Title: Skidding Down Memory Lane
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Between “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor, Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U).
Summary: During an attack on a HYDRA base, Tony gets knocked out by a blast – and loses his memory. While the Avengers struggle to bring their teammate back to the present, HYDRA seems very intent on getting their hands on Tony.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: marvel_bang in 2019.
Inspired by a prompt on avengerkink (LJ): [GEN] Tony’s great memory loss.
Also fills a prompt on my table (sci-fi, MCU/Tony Stark) at fc_smorgasbord (square: lost).
Warnings: Canonical violence, head injury, amnesia, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers, and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Shane Black, Joss Whedon, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Anthony & Joe Russo, Alan Taylor, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
Feedback: Much appreciated, as always!
About Skidding Down Memory Lane: Inspired by the following prompt by an anonymous prompter:
Tony receives a serious blow to the head during a battle with the enemy and it’s resulted in him having amnesia. Now the team must deal with trying to essentially teach Tony how to be Tony again as he’s forgotten much of his skills and what Iron Man is. He doesn't know his girlfriend Pepper or any of the Avengers, which leads him to having serious trust issues with all. Not to mention he’s quite frightened of the voice within the Tower known as Jarvis. So how can Tony Stark be Tony Stark when he’s now the complete opposite of such a character. And it doesn’t help when the bad guys try to capture Tony.
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Skidding Down Memory Lane
There was no place for the word ‘routine’ when it came to Avengers’ missions; they hadn’t been working together long enough to establish that, and their roster wasn’t the same for every occasion. They made it work, though, because there was no other option.
When all else failed, they pushed through with sheer determination.
That, and superhuman power levels; crushing the opposition with the respective strengths of their enhanced teammates worked pretty well as a last resort.
Not that it got nearly that bad most of the time, because busting up HYDRA bases wasn’t the same as defending a city of millions against an alien attack. Tony, at least, had a clear idea of what the real threats were like, but that didn’t mean the smaller fish didn’t need to be dealt with all the same, especially when they posed an acute threat to the world.
After the events in Washington D.C. – Insight Helicarriers raining down from the sky moments before they managed to kill a few hundred thousand people – and the debacle of S.H.I.E.L.D. being compromised by HYDRA, the Avengers had had their hands full.
HYDRA’s exposure had changed their priorities, and after the day Tony handed Cap’s shield back to him, freshly cleaned and polished since being dug up from the bottom of the Potomac River by Iron Man, the game was on. They were focused, tracking down leads and taking out bases left and right.
To add insult to injury, they had found out that after S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse, some of the HYDRA officials had made off with technology and artifacts that certainly didn’t belong in their hands – including the staff Loki had been using. Thor had once agreed to give it to S.H.I.E.L.D. for safekeeping when he took Loki and the Tesseract back to Asgard, and none of them wanted it to remain in the hands of HYDRA for any longer than it took to track it down.
Steve had brought in a new ally in Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, and even though he hadn’t been made into an official Avenger yet, he did partake in a lightweight mission here and there, getting into the groove of things. After Tony did some work on his wings, he was a nice addition to their flying force, even though he wasn’t armored like Iron Man or carrying around a magical hammer. For the most part he opted out of the action, though, and Steve had him running some covert errands Tony hadn’t concerned himself with just yet.
He had too much on his plate to focus on the private goings-on of his teammates.
As they proceeded to track down HYDRA bases, it was often like following a trail of cookie crumbs; they could usually find something in the base they were raiding that would lead them to one or two others. Unfortunately, HYDRA members were smartening up and kept trying to dump their data before the Avengers could get a hold of it. That was a last resort tactic, of course, but they were doing it more and more, which made locating other bases harder.
That forced them to rethink their strategy; going in with more stealth and an element of surprise was becoming a key feature, though not always easy to realize, depending on the location and the level of fortification they faced.
It certainly annoyed Tony because he was often needed to extract data and his suit wasn’t stealthy enough to pass undetected. Sure, Natasha could get the job done, but sometimes it was necessary for Tony to be there because one of them specialized in tech and the other… well, whatever her true specialty was.
So, when flying over yet another secret supervillain base, this one a decommissioned metal processing plant, Tony checked out the readings and knew they were low on time; their arrival had been noticed due to a severe local storm forcing them to drop down from the clouds prematurely. Despite the weather being quite unwelcoming, the HYDRA agents had their eyes peeled – or their warning sensors at the very least – and by the time the Avengers were within striking distance, the base was already undergoing a flurry of movement.
It was only a matter of time before they decided to get rid of any incriminating evidence.
“J.A.R.V.I.S., track down landlines and proceed for a clean cut. Jam all wireless frequencies except our own,” Tony instructed, eyes scanning the visuals in front of him.
“Yes, sir,” the AI replied promptly, part of the heads-up display lighting up with dedicated processes working to that end. Tony glimpsed at it and then looked away. It was just a twitch of an eye, really, but it signaled J.A.R.V.I.S. to shrink down that portion of the data until there was something to report. Tony had more important things to focus on, presently, like preparing for enemy fire.
“They seem a bit jumpy,” Clint commented over the comm. He was seeking high ground on a hilltop, halting his progress to get a better look at the plant. He was loving the new eyewear Tony had given him to test out, sunglass-shaped and full of functions that replaced binoculars and thermal cameras – and apparently worked just as well to view LOL Cats videos on YouTube if their inbound flight was anything to go by.
