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Coded Messages For You

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Dust kicked up in small clouds as dirty, mostly naked children ran down the streets, laughter interweaving with hagglers shouts, gaudy baubles catching the light, twinkling fiercely. Old women wrapped up from head to toe crouched next to large plastic bins filled with grain.

Other women sedately walked the path, large pots filled with water balanced on their heads. The children weaved around them, and the women dodged the children, not spilling a single drop.

In this loud, busy appearance, the single white male in worn out clothing that didn’t look that far removed from the children stood, head tilted, trying to squint to catch the fuzzy image on the old black and white television. The sound at the very least was clear- partially aided by an old radio set to catch the same wave.

“The Avengers are very pleased to aid the city of Albuquerque, the city that Bug Bunny always made the wrong turn at-“ Tap, pause, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap-

Fingers drummed against the podium, loud enough to be picked up by the mics.

The man in the worn out clothing stared at those fingers as they tapped, a furrow appearing between his eyebrows. “Hey, old man, turn up the sound!”

“Sound is up as far as it can go.”

“Then at least get rid of that stupid tapping sound!”

“How do you expect me to do that?” The storekeeper raged, before turning back to the man watching the television, “Either buy something and watch, or move along please.”

The man shook himself, smiling slightly in response. “I- I apologize.”

He ducked out of the building, just in time to see a small child dashing for him, “Doctor! Doctor! Come quickly!”

-.-. --- -- . / .... --- -- . --..-- / -... .-. ..- -.-. .

Four months, five cities, and two miserable days of traveling later, a weary looking man, hair disheveled and frayed clothes hanging off of him, stumbled into a small café with not only running water, but an actual television that worked.

The waitress smiled at him, and he smiled shyly back as he patted off the dust of the road. “What can I get you, and what’s your name?”

“Bruce, and- I’d just like a decaf coffee please.”

She nodded, and Bruce settled into the small booth. Up on the television, a handsome man with flyaway hair appeared on screen, standing at a podium, with a few cue cards. His fingers tapped against the podium, loud enough to be picked up by the mics, tapping the same pattern over and over again.

“Our company is pleased to announce a new water sanitizing generator that is twenty five times more efficient then any other generator in the world-“

Tap, pause, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, pause- “He’s been doing that for all of his conferences for the past few months now.” The waitress sighed as she poured the coffee into the cup. “Don’t know why he does it.”

The strangest look crossed Bruce’s face, as if he were trying not to cry or laugh. She betted it was the former- more men tried not to cry then tried not to laugh. Thought it made them look tough.

“Maybe it’s a secret message.” He suggest casually, with a little smile like he doubted it. One eyebrow twitched upwards.

“A secret message? Well, I hope the person gets the message soon and gets back to the man.”

Bruce hesitated, staring down at his coffee, before taking a hesitant sip at the scalding hot liquid. Slowly he spoke, not sounding very convincing, “What if hypothetically, the man doesn’t want to go back?”

Man? Not women? Hypothetically? She was no stupid women, but two could play at that game.

“Then that hypothetical man better get his head in order and tell him that so that ways Stark stops calling for him.”

A rather bleak smile was all she got in return.

-.-. --- -- . / .... --- -- . --..-- / -... .-. ..- -.-. .

Six months. Ten cities.

The man came straggling in as darkness was beginning to fall, offering his services for a place to sleep for the night. An old mechanic took up his request, saying that his son had his leg broken and there wasn’t any doctors near to fix it.

In exchange for setting the leg, the man got a place to sleep.

“What’s your name mister?”

“You can call me Robert.”

“Huh. Call me James.” They both turned to the television, where a grainy image of the famous Iron Man flashed. His fingers continued to tap against the podium, a desperate, tired message, worn lines sank in around his eyes visible despite the poor image.

“I hope he finds them soon.” The boy murmured, dropping off to sleep, lulled by the comfortable warmth the stranger put out.

“Hmm?”

“I know a little morse code- just enough to hear a bit of the message. He keeps asking someone to come home.”

Robert flinched, oddly enough. The boy squinted at him. “Is something the matter?”

“No, no. Just- come home? You’d think after now he’d have given up.”

James glared at Robert. “No, he can’t give up now! That’s what family does, isn’t it? They’re there for people, no matter what! So if he’s asking his family to come home, no matter what he can’t give up!”

Robert looked at him; an emotion James didn’t recognize swimming in his eyes. “Sometimes, it isn’t that easy.”

