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Muscle Memory

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Stephen waved his hands, surrounding Tony’s head in a colorful halo of light, and hummed thoughtfully. Steve wasn’t sure whether the color was necessary or just for effect, but Tony was enraptured by it, watching his reflection in the television screen from where he sat on the couch. It almost caught Steve off guard how much that worried him. Normally, Tony would hate this. Tony hated magic.

Tony caught Steve’s eye in the screen’s reflection and his face fell. That just made Steve feel worse; this wasn’t Tony’s fault, and here he was upsetting him, when Steve should be the one to reassure him.

Stephen let his hands drop, finally satisfied. “There’s nothing physically wrong with you,” he said.

That, Steve already knew. Just a couple hours earlier, Steve had been sitting at Tony’s bedside in the hospital, waiting for him to wake up. They’d been battling Amora the Enchantress when she’d managed to catch Tony off his guard. Her spell had barely clipped his side, and though it hadn’t looked like the hit was solid, Iron Man had dropped like a stone.

When Tony didn’t get back up, Steve had worried he’d been seriously injured.

He’d worried right up until they’d gotten him to the hospital, and the doctors had come out to tell him that Tony didn’t seem to be injured at all. Steve had been so relieved, thinking that the worst was over.

But when Tony had finally woken up, he took one look at Steve—still in full costume, no less—and with his eyebrows rising to his hairline, and said, “Who are you?”

Steve sighed, causing Stephen to shoot him a sideways glance.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said for interrupting, “but clearly something is wrong.”

“And I said that nothing was physically wrong with him,” Strange replied. “It seems the Enchantress has cast a spell to suppress his memories. He’s quite lucky, actually—had the spell been at full power, it’s quite possible he would have forgotten even how to breathe.”

Steve felt his stomach twist at the thought.

“Can it be undone?” Steve asked.

“Yes, and no,” Stephen said. “With a large amount of magic, and no small amount of risk, the spell could be forcibly broken.”

“What kind of risk?” Tony asked, clearly not liking that suggestion. Steve could only imagine what it must be like to not remember anything—his friends, his family, or even himself—and to have to take every stranger he was introduced to at his word.

Steve, in his situation, probably would have been a paranoid mess. Tony was wary, yes, and Steve could tell that he was uncomfortable, but he still seemed to trust Steve, looking to him for explanations and support.

Steve guessed that had something to do with the fact that he was the first person Tony met when he woke up—the longest, and most stable relationship that he could possibly have given the circumstances—and that he was clinging to that lifeline.

“Not one that I would advise you to take,” Stephen said evasively. “Instead, I would suggest that you wait it out. With time, spells such as this often break down on their own, though you might be able to help the process along.”

“And how do we do that?” Steve said impatiently.

“There is no definite method. If an action feels familiar or reflexive, I would encourage you to do it. Even something as simple as a familiar morning routine should help to chip away at the spell,” Stephen said. “I would also caution you not to try to force your memories to return. You could end up doing more damage, and as this is a magically induced amnesia, your memories may or may not begin to return in bits and pieces—the rest should return to you all at once when the spell is broken.”

“How long do you think it will take?” Tony asked.

“The time varies person to person, depending on their willpower and their affinity for magic. For you, I would wager anywhere from a week to a year,” Stephen said.

“A year!” Tony said, frowning.

“That’s a big window,” Steve pointed out.

“You’re asking me to put a timeframe on a highly variable thing,” Stephen replied.

“In the meantime, there should be no other side effects beyond a serious case of Déjà vu,” Stephen said. “So long as you don’t go trying to force the spell to break early, you will be fine. Just let it expire naturally.”

 

 

Steve was tempted to ask more questions; instead, he extracted a promise to be available should they need him, and showed Stephen to the door. When he came back, Tony was still sitting in the same spot on the couch, plucking nervously at his sleeve. He looked relieved when he saw Steve return, standing up to meet him.

“So I guess I’m stuck like this,” Tony said, smiling ruefully. “I bet this is weird for you.”