“We need to get inside now if we wish to extract anything useful,” Natasha said, sounding a bit breathless.
“You’re moving too slowly,” Tony commented. They were making good time on foot, but they would soon reach the open area around the plant complex, and Tony didn’t think for a second that the weapons he had already spotted were the only traps lying in wait. “Need a lift?” he asked, seeing as that was what a good teammate would offer.
“They know our routine by now,” Steve complained, ahead of the others, shield at the ready. He would most likely breach the defenses, draw their fire, and make a hole for the others. If it got really hairy, Bruce would have to get angry, but so far they were moving in without him.
Above, thunder mixed with the already roaring winds and rain, and Tony was yet again glad to be isolated within his suit, cut off from the elements. Although, the occasional gust was forcing him to adjust his flight stabilizers more than usual and visibility was poor, so he couldn’t really count on his eyesight. Not that that was a big thing in the suit to begin with, so it wasn’t really a problem.
“Should we mix it up?” Tony asked, referring to Cap’s earlier statement. The walking-talking WWII relic wasn’t wrong: even while their plans evolved with the location and situation, not to mention the day’s line-up, the Avengers did like to use tried and true maneuvers. One of them was Natasha slipping inside to get intel before the place got too wrecked, but all too often she had been caught in the act and ended up needing an extraction, much to her annoyance.
“We could send Thor in first,” Clint mused, a joke evident in his voice. Obviously he meant ‘send him in the building’, and Tony tried not to roll his eyes, imagining the God of Thunder frying all the devices in his vicinity, doing HYDRA’s job for them.
“Stay focused,” Cap snapped, clearly not appreciating the useless suggestion. He had reached the tree line and stopped, surveying the couple hundred yards of open land between him and the base’s reinforced gates.
“I shall go ahead if you wish,” Thor boomed into the comms, the line crackling with static. More often than not they lost their connection to him at some point of the battle, either to a malfunction in the earpiece or because it simply got dislodged. One day, Tony was going to figure it out – same as for the Hulk.
Whether Big Green listened with or without an earpiece was another story.
“Land lines detected and painted,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed Tony, highlighting them on the HUD for him as he looked at the ground. Tony selected a few missiles and sent them off, watching as they took flight and then descended, hitting their targets some seconds later.
“Land lines successfully destroyed. Other communicators blocked within a five mile radius,” the AI told him.
That was good, but it might also prompt the HYDRA goons to destroy the data since they couldn’t transfer it. “How’s the new satellite operating?” Tony asked.
“Optimal response,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. “The weather conditions are, however, causing minor issues.”
“That’s to be expected, I suppose,” Tony sighed. Still, it was nice having a couple dedicated satellites just for operations like these. And seeing as J.A.R.V.I.S. was going to be in charge of them, he didn’t need to spend hours on a sophisticated operating system and how to translate the data to a usable format for the entire team.
The first of the perimeter weapons began to fire, beams of light from energy weapons as well are large caliber guns cutting through the air. Tony could see them coming from far away, shifting his flight pattern accordingly and shooting down the few projectiles he was too lazy to avoid. He could almost feel J.A.R.V.I.S. judging him for that, which probably meant he was judging himself.
Not liking that, he targeted a few of the guns and sent a couple missiles their way, watching them blow up and take down a wall with them, creating a better chance for the others to enter the facility perimeter.
“Let’s eavesdrop,” Tony decided as he continued in a large circle around the plant, selecting a tiny drone the size of a golf ball. The suit spat it out and the machine then used its own boosters to jet down to the part of the main building where Tony could detect both people and heat residue from machines. The drone landed on the building, cut a hole in a window pane, then entered, crawling along the wall, relaying video and audio from its surroundings.
Tony tuned out the team while he listened to the HYDRA agents arguing for the best line of action. A lot of them were ready to abandon ship, knowing what was coming next.
“We need to speed this up, now,” Tony told the team. “They’re minutes away from blowing up the plant – and the data with it – leaving their base like rats from a sinking ship.”
“They’re already giving up?” Clint asked dramatically. “But we haven’t even gotten to kick any asses yet!”
“Better run faster, then,” Natasha told him, though none of the Avengers on foot had yet braved the exposed stretch of land.
“Thor, take out the big guns,” Steve ordered, shield in hand as he waited for Natasha and Clint to catch up; most likely he was entertaining the option of approaching single file, his shield taking the heat, but protecting two others behind his own frame was going to be difficult. “Tony, can you secure the data?” he asked then. Tony saw him glance up to the sky.
“Absolutely,” Tony agreed. “I could give Thor a hand first,” he offered.
“Hawkeye can do that,” Steve argued.
“I could use a ride to that nice, tall lighting structure in the middle of the yard if that’s not too much trouble,” Clint requested. Tony could see how that would be a nice vantage point for him to secure the team’s breach, with a 360º view of the surrounding area.
“On it,” Tony replied, looping around to go pick him up. Clint grunted when Tony grabbed him, this being his least favorite part, and the rain beating down on his face couldn’t be helping.
A couple turrets turned their way, the HUD flaring up with an advance warning, but just as Tony was staring to react, a bolt of lightning shot down from the sky, blowing the weapons to pieces. Thor descended behind the flash of light, still hundreds of feet above the plant, managing to look surprisingly god-like despite the rain and wind. How his cape never seemed to get drenched was a mystery.
