There are half-mechanical, vaguely cyclopic beasts that look downright daedalic; there are explosions and shots and far too many close calls and buildings on the verge of collapsing. Steve gives orders, an encouraging two thirds of which are actually followed; Hawkeye mouthes off, Thor leads a life of greased lightning upon greased lightning, Black Widow, assumingly, glares monsters into submission, and the Hulk smashes. All in all, it's not their best work, but certainly not their worst, either.
Except... well, except that Tony gets thrown into one of the half-collapsed buildings and hits his head. Once again, it's certainly not the best thing that's happened to him, but not the worst, either. Or, well, he guesses. Because the side effects of getting hip-checked into buildings? Apparently amnesia, these days. Which he hasn't tried before. He thinks.
The doctors assure him that it's just short term and that his memories should start trickling in by themselves within a couple of days, and Tony feels strangely upbeat for a guy who remembers basically nothing, and even gets a few words out wrong. He has a spectacular headache, and a good handful of deep-set bruises, but on the whole he's in high spirits.
The debrief is quiet and stilted, and they all collectively flinch when they go through the reel and see Tony being flung away like an annoying fly, rather than an annoying adult in a heavy suit of armour.
"It's okay, guys," he assures them, twiddling with something on his StarkPad, because muscle memory is man's greatest gift. It feels a bit weird, trying to comfort people he doesn't really know, but for all intents and purposes, they're his friends. He'll remember them soon enough. "I'm sure it'll come out to be. Come out of me. Come back to me," he smiles disarmingly in an attempt to smooth over his poor brain-to-mouth connection, but they don't seem to be buying it.
"Aye," the apparently Norse god nods. "I have been in memory-altering situations before. If your memories do not return, perhaps we could consult my brother--"
"Thor," the Dr Jekyll side of the Hulk cuts off, softly but firmly. "No magic."
Thor sighs mightily and droops like a puppy that's been told off. Obediently, like he's done it many times before, he repeats, "No magic."
They head back home after that, because it turns out that Tony's a part of a superhero collective, which is interesting. He asks if superhero kibbutz isn't more accurate, but the whiz kid with the bow points out that it can't be a kibbutz, since Tony's the one more or less funding the entire thing.
"I'm rich?" Tony hazards, and the others look like they're marvelling at how their lives came to this.
"You're loaded," Whiz Kid nods and offers a fist bump, which Tony figures out after leaving him hanging for about ten seconds too long.
They cram into the elevator, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder and nose-to-nose with the Avengers, Tony bites his lip to keep from asking if being attractive is part of the deal. Like, you have to be able to pick up modelling as a side-gig to become an Avenger, or you're out. He spares a moment to wonder if he's ever picked up modelling on the side, because his underwear is certainly fancy enough. On the other hand, the nightlight in his chest might make that difficult. He has a feeling it's pretty vital for his continued well-being, judging from how the doctors fretted over it more than his bleeding head wound, when he was first brought in.
When he doors of the elevator slide open, they walk into a wall of delicious, culinary aromas. Tony's stomach churns, in hunger and in queasiness, and his good mood is dampened momentarily by the fact that he's not going to be eating anything solid for at least the rest of the day.
"Oh, grouchy wonder twin of my heart, I love you," Whiz Boy moans and bounds forward toward the kitchen. There looks to be pasta and sauces and cheeses, oh god.
"What makes you think I'm sharing with anyone other than Steve?" the grouchy wonder twin asks and raps Whiz Boy over the fingers. With a ladle, like he's an elderly lunch lady. If elderly lunch ladies were not old, and also male, and wore sweats and manbuns. He's a lying liar that lies, though, because the table's set with enough plates for all of them. He half-turns toward Tony, looks him up and down subtly, and tries to look like he doesn't care. Tony can tell that he totally does.
"Heard you took a dive today, Stark," wonder twin says, expectantly, like Tony's head isn't wrapped in gauze.
Tony assumes that the guy already actually knows what went down, so he asks, instead, "We have a personal chef?" and looks the guy over. Thoroughly. There's something to be said about manbuns. And a mechanical arm, jesus christ. "Did I build him?"
Somewhere in the background, it sounds like Mr Muscle is choking on air.
"You are such an asshole, Stark," the guy shakes his head and wipes off his hands on his apron. "At least we know the amnesia didn't affect your personality."
"I'll take that as a component," Tony frowns for a second and tries to shape the right word. "Compliment."
"Figured you would," he shakes his head, but there's a small smirk playing around the corners of his mouth. Then he inclines his head and says, in a show of understanding, "You can call me Bucky."
There's something profoundly sympathetic in his eyes, but he turns around before Tony can do something stupid, like ask about it. He has a feeling it wouldn't go over well. But he's still very relieved at the straightforwardness, and Tony feels something loosen in his shoulders.