“You’re stupid mister.” If James leg wasn’t broken, he’d have kicked the man for being so dumb. “If you love each other enough, then you find ways to work around your problems and compromise. That’s what mommy and daddy do.”

Robert slowly nodded, the sharp light mommy always got when Daddy did something stupid but really, really good and mommy was going to cry and yell at him, and daddy would simply not say anything and hold her tight for hours afterwards in his eyes.

“So I hope his family comes back soon.” James finished lamely, unable to think of anything else to say.

Robert patted him on the shoulder, eyes going back to the television. “Not yet, but soon I think.”

-.-. --- -- . / .... --- -- . --..-- / -... .-. ..- -.-. .

Nine months, five countries.

This television was gigantic, spreading across an entire skyscraper. The loudspeakers set up around the square blasted the words, as the assembled people watched solemnly.

Up on screen, fingers tapped lightly, their familiar pattern threatening to wear holes into the wood. “We the Avengers would like to officially welcome our newest members of Lucas Cage, also known as Power Man, and his companion-“

A man watched the television from underneath a shaded tree, sipping water from a small canteen. An older man stood by him, leaning on a cane and scowling fiercely. “The man of iron is sick.”

The younger started. “Excuse me?”

The old man snorted loudly, “The man of iron is sick. Extremely sick.”

“I doubt it.” The younger pointed out in his youthful confidence, “He’s the richest man alive- he can get doctors-“

“Not physically sick, though he is certainly headed there, he’s heart sick.”

The younger fell quiet at that. “I find that hard to believe,” He said at last, carefully, picking and choosing each word. “He can have anyone he wants, and for nine months he seeks after one?”

“Not so strange, if they are truly compatible.” The old man snorted as he lifted his cane to lightly tap the younger on the chest, “I’m not surprised you don’t see it, seeming how you’re suffering from it yourself.”

The absolutely startled look went wasted on the old mans back as the man melted into the crowds. The younger man looked to his canteen, closed his eyes, and tried not to sob in the crowded square.

-.-. --- -- . / .... --- -- . --..-- / -... .-. ..- -.-. .

Tony Stark blew out softly through his lips as he stared out across the city, swirling the glass of alcohol in one hand. He had tried to lay off, but when there wasn’t anyone to watch him, he didn’t see much of the point.

The floors below were light and bright, but up here on the roof, it was dark, quiet, and if he squinted he could make-pretend that he was under the same stars as him.

Restlessly his fingers tapped against the glass of the drink, the same pattern he’d been repeating for nearly an entire year now. “Well Tony Stark,” He announced to himself, “It’s Christmas Eve, and you have no presents. What do people buy a millionaire who has everything? A family?”

It wasn’t that he hated the new Avenger members; he just missed the old ones. Missed him.

A knock came at the door. Tony quickly turned, pulling his smile up like a mask, ready to face whoever had interrupted his moping-

The glass slipped out of numbed hands as he openly gaped at the man standing at the door to the tower. He looked like he’d just gotten there, clad in dusty, dirty clothes, a backpack on his back as if he’d literally stepped through some kind of portal from whatever dusty, dirty part of the world straight to Stark Towers.

“I- A-“

The man smiled, uncomfortably, “Sorry that it took me so long.”

“It’s been nearly a year.” Tony agreed, ignoring his dropped glass to head straight for the man. The man straightened half-consciously under his pinning stare. “I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t come back at all.”

“I- I had a lot to think about. A lot to sort out. I don’t think I’m cut out to be an Avenger Tony. I can’t… I can’t do it by myself-eepp!”

The quiet little shriek of surprise was lost in Tony’s ears as he grabbed the man by the wrist, yanking him forward the one precious step. He used his other arm to wrap around the waist, bringing bodies pressed close together. “I’m going to kiss you.” He announced. “So don’t go changing on me, because as much as I like Hulk, I like you better.”

“Tony- wha-“

Tony Stark kissed him hard, index finger tapping out a message along the thin, delicate wrist.

-.-. --- -- . / .... --- -- . / -... .-. ..- -.-. . Come home Bruce.

Hesitantly Bruce lifted his free arm to wrap around Tony’s neck, kissing back slowly and softly. His own index finger tapped lightly on a shoulder blade, right where the heart was located.

.. .----. -- / .... --- -- . / - --- -. -.-- I’m home Tony.

-end-