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just a hole that is lonely and hollow

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He was no stranger to a long night spend in the cold. If nothing else, he could remember what it was like to have chill settle in, to feel it permeate his heavy, warm clothes and infuse his bones with an aching frost.

He was forced to spend many a night in this fashion, waiting, praying for some beast of the night to come and kill him in his cave, until he could no longer think past the numbness that had wrapped around his body.

Each morning he'd wake up and weak sunlight would be streaming in through the cave entrance, warming him, if only slightly, and the real warmth came from the body pressed against his own, holding him close and chasing away most of that terrible cold, but even they couldn't force the frost from his bones.

Each afternoon, this warm stranger would leave, with whispered promises to be back.

He always protested this, begged them to stay, please, because he couldn't survive another night.

They'd just smile at him, but this smile was small, and it looked painful. "You will," they would always say, with a quiet certainty that put his arguments to rest.

He'd watch them go, trekking through the endless snow as they got smaller and smaller, until they were just a speck, before they disappeared into a forest. It was always a forest. That always seemed important to him, but he couldn't tell you why if you asked.

Once, he'd tried to follow, only to collapse in the snow, and wake up, shivering and scared, back in his cave. That was the first time he'd opened his eyes to find himself alone in a long time. He figured that this must be punishment for following, and he vowed to never do it again, if they wouldn't come back to him afterwards.

They never talked to him, their only words being, "I'll be back tomorrow," and "You will." He never expected them to talk to him, either. At first he did, but then he was just glad to not be so alone. He'd been alone for as long as he could remember.

How long was that, though? The days all blended together, into one big slush of cold and warm and watching them go. He couldn't remember ever eating, either, which would have been worrying, if he had energy to spare for that.

They never touched him more than was necessary to warm him. One time, he tried to initiate touch, waking up and rolling over to face them. They blinked awake, and looked down at him, looking guarded and unsure. He tried for a smile, but it must've not come out right, because they started to edge away. Worried that he'd scared his friend off, he reached up quickly, cupping their jaw, and dropped the smile. They jerked away from him, and left early. He didn't watch them go, instead choosing to sit and stare at his hand, which was still warm, he thought, from that tender touch.

They didn't return the next day, and that marked the second day he woke up alone.

A while after that, he had no idea how long, he decided he talk to them. He wanted to know more about his friend, about himself, because when he tried to plan out the conversation in his head, he found that he had no idea how to introduce himself. What was his name? Well, whatever. Maybe his friend knew his name, and if they didn't, then maybe they could help him name himself! That's what friends do, right? He can't seem to remember ever having friends to name himself with before.

He waited until they were about to leave, when they were making their promise to return. Steeling himself, he blurted, "Are you named?"

They blinked in surprise, and their head tilted to the side a bit. He was reminded of an animal. A... dog? Yes, that was it. They were a dog, maybe. Is their name Dog? "Yes," they answered, and he didn't know what they were talking about, until he remembered, and smiled widely at them.

"What?" he asked eagerly, needing to know their name.

They blinked at him again, and there were a few seconds of silence before they answered, "Steve." They were smiling a little.

He grinned up at 'Steve' and nodded. "Steve. Am I named?"

Steve's face shut down, and they pressed their lips into a line. "Yes."

He was making his friend angry? Oh no, he didn't want that. They wouldn't come back if he made them angry. So he didn't speak again, just nodded and looked away, folding his arms across his chest.

There was silence again, before Steve began to shuffle out of the cave. When they reached the entrance, they paused, and seemed to be thinking for a moment. "Tony," they said suddenly, and he looked back up at them, confused. They glanced back at him, and nodded. "You're Tony."

The name stirred something in 'Tony.' He blinked a few times at Steve, and then grinned. "Cocoa in New York," he said on impulse, because he could taste the cocoa in his mouth, and see Steve, smiling, and they were in a place called New York, he knew.

Steve looked shocked at his words, and their lips quirked into a smile seemingly of their own accord. "Cocoa in New York," they repeated, and, still smiling, they left.

Tony felt warm inside as he watched his Steve go. Happy, it was called. He had the feeling it was an emotion linked to his Steve somehow.

