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A Long Way From Home

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She finds him while he’s still collapsed in Siberia where Tony is clinging to consciousness through sheer force of will, his body working overtime to heal itself. He’s retreated to the back of his mind, zipping through his nerve endings and singling out the worst of damage, prioritizing injuries.

Broken ribs can be ignored for the time being. His lungs need attention.

 His ankle feels as though it’s on fire, but Tony dulls his pain receptors until it’s nothing but a distant throb. The injury isn’t life threatening but the small amount of bleeding in his brain needs to be taken care of immediately.

He can feel the suit growing colder around him and does his best to stimulate blood to prevent frostbite.

Dulling his receptors takes away the worst of the pain wracking his body and does nothing to ease the ache that seems to encompass his entire chest that has nothing to do with his injuries. Because Steve... Steve…

“You’re hurt.”

Tony blinks and he’s no longer staring up at the roof of an abandoned bunker, listening to the wind howling around him. The ache in his chest is still present but he can’t feel any of his physical injuries. He’s clad only in the suit he’d been wearing on the plane before heading to Siberia in an attempt to aid Steve. He pushes himself to his feet, out of the water, staring out at the blank mindscape. It’s been years since he’s been here and Tony is caught between the quiet it brings to his mind and the fear of the implications of being back here.

“Tony.” The voice is soft and lilting and Tony turns to face the woman standing behind him, his breath catching in his chest at the sight of her. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been about an inch taller than him. Now, years down the road, he stands a full six inches taller. Her hair is pulled back away from her face in a braid. There are crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes. Tony thinks she looks all the more beautiful for it. The years, clearly, have been kind to her.

“Hey, Jane,” he says hoarsely. “Fancy seeing you here.” Janes smiles at him, her eyes sparkling with warmth, and steps forward. Tony leans down to accept the embrace she gives him. There aren’t any physical sensations on the mindscape, but he finds himself clinging to her tightly anyway. Jane is standing on her toes, arms wrapped around his neck and squeezing back just as tightly. He buries his face in her shoulders and breathes, pretending she’s real and standing next to him and not however many miles away she actually is. Jane doesn’t say anything and doesn’t let go until he finally steps back. She’s kind enough not to mention his ragged breathing and wet eyes.

“I got your message,” she says instead, tucking her hand into Tony’s elbow and begins walking. Tony follows, his gaze fixed on the water rippling under their feet. There’s no other sound aside from her voice. “When there was no follow-up and I saw the news, I came looking for you.” Tony can feel the weight of her gaze and carefully avoids looking at her. Finally she looks away. “This isn’t what I was expecting.”

Tony can’t stop the bitter laugh that wells up.

“It’s not what I expected either,” he tells her and Jane’s hand tightens on his arm, like she’s worried he’s going to pull away. Tony clasps a hand over hers and he feels her relax minutely. He wishes he could feel the warmth she would no doubt be giving off.

“It took me a while to find you,” she says carefully. “You’re a long way from home.”

“You could say that,” Tony says. He feels a wave of exhaustion crash through him and he’s distantly aware of the ongoing repairs to his body. His breathing is getting slightly easier, but he thinks he’s starting to lose feeling in his toes and fingertips. Jane’s voice and face are carefully blank, letting Tony control the pace and direction of the conversation but nothing is really private in the mindscape and he can feel her anxiety, confusion and concern as certainly as she can feel his exhaustion and grief and betrayal. 

The mindscape, he thinks, is one of the few places where people like them are truly vulnerable.

“You asked for my help,” Jane finally says when Tony doesn’t elaborate.

It takes Tony a long moment to wrestle his emotions back under control. The grief is the most overwhelming, feeling as fresh as the day Tony had first heard the news, that his mother was dead (and in a way Tony was hearing the news for the first time all over again).

“Did you know?”

“I didn’t know it was him.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Rogers. Did you know?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?” Jane prods gently. Tony wants to deflect, change the subject, but Jane is one of the few people Tony could never lie to and so he tells her.