muccamukk: A sunrise over the ocean. Text: Dawn Is Ever the Hope of Men (LotR: Hope)
[personal profile] muccamukk
Title: Sea Stars (Part II) [slash]
Author: [personal profile] muccamukk
Fandom: Marvel Comics (616 AU)
Spoilers/Warnings: PG-13 for violence and mature themes (including mind control, discussion of suicide and somewhat graphic description of wounds).
Number of Words: 42,000 (total)
Notes: The following story is the vaguely stoner offspring of comics from the '70s and Harlequin Presents romance novels... yeah, I don't know either. It follows 616 canon up to Invincible Iron Man #09, then goes fantastically AU. Thank you to [personal profile] healingmirth, [livejournal.com profile] culurien, [livejournal.com profile] ginjar, and [personal profile] seascribe for beta work and putting up with me going on about this thing for months. All remaining mistakes are my own.

ALSO! The ever amazing [personal profile] dorky illustrated a scene for me! Go look at mildly NSFW pretty!

AND! The entirely talented [livejournal.com profile] roachpatrol made me even more art. Very attractive art to be found here!

Part I



Steve woke up with a splitting headache, alone in the dark. He opened and closed his eyes, but it didn't seem to make any difference to the quality of light. It was only when he tried to wave a hand in front of his face that he realised that they were tied behind his back. His legs were also chained and tied into something on the floor. He was glad that whoever had tied him up had left out the collar that some villains seemed to love. Also, he was dressed in only his briefs. Oh, well, villains with a fetish for undressing him were better than ones with an obsession with chaining him like a dog, he supposed.

He rolled over to his back and levered himself into a sitting positing, grunting as discovered that he'd managed to bruise or pull almost every muscle. He peered around, but still saw only darkness. A flash of panic hit him as it occurred to him that he might be blind; he remembered the tentacles on his face... but no, he'd pulled them off, hadn't he?

Frowning, Steve tried to remember what had happened. He'd been underwater, then something... there'd been another octopus thing behind him. He remembered that now. It must have knocked him out, because he didn't recall much after that.

There was something about Tony... oh, god, where was Tony? He called his name, but his voice came out a choked whisper. "Tony?" he tried again, a little clearer this time, "Are you there?"

No one answered.

No Tony then, or, if he was there, he wasn't aware enough to respond. Steve didn't think he could hear anyone else breathing though. He refused to consider the idea that Tony might be dead. Again.

He remembered something else though, a sensation of warmth, of skin on skin. He closed his eyes uselessly, trying to picture it, but nothing came to him besides a feeling of warmth and familiarity. It had felt like those lazy times in the first few years of the Avengers, when Tony had lain sprawled on top of him, arms around his chest. Steve would bitch about how he couldn't breathe, but Tony just laughed into his neck, and wiggled his hips in a truly distracting manner.

They hadn't shared a bed like that in years though. Steve must have hit his head harder than he thought. He shivered, chilled by the room and the darkness.

Giving up on the memory, Steve turned back to his bonds. A bit of straining showed that the manacles on his wrists weren't going anywhere, and he didn't have his costume so no lock picks. The floor felt like cement, and the eye ring seemed to be well and truly anchored. He tried throwing his weight against it, but only succeeded in taking the skin off his ankles.

Sighing, he lay back down and tried to feel out his surroundings. After some rolling about, he touched cement walls on two sides. He didn't find anything useful like a hairpin or the replica shield though. It seemed to be one of the cleaner cells he'd been incarcerated in, even if it did smell faintly of dead fish.

Finally, he settled on the floor near the base of his chains, knees drawn up in an attempt to sit comfortably and conserve warmth. He had briefly considered pretending to be unconscious, but decided it wouldn't do him much good at this point. He stared into the dark, and tried not to worry himself into a panic about where the hell Tony had got to.

He couldn't tell how much time passed before the door opened, but the sudden light blinded him when it did.

Steve had to struggle not to flinch away from it, so he squinted his eyes almost shut and peered through his lashes. At first, he couldn't make out more than a shadow against the rectangle of light forming the doorway. It looked humanoid, at least, and perhaps a little smaller than an average human.

As he stepped forward and away from the light, he came into clearer focus. Steve blinked again. As far as he could tell, the man was a normal human, and not an especially remarkable one. He stood maybe five and a half feet tall, and looked desperately in need of several square meals. He'd let his mouse-brown hair grow out but never trimmed it, and though the lines around his eyes made him look forty or so, his ginger beard grew in fuzzy patches. He wore four layers of torn denim and plaid, and smelled strongly of raw fish.

"I am Oswald the Omnipotent!" he said grandly, "You will kneel before me!"

Steve laughed at him. "Right," he said, not pointing out that he was already sitting on the ground, tied up and in his underwear.

Oswald didn't seem fazed by his refusal to cower, saying, "You won't be smug like that for long, Captain America. You have no idea what I'm planning. Soon the whole world will kneel for Oswald the Omnipotent!"

Steve had admit, though not out loud, that the guy actually made him kind of nostalgic. He hadn't run into an honest to god monologuing wannabe super villain in years. Well, not one this silly, anyway. "Really?" he asked, putting on a show of looking the guy up and down with a sceptical expression. "How do you figure that?"

Pulling the layers of flannel around him, Oswald tried, and failed, to look down his nose imperiously. "I'm not falling for that. Your tricks won't make me tell you my plans. No, you'll have to wait, and fear!" He spun on his heel and stalked away.

Now that his eyes had fully adjusted, Steve realised that he was inside an abandoned freezer Outside the air-tight door, he caught a glimpse of brush and tree trunks. He wondered if he was on the mainland, or one of the islands he'd seen on the map.

Oswald slowed as he reached the door, possibly torn between wanting to make a dramatic exit, and having the chance to taunt Steve further.

Steve bit his lip. The disbelief thing usually worked pretty well. Oh well, time to try something else. "Wait," he called. "What happened to Pete Nowiki?" He didn't mention who he really felt concerned about in case he had somehow escaped this little creep's attention. Since he was following the script, he added, "You'll pay for it if you've hurt him." Reminding himself that Oswald had probably killed six people and was currently working on seven, eight and nine helped him keep a straight face. It was easier than fighting MADOC, at least.

It worked: Oswald turned back, though he took a moment to position himself in the doorway so Steve had to squint into the light again. "Oh, don't worry," he sneered, "Your friend is fine, for now anyway. My minions must work on him before the sacrifice. If you're a good boy, and ask nicely, I'll even let you watch the fun bit later."

Steve remembered Nowiki all on the beach in orange rain gear and shaggy hair, and felt his gut twist. Suddenly he didn't need to play along; he'd had enough. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.

Oswald shrugged and grinned lopsidedly. "I'm sure you can guess, Captain America," he said, voice dropping its attempt at grandiose tones. "Why do any of us do this? Wealth. Power. Fame. When I die, people will know who I was."

"There are better ways to do that," Steve said, though really, he knew there wasn't any point. He'd had this argument with a hundred villains, and he could only ever remember winning it that one time with Molecule Man.

"But not easier ones," the man said, then added on seeing Steve's expression of derision, "Hey, at least I'm honest." He stepped forward, careful not to get in Steve's reach, but trying to loom. "Now, I want you to kneel, and call me by my true title."

"Go to hell," Steve snapped.

Oswald was getting better at sneering; maybe he hadn't had enough practice before. "Do it," he said, voice still sounding too rehearsed to really nail commanding. Now, however, it had a note in it that made Steve shiver. "Do it, or I'll take it out of the hide of your poor, messed up friend from the boat: the Invincible Iron Man!"

Steve kept his face still, saying only, "Iron Man is dead, and you're deluded."

Actually stamping his foot, Oswald demanded, "You think you could hide Tony Stark here? You think I didn't know who he was the moment he stepped into town? Who do you think has been keeping him from noticing all those memories that keep trying to work their way up to the surface? Who do you think kept anyone else from recognising him? From recognising you? I've had him in my hands for a year!" He paused, then, when Steve said nothing, shrieked, "I know everything! That's why I'm called Oswald the Omnipotent!"

Steve blinked, but didn't correct the lapse in vocabulary.

"Now," said Oswald, tone switching back to something like normal. "I want you to kneel."

Steve swallowed and considered his options. He had no evidence that anything the delusional creep said even resembled the truth, but could he really afford to take the chance? He wasn't exactly in a dignified position as it was. "Fine," he muttered, and rolled forward onto his knees. He kept his back straight and stared steadily up at his captor. "Will there be anything else, Oswald the Omnipotent?"

Oswald shook his head, a small but gleeful grin tugging at his lips. "No, I think I'm good."

"May I please see Iron Man?" Steve asked. He hated begging, especially to the likes of this, but he needed to know if Tony was okay. If it appeased Oswald's ego enough to make him slip up, it would be more than worth a little pride.

Oswald hesitated, eyes darting around the room. "Um... no," he said, "I think you're better off imagining what I'm doing to him." Then he turned and left with a final, "Good afternoon, Captain America."

This time, Steve didn't give Oswald the satisfaction of yelling clichés after him, no matter how much he wanted to.

The door closed with a heavy thud, followed by the clicks of multiple latches.



When Oswald returned an indeterminate amount of time later, he brought minions. He even introduced them as "my minions." They were blank-faced and obedient enough that Steve didn't question the designation. He did not, however, feel especially intimidated by a girl in her late teens and a wiry logger type in his mid fifties.

Then Oswald handed the man a Beretta, and told him to shoot the girl if Steve tried to escape or otherwise refused to co-operate.

"Wait, dammit!" Steve yelled, but the man didn't hesitate, holding the gun steady. "You're sick, you know that right?"

Ignoring the comment, Oswald screwed up his face in concentration, lips moving silently. Steve watched him carefully, but didn't notice an effect. Oswald stomped his foot, and swore softly, before returning to his task. About a minute later, a pink glow surrounded the anchor attaching Steve's manacled feet to the floor. It faded in and out several times before disappearing entirely. "Follow me," Oswald ordered. "Remember, if you try anything, the girl will die."

Steve nodded and did as he was told, stiff muscles and chain between his feet causing him to shuffle slightly.

His cell turned out to be a room in a larger cement building in the woods. He could hear the low hum of refrigeration mechanisms behind the other doors, and realised that he could have been a lot worse off. As it was, the chilly forest air made him shiver so badly he had to clench his teeth together to keep them from chattering. Oswald either didn't notice or ignored his discomfort.

The minions stayed about ten yards ahead of him, and the man's aim didn't waiver. Steve noticed, as they made their way along the pathway at the edge of the building, that their movements were slow and even slightly clumsy. He mentally added it to his very short list of advantages.

Steve jerked against his chains and turned his face away as they rounded the last corner and came to face the water. The sun was behind him, and low enough that he figured it had to be getting late in the afternoon, but it still gleamed on the water of the channel between the island and the mainland.

Steve realised that this must be the salmon farm that he and Tony had been headed for in the first place. They'd come out on top of a low rock cliff above a broad cove. Cement steps led down the side to the facilities at the base. The rock kept dropping off sharply under the water, as a gangway led off from the bottom of the steps to a grid of walkways and small sheds on the water. The floating structure formed something like a waffle pattern.

Several boats were moored along the edges, but Steve couldn't find the skiff. The damn octopus things had probably scuttled it, hoping to pass off his and Tony's disappearance as another maritime accident. Hopefully Bucky and Dani hadn't run into anything eight-legged and nasty on their own. He'd definitely missed at least two check ins by now. Theoretically, all he had to do was keep everyone alive for long enough for the cavalry, as represented by the Avengers, to show up.

Unless something had happened to Bucky as well, and then he was pretty much out of luck.

Keeping himself between his minions and Steve, Oswald started down to the harbour. Some kind of black slime covered the steep stairway, and, with no way to balance, Steve had to struggle to manoeuvre down them. Oswald hung onto the chain handrail.

They stopped at the edge of the float, and Oswald gestured grandly as the water below them. "My life's work is all here!" he proclaimed. "See?"

Steve obediently peered into the depths. He could see the edges of mesh tacked onto the insides of the square spaces made by the network of rotting wooden walkways. The little sun that made it into the cove cast deep-green shadows on most of the area. Silver flashed in the little patches of light, and, as he watched longer, he realised that what he had thought were ripples and shadows were the bodies of hundreds of salmon swimming in slow circles. Each square was a separate fish pen. Oswald waved his arms, and muttered, and one swam closer to the surface, turning on its side for Steve's inspection. It looked like a pretty normal fish; if normal fish had glowing red eyes.

"What's wrong with them?" Steve asked.

Oswald sent the fish away again with a wave. "Nothing's wrong with them," he snapped defensively. "They're perfect. With these fish, I can control half the people on in BC. Soon I'll have the entire west coast and Asia at my feet."

