Pieces are the best he can do. Images, feelings. It's like trying to remember early childhood, a mere flash here and there with no context.
He remembers opening his eyes to Pepper's worried face.
He remembers pain.
He remembers a flash of green light.
He remembers a warm smile, a pair of piercing blue eyes and a hearty laugh, a presence felt in comfortable silence, glasses laid in his palm, red curls cascading over a shoulder.
Beyond that, things are a blur until another award ceremony that he skipped in Las Vegas (Rhodey scolded him about skipping it) and a night spent with a reporter. Did she publish the article? Did he read it? He doesn't remember.
The only thing he knows for certain is that his name is Tony Stark and there's a hole in his chest, filled by a metal cylinder and topped with a disc of light.
When he looks at the Manhattan skyline, what should be familiar and comforting only looks ... wrong. It's not the Towers, he's gotten used to their absence even though he hasn't lived regularly in New York for over a decade. But there are other buildings, other rooftops, that are crumbled and broken as if they've come through centuries of decay. There are buildings downtown where multiple floors have no windows and lots of evidence of smashed glass. There are walls painted over, as if Banksy went on a spree and Urban Renewal spreed right after him.
What happened to New York? He doesn't remember -- and when he tries to, even when he tries to look it up on the Web, the pain comes -- so fierce and full that it knocks him flat, and he lies on the floor with his arm over his eyes until he feels Pepper kneel beside him.
He can see Pepper's lips moving but any sound is muffled, as if someone had their hands over his ears. He can see the worry, though, and he knows she's repeating his name.
She presses her cool hands to his face. Her lips move again, in shapes he recognizes. Lie still, she's saying. She's calling a doctor.
"No," Tony croaks, and the single syllable makes his head feel like it's going to split open from temple to temple. Pepper helps him to bed, dims the lights and covers him with a sheet, drawing it no higher than the disc, and leaves the room.
Tony breathes slowly. Eventually the pain eases, reluctantly loosening the vise clasped around his head.
A list of places Tony has learned to avoid:
The lobby of Stark Tower. (He jokes to Pepper that it's one ugly-ass Christmas tree in the lobby. She doesn't smile.)
The R&D floors of Stark Tower. (He has his own workshop. No reason to go there, right?)
The roof of Stark Tower. (Because... because... well, he has no reason to go there.)
(And why did he build this thing, anyway? It's a wonder of architecture, but given all the factories, research labs, and testing facilities Stark Industries owns around the world, what's the point of one more building with his name on it?)
(Hilarious train of thought. He's never ridden this particular train before. He'd like to get off now, thanks.)
His private workshop.
He was always happiest when he was working, and he even shipped out U and Dum-E from Malibu so he'd have them around, but he hasn't worked for weeks. Months?
He can't remember how long it's been.
When he crosses the threshold into the workshop, the migraine crashes into his head and he cries out in pain as he crumples to the tiled floor. JARVIS calls Happy and Pepper to take him back to bed, and he lies there for almost twenty-four hours, refusing to go to a hospital despite Pepper's pleas and Happy's worried face.
The doctor's name is Lucas. Or Luka. Something like that. He's younger than Tony's regular doctor, dark-haired, vaguely British, and he looks at Tony with an expression too like pity for Tony's comfort.
He'd say something about it but his head hurts, and he curls in the chair, his forehead in his hand, as he tries to answer the doctor's questions.
Has he always gotten migraines?
He doesn't remember.
Has he noticed a pattern in the triggers?
He doesn't remember.
The doctor writes, and then puts his notepad aside and says, "Tony. Your assistant tells me you don't sleep. You drink constantly."
"That's not new."
"Your memory is failing you and you're not working."
Tony shifts in the chair. Those are new.
He thinks they're new. He's not sure. He can't remember.
The doctor wants to run tests. Maybe Tony had a stroke, an aneurysm, encephalitis. He's rattling off possibilities when Tony says, "No."
The doctor pauses, his head tilting like a curious bird -- and that's when Tony notices that instead of a caduceus or a St. Luke's medal, Doctor L is wearing a tiny ebony carving, a raven.
"Something happened," he says. "I don't remember what and no one can tell me. When I ask what happened, what happened in the blank spots, the migraines hit like someone's trying to keep me from finding out."
"Tony, migraines don't work that way."
He looks at the doctor, bleak. "Mine do."