It felt like emerging from the deepest ocean when Tony finally opened his eyes.
Like finally, his lungs could breathe. No longer was his vision confined to the constant dark blue nor did he felt like drifting all the time.
Pepper informs him it's been three months since he went into coma.
"The last thing I remember is --" Thanos throwing a moon at him. Dr. Strange offering the time stone to Thanos. And, and --
Oh god, Peter.
The heart monitor beeps rapidly, a nurse rushes in. Tony stares at his shaking hands, horrified as they glow orange.
"Tell me you didn't use Extremis on me."
"Tony -- I, I'm sorry."
He stares at his friend's face, it's weird. Because the last time he saw Bruce, he had trouble changing into Hulk. But now he stands in front of him, physical appearance forever morphed with Hulk. His voice wasn't rough, growling. It's still Bruce talking.
"You would have died if it weren't for Extremis."
The doctors tell him he had selective amnesia. His brain had forgotten everything that occured within the last five years.
Rhodey and Pepper were present when the doctors revealed the news. Tony could only stare numbly as the doctors explain that there's still a probability that his memories would return.
Rhodey looks grim and Pepper's eyes were shining with unshed tears.
Tony feels....he doesn't really know what he felt. Confusion, disbelief, anxiety, peace. It's a jumble of emotions. Mostly, he's just tired.
Hah, isn't that hilarious? He's been asleep for three months and still he felt exhausted.
(Rhodey and Pepper didn't find it funny at all.)
Tony wrapped his arms around Pete when he came to visit. The kid was crying by the time Tony ended the embrace.
Tony was crying too.
All the other Avengers stopped by. There were familiar faces like Nat, Clint, and Thor.
(He wonders where Steve is)
He spots vaguely familiar faces, people he met when they had that, uhh, fallout at the airport in Leipzig. There's Scott, the one who could grow to a gigantic size.
(He wonders where Barnes is)
Nat held his hand, she tells him he saved the entire universe. That he was the one who ended Thanos.
Tony offers an awkward laugh in return.
They all tell him stories, of how they travelled through time, of how he helped build another gauntlet, of thousands of portals opened up right at the moment they needed help.
Peter was in the middle of renacting how the played 'pass the gauntlet like it's hot potato" when Tony cuts him off.
Wincing and cradling one side of his head, he apologizes to them. "Kid-- Pete. My bad, I don't, I don't feel so hot right now."
Peter carefully crouches in front of him, a worried expression on his face,
And that simple gesture?
It triggers a searing pain in Tony's head. He groans and shuts his eyes. It feels like his head's about to explode, a loud ringing noise in his ears drowns out the murmurs from his friends. His hands were glowing again, courtesy of Extremis --
Peter's face flashes in his mind,
but this was different.
Peter had wounds on his face, he's in his Iron Spider suit, it doesn't look like they're on Earth --
"-- Mr. Stark? --"
"-- Can you hear me? --"
"-- It's Peter --"
"-- We won, Mr. Stark. We won! You did it, sir. --"
" -- You did it! --"
" -- I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Tony. --"
The Peter in this vision was upset, like really, really upset. His face was all scrunched up, his cheeks are red and tears are flowing down his cheeks.
Peter was crying....Why was he crying?
Tony mercifully passes out from the pain.
The doctors strongly advised them not to overwhelm Tony with memories from the last five years. His recovery, they said, might ultimately be hampered. It's best not to force it and let time heal him.
Which is frustrating because he already lost three months of his life and now he has to deal with a brain that's felt like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.
Tony doesn't like unsolved puzzles. He doesn't like seeing his loved ones worry about him.
Steve did come by. Along with Barnes.
Which was great and all but it also had the potential of turning into the most awkward hospital visit Tony ever had.
Because while this felt like their first reunion after their messy fallout for Tony, it wasn't the same for Steve and Barnes. Who knows how many times they've seen each other. They've probably did missions together too. Nat said the Avengers were back together years before they figured out how to defeat Thanos.
Steve and Barnes are polite, friendly even, but it's so obvious in the way they interact that they're holding back something.