"Bucky," Tony echoes with a nod. He thinks that maybe Bucky's shoulder go down a notch, too.
The others sit down around the table, and Bucky complains loudly when Tony says that he's staying off solids for the day, but still whips up what must be the closest approximation of the ambrosia of the gods, in the form of a smoothie.
"Oh god," Tony moans and slinks down into a chair beside Mr Muscle. Steve. Whatever. "Bucky. Buckaboy. Buckaroo. You should open a restaurant."
"You keep saying that," Bucky sits down on the other side of Steve.
"I do? Well, obviously I have some good ideas," Tony grins and absently rubs a temple with one hand. Before he knows it, the redheaded one -- Nat... alia? Nat-something, the lethal one, anyway -- slides a couple of pills over the table to him. He smiles at her gratefully and downs them along a sip of his heavenly smoothie. "You're my favourite. I think. Do I have a favourite?"
"Me," Bucky and Whiz Kid reply simultaneously. Tony rolls his eyes. Whiz Kid's super codename is Hawkeye, he knows, and his civilian name is... not Legolas, not Katniss or Merida... Eastwood. Yeah. The Good, the Bad, the Archer. Eastwood, totally. Clint, maybe?
"We're lab partners," Mr Jekyll smiles serenely, but there's a twinkle in his eye, almost mischievous in nature. "Science bros," he says, as if clarifying, and yeah, that's pretty self-explanatory. He must be pretty awesome.
"You usually say that Thor's your favourite," Steve points out, and Thor straightens his back and smiles widely. It's adorable.
"Steve!" Whiz Kid whines and makes a big show of putting a hand to his forehead. "You just missed your chance!"
"Yeah, Steve, c'mon," Bucky cuffs Steve on the back of the head. "No one's playing by the rules. If we did, we'd all just be saying that you're his favourite, and where's the fun in that?"
Tony raises an inquisitive eyebrow, but no one says anything else about it. They change the subject and pretend that Steve's shoulders are not currently up and around his ears.
After they've eaten and tried to ease Tony a little bit into the state of things in the tower, he demands a proper tour.
"That ends in my work place. Workshop. Something. Right? I have one of those? Because I had an idea before I crashed, I don't remember it, but I think my hands do," Tony rambles and gesticulates widely, and by the time he's reached the point, Mr Muscle's already been volunteered as tribute. Tony doesn't know what it says about him that he's forgotten his past, his friends, his friends' pasts, his birthday, and basically everything else-- but still remembers bits and pieces of popular culture.
"Have fun, kids!" Whiz Kid cackles. Tony raises an eyebrow and hopes that it speaks for him, because he doesn't know what to make of those parting words.
The tour's pretty cursory, because they figure out that Tony's legs know where to carry him, even if his brain's thrown by the different corridors and floors.
Steve's polite and cute and informative, but overall pretty quiet, and Tony wants to ask if there's something going on between them. His hands are itching to reach out and touch, but Steve's barely spoken directly to Tony at all, other than the worried shouting when Tony went down, and the equally worried murmurs when Tony woke up.
But he doesn't know how to phrase it, so he waits. He'll ask when the moment's right. Or something.
They reach the workshop, and even if Tony feels like he's seeing it for the first time, a feeling of coming home washes over him. With the pills finally kicking in and with both feet firmly planted in his workshop, Tony feels like he can breathe properly for the first time since he woke up.
"Welcome back, sir," a voice greets him from the ceiling.
Tony freezes and looks up. He clears his throat, and asks, "God?"
The personified peak of human perfection that is Steve, makes a strangled sound. He suddenly looks torn between desperately wanting to have a lie-down to collect himself, bursting into laughter, and being intensely uncomfortable. Ultimately, he pulls at the hem of his ridiculously well-fitting t-shirt and looks away, before he manages to murmur, "Err, Tony, I-- I don't know how to say this, but I've never known you to be particularly... religious."
"Are you sure?" Tony wonders, then waggles his eyebrows, because there are opportunities, and there are opportunities. "'Cause I'm pretty sure you're an angel."
"Uh," Steve blinks. Then he blushes. It's delightful. "Er," he tries again, eloquently. He doesn't get much further this time.
"Don't strain yourself, Mr Muscle," Tony smirks, but he can feel it shrinking into a smile, and distantly thinks too soft, too soft. It shows.
Steve gazes into his eyes intensely and looks like he's on the cusp of saying something important. He even takes half a step forward, before he seems to think better of it. He swallows heavily, and says, "I'll-- see you later, Tony. Be careful," before he spins around and power walks out of the workshop.
Tony tries not to take it personally. Right now he can't remember if he's done something so offensive it's come back to bite him in the ass this bad, anyway, and Steve did say he'd come back later.
He drags a hand over his face and goes to re-acquaint himself with what can only be his robotic love children.
