"Come on, Baby. Wake up for me, Sweetheart. Open your eyes."
A voice. Peggy.
"C'mon, Honey, be okay. Please, please be okay. I need you to open your eyes for me, Sweetheart."
Not Peggy. A man. Bucky. No, Bucky is gone. I could keep my eyes closed. Go with him.
"Baby, please. Please wake up. Open your eyes. I need you to… I need you. C'mon, Sweetheart."
Someone needs me. Someone…loves? me?
Steve opens his eyes. Looks up at the stranger holding him.
A mistake. Should've kept my eyes close.
"I'm sorry, soldier, but you've got the wrong man," he says.
The archer (Hawkeye) tells him they'd been battling some kind of…monster? Alien? Robot?
Steve doesn't completely follow; He'd thought he'd seen everything in his war against Hydra, but it seems that he'd been out cold (Ha! Out cold. Funny, Rogers.) for 70-odd years, and the bad guys have just gotten badder. And weirder. One had thrown a piece of Manhattan skyscraper at Steve, knocking him out and knocking him off that very skyscraper, sending him barreling toward the Earth. The man in the metal suit had caught him. Had saved his life, if not his memory. He isn't on board. And nobody's said much about him, despite the fact that he saved Steve's life. Is their teammate. Lost someone he loved today.
Medics are looking at his head. Asking him all kinds of questions, some he can answer. Some he can't.
He has some questions of his own.
"The man who saved me, in the metal suit. He reminded me of someone I knew during the War. He, and his tech, actually. Howard Stark? Is…Is he related to Howard?" he asks the redhead in black. She reminds him of Peggy. Seems like someone who is damn good at her job. And knows it. She's probably shot at a few fellas with wandering eyes (okay, lips), too.
"Yes. That's Tony. Tony Stark. Howard's son. Also known as Iron Man." But she leaves it at that. Goes back to cleaning her guns.
When they get back to base -- an aircraft carrier that is airborne -- the Widow and the archer go down one hallway, the medics lead him down another.
"Stark!" He turns back toward her. "The team backs your decision. I don't." She glares, thinks she can intimidate him with a look. Which, okay, she can. But not today.
"Lucky for me, I don't give a fuck. It's not the team's or your decision to make, Agent Romanoff. The only people who get to make decisions about my relationship with Rogers are me and him and since he doesn't actually remember our relationship, that leaves me. And we're not telling him. He has enough to deal with." He moves to leave, but Natasha grabs his arm.
Her voice softens. Her face, too. "Don't you think he could use the love and support of his partner right now?"
"Look, Natasha, I wasn't his partner anymore, anyway. It's over… Last night…" He trails off, looks down, rubs his temples, then looks her in the eye. "If we hadn't gotten the call this morning, yesterday morning, whenever the fuck it was, Steve would be moving back to his floor right now and I'd be drinking myself to death in my workshop. Jarvis is overseeing the former as we speak, so if you'll excuse me, I need to be starting on the latter."
"You won't be able to hide it from him forever, Tony." But he's already walking away. It'll be days before any of them see him again. "Jarvis."
"Yes, Agent Romanoff?"
"Keep an eye on him."
And though he hasn't been able to find out much about Tony Stark from the other Avengers, he has learned that Stark designed the Tower, even built much of it himself.
Howard's son. Of course.
He heads down to Stark's workshop and announces himself to Jarvis. He sees Tony look toward him, say something, and the door slides open.
Steve walks toward Tony, reaches out his hand. "Uh, hello, Mr. Stark. The others said I'd probably find you down here. I'm…well, I know you know who I am, but this feels like our first meeting to me." Steve sighs and shakes his head. "I can't seems to break the habit of introducing myself."
A pained look crosses Tony's face. Steve feels awful about forgetting these people, his teammates, housemates, and, by all accounts, his friends. He feels like he's letting them all down. He starts to lower his outstretched hand, but Tony reaches out, shakes it.
"Just Tony, please."
"All right. Tony." He smiles, then says, "I want to thank you for saving my life."
"That's what teammates, do, Captain Rogers. I'd have done the same for any of the Avengers. And so would you. That's kind of what we do: save lives."