Like something huge happened in the last five years between them but they're hesistating to share it with Tony. Even with selective amnesia, it's like his brain's nudging him that there's something he badly needs to remember asap.
It irritates him but there's nothing he could do about it. These past few days has always been like that.
The initial awkwardness dissipates with the easy flow of the conversation. Which is surprising, to be honest.
While they're kind enough to share updates, some tidbits about how the current roster of Avengers are doing, Tony can't help but note how familiar their scents are to Tony. It's odd how their scents call out to his instincts despite his brain having no memory of scent-marking the alphas.
He glances at Barnes, his hair no longer shoulder-length. It's cut short, similar to Steve's hair before.
That's when he noticed it, a bite mark.
Despite the high collared shirt he's wearing, Tony can tell that Barnes has a mating mark on his nape.
It's probably Steve who put it there and Steve most likely had a similar mark in return.
Something clicks in his brain, like the initial satisfaction in clearing the first series of locks in complicated security system.
So, Steve and Barnes are finally mated.
"Congratulations." Tony offers, a small but sincere smile on his lips.
Steve furrows his brows. "For what?"
Tony wiggles his brow, "On finally getting hitched! Must have been a beautiful ceremony."
Steve doesn't know how to respond. He has an unreadable expression on his face which Tony doesn't notice, he continues with his congratulations and well-wishes.
"Tell me, was it a garden wedding? A beach wedding? Or maybe you held it in Wakanda? Nat told me everything's good now between all of us, and this is a bit weird for me. But not bad weird, more like neutral to good weird. Cause hey, my brain's stuck in past and I'm just trusting Nat here. And if she's not messing around, then that means we all kissed and made up -- or rather, you two kissed and we're all there to witness the exchange of vows. Assuming there was a formal ceremony and I was invited of course."
Ok, now they're both looking at him with strange glint in their eyes.
Tony doesn't get it, was is it taboo to ask about their marriage? Oh damn his mouth, maybe there wasn't a ceremony and it's all hush-hush.
It took a few seconds before Steve replies, "It's, erm, we held it by the lake. You were -- you were there. So was the rest of the team."
Tony chuckles, "A lakeside wedding, how romantic." He couldn't help but tease, "Let me guess, Cap's decision?"
"Actually," Barnes replies. "It's not his idea. You suggested it."
-- What? It was Tony's idea?
"Huh," Tony lets out a thoughtful hum before cheekily adding, "You're welcome by the way."
If he had that much of an influence on Steve and Barnes wedding, then they must have patched things up, big time.
He probably even called Barnes by his frankly, endearing nickname.
('Bucky' just doesn't sit right with Tony. 'Buchanan' is a mouthful. Maybe he called him 'James'...?)
Three weeks after he wakes up, he's released from the hospital.
The first thing he does is snoop around with Friday. But someone beat him to it and instructed Friday to hide pictures, videos, information on anything significant happening in the years his brain forgot.
"How am I supposed to remember if you're hiding what I'm supposed to remember?!" He can't help the volume of his voice.
Steve was adamant, "The doctors said to take it easy. Any photos or videos has the potential to overwhelm you."
Tony scoffs, Peter didn't even show him pictures or videos to trigger a massive headache.
"You do realize, that I could use my phone, browse the net, and that would raise the 'potential' of me being overwhelmed, right?"
"You heard what the doctors said. It takes time, Tony. Time."
Eventually, Tony was allowed access to select information. And Tony managed to hold off googling himself.
Talking helps too. Sometimes it triggered a memory and a painful headache. Sometimes, it just makes something ding! quietly in his head and then he'd get bits of flashback.
What he knows now is that he snapped his fingers and the whole universe was restored. Half of his body melted in the process and even with Extremis and the three months he spent in coma, his arm is still recovering.
He still has bandages wrapped around his right arm, shoulder, and neck. His friends help him change wraps. There's still a lingering ache when he lifts his arm.
Dr. Helen tells him that his arms are about seventy percent recovered. There's a slight chance that the ache will never vanish but it's minimal and periodic. The bandages can come off in a month or two.