That was an understatement. Steve clasped Tony’s hand. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ll be back to your normal self in no time.”

Tony smiled bemusedly, but it looked off, somehow too unlike Tony’s usual expressions. “Are you always this sincere?” he asked.

“It’s part of my charm,” Steve confirmed. “Now come on, why don’t I give you the grand tour?”

“Lead the way, Captain,” Tony said, sweeping his arm grandly to encourage Steve to take the lead.

“You call me Steve,” he said.

“Well, then Steve, why don’t we start this tour in the kitchen?” Tony said. “I’m starving.”

Tony glanced around each room with polite interest as they passed them, but Steve couldn’t tell whether or not the familiar surroundings were sparking any kind of memories, and he didn’t want to ask.

When Steve had first been defrosted, and everyone was constantly asking him how he was feeling, Tony had been patient and undemanding, offering him friendship instead of just concern and pity. It had been refreshing, after so many exhausting reminders of what he’d lost. The very least he could do was return the favor.

“This is it,” Steve said, stepping aside for Tony to enter first. He expected Tony to head for the refrigerator, or the kitchen table. Instead, he made directly for the pantry at the back of the room.

It was jarring, to see Tony acting so normally one second—strolling into the kitchen, throwing open the cabinet—but then the next second he was pausing, uncertain, not quite remembering what it was he was supposed be looking for.

It was almost like having things back to normal, for those few short seconds, before it all came rushing back into focus.

Steve shouldn’t be upset. Tony was strong-willed, and Steve was confident that it wouldn’t be that long, maybe the matter of a couple of weeks, before his memory was back. He could deal with that, but it didn’t make the constant reminder that something wasn’t quite right any easier. That thought made him feel guilty. It was probably a lot harder on Tony than it could ever be on Steve.

And if this—these short moments of muscle memory, the reminders had any chance of helping him like Stephen had said it would, it was worth it.

Steve stepped up next to Tony and reached over his shoulder to grab the bag of coffee beans, setting it down on the counter. “This is what you’re looking for,” Steve said.

Tony picked it up, curious. “Coffee?”

“You drink way too much,” Steve confirmed. “But if you’re hungry, I don’t think that’s going to cut it. Why don’t I make lunch?”

Tony nodded, and Steve set about gathering ingredients, pulling two plates from the cupboard and setting out the fixings for simple sandwiches. Tony was watching him carefully, probably cataloguing where everything went, learning what was found in each cupboard and drawer.

“Can we eat and walk?” Steve asked, “Or would you rather sit?”

“I’d rather get the tour, honestly,” Tony said. He picked up his sandwich and took a bite.

“I thought you might,” Steve said. “You already saw the living room,” Steve said, indicating back the way they’d walked through earlier. He led Tony out into the hall, headed straight for the room that Tony would probably be most interested in. At the top of the stairs, Steve flicked on the light.

“Your workshop is down there,” Steve said. “You spend most of your time there, when you’re not at Stark Industries.”

Steve flicked the light off, and started down the hall again. “And if you’re not in your workshop, you’re usually in the library.”

Tony followed Steve inside the library, and whether he remembered or not, walked straight for his favorite chair. He picked up the book on the end table beside it, flipping it over to look at the cover.

“I, Robot?” Tony asked.

“You’ve already read that one,” Steve said. “It’s one of your favorites.”

“Well. I guess I should be happy. Not everyone gets to read their favorite book for the first time twice,” Tony said. He said it cheerfully, but Steve knew him well enough that he could tell that it was just Tony trying to keep up appearances. It almost felt unfair for him to know him so when, when Tony didn’t know Steve at all.

At this point, he probably knew more about Tony then Tony knew about himself.

“Let me show you the bedrooms,” Steve said. Tony nodded, tucking the book under his arm, and followed Steve out the door. He led up back into the foyer, so that Tony could get his bearings in the large house, and then took him upstairs.

“This is my room,” Steve said, pushing the door open. It was… a little disorganized, since Steve had been in the middle of sorting laundry when he’d first gotten the call to assemble, before all of this started.