Tony arched over to the light mast, waiting for Clint to clip himself into it by a harness he was wearing. Once the other was ready, hands free to reach for his bow after a quick thumbs-up, Tony flew away and made another scan of the building with the computers, trying to determine where he should hit it from.
His eavesdropping drone was still recording, and Tony reminded himself to brush up on his German and Slavic languages that seemed to dominate HYDRA ranks. Yes, they spoke a lot of English, too, being an international group, but if they were smart they would stick to other languages – or make their own code.
If Tony were to ever become an evil mastermind, that would be among the first things he’d do. Coded messages and all that, much harder for his enemies to know what he was planning.
“Your window is closing, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. prompted him. The AI knew what the mission was, and deciding he might as well go for it, Tony made a sharp turn and smashed through a literal window. The room beyond it was not very large, and he barely managed to halt in time before crashing into the opposite wall. While glass and rubble rained down below him, HYDRA agents scurried in all directions. Surprisingly, many of them were raising their weapons towards him, though, despite their misgivings about the battle.
Really, Tony didn’t envy them. If he had to battle the Avengers with inferior weaponry and leadership, he might have also considered abandoning ship well before risking his own neck.
The armor deflected the shots, the HUD displaying impact sites and reporting no breaches as of yet. Tony moved an arm and fired back in rapid succession, gunning down the opposition. The HYDRA agents backed away, knowing when they were beat, eventually leaving Tony alone in the room with the computers and a few bodies.
Landing on the floor, Tony surveyed the area, then walked over to the only door in or out of the room and shoved a heavy filing cabinet in front of it, then commanded the suit to open.
The smoke burned his eyes the moment he stepped out, prompting him to cough. Behind him, the suit sealed up again, surveying the room.
Tony approached the computers, pulling out his phone and toying with it while he searched for the best place to start; if he took these few extra seconds now, it would make him a lot more efficient.
“Sir, the HYDRA agents are moving outside the door,” J.A.R.V.I.S. notified him through the earpiece, although he could have used the armor’s speakers to the same end.
“Are they trying to breach?” Tony asked, forcing himself not to look at the door as he stepped up to one computer and hovered his fingers above the keyboard for a second before beginning to type, trying to halt the deletion of files and transfer it all to his phone.
“It doesn’t seem like it,” the AI responded.
“Well, until they do, keep an eye on them,” Tony ordered. “How are we doing on the outside?” he asked, knowing J.A.R.V.I.S. could multitask, from here and from the orbiting satellite in space.
“All the Avengers have breached the plant grounds – save for Dr. Banner, of course, who still remains at the Quinjet.”
“He’s calm, right?” Tony asked. “You can tell him we most likely won’t need him.” A few more minutes and he would have the data flowing in the direction he wanted. He could hear thunder roaring outside, as well as gunfire and an occasional shout and scream. There were also noises coming from the other side of the blocked door, and he briefly glanced at it, wondering if HYDRA thought they could barricade the door from the other side and lock him in the room; seeing as there was already an Iron Man-sized hole in the wall where the window had been, letting in the rain and wind, it was hardly a worthy effort.
His eyes moved back to the task at hand. The data was still encrypted and being torn apart by a HYDRA sub-program, so he worked to freeze everything in place in order to buy himself a bit more time to work around the deletion. It would slow down his extraction, but he would rather take the minute than stare for days at data that looked like it had gone through a digital shredder.
When he finally managed to halt the process, there was a partial file open on the screen. He could only see a corner of an image embedded in it, but the blueish glow of Loki’s scepter was unmistakable. “Finally,” he muttered, trying to see what else was contained in that file. The name ‘Strucker’ stood out multiple times, as well as the word ‘experimentation’, which always had a nasty echo to it when paired with a HYDRA scientist.
Grabbing his phone, Tony set to work, knowing they had finally discovered the missing piece. He could not lose this one.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. piped up.
“Not now,” Tony told him. “I’m busy.”
“Sir, they are setting charges –”
The AI never got to finish: the door Tony had blocked with the filing cabinet blew inwards, along with the entire wall surrounding it. The room and everything in it was put in motion, Tony’s brain registering intense heat, pressure, and then very little else.
When an entire corner of the plant blew up, Clint stopped firing, pushing himself to the right side of the light mast to see what was going on. Barely five minutes had passed since Iron Man breached that very area, and he had given no warning to the team of blowing it up.
“Did he extract the files?” Clint mused, raising one hand to fiddle with the settings of his new glasses, to take a closer look at the destruction.
“If he did, that was damn fast,” Natasha replied, words stuttering slightly as she took down three men around her, then sprang to the side to avoid being shot by a fourth.
“Stark, come in,” Steve called out through the comms, putting two and two together.
From the smoke, fire, and raining debris, the Iron Man armor plowed through. However, it didn’t fly with its usual grace, more like diving through the destruction and landing on the wet ground fifty yards away. Clint could see the armor’s arms were holding onto something rather than being used for flight maneuvers.
“Stark,” Steve called out again, voice taut. The next HYDRA goon who happened to cross his path was swatted aside like a fly while the super-soldier waited for confirmation.
“Mr. Stark is down,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced, and Clint could admit he felt cold sweat on his skin. Tony didn’t mind blowing stuff up, and he was smart enough not to get caught in it – which meant this was HYDRA.
“What does he mean, ‘down’?” Bruce’s voice rang shrill in the comms; he tended to just listen, monitoring from a safe distance, occasionally asking whether they needed him – or, rather, the Hulk – so his inclusion in the conversation threw everyone off for a second.