Steve frowned at the salmon. They looked largely harmless to him, though a memory worried at the edges of his mind. "Are they... uh... attack fish?" he asked.

"Of course not. That would be silly!" Oswald said dismissively. "They control your mind! Anyone who eats one, or touches someone who eats one, will be wide open for my diabolical powers!"

Steve blinked, suddenly remembering the trout incident of several years ago. That was actually moderately original. Since 1941, he'd only run into mind-altering fish a couple of times. "Huh," he said. It did explain the lack of police investigation, and Tony's general dizziness since his arrival.

"Follow me," Oswald said, gesturing him further onto the docks. He'd obviously forgotten that he wasn't telling Steve all his plans, and Steve wasn't about to remind him. They made their way around one of the small sheds, Steve's bare feet skidding slightly on the damp boards. He guessed that Oswald had fed his salmon to the health and safety inspectors at some point along the way.

Steve leaned in as Oswald opened the door to the shed, enjoying the heated air flooding out. In the centre of the cramped space sat an iron cauldron. Pink flames flickered over its surface, illuminating the windowless room. Inside the cauldron, wrists chained to the rim, sat Pete Nowiki, naked and scared but alive.

"Whatever you want..." he started to say to Oswald, then broke off. "Steve? Oh, man, not you too."

Hopping around Oswald, Steve started towards the pot. "Get him out of there!" he ordered. Pete's skin looked unhealthily flushed already, and burns darkened his skin under the manacles.

He brought himself up short when Oswald clicked his tongue and glanced significantly back at the open door. Outside, the man still held the gun to the teenager's head. "One more step, I dare you," Oswald said, grinning to himself. Steve got the feeling that he wanted to have the excuse to test his powers. Oswald wanted to see if he could make a person in his thrall kill another. "Don't worry, Captain; I've done this lots of times. It's not nearly hot enough to boil him alive." He stepped over to the cauldron and passed his hand through the pink fire. "Hardly like the real thing. I'm just getting him all set for the sacrifice."

Pete tried to stand but the chains didn't let him get more than his shoulders out of the musky water. "You have to get me out of here!" He pleaded. He had oil or something glistening in his hair and trickling over his brow. The drowned rat look made him appear even more vulnerable. "Please."

Steve met his wide grey eyes, and tried to convey some kind of reassurance. "I'm doing my best," he said. "Hang on, friend."

Oswald chuckled and patted Steve's shoulder with a proprietary confidence. "You're not going to save the day this time, Captain," he said. "This guy doesn't even have an hour before I give his blood to the salmon. My powers will be stronger after that, too. What are you going to do to stop me?" Steve stayed silent, which didn't seem to bother him in the least. "And don't expect rescue. That Evans woman is under my power, and soon your boy replacement will be too. As for Iron Man," he laughed again. "Well, he's hardly a threat now, is he?"

The bonds didn't allow a whole lot of movement, but Steve's shoulders slumped marginally, and he glanced down. Bucky's a survivor, he told himself, and if learned anything with the Avengers, it was never to underestimate Tony Stark. He just wished that he had the real Tony here watching his back, the one who remembered who Steve was.

"Wait, did you say 'Iron Man'?" Pete asked, perhaps realising that being cooked in a pot wasn't the only unusual thing about the conversation.

Oswald ignored him. He had not, Steve realised, said a word directly to Pete since they'd come in, preferring to focus his attention on Steve. "I wish I'd got you later, after you'd been back longer," he said. "I want to be known for taking Captain America and Iron Man out, but I guess your friend will do for that."

Not wanting to leave Pete out entirely, Steve summarised, "Tony Rossi is Iron Man, and my real last name is Rogers, sorry." Pete shrugged. Turning to Oswald, he asked, "Is that why you brought me back? Just for the sake of killing me?" That felt better than Red Skull resurrecting him to save his own life, but only marginally.

"No! You're here to beat me," Oswald said, sneering at Steve like he didn't know anything at all. Which might have been true in this case, but Steve found it difficult to take considering the source.

"They're so scared of me that they called Iron Man to stop me, but I messed up his mind, made him weak. Then when I wouldn't stop, they resurrected you and pulled you out of the water to help him fight me. It won't work. They won't get it back, and I'll show them in the end!"

Steve really wanted to ask who "they" were, but could hardly admit that he didn't know whose champion he was supposed to be. Pete almost saved him by asking himself, but Oswald continued to pretend he wasn't there. "They think they own it or something, but I found it fair and square. If they don't like what I'm doing with it, tough. It's mine now!" He patted the glowing cauldron lovingly, then jerked his hand back as it burned him. He kicked it, snarling, "Stupid goddam thing! You're mine, get it?"

The whole story had started to make more sense to Steve, though Pete still looked deeply confused. Steve didn't think any less of him for it; he just hadn't run into enough sacred artefacts with the ability to bestow magical powers to know better. Steve could make a pretty fair guess that "they" were the ones who were supposed to own the pot. He filed it under "mysteries: solved." Now all he had to do was rescue the hostages, break the spell on everyone, capture the villain and find Tony. Possibly not in that order, and preferably after getting untied.

He glanced at Pete's bonds and concluded that they were formed of unbroken steel and fused in place. Dammit. "So..." he started, "This sacrifice--"

The explosion was loud and close and had given no warning. It jarred the floating walkway hard to the side.

Steve grinned: he knew a Tony Stark rescue when he heard one.

With nothing to brace himself on, Steve hit the plank floor. He used the confusion to roll back onto his shoulders and pull his chained wrists under his feet. Leading out of the momentum of rolling forward again, he launched off his feet into a hand spring. He hit the ground in an awkward crouch next to the logger-type minion, and snatched the gun out of his hands before he could get his bearings.

The young woman was faster, landing on his back and trying to reach around for the gun. Silently apologising, he drove his head back into her face with just enough force to dislodge her. He braced his hands on the deck, kicked back, and heard a splash as she tumbled into the water. Bringing his feet back to centre, he shoved the man into a fish pen as well.

Armed and minion-free, Steve turned back to the shed. A dense stream of smoke blew across the farm, reducing visibility and making his eyes water. It seemed to rise from one of the boats tied alongside, but he couldn't be sure.

Stretching out his legs, he carefully fired at the chain between them. The rotting boards took most of the shot, but it weakened the links enough to for him to snap them with his own strength. He couldn't do much about his hands though.

He approached the door at an angle, pistol in both hands, trying to move without rattling the loose ends of the chains. The caution paid off as he peered around the frame, ducking low and hopefully out of even Oswald's line of sight. The wizard had one hand on the rim of the cauldron and the other held out towards the door. Pink flames crept up his arm, soaking into the skin of his neck and face.

Steve only had a fraction of a second to recoil back out of sight as a fireball the size of a tire blasted towards him. "You think you can stop me?" Oswald shrieked. "I've got the power of the whole God-damned ocean behind me! I can't lose!"

Rolling across the entrance, Steve squeezed off a quick shot at Oswald's hand where it connected to the cauldron. No luck: the bullet just evaporated into the wave of power. The same wave coalesced towards him, singing his back as he scrambled away. Figured, he'd never had much luck with guns anyway.

"Bullets can't hurt me!" Oswald crowed, which Steve already knew, thank you. "I am the Invincible Oswald!"

From behind the door frame, Steve snorted. He'd tried to convince Tony a few times that it might not be a good idea to call yourself that when you really, really weren't.

Another explosion rocked the float, and this time Steve saw one of the boats go up. The smoke thickened, smelling of exhaust and melting plastic. Oswald responded with another fire ball, even though Steve wasn't anywhere near the door any more. He heard a grunt behind him, and realised that the minions were starting to pull themselves out of the water.

He had no idea how many more were on the island, nor what Oswald could do juiced up like he was now. Nor, for that matter, what kind of trouble Tony was getting into.

"God dammit," he muttered. Fine, time for Plan B, which he didn't quite have yet.

Keeping low, he bolted around the side of the shed towards the ramp up to the mainland. Another man with a gun in his hand was just starting down it. He caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Tony next to the only surviving boat. A stocky woman with a mullet had a hand around his throat, and was swinging a fist at the side of his head.

Steve took half a step towards Tony, then he saw the position of Tony's hands -- the same one Steve had showed him in the gym years ago -- and grinned, turning away. He just about ended up in one of the fish pens himself as he dove to avoid the man on the ramp's shot. He leaped across the corner of the pen as he came out of the roll, and zagged to the side on landing. The guy obviously had no idea of what he was doing as he started down towards Steve instead of holding his highly defensible position.

Steve tore off a section of mooring rail and lobbed it at his attacker, spinning as though he was throwing a shot put. The man tried to fire at the board as it flew towards him, but his aim was off, and the wood caught him full on at the bottom of his ribs, knocking him flat. He struck his head on way down and didn't move after he landed.

Steve glanced back at Tony just in time to see him flip his opponent over his shoulder and into the water. He remembered teaching him that move too. "Come on!" he yelled as Tony hesitated, eyeing the unexploded boat. Steve ran up the ramp without pausing to look back. He bore right over the fallen man and didn't break stride as he snatched up his gun as well. He heard Tony's boots pounding against the wood behind him, like he knew he would.

When they got past the freezer house, he slowed down, gesturing for Tony to take the lead.

"I used to enjoy blowing shit up, didn't I?" Tony asked as he ran by, limping badly.

"You bet," Steve said and followed him into the woods.



By the time Tony got to the hollow in the forest he'd found before, the adrenalin rush had pretty much worn off. He slumped onto the ground, back against a tree, with a sigh and proclaimed, "Honey, we're home."

Steve knelt between his splayed legs, intense blue eyes studying him. "Are you okay?" he asked.

Tony shrugged and looked down, uncomfortable. "Fine, I'm fine, just winded," he said, babbling a little, "I'm not really used to this kind of thing. Well, I guess I was before but..."

The flow of words didn't seem to allay Steve's concerns, and Tony trailed off as he bent closer to peer at his neck. Belatedly, Tony realised that he must have a hell of a bruise from where the octopus thing had grabbed him. His ankle was pretty much about to kill him too, but he wasn't going to mention that to the superhero in front of him. God, seeing him chained and nearly naked and still fighting was like seeing mythology take life.

He could feel the warmth Steve emitted, and, despite his own sweaty exhaustion, he wanted nothing more than to lean into it. The chains on Steve's wrists clinked as he brought his hands up, resting one on Tony's shoulder and the other flat over his heart. Tony closed his eyes.

They sat together in silence, as their breathing slowed and hearts stopped pounding.

When he opened his eyes, he realised that he was eye level with the scar on Steve's shoulder. Hesitantly, he raised his hand and touched the hard skin there. "I did this, didn't I?" he asked. "I'm sorry." He remembered the vision of Steve dead and cut open and started to let his hand drop.

Steve caught it in his own. "No. You didn't," he said, voice steady and sure. "An enemy I made before you were born hired assassins to shoot me. It had nothing to do with you." He ducked down to bring his face into Tony's line of sight. "Tony, Oswald said he was suppressing your memories somehow. Are they starting to come back now?" His eyes were wide and hopeful.

Tony felt a pang in his chest realising how much this man must miss his friend, must miss him. "Maybe," he admitted. "I've seen flashes of things, images of you from before, but nothing concrete. Thinking about it doesn't seem to hurt as much, either."

"Good. That's good," Steve said. "I've seen you in pain too much already." He shifted back into a crouch, and let go of Tony. He ran both hands over Tony's right hip and down his leg, fingers probing gently as they went. Tony shuddered at the contact. Then Steve got to his bandaged ankle, and Tony gasped. "How bad is this?" Steve asked sharply.

"It's fine," he snapped, pulling it away, and scrambling up against the tree. "I managed to jury-rig a generator, electrocute the octopodes, swim to shore, hike to the fish farm and rescue you on this ankle. I think it's good." He felt bad about having to abandon Steve before his skiff got to shore, but it wasn't like he could have carried him, and he wouldn't wake up. In any case, they were both free now.

Steve rose with him, brows drawn together. "Tony, I've seen you fight off an alien invasion with cracked ribs, a broken femur and internal bleeding," he said. He stepped closer, right up into Tony's space. He really is quite tall, Tony thought "Just because you're running around doesn't mean you're fine."

The rough bark of the spruce tree dug through Tony's jacket and shirts as he backed up against it. He felt the familiar twist of nausea and fear in his gut, and pushed it angrily away. Now was not the time for a magical/electronic brain/whatever induced freak out. "Yeah, well, we have better things to worry about right now," he said, edging forward so that his nose ended up about an inch from Steve's.

"We always seem to," Steve grumbled, but he stepped back anyway. "All right, but once we've rescued Pete and nailed Oswald, I get to be as maternal as I like." He rattled the chains between this wrists. "Now, let's get these off."

