Dear Colonel Rhodes,
I’m sure you don’t want to hear from me and I wouldn’t write if it weren’t important, but I got a message from Tony’s AI asking if I knew where he was. Is he alright?
Please believe me that I’ll do anything I can to help. I know he wouldn’t want me to be involved, but I know you can be more practical about this sort of thing.
Don’t worry yourself, we’ve got it under control.
Colonel James Rhodes
Dear Colonel Rhodes,
Friday’s told me the Twitter posts about the surprise vacation are just a cover. Also Tony hasn't taken a vacation in years.
I’m sure you know what you’re doing. I trust you’ll tell me if there’s something I can do to help.
People have tried to kill him before. It didn’t exactly stick.
Believe it or not, Tony can take care of himself. And when he can’t, he has loyal friends to help him out.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: built the first Iron Man suit in a cave from scraps during three months of captivity.
Friday says she trusts you won’t let slip that he’s missing. I have something to add to that: you think things are rough right now, just imagine if even a fraction of Tony’s resources were dedicated to finding where you and your rogue team are hiding out.
Colonel James Rhodes
Can we talk?
I figured since you sent me that letter you were open to trying to work things out.
Honestly I’m kind of expecting you to tell me to go fuck myself but I thought I’d try. I’ve set up a secure email account for you. Check the burner phone, the login info is in a text. Your usual decryption protocol will work.
I do want to talk. I don’t know what to say. I said most of what I could in the letter I sent you.
Which was months ago. Why now?
I just needed some time to get perspective. Some space. Time, mostly. It feels longer than a few months.
One thing I keep thinking about. If I had met Bucky under normal circumstances. Or more normal ones, anyway. If I’d known him during the war, maybe. I think we would have gotten along. Before the war would have been even better, probably. Captivity and battle can change a guy, I hear.
I’ve said I’m not a soldier and I’m not. But I was more prepared to take orders than you were.
I didn’t mean to bring up the Accords. I know letting go isn’t your thing, but can you please ignore that part?
I don’t want to talk about politics. I don’t think that’s the problem between us, not really.
I can’t figure out why you said that about Bucky.
I feel like you’re making fun of me, but I don’t think you’d set up these emails just to do that.
Let’s not talk about politics. Okay?
God, I’m not that much of an asshole.
I just don’t know where I stand with you.
I’ve always thought you and Bucky had a lot in common.
I am sorry, Tony. For everything. I hope you can believe me.
I do believe you. I always believe you.
I knew Peggy. Did I ever tell you that? She and my dad worked together. She gave me a set of the Narnia books when I was little. I don’t think Howard had even noticed I knew how to read at that point. When I finished them she brought me Turkish Delight. I hated it. But I wanted to like it. She’d found it for me special, and we got powdered sugar everywhere. Have you ever had Turkish Delight? Most overrated sweet ever. It’s not even that sweet. And Edmund basically sold his soul for some.
I mean. I know now that it was hard to get that kind of thing during the war. But I was a kid, you know? That stuff didn’t occur to me. And I had everything, so.
She taught me how to shoot a revolver. She tried to teach me to bake scones, too, but that didn’t really take.
(And not to speak ill of the dead or anything, but the scones weren’t even that good. Jarvis’ were much better.)
She told me soulmate stories. Howard hated it. Thought they were ruining me for practical things, hard work, math, empirical thought, that sort of stuff. And when she talked about meeting hers, he always thought she was talking about you. He liked to be in control of that narrative.
She brought Angie over all the time, too. I thought it was funny that Howard thought he was so smart and couldn’t see something so obvious right under his nose. Just goes to show, huh? I’m more like old Dad than I thought. He’d sure be having a laugh if he could see my life right now.
Sometimes when I visited Peggy, she’d tell me about what you were like growing up. I wasn’t surprised to hear that you were a handful. If I didn't already know you, I would’ve thought she was pulling my leg with that story about the jet-powered roller skates.
She wouldn’t tell me why you two fell out, though. I know she was sorry, whatever it was.
I also know sometimes that’s not enough.
Tony, tell me. What can I do to make amends with you?
You’re not the one who needs to make amends.
You wanna know what happened with me and Aunt Peg? Okay. It seems a little weak now that she’s gone, really.
It was about Howard. I must’ve been, oh god, 13? It was Thanksgiving, I think. Maybe it was just fall break, I don’t know. I was visiting from the Academy. I didn’t usually stay with my parents for breaks, but I’d gotten in trouble. More than usual. Maybe I was suspended, and that’s why I was there.
There was this boy, I can’t even remember anything about him. We got caught one night. We’d broken into one of the pools to get some privacy. Security found us with our pants literally down. If I wasn’t suspended, there was definitely some kind of formal reprimand, a mark on my permanent record, blah blah blah. You can imagine what happened when word got to Howard.
He said it was me trying to lie about it that was the worst. But that’s bullshit, he wanted me to lie about that kind of thing. Maybe he just thought I wasn’t good enough at it.
