happened. Steve's face was already going shuttered, though, as if he'd remembered that they weren't talking.

"You're going to need to stay down," Steve said. "Without the armor, you're vulnerable."

Tony snorted. "You don't have to tell me twice," he said. "Despite what you seem to think, I don't have a death wish."

Steve opened his mouth, as if he was going to say something. He was cut off, though, by an explosion a few hundred yards away.

Wolverine went flying over their heads, swearing the entire time.

Tony blinked.

"Stay down," Steve ordered. "I'm going to see if I can draw the fire away from here, so that you don't end up in the crossfire."

It took a second for those words to sink in. "Wait, what?" Tony protested.

Steve was already gone, dashing off in the direction of the magician/mad scientist who was causing all of the trouble.

"I'm going to kill him!" Tony exclaimed, standing up.

A fireball flew over his head, missing him by no more than an inch. He quickly dropped back down to the ground.


"Are you out of your mind?" Tony yelled.

Steve raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure what you're talking about," he said calmly.

Tony glared at him. "You almost got yourself blown up," he said coldly. "It was close enough that your wings got burned off!"

At that, Steve reached up to touch the sides of his cowl. When his wandering hand didn't find the white wings on the side of it, he frowned.

"I had to stop him somehow," Steve said. "What else was I supposed to do?"

Tony glared at him. "Wait for back-up!"

"He was getting to close to your position," Steve said, his voice finally starting to sound a little heated.

"So?" Tony exclaimed. "That doesn't mean you needed to throw yourself into the line of fire to keep me from getting hurt!"

"I couldn't just stand by and do nothing!" Steve shot back.

Tony glared at him. "That's exactly what you should have done!" He was well aware that he was yelling at this point, but he was beyond caring. "You scared the hell out of me with that stunt!"

"Well, now you know how I feel every time you do something like that!" Steve yelled back, his eyes flashing with anger.

They both went silent.

Steve stared at Tony. Tony stared at Steve.

"Oh," Tony said weakly. He could feel his anger draining away, replaced by something that felt a lot like shock.

For a minute, he thought that Steve was going to reply. Instead, Steve bit his lip and – without saying a word – turned and walked away.

Most of the other Avengers were close enough that there was no way they hadn't heard the entire conversation. For once, though, they all had enough sense not to say a word.


For a moment, Tony just stared at the handwriting on the envelope he was holding. Then he hesitantly turned it over so he could open it.

Tony felt his breath catch in his throat as he pulled the first sheet of paper out. He had recognized the handwriting the moment he had seen it, even before he had glanced at the return address. Still, this . . . hadn't been what he was expecting.

Slowly, as carefully as he could, Tony pulled the top sheet out of the envelope and studied it. "Why on earth did you send me this?" he said softly.

Biting his lip, he carefully put the paper down on the small table in front of him. Then he pulled the second sheet out of the envelope, staring at it for a moment as recognition sunk in. A tiny smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, despite his best efforts.

Taking a deep breath, Tony put the second sheet of paper down on top of the first before pulling the last one out of the envelope. His eyes widened, and for a moment he forgot to breathe.

"Steve," he said quietly.

Tony closed his eyes for a moment, a thousand thoughts running through his head. Then he put down the last sheet of paper and picked the first one up again, studying it more carefully than he had the first time.

It was a drawing of Steve, obviously done sometime recently. His eyes were serious, dark circles under them that reminded Tony of when they had first pulled him out of the ice, when he had been woken up by nightmares almost every night. That was when they had first started to become friends: before anyone had realized that Iron Man and Tony Stark were one and the same, before Jewel had left the team, before they had found out just how young Spider-Man was, before the Avengers had really become a team rather than a bunch of strangers with almost nothing in common.

Steve looked older in the drawing, Tony realized with some surprise. Tired. There was something in his eyes that made him seem more like the nonagenarian he technically was, rather than the twentysomething Tony usually saw him as.

Shaking his head, Tony carefully put that drawing down and picked up the second one. It was a picture of Tony, one that Steve must have drawn right before everything had gone to hell. Tony remembered that night, though he hadn't noticed Steve sketching. He had been half-asleep, though, curled up on the sofa watching some horrible science fiction movies with the rest of the team.

Tony stared down at the copy of his face on the paper. He was smiling, his eyes half closed and an unguarded expression on his face that even Tony realized wasn't there very often. There were some shadows in the background, ones that vaguely looked like they might have been meant to represent the other Avengers, but the drawing was focused entirely on him.

Slowly, Tony put it back down and picked up the last drawing again.

It was a picture of the two of them, one that Steve had obviously drawn from memory. They were both in uniform, but Tony had his faceplate up and Steve's cowl was pushed back so that his entire head was visible. They were both smiling, and Steve's hand was resting on arm of the Iron Man armor. The Tony in the drawing was looking away, his gaze focused somewhere in the distance, but the Steve in the drawing only had eyes for one person.

Tony recognized the look in the drawing's eyes. He saw it almost every day when he looked in the mirror.

Almost reverently, Tony picked up the envelope the drawings had come in and carefully put the three sheets of paper back inside it. He sat it back down on the table, his hand resting on top of it for a moment as he took in a few deep, calming breaths.

Then he went to find his phone. He had several apologies to make.

And then he had an Avenger to kiss.