Maternal? Tony wondered, but he didn't ask. Instead he turned to the hollow under the far side of the tree and started pulling things out. "You probably don't want to risk shooting anything," he said, setting aside his backpack and reaching back in, "but I threw this ashore before I bailed on the skiff."

"My shield!" Steve exclaimed. Tony was pretty sure he saw him bounce with glee. "You saved it. Of course you saved it; you always do."

Tony didn't ask how many times Steve had lost the thing. "I figured we should have one weapon between us," he said, "Though those guns you picked up should even things out."

Glancing up from intensely fondling his shield, Steve frowned. "The people working for Oswald don't have any choice. He's using his magical powers to coerce them." He said that like it was a totally reasonable, even normal, sentence. Given the day they'd been having, it didn't feel that extraordinary. "We have to find a way to capture Oswald and take out his power source without hurting them."

"I hate magic," said Tony with feeling.

Steve grinned at him in a fond way that Tony had already learned to associate with nostalgia. "That's the spirit," he said, and went on to fill Tony in on what he'd learned, while Tony knocked his chains off with the edge of the shield. When he'd finished, Steve had only a single link suspended from each manacle, and celebrated his freedom by stretching luxuriously. His muscles rippled.

Tony's mouth watered. "I um... saved your pants," he said. "From your outfit that is. The shirt was too heavy to swim with, and all your street clothes were soaked." He'd stripped as well and shoved everything into a plastic bag inside his backpack before he'd jumped over the side.

"Oh," Steve said, surprised. "You took my clothes."

"You were freezing," Tony tried not to sound defensive. "Sorry," he said again. Would Steve be angry at Tony for undressing him?

He didn't seem to be. "No, no, it's fine," he said easily, "It's not like you've never seen me naked. I'm just glad it wasn't Oswald." He dug through his backpack until he found the scuffed and torn leather pants of his costume. "Did you happen to save... oh good, shoes!" He produced a pair of soggy running shoes.

Tony watched him wiggle into the tight leather pants out of the corner of his eye, and wondered in exactly what context he'd seen this man naked. Steve seemed pretty straight and narrow, but one never could tell. As Steve finished tying the laces, he said, "I want to know about your Stark." Which wasn't what he really wanted to ask, but it was close.

Steve glanced up through his lashes and grinned. "Fishing for compliments, Tony?" he asked.

Tony looked away, studying the shifting afternoon light on the leaves of the undergrowth. He remembered what Barnes had said about him being no hero. "Am I?"

Steve stood, swinging the pack onto his shoulders as he rose. "I don't know how to answer that," he said, serious now. "I don't know how to sum you up." He turned back the way they'd come, but didn't start walking.

Fuck it, he was going to have to ask. "Then what was I to you?" he persisted, circling to face Steve.

"You're my friend," Steve said without hesitation. "You were there when I woke up, and you've stood by me though some of the worst times of my life. We didn't always see eye to eye; we had some terrible fights over the years, but almost up until the end you always came through for me. Those last few months, well..." he shook his head and stepped around Tony and out of the hollow. "I was so sure that I was right and you were crazy, but I don't know any more. We should have talked."

"Friends," Tony muttered, limping after him. "Right." Well, there goes that theory, he thought.

He hadn't thought that Steve could possibly have heard that, but he said, "Oh, that. No. We weren't... weren't sleeping together, if that's what you wanted to know." He kept his voice low, and Tony had to almost walk on Steve’s heels to hear. "We tried that a long time ago, when we first knew each other, but it never really went anywhere."

Tony contemplated the shift of muscles in Steve's back and shoulders for a moment, and concluded that his former self probably was crazy. "Good to know," he said, and let the subject drop.



Steve slammed the freezer-room door, latching it and bending the bar so that no one lacking enhanced strength or serious tools could open it. "I think that's most of them," he said. "I saw a few more on the docks, but I don't have any way to get them without tipping Oswald off." He turned to Tony, who was leaning heavily on the wall, trying to take the weight off his ankle. "Are you ready?"

Tony nodded. "As I'll ever be, I guess." He zipped up the pack and slung it over one shoulder.

Hesitating, Steve started to offer, "I can..."

"No you can't," Tony cut him off. He had an indulgent smile on his lips. "Go be a hero, will you?"

Steve wanted to kiss Tony more at that moment than he had in years. Instead, he put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Be careful, I mean it."

"You too," Tony said, lifting his hand to cover Steve's.

They paused, unsure what to do next, then Steve hoisted his shield onto his arm and started his run for the docks.

At his best speed, Steve couldn't quite compete with an professional sprinter, but he could come pretty damn close, especially now that he had shoes. He made it around the corner, down the ramp, and onto the docks in a matter of seconds. The woman that Tony had thrown in the water tried to block him, but he leaped and flipped, going right over top of her.

He barely broke stride on his landing, barrelling towards the shed. People were shouting now, and Oswald had to know. Steve didn't have much time. He had to get around to the entrance and start drawing fire before Tony got in place.

A pink fireball blew right through the wall in front of him.

Steve only had a moment to bring up his shield, and the force of the impact drove him to one knee. Dammit, this was too soon. Nothing for it though. Holding his shield in front of him, he dove forward, hoping to slip through the hole in the wall before Oswald had time to generate another shot.

No luck. The next one knocked him off his trajectory and into the deck with bone-jarring force. Steve rolled to his left, then took a half step back, right before Oswald took out the section of wall he'd been heading for.

If nothing else, the wizard wouldn't have much cover very soon.

Trying to keep to some semblance of the plan, Steve started for the door again, keeping low and scuttling sideways.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Tony on the docks, ahead of schedule, tipping the minion back into the water. So far, he had a good section of intact wall between him and Oswald, and Steve planned to keep it that way.

He took a risk, hurling his shield through one of the gaps in the wall, then throwing himself to one side. He seemed to finally be getting the hang of this the new shield, too. It arced into the shed, missing Pete, and Oswald unfortunately, then out through another hole and back into his hands. He snatched it out of the air and tucked into a roll before he hit the ground.

Steve used the momentum to clear the corner of the building, and get around to the door. Which gave Oswald a pretty clear shot at him, but theoretically, all he had to do was not get roasted and hold his ground for a few minutes. As the next fire ball impacted on his shield, driving him a step back, he realised that a few minutes could be a very long time indeed.

Still, he couldn't help feeling that things were going fairly well.

Only then he heard a roar. It sounded like a hundred unsynchronised snare drums in the middle of a thunder storm, and seemed to build all around him, echoing off the cliffs. At first, Steve thought it was some new magic, or even an illusion, but it seemed like an awful lot of power. More than had been in play up until now. He peered over his shield at the wizard.

Oswald was staring at something behind Steve, eyes wide. At the same moment, he heard Tony shouting something, but the cacophony drowned out the words. Steve didn't want to fall for something that old, but he couldn't help glancing back. He got a flashing impression of the horizon being somewhere it shouldn't be, and a whole lot of white.

He had just enough time to throw himself down and grab onto the solidest-looking mooring rail. Then the world tilted sideways and dropped as the water pulled out of the bay.

For a moment, nothing moved, as if the ocean was holding its breath. Only the roar was still increasing.

The dock pitched violently towards the shore as the tsunami flooded into the cove. Steve heard a rending of wood and steel as the pens tore free of the ramp leading to shore. He pulled himself under the shield, covering his head and shoulders as water, flotsam and no small number of fish swept across the deck. He had a bubble of air this way, at least, but he wasn't sure how long that would hold out. His lungs had already taken a lot of abuse today.

The movement of the dock slowed, pitch reaching about forty-five degrees, then jerked back, the entire structure shifting sideways and down again.

The change in direction flipped him over. He only had a moment to realise that the railing he was holding into wouldn't stand the strain, then it cracked and gave way.

Steve ended up in what had been one of the fish pens, hanging onto the side of the net and trying to keep his head above water that didn't seem to know which way was up. Or maybe he didn't know which way was up. He was finding it difficult to tell.

On one of his glimpses of the surface, he saw the block-like freezer building on the shore receding into the distance. Then an edge of the pens struck the rocks at the entrance to the cove, and held fast. The water kept moving though, and the pull of it against his body tore his net free of the wood.

He had enough time to gasp another lung-full of air before the pull of the water dragged him down. The sound under the surface was every bit as loud as it was above, and he couldn't see an inch with all the dirt and debris the wave had picked off the shore. The net started to coil around his legs, and he bucked and kicked at it.

He fetched up against another section of the net and grabbed hold. Steve tried to claw his way back to the edge of the dock, but kept just gathering more net to him. It took him a moment to realise that he was going the wrong way. Only when he flipped in the water and took two handfuls of net "below" him, did he start to make progress.

The sound of blood pounding in his ears had almost drowned out the rush of water. His lungs felt like they would explode by the time he reached the surface. He gasped and choked as he half-inhaled a wave. His fingers scrabbled on the slimy wood for a moment before he got a good hold and pulled himself over the edge. As he coughed up sea water for the third time in less than twenty-four hours, Steve seriously considered joining whatever Avengers team was operating out of the South West.

The pens had torn free of the rocks and spun out into the ocean, large chunks of foam mixing with the brush broken trees that drifted alongside. The floats still rocked slightly, but not enough to throw anyone off. The tsunami had torn the roof off the shed, but left the walls, plus or minus a few holes. He couldn't see what was inside from this angle. He didn't see any minions either. Or Tony Stark.

Well, as distractions went, that had been pretty bloody effective. He doubted that Oswald had done it, and he sure as hell hadn't. He wondered again who Oswald's "they" were, and what their capabilities might be.

Steve kept low as he headed for the remains of the shed. He'd somehow ended up on the wrong side of it again, and really needed to get near enough to a hole to see what was going on.

He ran into Tony, who was hugging a beam just around the corner, before he got that far. "Are you all right?" Steve asked softly. Tony looked more or less okay, though soaked to the skin and shaking badly.

Tony carefully unwound his arms, wincing as he did, and not putting any weight at all on the ankle now. "Fine. I lost the pack somewhere in there though."

Steve shrugged. Like that mattered. "We'll manage," he said. "Any idea what that was?"

"Other than the obvious? No." Tony tried to step away from the wall, but a dip in the deck sent him tipping forwards. His hands caught Steve's shoulders, cheek smacking into Steve's collarbone.

Steve thought it would have been nice if they weren't both wet and freezing. For now, he turned sideways and slid his left arm around Tony's waist. "Come on," he said, "We'd better find out before something else happens."

They crept towards the hole the first fireball had made, again stooping, though more from the awkwardness of balance now. Tony didn't seem to want to entirely rely on Steve to support him, and kept throwing them off. His ankle had to be either severely sprained or outright fractured by now, and Steve wished he'd lay off. He'd known Tony for too many years, and in too many states of mind, to expect that he would though.

Inside, the cauldron hadn't moved. Steve didn't know how it had achieved that, as it wasn't attached to the deck by any obvious means. Most of the water had sloshed out, but Pete was still shackled inside it, looking more scared than ever, but alive.

Oswald had fallen to his knees, and clutched the rim of the cauldron tightly. "You can't get me. You can't get me. You can't get me," he chanted to himself. He had a faint pink glow surrounding him. Steve suspected that it was some kind of protective field: Oswald's clothes and hair were the only dry things left on the whole fish farm. He wanted to throw his shield, but couldn't decide if it would get through the barrier. It was the only weapon they had now.

"Didn't you say there were more flames before?" Tony asked, breath tickling the Steve's hair as he whispered into his ear.

He was right, the flicking around the cauldron had grown much fainter than it had been before the wave hit. Steve couldn't remember how that had compared to the first time he'd seen it though. "Maybe he's draining it for power," he suggested.

"Or maybe he's just turned the cooking option off so he could fight the tidal wave," Tony countered with his usual optimism.

"We still need to get rid of it, whatever it is," Steve said.

"After we get Pete out," Tony amended.

"Right," Steve said. "Hang on." He stepped away from the wall, leaving Tony leaning against it, took careful aim and threw his shield. The metal disc flew perfectly straight, careening off the point where Pete's bonds connected with the cauldron, and then right back into his hands. Steve grinned.

Pete pulled his hand loose, and ducked down into the cauldron, disappearing from sight save for his other wrist.

Oswald turned before Steve had a chance to strike again. "Why is everyone picking on me?" he demanded. He held out his hand, and the pink glow spread to enclose the centre of the shed, cauldron and all.

"Damn," Steve muttered, but he threw the shield anyway. He had to find out if it would get through the field at some point. It didn't, stopping short as it touched the perimeter and falling straight to the deck with a thud.

Beside him, Tony swore softly and with a good deal more fluency.

Oswald had started on one his tears again, the theme of which seemed to be that neither Steve nor the original owners of the cauldron could stop him, no matter what they tried. Tony met Steve's eyes, and mouthed, "Distract him," before shuffling towards the back of the shed. He kept one hand on the side to steady himself.