Physical therapy would help ease the pain. Extremis did a fantastic job of preserving his muscles to the point that therapy isn't vital.
She tells him that his recovery is a miracle and Extremis was a high-risk gamble that paid off.
Peter's clingy. He was clingy before but even more so nowadays.
Tony's notifications had blown up with Peter's daily texts.
He's in Italy for a schooltrip. The selfies are too much and has got to stop.
But Tony doesn't tell him that. Instead, he types,
Who's the girl with curly hair? GF?
It took a full minute before Pete replies, with several flustered messages.
Despite his last memory of Barnes, er, Bucky -- nope, he's gonna call him James -- is the alpha walking away from him in Siberia, Tony finds himself mysteriously at ease when they talk.
Not to say that there wasn't any air of tension every now and then. There was, there is.
But Barnes -- James, is kind. He's not chatty, like Tony but he doesn't get into Tony's nerves often like Steve.
With Steve, he always gets riled up. Like every emotion is amped up, exaggerated. If Steve makss Tony laugh, it's a full bloom happiness. If Steve pisses him off, it's a meltdown.
With James, it's just that, emotions. It's not that they don't click, they do. He's not uninteresting, uninspiring, boring - no. James actually calms him down, the yin to Steve's yang.
"Did we actually, talk. Like you know, reconcile and stuff?" Tony asks out of curiosity. "Because it's weird. Honestly. It's hard to process that the last thing I know about you was that messy Siberia showdown. But, I actually don't feel uneasy around you. And Steve."
"Yeah. We did talk. About, about your parents. Your mom."
"Did we fight? Did I scream my lungs out? Or was I calm?" Because Tony did have the tendency to raise his voice, be sarcastic, avoid confrontation.
"You were -- you cried, after. I suppose you were upset, with Pete gone. Are you sure you wanna hear this?"
Bucky pauses, to give him time to think if he's ready to hear stories from his past.
Tony nods, "Sure. I mean, maybe it'll jog my memory."
Bucky seems to hesistate, but he relents.
"You were upset. Angry, mourning. Think you had a couple of drinks too. Steve's away, and most of the team are asleep cause it was early in the morning."
"We talked, I told you I remember that night when I -- when I did it. You were really quiet and then after, you said you forgave me. That, that it wasn't really me you're mostly angry at, it's Steve. For hiding it from you, for not trusting you."
Tony listens, his lips pursed. Nothing's clicking in his mind, no headache, no flashback. It's like Bucky's telling a story about someone else, not him.
"And then, you sort of, broke down. You just cried and you weren't really saying why you're crying. But, but in your hand. There's a photo of you and Peter."
Oh, oh. Somehow that part, that photo he recalls.
"I think I remember, the photo I mean." Tony sniffs, "Was Pete holding a peace sign over my head?"
Bucky nods, "Yeah, that one. You were doing it to him too."
Tony sighs, he wishes he could remember that moment. And every moment they shared after. Maybe then this easy camaraderie he has with James would make sense. And he wouldn't questions the why's and how's.
Bucky seems to be taken aback whenever Tony calls him James. But he doesn't seem upset about it.
"You said I was drunk when we talked. For what it's worth, I'm gonna say this now, no alcohol running through my system,"
Tony takes a deep breath, and it's easy. Before, he thinks he'd have to pry his tongue out before he can say this but now, it's easy. It's like breathing out the air from his lungs,
"I forgive you."
The smile he got in return was breathtakingly beautiful. Tony wants to smash his heart for skipping a beat because what the fuck, James is a married man. Happily married to Steve!
And Jesus, how lonely was he that his heart starts thumping like crazy just from one smile from the alpha.
He needs to get his mind out of the gutter,
Or better yet, get laid.
Despite being married, Tony rarely sees Steve and Bucky kiss. Not that he's a pervert who gets off on that.
There was intimacy in the way they interact, like Steve placing a hand on Bucky's waist or Bucky tucking a stray strand of hair behind Steve's ear.
Tony lets it go, maybe they're not a fan of PDA. That's totally fine.
Steve treats him with so much gentleness most of the time that it pisses Tony off.
"You don't need to be so cautious around me, you know."
