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even if the brain has forgotten, perhaps the teeth remember (or the fingers)

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“He’s waking up.”

Consciousness comes in stages: the groggy awareness of lying in what has to be a hospital bed, judging by the vaguely plastic quality of the sheets. The pins-and-needles sensation in his mouth and the foul feeling that suggests he hasn’t brushed his teeth in a while.

His eyes open. He gets the sense he should be watching for danger, but the moment he takes in the people in the room, the reflexive nerves begin to fade.

There’s an array of men and women around him, most of them scratched up in one way or another- the redhead in the corner is pursing her split lips against a smile. Next to her there’s a man with dirty blonde hair, a black eye and hearing aids grinning at him, along with a man in a cape who has a large cut down one cheek. Then next to him is a man with what looks like a metal arm, his hair pulled up in a bun and bruising colouring the left side of his jaw.

Only three people in the room look undamaged: a black man wearing a polo shirt and a relieved expression, another redhead in impossibly high heels sitting next to him and holding his hand, then a man with curly hair and lopsided glasses that he straightens as he looks down at-

Huh, thinks the man in the hospital bed. Looks down at who?

As if in answer, the man sitting closest to him, the man he hasn’t focused on yet, the man with pale blonde hair and anxious blue eyes says “Tony?”

Tony thinks oh as it fastens itself to him like it’s been there his whole life. Which, he supposes, it must have.

Then Tony thinks shit, because he’s wracking his drug-addled brains and he can’t come up with anything, no memories of how he got here or his parents or who these people in his room are, despite the unrelenting trust he can’t help but feel towards them.

“Tony,” the man repeats, and Tony tries to struggle through the swarm of oncoming feelings in search of a name that fits the man.

“Yeah,” Tony says, and his own voice is familiar even though he has no memory of hearing it before.

Relief colours the blonde man’s face, but only slightly. “What, no tirade on how much you hate hospitals this time?”

Tony considers it. “…I do hate hospitals,” he realizes.

That prompts a laugh from several of the surrounding people, and Tony uses these seconds to rummage through his mind in search of something, anything to give him context. He knows- he knows the square root of pi down to an insane number of decimal points, and he knows enough math that has him thinking he must be some sort of genius, and he knows what hospitals are and that he’s always hated the sheets in hospital beds but he doesn’t remember coming to a hospital before or learning what numbers are.

He has no goddamn clue who these people are. Somehow Tony thinks this won’t be a pleasing revelation to tell them.

Should I tell them? It comes immediately on the tail end of the previous thought. Maybe this is a trick, maybe the trust has been artificially implemented, maybe I should keep quiet until one of them trips up-

It’s a reasonable caution, but those thoughts make Tony uncomfortable in ways he can’t explain.

“Hey.”

Tony looks over towards the blonde man, who makes an aborted motion like he’s reaching for Tony’s hand but then thinks better of it.

Tony watches the hand as it comes to rest back in the man’s lap. Something about the curl of his fingers makes Tony’s chest lurch in a way that’s not wholly unpleasant.

The man clears his throat. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Tony says. It’s not quite a lie.

Metal-Arm-Guy snorts. “Sure, that’s why you’re looking at us like you’re strategizing a way out of here with your IV needle.”

Tony glances down at his arm and his nose twists when he spots the IV. “Ugh.”

He moves to pull it out only for the blonde to grab his wrist.

“Really,” the man says. “Right in front of us? What did you think would happen?”

Tony looks at him, at the faint amusement undercutting the worry. “What happened to me,” he asks. It’s a safe question, he thinks- he just woke up in hospital, he’s groggy.

The man’s thumb rubs against Tony’s wrist for a moment before he drops it.

It’s the polo-shirt guy that answers. “You got hit by that giant ray gun about three seconds before Widow managed to blow it up. You’re the only one who got hit, so we’re counting on you to let us know if you grow a tail or… tentacles, or something. Anything feel off?”

Brother, Tony thinks. It sits oddly in his mind- he doubts they’re related, unless one of them were adopted, but brother is the closest thing he can find to what he feels when he hears the man speak.

Tony opens his mouth. Closes it. Looks around at each person in the room individually, each a fast passing glance until his gaze stops on the man who had almost held Tony’s hand.

There’s something decidedly un-familial about the gut reaction Tony has to him.

“Yeah,” Tony says slowly. He tries to find a delicate way to phrase it, but ultimately goes with, “Uh, I can’t seem to remember anything.”

Polo-shirt guy shifts in his seat. “What, about getting blasted with a ray gun?”

“No. I mean, I can’t remember anything.”

The smile sloughs off the man’s face. A similar effect travels around the rest of the room.

“You mean you don’t-”

“I have no idea who any of you are,” Tony says. “I didn’t even know who I was until that guy said my name.”

He winces internally at the reaction it produces: Hearing-Aids-Guy and Metal-Arm-Guy start to swear, High-Heels-Redhead puts a hand over her mouth and leans into Polo-Shirt-Guy, who is staring at Tony with a dent between his eyebrows and a tight expression.

“Sorry,” Tony says, at a loss of what else to offer.

“Don’t be,” says Blondie with a strained smile that Tony hates on sight. “It’s not your fault. We’re going to fix this.”

Tony considers. “I believe you.”

At that, the smile solidifies into something more genuine.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

It’s more than a little awkward asking the questions Tony needs to know.

He goes to ask am I married but the idea of it makes something balk inside of him, so he settles with, “Do I have a significant other?”

Bucky- which Tony hopes isn’t the guy’s actual name, who names their child Bucky- makes a face at ‘significant other.’ “Uh, no. You used to, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, remember the redhead?”

Tony darts a look over at the woman- Natasha? Natasha- sitting several seats away from them in the car, somehow sure the answer is going to be ‘not her.’