"What'd I name my AI, then? HAL 9000? Skynet?" he asks off-handedly as he sits down on the floor. One of the robots tries to offer him a smoothie that's clearly made up of cactus and motor oil. What a dummy. Tony accepts it and surreptitiously hides it behind his back. "Optimus Prime? Nah, your voice is more Prowl-y. Or did I go with something sensible? Oh! Prometheus? Or an old-people name. Thaddeus? Bartholomew?"
"JARVIS, sir," the AI answers, and Tony swears there's a thread of exasperation in there, somewhere. He did good with this one. "Though I'm certain that many other names crossed your mind before you chose this one."
"Of course," Tony sniggers, and dutifully shakes each of the robots' hands. They're must've learned to be polite from Steve, because he would never have taught them to shake hands. High fives, sure, but not this.
His heart aches fiercely for a moment, but he just rubs a hand over it and determinedly turns his full attention to his robots.
There's a call. It echoes loudly through the workshop.
"Uh, JARVIS, can you--" Tony looks up, for some reason, which he knows in his bones is stupid.
"Right away, sir," JARVIS replies without missing a beat, and then the workshop's filled with the sound of whooshing air, like someone's flying.
"Hey, Tony," the voice seems to come from everywhere, and Tony can't place it, but it's almost painfully familiar.
For the first time since he woke up much like Jon Snow, knowing nothing, he feels a tendril of shame run through him, as he stumbles over himself, "I, uh--"
"The amnesia-thing, yeah, Pepper told me," the voice says lightly, and Tony-- Tony met Pepper. She's the other redhead. Very pretty, dangerously sharp. Also lethal. To be trusted implicitly. "I'm Rhodey. We go way back."
"That's vague," Tony points out. "What are we-- old lovers? Rivals? Twins separated at broth-- birth. Birth?"
"You're an idiot and I've been there to see you make a fool out of yourself more times than I care to count," Rhodey answers, and Tony can almost visualise his smile. "We're friends."
"I like you," Tony grins.
"Dude, you love me," Rhodey laughs, and the universe rights itself slightly.
Steve comes by the workshop. He leaves coffee on one of the tables like it's a peace offering and flees again. Tony bites his lip and thinks, it'll come back to me and don't run after him, it'll show and too soft, too soft.
Tony sleeps. He sleeps like a deadman, like a man who hasn't slept through the night in a really long time, and he doesn't know what to make of that. He could look through his own files, he knows, or ask JARVIS, ask the team -- but somehow, it feels good to not know. To just sit in his workshop and tinker, eat delicious, homemade food and take undisturbed naps whenever he feels tired. His head doesn't really stop hurting, and he suspects that it has to do both with the head injury and and the fact that he just slept for eight hours in a row. It leaves him strangely guilty, but this amnesia thing feels a lot like a reprieve.
But it's not all fun and games. He doesn't know which soft spots to avoid trampling with the others, because he doesn't know why and where the are soft spots to begin with -- he asks why they all hate Loki so much, and Thor's sad for hours. Over breakfast, he asks why all the SHIELD files are marked "New and Improved SHIELD", and no one will meet his eyes. He asks Bucky why he didn't just make the arm to start with-- and even if he knows that he couldn't have known, he feels so guilty.
Not to mention that his body knows him much better than his mind does, which means that sometimes Tony just up and leaves whatever he's doing, like now. Now he's standing in the kitchen, and he has no idea why. He grinds his teeth together.
Clint saunters in, opens the fridge and drinks straight from the juice carton like the barbarian that he is. "Anything new?" he asks over his shoulder, and takes down the cookie jar from the top shelf, like he knew that Tony was looking for it, even when Tony didn't.
"Nothing," Tony sighs and accepts the cookie jar. Yeah, it feels about right, he admits to himself with another sigh. It's been, like, three days, more or less, and it's growing very frustrating. The only thing that's changed is that he doesn't get his words mixed up any more, and that wasn't a huge issue in the first place. "How come I remember all these pop culture references, but not, like, why I have this glowy thing in my chest?"
Clint clears his throat and looks away. He goes about making hot cocoa, which is not a good sign, because that's straight up comforting.
"You don't have to answer that," Tony hops up on the kitchen counter. "It probably has to do with why I haven't slept more than five hours straight in a while, right?"
"You're being very honest," Clint points out, like it makes him uncomfortable, but because he's a good friend, deep down, he sticks it out anyway.
"I know, it's weird," Tony waves a cookie around. "I think it's because I can't remember all my issues?"
"Please don't kill me with fire when you get your memories back," Clint pleads, and presses a mug of hot cocoa into Tony's hands. "Not that I think you'd come close, but think of the casualties. Blood. Tears. Feuds. Two houses both alike in dignity. Steve stands in a corners and looks disapproving. You know the drill."
