Tony rolled onto his side and his stomach rolled with him. Then kept rolling. “Ugh.” His head pounded, each throb resetting his thoughts to “ow” so he couldn’t put them together enough to figure out where he was, or why he had drunk so much last night. There was a scratch and a shuffle beside him, then a retch. The retch was followed with a groan, and Tony’s head finally cleared enough that he could look around him. He was in a sauna… or something. Wood panelling and a small space. But it wasn’t hot and he was fully dressed. He looked over at the retcher. “Did Captain America just puke?”
Steve groaned again. “I think I have a hangover. Which is impossible, because I can’t get drunk. What happened last night?” Steve sat up and looked around him. “Where are we?”
“I have no idea. The last thing I remember was midday yesterday. The thing with the Doombots. We must have had a party after?”
Steve frowned. “I guess…”
They were both still for a few minutes, and Tony wondered if Steve was also focusing on convincing his organs to stay where they were instead of bashing around smashing into each other like toddlers in Barbie Dream Cars. Steve braced himself and pushed up to his feet. His skin had a distinctly green, sweaty look. “Hungover suits you, Cap.”
“Ugh. Don’t talk. That makes it worse.”
Tony dropped his voice to a whisper. He felt like shit, but at least he was used to it. Steve hadn’t felt this way in years. “I can be very quiet.”
“The volume wasn’t the problem,” Steve quipped back. He steadied on his feet then staggered across the room to open the door. Tony half expected it to be locked, and clearly so did Steve because he tugged it too hard and it swung back and slammed against the far wall. They both groaned then snapped their hands over their eyes at the harsh glow of sunlight.
Tony was starting to get an unpleasant churn in his stomach and it wasn’t the nausea - it was anxiety. There was something… off about this. Tony had been hungover before, a lot, and he knew what it felt like. This wasn’t quite right. This felt more like the hangover you got when you had crashed your Iron Man suit into the Potomac while fighting giant laser ducks the day before. He was painfully well acquainted with that hangover too.
But it didn’t usually come with memory loss and he really couldn’t remember last night, and it seemed, neither could Steve. And that was the really worrying part. If they found alcohol strong enough and administered it fast enough, through an IV for example, they could get Steve drunk - not that he and Bruce had done the math one late night over Chinese takeout or anything - but he wouldn’t be hungover hours later. With the serum, the worst he would get was a raging headache for about ten minutes after he stopped drinking, then he would be fine. There was something wrong here.
Tony pushed himself to his feet, peeking through two fingers to filter the painful light into something manageable and joined Steve at the doorway. “Where are we?”
Steve waited until Tony leaned against the wood frame and blinked out the door. “I have absolutely no idea.”
Tony’s eyes finally adjusted, accepting the light, and his stomach dropped. They were surrounded by woods and perfectly manicured green lawns. In the distance was a group of buildings with matching cedar slat siding. The room they were in wasn’t wood panelled, it was a wooden shed, tools and supplies stacked against the far wall, rakes and shovels hanging from hooks on the walls. “What the fuck?”
Steve stepped outside and looked around, his fingers on the doorframe, gripping tightly enough to whiten, the only sign that he still wasn't feeling himself. Tony, however, found his headache fading already and his balance steadying out. He still felt like shit, but at a level he could deal with. “We are not in New York,” Steve said flatly.
Tony held up a finger and rummaged through his pockets. JARVIS could trace them easily, and likely fill them in on whatever had happened after the debrief yesterday. His phone wasn’t in his pocket, however. All he had was a single, silver key hanging from a comically large wooden keychain with the number “9” drawn ornately on it.
Tony held it up, scowling. “Do you have your phone?”
Steve patted his pockets. “Nope.”
“What the hell is going on?” Tony growled.
Steve reached out and took the key from Tony’s hand. “This looks like a room key. And this -” he gestured towards the spacious grounds outside the door “- looks like a fancy retreat or something.”
“Maybe we were… having a party here? And somehow we got so drunk we passed out… in a garden shed…”
Steve stared at Tony, unamused. “Yes. I’m sure that’s exactly what happened.”
“Well, good then. Mystery solved.” Tony rolled his eyes. “Can you walk? We’d better go see if we can find the others, maybe get some questions answered.”
“I’m fine.” Steve shoved the key in his own pocket, then set off across the grass, only wobbling a little. They made their way towards the largest collection of buildings - what appeared to be a massive main lodge, with several smaller cabins clustered around it like baby chicks. They passed tennis courts and a huge, curving pool. Wherever this was, it was expensive.
They went through the front doors of the main lodge and found a long front desk with a sleek, black countertop and pristine computer screens in a row. It was like someone had taken the Four Seasons and tucked it into rustic, Vermont-wood-cabin, wrapping paper. A man in a crisp, black suit was standing behind the counter managing to look both busy and completely at their disposal at the same time.