“The enemy piled up explosives outside the computer room,” J.A.R.V.I.S. clarified, sounding… shaken, if that was possible. “I should have seen it – analyzed the materials.”
“How bad is it?” Steve asked, already making his way towards where the armor had landed. It had moved now, and Clint could see it carefully setting Tony’s body on the wet ground, checking him over.
“Concussion and some burns, minor smoke inhalation,” the AI reported. “I managed to shield him from most of the blast.”
Clint grit his teeth. He looked at the smoking ruins of the room, deciding that the data could wait – if there was any of it left. Probably not.
Such a setback had never stopped the Avengers from smoking out another HYDRA base, so Clint didn’t worry about it too much.
“Thor, can you help Nat out?” he asked, already securing his bow on his back and looking at options to get himself down. He could zip down most of the distance with the wire attached to his harness, then climb down the rest of the way. He would be vulnerable, but hopefully they had pushed the enemy back far enough that they wouldn’t dare seize the opening the explosion had just created.
Without reply, lightning smashed down to the ground, driving back the last of the enemy forces, Thor descending behind the blindingly hot blast. The entire light mast swung with the force of it, and Clint could see Natasha steadying herself, then advancing again.
Steve was making a beeline for Tony, and Clint began his own descent, swiftly zipping down until the cable was maxed out. He released it and let it retract to his belt, then began the more physically demanding task of climbing down. Of course he could have re-attached the cable somewhere else, but he was close enough to the ground that he would rather spend that time climbing.
Thor and Natasha were driving off the last of the HYDRA resistance, giving Clint the freedom to focus on where he was placing his hands and feet, until he finally dared to just let go and drop down. He almost slipped on the wet concrete, but caught himself at the last moment. “I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered, then checked his surroundings and took off after Steve, who had already reached Tony and the armor.
“What’s happening, guys?” Bruce asked over the comms.
“He’s alive,” Steve replied.
“Probably not the kind of answer he was looking for,” Natasha warned; no one wanted to amp up Bruce’s anxiousness levels.
“Mr. Stark’s breathing is normal, and in general his vitals are within acceptable levels. No major bleeding, internal or otherwise; just a few scrapes from debris. He is, however, still unresponsive,” J.A.R.V.I.S. broke it down.
“We should get him to the Quinjet,” Bruce said without even knowing what the situation was.
“I agree,” Steve stated. “He either got what we came for, or the data has been blown to bits. HYDRA is running, and we can’t risk Stark getting caught in the crossfire while down for the count.”
Clint finally reached them, noting that Tony didn’t really look worse for wear. Smoke and debris had smeared his skin and clothes, and there were a few small cuts here and there, but other than that he looked okay. Concussions could be tricky, though, as Clint knew from past experience.
“Should we move him?” Clint asked, glancing around to check they were going undetected by the HYDRA goons. Apparently they had chosen to leave their base to the Avengers – not that they had much interest in it at the very moment. Their team came first.
Natasha and Thor joined them before Steve could decide their next plan of action. The armor looked like it was still scanning for injuries the human eye could not detect.
“Did Tony get the data?” Natasha asked, mind still in the mission.
“I’m afraid not. Mr. Stark was still working on stopping the deletion of the documents when the explosion took place,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied through the suit’s speakers.
Natasha looked out towards the smoking ruins of the corner of the building that was slowly collapsing under its own weight. “We could check for another computer room,” she mused. Just as she said it, a second explosion took place inside the building, a fire spreading to another part of it.
“Leave it,” Steve decided. “We’ll catch up to them again.” He glanced at the armor. “J.A.R.V.I.S., can we safely move him?”
“By my estimation, yes. There is no spinal damage that the armor’s diagnostics can detect, and the cranial swelling is minimal.”
Without further encouragement, Thor put his mighty hammer on his belt and stepped forward, kneeling down. Steve moved back, releasing his shield from his back, clearly assuming guard duty. Thor lifted Tony up with ease, and the rest of them fanned out to a safe distance, beginning the trek back to the Quinjet. They could have had Bruce fly the aircraft over to them, but in case any HYDRA outposts were still manned, it was a risk better not taken. It would be a very long walk back to their base of operations in New York.
They made it back to the Quinjet without incident, no members of HYDRA attempting to take a cheap shot at them. Steve looked like he might have welcomed it, just to have an excuse to lash out, and Natasha still looked like she wanted to go back for the intel they had missed out on.
Clint decided to be happy that none of them had died, and that Tony’s injuries were not serious; he was just taking his time waking up. They always joked about the injuries they had sustained, but it was only a matter of time before one of them took a serious hit.
Bruce met them fifty yards outside the Quinjet, looking anxious. “Has he shown any signs of waking up?” he asked, coming over, taking a swift look at Tony where he lay in Thor’s arms.
“Nay,” Thor replied.
“Nor have any of his vital signs weakened,” J.A.R.V.I.S. added via the suit.
“Get him inside,” Bruce said needlessly, following Thor into the Quinjet, almost jogging to keep up.
“Do you want us to take off immediately?” Clint asked, putting his bow away.
“Give me a moment to check Tony over,” Bruce replied.
Clint nodded, moving to the nose of the aircraft to prepare it for take-off while Bruce did his thing. The soft hum of the engines firing up made the plane faintly vibrate, and Clint glanced back to see how they were doing.
