Here is the last good memory that Tony has.
It's a few days after the new team has finally come together. It's the morning after Steve kissed him for the first time, the morning after Tony took his hand and led him to his bed. The media can say what they like about him -- they always do -- but it was Steve, and Tony thought they'd been waiting long enough.
It's not even the sex that's the best part of the memory, although that had been wonderful. It's waking up in the morning with Steve at his side, Steve half-asleep, illuminated in a golden wash of light from the penthouse windows, tangled in Tony's sheets. Even half-awake his arm curves around Tony's waist and Tony breathes in and breathes out and lets himself trust this.
Steve had whispered so many dizzying words in his ear, endearments and promises. And he says them again too, this morning: "I love you, Tony," he murmurs. "I love you so much. I'll love you forever."
Finally, Tony thinks, finally he's found happiness. Someone who will love him. Someone who will never leave. Steve wouldn't. Steve would never. When Steve says something, he means it.
When Steve says, "I can't do this anymore," he's staring at Tony across the ruins of the broken mansion, and he doesn't even sound sorry. "I love you," he says. "I love you, but I can't."
Tony wonders what exactly love means to Steve. He thinks maybe he should have asked for clarification.
The war rages on. No one knew about them. They'd never told anyone. Tony suspects half the Avengers always suspected it anyway.
Steve brings the shield down on his face again and again and Tony remembers Steve's gentle hands on his body, remembers that he would have trusted Steve to do anything to him.
Then Steve stops, and lets them drag him away, and Tony wonders if that was love after all.
He folds his good memory up, when Steve is dead. He compresses the file in his brain, a handy little zip protocol, files it away in a directory he'll be too busy to look in, now that he's the director of SHIELD. His brain is, literally, a computer.
Steve never liked Extremis. He files away a few of those memories too, the ones where Tony answers the phone in his head and the skin around Steve's eyes goes pinched.
He's going to remember Steve well. He thinks Steve would have disapproved of that, would have had something to say about taking the bad times with the good. Steve's not here anymore.
He thinks about Steve telling him he loves him and blinks back tears.
He thinks about deleting all the times Steve ever told him he loved him. He thinks about deleting warm nights in the mansion long ago, when they laughed and sat pressed together on the couch, watching TV or playing Monopoly, so long ago and so innocent and so very much in love.
He'll keep those, he thinks. Just in case the bottle calls him again.
When it turns out Osborn is after the SHRA database, when it turns out Tony's brain will just have to go, too bad so sad, he can't find it in himself to be scared.
He takes out the memory of Steve in his bed, one more time, two more times. The zipped files are safer from deletion. They'll last longer, but in the end, they'll all go. He puts it back to save it a little longer. He flies to Russia.
He's not really sure what happens to him after that.
He's kneeling on hot desert sands as Osborn beats him, beats him to death. Blood is dripping down his face.
Tony pulls out one last memory, lets it play. The visual feed stutters. Blood is in his eyes.
I'll love you forever, a stranger says in Tony's memory, smiling at him, smiling in bloody fragments of a smile, and somehow Tony knows that forever wasn't enough.