Steve stepped up and shot the man a pained smile.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Stark,” the man said. “How can I help you?” Steve flinched in surprise and shot Tony a look. Why did the man think that Steve was Tony?
“Uh, yes. Good afternoon.” Steve slid Tony another look, and Tony could read it easily. Something weird was going on here, and when weird things were going on, it was usually best to play your cards close to your chest. “I was just wondering... if there were any messages for me?” While Steve stammered through an attempt to get information, Tony trawled the pamphlet display at the end of the counter.
There were no messages, apparently, but the man helpfully informed them that their booking at the spa tomorrow had been confirmed and that breakfast would be served soon. Steve’s skin shifted a few shades greener at the mention of food, and Tony grabbed his sleeve, thanked the man, and dragged Steve away to a quiet corner. He shoved the flyers he’d grabbed into Steve’s hands and hovered nervously while he flipped through them.
“Serenity Oasis,” Steve read out. “Nestled in idyllic, rustic Vermont, our charming, full-service resort is the perfect place to revive, rejuvenate, and reconnect.” Steve’s eyes scanned the page. ‘This is a couples resort.”
“Yes. Yes, it is. Why are we at a couples resort, Steve?” He pulled one of the pages free. “This place is so serious you need a marriage license to even get in. It’s exclusive, it’s expensive, and it caters to people who want to reconnect.”
Steve’s frown deepened as he flipped through pages, then his hands dropped and he stared out the window. “Why can’t I remember what happened? How did we get here so fast - the concierge knows me… but with your name. Ugh.” Steve dropped his face into his hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Tony could see the headache throbbing behind Steve’s eyes because it was alternating beats with his own.
“Well, we’ve got a key. Video game logic says the next step is finding out what it opens.” Looking at the map on the back of one of the brochures, they determined there were two options. The main lodge had three floors of rooms and then there were cabins you could rent scattered around the grounds. Since they were already in the lodge, they tried the rooms here first. But the key didn’t open room number “9” (or “6” just in case it was upside down) so they went back outside and wandered around until they found cabin “9”.
“Wow.” Steve gaze up at the pristine cedar trim. It was two stories with an entire wall of windows, facing the small lake that was nestled against the trees. Tony pushed the key in the lock and it clicked.
“Guess this is it.” He pushed the door open and they both stepped inside. Then stopped. Tony wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but whatever it was, it wasn’t this. The cabin was beautifully modern and cosy-lumberjack all at the same time, but that wasn’t the thing that kept them frozen in the doorway, it was how lived-in it all was.
Tony’s jacket was tossed over the back of a chair that was pulled away from the table. A few pairs of shoes had been kicked off by the door and Tony recognized half of them as his own and half as Steve’s. There was a jar of organic peanut butter on the counter with a knife balanced on top and half a banana folded in its peel next to it. A few dishes were stacked next to the sink, including Tony’s favourite travel coffee mug. A long console table against the wall had a large blue ceramic bowl on it and inside, clearly visible, were both their wallets, their cell phones, Tony’s car keys and a few receipts.
“I -” Steve cut himself off then stepped into the cabin. He wandered through the rooms, Tony trailing after, and everything was the same, little pieces of life scattered around. “What on earth is going on here? This looks like… we live here. This is our stuff.” Tony watched as Steve stepped in the bathroom and held up his razor, followed by Tony’s toothbrush.
With a huff of frustration, Tony marched back into the front room and rummaged through the bowl until he came up with his cell phone. It was dead, but the charger lay next to it so he plugged it in and leaned against the wall while he waited for it to start up. “Steve this isn’t a normal hangover. For starters, you can’t get a hangover. Plus I know what one feels like, intimately, and it’s not this. Something really fucked up is going on here. Dimensional travel? A setup?”
Steve collapsed in a chair and folded his arms on the table resting his forehead on top of them. “I’m finding it really hard to care about anything but how far I am from my own bed,” Steve whined.
Tony filled a glass of water and set it on the table next to his arm. He patted Steve condescendingly on the head. “Buck up, champ.”
Steve groaned but downed the water then grimaced. Tony’s phone had finally charged enough to turn on so he flicked through it, checking his notifications. But there were none, and the little exclamation point at the top of the screen made him frown. “No service? Tony Stark never doesn’t have service.” He poked the phone for a while. “Jesus Christ, they have a jammer here, covering the whole resort. That no phones, no internet, no outside contact thing in the pamphlet wasn’t a joke. I guess we can’t ‘reconnect’ if we’re too busy connecting with Twitter.”
“Why are we here?!” Steve burst out then groaned again. Tony tried and failed to hold back his chuckle. There was always something cruelly satisfying about seeing Captain America humanized.