“Other redhead,” Bucky says. “Pepper.”

“The one with Rhodey?”

“That’s the one.” Bucky rubs his flesh hand over the back of his neck. “Yeah, you two were serious, apparently.”

“What happened?”

Bucky’s mouth moves wordlessly for a moment. “Y’know, I wasn’t actually around for this, how’s about-”

“She didn’t want to be the thing that stopped you from being Iron Man,” Natasha said, cutting him off.

Tony nods. “Right. Because I’m a superhero.”

Natasha’s lips quirk at the incredulity in Tony’s tone. “You get used to it.”

Tony doubts it. He’s watched videos on his phone during the first half of the ride back to the Tower- where they all lived together, apparently, like some sort of superhero sorority- and he can’t imagine anybody putting on a metal suit and soaring through the skies at however many miles an hour.

“And a billionaire,” Tony says. “See, that one feels more real than a superhero. I don’t feel like a superhero.”

Everyone in the car trades a look at that, which Tony deliberately doesn’t interpret.

Tony sits back and watches New York blur past. SHIELD- some government agency they don’t work for, but also don’t not work for- has estimated that it’ll take around a week to reverse engineer the device that made Tony like this.

One of the agents had mentioned that it might take less time if Tony himself was working on it.

“Ironic, huh,” the agent had continued, and then had coughed and made a quick exit when the only response he had gotten was stony glares.

Tony gets JARVIS- an AI that Tony invented, which Tony suspects isn’t the whole story- to direct him to his bedroom when they reach the Tower. He stands in the middle of it for a good thirty seconds before sighing.

“JARVIS.”

“Sir?”

“Is this-” Tony struggles to find the words that fit. “Do I spend time here?”

“Not often, Sir.”

“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Tony blows out a breath. This room feels like his even less than the lounge did. “Where do I spend most of my time in the Tower?”

“You divide your time in many places, Sir.” A pause, then: “But if I were to suggest a place where you felt most at home, Sir, I would suggest your workshop.”

Tony feels a smile twitch at the edges of his mouth. “Thanks, J. Do I call you J?”

“You do, Sir.”

“Great. Lead me to the workshop, then.”

JARVIS talks him through an elevator ride and several flights of stairs before Tony walks through the sliding glass doors of his workshop.

He takes a deep breath. Honey, I’m home, he thinks, looking around at the couch he supposes he sleeps on, judging by the blanket and makeshift pillow.

The workshop bench is cluttered with metal, and there are several Iron Man suits in various stages of deconstruction to the left of the workshop, and Tony remembers none of it but feels more at home than he had standing in front of his own bed.

“Figured you’d find your way down here.”

Tony spins to see Rhodey walking through the sliding doors. “Hi,” he says, feeling awkward. What do you say to your supposed best friend who you trust with your life but have no memories of?

He’s jerked out of his head when something metal bumps into his back. “Wh- oh shit what is that,” Tony says when he turns, caught somewhere between curiosity and an odd mix of pride and affection Tony assumes is left over from his nonexistant memories.

A robot tilts its camera up at him inquisitively and makes a high beeping noise. Said beeping noise turns into a metallic purr when Tony raises a hand and strokes it down one side of the camera.

“Hey, bud,” Tony says quietly. He looks over his shoulder at Rhodey. “I made him, yeah?”

Rhodey watches with folded arms and a grin. “Yeah, man, that’s Dummy.”

“Dummy?”

The robot beeps in recognition and bumps its camera into Tony’s hand. “Dummy,” Tony repeats fondly. “Suits you, you big lug. I bet you mess up all my experiments.”

He gives Dummy one last stroke before turning to face Rhodey. “So! This is weird.”

“We’ve had weirder,” Rhodey assures him. He approaches Tony and gives him a one-handed clap on the shoulder that turns into a squeeze. “We’ll have your memories back soon, Tones.”

“Mm,” says Tony, craning his head to look around the workshop as an excuse not to meet Rhodey’s too-earnest eyes. He waits until Rhodey’s hand has dropped from his shoulder before heading over to the workbench. “What was I working on before I got zapped?”

“The suit, along with a hundred other things.”

Tony runs his fingers along the schematics that sit pinned under bits of metal on the bench. “I’m a busy guy, huh?”

“Busy would be an understatement.”

Tony makes a noise of agreement before starting to open thin drawers that sit under the bench. The first is filled with various screws, the second is a whiskey bottle, and the third one down-

Tony pauses before his fingers lower to skim over the paper, which is thick and creamy and Tony automatically knows isn’t his. Neither, he knows, are the drawings: some are doodles, others are sketches or inked outlines that fill the page. There are the sketches, some of them inked and some of them left in pencil: pigeons on a balcony, the Tower against a sunset, a lounge littered with empty takeout cartons and sleeping figures that Tony half-recognizes.

Hidden in the bottom of the drawer are drawings that get Tony’s breath hitching without knowing why. It’s page after page of him again: cartoon drawings of Tony fixing the suit, of Iron Man looping around the Tower, of Tony asleep against the workbench with his goggles falling off his face. And other drawings, drawings real enough they look like photographs: Tony reaching for a coffee mug, Tony in mid-argument on the couch with Bruce, Tony bending over his workshop bench with furrowed brows.

Even though most of them picture Tony in states of disarray, the drawings make Tony look- beautiful, almost. Like he belonged in a gallery.

“Who-” Tony finds he needs to clear his throat to make his voice stable again. He turns to Rhodey with the papers in his hands. “Who drew these?”

Rhodey looks confused for a second, but after a few steps closer he stops. “Ah.”

“What?”