"I guess that's true. But I'm still grateful to you. And, please, call me Steve." He glances at the workbench Tony'd been bent over when he'd come in. "Is that the suit?"
"Yeah, it needed some repairs after…" Tony trails off and looks away.
"Do you mind if I look around? I won't touch anything." Steve is amazed by Tony's workshop, so like Howard's--tools and newfangled gadgets and gizmos everywhere--but also completely different. Steve didn't think much could surprise him, technology-wise, after being injected with super serum and facing Hydra weapons, but the future is much more futuristic than he could ever have imagined.
"That would be very unlike you," Tony says. "You can feel free to look, touch, whatever. There's no way you could do more damage down here than I do." They smile tentatively at each other and then Tony goes back to work, while Steve walks around the workshop.
He stops to admire what looks to be an early prototype of the suit and takes a deep breath. "I also came down here to tell you that I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. St…Tony. I…uh…I lost someone in battle once, too. I mean, it was the War, we all did. But, um, someone special. His name was Bucky."
Tony looks up at him from where he's been tinkering with the red and gold armor. "Listen, Captain, I'm sorry. I appreciate what you're trying to do. Really. But…I can't do this right now. You…you remind me a lot of my partner. He'd be doing the same thing you're doing right now: trying to comfort me, even though you're the one who's just woken up with the loss you experienced in the war still fresh and a whole host of new losses piled on top."
Steve can see the grief on Tony's face, can also see Tony trying to control it.
"I understand. If you change your mind and want to talk, I'm willing to listen."
"I know, Cap. I know. Thank you." He goes back to work on the suit. Steve hangs out a while longer, watching him, then heads upstairs to the gym.
But, despite the fact that Steve sees Tony in his workshop fairly often--Fury's got them both grounded, so they're frequently alone together in the Tower--he never sees him anywhere else in the building. The rest of the team shares meals, hangs out in the den watching movies and playing games, trains together in the gym, but Tony spends all of his time in his workshop or on his private floor.
He asks the rest of the team about it over pizza one night. "So, does Tony just not do group activities or…" He lets the question trail off. They know what he's asking, anyway.
"Are you kidding?" Clint asks. "Tony is the only person who loves family night more than you do. You guys are like our freaking dads--ow!--our very platonic dads--shit, Tash, that hurt. Anyway, you're both way into team togetherness, though you do have pretty different ideas about what constitutes an appropriate family night activity."
"What do you mean?" Steve asks, looking around at his teammates.
"Well, you like game nights," Thor begins.
"And Tony likes cheating," says Natasha.
"Though, of course, he insists that it's not cheating, just creative problem solving," adds Bruce.
Steve lets out a short laugh. "Yeah, I can see that."
"You like swimming," Bruce starts.
"And Tony likes the hot tub," Natasha finishes.
"I'm with him on that one. Sorry, Cap," Clint says with a wink.
Thor continues, "You love to cook."
"And Tony loves to order in," Bruce says, smiling a little. It's clear they all miss this Tony.
"Especially because you won't let him in the kitchen when you're cooking," Clint tells Steve.
"What? Why not," Steve asks.
"Because he's too fucking annoying," Clint says.
Natasha clarifies, "Tony likes to…help…but, he doesn't really have the attention span or the patience for cooking. He mostly just distracts you or breaks things."
"Or sometimes blows them up," Bruce points out.
"He did mightily vanquish the toaster the one time," says Thor.
"Tony? Without the attention span or patience for cooking? But…his workshop? All of his inventions? He's a genius, right? He couldn't have done all of that without a lot of focus," Steve observes.
"Yeah, the workshop is the one place where Tony will focus his attention," Natasha says.
"Or shut his damn mouth for more than five seconds," says Clint.
"So, I, uh, guess we've probably already talked about how I knew your dad? In the War?"
Tony looks up from the exploding arrowhead he's been working on for Clint. Then puts it down. Which is unsettling, because Tony never stops working entirely when he's down here. Or, for all Steve knows, ever. Steve wonders if maybe this is another off-limits topic. It's true that Howard hasn't come up at all in the months since the battle in which he lost his memory.
