They are hiding in the basement when the fighting starts. Emil is barely six, but he's spent most of those years hiding and has learned to be quiet. He doesn't like the look on his mother's eyes as she covers his mouth with her trembling hand, or the way his sister cries silently, stifling her sobs on their father's shoulder.
They huddle in a corner as the house shakes, the noise of gunfire almost deafening. It would be easy to miss the sound of footsteps above, but the sawdust falling on Emil's face gives it away.
"I can hear people breathing, there's someone here." He hears voices raised, and he can't understand what they're saying.
Emil shakes, and it takes him a minute to realize it's his mother shaking that's being transferred to his body. They have finally found them, and Emil might be only six years old, but he's aware enough to know they are hiding for a reason.
The trapdoor leading to the basement opens, light falling inside the dark room. Emil's family shrinks back into the darkness, trying to merge into the wood and dirt.
The first thing Emil thinks when the man enters is that he's not dressed like a soldier. Soldiers are not supposed to dress in blue and white and red. Or haven their faces covered with a mask. Also, soldiers carry guns; this man only has a metallic disc, painted in the same colors as his clothes. Then the man spots them, and he takes a couple steps towards them before sinking to one knee and pulling off his masks. The man is tall and blond and blue eyed, the epitome of the Aryan perfect soldier, but his eyes are kind and his attitude non-threatening.
"Sie sind jetzt in Sicherheit," he says in accented German, extending a hand towards Emil's father. "Sie können jetzt herauskommen, sie sind weg."
His father looks suspiciously at him for a second, and then nods slowly, accepting the hand. They move out of the basement, and there are more people around the house. They are dressed like soldiers, not German soldiers though, and all around them it's easy to see the fight that is just over and who won. Emil hopes they're also winning the war.
" Wer sind Sie?" he asks the man in blue, because after all that time hiding and fearing, he had stopped hoping an angel would save him, but maybe their prayers were heard.
"Nur ein Soldat," the man says, ruffling his dirty hair and smiling at Emil. "Sie sind jetzt in Sicherheit," he repeats, before strapping the disc on his back and leaving.
It's not until much, much later that Emil learns the name of this soldier, and it's a name he never forgets.
The letter is on Tony's workshop table when he gets there, and he looks at it as if it's a poisonous snake for a minute. Nobody writes him letters. Or at least, not the kind of letters that actually get delivered to him. He has a person to deal with the fanmail/hatemail his public persona generates. Or, at least he had a person before the Avengers, now he has an entire department. And all legal paperwork gets filtered through Pepper, and she brings him personally the ones that need his signature.
He pokes at it with one finger, wondering if it's going to explode or release some kind of poisonous gas. Not that JARVIS would have allowed it to get there without being screened, but better safe than sorry.
"JARVIS, can you tell me who left this here?" he asks after a minute.
"Miss Potts delivered the letter while you were out, sir. She said you would be very pleased with its contents."
Tony looks at it again, his curiosity piqued. If Pepper has let it there, then it must be good. If there is one thing Tony can still trust, is that Pepper would never do anything that could hurt him, even after the debacle their relationship turned out to be.
He opens the letter and scans it quickly. Then, sits down and reads it more carefully, his mouth quirking up in a smile.
"JARVIS, please contact Steve and ask him to come to the workshop."
"Captain Rogers, Mr. Stark is requesting your presence in the workshop."
No matter how many times Steve hears it, JARVIS' voice calling him out of nowhere still creeps him out. He's only been living in the tower for a month, and though he's beginning to feel a bit more comfortable around the rest of the team, he still has a lot to get used to.
He looks up from the sketch he's trying to finish, always trying to locate the point from where JARVIS voice comes out. "Did he tell you why?" he asks, because he's not been invited to the workshop before, doesn't think any of the team except Bruce has been down there.
"I believe he has something to show you, Captain."
Steve nods and leaves the sketchbook on his bed. Tony's workshop is like something out of a sci-fi book, the kind he used to read before the war, and it makes Steve feel even more out of place than the rest of the tower. There are robots moving around on their own, and glass screens filled with blue lights, designs and equations everywhere. In one corner stand the Iron Man suits, three of them, though only one looks completed.