“Got enough clothes?” Tony teased. “I thought I was supposed to be the high-maintenance billionaire.”

“Keep laughing,” Steve said, pulling the door shut again, “half of those are yours. I’ll drop them off at your door later.” Steve nudged for him to step aside, so he could show him down the hall.

Tony’s bedroom was just a few doors down, and Steve stopped without taking him any further.

“This is your room,” Steve said. “If you feel like exploring some more later, well… it is your house.”

“Thanks,” Tony said. He looked preoccupied, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. “Are we…” He hesitated, for just a moment, and then continued. “Can I find you tomorrow morning? I’m supposed to try to follow my usual schedule.”

“Of course,” Steve said, though he couldn’t shake the suspicion that that’s not what Tony had intended to ask. “Now come on, I’ll show you where the Avengers train.”

That seemed to spark some interest, and Tony eagerly followed him down the hall.

 

 

Eventually, the settled into a routine. Steve would get up early every morning, just like he always had, only this time instead of leaving for a run straight away, he stopped by to check on Tony.

Usually, he was still asleep, his bedroom door closed and the workshop lights off, and Steve would wait until breakfast to seek him out. Sometimes, though, Steve would pause at the top of the stairs, the lights on in the workshop, and that was how he would know that Tony had remembered something.

For Tony, it seemed to be easier to remember in his dreams—bits and pieces of his life that he would try to make sense of in the morning. Sometimes, Steve recognized the memory, and could help him fill in the gaps, but most of the time, the images were either too small, too insignificant, or too muddled for either of them to make sense of.

Steve could tell that Tony was getting frustrated—he hadn’t remembered anything about the Avengers, Iron Man, or any of his friends.

Pepper had started giving him problems from Stark Industries to tinker with—he was still a genius, after all—and although they all knew that it was just a distraction, Tony seemed happier for it.

 

Things continued as normal, or at least their new sense of what normal was, until they didn’t.

 

Tony passed Steve in the hall, a tablet in one hand, and looking as focused as if his world had shrunk down to the contents of the screen. Still, he surprised Steve, reaching out to stop him with a hand on his chest, and leaned up to kiss him. It was quick, chaste, Tony barely turning his head away from what he was reading, so that it was more a meeting at the corners of the mouth than an actual kiss.

Steve froze in place, and for a moment he was sure that Tony had felt his heart stop beneath his hand—how could he not?—but Tony just continued down the hall as though nothing was out of the ordinary. He’d already made it into his bedroom by the time Steve had shaken the surprise enough to call out after him, and it was another few moments of indecision before Steve turned to follow Tony down the hall.

Tony opened the door almost as soon as he’d knocked.

“Steve?” Tony asked. “Is something—”

“You kissed me,” Steve said. Tony looked at him, puzzled. “We’re not… together.”

Steve could pinpoint the exact moment that confusion gave way on Tony’s face, and the look that replaced it was almost enough to make Steve regret correcting the mistake, even though he didn’t want Tony to… get the wrong idea, or anything that would slow down his recovery.

“Oh, god,” Tony sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dredge up old feelings. I just assumed we were still—”

“No, Tony. I mean we’ve never been together.”

“We’ve… never?” Tony looked a mixture of surprised and embarrassed when Steve shook his head no, gripping the door handle much tighter than necessary.

There was a long pause, filled with some of the most awkward moments between them since the weeks after they met, when they were still getting to know each other. Finally, Tony stepped aside to let Steve in. Steve hovered just inside the door, and Tony didn’t move to sit down, either.

This was much more uncomfortable than a quick kiss in the hall, and Steve was just going to apologize for bringing it up at all when Tony beat him to it.

“I’m sorry. For kissing you,” Tony said.

“It’s not your fault,” Steve said immediately. “Of course not. How could you know any better when you—uh, we.” He paused. “I’m sorry, why did you think we were together?”

“Well, you act like we are,” Tony said.

“I do not—”

“You held my hand,” Tony said. “When I first lost my memory, you held my hand and told me everything would be okay.”