Rhodey takes one of them out of his hands. It’s of Tony in front of cameras, his suit crisp and his smile flashy. It had been one of the last drawings in the pile, and it makes Tony shift uncomfortably- it’s the smile, he thinks. Something about the soft lines of it make Tony look like he wants to be anywhere but there.

“Steve draws in his free time,” Rhodey says, taking one last look before handing the paper back.

Tony waits. When Rhodey doesn’t continue, he says, “Does everyone have a drawer full of Steve’s art hobby?”

Rhodey smiles. “Nah. Just you.”

Tony opens his mouth again, but can’t think of anything to say.

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t take long before Tony starts figuring out what he was in the middle of making before he lost his memory. The answer, it turns out, is a godawful number of things- Tony has around a hundred projects that are in varying stages of finished. There are less Avenger-related things than Tony would have thought. Instead, a good number of them revolve around Stark Industries.

Tony eyes the schematics of the green energy machine that is apparently being shipped off to China sometime in the next six months. Then he flicks away the holographic screen, leaving a prototype for solar powered cars that aren’t crap.

For a moment, there’s a thread of anxiety that beads up his spine and into his brain.

How the hell do I deal with this much responsibility, Tony thinks. It a thought that gets met with weary, automatic resignation.

Tony minimizes the SI screens and instead brings up a file and works his way through the numerous subsections- Clint’s gear, Clint’s armour, Clint’s handguards, the new fabric Tony’s trying to develop that will give him better grip.

Tony squints at it. He’s made a series of jumbled notes that seem all kinds of unintelligible.

A voice makes him jump. “Captain Rogers-”

“Ffffuck-”

“-is here, Sir,” JARVIS finishes over Tony’s curse.

Tony turns around to see Steve watching him from the doorway with a tray in his hands.

“The disembodied voice from the ceiling takes some time getting used to,” Steve says, and it’s tinged with just enough badly-concealed sadness that Tony assumes that’s a line Tony had once given to Steve.

“I brought you food,” Steve continues, and waits for Tony to nod his consent before Steve walks over and places it on the workshop bench next to him.

Tony gives it a once-over. There’s a sandwich that looks like it has meat in it, along with a banana and carrot sticks with hummus. Tony feels an involuntary wash of affection towards the eggcup filled with hummus- on the eggcup, there’s a depiction of each of the Avengers with dots for eyes and big black brackets for smiles.

“Clint puts his dips in eggcups instead of bowls for some reason,” Steve explains, probably because Tony’s grinning at the eggcup like an idiot. “It kind of stuck.”

Tony tries to find a response. When nothing comes, he tries: “Good ol’ Clint.”

As soon as he says it, Tony becomes aware of how it sounds like he’s trying too hard. Which he is, but- even down here, in the place he feels most at home, Tony gets the feeling he doesn’t like people seeing anything particularly genuine from him.

Steve’s shoulders shift as he flexes them back and forth. “This must be strange for you.”

“Not just for me,” Tony says, all too aware of how Steve keeps reigning in the intense look in his eyes, as if he thinks Tony will think it’s too much.

He clears his throat. “Thanks for the food,” he tries. “Uh, do you do this a lot? Make sure I eat?”

Steve nods. “You’re down here a lot and you lose track of time. It’s the least I can- we can do, as your teammates.”

“The others do it too?”

“Yeah- Pepper told us we might need to, she’s been leaving food down here for years.”

Tony squints at the phrasing and Steve hurries to explain, “Sometimes you eat things without noticing, if you’re deep enough in your inventing. She started out leaving fruit on your workbench and you’d eat it without noticing.”

“How long did it take me to figure that out?”

“About three years.”

“Jesus.”

Steve smiles. “You can get pretty deep into it when you’re in your workshop, Tony.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that.” Tony flicks a screen away and watches the curve of Steve’s smile, automatically calculating the curve of it. He doesn’t think most people do that- calculate things on the fly, much less the smiles of their friends, but he’s getting the feeling that being as smart as he apparently is comes with side effects. Like, say, knowing the exact width of a friend’s shoulders, or the span of his hips.

Well, Tony thinks. Shit.

The revelation doesn’t feel like one- learning he’s in love with Steve is more like learning his own name again. On the tail end of the revelation is a tired sadness that Tony accepts automatically before he thinks wait, why.

The sadness is obvious: he doesn’t love me back.

Tony’s first thought is that he must have evidence- maybe he’s been rejected by Steve before. But with the evidence Tony has in front of him right now, the sadness feels out of place.

Tony takes in the tight lines of Steve’s shoulders, the guarded look in his eyes like it pains him to see Tony regard him without knowing him.

He thinks back to the drawings that are hidden about a foot to his left, the drawings that were drawn with obvious care, drawings of Tony a hundred times over.

At a loss of what else to do, Tony picks up a carrot stick and pops it into his mouth. He takes a bracing breath. “Sorry, I got the low-down from everyone on the way over- we’re… friends, right? Close friends, I mean. Like Rhodey and Pepper.”

Steve’s smile twists before it rights itself. “We’re close friends. You’re close with everyone on the team.”

“But we’re…” Tony wets his lips. “We’re, uh, close? Like, we have a-”

The words ‘special bond’ don’t make it out of Tony’s mouth as he realizes how stupid they sound. Instead he continues waving his hand until Steve puts him out of his misery, sounding just as lost as Tony.

“We’re close friends.”

“Cool, right.” Tony grabs another carrot stick and dips it into the eggcup. He has no idea how to phrase ‘I think I have deep feelings for you, are we dating on the down-low, you seem as intense about me as I do about you.’

Instead he blurts, “Are we together? Secretly? Bucky said I didn’t have anyone, but I just thought I’d, uh, check.”

Steve makes a noise low in his throat as his eyebrows climb his forehead. “Are we- no,” he says, and his throat clicks. “No, we- why would you think that?”