Tony was lying on a medical table in the middle of the Quinjet, Bruce running some scans. Clint wondered if it was something Tony’s armor hadn’t already done – or if Bruce just wanted to make sure there was nothing they had missed, like a nasty bit of internal bleeding.
Natasha closed the ramp of the Quinjet, keeping an eye out for any enemy movement outside. The radar and other surveillance detectors told Clint there was none, but he still kept a sharp eye on the instruments until Bruce cleared him for take-off. Clint did it as smoothly as possible, though their ride through the storm clouds was bumpy. Nothing the aircraft couldn’t handle, of course, and once they pushed through, it was much smoother sailing.
They were a couple minutes into their journey when Clint heard Tony groan, and he glanced back to see what was going on. Tony was shifting on the table, hands moving up to his head.
“Tony?” Bruce called out. “How are you feeling?”
“Ugh, my head,” came a strained reply, his right leg sliding up, sole stabilizing him against the table.
Clint punched in the coordinates for the base. “J.A.R.V.I.S., can you handle it?” he asked in a low voice.
“I shall inform you if pilot input is needed,” the AI said.
In general, Clint didn’t like a machine controlling any moving vehicle he was in, but he also wanted to be back there with the team, and he knew Tony’s AI was more than capable of handling the plane. He could let it slide this once…
Getting up from his seat, Clint moved to join the others, just as Tony blinked and squinted. Bruce took the opportunity to shine a light into his eyes, which wasn’t well-received.
“I want to check your pupillary response,” Bruce insisted.
Tony didn’t seem to want to cooperate, scooting back on the table, sitting up. He seemed to catch himself just in time, realizing there was a drop of a few feet on all sides.
“Headache?” Clint asked, knowing how these things went.
Tony made a sound which wasn’t a clear affirmative, still staring at them. He looked a bit out of it, to be honest.
“Maybe you should lie back down,” Steve seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
Tony let out a nervous chuckle, though he didn’t seem amused. It was hard to guess what was going through his head. “Must have been some party,” he muttered, almost to himself, then looked around. A frown appeared on his face as he checked the interior of the plane, and Clint could see his body tense up. Was he in pain?
“Maybe we should knock him out for the duration of the flight,” he whispered to Bruce.
“Where am I?” Tony asked, then looked at them with newfound alarm. It seemed misplaced, all things considered, and the Avengers exchanged looks as if trying to figure out the answer Tony wanted for that question.
“The Quinjet, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied helpfully through the speakers of the armor.
Tony’s eyes followed the sound and he almost fell off the table all over again. It was easy to hear his breathing picking up, and Clint would have bet his month’s salary that his blood pressure was going through the roof.
For a long five seconds, Tony stared at his armor, then shook himself and looked at the rest of them. His eyes definitely lingered on Thor, who was standing very still, frowning in confusion, and then he finally landed on Steve.
“One hell of a party,” Tony said again, then swung his feet off the table, stumbling a bit as he slid off it on the far side, keeping the table between himself and the rest of the team. “I’m loving the Captain America vibe, though your take on the costume is quite futuristic compared to the real thing,” he said, motioning at Steve. He was definitely nervous. “I, uh… Need to go home.”
“We’re going home,” Bruce offered, stepping forward a bit. Tony tensed on his side of the table, though Bruce probably looked the least threatening of them all, so Tony let him approach another step before backing up himself.
“Look, I’m not sure how I ended up here, but I’ll just call my ride if you can point me to a phone. Must have partied hard last night. It happens.” He flashed a grin at Natasha – who raised an eyebrow. Even Clint could tell the grin was forced, some kind of a defense mechanism to throw people off. It might have worked on the Average Joe, but they were spies and people with rather unique skills; Tony’s routine wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Tony, maybe you should sit down,” Bruce tried again.
“I’m fine,” Tony said. “Maybe got a little extra in my drink, but I’m…” His eyes darted towards the armor again. His neck was clammy with sweat.
“Do you know who we are?” Steve asked, voice softer than usual, as if he was trying very hard to appear non-threatening.
Tony waved his hand as if that was not important – very pointedly not answering the question.
The Quinjet jumped slightly in the air, and Tony’s head darted around in obvious confusion. Then he saw the cockpit window, and his entire body stilled as if he were trying very hard to solve some kind of a riddle.
“This is an airplane?” he asked in a wavering voice. It wasn’t pretend: Clint could detect a faint edge of panic.
“Yeah. Neat, right?” Clint said. “You built it,” he added.
Tony whirled to look at him, almost losing his balance, then backed himself into a wall, watching them all with open suspicion. “I think I want to call my Dad now,” he said, voice taut.
Sure, there had been clues all this time, but that was a red flag.
Once again the Avengers shared a look, but before anyone could reply, Tony’s expression grew a bit vacant, as if he was engaged in an inner conversation none of them were privy to. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation, either, because his anxiety seemed to peak again, followed by desperation.
“They’re… dead,” Tony whispered, then slid down the length of the wall until he was seated on the floor.
“Yes, they are,” Bruce said, uncertainty in his voice. “I’m sorry,” he added, because that was the appropriate thing to say.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Natasha asked, slowly moving in front of Tony, crouching down a safe distance from him.
Tony glanced at her, not trying the charming grin this time. He just looked lost. For a moment he opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again, but the answer seemed to elude him. “I’m not sure,” he finally confessed, which wasn’t the answer anyone liked. “There are… glimpses. They’re dead, right? My parents? But I also remember them, so vividly…”
“I’m guessing you don’t remember any of us,” Clint mused.
