It wasn’t a terribly pleasant place, in March. The bog — or was it a fen? — was still mostly dead from the winter, scraggly gray grass sticking up in clumps like the fur of a pitbull with mange. Every twenty feet or so, there was a shrub, but that didn’t help much: the leaves were still gone, the new growth only bare hints of buds springing up on the reaching arms of the branches. The waters rolled out in front of him, still, and deep, and deadly.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Steve didn’t look up.
“I like the view,” he said.
“It’s a shitty view.” Metal-booted feet squelched in the damp ground, and Steve wondered, for a moment, if the repulsors would be enough, if Iron Man fell in.
Probably. Repulsors seemed to be enough for most things, didn’t they?
Tony sighed behind him. “Steve. I’m sor — I. Are you okay?”
Steve didn’t answer. The sun was rising, and it made him wish for his sketchpad and box of pastels, the way the colors spread across the sky, blue and pink and orange like a child’s ice cream, and then again across the standing water of the fen, spots of brilliance amidst all the gray...
“How’s Rhodey these days?” he asked. “I was sorry to hear. About the fall, I mean.”
In the Iron Man armor, Tony could wait and breath for a minute without Steve being able to hear. “He’s doing better. You almost can’t tell, really.” Iron Man was standing behind him, now, and out of the corner of his eye — not that Steve was looking — he could see the metal arms folded over top of the arc reactor. “He used to dance all the time, he doesn’t — he doesn’t do that, anymore. Otherwise he’s fine.”
Tony wasn’t very good at waiting, to be honest. “Look, Steve— I didn’t know about this, I didn't know you’d be here—”
“Bucky used to dance,” Steve interrupted.
The mechanized head jerked back, and Iron Man let him talk. If Steve were looking — which he wasn’t — he’d have been able to see his reflection in the golden faceplate.
“He doesn’t do that, anymore, either. He used to—” He pressed his lips together and breathed through his nose for a moment. When he resumed talking, it was in another part of the sentence. “He’s been up, you know? There was this sorcerer, he wiped all the programming out, so Bucky could come out of cryo again, but...” He shook his head. “It’s not the same — He’s not the same.”
The Iron Man armor wasn’t exactly made for sitting in bogs, but there was a stature Tony took in it, spreading his legs and planting his feet, which basically meant the same thing; it allowed him to relax into the armor’s embrace. Steve wouldn’t have said he knew it, but when Tony shuffled his feet wider and stiffened his knees, Steve was still strangely comforted. “No more dancing?”
Steve snorted. “No more doing a lot of things.”
On the horizon, a thin line of orange showed as the sun edged upward. Steve didn’t look away.
Neither, from what he could tell, did Tony.
“I’m sorry,” Tony said.
Steve sighed, and shifted his weight, taking his hands from his lap and propping his weight on them bracing against the ground behind him. “No, you’re not.”
Tony’s head jerked. “Yes, I am. I was...”
Unlike Tony, Steve was very good at waiting.
“I was — I was wrong, Steve.” Tony didn’t continue for a long moment. Then, “I loved my mother. I’ve always — I miss her, okay? Every day. And to know... You know she was a lot younger than my dad? She looked older than she was — silver hair — but actually, her hair was white by the time she was twenty. She was actually... We could’ve had a lot more time, is all. And when I found out... And you knew... I just...” Tony tilted the headpiece to look down at Steve, away from the sunrise. “You know I don’t even remember what happened next? I know it was bad, but... It’s all just black. I just... woke up there, armor broken, in Siberia.”
Steve looked up, finally, meeting the glowing blue (arc reactor blue) of the eye sockets. “I remember.” His voice was conversational, almost, at least on the surface. “Eidetic memory. I remember every second of it.”
After a moment, the golden faceplate turned back to face the sun. “I’m sorry,” Tony repeated, and this time, Steve believed him.
“Yeah, well... I’m sorry, too. I said that, in the letter — if you read the letter, I guess you might not have — but it’s true. I should’ve — we should’ve — told you. Natasha said the source was unreliable — and I mean, it was, but.... And what it came down to was, I just didn’t want to have to be the one to hurt you.” He flicked a gaze up again, then quickly back towards the view. “You deserved to know, though. I’m sorry.”
It took a few more seconds for the sun to clear the horizon; when it did, it was almost like it snapped, a last lingering connection between the sun and the Earth breaking like an attenuated thread of syrup.
“That always looks weird.”
“Optical illusion. The eye wants to see it as a liquid because it’s so bright, so that’s what we see. Also, the earth at the edge of the horizon is brighter than we are here. Something.” Iron Man waved a hand vaguely, and for the first time that day, Steve smiled.
“You can just say you don’t know.”
“You kidding me? Fate worse than death. Come on, sit up, move.”
Steve sat up.
Tony stepped behind him, bracing again once he got in position, and Steve eased back three inches until he was sitting on the armored boots. He let his head fall,, knocking against titanium knees, and watched the view lazily from his new, more comfortable position.
“Better?” Tony asked.
“A bit,” Steve allowed.
In front of them, colors shifted and stretched as the Earth moved, blues and pinks changing to orange and yellows, warming and beaming down.
When it was done, and the sun had started skipping from one still, reflective pool to the next, and the fen was less gray and more brown, and the grass clumps looked less like spikes and more like potential... When it was done, Steve craned his neck back to look up at the man who had once been his friend. “So,” he asked, “You gonna arrest me now?”
Tony snorted. “No warrant,” he said. “They want me to arrest you, of course they’ll have to have a warrant for it. Of course, it’ll take some time for the paperwork to go through — and that’s only once I’ve submitted my report on this, who knows how long that could take? I’m a very busy man — and then, once they’ve gotten the warrant, I’ll gather my team and come collect you.” He paused just long enough for optimum sarcasm. “I’m sure you’ll still be right here.”
“You want a ride back to civilization?” Tony offered. “I’m pretty sure I can carry you.”
“Nah, I’ll walk.” He did accept a hand up, though, coming to his feet still next to Iron Man. He met the other man’s eyes through the glowing eye-slits. “You know my great-aunt Mary is somewhere out here?”
“Seriously?” Iron Man turned and walked beside him, Tony carefully matching his clunky steps to Steve’s.
“Yeah, apparently she came out here after a cow and fell in. The family never saw her again, it’s what persuaded my mom to come to America.”
“Huh.” Tony twisted his head around to regard the bog. Steve couldn’t see his face, but the hairy eyeball he was giving the fen was written in the lines of his neck and shoulder. “You want me to scan for...?”
“No. Let her rest.” Their footsteps stopped squelching into the soft ground and started thudding onto the harder dirt of the Irish landscape. “You know what the worst part was?"
Red and gold flashed as the armored head tipped to the side in silent inquiry.
"The cow survived.”
Iron Man’s laugh was an awful thing, essentially one big burst of static.
In the bog behind them, the bare, reaching branches had tiny green buds that warmed in the thin spring sunlight.