Shit, Tony thinks again, backpeddling. “Sorry, I was- checking. Sorry. It, we- we seem very fond of each other? You seem- I don’t know. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

Steve says, “Right,” quietly, and Tony feels another wash of sadness that is definitely leftover from when he had memories.

See? He doesn’t-

Tony cuts the thought off. He’s not canning the notion that Tony- before- had evidence that Steve doesn’t feel the same way, but god. The way Steve’s looking at him now, equal parts sad and hopeful, smiling but in a forced way that looks like it hurts.

“Right,” Steve repeats, more solid this time. His shoulders come down. “Uh, they say that if you’re working on things down here, you might want to take a look at the ray gun that was used to wipe your memories.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Tony says. “Hell, if I can figure all this out, I’m sure I can do something about the… ray gun. God. Are our lives always this weird?”

Steve doesn’t grin, but it’s close. “Pretty much, yeah.”

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

“Hey, you good?”

Tony drops his hand from where it had been pressing under his shirt against the arc reactor. That had been an uncomfortable experience- hours ago, when the team had coaxed him out of the workshop he had realized that the tight feeling in his chest wasn’t going away. He had put a hand to his chest to check and promptly choked on his tongue when he realized that the thing covering skin on his chest was actually in his chest.

“I’m fine,” Tony says, and tries not to picture the x-ray he had found in the files in his workshop when he went back down to research it: the reactor takes over space that was once occupied by his lungs, some of which had to be removed for the device to work. Tony imagines learning that once would’ve been traumatizing. Learning it again had been just as fun.

Bucky lingers in the doorway, but then he’s padding over in bare feet, setting a mostly-empty mug of coffee in front of him as he sits down with Tony at the table. “Yeah? ‘Cause you’re sitting in the kitchen at 3 in the morning.”

“Says the guy drinking coffee.”

“Shuddup,” Bucky tells him, and takes a sip. He shifts his metal shoulder around in a small circle. “Hope you get your brain back soon. My arm’s gunning for a tune-up.”

“I have my brain,” Tony protests, honing in on the arm. Schematics appear in imaginary holograms at the corner of his gaze.

Tony blinks when Bucky waves said arm in his direction. “Hey, quit deconstructing it in your head. Creeps me out.” He takes another sip, then pauses. “Seriously. You good?”

“I have a day’s worth of memories, what’s there to be not good about?”

Bucky motions down towards the arc reactor with his mug.

Tony reaches for it, then stops himself, flattening his hand on the table. “It wasn’t great to find out a third of my chest is filled with metal. I’m dealing with it.”

Bucky doesn’t reply to that. Instead he stands and goes over to the cupboard, rummaging inside it until he resurfaces with a box of cereal that he shakes at Tony questioningly.

Tony sighs. He isn’t going to sleep anytime soon. “Sure.”

They munch their way silently through half a bowl of cereal each before Bucky says, “Heard they’re letting you take a look at the machine that messed with your memory.”

“They’re sending me what they have so far. I’m going in to look at it tomorrow.” Tony scrapes the side of his bowl with his spoon and stops when Bucky glares at him in response to the noise.

Tony manages three more slow bites before he says it. “Am I in love with Steve?”

This time Bucky glances up at him. “Shit. You really want to get into this?”

“I’m guessing that’s a yes.”

Bucky makes a reluctant noise. “Hey, I’m not saying anything.”

“You don’t have to.” Tony looks down into his bowl. When Bucky speaks, he looks up.

“How’d you figure that?”

“What, that I-” Tony stops. “Uh. I don’t know. I can still- I still know things, I just don’t have any context. I trust Rhodey, I just don’t know how we met-”

“You puked on his feet.”

“Really? Jesus.”

“Yeah, he puts up with a lot.” Bucky grins. “Continue.”

“I know things,” Tony tries. “I know- maths, and how to walk. Things deep down in me.”

He goes silent. The rest of it goes unsaid, but Bucky nods slowly.

“Anyway,” Tony says. “I- yeah. Thought I’d ask if it’s an open secret.”

“Steve doesn’t know,” Bucky says hastily.

“But everyone else does.”

“…Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Tony mutters. He breathes in through his nose. “Okay, fine. So, that’s- Steve and I aren’t together, right?”

“Right.”

“So Steve doesn’t feel the same way?”

Bucky stares at him. “I’m… not getting involved in this, Tony. You don’t even have your memories.”

“No, I’m not trying to- I’m just asking. Because my gut reaction was that of course Steve doesn’t feel the same way, but something tells me I’m biased. I mean, he’s so concerned about me, and he looks at me like-”

The words gutter in his throat. He tries again: “And then there are those drawings-”

“Dra-” Bucky’s eyebrows shoot upwards. “Steve showed you those?”

Tony waits. When Bucky doesn’t elaborate, he says, “He gave them to me, yeah. Does he not show people his drawings?”

“Yeah, he shows you guys his drawings, but not-” Bucky stops to choke slightly on a spoonful of cereal. He hacks it down, then rasps, “Wait, what drawings did he show you?”

Tony tells him about the sketches of pigeons, the cartoon doodles of Iron Man, the ink outlines of Tony in his workshop.

As Tony talks, Bucky’s shoulders go from up to his ears back to their usual place. “Ohhh.”

“What drawings did you think I was talking about?”

Bucky’s lips twitch. “Nevermind. Like I said, I’m not getting involved.”

“Come on.”

Bucky lifts his mug again and makes a noise into it. “Nope. You’re not you right now.”

“I’m me! I just don’t have-”

“Any context for anything,” Bucky supplies. “Look, man, I’m not the one you should be talking to. And you shouldn’t talk to the guy you should be talking to until your memories go back to normal.”