Peggy visited a lot on business in those days. Sometimes she’d be in and out of the mansion constantly for weeks at a time. Howard was different when she was there, so I tried to keep her around as much as possible. But I think as a result she didn’t understand what he was usually like.
I asked if I could move in with her and Angie, I think. I started talking about New York’s minor emancipation laws. She said something like, You know he really cares about you, he loves you through it all. That kind of thing. I’d never told anyone how it was, and I tried to tell her, and she didn’t understand. It felt like she didn’t believe me, which, shocker, I didn’t take very well. I’m starting to understand now how hard it can be to see the failings in our friends. And it didn’t exactly help me out, cutting her out of my life.
Obie found me instead. Howard never bothered to keep anything from him, so he’d seen it all. We split a bottle of bourbon and he let me crash at his place for a few nights. When I came back, Howard was on a business trip, and I didn’t have to see him for the rest of my visit. Obadiah never told me that Howard loved me or cared about me. Instead he convinced me it was more practical to just bide my time, keep up with my studies until I reached the age of majority, and stay out of Howard’s hair in the meantime. It felt like he was treating me like an adult, trusting me to be the mature one.
Pegs never trusted Obie, you know. I thought it was because of how he was always hitting on her, but she put up with Howard. She knew what she was about, that Peggy. More often than not, anyway.
Do you have a spare safehouse or something? I have some stuff to send you. I’ll text you the new encryption protocols on the burner.
That’s not true. That I can’t remember anything about him. His name is Richard, and he had freckles on his ear. Still does, probably. He’s a financial analyst in Minnesota now.
It only occurred to me recently that another kind of parent might have been upset that a 17-year-old was getting busy with their 13-year-old. I mean. Have you hung out with a teenager recently? They’re so goddamn young. 13 is an infant, basically.
My advice: if you get the chance to mentor a teenage superhero, don’t. It’s a fucking headache.
I don’t know if I understand what you’re saying. How did Howard react? I’m not being willfully obtuse here, really.
Don’t pretend you don’t love working with Peter. I saw that video of you visiting his school. And the one of you fighting AIM robots together. And that battle at Oscorp. He’s doing amazing, Tony. He’s lucky to have you.
I guess I’m not great at keeping track what I’ve told you and when.
And you’ve been following my press? I don’t know whether to be flattered or creeped out. Does this mean you saw the skirmish upstate with that Speed Demon guy? That one was a doozy.
I’m just keeping up with everything that’s happening with the team.
Yes, I saw videos of the fight with Speed Demon. Didn’t we fight him back in 2012? Was he the reason you went missing? And why haven’t I heard yet about your no doubt daring, ingenious escape from whatever was keeping you?
I can’t believe you used Avengers encryption and one of Natasha’s safehouses to send me coffee. They have coffee out here, you know.
Can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer me. Do you still have those dreams about the wormhole?
I keep having this dream where I’m in London during the war, and everything is gray, like a black and white photo, but not the right gray, somehow. Like when I was color blind, and I didn't know if something was red or green or both, and nothing looked right. I keep trying to talk to people, and I know all of their faces but I don’t know who they are, and whenever they open their mouths, all that comes out is this pale smoke. Sometimes it’s snowing, and all the snow is too bright, like bleached bones, and every step I take it’s like I’m walking on a graveyard.
I don’t know. We used to talk to each other about our nightmares. I think you were in mine last night. I know things can’t be like they were, but it used to help to tell you about them, like they happened to someone else. Maybe it’s forcing it. I know you’re hurting. I’m hurting too. I know it’s not the same, but. I want to listen.
Thank you for the coffee. I realized I didn’t say that. I haven’t been able to find what I like out here. JARVIS used to handle ordering it for me. Coffee rationing was the hardest for me, during the war. Everyone thought it would be the quantities of food, with my metabolism. But it was coffee that I missed. I guess I did here, too, and I didn’t even realize it until I opened the package.
Yeah, same Speed Demon. We thought we’d traced him to a chemist in New Jersey, voice recognition matched and we had a partial for the face. But this guy, James Sanders, was totally accounted for. Everything came up normal. Not too normal, though, like it was a fake identity—he had a couple speeding tickets, a drunk and disorderly, an old site about Voltron hosted on Geocities, and a blog he never updated about vacations he was planning to take. Then a few years ago, Speed Demon popped up again, and Jarvis and I broadened the search parameters. Found a match—costume and all—in a photo from the 2010 Stark Expo, and one in London in 1944. And last year, our guy Sanders disappeared. Just vanished, stopped coming into work, no credit card activity, no note or contact with anyone, no blood or DNA anywhere, nothing.