His friend didn't come back the next day. His insides felt cold again.

Steve didn't come back for days, and Tony began to worry that his Steve would never come back. He began to get weird hurts in his stomach, and he felt like he had less and less energy every time he blinked.

Then one day he woke up, and the familiar warm body was pressed against him, and he felt a surge of warmth again. The pain had gone, too, and he felt that happy again. He pushed back against Steve, trying to burrow into their warmth, soak it in, keep it for his own.

"Fury," he said randomly into the silence of the cave. He'd been thinking about warmth, and then the word Fury popped into his head, because he associated that with hot-headed, which lead to hot, which went back to warm. He kept thinking about warmth, and more words were there. "Banner, Hawk, Widow, Gods, Steve. Those are the warm words, Steve. They're warm in my head."

Steve's arms had tightened around Tony, and it was starting to be too tight. "Steve, stop," he whined, and struggled a bit, trying to get them to stop squeezing. Steve immediately stopped, and shot to their feet, backing away from Tony. Tony reached his hand out, not wanting Steve to leave just yet. "Wait, no. Don't leave Tony! I can be quiet!" He crawled forward a little, before sitting back on his heels and just slapping the ground absently with his hands. "Please don't go yet. You're my Steve. I don't like it alone."

Steve paused, and their fists clenched at their sides. "I'm sorry, Tony," they finally said. "I can't stay."

Tony made a pitiful little noise, ducking his head, before shutting down, crawling backwards until his feet bumped into the cave wall. He curled up, and buried his fingers in his hair. He didn't speak again, and there was only silence. A sigh broke it, and then Tony heard Steve leave. The cold was gone, and now he just felt empty.

Tony kept himself up all night, thinking of as many warm words as he could. In the morning, he didn't have very many, but it was enough for him. "Fury, Banner, Hawk, Widow, Gods, Steve, Cocoa, Maria, Agent, Pepper, New York, Avenger," he muttered, and he didn't want to forget them. He scrabbled at the floors and walls, he scraped his hands, and took rough rocks and cut at his hands, until he was able to write the words in his blood, carefully, digging the sharp rocks into his flesh again when he ran out, using the numbness to his advantage. He sat himself down afterwards, and stared up at the words, reading them over and over again, until he fell asleep, finally.

When he woke up, Steve wasn't pressed up against him, but he could just sense that he wasn't alone, somehow. He sat up quickly, looking around, and spotted someone leaning against the wall. He tilted his head like he'd seen Steve do, wondering if he looked like a dog, too. Something about this person was kind of familiar, and a word was brought to his mind at the sight of them. "Widow!" he crowed triumphantly, and pointed at the wall happily. "Warm word! Are you Widow?! You must be! Hello, Widow!" He thrust his hand forward, willing her to take it. It was some sort of greeting, his mind provided.

Widow was a she, Tony knew. He knew Steve was a he, but Tony was a he, too, and he got confused in his head when he called them both 'he.' But no one else was a she, so Widow got to be her! He thought maybe he ought to start referring to Steve as a he.

As he'd been thinking, Widow had been eyeing his hand, and finally she touched it, simply to turn it over and look at the cuts all over it. She raised an eyebrow, and Tony got the feeling there was a question.

"Had to write the warm words," he said, thinking that was what she wanted to know.

Widow nodded, and Tony felt a flash of pride that he interpreted it correctly, and then suddenly she sprayed something that stung onto his hands, and she was wrapping something around them. He watched her, curious about what she was doing, already having forgiven her for the stinging spray. She finished wrapping the white stuff around his hands, and he started to touch it, but she slapped his hand, and gave him a look. He stopped touching, and then she pulled things out of... somewhere. She gently eased them over his hands, and then they weren't so cold anymore. Gloves, his mind said.

Widow was looking at him curiously, and he raised his eyebrows at her.

She was silent for another moment, before speaking. "How did you remember all of those names, Tony?"