“But-”

Tony clams up when Bruce walks in, hair rumpled and in mid-yawn. He blinks blearily at the two of them sitting around the table. “It’s 3 in the morning.”

Bucky says, “So,” and Tony shrugs.

Bruce squints at them both, then down at Bucky’s mug. “There’s coffee?”

“Mm,” Bucky says around a mouthful, waving in the direction of the expresso machine, which Bruce makes a beeline for.

Tony watches them as Bruce sits down and clinks his mug against Bucky’s. It feels like déjà vu to the point that Tony is certain this is far from the first time they’ve done this, plus or minus a few people. It’s comfortable, and a warm kind of contentment settles in Tony’s stomach and stays there.

It feels- not unfamiliar, but tentative. As if Tony’s waiting for it to be taken away.

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

Tony spends most of his time working on deconstructing the ray gun, but the possibility of Steve loving him burns at the back of his mind.

He figures he can work it out once he gets his memories back, but it’s hard to avoid when Steve keeps looking at him like that.

On the fourth day, he runs into Natasha as he’s on his way to refuel with coffee.

“Hi,” he says when she casually grabs his shirt to stop him.

“Hello,” she replies. “Have you sparred this week?”

“Do I usually?”

“Yes. Twice a week.”

“Huh. No, I haven’t.”

“Would you like to?”

Tony considers. He hasn’t been allowed to put on the Iron Man suit yet, in case of accidental damage to himself or others, but maybe muscle memory works differently. “Do I know how to fight?”

“Yes. Surprisingly well.”

Tony watches her. He can’t get a read on her, but he trusts her as well as any of the others, so he supposes she must be okay. “Nothing on you, though.”

She’s been fighting a smile this whole time, but now her lips spread to reveal her teeth. “No,” she agrees. “But very few people are as good as I am.”

An hour later, Tony is bracing his head against his knees as he sits against the wall of the gym. “God, you must have athletic sex.”

“No comment,” she says from where she’s sliding down the wall to sit beside him. She’s covered in a fine sheen of sweat, like Tony, but unlike Tony, she is clear of bruises apart from the one time Tony managed to catch her cheek with a punch. “You’re good for someone who can’t remember all those lessons we gave you.”

“Yeah. Well.” Tony rubs his hands against his sweatpant-covered shins. “I remember a lot for a guy with no memory, apparently.”

She hums. “How’s the ray gun coming? Figured out how to reverse it yet?”

Tony thinks about being sarcastic but decides against it on the grounds of being exhausted and sore. “Not yet. I give it a few more days. Those SHIELD techs must be thanking their lucky goddamn stars I’m still a genius even without my memory; if it was up to them I wouldn’t be getting my memory back for a month.”

Natasha smiles at him. “It’ll be good to have you back.”

“I’m right here.”

“You are,” she says after a moment. “But if I made an inside joke about the taco stand we went to in March, you wouldn’t laugh. Or you would, but you wouldn’t know why you found it funny.”

Tony watches her sudden faraway gaze and thinks back to what he’d found in her file: she’d been programmed by the KGB and then reprogrammed several times over as she continued to break through it.  

“How are you finding all of this,” she asks.

“It’s…” Tony trails off and tries again. “It hasn’t been a bad few days. Confusing, sure. But not a bad week.”

She nods. “Good.”

But she’s still a hundred miles away knee-deep in snow and blood, so Tony says, “Hey, what do I usually do? Other than spend time in the workshop. What does Tony Stark’s normal week look like?”

She considers this. “It varies. You have a lot to do. Some weeks you’re away on business. Others you lounge around in your sweatpants playing video games with everyone and fighting the odd villain.”

Tony attempts to picture it, but the faces are jumbled. “What do I do with people?”

“What?”

“I mean, do I do certain things with certain people? I know I spend time with Bruce in his lab and we talk about science, but-”

Natasha talks over him. “You play video games with Clint, mostly. You spar with me, or we drink tea together. You mostly spend time with Bucky in a group, but you’ve started talking alone together these past few months. With Thor, you- well, you mostly talk with Thor, about nothing in particular. He’s good like that. I think you two spend a lot of time discussing the scientific differences between Migard and Asgard. And Steve…”

“And Steve,” Tony prompts when she trails off.

She eyes him, but continues. “You spend a lot of time with him nowadays.”

“Doing what?”

“Some sparring. He goes too gentle on you, though, and it pisses you off. He often comes down to the workshop to draw, or you drop by with a tablet and work while he paints in his studio. Sometimes you play basketball together. When we do group things, you often sit next to each other.”

Tony tries desperately to picture it, but it slips away.

Natasha notices. Tony has the feeling she notices most things. “We also do many things as a group.”

Tony latches onto it. “Like what?”

“Movie nights every week.” Natasha’s lips quirk into a smile. “We drink together sometimes, on bad nights when none of us can sleep. We go out to eat a lot.”

“That sounds… nice.”

“It is,” Natasha allows. She gathers up her knees so she has her arms around them. It makes her look younger. Tony finds himself trying to remember how old her file said she was. Mid-twenties, at most.

“Very few of us have ever had a real family,” she continues. “So yes. It’s nice.”

They sit there in silence until Tony has his breathing back under control. When he’s no longer wheezing, he says, “So Steve and I spend a lot of time together?”

Another smile twitches across her face. “Bucky told me you’ve been asking around. I’m not getting involved.”

“Tasha-”

“Don’t Tasha me, Stark.”

“Ms. Romanoff.”

She looks over at him, bumps their shoulders together. “Ask me when you have your memories back.”

Tony sighs. “I’m holding you to that.”

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

“JARVIS told me you’ve been getting him to give you updates about me.”

Steve swears, and both he and Tony have to jump back when Steve drops the knife he had been using to dice an onion.

The knife clatters to the floor a safe distance away from their feet.