Tony looked at them, obviously trying to deduce which answer would keep him the safest. Clint imagined that if he had a huge gap in his memory, he might fall back on lessons he had been told all his life, just like any other rich kid: people always wanted to exploit you, and there was a considerable threat of kidnapping for ransom. If Tony found himself in a space surrounded by strangers, he might not be willing to show all his cards.
“He has no memory of us?” Thor guessed.
“It might come back,” Bruce said hopefully. “He hit his head. There is some swelling…”
“You should lie down, sir. It will take us an hour before we reach the Tower,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said, still communicating through the armor. Clint guessed that an incorporeal voice speaking from the airplane itself might have been a bit too much.
Tony, understandably, didn’t seem comfortable with that. He climbed back to his feet, taking another look out the cockpit windows, then began to move along the plane’s interior while keeping a safe distance between himself and the Avengers. Respecting it, the Avengers moved away from him as he proceeded, though all of them seemed ready to move if Tony would, say, go for the emergency hatch. Not that he probably knew one existed, but no one was taking any chances.
During his search, Tony happened upon a mirror in the area that served as the ‘locker room’ for half the team. It made him halt his progress and move towards it, reaching out to touch the glass, clearly not in tune with the reflection it showed. The way his other hand moved to touch his beard was a simple enough indication that in his mind, Tony had lost several years of his life.
“How long do you think it will be before he snaps back?” Clint moved to ask Bruce.
“Is there anything we can do to assist?” Thor chimed in.
“Let’s just wait until we get back to the Tower,” Bruce said. He was looking nervous and tense all at once, but there was no hint of green.
“We could always try a manual reset,” Clint joked at Natasha.
“No one is hitting him on the head!” Bruce snapped, then slowly approached Tony. “Do you have anything else you remember for sure?” he asked. “To help us figure out where your memory cuts off.”
Tony looked at him, then back at his reflection. He still seemed very conflicted about what he saw. Obviously he was older than what he had expected, though if he couldn’t definitely remember where his memory went blank, maybe it was hard for him to decide what exactly he was waiting to see in the mirror. Certainly not what was looking back at him from the reflective surface.
“My parents… New York. I went to MIT, but I think I’ve graduated… I remember J.A.R.V.I.S. being there,” he concluded, though it didn’t make sense because he seemed very disturbed by his armor and the voice coming from it. “And Rhodey,” he added then, sounding certain.
“James Rhodes?” Steve confirmed.
“Yeah,” Tony nodded. “You know him?”
“We’ve met,” Bruce replied. “This is good. Maybe come sit down, have a little bit to drink, and we can try to find more clues to trigger your memory,” he offered.
Finally Tony acquiesced to do as he was asked, though he only picked up the offered cup of water after it had sat on the edge of the table for a bit. Perhaps he feared it might be poisoned, or at the very least spiked. Clint fully expected that someone had slipped a sedative in it, but apparently not, because Tony remained alert.
Tony kept looking at the interior of the Quinjet as if trying to fathom how such a thing existed. He also looked at the Avengers, his attention mostly resting on the armor and Steve. Finally, he couldn’t help himself: “You really look like him,” he said to Steve.
“Who?” Steve asked.
“Steve Rogers,” Tony said quietly. “Just like in my Dad’s old photos – and Aunt Peggy’s.”
Steve’s jaw shifted and he looked at the team, as if trying to figure out how to break the news to Tony that he was the real deal. “I’m him,” he finally said, surprising Clint who had assumed he might hold onto that truth until Tony was a bit less overwhelmed by everything.
Tony puzzled over that, not bursting out with a litany of questions. His gaze seemed to evaluate Steve, comparing him to his statement, obviously trying to verify whether it might be the truth – or if he was being lied to by an oddly dressed imposter, as he had at first assumed.
“Did he find you?” Tony finally asked. “My Dad.”
“No,” Steve said, looking appropriately remorseful.
“He’s looking for you…” Tony murmured, almost to himself.
“I know,” Steve stated. “S.H.I.E.L.D. found me.” The word didn’t seem to ring any bells.
“Do you remember Pepper?” Natasha asked then.
Tony shook his head, frowning.
“What about Happy Hogan?” she pressed.
“No,” Tony replied. “I don’t think so. Should I?” Apparently he was starting to catch on that there were huge chunks of his life missing. Clint could only imagine how it felt, and knowing how fast Tony’s mind usually worked, who knew how soon he would be over-analyzing every question they gave him, assuming it was yet another thing he didn’t remember – and for which he would have to find meaning.
“I’ll call Rhodey, see if he can meet us at the Tower,” Natasha said in a low voice to Steve, moving away.
Tony swung his feet, sitting on the edge of the medical table, once again looking around at the plane and the people in it – as well as the armor. He seemed to have become deceptively calm about the whole thing, and as Clint decided to return to the cockpit and resume his piloting duties, he wondered how much that tranquility would be upset when Tony saw where he currently lived.
Tony didn’t even realize it when the plane landed: he kept expecting someone to tell him to take a seat and buckle up, but save for some minor turbulence as they descended and a few last-minute turns, none of that happened.
Being a Stark, he had flown plenty in his life, but this was different.
All of it was different.
Problem was, Tony had a very hard time drawing a line between the things he knew for sure, and things he apparently had forgotten. The montage of his life wasn’t just snipped from a specific spot in his head like a roll of film. Instead, flashes and facts swam around in his head, going in and out of focus. Like, one moment he would expect to see his parents soon, and the next he would remember he would never get to see them again.