Tony takes a deep breath. Swallows. "Yeah, we have. But, um, we could talk about it again. Now, if you want. Actually, I'd like that. To hear some of your stories. But, I should warn you. This talk. It doesn't go the way you think it does, or at least, it didn't the last time. Howard and I…we weren't close. Actually, that's a wild understatement. I used to really resent him, in fact, but," Tony pauses. Takes another deep breath.
Steve feels guilty about bringing up something painful, but is also a little relieved at the opportunity to talk about the people he knew. And to get to know Tony better.
Tony continues, "But someone helped me work through a lot of that. I think I'm in a better place to listen to you talk about him now, but I won't be able to tell you much about him in return. About what he was like after the War. He, well. He changed a lot. I don't think he ever got over losing you."
He stumbles out of bed, makes his way down to the gym, sees the light is on, hears the sound of someone repeatedly connecting with a punching bag. He walks in to find Tony, shirtless, wearing only sweatpants. The arc reactor fully visible. It's the first time Steve has seen it. He's quickly distracted from all thoughts of the reactor--and Tony's bare chest, which had also caught Steve by surprise--when Tony asks, "Nightmares?" while pulling on a dark t-shirt. One that will mute the glow of the reactor.
Steve ducks his head, rubs the back of his neck, turns ever-so-slightly pink.
"Uh, sorry, Cap. I…I guess you'd have preferred to tell me…uh, us…the team, I mean...again on your own time. I didn't mean to pry."
"No, no. It's okay. So, you…you all know?" Steve can't imagine talking about the nightmares. They're so painful. He doesn't even have the words. Not right now.
"Well, no. No, just me, I think. This…this is kind of how we became friends. We'd run into each other in the middle of the night. Here. In the kitchen. The roofdeck. We didn't talk about it, at first. Not for a while actually. But…uh…I guess you've seen my dossier? Know about Afghanistan? They…" Tony takes a deep breath. "They tortured me. Held me under water."
And Steve understands. "We have the same nightmares."
They look at each other for a moment.
"But, we also have the same love of mint chocolate chip ice cream and Disney movies. Care to join me in the common room, Big Guy?"
Steve wonders if Tony always knows just the right thing to say.
"Hi, Natasha. Can I talk to you for a minute?" he asks, walking over to one of the overstuffed leather chairs across from the loveseat she's curled up in.
She sets down the book she'd been reading -- The Hound of the Baskervilles -- and picks up her tea. "Of course. What's on your mind, Captain?"
"I think I'm missing something. Or rather, someone. From before the battle."
She looks him right in the eye. "What makes you say that?"
He'd been foolish to think he'd get a response from her. She's too good for that. Even without his memory, he knows that.
"Well, a lot of little things. I wake up from nightmares reaching for someone who isn't there."
She raises an eyebrow and he answers her unasked question, "I've never shared a bed with anyone. That I can remember. That's how I know it must be someone from before."
Natasha doesn't say anything, so he continues, "Some of my things. They must be gifts. They aren't things I would have bought for myself. And they aren't the kind of gifts you get from a friend or colleague. They're too expensive. Or too personal. Or too romantic.” The watch. The framed photo of me with Bucky, Peggy, and Howard. The cufflinks engraved with a date I can’t remember.
Natasha still does not respond.
"The thing that really makes me suspicious, though, is that my apartment doesn't seem lived in at all. There's a slight dip in the mattress, some wear on the carpet, but not nearly what you'd expect from three years of living in a place. The walls aren't at all faded around the pictures that hang on them. And my studio. It's so clean. Almost no paint splatters. The door knob isn't stained from the ink or charcoal that is always all over my hands after I draw for a while. The whole place. It just doesn't feel lived in. Not the way the rest of the Tower does. I feel like I may have been staying somewhere else. With someone else."
Natasha takes in a deep breath through her nose. "Well. You're not wrong. But it's not my place to tell you this part of your story. Your partner asked the team not to tell you and we all agreed." She stands, folds the old quilt she'd had over her lap, and drapes it over the back of the loveseat.