I have those dreams sometimes. I got a new one in circulation, now. You’ll like this one, it’s ripe for armchair psychiatry. I’m piloting the suit, but it’s not the size it really is, it’s the size of a plane practically, and I’m in the cockpit—or it’s like a cockpit, kind of—but the whole thing is going to explode over New York, and I have to find a way to stop it before it kills everyone. I keep thinking I need the armor, but I’m in the armor, and the controls don’t work, and there’s no HUD or voice command, just these switches and buttons and all these meaningless lights, like a crappy Star Trek set. Then I wake up.
Okay, I have a question for you, too. Feel free to not answer. If you could go back, would you do it? To 1945. And just live your life from there. Or to save Bucky, that day on the train. Or before that even, before he was captured by Zola. Or any time you could choose. Would you go back?
When I first woke up, I probably would have said yes. To go back and fix things. To save the people that I couldn’t, back then. To be there for them, with them, instead of missing all of it.
I wouldn’t do it now. It’s over. The dead are dead. People make their own choices. And who knows what changing the past would do. There are some things I like about living in the future, you know.
You probably saw the interview I did a couple weeks before the Battle of NY, but it’s different to tell you myself. I met my soulmate during the war. Back then, people liked to say that when two men or two women were soulmates, it was a special bond of friendship that they had. I guess some people say that still, it’s just not as loud. Most people know better. And at the queer dance halls and bathhouses, everyone knew that it wasn’t true, that we all just pretended, or married people of other genders for appearances. I always knew my soulmate would be a man, and that it wouldn’t be just friendship between us. He was with the SSR, there’d been a bombing, and I was helping him out of the wreckage, and then he opened his eyes and looked at me and said my words. I don’t even know what I said back to him, it must have been nonsense, and here he was carrying it around on his wrist his whole life.
It was so perfect with him. So easy. And to have something that I could be sure about, when everything else was uncertain and horrible. Maybe it’s always like that with soulmates. I certainly haven’t found it with anyone else. It barely seems real now, that we found that love in the midst of all that. Maybe because we had so little time together. He died, just a week before I went down with the Valkyrie. I was on leave, we had plans together, and instead of him being there to meet me, I went inside and found him with his head blown off.
That’s what I would have tried to change. But now I don’t think I could have. It would have happened anyway. And it feels like a betrayal of him to say it, but maybe I wouldn’t have stopped Schmidt if he hadn’t died, then. Maybe I wouldn’t have been there to get to the Valkyrie and stop the bombs. I don’t know. It happened, and it’s over now, and I think I’ve spent too long letting the past dictate my life. He never talked about the past. Or the future, for that matter. It didn’t always seem like there would be one. There was just the present, and we were together, so that seemed like enough.
Would you do it? Would you change anything? Would you give yourself any warnings, or advice?
Well, that’s a lot like asking if I have any regrets, isn’t it?
If it really came down to it, I wouldn’t change a thing. But not because I don’t have any regrets. More because of the laws of causality and the fabric of timespace.
There are so many things I would do differently, if I could. I don’t even know how to begin to tell you.
It doesn’t seem like you to be so hung up on the past. I don’t think I care for it.
You’ve always seemed to me like the embodiment of the future. You’re always one step ahead of everyone else.
Always one step ahead, except for all the times I wasn’t. Times I didn’t have all the information, or just didn’t make the right call.
It isn’t any one big thing I’d change, for me. Not like you and wanting to save your fella. He sounds wonderful for you, by the way. I’m glad you had good times with him. No, it might be shorter to list all the things I wouldn’t change.
The highlights, I guess: weapons manufacturing; trusting Obie; all the times I took Pepper and Rhodey for granted; all the times I hurt Pepper; everything with palladium, really; that day on the helicarrier. Ultron, Sokovia, Lagos, Leipzig, Siberia. That’s not even getting into all the lies I’ve lived on just a daily basis at different times in my life. So yeah, pretty much everything.
I saw that interview the day you gave it. Everyone figured it was Bucky, did you know that? You said you were together during the war, that he died in the fighting. There were those photos of the Commandos, then Bucky’s tragic death. It was like a Shakespeare play, everyone loved it. People love romanticizing tragedy. When he came back, I thought you had a second chance. I guess I can be a sentimental idiot, too, because it made sense to me, sometimes, that you’d lied to me to protect your soulmate. But screw soulmates, I’d lie to protect my friends. I’ve lied for less noble causes, after all. If it had been Rhodey everyone had been after, I would’ve burned down the world to save him, too. See? Perspective. He’s lucky to have you as his friend, is what I’m saying, I guess. If that’s okay for me to say.
Here’s a story I know I haven’t told you. My mark came in when I was 12. My mom was a traditionalist, and I guess it looked good to all their society friends, so she threw me a soulmark party. Howard wasn’t there, Obie ended up presenting me with the arm band. I wanted Jarvis to do it, but my mom wouldn’t have it. God, there are so many pictures from that day. One of them is on my wikipedia page I think. My mom was so moved, she cried. You’d think I was getting married. She was so in love with the idea of soulmates, even though she never found hers. Her words were some generic greeting, and Howard’s first words to her were a pickup line. Which I guess worked, because here I am.