“I—we’re friends, of course I did,” Steve said stubbornly.

Tony crossed his arms. “You cook for me.”

“It was just sandwiches,” Steve said.

“You do my laundry,” Tony said.

“Otherwise Jarvis ends up doing it,” Steve pointed out, although it was true, that in an entire mansion of Avengers who were as unlikely or even less likely to do their own chores, only Tony got any special treatment from Steve.

“There’s a giant picture of us in my bedroom,” Tony added, stabbing a finger at the wall behind him.

“There is?” Steve turned, and sure enough, there was a painting of them, in full costume, standing arm in arm in front of the mansion. Steve had never posed for this painting, nor had he even known about it, but it was excellently done.

Tony turned to look at it, glancing sheepishly back at Steve.

“It’s, uh, apparently a secret?” Tony said. “And a little creepy, if you didn’t know about it. Just pretend you didn’t see.”

“It’s nice,” Steve said. “Well done. But, I’m sorry, there are pictures of everyone, everywhere. This is our home.” Even if a carefully featured portrait was a little unusual, it was hardly proof of anything.

“We go on dates,” Tony said.

“What? We—”

“We went to Paris,” Tony interrupted. “I’ve seen the pictures. Also, the nurses let you into my room at the hospital, even after visiting hours were over.” He ticked the point off on a finger. “Not to mention that every time we’re in a room together I get the urge to—” Tony cut off so abruptly Steve could hear his jaw click.

“To what?” Steve asked.

“To kiss you.”

Steve felt himself flush. No, that couldn’t be right. Tony was Steve’s friend, his best friend, but he didn’t see Steve that way. Tony was handsome and charming and had no shortage of rich and beautiful men and women clamoring to meet him, and Steve was...underwhelming, in comparison.

But...when was the last time Tony had gone out with someone other than Steve? He wasn’t sure he even remembered. Not for months, at least.

“Is that why you kissed me?” Steve asked.

Tony shrugged and looked away. “Stephen said to do what felt reflexive, and, I thought—I didn’t know it would make things weird between us. I’m sorry. Please just...don’t hold it against me, when my memories return. We can just forget this whole thing.”

“I—no, I would never hold it against you,” Steve said.

“Yeah. Okay,” Tony said, seeming a little dubious. “Just—I don’t want to make things weird for you. Well, weirder. I mean—yeah, I should go—” he said, and then he made for the door, like Steve was somehow kicking him out of his own room.

“No,” Steve said a little too quickly, reaching out to catch Tony on the arm.

Tony looked surprised, but stopped anyway, waiting to hear what Steve had to say. For a moment Steve blanked, not really sure where the outburst had come from. Then he gathered himself.

“Stephen said you should do what feels normal. So don’t fight that on my account,” Steve said. “Let’s forget about it, okay? You just focus on getting better.”

Tony studied him for a moment, and then nodded. “Sure,” he said.

Steve smiled reassuringly. It was better this way, anyway. Tony didn’t remember anything about himself, and Steve knew, well, everything. It put him at an unfair disadvantage, and Steve wasn’t about to hold that against him.

He steeled himself and invited Tony to the gym to spar, retreating into that little bit of normalcy, and tried not to focus on the distracting tilt of Tony’s lips when he smiled cautiously and agreed.

 

 

If the normal they settled into after that seemed at all forced to Tony, he didn’t let on, and Steve did his best to keep his own feelings out of what was, essentially not about him. Little bits of Tony seemed to slip through on a daily basis. He’d steal the remote. He’d remember how many sugars he took in his coffee—too many, in Steve’s opinion—or what kind of pizza he liked. He was, unsurprisingly, very good at sparring.

It was hard, waiting. Tony seemed impatient with it, too. Steve could see the frustration in him when he caught him grasping for a memory. It was times like that where Steve tried to distract him. Tony always pushed himself too hard, of course he still would, even when he’d lost his memories, even when Stephen had explicitly told him not to try to force them to return.