He puts his elbows on his knees, holds his head in his hands. "Don't I get a say in that?" He looks back up at her. "Look, Natasha, I really appreciate what everyone has done for me. Is doing for me. You've all been really patient, explaining things to me, telling me stories, making this as easy as possible. But I don't need to be protected. Not from this. From my past. From who I am. And surely not from someone I love."
"Did it not occur to you that perhaps this person isn't just protecting you, but himself?" she asks before turning to leave the room. "The heart can be a very fragile thing."
Himself? Fragile heart?
"Tony," he says, softly. But Natasha is already gone.
"Do you ever just call me Steve? Did you? Before?" He knows he shouldn't ask about before, but he can't help it. Not now that he knows.
Tony laughs, a little. "Heh. No. No, I really, really don't."
"So just Cap, then?" Steve prods.
"Weeellll. Are you sure you want to know?" Tony is grinning, but the smile doesn't quite reach his eyes.
"I'm not so sure, now, but yes. Tell me." Please, please tell me.
"Well, in the suit, in the field, I call you names, mostly."
"Names?" Steve is confused. Surely Tony doesn't use terms of endearment when we're in battle?
"Yeah, I riff on how you spent 70 years as an ice cube, make fun of the dorky suit, belittle the rank. I call you names. Capsicle, Rip Van Winkle, Uncle Sam, that kind of thing."
Steve laughs. Of course. He's seen Tony's sense of humor. His irreverence. How he uses both to diffuse a tense situation. "And here, out of the suit, at home?" Home. Our home.
"Just Cap, really." And Baby. And Sweetheart. And Honey. But you don't remember.
And Baby. And Sweetheart. And Honey. But I can't remember.
Tony sighs. And surprises them both by telling Steve more.
"I used to only call you Rogers. That first few months. And you only called me Stark. We…we didn't hit it off."
But then he says to her, while they lay side by side on the mat, soaked in sweat and both breathing heavily, "So, I know I've been trying this thing for the last few years wherein I don't run away from my problems. But, I need to run away for a while, okay? Can you tell the others I'm in Malibu? Pepper said I could crash with her and I've still got a workshop in the house, so I can do as much for the team there as I can here in New York."
Natasha takes a moment to respond. "Honestly, Tony? If you were running away, you'd have done it months ago. The day of the battle. And nobody would've blamed you. But now that you've given it an honest try--being here, being around him--I think everyone will understand that you need your space. I understand. But, I'll miss you. I already do, you know. We all do." She rolls over to face him.
"I know. And I'm sorry. It’s just...I tell myself that having some kind of relationship with him is better than nothing. And when we’re together I can almost fool myself into believing that's true, But when I’m alone, I remember that being friends is not enough. Will never ever be enough. It's like I have palladium poisoning all over again, Natasha. The thing that is keeping me alive is killing me."
"Oh, Tony. Don't be sorry. I'm the one who is sorry. We all are. It's hard on all of us, trying to rebuild our relationships with him. But I can't even imagine what it's like for you." She reaches out, puts a hand on his arm.
He looks away, stares off into a place Natasha can't see.
"Going for a theme, I see," he says by way of greeting. "Hey, have you seen Tony?"
She glances up at him. "Yeah. He left this morning for Malibu. He didn't tell you?"
Malibu. Pepper's home. Their home. His stomach drops.
Natasha sees it in his eyes. And he sees the concern in hers, even before she says, "Oh no. Oh, Steve. You're falling in love with him again."
And then it hits him. Like a wave of icy water and shards of glass. Knocks him back onto his bed.
Steve is laying back on the pillows, Tony curled up against his side, Steve's arm around his shoulders. He's never felt so content. He doesn't have the ring with him, but this is it. Now is the time.
"Tony," he says, "marry me."
Tony smiles, laughs lightly. Thinks he's kidding. Doesn't even bother looking up at him. "Oh, Baby. Didn't they teach you back in the Forties that you don't bring men like me home to mama?"
He gently places his fingers on Tony's chin, lifts his face so they are looking at each other. "I'm serious, Tony. I love you. I want to spend the rest of our lives like this. Together. Here, in our home, with our family."