Steve blinks, "Am I? I just assumed you don't want to be troubled by mission reports. We can handle them anyway."
Tony whines, "I'm bored, Cap. Gimme something to do."
Steve clenches his jaw, "Tony, you're not allowed to work on weapons. Your arm is still not fully healed."
"Pssh, please. FYI, it's not me who do the physical labor all the time." A half truth, but Steve doesn't need to know that. "I have bots for that."
Steve seems to contemplate his point.
"Come on, you can stay at the workshop and see. Plus, the weapons you're using need to be calibrated. They suck."
Steve sighs, and gives in. "Fine, let's go. I'll do my report at your workshop."
Tony cheers and squeezes Steve's arm as a gesture of his gratitude.
"Knew you'd see reason, Steve. Let's go!"
This? This thing with Steve hanging out at workshop? It's something that they did before the Accords.
At least, Tony remembers that.
Life was, well, interesting to say the least. As interesting as it can get with him taking a backseat on his Avengers duties. Iron Man may be sorely missed by the public but they understand that he's still recovering.
It wasn't made public that he suffers from selective amnesia. They don't need to know that.
What they do know is that Iron Man/Tony Stark is on vacation for the meantime. The Snap had taken its toll on his body but it was miraculous that he's still alive and kicking.
Two and a half months after he's released from the hospital, Dr. Helen finally gave the clearance for him remove the bandages.
The scar on his right half is still visible but not as horrendous when he first woke up. He's seen the initial photos of his body a week after the Snap. Those were...his stomach actually lurched when he saw those.
And so one morning, he stood in front of the mirror, observing every ragged scar, every discolored flesh. He notes every pattern on his skin that Extremis didn't manage to erase.
That's when he saw it.
At first glance, it looked like the markings were oddly shaped branches of the burn scars. But on closer look, it wasn't.
It definitely wasn't.
Sure, parts of it were overlapped by the burn scars but still,
It was there.
Mating bites. On his nape.
The truth is, he could disobey the orders of his doctors and still watch every video, read every article, look at every single picture from the last five years.
The truth is, he could always override Friday and snoop.
But here's what he did,
He followed. He listened. Because he's actually terrified. What if he overexerted himself? What if the memories don't return?
What if he'll live the rest of his life with a five year gap in his brain?
There's no cure for amnesia. No operation, no medicine. Nothing.
It's just that. Your brain decides to conveniently wipe away certain memories and there's no instant undo button.
He was happy whenever he gets flashbacks even with the intense pain that usually accompanies it. At least his brain is attempting to restore what's been there before.
He'd bear all the headaches if it meant that he'd be normal again. If it meant he won't feel like he's an unsolved puzzle.
The mating marks on his nape - those are some huge ass jigsaw puzzle. He has to find the missing pieces. He has to solve it.
During the last five years, he was mated, bonded.
The question is, to whom?
There was, oh dear God, there's someone out there who loved him. Loved him enough to put a claim on his nape. Twice, by the looks of it. Someone he loved back enough to trust them with his life, his bond.
Who was it? Who is it?
He needs to find out.
He really did try his best to obey. But this is important. He can't go to bed knowing that he should be somewhere else. That he should be warming his spouse's bed.
He overrode Friday.
Mr. Stark's Wedding.mov
"-- Hey, everyone. It's finally the day! Mr. Stark's still inside. But look at the view! The flowers are amazing --"
"-- Never thought I'd see the day you get hitched, Tony --" "-- Are those tears in your good eye, Nick? --"
"-- Aunt May says it bad luck to see your alphas before the ceremony --"
"-- Any bets on when Tony's gonna be knocked up? --"
"-- Clint, don't be rude. Fifty bucks, next month --"
" -- Sam, wanna join? --"
"-- Where the hell's Tony? --"
"-- Probably making out with those two --"
"-- Late even for his own wedding --"
"-- I swear, if he's not here --"
It was a dream wedding.
The flowers were abundant and artfully arranged and decorated. Some of their friends were weeping with joy. Pepper's nose was so red, so was Nat's. Even Bruce had to wipe a tear or two.