“Sorry,” Tony says. “I thought, with the superhearing, you’d hear my footsteps-”

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Steve admits, and bends to pick up the knife. He moves towards the sink and runs hot water over the blade, then dries it on a dishtowel. “Uh. Yeah, I did do that. I want to know you’re doing okay.”

Tony leans on the counter next to him, arms folded as Steve resumes chopping his onion. “You could ask.”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” Steve says. His eyes are on the chopping board until he chances a glance over at Tony. “I can stop asking JARVIS if-”

“No, it’s fine. Just. Y’know. You can ask me.”

Steve pauses, knife halting halfway through the onion. “You don’t always tell the truth when it comes to your wellbeing.”

“Hypocrite.”

It trips off his tongue before he realizes he’s saying it, and Steve’s eyes widen.

“Sorry,” Tony says. “Instinct.”

“Right,” Steve says, the hope in his eyes fading. He goes back to chopping his onion.

Tony stands back and watches. “Making an omelette?”

“Yeah.” Steve moves on to chopping up a capsicum. “Want some?”

“Sure.” Tony watches the sure movements of Steve putting the chopped vegetables into a bowl and whisking them with a couple of eggs. As Steve is pouring the mixture into the pan, Tony says, “Hey, so I was thinking that after we eat, you could come and draw in my workshop. If you wanted.”

Steve looks up, then back at the bowl as he continues to scrape it out with a spatula until there’s no egg nor vegetable left in it. “Okay,” he says, with a smile that Tony thinks is meant to be reassuring.

“You look like you need it,” Tony offers when Steve doesn’t press him.

Steve glances back at him as he goes to grab a spatula. “Okay,” he says again as he pokes around the fast-cooking sides of the omelette.

Tony chews the inside of his cheek. “I might, too. Need it, that is. I mean, I don’t remember it, but the idea is… comforting?”

“…O…kay,” Steve says, slower than ever. He blinks at Tony long enough that Tony has to point out that the omelette is starting to burn.

Despite the patchy burnt bits on one side, Tony enjoys his omelette. Steve doesn’t seem to taste anything, too busy darting glances at Tony out of the corner of his eye.

This doesn’t stop when they go down to the workshop. Whenever Tony looks over, Steve hastily wrenches his gaze back down to his notebook.

The fifth time Tony looks over, Tony says, “What?”

“What what,” Steve says, eyes back on the paper.

Tony bites back a smile. “You keep looking at me.”

Steve is silent long enough that Tony has gone back to the ray gun schematics before Steve is saying, “You’re still so… you. Even without your memories.”

Tony waits. When Steve doesn’t continue, he says, “Well, yeah. I’m still me. Just memory-less. Everything else is still in there.”

“Just-” Steve gestures with his pencil. “Even without them- you’re still Tony. The things you do, the things you say. I’m- I’m just glad, is all. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t you anymore. If I had to look at you everyday and you weren’t-”

He stops. There’s a small dent between his brows that Tony wants to smooth out with his fingers.

Then it clicks- “Yeah. Going through that with Bucky must’ve been hard.”

“It was,” Steve says. “I wouldn’t want to go through it again. Not with anyone. I don’t think I could bear it.”

He looks like he’s about to say something else, but then he gives a tight, barely-there nod before he’s sketching again.

Tony watches him. He’s actually sketching now, not just staring at Tony while Tony’s not looking and then pretending to sketch when Tony looks his way.

I think you might love me, Tony thinks. As if on cue, Steve glances up towards him, and Tony startles like a current of lightning had shot up his spine.

“What? Get to work, Shellhead.”

Tony snorts and gives him the bird.

Steve grins at him. Tony wants to map out every equation about Steve he’s ever made: the slope of his spine; the dip in between his nose and mouth; the inorexible formula for the blue of his eyes. 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

On day six, they have a movie night.

“Movie night’s not cancelled just ‘cause you knocked your head,” is Bucky’s reasoning when Tony brings it up. “It’s Disney night. I’ve been waiting all month. What,” he says when Tony folds his lips between his teeth to stifle a laugh.

Apparently they’ve spent one night a month for a year making their way through Disney movies. They’re now up to the more recent ones, which is how Tony finds himself watching Frozen while he’s wedged between a Norse god and a supersoldier.

He’s also stuck being right next to the popcorn bowl. This means he has to put up with Clint leaning over for a handful of popcorn every five seconds.

“Sorry,” Clint says when he accidentally drops popcorn into Tony’s lap for the third time that night. He sits back and stuffs the whole handful into his mouth. “God, I can’t wait for Moana.”

Tony wrinkles his nose. “You know, if you ate the popcorn one at a time you wouldn’t have to come back for more so much.”

“’S the only way to eat popcorn,” Clint says, leaning over for another handful.

Tony leans back into the couch so Clint doesn’t press too much into him. “It’s really not. Look, Thor’s eating them like a normal person and he’s not even a person! Are you?”

Thor tilts his head. “That very much depends on your definition of personhood. I consider myself a person.”

Tony opens his mouth to reply, only to be cut off by Clint announcing, “The bowl’s empty.”

“Gee, I wonder why,” Bruce deadpans.

Natasha flicks a piece of popcorn at Clint’s head, which he tries and fails to snap out of midair.

“I’ll get us a new one,” Steve announces. He stands, leaning across Tony for the bowl. “Clint, you want your own bowl?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

Tony stands. “I’m getting ice cream. Anyone want?”

“What do we have,” Natasha asks, eyes on the screen where Elsa is in mid-song and mid-motion of building a castle out of ice.

“I don’t know,” Tony says, at the same time Bucky says, “Chocolate fudge.”

Natasha hums. “Is that the one with the tiny bits of chocolate fudge?”

“Strangely enough, yeah.”