I hated the party. There wasn’t anyone my own age there. I had to wear this horrible tie, it had the ugliest print. It’s weird what sticks with you. I remember my shoes were too small.
This is okay, right? It’s not just me pretending that we’re getting somewhere? I’m tired of being angry at you. But it’s not all up to me, is it.
I’m glad soulmark parties have fallen out of favor. Maybe someday people will stop putting so much stock in soulmates. I was going to get my arm band at a group ceremony at our church, but I ended up being too sick to go. It was just my mom presenting it to me in the end. I think I like that better.
Being with my soulmate felt like the best thing that would ever happen to me, but maybe it wouldn’t have if we had just met like regular people do. I’ll never know. And it makes being with anyone else seem so difficult by comparison. Like a puzzle when you don’t know what the picture is going to be. Or maybe I’m just no good at talking to people. He did most of the talking, and I liked it that way. So I never learned. Maybe if I had it would be easier to try for something new.
Yes, this is okay. It’s good. I really did want to hear back from you after I sent my letter. I know my emails aren’t as long as yours usually are. It’s not because I don’t want to talk to you. I just don’t know what to say. I want things to be like how they used to be, and they can’t be, there’s no going back, there’s no magical fix, so I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I just want to tell you how sorry I am or beg you to forgive me. But I know that wouldn’t help.
You keep surprising me. I would have thought you loved that sentimental shit. I mean, it sounds like your soulmate was practically too good be true, this beacon of hope during the war or something. You’d give that up?
Stop talking about apologies and forgiveness. No letting the past dictate our lives, right?
There are reports of flying saucers over Portland. Gotta fly. I’ll write more soon.
Did Portland go alright? The news out here isn’t saying much, but it sounds like it was contained. I hope it’s true and you’re safe and sound back at the compound.
How did you find this photo of Edward? I thought none of the negatives from that day were any good.
I never thought I’d see his face again. Thank you.
I wasn’t sure if you’d want it. It’s not even a very good photo, it’s all out of focus. And you keep talking about moving on from the past. I don’t know.
What, no thanks for the rest of my care package? I baked those cookie from scratch. Hours of toil over a hot oven.
Having the photo helps with moving forward, somehow. As if by acknowledging it, I can move on. He’s gone, it’s over, I can’t save him. That’s how things are.
Peggy took that photo. She had this little kodak folding camera that she carried around sometimes.
She loved playing my beard, did she ever tell you that? She got really into the part. She slapped a woman, once, because she made some comment speculating about whether the serum had improved every part of me. Or something like that. It changed every time she told the story. I think she just liked an excuse to hit people, really.
We’d go on double dates sometimes, me pretending I was out with Peggy, and Edward with Angie. Sometimes Bucky and his actual dates would join us, too. I remember one time when we were back in New York for a spell, we were all visiting Angie at work, and she and Edward were putting on such a show. The way that man could flirt, he just charmed everyone, got everyone at the automat wrapped up in this pretend romance between him and Angie. It was like a radio play, the way they went on. God, I haven’t thought about that in years.
Hmm, someone must have eaten all the cookies before shipping, because there weren’t any by the time the package got to me. Just a photo of my soulmate, my favorite coffee, and new body armor. Thank you.
I don’t know if you’re just avoiding talking about it or if you’ve really forgiven me. I don’t see how you could have.
What made me angriest is feeling like you didn’t care. That you only cared about him. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I don’t do too well if I’m ignored or rejected. When I understood that you do care, it was easier to see things from your perspective. I knew, intellectually speaking, that it was Hydra that killed my parents, not Bucky. Just a tool of Hydra using his face and body. I can see why it made more sense not to tell me.
Speaking of Barnes. I hear he’s out of cryo. I hope you can visit him soon. If it comes up, if it feels right, I don’t know. Tell him I don’t want to murder him? Or something. Because I don’t. I’m sorry I tried to hurt him. Maybe he doesn’t want to hear about that or about me or any of it, though. Whatever you think is best.
I almost didn’t bring it up in my last letter. It’s so good just to talk to you again. I didn’t want to remind you of all the reasons you have to hate me and have you stop writing to me.
It didn’t make sense not to tell you. It was selfish of me. But I do care about you and I always have. In a way, I didn’t tell you because I care about you too much. That sounds like I’m blaming you, and I’m not, I wouldn’t. But I knew it would hurt you to know, and I didn’t want to see you hurt. That sounds so stupid now, after what happened, and how much I hurt you anyway. It really doesn’t make sense, that you’ve forgiven me.
Thanks for the latest shipment. I missed black and white cookies. No one else can make them quite the way they do in NY.
And the other part of the package. I guess I have physical proof that you’ve forgiven me, huh?
Is there somewhere I can send things to you? It’s nothing special, just trying to give back a little myself.