He didn’t remember the people who surrounded him. The aircraft was something out of a Star Trek movie, only better. His own face was unfamiliar to him, and for a bit he wondered if his consciousness was trapped in the wrong body. Sure, there were familiarities, but the experience of seeing himself in the mirror had thrown him off in a big way.
After the plane had settled, a ramp opened in the back and everyone began to move out. Tony got to his feet, his head still aching – as well as several other parts of his body. The clothes he was wearing were strange, almost like a diving suit but from a very different material which he couldn’t identify. At least they were comfortable, and pleasantly warm despite the thinness of the fabric.
He followed the others, cautiously taking a look around. Just as his eyes began to take in the building they were in – how had they landed in a building?! – he also noticed an African-American man standing alone in the open space.
“Tony?” the man called out to him.
Tony stopped and hesitated. There was something familiar about him, his voice maybe?
“Damn, Tone,” the man said, and yeah, it definitely rang the bell: this was Rhodey. Only, Rhodey didn’t look like the Rhodey Tony thought he remembered – not the youngster he remembered from MIT, or the young man starting his air force career. “They said you might not remember a lot, but you should see your face…”
The man – Rhodey – moved forward, approaching him with comfort. He knew Tony. Tony was supposed to know him. They were friends.
Just then, the human-shaped robot thing started walking down the ramp of the aircraft they had exited, and Tony swiveled around to watch it progress. Its movements were elegant, though heavy and a bit stiff. He had never seen a humanoid machine move like that – certainly not one of this size. The way it remained upright, its body perfectly proportioned and balanced, range of motions incredibly lifelike. Then it looked at him, glowing eyes and all, and stopped as if to react to him watching it.
“Jarvis, please take the armor to the shop, okay?” the guy with the glasses, Bruce, requested. He was different from the rest of the crew, and Tony liked him better, too. He talked science, was nervous, and spoke to Tony as if they knew each other well. The rest of them were less an open book, and as long as Tony felt this off-balance, he would prefer someone who might not be trying to play him.
“Very well, Doctor Banner,” the voice from the robot replied, and it continued walking across the space. There was something familiar about the voice, the British lilt. Tony knew exactly what he was comparing it to, but he was terrified to dig too far. His parents were dead, and he was a lot older than he felt, if that made sense. Who knew where Jarvis was?
It puzzled him, however, how he had heard these people address the machine with their family butler’s name. He would have to figure it out.
“Tony, Banner wants to do a check-up on you, to make sure you’re not injured,” Rhodey said.
“I feel fine,” Tony said, glancing at the man who was supposed to be his best friend, then looked at the walls around them. It was all glass by the looks of it, most of it see-through. He could see the floor above them, which held furniture he associated with a living room space.
“Just humor him,” Rhodey begged. “Come on,” he reached out, touching Tony’s arm, and reflexively Tony jerked back, taking a step away from the other. Rhodey froze, then slowly raised his hands. “Sorry,” he said. “Just come this way, please.”
Tony wasn’t sure he had a choice, and Bruce had said he had hurt himself. The others were being kind of mum about when and where – and why – such a thing had occurred.
They set out through the futuristic space, stepping into an elevator that ran so smoothly and quietly, not to mention quickly, that Tony had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t asleep after all.
He felt pain, and didn’t jerk awake in his bed, so he supposed he was stuck in this weird nightmare.
Bruce felt anxious, but knew he had to rein it in for Tony’s sake: the other man was obviously confused, and Bruce’s nervousness wouldn’t help Tony come to grips with what had happened.
Rhodey took Tony to the infirmary, which didn’t look like a conventional hospital space, but with what Tony did or didn’t remember at the moment, this was all probably strange to him. Judging by his expression, he wasn’t feeling at ease with Rhodey, either, and Bruce had worried that might be the case.
How would anyone react if they woke up and found an older version of themselves staring back from a mirror, surrounded by people you had never met? He was yet to decide whether it was for better or worse that Steve had been there, because of course Tony would recognize the real Captain America in a heartbeat.
Tony looked around the space, reaching out to touch a few things, but he also kept checking Bruce from the corner of his eye, clearly expecting someone to tell him to stop investigating. Bruce let him, seeing as there was nothing dangerous he was touching at the present time. Tony’s mind was that of an engineer, and Bruce could see him trying to dissect various machines with his eyes. Problem was, it was all alien to him. Had he ever even seen anything wireless?
“I would like to do a scan, make sure there is no internal damage we failed to detect earlier,” Bruce said after a bit, gesturing at a table.
Tony looked at it, then looked around, clearly searching for scanning equipment. Depending on how much he had forgotten, he was looking for something huge. Eventually, though, he came and sat on the edge of the table, then gingerly lay down. He was tense, and Bruce just gestured for the scan to begin. Tony’s eyes followed the lightshow above him, then the thin mechanical arm extending into a horizontal bar that hovered over him, from which tinier pieces unfolded to create a kind of a track parallel to the table, detectors running up and down it a few times before the entire thing pulled back up.
“That’s it?” Tony asked, frowning.
“Quick and painless,” Bruce smiled, then pulled up the scan results on a screen. He was aware of Tony sitting up and then moving behind him, trying to see over his shoulder.
“Am I going to die?” he asked, perhaps for dramatic effect. No one laughed.