“I could go for some chocolate fudge ice cream, thank you, Tony.”

Tony is still smiling when he follows Steve into the kitchen, who is now standing in front of the microwave watching the popcorn bag rotate.

“You look happy,” Steve says.

You look pretty happy yourself, Tony doesn’t say. “Our friends are idiots,” he says instead.

Steve grins. “Yeah, but they’re our idiots.”

“Damn straight.”

Tony is rummaging in the freezer when he hears Steve’s intake of breath. It sounds like he’s preparing to say something, but when nothing comes, Tony says, “What?”

“Nothing,” Steve says after a moment.

Tony finds the ice cream container and closes the freezer door. He sets the ice cream down on the counter and goes looking for bowls, glancing over his shoulder at Steve as he does. “Doesn’t look like nothing.”

“No, really, it was just-” Steve leans against the bench as the popcorn begins to pop in the microwave bag. “It was nothing. I was going to bring up something you said a while back. It’s fine.”

Tony starts spooning ice cream into bowls: one for him, another for Natasha. “What’d I say? I bet it was witty.”

“You were concussed and had more salsa in your beard than hair.”

“Oh, I have to hear this.”

“Not much to tell. You got a concussion and insisted we order burritos.”

It’s not exactly a sad story, but a mournful look creeps into Steve’s expression all the same. Tony sticks the ice cream scoop into the container and leaves it there so he can go over and stand in front of Steve, making him meet Tony’s eyes.

“Hey. I’ll get that memory back soon. I’ll get them all back. Well, not all of them, I don’t have a photographic memory, but I’ll get the normal amount of memories back, Steve.”

“I know,” Steve says. He folds his arms. “I know you will.”

Tony moves closer so Steve will stop trying to avoid his gaze. “Might want to act like it.”

Steve sighs. “I just… I miss you. Which is stupid. Hell, you’re right here.”

I miss you. Soft and honest and tearing Tony’s damaged heartstrings. “I am,” he hears himself say, and he steps even closer. “I’m right here, Steve, c’mon, don’t worry about it.”

Steve inhales as he looks down at him, and Tony realizes all at once how close he is, just how much space he’s removed between them- Tony is all but standing between Steve’s legs. He can count Steve’s fair eyelashes; the faint-but-there freckles that only appear in the hottest weeks of summer and vanish for the rest of the year.

Tony doesn’t remember learning that, doesn’t remember meeting Steve or falling for him or anything before four days ago, but loving Steve sits deep in his body like they’ve been there ever since he had skin.

“Tony,” Steve says. It’s hardly a breath; as much there as his faint freckles.

The microwave dings. Neither of them move.

Tony doesn’t speak. If he leaned in, he could press his mouth to Steve’s cheek, kiss his chin, his lips-

Steve says his name again, and this time it’s firmer and is followed by, “Don’t.”

Shit, Tony thinks, vague and cloudy. Still, he pulls back. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s not-” Steve rubs a hand down his own face. “We aren’t like that.”

“Not like what?”

“Not… we aren’t together.”

Tony shifts his jaw from side to side. “Maybe we should be.”

Steve’s has to close his eyes for a moment before opening them again. “You don’t know what you’re saying. You usually-”

“I usually what?” Tony would bet that Steve has looked less pained while someone set one of his bones.

Steve takes a shaky breath and squares his shoulders. Flatly, he says, “When you have your memories back, you’ll understand. You don’t actually want this, this is just-”

“Just what, Steve?”

“You don’t know me. When you know me again, you’ll…”

Steve trails off. He turns his face away.

Tony stares at him.

Finally, Steve moves, stepping around Tony to open the microwave. “Your ice cream’s melting.”

When Tony steps back into the lounge, Steve is sitting on the floor away from Tony’s spot on the couch.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

“I need to talk to you about Steve.”

Bucky makes a noise around his granola before swallowing his mouthful. “No.”

Tony drags his bowl away from him.

Bucky stares up at him, incredulous. “Do you even know how many ways I could kill you with my hands? Onehand. And not even my metal hand.”

“I know, you’re lethal, I get it.” 

Bucky cuts off Tony’s next question by sighing. “Shit, I’m sorry." 

"No, you didn’t mean it." 

"I shouldn’t have-" 

"I know you wouldn’t actually kill me, Barnes. God.” Tony pauses in his next question to ask another. “Did you make this yourself?”

Bucky goes back to glowering. “Maybe.”

“You make your own granola?”

Bucky grabs his bowl back. “It’s easy. You just mix up some honey and rolled oats, cinnamon if you’re feelin’ fancy, chop up some nuts-”

“Oh my god I’ll make fun of you when I get my memories back shut up we’re talking about me and Steve now,” Tony says in a rush.

Bucky shakes his head. “Can’t make me. You’re both adults, talk it out with him.”

“I just-” Tony hisses a breath through his teeth. “I need to know if there’s some big, important, valid reason we’re not together, because if there’s- if we’re secretly related or he’s into animals or- or something that matters, I’ll leave it alone! But if we’re genuinely just two fucking idiots with low self esteem, I’m putting the both of us out of our fucking misery! Now tell me why the fuck I’m not with Steve!”

Bucky throws up his hands. “You guys have issues, I don’t know! Fuck! Talk to Steve, I don’t do this sort of crap, I’ve only just started talking to my own therapist, like hell I’m dealing with everyone else’s issues-”

“So we’re just idiots?”

“Yes! Fuck off! Leave me and my granola alone!”

Tony pauses, hands flat on the table as Bucky curls an arm around his bowl. “I can’t believe you make your own granola. Who are you? Do you drink wheatgrass shots now?”

Bucky steels his jaw. “Fuck you and your fucking wheatgrass.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” Tony says, and heads down to his workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

Tony decides to do it in his workshop. It’s where Tony is himself, more than anywhere else in the world, and he thinks he’s going to need that for this conversation.