“Do you think any of the others are here? Maybe we should -” Tony cut off, staring at his phone. No. No that couldn’t be right. No service, it couldn’t update, but then why… “Steve?”
“What’s the date, today?”
“Uh, May 18th? 19th?”
“I -” Tony gave his phone a little shake as if that would make sense of what he was seeing.
“Tony?” Steve stood and walked over to him, snapping into Captain America mode so fast it made Tony reel back. He handed Steve the phone silently and watched all the blood drain out of his face. “September fourth?! That’s not possible!”
“It must be confused. It can’t connect. If it can’t connect, you can just change the date to anything and it’ll accept it.” But Steve was already tearing through the cabin, pulling out every piece of paper he could get his hands on and throwing it into the middle of the kitchen table. Tony shuffled through them, searching for clues, but looked up when he heard Steve make a strange, strangled noise. He was clutching a piece of paper so hard it was crumpled and bent. Tony eased his hands off it, taking it away.
It was an invoice from the resort. And it was dated at the top, August 31st. It was for the entire month of August. There were charges listed for couple massages, candle lit dinners, room service, pay-per-view movies, tennis lessons; it went on and on. “We’ve been here for a month…”
Steve held up another piece of paper from a folder that had been in the bedroom. The folder had a cheery picture of the main lodge on it. He handed the paper to Tony - a photocopy of their marriage license. “Oh my god.” Steve sat down hard.
Tony pawed through the rest of the folder - driving directions, schedules of activities, He had a sudden thought and dropped the folder to scramble for his wallet. He pulled out his driver's license.
Anthony Edward Rogers Stark
“I changed my name.”
“I changed my name. On my fucking driver’s license.”
Steve leapt up and went through the same dance.
Steven Grant Rogers Stark
“Oh my god.” They stared at each other for a long time, in complete shock. “Wait a minute.” Steve frowned at his open wallet. “Why is it Rogers Stark and not Stark Rogers?”
“Really? That’s what you get hooked on? I’d tell you, but I can’t fucking remember changing my name in the first place!”
“This can’t be real,” Steve said, looking increasingly panicked, the green tinge to his skin deepening.
Tony reached out and grabbed Steve’s hand. He snatched it back, but Tony shot him a look and grabbed it again, holding it up to show him. “You have a new ring.” Steve stared at it wide-eyed, then dropped his gaze to Tony’s hand.
Tony looked at his own hands; they were bare. “Hmm.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “This would be a great time to wake up.”
Steve sat down heavily again. “It’s been months. Have I - have we time traveled? Again…”
The pain in his voice was agonizing. Of course, Steve had been rocketed forward in time once before, that wasn’t going to make this any easier for him. “No. We clearly live here. How could someone set that up?”
Steve stood suddenly and took another turn around the cabin. “You’re right.” He leaned on the doorway. “Those are your clothes, your mug, my hair by the sink. It’s too - too cosy to be fake. We have been here for a month. But we don’t remember. Or anything at all since late May.”
“What happened in May?” Tony offered. “Maybe there was something… a villain?”
“Nothing sticks out.” Steve shook his head, eyes fixed on the floor. “Yesterday - or you know - we were fighting the Doombots, everything went fine, and then we went for a debriefing, and then… nothing…”
“Same.” Tony’s eyes fell on his phone again. “No internet, but I’ll still have pictures. Hold on.” He opened the gallery app and started flicking through. He felt Steve shift behind him, watching over his shoulder. “On your head, if you see something you don’t like,” Tony said cheekily. “I don’t remember if I’ve taken anything risque in the last few months.”
“Har har. I think I’ll survive.”
Tony scrolled down to May and started there. There were pictures of Iron Man blueprints, some close ups of material labels so he wouldn’t forget. One of Bruce laughing while he ate noodles out of a paper takeout container. Then a run of the other members of the tower: Nat, Clint, Steve, Thor. A few of him and Pepper and some nice views of his last trip to Malibu to visit her.
Then he slowed down as they started getting weird. A shot of him and Steve standing behind a podium at what was clearly a press conference. Someone else had taken the shot from beside the stage. Tony was leaning over the podium speaking into the microphone but smiling up at Steve who was giving him his “affectionate exasperation” look. A look he’d seen directed towards the others tons of times, but never towards himself.
Next was a mix of normal every day Tony pictures, peppered in with pictures of place settings, flowers, and phone numbers for caterers. There was a gap with nothing and then a massive collection of what were very obviously wedding photos. Steve and Tony standing at the altar in crisp white suits, with Rhodey on one side and Nat on the other. Dancing… drinking… laughing… cutting the cake… A selfie of Pepper and Bruce - which made it clear that it was Pepper who had stolen his phone and appointed herself photographer.