I heard about everything with Justin Hammer out in Virginia. Don’t bad guys ever quit? I was just in Aqiria following a tip and it turned out to be some offshoot of the Ten Rings. I kept expecting Rhodes to fly in and repulsor all of them before we could finish rounding them up.
The shield is yours. It was petty of me to take it.
As for forgiving you. I just needed time, like I said. To remember all the things that I’ve lied about and kept from you. It really puts things in perspective.
After my joke about baking you cookies, I figured I might as well get you some of the good stuff. Glad you enjoyed them.
Yeah, I’ll use the usual encryption setup to get you an address and the system I use for mailing things discreetly.
Hammer was never the brightest tool in the shed, if you’ll forgive the pun. He could’ve made more money from a tell-all book deal about his dumbass exploits, but I guess killer robots and teaming up with fascists seemed like more fun. He couldn’t even do something original! Forget repeats, I could do without the incompetence. Though at least it makes our job that much easier.
If you mean Ultron, that’s completely different. That wasn’t personal. You know I don’t hold that against you, right? The Mind Stone showed me some things, too. And Ultron’s actions were his own. You know better than anyone that the intelligences you build, Jarvis and Friday and even DUM-E, are their own people. Ultron just turned out not to be a good one.
Did you make Bucky this new arm? How did you get your hands on the specs for that?
Speaking of repeats, Wanda and Sam had a run-in with Speed Demon in Genosha last week. Wanda says he’s even faster than Pietro. She thinks he was moving so fast he entered another dimension sometimes, which I can’t really fathom. You probably already knew that, I guess. If you do need more data about it though I can send you everything Wanda has on him.
I read your article in Scientific American. I didn’t realize that the field of soulmate studies was so underdeveloped. Or that you had such an interest in it. In fact, I recall that your SHIELD file had a piece you co-authored for The Skeptical Inquirer calling soulmarks “social coercion” and “an indoctrination of misplaced idealism.”
I got the package from Vision. Wanda won’t tell me what it was, but she keeps smiling. I’m glad they have a way to keep in touch during all this. Thank you.
I didn’t mean Ultron.
Shuri helped me with the arm. It was mostly her. That kid is bonkers smart, I can’t wait for her to take over making good tech for the world, so I can finally retire. The vibranium all came from her too, of course. Now his arm matches your shield. Neat, huh?
Most of the people studying soulmates and the associated phenomenon are looking to monetize it. Or convert people to their religion, which is pretty much the same thing. It’s easy to convince people there’s some sort of cosmic plan when there’s “proof” of fate etched into your skin. So yeah, there’s not a lot of pure science in it, these days. You get some sincere folks in fields like sociology, anthropology, child development, pediatrics, that kind of thing, but they’re studying the results, not the source. Some scholars of queer theory and LGBTQ history have some interesting work, and it’s done wonders for our understanding of the asexuality spectrum and sexual identity generally. It’s pathetic, in terms of hard science: some of the most thorough overviews of the phenomenon are about fashion design and modesty. Clinical genetics and bioorganic chemistry is where the real work needs to be done. It could change our understanding of causality. The impact on the field of quantum mechanics too, it’s exciting stuff. I guess that’s just another topic I needed perspective on.
I used to be bitter about my words and about never meeting my soulmate. I thought Pepper felt the same, too, but then, her parents were soulmates. They’re still married, can you believe that? Maybe you can. Anyway, it turns out it’s more important to her than she’d realized. And recently, I guess I figured they can mean what I want them to mean. I still make my own choices and nothing can change that.
From there, you know how it goes. I got a bee in my bonnet about it and started looking into it and it turned out pretty much everyone else working on it was incompetent and needed me to step in and show them how it’s done.
I think I know where Speed Demon is hiding out. It looks like he was after Wanda because of something to do with Pietro, some equipment Strucker put together for him. Vision and I are checking it out. I’ll keep you updated.
I got the piece you sent me. It’s beautiful. I’m glad you’re painting again.
Hey. Do you remember when we met on the quinjet? After Stuttgart? I remember every word of it.
Later that day you started saying that I looked like someone you used to know, and I stopped you, because I was sure you were talking about Howard. Howard never shut up about you. I wasn’t ready to hear it all again from the other end. But you weren’t thinking about Howard. Were you.
You really have been thinking about this a lot. Yes, I was thinking about Edward. He would have thought your beard is ridiculous, but your eyes have always reminded me of his. (It’s nothing personal, he would have laughed at the beard I’m growing now, too.) You sound like him sometimes. Is that any better? Being compared to a dead, idealized person you’ve never met?
Why did you bring that up?
How did you get those letters? He told me he burned them after he read them. He was so careful about privacy, more careful than I was. I can’t believe he was keeping them, I can’t believe they were just out there in the world. What if someone had found them? God, can you imagine that being part of my Smithsonian exhibit? Here’s the shield from the USO tour, here’s the helmet with the bullet holes from the raid on the Hydra base in Carpasia, and here’s a display of all the dirty love letters Captain America wrote to his gay lover.