Tony is sitting at his worktable, piles of what look to Steve like junk and tools everywhere. There is something out of place, though. On top of the table there is a letter, and Tony is looking at Steve with a tiny, real, smile on his face. They have gone past the animosity of the first meeting, building a sort of friendship since they all moved together, but the times Steve remembers seeing an honestly happy expression on Tony's face can be counted on one hand.
"Steve! I have something for you!" Tony also sounds happy, and he's picking up the letter and making gestures for Steve to sit next to him. "This is great, this is fantastic," he says when Steve is perched on the stool next to him, putting the letter in his hands.
Steve looks down at the letter and reads the first line. It's written in an elegant script, and addressed to Tony.
"This is for you," he says, confused.
Tony is shaking his head. "No, no. It's for you. Read it!"
Steve looks back at the letter.
'Dear Mr. Stark,
My name is Emil Rosen, and I'm writing to you in the hopes you can deliver this letter to Captain Steve Rogers.'
Steve looks at Tony again. "Who is Emil Rosen? I don't know anyone with that name. " It doesn't ring any bells. He hasn't met anyone that it's not part of SHIELD of the Avengers, and everyone from his past is long gone.
Tony makes a sort of frustrated noise, gesturing with his hands to the letter again. "Read it."
'You don't know me, but recently I was in Stuttgart. I saw you there as Iron Man fighting besides Captain America, which is the reason I'm addressing this letter to you. If you can reach Captain Rogers, I will be very grateful.
Dear Captain Rogers,
You probably don't remember me, but you have already saved my life twice.
I was very young when the war broke in Europe, too young to remember it properly. This might count as a blessing, sometimes. I don't remember how my family managed to hide for most of it, but what I remember is the hunger and desperation, and the fear as we hid in the basement of a tiny house. What I remember clearly is the day the soldiers came, the noise of the explosions and the gunfire, and the way my mother shook against me.
That day a man came to save us. It was you. Seventy years have not dimmed my eyesight so much that I would fail to recognize my family's savior. I remember I asked who you were, and you said "Just a Soldier". You see, for me, at that point, soldiers were the big, bad wolf. They were the thing we were hiding from. But you were a soldier, and you had saved us.
It changed me. The memory of that soldier dressed in blue, red and white pulled me out of many nightmares. The idea that there were people fighting to save those who couldn't save themselves gave me strength. In all my life, it has been that memory what has made me stand up when I've seen injustice, what has kept me going on and trying to help, even if the world seemed to be against us.
It was that memory that made me stand up when that man ordered us to kneel. Even when I thought I was going to die there, I thought I'd die standing, showing everyone that we didn't have to submit. I stopped believing in miracles a long time ago, I was ready to die.
But you saved me. Again.
And not only me. You saved everyone, you gave everyone hope again.
I know it was the same man that saved me seventy years ago, impossible as it seemed. I will never forget the eyes of that soldier, and I don't know how it was possible that he was there again, how he was still young and willing to fight for those who couldn't.
It was a miracle.
You've made me believe in them again, and for that I will always be grateful.
Steve's eyes are stinging by the time he finishes reading, Tony staring at him expectantly. He takes a deep breath, his hands gripping the letter too hard. He forces himself to relax; the last thing Steve wants is to rip it.
"I remember him," he finally says, when he thinks he has his emotions under control. "I remember the boy. He was tiny, and terrified. I'm glad to see he grew up to be a good man. "
He thinks of the old man, standing up to Loki, clearly terrified but defiant, and feels the tears clogging his throat. This time it takes him a bit longer to get himself under control; it's difficult to reconcile the tiny boy with the old man, for Steve barely a year has passed. The world has moved, and Steve hasn't.
When he finally looks up at Tony, he's staring at him with a soft smile. "You made a difference then, and you've made a difference now," Tony says, his voice gentle, understanding. "I've seen you moping around the house, mourning your past and not moving on. We can't give you the time you lost, Cap, but think of all the good you've made. And now, " Tony points at the letter in his hands, "you can see it. How many people get to see how they changed the world?"
Steve looks at the paper in his hands and swallows past the lump in his throat. "You're right." He smiles, and for the first time since he woke up, it feels real. "I have to write him back."
"What are you going to say?"
"That I'm still just a soldier. " He stands up, feeling lighter than before. "And I'm going to thank him for making me believe again."