“No,” Bruce decided. “I can see bruising here, but nothing of concern. However, we should consider the real possibility of a concussion so perhaps when you go to sleep, someone should wake you up a few times a night, just to be sure.”
“He’s fine?” Rhodey asked from the side. “Then how come he doesn’t remember?”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed, on principle. Not that he remembered what he had forgotten, obviously, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating, and he was obviously on edge because of it.
“I’m hoping that will change with a bit of rest and recuperation,” Bruce said hopefully.
“What happened?” Rhodey asked, and Tony looked very interested in the response. “Natasha said something about a mission and an explosion.”
Bruce nodded, swiftly looking at Tony. Perhaps it would help if he knew. “We tracked down another HYDRA cell –”
“HYDRA?” Tony asked. “As in, Nazis and Red Skull?”
“A more modern version, but yes. They are scattered and on the run since Cap put them out of commission a couple months back,” Bruce told him.
Tony blinked. “Huh.”
“Tony was working on extracting some data,” Bruce went on. “He was out of the suit, within the enemy base, when they set up an explosive. J.A.R.V.I.S. protected him to the best of his ability.”
“Why would you get out of the suit in the middle of a battle?” Rhodey asked Tony, clearly expecting him to know the answer.
“The suit?” Tony asked, looking confused, then looked at the clothing he was wearing.
“The armor,” Bruce explained. Tony obviously didn’t remember that he was Iron Man – any part of it. The way he had looked at his own creation, and didn’t react to J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice, though the name seemed to ring a bell… “That is something you built, a few years ago. That’s your… thing, as one of the Avengers.”
“I built it,” Tony echoed, then looked around the room. “Did I build all this?”
“You designed it,” Bruce said. “The entire top of the building, really, especially since it got a bit… wrecked during our first battle together. Battle of New York.”
“Sounds dramatic,” Tony replied.
“You could call it that,” Bruce agreed.
It felt strange when Tony didn’t speak up about the invading aliens and the nuke he flew into space at the risk of his own life. Not that Tony ever mentioned the accident to highlight his own willingness to sacrifice his life, but rather as a metaphor that the Avengers were needed to protect the Earth – the Avengers and then some, according to Tony, because he feared more than anything they wouldn’t be enough to defend it the next time.
Not that anyone but him actively thought of the next time. Bruce agreed, though, that it was a likely occurrence, considering everything else that had taken place in recent years. The world was changing.
With that in mind, it was troubling that Tony couldn’t remember who he was. Bruce wasn’t an expert, and he hoped it wasn’t a worse sign that Tony did, in fact, recall his younger self, though there apparently were misaligned memories there as well that confused him further.
“Would you like to see your work space?” Bruce offered, hoping that might spark some recollection in Tony’s brain. To see his own tools and gadgets just as he had left them, his projects and notes waiting for him to resume working…
“Sure,” Tony said, also looking optimistic for the first time. Maybe he was thinking the same thing as Bruce, hoping to find something familiar.
“This way,” Rhodey offered, and Tony followed him out of the infirmary and down the hall, then ascending to the floor above.
Steve walked into the infirmary when the other two men were a safe distance away. “Anything?”
Bruce sighed, moving to slide his glasses off his nose – only to realize he wasn’t wearing them. He forwent them during missions as much as he could, not wanting to misplace yet another pair if he had to transform into the Hulk without warning. He hadn’t put them on during this entire time. “Nothing,” he told Steve as he found one pair of his spare glasses on another desk. He slid them on, taking another look at Tony’s scans. “There’s nothing alarming to tell me something would be wrong.”
“So, we just wait?” Steve guessed.
“And monitor,” Bruce added. He looked at the other, who nodded, looking relatively calm. “There’s no telling how long this will drag out,” Bruce warned.
Steve pursed his lips but didn’t give a reaction otherwise. “We’ll make the best of the situation,” he said, though Bruce failed to see what that might be.
“Okay,” he responded.
“HYDRA is on the run. We’ll keep an eye out for another clue, and until then, we stay close to home and hope Iron Man is back in action by the time we have another HYDRA cell to attack,” Steve decided.
That was all they could do, Bruce knew. Aside from trying some therapies – or Clint’s hard reset, which Bruce wasn’t going to agree to – it was going to be a waiting game.
“Should we talk to him about Avengers matters, or keep those to ourselves?” Steve asked.
“I think we should keep him in the loop, in moderation,” Bruce said slowly. “He doesn’t remember he’s Iron Man. I’m not sure he even quite remembers reaching adulthood. These things can be hard to come to terms with until his memory realigns itself, but he’ll grow more suspicious and untrusting of us if he feels we’re keeping things from him.”
“Because he doesn’t know who we are,” Steve nodded.
“He knows who you are,” Bruce smiled a bit.
“Yeah, but I’m not seeing that as a good thing,” Steve said darkly. “He seemed to have a hard time accepting that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he still thought I’m some kind of an imposter.”
Bruce had to agree, and it didn’t fill him with confidence that the transitioning period would be easy on any of them. “Maybe we should tell Thor not to talk too much of himself until Tony has a better grasp on everything,” he added.
“I’ll talk to him,” Steve promised. “No reason to bring up the matter of aliens if we don’t have to.”
Steve left, and Bruce decided to go check how Rhodey and Tony were doing. He tried not to give himself false hope, because being too optimistic would just make it that much harder if Tony failed to reclaim his memories sometime soon.