They weren’t all filthy, there was that one about the musical stylings of the Boswell Sisters and the Ink Spots.
That goddamn speedster got the slip on us again. The fucker can go superluminal, do you have any idea how bonkers that is? That shouldn’t be possible. Although, it may explain a few things. If you or any of your merry band run into him, you can’t let him get to Pietro’s equipment. If you can convince Wanda to destroy anything she has left, that would be a good start. I don’t know if Strucker kept records of it. Speed Demon might be working with Hydra, so watch out.
Dear Colonel Rhodes,
Please let me help this time. I don’t know if Tony’s told you, but we’ve been talking. Writing to each other, but it’s been better. He’d let me help this time, I know it. I know it’s only been two days, but if Friday is contacting me again that can’t be good.
Tony tells me a lot of things.
Check the burner for encrypted coordinates. Don’t be late or we’re leaving without you.
Colonel James Rhodes
Thanks for the hand with the whole kidnapping thing. You could’ve stuck around once I was conscious again, I wouldn’t have minded.
I wasn’t sure you wanted to see me. The colonel and Ms. Potts didn’t seem too happy that I was around, either. I’m just glad you’re okay. It was good to see Rhodes on his feet, too.
Are you sure Speed Demon died in the explosion?
As sure as we can be. He already wasn’t doing too well when he nabbed me. It turns out running faster than the speed of light and creating tears in the fabric of timespace in order to time travel isn’t really good for the human body.
The upshot is, now I know how to build tactical gear that protects people from superhuman speeds and time travel. So, that’s that checked off my bucket list. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to convince the SI board that there’s a big market for that, though.
Don’t send any more snail mail for a while, okay? Ross has been snooping around.
There’s a situation in Slorenia. They aren’t in the UN or a signee of the Accords. We could use a hand. If you have time, Iron Man would be a lot of help. We wouldn’t say no to Vision or War Machine, either.
Hoping to see you soon,
Thanks for the assist in Tblunka. I wish I could’ve talked to you on your own.
I still don’t know what to say to you. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, or not saying enough. You sent me that photo of Edward, and then all those letters I wrote him. You gave me the shield and you fought with me in Slorenia and you say you forgive me but I still can’t believe it. You keep talking about hiding things from me and lying to me but I don’t know what it is you think you’ve hidden from me. I don’t know what to think. I’m sure whatever it is isn’t as bad as you think it is. If this last year has shown anything, it’s that we can work through it, no matter how bad it is. Right?
I can’t believe you flew all the way to Chernaya just to see me. How did you even know I was here? Have you known where we’ve been this whole time? Please tell me what’s on your mind. If you can’t tell me in person, can you write it down?
Please write to me. Even if it’s just to say that you don’t want to hear from me any more. I wasn’t rejecting you that night in Chernaya, I just wanted to talk. This can’t be what ruins things between us, after everything.
Dear Colonel Rhodes,
I apologize for bothering you. I won’t take much of your time. I haven’t heard from Tony in a few weeks and I’d just like to hear from you that he’s alright. I know he’s not missing this time because I haven’t heard from Friday.
Please just let me know if you’re okay. I’m getting worried that you’ve taken me off of the emergency contact list and you’re missing again but now Friday won’t let me know.
Dude, Steve is freaking out. What did you do to that guy?
Please work out your shit, I can’t have Captain America calling me all the time. At least tell him to back off.
Tony: I’m fine.
I was testing a hypothesis
Steve: would you tell me what the hypothesis was?
or what conclusions you drew?
Tony: have you ever heard of one person’s soulmate having someone else for a soulmate?
Jane says Dick’s words when they meet
but the first words Dick says to her don’t match Jane’s soulmark
that kind of thing
Steve: I think you know that I read an article in Scientific American saying that there’s no recorded case of that ever happening, nor any evidence that it ever could
Tony: right. the closest cases have been incidents where one person didn’t have a soulmark or one person’s words were common and therefore the situation was ambiguous.
Tony: imagine what it would be like to think that your soulmate had someone else
some couples never show each other their words, maybe some people aren’t sure.
I’m glad you’re alright
will you tell me why you stopped writing to me?
if I did something to upset you I need to know what it is so I don’t do it again
Tony: let me tell you a story
the setting: midtown manhattan, may 2012
genius billionaire Tony Stark has just activated the arc reactor in Stark tower
Steve: sounds familiar so far
Tony: he’s sharing celebratory champagne with his beautiful girlfriend
when a familiar shield agent interrupts to let him know that an alien has shown up and killed 80 people in two days and is trying to get his hands on dangerous technology
technology recovered by Howard Stark while looking for lost legend Captain America, by the way
our hero Tony dons his incredibly sexy armor and flies to Germany to apprehend this alien threat with bad fashion sense
he meets up with a newly defrosted, but perhaps not fully thawed, Captain America
Steve: geeze, I drowned in the arctic, not in the prepared meals section of a grocery store
Tony: as I was *saying*
they acknowledge each other with a manly nod and do battle with the antlered alien interloper
our brave protagonist takes the dastardly god of mischief onboard the quinjet
“you’re pretty spry for a guy who’s supposed to be dead” says our hero
“what are you supposed to be, an understudy from Metropolis?”
