"You ready, Tony?" Rhodey's voice was comforting and it brought Tony Stark back from his blank stare.
Three years. It had been three years since Steve had plunged his shield into Tony's arc reactor, leaving him immobile in the harsh, unforgiving cold of Siberia. Three years of getting over yet another bout of PTSD, of panic attacks, of terrifying nightmares. Three years of struggling with depression, of Rhodey having to pull him out from dark, dark days where it had seemed as if the shadows and his thoughts were eating away at him, picking at him, killing him.
Three years without his friends. No, his family.
"Yeah, I...I'm ready." Tony splashed his face with water once more in the bathroom of the SHIELD helicarrier. The Avengers had arrived and Tony was going to meet them. He was going to see the people that he loved. He was ready to stitch his family back together. He wanted this. He fought for this.
His reflection was pitiful almost, he thought as he glanced at the mirror. He still had his goatee and the same, chocolate-brown eyes. But the wrinkles that lined his face were creased with years of worry, pain, and fear. His skin was pale and he had lost so much weight, his cheeks had hollowed out.
Two years since the gang rape. The headlines still haunted him. He still heard the accusations, the mocking tones of the reporters, the disgust from people who did not even know him. He wanted to scream to the world, "I WAS RAPED. I WAS VIOLATED. I AM NOT A WHORE."
But then louder voices told him to shut the hell up. Those voices told him that it was his fault. All of it. Those voices reminded him that he was worthless, that he was nothing, that he deserved no one and nothing. Those voices told him that he deserved to die. Maybe then, he would stop wreaking havoc. Maybe then, the world could truly be at peace.
Tony felt a warm hand squeeze his shoulder, once again pulling him to the surface. "Come on, let's get this over with. Bruce is waiting for us."
Bruce. One year since Bruce Banner had returned from India. He had gotten tanner, his hair a little whiter, his face a little more worn down. But he was happier, he was better. He came back to Tony. He took care of his friend. Tony had never defended himself against the news reports, but Bruce knew. But he never spoke of it, he never brought it up. It was better for them both.
Tony sighed deeply and then grabbed his briefcase and led the way. It was time for him to meet the Avengers. It was time for him to welcome his family back home.