Steve watched him go out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to tip Oswald off. He didn't like the way Tony favoured his ankle now. The pain must have gotten too bad for him to macho through. Still, Steve didn't have a better plan at the moment. "It seems to me," he said, voice easily riding right over Oswald's, "that if you were in fact omnipotent, you would have been able to stop that wave from destroying your farm. Most of your fish have escaped. How do you plan to take over the world without them?" Steve realised that the field had started to pale, growing almost transparent.

"This is just a small setback," Oswald snapped, then he broke off and started muttering, gripping the cauldron even more tightly. The air surrounding him solidified into a deep pink again. "A small setback," he repeated, "I can make more, and it will be easier this time. I won't make so many mistakes. I won't let them grow a wave where I can't see it and send it at me. Bastards. They think they're so smart, but I still have this, don't I?" And he was off again. Keeping him distracted wasn't the most difficult thing Steve had ever done.



The impact of the wave and the crash against the rocks had pretty much done in any structural stability that the salmon pens had still possessed. Tony had seen the gaps and weaknesses and how they all connected immediately. When he had peered through the hole in the side of the shed, he'd realised how the shift in the bracing beam outside and the buckle in the deck under the cauldron tied together. All it needed was one good blow at just the right spot.

Tony eyed the planking under his feet again, resisting the temptation to kick it, which would really hurt at this point. There had to be something to use as a tool.

He missed his backpack. There'd been a hatchet in there, and a gun. He wasn't sure he could do much without them. Maybe he should have got Steve to do this part too, only that wouldn't have worked; Oswald had already seen Steve, so he had to stay. He really hoped that Oswald was using all his power to keep the field up, and didn't have enough to spare to start throwing more fireballs at Steve. God, he shouldn't have thrown his shield again.

Tony would have to work this out on his own. He cast about and settled on a small beach log drifting beside the remains of the farm. A trailing strand of net had snared it, holding against the edge of the farm as they spun slowly away from the island. Tony winced and froze as it thudded against the deck when he pulled it on board. Inside the shed, Oswald's voice didn't falter, so Tony kept started moving again.

Once he had the narrow end of the log wedged into the gap that had formed between two floats, all he had to do was lean heavily against it. Or not. The nails creaked in the rotten wood, but didn't pull loose. Grimacing, Tony stepped back onto his good foot and attempted to throw himself at the lever. The wood turned out to be more flexible than he'd guessed and bounced him back instead of forcing the float apart.

He had to put his whole weight at once, plus a good deal of momentum, onto the wrong ankle to keep from flying back into the side of the shed. Clamping a hand over his mouth, he managed to stifle everything but a high-pitched whimper, though tears of pain nearly blinded him. A small sob wrenched its way out of his chest.

Glaring at the log, he decided that there was no way this thing was going to beat him. He threw himself at it whole-heartedly this time, committing his entire body to the motion. The wood cracked at the impact, and, for a moment, Tony thought the lever would snap.

Then, with a horrendous groan, the pens separated into two floats. One side drifted away more or less whole. The other, the one with the shed and everyone on it, started to fragment, no longer having the supports to maintain its cohesion.

The log did give way then, and Tony sprawled across the deck. It took him a moment to realise that he was on the wrong deck, and that Steve was starting to drift away. He scrambled to his knees and got turned around just in time to see the shed pull apart and collapse in on itself. The float he'd last seen Steve standing on started to spin off, now only attached by the rail at the far end.

He couldn't see Steve at all. He suspected that he had thrown himself into the collapsing building as it went down. Goddamn superheroes.

Tony tried to launch himself across the widening gap, but by pushing off one side he only drove the sections further apart. He missed his landing, roughly belly flopping onto the far side, legs splashing into the water, and had to roll sideways to pull himself the rest of the way up. He paused to catch his breath, which turned out to be a good thing, as Oswald took that moment to blow the shed off of himself.

A wave of sound and pink-tinged air expanded from the centre of the rubble, pushing the walls out, and up. Tony threw his arms over his head, but nothing sizeable fell near him.

By the time he looked up, the cauldron had already started to slip into the gap between the sections of the shattered farm. It seemed slow at first, but then everything happened too fast for Tony to follow properly.

Oswald screamed, and clung to the metal rim, but something flared magenta, and he let go suddenly. Steve burst up from under a jumble of wood, his side bloody. The deck tilted further, sending the cauldron over the edge. Pete tried to jump out as it went down, but couldn't get his wrist free. The cauldron disappeared under water, taking Pete with it. Steve scooped up his shield and dove after them. Oswald stopped screaming.

Tony got to his feet and started towards Oswald. Somehow, the pain in his ankle didn't seem to matter anymore. His boots squeaked and squished as he ran across the deck, weaving around and over the gaps and unsteady rubble. His attempt to tackle Oswald turned into a barely-controlled collision, but he still managed to land on top.

They struggled for a moment, but Oswald wasn't strong, and Tony had these freakish combat reflexes that he really hadn't known about before today. It didn't take long to get Oswald's arms pinned down with one hand and pick up a sturdy-looking board with the other. "Make that pot of yours let Pete go or I'll bash your skull in," he said, meaning every word. He knew that Steve wouldn't stop until he succeeded or drowned.

Oswald stared at him, wide-eyed. "But... but you're Iron Man," he said "You're an Avenger, they don't..." He seemed more stunned than scared.

Tony flattened his lips into something like a smile. "Not so far as I remember," he said. "Besides, I've been told Tony Stark wasn't much of a hero."

"But..." Oswald started again, then stopped when Tony squeezed his wrists warningly. "Okay, but you're not going to like it." He shut his eyes and mouthed a spell.

Only then did it occur to Tony to wonder if Oswald had enough energy left for one of his fireballs. If he did, letting him do magic right now might could go horribly wrong.

But Oswald either didn't have the power or didn't have the creativity to try anything. After a moment, his lips stilled and his muscles relaxed a little. "There," he said, "Done, but don't say I didn't warn you."

"Whatever," Tony muttered, and eased up. Dropping the stick, he flipped Oswald over and bound his hands together with his belt. Oswald would probably be able to wiggle out, if given the chance, but it would hold for now. He had better things to worry about.

Tony kept one hand on Oswald's shoulder to keep him from getting any ideas, and leaned closer to the edge. The float bobbed and shifted under him, but didn't tip enough to spill them off.

"They've taken them," Oswald said, voice edging on hysterical. "They'll take us all now."

"Shut up," Tony snapped, shaking Oswald roughly.

The water in the gap between the fragments of the pens was surprisingly calm, the sections of float sheltering it from wind waves. He couldn't see anything, even with no algae or sediment clouding the sea. Fans of light and shadow stretched down and blended into featureless gulf below them. He tried not to think about how fast Pete in the cauldron or Steve with his shield would have sunk by now. Too far, he knew. Equations of resistance and buoyancy crept into his mind, numbers flashing in front of his eyes. He dismissed them with a thought, not wanting to know, or to deal with further proof of what he was.

He wondered what he would do now, stuck on a raft with this demented little dweeb. He supposed that the coast guard would find them eventually. If Dani had been right, they already had search helicopters in the area. Hell, the whole town was probably on the water, looking for Pete. He wondered if the tsunami had hit Cedar Harbour as well, or if whatever caused it had somehow kept it localised. It could very well have killed everyone he knew.

Tony felt his stomach twist, and gritted his teeth, forcing the pain down, focusing instead on how much his ankle hurt. He stared down, morbidly focusing on his own distorted reflection. His bare face and brutally short hair seemed as wrong now as the beard once had. For a moment, he saw himself differently, still clean shaven, but blond now, and a woman with long dark hair and an older man in the reflection behind him. He didn't look back, knowing it wasn't real, and a moment later, a ripple shattered the image.

Another ripple followed, and another. The water quickly grew too rough to see anything at all in, even the bottoms of the ruined nets below. Tony looked up, trying to figure out what had changed. It took him a moment to realise that the gentle drift had accelerated. What had started as a lazy rotation of the cluster of floats now became a whirl. The horizon drifted past with increasing speed as the ruined pens started to spin.

Tony looked back. Oswald had his face pressed against the slimy boards, eyes squeezed shut. He'd clenched hands so tightly his nails punctured his palms, and now a thin line of blood trickled down his wrists. Tony leaned in and heard a high whimper emanating from his firmly closed lips.

Tony started to reach down again, planning to shake his shoulder and tell him to stop, though he really didn't think that Oswald had much to do with this. Splashing from the far side of the float startled him before he could move, and the deck rocked under him. He looked over in time see Pete tumble over the edge of onto the planks, gasping and coughing. Tony turned, wanting to go to him, but then the entire float dipped alarmingly, and Tony shifted to the far edge, pulling Oswald with him to counter the weight.

He saw the shield before anything else, then another arm followed, and Steve hauled himself up after them. He seemed in rather better shape than Pete, not vomiting sea water at least, but still sprawled across the deck, legs still in the water.

"Are you okay?" Tony didn't know what else to ask, though obviously it was a stupid question.

Steve coughed and muttered something about Arizona. Then he rolled over, pulling himself the rest of the way up, and put an arm around Pete's shoulders. "It's going to be okay," he said. "I told you I'd do my best." Pete nodded miserably, not able to catch his breath long enough to respond. "So you got him. Good job," Steve added, looking at Oswald. "I saw the cauldron glow for a minute before it let Pete go, did you make him lift us up too?"

"What?" Tony asked. He decided to leave Oswald on the edge and crawl over to Steve.

"Even after we broke free of the cauldron, we were sinking fast," Steve explained. He reached out to Tony with his free hand, squeezing his shoulder. "I tried to grab Pete and swim up, but the currents were too strong to pull against, and I know I wasn't going to make it before I ran out of air." Tony moved closer, turning the touch into a sideways hug. Tony could feel Steve's freezing skin through two layers of saturated, freezing clothing. "Then I felt a sudden up wash that carried both of us right to the surface. It didn't feel natural."

"I don't think Oswald has any powers anymore," Tony said, letting his head rest on Steve's shoulder for a moment. Even with the salt water and impending hypothermia, this felt right. He didn't remember ever feeling safe, not that that was saying much for him, but this might be something close to it. Still, they weren't out of this yet. He pulled away enough to sit up, but didn't break contact. "There's something else out there, something big, and I think we're about to meet it."

"Yeah," Steve said, "I figured we would eventually."

The remnants of the pens were spinning faster now, and the formation had spread into a large ring, with empty water in the centre. That water hadn't started to sink yet, but ripples had formed across it in a shape that Tony associated with whirlpools.

"We had better get everyone as far away from the edge as we can," Steve said. He let go of Tony so that he could pull Pete along with him. Tony reluctantly turned and crawled the twenty or so feet over to Oswald on the far side. The wizard hadn't moved, still lying splayed on the deck, every muscle vibrating with tension. Had everything not been as damp and slimy as it was, Tony probably wouldn't have managed to pull his dead weight over the ruins of the shed into the middle of the float.

Steve had already helped Pete over, and was talking to him softly. Tony let Oswald flop back down harder than he really needed to, making sure to keep himself and Steve in the middle, separating the wizard from his victim. "What do we do now?" he asked. He looked out at the horizon as it glided past. They'd drifted midway into the channel between the islands. Even without the sea's odd behaviour they wouldn't make it back to shore on their own. Well, Tony and Pete couldn't anyway. Steve probably could, if he left them.

Steve shook his head minutely. "Watch and wait, I think," he said. "These types aren't usually long in showing up."

"This happens a lot, then?"

"Sure," Steve said. He was trying to rub some warmth into Pete's arms, but Tony knew he couldn't have much to spare. "Well, not exactly like this, but I know the types well enough. We've dealt with enough of them over the years. You should know: people with power love to make an entrance." Tony opened his mouth to retort, but before he could, Steve pointed behind him. "Look!" he said, "See, I told you."

Tony followed his arm. Instead of sinking down, the water at the centre of the whirlpool had started to rise off the surface, looking like the reflection of a waterspout. It grew without a sound, gathering bits of flotsam with it and turning into an almost-solid pillar. As he watched, the debris formed into a shape. The nets draped like the skirts and shoulders of a robe, with seaweed making something like a face under the hood. It looked more like a child's driftwood doll than an animate being, except that it moved, and, impossibly, spoke.

"That creature is ours!" The voice rose up from the water rather than the figure of weeds, which had extended its "arm" to point at Oswald. Tony had a difficult time associating the voice and the motion as coming from the same source; it really felt like watching a poorly dubbed foreign film. He glanced around to see if he could spot the puppet master, but, if there was one, he didn't see it above the surface.