Tony swallows, looks pained, but deflects again. The smirk is back. "C'mon, Sweetheart, you know me. You've seen my press. I'm not really the marrying type. Already married to my work and all that. Like I said, not really the guy you want to be stuck with forever."
Steve is so frustrated, he could scream. He doesn't understand why Tony always talks like this about himself. About them. Doesn't he know that this is the real thing? That Steve won't be scared off? "Tony, if you're so convinced this is temporary, why do we bother at all? What's the point? If we have an expiration date, let's just make it now." He doesn't mean it. But now Tony is sitting up, has moved to the other side of the bed, sheets pooled around his waist, arc reactor glowing a brilliant blue. One hand back, braced against the mattress, holding him up. The other, rubbing his forehead, above his eyes.
"Tony, I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"
Tony cuts him off. "No, you're right. Now is as good a time as any. I'll let Jarvis know you're moving back to your floor, he'll make sure everything's ready, oversee the move. I'll sleep on the couch for tonight." The resignation in his voice is like a physical blow.
And just like that, it's over. Tony doesn't fight for him. For them. Maybe it really didn't mean anything to him, after all.
He's laying in their bed alone when they get the call. And then they're in the field. And then he's falling. And Tony catches him.
Tony looks up. "What's up, Steve?" and then turns his attention back to the flickering screen in front of him. But not before giving him a big smile. A real smile.
How did I not see how forced his smiles have been for the last six months?
Steve takes a deep breath, readies himself to dive right in. And sure, maybe rehearsed speeches are for stupid, sappy movies, but maybe they're also for super soldiers and their Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist Stubborn Idiot boyfriends.
But as soon as he opens his mouth, Tony interrupts him.
Ah, now that's familiar.
"So, I was thinking. Maybe we could go out some time. There's a whole world out there beyond this Tower. So I hear. We could go to this little Italian place I know. It's over in Brooklyn. Red checked tablecloths, guy in the corner with an accordion, the whole nine yards. Best meatballs you've ever had." He doesn't actually look at Steve, just keeps working.
Well that explains the whistling. And the smiling. He came back for me. Steve sends a silent thank you to Pepper. She has to have had a hand in this. In bringing Tony back to him. He forgets his speech entirely. Oh well.
"Really, Tone? You're going to take me out on the same first date?"
Steve reaches out, gently turns Tony toward him.
And then they're kissing. And it has all the desperation of a first kiss and the comfort of a five hundredth.
"Tony, oh Tony. I'm so sorry. So so sorry." He's muttering over and over. Kissing Tony between words, his lips, his forehead, his neck. His hands tangled in Tony's hair. "I don't know how I could ever have forgotten you. I'm so sorry." His face is wet and so is Tony's. He doesn't care.
"It's not your fault, Sweetheart. Baby, baby. Calm down. It's okay. I love you, too."
Baby. Steve has to brace himself against the workbench, one arm on either side of Tony. Tony's hands are on his hips. He leans down, breathes in Tony's scent -- motor oil, expensive cologne, Italian roast -- and sighs into Tony's ear. "Don't ever call me Steve again. Please."
"Of course not, Sweetheart." This time Tony kisses him. Gently. Like he's not sure Steve is real. Is afraid he'll disappear again. But he smiles against Steve's lips. "Although you remember now, right, how Clint actually makes gagging noises when I use pet names? And how Bruce grins like a proud papa? And how Thor gets all excited and starts using terms of endearment for everyone from Jarvis to the pizza delivery dude?"
Steve laughs. "Isn't what why you do it?"
"It used to be. Now I do it because you secretly like it."
"I really, really do."
Then Tony is kissing him again, all traces of gentleness gone. This kiss is demanding, hungry. Steve remembers this kiss. He knows this kiss. Knows what follows this kiss. They're grabbing at each other, groping. God, you'd think they'd never done this before. Tony's fingers dig into his hips, pulling him close. Steve grabs Tony's ass, pushing closer still. Steve has to stop now, or he never will. He pulls himself away, steps back.
"Tony. We need to talk."