Steve: is that what I said?
then it was jokes about pilates, verbal sparring, then thunder god, destroying old-growth trees in a pissing contest, blah blah blah, saving the world
Steve: you remember it very well
Tony: I have an excellent memory
for certain things
next story: there’s a group called the Avengers
earth’s mightiest heroes
Steve: I think I’ve heard this one too
Tony: so they’re great together
they can take on anything
and then some asshole shows up and figures out the perfect way to screw with them
he kills dozens of people just to fuck them up
gets them at each other’s throats, finds out all their secrets and lies and plays them off each other
finds their weakest link and sets it up so he’s in a position to do something stupid
like try to murder some brainwashed idiot who just wants to take a fucking nap
that’s not what happened
Tony: I’m telling this story okay
and he looked goddamn exhausted, he’d been through hell and it fucking showed
Tony: but before the big reveal
this guy goes for the whole villainous monologue
he explains how he studied this team for a year
did nothing else
a year, can you imagine?
and he looks at Captain America and he says
“I just realized”
“there’s a bit of green in the blue of your eyes”
“how nice to find a flaw”
Steve: god, Tony
what is the point of this?
Tony: okay I only have one story left
stop me if you’ve heard this one too
the setting: southern England, January, 1944
an SSR research facility is hit in a night bombing
fortunately for the scientists working there, the howling commandos are nearby
captain america himself rushes into the smoking, burning building, with no regard for his own safety
Steve: Tony, what are you doing
Tony: just wait for it Steve
he finds one of the scientists unconscious, inhaling smoke, not doing too great
he scoops him up in his ridiculously muscled arms
the guy comes to, stares into those famous baby blue eyes
and he says
“there’s a bit of green in the blue of your eyes”
Steve: I’ve never told anyone about that
I never even told Bucky what my words were
what are you doing?
I don’t understand
Please, I don’t understand. What does this have to do with Edward?
Okay. I actually have one more story to tell you.
Our setting this time is the Avengers Compound in upstate NY, circa September 2016. Young hero Spiderman, triumphant and apprehensive after his defeat of the Vulture, no thanks to would-be mentor Iron Man, is offered a spot on the Avengers team. In a shocking show of maturity, he turns it down.
What is an Iron Man to do? The press are gathered at the compound. What can I come up with on the spot to occupy them?
In a flash of brilliance, or perhaps lunacy, I remember a diamond ring. Home-grown—no thank you, blood diamonds—and I’d kept it around just in case. I ask the lovely Pepper Potts to marry me.
She says no.
Somehow the press conference goes by. Words are said, probably. Allegedly, it goes alright.
I’m on my way back to Manhattan. Ready to crash, probably into my wet bar. But no rest for the wicked, right? Suddenly I'm getting these weird tachyon readings all over the place. Indications of a speedster. Could it be my old enemy, Speed Demon?
It could. And Speed Demon, it turns out, is not just a speedster. He’s also a time traveler. And not a very competent one.
Our Iron Man finds himself next in upstate NY, circa November 1943.
I hawk the diamond for as much money as I can get. I shave my period-inappropriate facial hair, buy 1940’s duds. I fly my nanobot armor the fuck out of dodge. Get a gig doing intelligence work utilizing my not insubstantial scientific and engineering knowledge to help in the war effort, using the resources of the SSR to build a time machine and a way back home.
One night in Surrey, I’m up late working on my secret project. It isn’t going well. Even if I’d had something besides vacuum tubes and crappy scrap metal, it would be tricky. Then the facility is bombed. And who comes to rescue me but that old frenemy, Captain America, last seen using the slim end of his shield to smash through gold-titanium alloy and break several ribs of the vulnerable little human underneath. Am I finally dead? Is this hell? I've had more than one nightmare that starts like this. But no, he’s smiling at me. You’re smiling at me. When was the last time you smiled at me? Your eyes are so blue, so beautiful. You’re holding me gently, like I’m precious. I've had daydreams like this. It must be heaven, then. I’m regaining consciousness, and all I can see are those glittering, perfect eyes. I’m close enough to count your eyelashes. They’re thick and lush and dark, and my broken brain is trying to compose sonnets to these azure orbs. No, wait. There is some green in them after all. Maybe I really am alive. “It’s true,” I say as I wake up. “There’s a bit of green in the blue of your eyes.” And then you kiss me, and it’s paradise.
I’m never going home. How can I? The time machine won’t work. You’re going to go down with the Valkyrie in the arctic in just over a year.
I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, my hands are covered in blood. What’s another lie? What’s it matter that when you know me, you hate me, don’t care about me, that I’ve betrayed you and failed you over and over again in the future? The future’s never coming for me now. It’s over, and maybe I can wring out a little bit of happiness in this new present.