Steve looked at the figure steadily, which had to make him a little dizzy. The horizon was starting to blur behind it. "The surface world is our jurisdiction: He's a human who has committed crimes against humans," he said. Tony liked his tone then. It sounded confident, dependable. He had a feeling that he'd do pretty much anything Captain America asked him to do if only he used that voice. He probably had, he supposed.

The water figure shifted, ripples cascading down the sides, billowing the nets as though in a wind. "It stole our relics. It killed our servants. It enslaved our subjects. We require justice." It didn't sound either male or female, or even human, as it had little timbre or inflection.

Oswald twitched, then squirmed against the deck as though he wanted to get up. Tony put a hand in the middle his back and held him down. As delighted as he would feel to see Oswald hang himself even higher, he wanted the rest of them to get out of this alive.

Steve had got to his feet to face the figure, keeping a hand on both Pete and Tony's shoulders. He glanced down at Tony before saying, "You brought us in as your champions. We recovered your relic and captured your enemy for you. We have a right to try him among our own people. You will still have justice." Tony wondered if Steve realised how much the cant of his words had shifted to match the creature's, then decided that he was probably doing it deliberately.

The water spun faster, increasing the figure's height. Tony thought he saw one of the red-eyed salmon swim up into it. "If the debt troubles you," the voice said, tone not changing, "We are able to return you to the state we found you in. You will remember nothing of this."

"Hey..." Tony started to say, he'd lost enough of his memories, thank you very much, but then realised that it wasn't talking to him.

Above him, Steve made a choking sound and tightened his grip on Tony's shoulder. Tony looked up, alarmed. The scars across Steve's chest were losing their slick white colour, spreading and turning to a rough, angry red.

Tony pushed himself up, sliding under Steve's arm in an attempt to support him. "You're killing him!" he shouted.

The figure didn't move, but the voice answered, "We know. We pulled him from the ice and restored him to life. We brought him here. He is ours." Tony didn't expect to ever feel bad for Oswald, but if this was how they treated their champion...

"You brought me here, didn't you?" he asked. "Am I yours too?" Steve started to lean more heavily on him. He'd let go of Pete to clutch his chest. Tony wasn't sure how long he could support both of them on one good ankle.

"We brought you," the creature admitted. "You did nothing. You are of no consequence."

"Right," Tony said. Good to know where he stood, he supposed. "What about Pete here? Oswald nearly killed him. What about all the people in Cedar Harbour who Oswald mind fucked? What about the families of the six people he sacrificed? They're never going to know what happened." He left out Oswald mucking about in his own mind, as the thing apparently didn't give a shit about its champions. "You keep talking about wanting justice, but you only mean for yourselves, damn the rest of the world. Then when someone who was willing to die to help you complains, you turn into bullies." That's right, Tony, antagonise the bastards, he thought. That'll help. Oh well, Steve had tried being reasonable.

"You are of no consequence," the voice said again.

Steve's legs collapsed under him, pulling them both down. "Tony," he gasped as they fell.

Tony managed to catch them both by falling to one knee and bracing his free hand on the deck...

The impact of the first volley of bullets forces him back a step. Fuck, it's hot. He feels like he'll drown in his own sweat before he gets out of the compound. He can't hear for the ringing of metal on metal, and the crude faceplate cuts off his peripheral vision. Picking a target directly in front of him, he reaches out and pulls back the catch on his weapon systems. Fire shoots out of his hand. The men's screams pierce the armour and the ringing in his ears. He smiles grimly, remembering what their hands did to his flesh.

...his head snapped up, glaring at the creature. "No. I'm Iron Man," he snapped. "And Antonio Stark. I used to be one of the most powerful people in the world, and if I survive this, I will be again." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see blood starting to well from Steve's shoulder and stomach, and he talked faster. "You can kill Captain America here, and maybe no one will come after you. God knows they won't for my sake. You can leave us alive and take Oswald, and we probably won't be able to do much about it, though we won't like you much for it. But if you treat us fairly, we'll remember it. If you knew me enough to bring me here, you'll know that I can be a hell of an ally." That was his best shot, he figured. The thing had him on his knees, but he wouldn't beg, not outright, at least.

The voice didn't answer. Tony held his breath, listening to the rush of the water and Steve's ragged breath against his ear. The bleeding seemed to have slowed, if not stopped, and Tony could only hope that whatever the hell he was talking to was waffling.

At last, after Tony had exhaled explosively and slumped a little, the voice said, "Agreed. We will see this creature face your justice. Your companion will live. When you are again strong, we will come to you." The sea figure raised something like arms over its head, and then let them drop. The entire pillar of water and debris fell back into the sea. The splash washed over the deck, rocking the float a little.

As the ripples faded, it seemed almost as though it had never been there. The pens stopped spinning, releasing the pieces to drifting away from each other, and the regular bob caused by the wind waves resumed. Even Steve's wounds had closed again. Only the blood on the deck remained to show that anything had happened at all.

Tony turned them both, sitting down and pulling Steve's head and shoulders into his lap. He brushed a piece of seaweed out of his sodden blond hair. "How you doing?" he asked.

Steve seemed to be catching his breath still, but still gasped out, "I've been worse."

"You've been dead," Tony said.

"True, but I'm not this time," Steve replied, sounding surer now. "And Tony?"

"Yeah?"

"Your first name is Anthony."

"Oh."

...when he's had a chance to catch his breath, and collect enough of his thoughts to imagine the beginnings of the implications of what he's just done, he rolls towards the edge of the bed. If he picks up his clothes -- assuming he can find them -- and dresses in the bathroom, he can probably sneak out unnoticed. In the morning, when they've both had a little space, he'll write this off as another of Tony Stark's flings. They might not speak to each other for a while, but it won't do any serious harm. That will only come if he stays. He's just sliding his feet over the edge of the bed when a hand catches his wrist and pulls. He tries to pull away, but the grip seems to be unbreakable. He starts to protest, but his companion mutters something fierce and indecipherable into the pillow. Unable to escape, he sighs and rolls back into bed, curling back into the warm space he'd occupied before...



By the time the air force search and rescue helicopter picked them up half an hour later, Steve felt that he'd pretty much recovered. From the chest wounds at least, though exposure just about got them in the end. Especially Oswald, who no one seemed that interested in sharing body heat with.

Tony hadn't said much since his argument with the sea people, or whatever they had been. Now he lay quietly strapped into the stretcher across from Steve, not even trying to shoo away the fussing medics as they wrapped him in blankets and warming pads and fed him heated oxygen. They'd been through hell, and Tony deserved the rest, but his silence bothered Steve.

Being in a confined space with Oswald wasn't his favourite thing in the universe either. The former minions they'd picked up off the island and other bits of wreckage seemed to feel the same enmity. And the flight commander had ordered her first officer to stand guard over Oswald's stretcher. Steve, having dealt with mind-control too many times, could sympathise. At least the wizard seemed to be a former wizard, though no one was taking their eyes off of him.

The techs had promised that they were just about done their sweep and would head back down to the nearest major hospital soon. The sea people, it seemed, had pretty much confined their tsunami attack to the island, which had puzzled the hell out of the rescue coordination centre at first. Then one of the medics had recognised Steve, and the engineer had recognised Tony, and everyone started nodding knowingly and looking at them like this was all their fault.

The big helicopter dropped and slid smoothly into auto hover, stopping to pick up someone else. Steve ignored the bustle near the open side door, and focused on Tony again. He had his eyes closed as though trying to sleep, though the medic wouldn't let him, but couldn't seem to lie still. As Steve watched, his body twitched slightly, and a spasm of something like pain crossed his face. Steve tried to wiggle out of his cocoon of blankets and equipment, but the medic pushed him firmly back down before scurrying over to Tony.

"What's wrong with him?" a familiar voice asked above him. Steve tore his eyes away from Tony, who he couldn't really see behind the medic anyway, and looked up to see Bucky standing over him. He had a red welt with little round sucker shapes along his throat and jaw, and a black eye coming in on the other side, but looked mostly okay. Behind him, the techs were just pulling the rescue basket with Dani Evans through the door.

"I don't know," Steve answered. "I think... I think maybe he's remembering."

"Oh, God," Bucky said, and Steve could see profound sympathy in his eyes as he watched.

Steve squirmed again and managed to get free. "Don't let them stop me, Buck," he said as he climbed off of the stretcher. He wasn't sure exactly what happened next, but he knew he made it to the seat next to Tony without interference. He rested a hand on a blanket-wrapped shoulder, feeling the muscles shudder even through the insulating cloth. "Easy, Tony," he said, comforting tone hindered by having to shout over the noise of the engine. "I'm here, and I won't leave you."

Tony didn't look at him, or even open his eyes, but he seemed to relax a little when Steve stroked his cheek with a finger.

Maybe the crew saw that he was doing some good, or the former Winter Soldier just had them all scared, because they let Steve sit there relatively unmolested for the rest of the flight. It felt good to have Bucky at his back again. About half an hour out of Canadian Forces Base Comox, someone dropped a blanket over his shoulders, but Steve didn't take his eyes off of Tony long enough to notice who it was.



"So by then, we'd just about got the walking trees and giant owls rounded up and herded back onto the North Shore Mountains," Mockingbird was saying. Steve couldn't see much of the background over the comm he'd borrowed from Bucky, but she seemed to be slouching in the co-pilot seat of an updated quinjet. She'd taken her glasses off and looked exhausted. Steve thought her new costume had been white, but now a variety of grey and black smears hid the colour. "Then a bloody huge mountain blew up, so now we're evacuating Whistler. We'll try to make it over as soon as things are stable enough to hand off to Omega Flight and the armed forces. I don't know. Might be a while."

"I understand," Steve said, "We're okay here for now." He already knew about the previously dormant volcano suddenly becoming active. The helicopter that had evacuated them to the local hospital had had to hastily refuel and head out to help on the mainland.

Bucky had gone with them, finding himself unable to stay out of a disaster zone of that scale. The idea of sitting on the sidelines made Steve's palms itch, but he couldn't go. Tony needed him.

Well, Tony had told him to get lost, only less politely, but he was in bad shape. Steve had turned his back on Tony when he'd rejected Steve's help once before, in that flop house all those years ago. They'd both ended up deeply regretting it. He wouldn't leave again.

Or he was trying not to, at least. A tiny and formidable doctor had managed temporarily exile him from Tony's side while she x-rayed his ankle. Now he was sitting in a plastic chair that wasn't nearly big enough, checking in with the Avengers. "It's good to see you again, Bobbi," he said. He'd never really got to know Mockingbird, but he'd heard enough about her from Clint to know that having her back and fighting could only be a good thing.

Mockingbird smiled and opened her mouth, probably to say something along the lines of "you too, Cap," when Clint leaned in from the pilot's seat to say, "I was planning to ask you to join our new team. We're calling it... gah, Birdie! Watch the ribs! Okay, I'm calling it the the Undead Avengers. Then Jan beat you back, and, since we capped the membership at six, you're out of luck. Sorry."

Steve had missed that smug bastard grin, but he wasn't going tell him that. "Who's flying the quinjet?" he asked instead.

"I am, obviously," Mockingbird said. She looked down. "But things are going to get a little tricky, so I'm signing off now. Good luck, Cap."

"You too," Steve said. "Stay safe."

The screen went blank, leaving Steve alone in the hallway. He stared down at the small device in his hands, wondering what was going on in Vancouver, and halfway wishing he could be there.

"Ankle's broken but it's not too bad," the doctor said.

His head snapped up, though he could just about look straight into her eyes sitting down. He hadn't even heard the door to the lab open. The cold water must have sapped more energy out of him than he'd thought. He didn't know how much longer he could go without sleep. Depending on how he looked at it, he hadn't gotten more than a few hours of sleep in either the last thirty hours or in the last two years. "Um..." he said.

"I'm sending him off to get a cast." The doctor, whose name Steve didn't remember, looked him up and down appraisingly. "We can't spare a private room for Mr Stark, but we've got a nice double occupancy one open."

Steve rubbed a hand over his salt encrusted eyes, which only seemed to make them ache more. "Who's the other patient?" he asked tiredly. He really didn't want to deal with strangers right now.

"You are," she said. He opened his mouth to say something, and she raised her hand warningly. "Either check in or get out. It's bad enough having half the RCMP on Vancouver Island guarding that wizard guy's room. I don't need superheroes roaming the halls on top of that."

"Fine," Steve muttered. "This had better not take long."

Fortunately, it didn't. The sea people had pretty much patched him up again, and aside from a mild case of hypothermia, some scratches and deep exhaustion, she couldn't find anything wrong with him, and assigned him to bed rest. He made it to their room not long after Tony did.

The last of the day's light shone through the broad window, lighting the austere wall in soft orange. Traces of it caught on Tony's face as he lay curled in a ball as best he could with one leg covered in plaster. He had his back to the door. Steve walked around the bed to look at his face. Anyone who didn't know him well would probably think he was sleeping -- after all they'd been through, he should have been. Steve had seen Tony both authentically sleeping and faking sleep enough times to know the difference though.