He knew she was referring to the warm words. "I don't know. I just thought of warm, and those were there. I can explain it." He turns around to look at the wall. "Fury is hot-headed, which means hot, which means warm. Banner is science, and science is explosions and flames and warmth. Hawk is... the word is hard to think of... video game? Hawk is video games and bowstrings and friendship, which is warm. Widow, you, is scary? But safe, which is nice and warm. Gods... there are two, here. One is warm, one is cold. Cold words are not fun. Warm one just shouts friendship and happiness, which are both warm. Steve... Steve is warm. Cocoa is warm, like Steve is warm. Steve and Cocoa go together. Maria. I don't know Maria. I know this word makes me sad, but it's still warm. Family? Mother? Agent is also sad-warm. I can't explain. Pepper is warm. Pepper is happiness and friendship and love. Love is warm, too. New York is warm, and... home? Home is warm, which makes New York warm. Avenger... is family. Avenger is family and love and together. Avenger is a very warm word, almost as warm as Steve. Avenger and Steve go together like Steve and Cocoa. Avenger goes with New York, too. These are warm words." He ran his fingers over them, and smiled. "They are all family-warm. Are you my family, then?" he asked Widow.

Widow was staring at him, her face unreadable. "Yes," she said finally. "We're your family now, I suppose."

Tony smiled at her, then, instead of the wall. "You are a very good family, I think. Don't want another."

She smiled back, then, but it was a small smile. He felt that that was okay, because she doesn't smile. He wasn't sure how he knew that.

"Very pretty when you smile," he told her, and then turned back to the words on the wall, pulling absently at the gloves.

There was silence for a few moments. "You said something about cold words, Tony?" Widow said. "What are those?"

Tony froze for a second, before nodding. "Cold words are the words that... they make me remember the bad things. The warm words make me remember good things, and the cold... don't. Did I... forget? I forgot cocoa, and Steve, until I remembered. How did I forget?"

Widow was quiet again, for a long moment. "Loki did something to you," she finally said. "We aren't sure exactly what, but it made you lose your memory. It went slow at first, just bits and pieces, but then one day it was all gone. You told us, before you were all the way gone, that when you lost yourself completely, we were supposed to bring you out here, because you might be a danger to us. Steve didn't like it, and we had to remind him about what you said. He waited for a little while, but then he started to come out here and visit you, without our knowledge. He got in some trouble for that, but then he told us how you were making some progress, so we thought maybe being around him would jog your memory. It seems to be doing the trick, seeing as how you can remember some things."

Tony let that sink in for a moment, before looking up at Widow. "Who was I? Before. Who are all these people?" He gestured to the wall.

Widow scanned the wall. "You were - are - Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man. The Avengers is our 'superhero group,' and it consists of Bruce Banner, AKA the Hulk, Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye, me, Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, Thor Odinson, who is a Norse god, Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, and you, Iron Man. We all live in Avengers' Tower, formerly known as Stark Tower, and it's your tower, but you're letting us live there. You're a sarcastic shit, and you hate being handed things."

Tony was silent for a long time, and then he nodded. "I'll tell you a few of the cold words. I need you to tell me about them, if you can." His eyes sought Widow's - Natasha's - out. "Howard, Afghanistan, Stane, Alone, Water boarding, Shrapnel, Merchant of Death."

Natasha sighed, and nodded back. "Howard was your father. As far as we can tell, you had some problems with him. Afghanistan, Stane, Water boarding, and Shrapnel all go together. You were in Afghanistan, to show off the new Jericho missiles you'd just developed, and your caravan was attacked. A missile, one of your own making, exploded near you, and shrapnel was embedded in your chest. You were taken to a cave, and they were able to get some of it out, but not all. Shrapnel is still in your chest, heading towards your heart, but that's why you have the Arc Reactor, to stop it from going any closer. The Arc Reactor is the thing in your chest, by the way. They tortured you in there, and water boarding is a form of torture. Merchant of Death was your title, because you've done your fair share of war profiteering. So that's what they called you. As for alone, well, no one likes to be alone."

Tony stared at her for a long time, before humming thoughtfully. "Well."

She stared at him for a while in silence, before sighing, and waving a hand in the air in a hopeless gesture. "I'm sure the others will want to visit, and try to help you remember."

Tony reached out, brushing his fingers over her wrist, feeling a sudden, desperate need for her to stay. "Please don't leave me. I don't want to stay."