Tony snorts and takes a small sip of the cocoa. Hot damn, that is comforting.
Speaking of, "What's up with Steve, by the way? I think he's avoiding me."
Clint looks mortified for a second and actually looks up like he's praying for divine intervention. He lights up like a Christmas tree when Bucky walks into the kitchen.
"You should ask Buck," he grins.
Bucky grunts and throws them a deeply suspicious glare.
"Steve's avoiding me. Do you know why?" Tony repeats, cautious now.
"Oh my god," Bucky groans and buries his face in his hands. Clint snickers and makes a very understanding sound, before he sneakily rushes out. "You back on square one? That fuckin' punk."
"Square one?" Tony hops down from the kitchen counter. "You know what, Bucky? You don't have to tell me anything. I've already traumatised Whiz Kid over there with my questions and honesty enough for one night, so I think I'll just--"
"No, you know what? You know what?" Bucky seems very agitated. "That kid's been hiding for too long. Never taking what he wants. I let him do it his way the first time, but playtime's over now. Stay here."
Then he stomps off, like it's not almost three AM on a Thursday. Tony hesitantly hops back up on the counter and cradles the cocoa between his hands like it will provide him with an explanation. It very unhelpfully doesn't.
After ten minutes, maybe fifteen, Steve treads into the kitchen on light feet. He looks hesitant and vaguely guilty.
"Hi, Tony," he greets, softly.
"Hi, Steve," he can't help the small smile that tugs at his mouth.
In response, something like a smile spreads over Steve's face, too. "Buck said you wanted to see me?"
"He did, did he?" Tony rolls his eyes. "I asked him why you're avoiding me, and he flew away like a man on a mission. Well, not flew. Stalked. It was very dramatic."
"I'm not avoiding you," Steve replies, too quickly, and they both know it. He takes a step closer and looks away. He's hard to get a read on, in his bed-ruffled, pyjama-wearing, gaze-avoiding glory.
"Steve, Cap, Mr Muscle, please," Tony takes another sip of his hot cocoa. "I still remember what avoidance is. Is it something I did? Did I offend you somehow?"
"No, Tony, it's nothing you did," Steve promises, his voice at a night-time appropriate stage whisper level. Tony mimics it without thinking.
"Did we-- have a thing? Before I crashed? Or did I try to start a thing, and now it's awkward, because--"
"No, no, Tony," Steve hushes him quickly and steps even closer. With Tony sitting on the kitchen counter, they're almost the same height. "I-- don't know how not to touch you," Steve admits, and Tony can feel his breath on his nose. "Even just-- friendly touches. But we-- you-- we just recently passed into something a little. Uh. Less friendly. And I didn't want to overwhelm you, or take advantage of you, I--"
"Hey, Steve, it's okay," Tony bravely allows his muscle memory to take over again, and nuzzles Steve's jaw. "I get it. To be honest, I," he takes a deep breath, too soft, too soft. It shows. "I think I knew? On some level? Or rather, my body did? Muscle memory's been leading the way for me, and my hands kept reaching out to you."
"I didn't want you to feel pressured, or awkward, so I thought I'd keep my distance," Steve touches their foreheads together. "But then you went and hit on me."
"Hey, amnesia or not, I know a good thing when I see one," Tony smiles. Steve's lips are really very awfully close, but he senses some boundary here.
"You've lost your memories," Steve explains, if weakly, as if he'd read Tony's mind.
"They'll come back. And my body's doing plenty of remembering for me," he jokes, but he knows it's a lost cause.
"Not until you've recovered your memories," Steve hugs him close.
"Alright, alright," Tony hugs back, and feels stupidly safe, sitting on the kitchen counter at three AM on a Thursday night, a super soldier wrapped around him, amnesia and all.
The memories start to trickle back in slowly. The way Natasha likes her coffee, where Bucky keeps the secret pistachio stash, how he met Pepper, the first time he got drunk with Rhodey, throwing a blanket over Bruce, when he fell asleep on the cot in the corner of the lab. Then it starts coming back in his dreams -- Howard and Maria, Obie. Afghanistan. The Captain America comic books he used to hide under his mattress. Flying a nuke into space.
Suddenly a week has passed, and almost on the hour, the dam breaks, and the rest of the memories return all at once. Tony's knees buckle and he almost throws up from the sudden onslaught, but luckily Steve's there to catch him.
They manage to get him lying down with a wet cloth over his eyes. With his head in Steve's lap and Steve's fingers in his hair, he feels surprisingly good, for how much like shit he's feeling.
"You have to admit," he croaks after a while. "That it was a good pick-up line."
"I could smother you with this pillow right now and no one would know," Steve replies, but he's chuckling enough that Tony can feel the vibrations through his body.
He smiles so widely that his eyes crinkle under the wet cloth. Too soft, too soft, he thinks. It shows, he knows.