Steve sat in the chair next to the bed, a vaguely comfortable padded seat this time, and carefully took Tony's hand. It stayed limp, but Steve saw something flicker across Tony's face. The emotion passed too quickly for him to identify, however. "Hey," he said softly.

Steve wasn't sure if he'd get a response, but eventually Tony opened his left eye enough to squint up at him. "I thought I'd made you go away." he growled, sounding weary and plaintive.

"No such luck," Steve said, steadfastly not reacting.

Closing the eye, Tony took a deep, shuddering breath before looking up at Steve and saying. "I can't do this with you here, Steve."

"Are you sure you can do it without me?" he asked. When Tony didn't say anything, he kept talking, trying to keep his voice low and soothing. "This isn't weakness. You don't have to hide from me, and I won't leave you. I've already seen you at your worst, Tony, and your very best."

Tony's hand tightened briefly around his, but it felt more like a spasm than an acknowledgement. Steve squeezed lightly back, and Tony pulled free. "I'm sure I'll care what you think of me later," he said, voice gaining strength with emotion, "or not, but right now that's not the problem."

Unsure what to do with his hand now, he left it on the bed rail. "Then what is?" Steve asked. He didn't think he quite kept the pain out of his tone this time.

"You being here," Tony told him. "You're making it worse."

"I don't understand."

Tony sighed, frustrated. "I'm not really remembering more than images and feelings, one little piece at a time. Sensory cues seem to trigger which ones I get. Being in a hospital bed is bad enough, but whenever I'm near you, the images are harder." He smiled, faintly and without humour. "I guess you really have seen the worst in me."

Steve closed his eyes and tried to ignore how much that hurt. The last thing he wanted to do right now was cause Tony more pain. He'd been through too much these last few days as it was. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll go. Is there anyone I can ask to sit with you? Maybe Pepper, or..." he trailed off, realising that Tony really didn't have anyone else left. "Pepper could probably be here in a few hours if I called her."

"No," Tony said miserably. He had his eyes closed again, and his whole body shook as though he was in pain. "That would probably be just as bad."

"I..." Steve started to say.

"Just go!" Tony snarled.

Steve nodded and stood, then, on impulse, he leaned back down. "Not all your memories of me are bad," he said, and kissed Tony lightly on the lips. The contact felt dry and impersonal, and Steve winced and pulled away. "I'll be over there if you need me."

He pulled the curtain between the beds closed, and lay down, staring up at the ceiling. He knew that he should sleep, doctor's orders and all that. Like Tony, his memories wouldn't let him.

He must have drifted off eventually, because he woke up later as his bed shifted. He started, then realised who it was and relaxed. Someone had lowered the lights for the night, and he couldn't make out the expression on Tony's face as he perched on the edge of Steve's bed. He stayed balanced there for a moment, neither of them saying anything, and then he leaned down. It took a bit of rearranging and one very sharp elbow in Steve's ribs, but eventually they both fit on the narrow bed. Tony had a leg thrown over Steve's and one hip on the mattress, but his upper torso and head were right on top of Steve, arms circling his chest. The bed frame creaked in protest, but held.

"How are you doing?" Steve asked. He wasn't sure what was going on with Tony's mood swings, but decided to go with them.

"How do I look?" Tony moaned into his shoulder.

"Too dark to tell."

"Oh, well. Hopefully not as bad as I feel." Tony said. His breathing felt wrong to Steve, too shallow maybe, and not very even. "I think my head is going to explode."

Steve slid his right hand up and tried to get a measure of Tony's pulse under cover of caressing his neck. That felt a little fast, but not too bad. He decided not to call the doctor. She'd probably gone off shift by now anyway, and he didn't want to explain the cyborg issue to someone new. He stayed silent, stoking Tony's back and trying to will some of his own strength into his friend.

"I don't have a lot of happy memories, do I, Steve?" Tony asked after a few minutes.

"No, I guess you don't," Steve told him.

"I thought that it was you, but it wasn't. I don't even think it's this place. I just... other than one or two moments, it's all so terrible." Tony's fingers wiggled against Steve's side, trying to work between his body and the mattress so that could pull them into a tighter embrace. "I don't want to remember any more, but it keeps coming back."

Steve wanted to tell him that he just wasn't remembering right, that the Extremis was screwing him up like it always did, but it felt like a lie. Honestly, he didn't remember Tony being happy a lot. Mostly when he was working on his machines, or when he was celebrating a victory. In the old days, he would kick back with the team for group downtime, but he couldn't remember a lot of that in the last few years, even with the restarted Avengers. "Do you want me to tell you about some of the good times?" He asked at last. "Maybe it will help you remember."

He felt Tony nod slightly, stubble catching on Steve's shirt. He didn't say anything else, so Steve started talking. "When we first met, the Avengers lived all together in your mansion. Or we didn't really: I suppose everyone had their own homes, except for me. Still we all spent so much time there that it felt lived in, like a family home. The Norse God Thor was a member of the team then, and he loved to drink mead. One night, after we had fought all day against..."

He talked for a long time, telling story after story in the slow, measured pattern he'd learned from listening to Thor. Tony started to relax a little, though he still tensed occasionally, and his breathing deepened and evened out.

"...All that time after we made love in a meadow, I had a pink flower stuck in my hair. I didn't realise until Hawkeye pointed it out, when we got back. It must have been there for..."

Without warning, Tony's entire body stiffened. Then his arms flew out and his back arched, and Steve barely had time to grab more securely him before he fell off the bed. Tony's mouth opened but no sound came out, and his eyes flew wide. God, his eyes were glowing electric blue!

"We need a doctor!" Steve yelled, trying to hold on to Tony as he convulsed again. His cast struck Steve's ankle and then the bed rail, and Steve only saved him from cracking his skull on the other rail by getting his hand in the way. "Somebody help me!" he cried. Tony coughed up something that was dark and probably not blood.

The lights came on. "What's going on?" The doctor from earlier either hadn't gone off shift after all or was back, because she tore into the room, a nurse on her heels.

"I don't know," Steve said. He had one arm around the small of Tony's back, holding them together as best he could, and another protecting the back of his head. "He was just lying here, then he started convulsing, and his eyes are strange, and I... I don't know what to do."

The doctor looked for a moment like she didn't know what to do either, then she unfroze and said, "You're doing the right thing: keeping him from hitting his head or hurting himself. Keep hanging on, but don't try to immobilise him." She turned to her nurse, starting to say "I need you to--" but then all hell broke loose.

The all the lights in the room went out, then the monitor machines came on, all indicators flashing and alarms blaring at once. Steve's Avenger's communicator started emitting a high-pitched wail.

"Ow, hey!" The doctor yelled, voice almost lost in the cacophony. She fumbled at her belt, hands lit by her glowing pager screen, until she tore the device off, dropped it, and kicked it across the room. It exploded in a shower of sparks. "What the hell?"

"Tony," Steve said, trying to retain enough calm not to yell in Tony's ear. "Tony! You've got to stop!"

The noise continued, and Steve could hear alarms starting in other rooms. "The computer in his brain is messing with the hospital equipment," he yelled. "You've got to make sure everyone attached to something important has manual backups ready!"

"Do it! Go!" the doctor ordered her nurse, who made a dash for the door, tripped over an IV pole, scrambled to his feet, and bolted out. "Can you make him stop?" she asked Steve.

"I don't know how," he told her. Tony's convulsions were becoming more rapid, his hips grinding into Steve's in a gruesome parody of intercourse. The lights started to flash on and off in time with his movements. "Maybe a sedative--"

As abruptly as it started, all the noise stopped.

It took a moment for Steve to realise that the only sound he heard was his and Tony's ragged breath and pounding hearts, and the ringing in his ears.

Tony's body was still so stiff that Steve worried that he would tear or break something just from the tension, but, suddenly, he went limp sprawling over Steve. The all lights went out and stayed that way.

"Oh, god," Steve whispered, "Tony..."

The doctor beat him to pressing two fingers to Tony's neck. "He's alive," she announced. "Pulse is too fast, but it's strong and steady." She listened to his chest for a moment before adding, "So's his breathing. I need you to help me lay him flat on the bed. I want to do a lot of tests right now."

Gingerly, Steve eased off his death grip around Tony and started to work his way out from under him. "Will he be okay?" he asked.

He caught a movement in the darkness that might have been a shrug. "I'll be able to tell you more when I figure out what's wrong with him," she said. "Right now, I don't know."



Tony felt the numbers first, streams of information, read outs, and queries all fighting for his attention. The first thing he did was turn ninety percent of it off, dismissing anything that didn't relate to vital statistics.

The second thing he did was to reach out for his armour. It wasn't there, so he stretched his thoughts further out. He'd just started to up link to the nearest communication satellite via a hack through the Avenger's communicator next to him, when he realised that there wasn't any point.

His armour was gone. For that matter, he'd thought the Extremis was too, after what the Skrulls and Osborn had done to him. He had nothing left. He was supposed to be dead. He wanted to be dead.

Why was he in a hospital in -- he looked it up -- some place he'd never heard of in Canada.

Tony opened his eyes, looked down, then closed them tightly.

There was no way that Steve Rogers was dozing in the chair next to his bed. It wasn't possible. It was another goddamn Skrull. Tony was hallucinating. Shutting down the Extremis had fried his brain. Oswald had caught him and thrown him in his own VR simulators in the Negative Zone. Something. It wasn't Steve.

He connected to the Avengers' records through the comm, hacking his way through the new security, absorbing everything that had happened, right up to date. He did the same with the new SHIELD. Then he checked it all against news sources. It all matched. His mind scrabbled over the data, trying to make it fit with something, anything, that he could comprehend.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to steady himself, and focused back on his own memories. He'd been in the hidden lab, hooked up to the machines. Pepper had left. He made the message for Steve, and then hit the finalisation on the brain scrambler. Hill had come back in, bruised and bloody, then... then everything had faded out, and hurt, a lot.

The next thing he remembered was standing on the side of a back road in rural Canada. Hill was there too, inside a car. She gave him a bag, and said, "Well, I guess I'm going back to fight your damn war. Take care of yourself, Tony," and then she'd driven away. He'd wandered then, living off the money and fake ID in the bag, until he got to Cedar Harbour and settled there. Until Steve had arrived, and Tony had almost shot him. Then they'd defeated an evil wizard together, and Steve had fought next to him like they were friends. He had kissed Tony.

Tony looked again. Steve was still there, head back at an uncomfortable-looking angle, mouth open, snoring slightly. He'd got burgundy scrubs from somewhere, but they were a little small on him and clung in all sorts of places that Tony couldn't help looking at.

The bed creaked as Tony sat up, and Steve's eyes flew open. He blinked for a moment, then focused on Tony and grinned. "Hey," he said, voice as warm and friendly as it had been in the old days. "It's good to see you awake."

"Um..." Tony realised that his mouth was open, so he closed it, but couldn't think of what to say. "Steve..." he whispered at last.

Steve's smile faltered. "You've come back to yourself then?" he asked.

Tony nodded numbly. Of course. Steve had been treated him like a comrade because Tony hadn't remembered, and Steve had felt sorry for him. Then their lives had been in danger. Now that they were safe, he would pull away. Steve wouldn't want to be close to him again.

Impossibly -- everything felt utterly impossible right now -- Steve reached out and took Tony's hand. "I'm glad that's over. You scared us pretty bad last night." When Tony failed to come up with a response to that, he asked, "How do you feel?"

He'd promised himself that if he ever had another chance, he'd tell the truth. "Confused," he concluded after a moment's thought.

Steve smiled at him fondly. "Welcome to my life," he said, squeezing Tony's hand.

Tony reached up and wrapped his other hand around Steve's and hung on. Christ, it felt good to be able to go to him for support again. It couldn't last; Steve had to be treating him kindly because Tony was sick and Steve felt sorry for him. Soon, he'd had have to live without this again, and he desperately didn't want to. He should say something, end it, quick like ripping a bandage off, but instead he closed his eyes and held on tighter.

Steve did it for him. "I got your message," he said. Tony stayed silent, so he added, "The one you left me before you tried to kill yourself." He sounded like he was angry but trying not to show it. Tony opened his eyes and studied Steve's face. He would have looked calm, if not for the slight line between his brows and a tic in his jaw muscle. "When you're feeling better, we're going to need to talk, and by 'talk' I probably mean 'yell at each other a lot.' Right now, I want you to know that I'm going to try to listen this time. If we both do, maybe we can work things out without anyone else dying."