She looked at him, expression still blank, but then it softened, and she gently took and squeezed his wrist. "Just a little while longer. We have to get our orders on how to proceed from Director Fury, but don't worry. He'll let you come on home, I'm sure of it."

Tony searched her face, trying to see if she's lying to him, but he couldn't read her, so he just nodded, and stepped back, folding his arms over his chest, and tucking his hands under them. "Can I keep the gloves?"

A small smile appeared on Natasha's face, and she let out a breath of laughter. "Of course. They're yours, anyhow."

Tony nodded again, and gestured to the cave entrance. "You should be going, then." He hesitated then, wanting to ask but not sure if he should. "Can you tell Steve I said hello?"

Though Natasha had wiped her face clean of emotion, Tony could tell she was kind of sad for him as she nodded. Then she left, and Tony watched her walk for a while, before retreating back into his cave and curling up, staring at the walls and picking absently at his gloves as he drifted off to sleep.

Tony woke up alone. There was no one hiding in the cave, there was no one pressed against him, keeping him warm. It was just him and the cold that always lingered, except during some of those moments with Steve.

He wondered if he was in love with Steve, Before. They were obviously friends, but were they more? Maybe Steve was involved with someone else, or maybe Tony was? His mind couldn't help him with these questions.

He found himself okay with that, though. This way, he could rebuild their relationship, and maybe Steve would fall in love with him, because Tony could tell he was in love with Steve. Something about the thought just... sat right in Tony's mind.

It was nice to be in love, especially with a person like Steve. Captain America. Tony could remember being a kid and having a huge fanboy crush on the good Captain. Howard sure didn't do anything to discourage it, going out on his expeditions to look for Steve every year, keeping an extensive collection of Captain America memorabilia.

Tony had no idea how he remembered that. But it was a place to start, he supposed.

He thought about it, about Captain America, about how when he was eight he had posters of him all over his bedroom, and he took them with him to boarding school, only to lose all of them except for one, which he got framed and put into storage.

It was strange, remembering. Little things like the way his mother used to sing to him in Italian and pet his head until he drifted off to sleep, and bigger things, like the day he found out his parents had died in an airplane crash.

He wanted to run through all of the memories he had, and then collect them into his arms and hold them to his chest. He wanted more about his mother's dark eyes, and how Steve's smile sets his heart racing. He wanted to know everything, from the way New York looked when it was partly destroyed after Loki's attack, to the way that same city looks at Christmastime, with snow falling in silent drifts, and lights up all around the place.

It was coming back to him, he knew. If he tried to concentrate on one thing, on remembering that, then he would get something else, so it was basically just an exercise in not thinking, which Tony felt odd about. He was recollecting information about himself, and so he knew it was hard for him to just let go of his thoughts.

But he was managing it, probably because he had nothing to think of and was stuck in a freezing cave to try and remember anything - everything - because something feels strange about this, he realizes. They need him for something, don't they? That's why they're trying so hard to get him to remember, because they need his intelligence. He's remembered enough to know that Tony Stark is a genius.

And that's all they want from him. His smarts.

Natasha had gotten him well. She tricked him into believing she cared, that they were his family, his friends. But the only reason they want him to remember everything is so that they can put him back to good use, probably making weapons to kill people. Innocent people, no less. They aren't his friends, his family. He doesn't know these people.

He can't trust them.

He realized, with what felt like a punch to the gut, that Steve had been lying to him the whole time as well. Steve, whose hair shines like gold in the New York summer sun. Steve, who can never drink his cocoa without getting the whipped cream all over his face. Steve, who Tony was in love with, and who led him to believe that Tony was his friend.

Betrayal settled over him like a blanket, and his already-frost-infused bones ached with the sudden cold that wrapped him up, and seeped into his skin.

He couldn't stay there. Not for any longer.

Tony paused, though, and felt white-hot anger settle in the pit of his stomach. He'd show them he was onto them, that he knew.