He’d found Tony sitting in his lab, staring at the various half-finished projects on his workbench as though he fully expected them to leap off the table and tell him their purpose. Steve invited him to help cook dinner, not really sure what else to do.

Tony was standing at the stove, stirring a pot with a wooden spoon with the sort of concentration that beef stew probably didn’t really require. Steve had moved over to the sink to give the cutting board a rinse, washing away the starchy water left behind by the potatoes he’d been chopping.

Behind him, Tony yelped, the spoon he’d been holding clattering against the tile in a soupy mess. Steve whirled around, concerned. Tony seemed mostly all right, blowing on the side of his thumb where he’d burned himself. He looked upset, though, so Steve took his hand before he could protest and turned it towards him, to make sure that he really was okay.

It looked superficial. The skin was angry red, but it probably wasn’t even going to blister, so Steve turned his attention to Tony’s face, instead. He caught his eye immediately; Tony had already been staring back at him.

“You okay?” he asked, just in case there was something here that he was missing.

Tony stared at him for a moment longer, wide-eyed, and then seemed to realize that Steve had asked him a question. He nodded and pulled his hand away, cradling it against his chest.

“Yeah, no, fine, I just—I was distracted, because…” he trailed off, looking downright miserable, his cheeks coloring.

He didn’t need to finish the thought; Steve had filled in the rest on his own, hope clenching his heart.

“You remembered?” he asked.

Tony blew out a breath and nodded.

“Tony, that’s great!” Steve said, at the same time that Tony said, “Look, Steve, I’m sorry about—”

Steve stopped, and Tony did too, looking about as taken aback as Steve felt. Tony made a helpless gesture, urging Steve to go first.

“What do you have to be sorry for?” Steve asked, incredulously.

Tony winced. “For—in the hallway. I didn’t mean to make things uncomfortable.”

Oh. Of course Tony would be hung up on that.

“I told you that I wouldn’t hold that against you,” Steve said, “but I might not have been entirely truthful about that.” He ignored the way that Tony deflated a little, pressing on, “because you asked me to just forget about it, and I don’t want to. And I don’t think you do, either.”

Steve reminded himself of Tony in the hallway, the ease at which he’d kissed him, the effortless affection there, and it made something in Steve’s chest swell. If that was Tony’s first instinct, if he’d wanted to do this as much as Steve had, then Steve could be brave.

Tony had already taken the first step, and he likely wouldn’t go any further, without proof from Steve that he wanted to.

Steve kissed him, before he could second guess himself.

Tony was so taken back by the kiss that he didn’t react, eyes wide and disbelieving, and when Steve moved a hand to his hip to gently pull him closer, Tony jumped. It was enough to pull them apart, but a moment later Tony relaxed into him, both hands coming up to frame Steve’s jaw, and then he kissed back.

Tony’s eyes were closed, his lashes fluttering, and Steve let his drop closed as well, reeling him in. The warm line of his body pressed against him was intoxicating, and Tony’s lips brushed over Steve’s with purpose, gentle at first and then searching.

Steve parted his lips and then had to lean back against the counter when the slide of their tongues over each pulled a soft noise from Tony. Tony pulled back an inch at the movement, a teasing smile already in place, and Steve cut him off with another kiss before he could say a word.

The next time they pulled apart, Tony looked more nervous than teasing; nervous, but hopeful, and Steve kissed the corner of his mouth to ease the lines away, and then the wrinkle between Tony’s eyes, to make him laugh.

“You’re serious about this,” Tony said, more an awed statement than a question, and Steve nodded immediately, not wanting to leave a moment for doubt.

“I’ve never been more serious,” Steve said. “The only reason I didn’t do this,” he pulled Tony half an inch closer, to punctuate the point, “sooner, was that I didn’t know you were interested.”

“I’m so interested,” Tony said. Steve smiled crookedly.

“I figured. A man’s usually in agreement with his subconscious.” He leaned in again, until their noses were scant an inch apart, and Tony tilted his head to the side on instinct, preparing for a kiss. “I just wanted to be sure.”