"That would be good," Tony said. Though he didn't quite understand why Steve was bothering. Tony had read the news, and he knew that he didn't have anything to negotiate with. He wasn't a power anymore; Steve could get by in this new world just fine without ever speaking to him again, let alone making amends. Which meant that if he was talking to Tony because he wanted to, which was... inexplicable at best. Tony wanted to say something else, but couldn't think of anything that didn't sound incredibly pathetic. Then the doctor came in and started poking both of them, and he didn't get a chance.

The doctors kept on Tony for the rest of the morning, though by the end of it he'd talked them into taking his cast off, and giving him some scrubs to wear. It was nice to have the Extremis back online again, even if he was still working out the hows and whys.

When the nurse finally wheeled him back into his room -- he didn't even know where to start with that one -- he found that Steve was gone. Instead, Dani was leaning back in the chair facing the door, hands behind her head, feet up on the bed.

"I sent Pete in to distract your guard dog," she said once the nurse had glared her into sitting up straight so Tony could get back into bed. "I figure we'll have about two minutes to talk."

Tony felt a stab of guilt that he hadn't even really thought about Dani and Pete being here too. Studying her now, he realised that she had a black eye, and abrasions around both wrists. "What happened to you?" he asked.

She looked down for a moment, face flushing, then met Tony's eyes again. There was fire there. Tony blinked. He'd known her for a year and he couldn't remember ever seeing her truly angry before. "That sick little freak made me attack your friend's side kick. He had to put me down before I hurt him."

"I'm sorry," Tony said, "I know better than most what it feels like to have someone fuck with your head." He wanted to reach out and take her hand. It had helped when Steve had done it for him, but wasn't sure it would be welcome.

Dani sighed, putting her whole body into the movement."Yeah, I guess you do," she said. "Do you ever stop feeling like you have slime under your skin?"

Tony shook his head. "No, you just kind of get used to it." Or kill yourself dramatically, but he wasn't going to bring that up. "I know this isn't going to be much use, and you're going to get pretty sick of hearing it, but it wasn't your fault." She gave him a look that suggested that that actually made her feel worse, so he changed the subject. "So do you still want the shop?"

Her brows came together, and she bit her lip. "You're not staying then? I guess you really can't, can you?"

"No," he admitted. "There's not much of a place here for Tony Stark, let alone Iron Man."

"Do you want to stay?" she asked.

Tony thought it over, remembering Steve asking him if he was happy in Cedar Harbour. Putting it in the context that he now had, he supposed that he had been. "I think I would if I didn't know what was out there," he said, "But not now. I can't." It wasn't what she'd asked, really, but he couldn't think of anything better.

"I'm buying the shop off you," she said. "I've been saving up since before you came. I would have got it off Paul in another year, if you hadn't showed up."

"Okay, I'll charge you what I paid for it," Tony agreed, because as much as he wanted to just give it to her, he knew how different owning it fair and square would feel. "We can work out the details once I figure out if I officially exist or not." He'd devoted part of his attention to picking away at his self-effacing Internet virus, but it seemed to have mutated since he wrote it. "Depending on how that works out, I may need the money anyway."

"Tony Stark: Working Joe," Dani said, she'd relaxed a little now, but didn't smile.

"It won't be the first time," Tony said. He leaned forward slightly, and put a hand on her knee. "Thanks for putting up with all my shit."

"Lord knows someone had to," a familiar voice said from the doorway. "He wouldn't survive otherwise."

Tony's head snapped around, eyes widening as he saw Pepper standing behind him. Her formidable business suit didn't quite hide the glow above her heart. "Pepper!" he said. "That was fast!" Especially since he hadn't called her yet, something else he felt guilty about.

He levered himself up so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed, legs over the side. Dani scooted her chair over to make room for Pepper as she walked around the bed to stand in front of him. "I have my sources, as always," she said. "I would have been here sooner, but I was in Berlin when I heard."

She didn't comment on having to fly around the world for him, again. Or tell him all the ways his last stunt had pissed her off. Or burst into tears. Tony wasn't entirely sure what to think for her non-reaction, other than he hated it. "How much trouble am I in?" he asked.

Her left eye twitched. "Tony," she said slowly, "You can't even begin to imagine."

He nodded. There were not enough shoes and dresses in the world to make up for some things, and she owned his company, so it wasn't like he could give her another raise. "I've got some catching up to do," he told her. "You up for helping me?"

Pepper shook her head despairingly. "God, you're such an idiot," she said, but then she leaned down and wrapped her arms around his neck.

Tony returned the embrace, pulling her into his lap and resting his head on her shoulder. She'd changed her perfume since the last time he'd seen her, but not the soap she used. She had the smoothest skin he'd ever touched. Suddenly, he felt like he was back in the early days of Iron Man, before she'd known his secret. He'd been so in love with Pepper then that he could barely look at her and Happy together without wanting to weep.

He didn't think he could blame the tears that he had to blink back entirely on his unsettled memories. He sniffed loudly.

"You have to promise me, Tony," Pepper said into his ear, voice low and fierce. "You have to promise me that you'll never do that again." Her hand gripped the back of his neck, and he felt her pointed nails digging into his skin. "I've buried you three times now, and I know that I'll do it again someday. But it can't be by your own hand. You can't ever do that to us again."

Tony pulled her so tightly to him that she must have had trouble breathing. She didn't say anything. "I..." he started. He had a million reasons why he could never commit to that, a hundred people he would die to protect, even now, but he couldn't finish. "Yeah, Pep. I promise," he told her instead, and right then he meant it.

He wondered, as he held her, if he would remember it next time the world seemed too much to take.

Things happened rather quickly after that. Maria Hill showed up carrying a speciously familiar briefcase, and Pepper and Tony had to keep Steve from hitting her. Then the Avengers managed to get the evacuation under enough control to hand it off, and came over en mass. Carol and Steve had to stop Clint from hitting Tony.

The doctor declared Steve fine, couldn't figure out what was going on with Tony, and told them to seek more specialised advice somewhere far away. She might also have added said something about "Before they blow up the hospital," but it was under her breath, and Steve claimed he didn't hear it.

With the remainder of the games well and truly cancelled, the Avengers didn't really have any reason to go back to Vancouver. Members of a number of different teams had joined Carol on Olympic security, but everyone wanted to see Steve, so they all headed back to New York instead of dispersing. Tony made them go by way of Cedar Harbour to drop the locals off. He also wanted to wear something other than hospital scrubs.

He spent the hour-and-a-half flight to New York watching everybody hug Steve, and wishing that he'd taken Pepper and Hill up on their offer of a ride home.



Steve was surprised when Tony showed up on his doorstep at three in the morning two days after they got back to New York. They hadn't been alone together since the hospital in Canada, and Steve had felt pretty sure that he would have to track Tony and tie him to something solid before they could talk.

But here he was, looking very much like his old self in a suit and a tie that probably cost more than most people's entire wardrobes. His hair hadn't come in yet, but it looked like he was trying to grow a goatee again.

"Hey," Steve said, holding the door open with one hand and tugging down his t-shirt with the other. Now that he got a chance to look at it, he realised that he'd managed, in his rush, to put in on inside out. "Haven't seen you in a while."

Tony hesitated slightly before crossing the threshold. "Yeah, sorry I missed that party, I uh..." he didn't say that he'd been busy, or that he hadn't wanted to start a fight, or that he felt that his attendance would been tempting the Gods of Random and Disruptive Explosions too much, but he clearly wanted to. "You know," he said instead.

Steve nodded. "Yeah," he answered, and he did. He led Tony into the lounge, which still felt kind of creepy, though not because someone had come into his home and rearranged everything. Rather, he knew that pretty much every American hero -- including Jess and Luke and their toddler -- had lived here at one point or another in the last two years, and things really hadn't changed at all. He was going to have to talk to Bucky about appropriate levels of hero worship, again. "Sit down, do you want water or... Tony, it's the middle of the night."

"Sorry, this is important," Tony said, standing stiffly in the middle of the room. "Where is everybody?"

Steve shrugged, leaning against a support pillar, close enough to talk easily but not at all in Tony's space. "Most of them don't actually live here anymore, and Bucky's over at Natasha and Sharon's. I think." He'd been giving Steve a lot of space since that last blow out they'd had. He might actually have run away from home; Steve was going to give it another day before he decided. He certainly wasn't going over to extract him from his former lover and her current lover's apartment. Any of the three of them took a lot of emotional energy right now, and in combination they were far more than he could handle. "Do we need to assemble?"

"What? No." Tony shook his head vehemently. "I just heard some news coming down the wire that you should know about before it breaks in the morning papers."

"Which normally you would have..." Steve stopped himself. He really shouldn't be thinking about him and Tony like they were normal again, like everything was fine. "What's so important?" he asked.

"The press finally figured out that the Olympic Meltdown wasn't the only story in Canada last week, and I think that 'Captain America Returns from the Dead' is going to lead for a while now."

Steve sighed. He'd fight and die for the First Amendment, but some days... "What about Iron Man?" he asked. "Or did you manage to keep that part out?"

"No, that'll be in there too," Tony replied easily, and it kind of bothered Steve that Tony didn't rise at Steve's implication that he would suppress free speech. "It's going to come out eventually. I've been trying to come up with a coherent response for days now." Suddenly, he collapsed into the couch, shoulders slumped. "I really don't know how to play this. I've dealt with the media my whole life, but this time I've got nothing." He rubbed both hands back over his stubbled hair, then looked up at Steve. "Scarier still, Pepper's got nothing."

Steve suspected that Ms Potts had quite a few things to say, but decided not to mention it. He walked over to the couch and sat next to Tony. He wasn't really used to being the one to offer advice. Even before it had all gone to hell, Tony had usually tried to handle everything all the time. He moved over to sit next to Tony on the couch, their legs not quite touching. "You've still got a couple of hours. I'm sure you'll think of something." Steve tried not to wince at how unconvincing that had sounded.

"What are you going to say?" Tony asked.

"Probably that I'm glad to be back. I want to put the past behind me and work with my friends. And that I'm going to be Captain America again." Steve frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. "Bucky quit," he added in explanation. "Someone has to do it, and Clint already told me where to shove my shield." He'd also started a pool as to what Bucky was going to choose as his new identity, which was going to be a source of violence between Ronin and "Princess Sparkle-Poo" very soon. Steve glanced sideways at Tony, who was looking down again. "We should co-ordinate, talk to the press together," he said. "The last thing this country needs right now is to think we're fighting again."

Tony didn't meet his eyes. "Right. What are we going to say? 'We've very sorry for tearing the country apart and leaving the planet wide open for an alien invasion, but every thing's okay now, so don't worry, we'll save you'?"

That pretty much summed up what Steve had planned to put in his statement, so he shrugged, and said, "Why not? It's true isn't it?"

That made Tony look up, probably mostly to see if he was serious. "You're going to tell reporters something because it's true?" he asked.

"Well, yeah, don't I always?" Steve grinned. "It's probably why I never do that well with them."

"The media always loved you," Tony said with an expression of immense fondness. Then his smile faltered and crumbled, and he asked, "Is it the truth, though? That you're sorry, and you want to work with me again?"

"It is." Steve took a deep breath, and tried to remember how he decided to say this. "Tony, what you did was wrong, and the way you did it..." Steve closed his eyes, remembering the pain and blood and burning rage. He really had thought that that machine had taken Tony's mind. "The way you did it would have been unforgivable if I'd given you any choice. You weren't the only one with power, and I could have used mine to stop, and I didn't, not until it was too late."

Tony nodded slowly. He opened his mouth a couple of times, then closed it again. "How can we ever trust each other again?" he asked at last. "If we're going to work together, we need that, and I can't imagine..." he broke off. His shoulders hunched down, and to keep looking at Steve he had to tilt his head back. He held himself like a man who expected a blow.

The posture made Steve want to shake Tony violently. He bit his lip and tried to bring their eyes in line again, which wasn't easy for a man his height. "You trusted me to have your back when you didn't even remember who you were," he said. It seemed like enough to him, but Tony didn't say anything. Steve realised that he had an advantage in this: he'd seen the recording of Tony's last words. He knew how Tony felt, but the reverse wasn't at all true. "I trusted you then, too," he said, trying to make him understand. "I looked at you back there, and I didn't see the man who betrayed me and who I tried to kill. I saw one of my oldest friends fighting beside me. When you take away everything else, I know I can rely on you." He reached out lightly ran his finger over the back of Tony's hands as he held them clenched together in his lap. The fine muscles trembled under his touch. "I can do this without you. If you don't want to try again, if it's just too hard this time, I'll understand. I just... I miss you when you're gone. We're so much better when we're together." Which was really all he could think to say. He waited.

"I promised Pepper that I wouldn't try to kill myself again," Tony told him, which didn't seem on topic, but at least he was talking.

"That's good," Steve said, trying to sound encouraging, but mostly feeling stunned.