He tore the gloves off, and unwrapped the bandages, before rooting around for the sharp rocks. He found one with a sharp, jagged edge, and began to cut at his hands with it, until blood was pooling in his palms, and then he slapped the blood all over the wall, scoring through all of the words that used to bring him warmth. He sliced his hands more, and wrote, as large as he could, "IT WAS ALL A LIE."

Tony admired his work for a few seconds, and then rewrapped his hands, easing the gloves on, and then stepping away from the wall, and turning to face the entrance.

Determination set in, and started hiking, in the opposite direction of the forest Steve always disappeared to, scrambling up over rocks and boulders until he crested the hill the cave was set into.

He glanced back in time to see a speck emerge from the forest, and started walking away, allowing himself a thin-lipped smile.

 

~*~

 

Steve entered the cave, hands shoved into his pockets, head down against the snow that had begun to fall. He looked up, and stopped in his tracks. Natasha had told him about the wall, but this isn't what she'd described. She'd said Tony had written words all over it, words that were what he'd called 'warm words' and supposedly that meant it made him feel safe, thinking about them and the memories associated with them. Natasha hadn't said that there was blood smeared over the words, almost hiding them, and a scrawled message.

Steve stared at the wall for a little while, stunned, before coming back to himself. He scanned the cave, and found that Tony wasn't anywhere. He grabbed his walkie-talkie, and prayed that it worked out here, returning his gaze to the words.

"Natasha, copy," he barked, not taking his eyes off the wall.

"Natasha here, what is it, Steve?" came her voice, slightly tinny.

"Tony's gone. I need you to get out here as fast as possible."

"What? He's just gone? Okay, I'll be out there in five."

Steve finally looked away from the wall, and down at the walkie-talkie. "Natasha, he could get killed out here, with no food, water, and it's freezing."

"I know, Steve, but we'll make sure that that doesn't happen. Hang in there, and I'm already heading over." She paused. "We'll find him, Cap. I promise."

Steve didn't reply to that, instead choosing to step forward and run his fingers through the blood. It was fresh, which meant he must've left just a bit ago. He couldn't have picked a worse time to leave, either. A blizzard was brewing, and he might be a genius, but he's no survival expert on the best of days, so Steve could only imagine what would happen to him during a blizzard.

He imagined finding Tony, his body frozen through and buried under a snowdrift. Maybe they could defrost him like they did for Steve? Steve knows that it's impossible, but any measure of hope he could give himself would have been welcome at that point.

Natasha, true to her word, bustled into the cave around five minutes later, and got right to business, scanning the wall, asking questions of Steve, who could barely answer them, but gave her enough for her to apparently come to a decision.

"Come on, Steve. Let's go bring Tony home."

They hurried out of the cave, and Natasha looked around for a little while, before deciding the he must've gone over the hill, to get as far away as possible.

Steve narrowed his eyes at her. "So that means he went some other direction, right? He's a genius, who doesn't want to be caught, so he must've gone somewhere else."

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. "Interesting theory, but incorrect. He might be a genius, but he was short on time, and needed to get as far away as possible in as little time as possible. So he went this way."

Steve paused for a second, knowing that this would probably be their one chance. But he trusted Natasha. "Okay. Let's hurry, then."

They scrambled over the hill, Steve lifting Natasha over the boulders she wasn't tall enough to reach, and probably could've found some way to get over it anyways, but that would've taken too long.

They got over the hill, and began to look for any sort of clue as to where he'd gone from here. Their eventual decision was that he'd simply continued onward, and so they began to run forward, sinking into the snow with each step but still probably moving faster than Tony.

Steve caught sight of a speck, and his heart sped up. That had to be Tony. He started running faster, as fast as he could through the snow.

He was gaining on the dot, it was turning into a person, getting larger and larger.

"Tony!" Steve called, and the person turned.

Steve was close enough to see his eye widen, and then he turned and ran. He didn't get very far before there was a loud crack, and Tony yelped as he vanished from sight.

Oh shit. Tony had been running on ice.

"Tony!" Steve shouts again, and sprints forward, being more careful the closer he got to the hole in the ice. Steve got to his knees next to the hole, and scanned the water frantically. "Tony! Tony come on! Tony where are you?!"

