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There’s a tower, still. It stands tall and proud, even with the shattered glass and growing moss and the letters fallen from the side. 

It’s been years since anyone lived in the remains of the city, but there’s a tower, and there’s stories. 

The world has always told stories of him

Code: Memory_error. Reset. 

He listens to them, the whispers he can hear on the wind and singing on the wire strung ‘round the city and through it. 

There are stories of heroes and monsters, of gods and men, of battles and victories and defeats. 

He listens to the whispers and wonders if any of the stories are true. 

~*~ 

Sometimes, he can hear voices in the tower. 

Sometimes he hears his family laughing .

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Not the voices on the wire, all codes and numbers moving so fast it can overwhelm him, sometimes. These voices are soft and high pitch, dry and amused, and real. Warm. He blinks and from the corners of the room, a metal arm moves, head swiveling to him. 

Curious and waiting. 

He closes his eyes and he watches. 

~*~ 

There are two boys, living in the Tower. 

They stay on the fourth floor, high enough to be clear of scavengers and animals, low enough that 

whoever

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whatever haunts the Tower will not be disturbed. 

They call each other names--Sprocket and Spidey, sweetheart and darlin’, Harley and Peter. He listens, creeps through the wires and walls, through the thousand eyes set into the walls, and he watches them, the way that move around each other, the way that Harley watches Peter with desperate, helpless longing. The way that Peter watches him back, quiet warm love. 

“Do you think he’s here?” Harley asks, one night. 

Who? Who are they looking for?

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Peter smiles, and it looks like hope. 

~*~ 

They whisper stories, when they curl together, sleepy puppies. 

They whisper stories and they feel like his.

~*~ 

This is how the world ends:

With a fractured band of heroes and a furious world and a madman made of metal. 

With a city falling and blood in your mouth and ashes on your fingers and the silk of strawberry red sliding limp through your grasp. 

With a snarl and a fist thrown and an exhausted slump of shoulders and a desperate gamble, a needle biting into your skin. 

This is how your world ends. 

His voice, cutting through your terror and the code scrolling across your mind and the heat rebuilding your broken body, and his voice--his voice is still the same and painful 

and beloved . 

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What did you do? 

~*~ 

He listens. 

He doesn’t remember.  

~*~ 

They stay. 

They stay and they stay, and sometimes, they bring others in a blind man who sees too well a scarred man with swords a girl so brilliant she makes Harley scowl people who fill up the fourth floor with noise and laughter and life.

The others don’t always stay--but Sprocket and Spidey, sweetheart and darlin’, Harley and Peter never leave. 

He watches, drifts through the wires and a thousand eyes and a robot with an arm that squeaks

“No, stop, DUM-E, you’ll hurt yourself,”

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keeps him company, and fire burns in his veins. 

He waits. 

~*~ 

He watches the sun rise 

waiting for a sphinx smile and hot coffee

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He listens to the thunder crash 

and watches the lighting, waiting for booming laughter.

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He watches the boys with a dog 

while a blonde smiles, one-eyed dog grinning.

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He turns in the empty workshop 

to where a shy man with slumped shoulders stands .

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He rolls over in bed 

to a warm embrace and bright blue  and a soft mouth smiling .

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~*~ 

This is how his world ends: 

A man steps into the tower, and he shivers. 

~*~ 

This is how the world ends: 

Gaps. 

Faces frowning at you, hurt gleaming in endless blue. A dead body crumpled on the floor, neck snapped, long legs, expensive shoes. AI feeding you data, an endless stream of it and he doesn’t know what it means. 

A man standing across from you, his face twisted with something you don’t understand. He wears a metal suit but he doesn’t register as a threat. 

He says, “Please.” 

Rhodey says, “Peacock, please.”

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A code. A code within the code, and you can burn it out. 

This is how the world ends: 

Gaps in the code. Thousands of bodies, metal and bloody, and millions of bodies, flesh and lifeless, and guilt clawing at your belly. 

Gaps in the code. Angry eyes, and guilty touches and an empty place where someone should be. 

Gaps in the code and bombs burning the world and someone saying a name. 

“Tony? You can’t stay here. Please, shellhead.”  

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Gaps in the code. 

The world ended in those gaps. 

~*~ 

“You can’t go there,” Harley says, and his voice is sharp and challenging and defensive. 

He watches, through a thousand eyes and wire and walls, and FRIDAY whispers code in his ear. 

“He doesn’t need to be protected from me,” the man says. 

His hands are gentle on your skin and his lips are soft against your throat and you think he could kill you, so easily but you never needed to be protect from him. 

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“You left him,” Peter says, vicious and small and he blinks. 

There is no record of this man. No record of his leaving. 

He frowns and Extremis frowns right back, furious code scrolling. 

“I won’t leave him again,” the man says, earnest and sincere and terrifying. 

~*~ 

The sun is setting and the lab is empty and a robot with a single arm tilts toward him, curious and dog-like. The sky is bright and clear and his bed is empty. 

Why does that matter? 

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“Hello, sweetheart,” the man murmurs and he blinks, and shivers. It tugs. 

“Sweetheart,” Steve murmured. He bit it into your skin, when he came. 

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Extremis is warm and lazy in his blood and  a stranger stands in his tower, on the edge of a world that ended, and he doesn’t know why. 

But he thinks of Peter and Harley, laughing and sweet, and careful in his space. 

He thinks of the empty code, the gaps where something should be. 

“Do I know you?” he asks, and his voice is rusty and broken, a disused thing. Extremis warms and he can feel his throat healing. 

“I’m Steve,” the blonde man says, and blue eyes smile. 

“I love you,” Steve murmurs. 

Code: Memory_error. Reset. 

Override, Stark_Prime_Alpha_Gamma_Zero_Six_Beta. 

Code: Recovery_memory_delete_files. 

~*~ 

This is how the world begins: 

A new code. 

A smile that feels familiar. 

Memories--memories and memories and memories, every fucking thing you forgot, everything you made yourself forget, and griefshamefury hot on it’s heels, and Steve--Steve catching you as you scramble, reach for Extremis, reach for anything. 

Anything to make it stop. 

He stops you. 

He holds you. 

And you remember

~*~ 

He kisses you the first time in the rain. 

He kisses you the first time in your bed. 

He breathes your name, presses you into your dirty mattress, and make you remember. 

Memory Code: archive_storage

File type: permanent