Tony takes a few steadying breaths, tries to regain his composure. Runs one hand through his hair. "Yeah. Okay. You're right."
"I'm assuming, since you'd decided to ask me out again, that you're over the whole 'I'm too good for you' thing?"
"You are too good for me, Darlin'. But I've decided to just be thankful that you're too lunkheaded to realize it and count my blessings."
"Tony," Steve says, frustration in his voice.
"Fine, fine. You're not too good for me. You should probably compliment me a lot, though, so I don't forget."
"You're an idiot. A stubborn idiot."
Tony shakes his head. "Not a compliment, Cap. Not a compliment." And even though Tony is teasing him when he's trying to have a serious conversation, Steve doesn't mind at all. He's so happy to have the old Tony back. He hadn't realized he wasn't the only one who wasn't at all himself when he lost his memory. But they still have some things to discuss.
"So, you're done trying to protect me from you? I know that's what happened that night, Tony. You thought you were doing something noble by ending things. Don't do that to me again. Don't decide what's best for me. Please." He's pleading. He hates the sound of it in his voice, but he also hates being coddled.
"Okay. Yes. You're right. I'm sorry," Tony says softly. "It made me crazy when people babied me after Afghanistan. I just…I don't want to hurt you. I don't think I could ever forgive myself."
"It hurts me when you act like this doesn't mean anything. Like you and I don't mean anything. Like this isn't special. I know what's best for me, Tony, and it's you. You."
Tony's look is doubtful, but, miraculously, he holds his tongue.
"I'm serious, Tony. I know you're still atoning for all the wrongs you feel you've done. I know you are still working to forgive yourself, but to me, you are a hero."
Tony interrupts, "The suit doesn't make me a hero."
Steve nods. "My point exactly. It's you. You're a hero. You're a good man. A great man. You make me want to be a better man. It's easy for me to be good, do good, because that's what everyone expects from me. Nobody ever tells me I'm not good enough. But you have to go out there every day and fight against expectations. You have to prove yourself over and over to the SI board, to the media, to the government. On top of all that, you hold our team together, with the armor and weapons you make us, yes, but also with your leadership, your heart. They follow me because you said, 'Call it, Cap.' They trust me because you do. But you also keep me in check. Question me when I need to be questioned. And you catch me when I fall. Do you see, Tony? You make me better. You are what's best for me."
Tony swallows. "Okay."
"Okay?" Steve was expecting more of a fight.
"Yes," Tony says, then lowers his gaze.
"Tony, look at me. Please. This next part is important." His tone is quiet, serious. Tony looks him in the eye, though it's clear he wants to run away at this point.
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here. I'll always be right here. With you." He says it slowly. Forcefully. He wants to be sure that Tony hears, and listens to, every word. "This is my home. You are my family. I love you."
"You can't make that promise." Tony sighs, then he gives in and looks away.
Steve wishes he could find every person who ever abandoned or neglected Tony and show them just what they missed out on. Show them how much damage they'd done. Or maybe just punch them. It's not a particularly Captain American thought, but he doesn't give a damn.
Steve closes the space between them again, takes Tony's face in his hands. "Yes. I can. And I have. I've made that promise to myself and I'm making it to you right now. I'd like to make that promise to you again. In a big room, full of our family and friends. While wearing my dress uniform."
"The dress uniform. That's just playing dirty," Tony pouts.
"No, playing dirty is another thing entirely. One that I would also like to do. But not until we've finished this conversation."
Tony's pout becomes decidedly more wanton.
Damn. Focus, Rogers.
Steve reaches into his pocket, pulls out the ring. "Anthony Edward Stark, will you marry me?"
"Okay?" Steve asks for the second time.
"Okay, I'll marry you."
And then there's more kissing. But just as Steve is thinking that they're going to need to do this whole hell of a lot to make up for the last six months, Tony pulls away. Damn. I knew that was too easy. Here comes the arguing. The attempts to talk me out of this. He sighs. Loudly. But Tony just grins.
"Did you say a big room full of our friends?"
Steve laughs, shakes his head. "Yes, Tony. We can have the biggest wedding Jarvis can plan."