One of the worst things that's ever happened to you, and I'm living the reverse. Except I get to have you. What do you get in the future? A pain in your ass. Responsibility and duty and no thanks or breaks. Everyone trying to frame or murder your best friend.
I was supposed to love you. But do I tell you who I am? Where I’m from? Do I warn you about Bucky falling from the Hydra train? Do I tell you about the Red Skull? The Viking Runestone? The Tesseract weapons? When you’re mourning the death of your closest and oldest and dearest friend, do I let you know that he’s still alive, that there’s time to save him from decades of torture and brainwashing and being used as a killing machine? Do I tell you how to stop Schmidt’s bombs without nearly dying, do I tell you Loki’s plans, or how to close the portal before the Chitauri come through, or that Hydra infiltrates Shield, or how to stop Ultron before he happens, how to find Wanda and Pietro before Strucker does, or how to save Sokovia, or to stop the deaths in Lagos?
Nope. I don’t say a fucking word.
Anthony Edward Stark
god please pick up the phone
please talk to me
I got the photos you sent me. I guess those negatives weren’t damaged after all, huh? You looked so different. I think it’s your smile. Your eyes are exactly the same. I should have known, I can’t believe I didn’t know. I should have been there for you.
Please talk to me, I need you. I love you.
Tony: jesus christ turn that plane around right the fuck now
Ross will not hesitate to shoot you down
you are such a drama queen holy shit
give T’Challa his jet back and stop being an idiot
Steve: it sucks being ignored doesn’t it
Tony: you are such a little shit
there are other ways to get my attention
Steve: I prefer a direct approach
are you talking to me now?
Tony: I’m not him Steve
he’s not real
Steve: you’re my soulmate
Tony: nothing’s changed
you didn’t want to be with me before
you just want me to be him and I’m not
we’re not there anymore
Steve: I want you Tony
you’re right that nothing’s changed but not in the way you mean
it doesn’t change anything that you’re him or he’s you, I love you
Tony: you aren’t thinking this through
Steve: I wanted you before
I just didn’t think it was possible before you came to see me in Chernaya
Tony: which cleared up so much for you, I’m sure
Steve: do you remember that SSR mission to Alberia
Tony: of course I remember Alberia
that was barely two years ago for me
Steve: I came back from scouting and you’d gotten your hands on some bacon
real bacon, in the middle of the war
and you had fresh white bread with cultured butter and raspberry preserves
you were trying to toast it over the fire and Bucky said you were burning it and Gabe kept trying to take over
then you handed me a cup of coffee and it had cream and sugar in it
I hadn’t seen sugar in weeks and we should’ve run out of coffee two days before
and after we all had breakfast you showed me a whole sack of apples you’d gotten from god-knows-where
Tony: I used to go off sometimes in the armor
blasting Nazis is incredibly therapeutic
Steve: do you remember what I said?
Tony: that I should share the apples with the whole team instead of hoarding them for the two of us
Steve: I said I’d never met anyone as brave or wonderful as you
Tony: to be fair you didn’t really know me
and using my bulletproof suit from the future to steal supplies from bad guys isn’t brave, Steve
Steve: not for that
though that was incredibly sweet and thoughtful of you
I meant for being so yourself every day
Tony: that wasn’t me
Steve: yes it was
in every way that mattered it was you
I’m not the same way I was then either
I think that might be a good thing
Tony: that’s different
Steve: tell me how
Tony: Steve, you’re not thinking straight
go talk to Bucky
for one thing I bet he remembers that I was a dick even back then
go blow up a Hydra base or two
help some old Wakandan ladies cross the street
just take a fucking minute to actually process this
Steve: I’m not going to change my mind
meet me in Santo Marco
Tony: god, I can’t take you anywhere
anywhere with extradition treaties anyway
Steve: meet me there?
Tony: yeah fine
Steve: our sunny day finally came
Tony: you are such a sap how do you even function
Steve: was that our first time having sex in a real bed?
Tony: yeah well those sodomy laws were damn inconvenient
and that war business, always interrupting, always cockblocking
Steve: did I ever even see you without a shirt back then?
Tony: yeah I thought the giant hole in my chest might be kinda memorable to you later on
the things I do to preserve the fidelity of the timeline, you don’t even know
Steve: I sure was missing out
I had a great time Tony
Tony: damn right you did
but you know it won’t be easy like it was with him
that wasn’t real
Steve: it was real
Tony: it wasn’t me, Steve
Steve: it doesn’t matter if it’s easy this time
do you think I care about easy?
Tony: I care if you’re happy
I care if you’re lying to yourself
Steve: you said you always believe me
you said you make your own choices
well so do I
soulmark or no I’m choosing you
deal with it
Tony: I love you, you know
Steve: I love you too
meet me in Morvania next month?
Tony: yes, of course
see you there