It doesn’t take long for Steve to show up, giving Tony a wary look as he steps inside the glass doors. “Hi. JARVIS said you wanted to see me?”

Tony nods, standing. “The ray gun’s almost finished. Or, the ray gun was finished days ago, but now we can reverse the effects.”

That gets Steve perking up. “Really? That’s great, Tony!”

“Yeah, I’m all a-quiver. Anyway, they’re running trials now so it doesn’t accidentally kill me or put me in a coma when they use it on me. I’m going in tomorrow morning.”

Steve’s beam dims slightly. “Are you… okay? You seem-”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m good. I just, uh.” Tony clears his throat. “I wanted to say a couple of things before I get my memory back, because I think if I get it back I’m going to convince myself I’m delusional. Firstly, you have feelings for me.”

Steve’s smile gutters and dies. “Tony-”

“No, shut up, Tony time.” Tony moves towards Steve, who is stiff and pale as Tony steps closer. “Honestly, Rogers- Steve- I have no goddamn clue how I didn’t notice it before. Well, I do, but my reason for it is sad and kind of pathetic.”

“Tony, I-” Steve looks like he’s cycling through layer upon layer of regret, fear, resentment, all directed inwards. It continues even when Tony gets close enough to lie a hand on Steve’s face.

“This isn’t what you want,” Steve starts, and angles his face away from Tony’s hand.

Tony stops him. “Secondly, it’s mutual. I have no memories before a week ago, so all I am is base knowledge. Maths, walking, talking- trusting Rhodey, hating hospitals. Things so deep in me I wouldn’t know where to begin cutting them out.”

This time, Steve lets Tony touch his face; stroke a thumb along his cheek. Under Tony’s hand, Steve is part hope and part denial.

Tony brushes the corner of Steve’s mouth with the blade of his thumb. “Loving you turns out to be one of those things.”

For a moment, Steve’s face collapses into wonder. But then the walls start to come up again, all the things Tony knows Steve has told himself, some of them surely overlapping with the things Tony always told himself-

“But you won’t believe me until my memory’s back, right,” Tony finishes.

Steve’s tongue darts out to wet his lips. “You’d do the same.”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “I would.”

He allows himself one last second of touching Steve’s face before he drops his hand. He heaves a sigh. “Okay, no, this won’t stand. I’m going in for my memory fix now. JARVIS, call SHIELD. Steve, chop chop.”

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Consciousness comes back in stages.

First there’s the blunt awareness of lying in a bed- a hospital bed, fuck, shit, Tony hasn’t woken up in  a hospital bed for months, at least six, that was a record since Avenging became a thing, he’s going to have to reset the scoreboard again.

“Mrrrghfuck,” Tony manages. His tongue is slow and thick in his mouth.

There’s a choked laugh to his left, along with a voice saying, “Well, it sounds like he’s okay.”

Tony tilts his face towards it and cracks his eyes open. “Mrhh,” he says, and sits up to wipe the crusted sleep from his eyes. “Ugh. How long was I out and what happened.”

“We fixed your brain, dude,” Clint says from where he’s draped over two hospital chairs and eating something that definitely came from a vending machine.

“Touch wood,” Bruce tells him. “Tony, how do you feel?”

“I feel-” Tony takes a moment to take stock. “I feel- fine? Why am I in hospital if I’m fine? I’m- I’m not even sleep deprived, I’m not even a little hungover, and I’m not wounded-”

He starts feeling over his hospital-gown-clad body for anything to contradict that statement. “I’m not on painkillers- why am I so groggy- who were we fighting? Were we fighting?”

He turns to Steve, who is watching him with an odd expression. “My brain got fixed? What was wrong with it?”

Steve shifts in his seat. His clothes look rumpled. “Tony, do you remember much about this last week?”

“Last week? What-” Tony stills as he muddles through the fog of his brain, a fog that quickly clears and pummels him with a week’s worth of memories during which he remembered nothing.

He thinks he makes a noise. It’s nonsensical and mostly caught in his throat. Then he’s gathering what’s left of his wits and saying, “Oh,” which is at least more elegant than the previous sound.

Steve isn’t quite smiling. “Oh,” he agrees, all soft, vulnerable eyes.

Tony stares. He can’t seem to stop rewinding the memories over in his head, the sensation of knowing Steve loved him- loves him- is enough to stick his tongue to the roof of his mouth as he continues to stare helplessly at Steve.

“Is-” Tony swallows. “Was that a good ‘oh?’”

Steve hesitates. “Was yours?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” says a voice from the doorway.

Tony looks up to see Bucky watching them looking severely exasperated. “Now? Right now? You can’t even wait until we get back to the Tower? You’re in a hospital surrounded by your friends, save the confessing for home. C’mon, is Tones allowed to leave or what? Tony, is your brain-”

“It’s back to how it used to be,” Tony says. “Everything’s in its place.”

“Great. Let’s go. Nurse!”

He hollers the last word out the door as he presumably goes to find someone to check Tony out.

Tony watches him leave, still dazed. He doesn’t jump when a hand touches his, but it’s a close thing.

“It was a good ‘oh,’” Steve tells him.

Tony feels a dopey grin slide up his face. “Yeah? Good, so was mine.”

“Good,” Steve says quietly. His mouth moves wordlessly before he settles with, “That’s- good, then. Okay.”

“Okay,” Tony repeats. Then, trying to reign in his smile in order to maintain some magnitude of sensibility: “We should- talk. Later.”

“Later,” Steve agrees. “When we get home.”

Then he presses a kiss to the back of Tony’s hand, which is enough to drag Tony’s dopey grin back in full force and keep it there the whole car ride home.