The lake looked like it was made from crystals with the way the sun reflected on the waters.
A lakeside wedding, how romantic.
Can we talk? Please tell Steve too.
The puzzle pieces slot together perfectly in his mind.
This is why Steve and Bucky felt familiar. This is why their scents call to his instincts.
This is why whenever they talk, whenever Tony looks at them, it felt like something is missing.
"So, I'm married. We're married."
Steve rubs the back of his nape, his own mating bite from both Tony and Bucky. "Yes. Two years ago, we got married."
"By the lake, which is something I apparently decided." Tony adds.
Steve and Bucky nod.
"Why didn't you tell me? Please don't say shit like 'we don't want to overwhelm you, Tony'. I swear to God, I'll punch you."
"The last thing you remember about us is Siberia. So yeah, punch me because telling you we're married right after you woke up from coma will defintely overwhelm you."
"So what? Marriage itself is overwhelming! Goddamn it, Steve. Why do you always do this shit!? Why is it that you're the one deciding if I can handle the truth!?"
"We were going to tell you! Eventually, we would have told you."
"And when will that be, huh? When I get heat sick and lose my mind begging for my alphas?"
Steve flinches, "No! That's not-- Tony --"
"We planned to tell you next week." Bucky interrupts. Tony scoffs but he lets him continue.
"Next week, we were going to invite you for dinner. We consulted Dr. Helen and she warned us that you may recognize the marks on your nape despite the burn marks."
"She got that right." Tony comments.
"How can we forget? You were always a genius, and far more observant than any other people. Of course you'll figure out you're mated. So, Steve and I talked it over, maybe it's time to tell you."
"And instead, I figured it out earlier and now you two are my jerk husbands who's too chicken shit to tell me you loved me."
"Love you," Steve corrects him. "We still do."
Tony sighs. " Do you?"
Steve and Bucky both frown at him.
"I mean, let's face it. The me right now? I'm not the Tony you guys married. Not with a five year blank in my mind. You're right, the last thing I remember about you is Siberia and all the other important moments we shared? All those times I fell in love with you and you fell in love with me? They're not here." Tony points to his head.
"Sure, I have these, " He touches the mating mark on his nape. "But these are just marks. Physical claim that I'm yours and you two are mine."
"We love you." Bucky insists. "The you right now, even without the memories. You're still the same omega we married."
"No, James. I'm not. The Tony before, how do I know how he expressed his feelings for you? Does he give morning kisses? Goodbye kisses? Does he sass the hell out of you when he wants to flirt? Does he shout at you when he gets annoyed?"
Tony runs a frustrated hand over his face, "The little things, the details, they matter. There are probably dozens, hundreds of moments that we shared to build the relationship we have but it all went poof. It's all gone."
"You know as I watched our wedding video, the one Peter shot with his shaky phone, I felt like I was watching someone else's grand day. Like it wasn't me standing there. I was desperately hoping, craving for that intense headache, the one I get when a memory pops up."
"But it didn't come. I didn't remember. And who knows if I'll recover every memory?"
That's what's fucked up. He did want to be married, to have someone to come home to. Then maybe he can toast to the memory of Yinsen and he can proudly, contentedly say that he lived.
Fuck Thanos. Fuck him and his giant, ugly purple head. Fuck him for stealing a happy ending he should have been enjoying right now.
Two sets of arms wrap around him made him realize that he was trembling.
"Tony, sweetheart. It's okay." Steve murmurs. "We'll figure it out."
Bucky plants a kiss on his temple. "Doll, we're not gonna leave you."
"But what if I never remember? What then?"
Will you still love me, even if I'm not the same person?
"We'll love you anyway. We'll always be here for you, whatever it takes."
"Five years ago, we lost. All of us."
"We lost friends. We lost family. We lost a part of ourselves."
"Today, we have a chance to take it all back. You know your teams, you know your missions."
"Get the stones, get them back. One round trip each. No mistakes. No do-overs. Most of us are going somewhere we know, that doesn't mean we should know what to expect."
"Be careful. Look out for each other. This is the fight of our lives. And we're going to win."
"Whatever it takes."