Tony studied their hands where they touched. "I don't know if I'll be able to keep it, but I'll try for her sake. She deserves better than the shit I put her through." It wasn't a point that Steve was going to argue. No one in the world deserved what Tony put them through, especially Tony himself. "I can't promise you that we'll never end up on opposite sides again, Steve. It's happened too often, and we've both had our reasons every time."

No matter what sense they make later. Steve thought about the possible futures from Tony's message, how everything could have worked out. "I'll promise you something," he said slowly, and Tony's head snapped up. "I promise you, if there is a next time, I'll actually talk to you instead of just yelling, and I'll do my best to listen."

"I can do that," Tony said. "I can try my best, at least."

"Well, your best has always been pretty spectacular," Steve told him, grinning. "It will be good to have you back, Avenger. There may be hope for this country yet."

"Thanks, Cap." Tony got off the couch. Steve could almost see him draw into himself as he straightened his back and rearranged his jacket and tie. "We should work out the details as quick as we can, and I'll get Pepper... damn, she'll be in bed, and we won't make the early editions now anyway." He frowned, thinking. "How do you feel about press conferences?"

Steve had always hated them. "Whatever you think will work," he said. "Seeing us together would be better than just a statement anyway." He stood as well. Tony, it seemed, had got what he came for and was on his way out.

"Good, I'll set something up for mid-morning, then." He stepped back, towards the way out. "Get some sleep. As soon as it's late enough, we should start calling everyone to warn them, and meet with Pepper to finish getting our stories straight."

"I don't think I could sleep," Steve said. "Too many things to decide. I'm going to make coffee, so why don't you stay, and we can work it out now?" He couldn't quite keep up with the shifts in Tony's mood, and he didn't want him to go before he figured them out.

Tony glanced at Steve then at the door but didn't move. "I..." he started. Then he blinked, and smiled. "Yeah, sure. Thanks. I appreciate it." Steve felt pretty sure that was the same look Tony was going to give to the reporters later. It was his professional "I don't want to deal with this, but Pepper/Cap/the board/Fury is making me" smile. Steve hadn't seen it directed at him in a long time, maybe not since Tony had moved to the West Coast after he'd got back on the wagon.

Filling the kettle, Steve turned on the stove and started looking for coffee beans. Someone -- probably Carol -- had installed a large gleaming cappuccino machine. He hadn't learned use it. "So what have you been working on?" he asked. "Building new armour?"

He didn't look behind him, but heard Tony come over to lean against the kitchen island. "Yeah, as always, I guess. I'm going to have to arm wrestle Hill for my name back, so I better make it good. I have a lot of tech to catch up with, plus sorting out what the Skrulls did to my code, though a lot of that's patched already."

"How is the Extremis doing?" Steve asked cautiously.

"Oh, fine." Tony sounded casually dismissive to the point where Steve suspected he was faking it. "It seems to have mutated past all that on its own."

Steve decided not to say what he thought about the computer in his friend's head evolving independently -- they'd already had this argument, several times -- and concentrated on fussing with the filter. "What about AES?" he asked instead. "Are you planning to take the company over from Pepper or start something of your own?"

Tony snorted. "I'm waiting to see how the public takes me being alive at all. I wasn't a popular guy at the end there." Steve glanced at the coffee machine, seeing the room reflected on its surface. Despite his relaxed posture, Tony looked tense. "Still, they welcomed the goddamn Green Goblin into public life, so there may be hope for me yet."

The details of Norman Osborn's rise to power still left Steve deeply confused, and he didn't really want to comment on it until he felt he understood. The silence stretched into something awkward, and he'd run out of things to do before the water boiled. He braced his hands on the counter and stood in silence.

"Nice weather for this time of year," Tony said after a long pause. Steve turned to look at him at last. Tony's lip twisted up and his eyes looked blank and hard. Steve wasn't sure which one of them he was mocking, probably both.

"Tony..." he started to say, but Tony shook his head and raised a hand to cut him off.

"I can't do this, Steve," he said, sounding a little desperate. It was unfair, as Steve had no idea what they were doing, and said as much. "Look, maybe we should try just working together for a while," Tony added, which didn't make things clearer at all.

"You don't want to be friends?" Steve asked. "I thought..." He stopped, clenching his hands into fists. He really hadn't been thinking at all. He'd just assumed, since Tony didn't hate him and wasn't crazy, that things would go back to the way they were before. After all, why not?

Tony gripped the edge of the counter like it could somehow protect him. "I can't be your friend just so Captain America and Iron Man can get together and Save the United States of America. Your devotion to God and Country may know no bounds, but mine does."

Steve gaped at him. Tony actually... oh, of course he did, didn't he? Had he actually heard anything at all Steve had said? Behind him, the kettle started the whistle. Without looking, he moved it off the heat and switched the element off. With just as much deliberation, he strode around the kitchen island, took Tony's face in his hands, tilted it to the right angle, and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

For a moment, Tony didn't respond, possibly frozen in shock, then he pulled away. Steve let him, dropping his hands to Tony's shoulders. Tony's eyes were wide and a little wild.

As kisses went, it hadn't been that satisfying, closed mouthed and unacknowledged. Tony looked like he was about to protest, so it obviously hadn't properly got Steve's point across either. "Have I ever been that good at games, Tony?" he asked before Tony had a chance to muddle things further. "This right here, you and me in my kitchen in the middle of the night, this isn't about politics or heroes or who we are in public. This is me wanting to be with you. Are you interested or not?"

Tony licked his lips. "I'm interested," he said. He brought his hands up to grip Steve's hips. "Of course I am. I just thought--"

Steve squeezed Tony's shoulders. "For once, stop thinking and trust me."

This time when Steve kissed him, Tony responded, thoroughly and enthusiastically.



Fin.

Reviews warm the heart. Flames warm the hearth. Constructive criticism welcome.




This story and many others may also be found on the Cap/Iron Man Big Bang main site here.

Date: 2009-07-16 05:05 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
There's not enough words to tell you how much I love you, and this.

No, really, there's not, my english is bad enough already and now that I'm all excited about this it's even worse, so It will not make much sense actually.

See, I really like the life that Tony was living, the way Steve and Tony get reunited, the way everything is explained and of course the battle scenes, you just get them perfectly.


...
..
.

Yes, and Oswald the Omnipotent will be forever engraved in my memory. (But that's a secret)


Date: 2009-07-16 05:51 am (UTC)
healingmirth: Captain America/Iron Man:  What does that make us?  Big Gay Heroes, Cap (biggayheroes)
From: [personal profile] healingmirth
I haven't actually (re)read it yet, but I just have to say: Congrats and hooray! \o/

Date: 2009-07-16 07:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What a ride! Thank you, this was a really great read.

Date: 2009-07-16 08:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This has been, by far, my favorite story to have come out of this Big Bang so far. Absolutely fabulous with the perfect balance of emotion, action and humour. I love how you treated Tony's 'redemption' of sort--realistic and not overbearing and certainly not schmaltzy.

Date: 2009-07-16 02:36 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] 20thcenturyvole
Holy wow. I loved this! Epic mystery, satisfying character exploration, bizarre and awesome villains, and this line:

Steve squeezed Tony's shoulders. "For once, stop thinking and trust me."

Which may be the most appropriate thing Steve has ever said to Tony in any medium. Great work!

Date: 2009-07-16 05:18 pm (UTC)
marinarusalka: Captain America and Iron Man on a date (comics: Cap and Tony dating)
From: [personal profile] marinarusalka
This story rocks! I love a good amnesia fic, and this totally hit all my buttons. Also, I love how you built up suspense right away with Steve's mysterious return, and then resolved the mystery in such a satisfying manner. The BC setting was great, very vivid and atmospheric, and I really liked your OCs. Oswald the multi-named was hilarious, and I chuckled at Steve's reaction to him. There were also so many lovely little touches, like Clint's hilariously obnoxious humor, and the Avengers wrecking the Olympics off-screen, and Bucky's moment of horrified sympathy when Tony starts remembering. And most of all, your Steve and Tony are love. ♥

Date: 2009-07-16 06:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ginjar.livejournal.com
:D:D:D:D Still fantastic on my whatever-th reread! ♥

Date: 2009-07-16 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] culurien.livejournal.com
YAY! :D :D

Date: 2009-07-17 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tsukinofaerii.myopenid.com
I love this fic! It has just about everything: a tight plot, good characterization, well-dabbed angst, humor... Totally wonderful. ♥

My favorite part is when Cap is meeting Oswald the Omnipotent and finding out about his plans. The whole, blasé "oh, mind-control inducing fish is almost original" moment had me laughing myself to nearly death. And amnesiac!Tony was perfect. You nailed his characterization, which couldn't have been easy.

Marvelous fic. ♥

Date: 2009-07-18 02:28 am (UTC)
ext_72072: (Default)
From: [identity profile] garrideb.livejournal.com
Fantastic story! It was creative, compelling, and detailed. Best of all, you have a knack for acknowledging the absurdity of the Marvel Universe without cheapening any of the characters or their motivations. Humor and angst are two great tastes which - imho - taste great together, and you had a splendid mix of humor and angst (and action, drama, and unresolved sexual tension...).

I loved that the story opened with Steve struggling against the waves. It hooked me right away. And then when I got to the paragraph about Steve wondering if he was dead - and that if this was Valhalla, he was going to have words with Thor - and I knew this fic was going to fit my tastes perfectly.

The portable Skrull detector was a favorite detail of mine. A lot of the details like that really flushed the story out, really made it a part of the Marvel U. I loved this paragraph especially:

The message in its place asked him if he wanted to accept a file. Steve stared at it. The query started blinking different colours and bouncing slightly on the screen, so he pressed "Yes," whereupon it chirped happily. He felt fairly sure that wasn't a feature Reed Richards would have included.

Other favorite bits: Steve and Tony's awkward conversation on the skiff, the driftwood doll creature, and Tony using his identity to save Steve's life without even remembering his own first name.

My heart was melting as Steve was telling Tony happy stories as they lay in Steve’s hospital bed, and then I was getting chills as Extremis started fucking with the hospital equipment. And finally, I loved the sort of 'changing of the guards' that happened as Tony reunited with Pepper and said goodbye to Dani.

Anyway, long comment is long. I really enjoyed this fic. ;-)

Date: 2009-08-06 09:58 am (UTC)
scoodoo38: (bzzt batman)
From: [personal profile] scoodoo38
I liked the way everything came together so well.

I love amnesia fics, especially when it involves Tony being the amnesiac. It usually puts in perspective how deep his self denial and sacrificing nature really are ingrained in his psyche, which this one did perfectly.

I also appreciated how everyone in the fic was "omfg, are you serious with this shit", while still finding it completely acceptable and plausible. Their lives are just that ridiculous.

The fact that the main baddie was named Oswald made me laugh, because you opened his sequence with an attack from a tentacled monster, and this connects it even more to the children's show that it reminds me of. Which it probably would have simply because of the name anyway, but the sea theme helped quite a bit.

damn it, i don't have any marvel icons. and i don't even like DC half the time. **shakes fist at self**

Sooooo

Date: 2009-08-15 11:46 pm (UTC)
jazzypom: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jazzypom
When the bang fics came out, I remember telling people that I was going to let them pass by, because I was too burnt out on beta'ing fic. Everyone to a T said, "Oh no, jazzy. You can ignore ever other fic, but read this one."

I can see why.

First of all, you have really pretty writing. It's clear, evocative, tells enough to sweep you along in its path, but not too much to be distracting. I liked your OCs, plain practical people who are the salt of the earth, and the fact that Tony has amnesia. But its good you know, in that even if Steve hadn't shown up, and there wasn't the weird villain, Tony would have had a good life. LOL.

I liked how the tentative seriousness of Steve and Tony took its time to happen, and in that landscape was the mystery of the fish, and a cackling silver age themed villain, all with bombast and swagger. Ewww, the tentacles when it tore off Steve's skin... *shudder*

The various nods to the present canon were well done. The skrull detector! The extremis probably putting everyone in the sick bay at risk, the Undead Avengers (could be the name of a band).

So, tl;dr, this fic was very enjoyable. Your writing style is sure, and quite pleasant, the characters were well realised and it played quite nicely with current canon.

Yay. Cheers for writing this. I had a great time reading it.

Date: 2010-08-11 12:28 am (UTC)
lostcloud: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lostcloud
The ending had my heartbreaking and me hopeful at the same time! Tony being so completely broken and sad after Steve's death that he tried to commit brain-suicide was...yeah. Their first meeting with each other, Steve from the dead, Tony with no memories of who he really was, was classic. Love how Tony confronts Steve because he thinks that Steve is the one behind all the kidnappings even though his mind is telling him that he's terrified of him. Steve still having feelings for Tony despite their fallout made me so happy!

Every time when Tony gained back a little of his memories and/or his brain sent him panic signals, I just wanted to reach into the fic and pull him into a giant hug.
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