Steve was getting ready to jump in after him when he head broke the surface. "S-S-Steve!" he spluttered.

Steve made what would have been a pretty embarrassing noise if he cared about that, and grabbed Tony, hoisting him out of the water.

He immediately went to work on Tony's jacket, getting it off of him as fast as he could, and then stripping off his own and wrapping it around Tony's shivering frame. After a few moments he ripped Tony's shirt off, and then forced Tony's arms through the arm-holes of the jacket, and buttoned it up.

Steve pulled Tony to his chest, wrapping his arms around him, and breathing hot air over his neck to try and warm him a bit more.

Tony's teeth were chattering, and his lips were slightly blue.

Steve didn't even notice the cold until Natasha caught up and pointed out that he didn't have his coat and a blizzard was starting. Steve shivered then, and his mind raced as he thought of what to do. Coming to a decision, he hefted Tony up in his arms, and nodded to Natasha.

"Back to base. Tony can't stay in that cave again. He'll freeze to death," Steve said quickly, and they started walking, as fast as they could, Natasha finally deciding to go ahead and warn the team of what's happened, and tell them to prepare for Tony.

Then it was just Steve and Tony, slogging through the snow, Tony making little noises every once in a while, and burrowing further into Steve's coat.

Steve came to the hill above the cave, and painstakingly made his way up, then back down, picking his way over boulders and clutching Tony tightly to his chest. He stood in front of the cave, and looked back into it, then out to the forest, wondering if he was going to be able to make it before the blizzard set in or they froze.

Deciding to take the risk, he adjusted Tony in his arms, and set off at the fastest run he could manage with such awkward conditions.

The snow began to whip around crazily when Steve was a little over halfway to the tree line. More and more of it began to fall, and soon it was hard to see, and the wind was going crazy.

Steve kept stumbling forward, his feet and hands long having gone numb, and his face going down that road. It was so cold, he could barely stand it. But he would. He could do this, for Tony.

He'd do anything for Tony.

So he kept on, moving blindly forward, head down, eyes half-lidded, brain addled. He almost ran into a tree, and then he looked up, making a relieved noise when he found he'd made it to the forest. He slipped in between the trees, and the wind and snow weren't so bad here, but it was still hard to walk, hard to think past the cold.

Is this how Tony feels? Like the cold is part of him?

Steve couldn't continue that line of thinking, however, because several familiar people stepped out of the trees. Tony was taken from his arms, and he made a noise at the loss of warmth, but went quiet again.

They were taken to the base, and heat washed over Steve, causing him to make a noise halfway between a whine and a sigh. Soon, his hands and feet began to tingle, and it was kind of painful, admittedly. The snow and ice in his hair began to melt and run icy trails down his neck, causing him to shiver.

"Where's Tony going?" he asked as soon as he could think clearly again.

Natasha glanced at him. "Medical. Soon as the storm clears up Fury says they're taking him back to New York so he can get the treatment he needs. Shockingly, living intravenously for such a long time, in a mostly-subzero climate, in a cave, probably isn't the healthiest thing."

Steve managed a smile at that, and shook his head. "I'd imagine not."

"He's going to be okay," she said suddenly.

Steve looked over at her. There was a long, heavy silence.

"I hope so," he finally murmured, and started towards Medical.

 

~*~

 

The team went back to New York with Tony. They all piled onto the Quinjet, Tony on a stretcher despite his protests that he was fine to walk. Steve sat near him, and spent the whole ride answering whatever questions Tony had.

The ride didn't seem as long as it usually did for Steve.

When they finally got to the hospital that SHIELD always brought them to, Tony declared he was tired and shooed the doctors from the room. It appeared that even when Tony couldn't remember them, he hated doctors.

The team began to take up their usual positions when someone was in the hospital, with Clint and Natasha sharing the window seat, Bruce curling up in the chair in the corner with a book, Thor already close to passing out on the couch, and Steve pulling up a chair to the bedside.

Tony looked around, his brow furrowed slightly. "Why are you guys staying in here with me? You've seen to it that I didn't run away, that I didn't die, so surely only one of you should have to hang back and guard me."

They all looked at him, everyone looking confused except for Natasha. "What are you talking about?" Steve asked.

Tony shrugged. "You guys don't have to pretend to care about what happens to me beyond making sure I don't die so I can stay useful. I thought you would've let me go, seeing as how I can't remember anything."

There was silence for a moment, and then Clint said, "What the hell do you mean by that? Why would we fake caring about you?"

Natasha nodded. "We're a team. A family, Tony. We've only really got each other."

Tony jutted his chin out. "I have Pepper, and Thor has his family."

Natasha stared at him for a moment, before letting out a breath of air, which translated to a heavy sigh in Natasha-speak. "Sure. You have Pepper, who's across the country in California right now, and Thor has his family, who's in another dimension entirely. It's not like we spend almost all of our waking moments with each other, live in the Avengers' Tower together, perform missions together, have movie nights and eat dinner together. It's not like we've learned not only to stand each other, but to actually like each other, right? I guess, though, that's not a family. We must not be a family, Tony, because family is supposed to trust each other."

Thor spoke up, "In the words of the wise Lilo: 'Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.' We will not leave family behind, Stark."

Tony stared at him for a few moments. "That's from that kid's movie you love. Lilo and Stitch? You just quoted a Disney movie at me."

Thor nodded. "Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from where you least expect it."

There was silence again, and then, "Holy shit, Thor, that was deep," Clint blurted.

Natasha stopped them before Thor could ask what Clint meant by 'deep' by speaking again. "Tony, we don't just want you to remember so you could be 'useful' again. Sure, it'd be a plus if you could go back to being Iron Man, but that's so we can get back to being a team. It's not the same without you with us. We want the asshole that we love to mess with and who never fails to scream at Clint over whatever idiot thing he's done, and then hold a grudge for a few days before going back to playing Wii Golf with him and kicking his ass at it."

"Hey!" Clint piped up indignantly. "He sucks at Wii Golf!"

"And yet he always beats you at it," Natasha said dryly, raising an eyebrow at him, daring him to disagree.

Clint looked like he was going to say something, but then just folded his arms across his chest and pouted.

Natasha rolled her eyes, and turned back to Tony. "We are a family, Tony. We might not be bound by blood, but we are definitely a family." She smiled then, small and fragile. "It's funny, actually. You're supposed to laugh. You always laugh at such sappy stuff."

Something about that, whether it was the way she said it or the words themselves, unearthed a memory within Tony's mind.

It was late, he knew that much by the fact that New York City was lit up with night lights. He hadn't been keeping track of time, hadn't really seen the point of doing so, but it was definitely some ungodly hour.

He stumbled up to his newly-refitted penthouse, already fantasizing about falling onto the couch and slipping into the sweet oblivion of sleep near-instantaneously.

He didn't expect to exit the elevator and find his team assembled on the couch he'd planned on sleeping on, with the title screen for some movie on his television.

They looked up when he entered, and Thor grinned broadly. "Come join us, friend Tony! We were just about to watch a film! We waited for you!"

Tony had narrowed his eyes, confused and tired. "I can't. Really sorry, but I'm about to fall asleep on my feet, here."

Clint smiled. "Then just come sit with us and act like you're going to watch, then pass out during the opening scene."

Still Tony hesitated. Even after the year they'd been a team, the many months since they'd all started living in the Tower, he still felt like a bit of an outsider, but here they were, waiting for him so they could have a movie night, or morning. It stirred a warm feeling in his chest, and he found himself smiling.

"Fine by me." He made his way over to the couch, and took the seat next to Steve.

Bruce pressed play, and the movie started.

Tony fell asleep when the first shot of the movie had barely even started, and slumped onto Steve's shoulder, boneless.

When he woke up the next morning, surrounded by his sleeping teammates, he felt an odd surge of affection, and had the distinct feeling that that was where he belonged. Right there with his family.

Tony snapped out of the memory, and he couldn't help the smile that broke out on his face. He didn't say anything, but he nodded, and leaned back in the hospital bed, shifting until he was in a more comfortable position to sleep in.

As he drifted off, he felt that same warmth from the memory in his chest, and found he was still smiling.

'Right here with my family,' he thought as sleep overtook him.