Before Tony finished working his way through them, the lump that had settled in his stomach getting heavier and heavier with each picture, Steve stopped him, saying his name softly. Tony looked up and realized Steve wasn’t watching anymore, he had his wallet open in his hand again and was staring down at it. He was holding a photo that he must have pulled out of one of the empty credit card slots. It was rumpled and creased but clear.
It was a close shot, and looked more professional than the ones Pepper had taken. Tony was laughing, a drink in his hand held up close to his mouth, but forgotten in his mirth. Steve had his arm around Tony’s shoulders, tugging him close, his lips pressed against Tony’s cheek, but you could see he was smiling too. Fuck, they looked so happy together.
Tony took the picture, holding it delicately between two fingers. “How… did we forget this?”
“I don’t know.” Steve sounded awful.
“This looks so real. Why would we throw a real event for a cover story?”
“I have no idea.”
Tony pushed up to his feet, suddenly full of frantic energy. He brushed past Steve and paced across the room. “This is so fucked up.” He turned sharply and marched into the bedroom as if it would hold the answers. The bedside table drawers were mostly empty, but on one side was Tony’s reading glasses, balanced on a book, and on the other side was Steve’s e-reader and a half-full glass of water. Oh god, they’d been sleeping togeth- beside each other. In the same bed. They’d been sleeping in the same bed.
Tony shoved his glasses aside and lifted the book, but instead of flipping through it like he intended, his eye was caught by what was underneath. A simple chain pooled on the table - titanium, not silver or gold - and a wedding band hooked on it, two-tone, with a band of shiny bright silver in the middle of two sections of burnished, dark grey. He did have a ring.
Steve appeared in the doorway, and Tony held up a hand to stop him. “Sorry. I know this is like - I know we’re sharing a small space, but can I have a minute? Do you mind?” He was deeply aware that he was kicking Steve out of what was clearly his own bedroom.
“Sure. Yeah. Of course. Can I take a shower? I still feel a bit like I was pulled through the hangover bush backwards.”
“Of course. Go right ahead. I’ll be in here.” They both sounded weird, overly formal and polite. They never talked like this, but Tony couldn’t seem to find normal in the face of learning that he and Steve were apparently happily married and vacationing at a couples retreat. And had lost their memories for no apparent reason.
He tipped down onto the bed, burrowing his face in the soft sheets and took a few breaths. He’d been telling himself he wasn’t that bad because he seemed so much less affected than Steve, but now that he wasn’t staring at Steve’s pale, sweaty skin, he realized how shitty he felt too. His stomach was still a hot, churning mess of acid and his head pounded with every beat of his heart. His joints ached like he’d run a marathon and there was a particular spot in the middle of this lower back that twinged sharply every few minutes. He felt old, and tired, and sick, and stupid, because he couldn’t remember. He hated it when his mind failed him. There’d been times when all he had was his mind - he didn’t know what to do when it didn’t work right.
And this whole thing with Steve. He realized he was still holding his phone and his wallet, so he flipped through the rest of the pictures. There were a few more wedding shots, then they petered out and went mostly back to normal, though it seemed that there were more of Steve than there used to be. There was a gap of a few days, then a couple pictures from the resort - Steve glaring at him while he held a tennis racket, a dinner plate with filet mignon and green beans, a sharp-dressed man leaning towards the camera and winking. Who was that?
The pictures ran out, offering no answers, so Tony turned to his wallet. He had his credit cards, all still labelled as just “Tony Stark,” a few hundreds, a picture of him and Pepper, and the newspaper cutting of him and DUM-E he had saved for almost twenty years.
Tony pawed through the rest of the gum wrappers and loyalty cards, looking for any other clue, and there, at the bottom of the long section for bills was a scrap of paper, creased and worn like it had been in the for a long time. It had only two words written on it, in Steve’s smooth, curved handwriting. Tony’s heart clenched. They really were married.
Steve was in the shower for a long time, and by the time he reappeared, looking distinctly more put together, Tony had himself under control. He had intended to tell Steve about the note, but when faced with actually doing it, he couldn’t make the words come out. It didn’t really matter, did it? They’d find whoever had done this, get their memories back, and then they wouldn’t have to have any of these awkward conversations.
“So, options,” he started with instead, and Steve nodded, rubbing his hand through his wet hair and making it stick up wildly. “We bail out, leave the resort, go home.”
Steve frowned. “What if we’re here for a reason, though? We could be leaving someone in danger.”
“What good will we be like this though?”
Steve pouted at the carpet, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. “I honestly don’t know. But surely something must be going on here. Someone must have wiped our memories for a reason. Don’t you think we should at least investigate?”
“We could blow our cover so easily, though. We don’t even know what our cover is.”
Steve’s cheeks pinked. “We - uh - we don’t really seem to have a cover? I mean, we’re using our real names - or, uh, our married names. I think we’re… we’re just being us?”
Steve tapped his fingers against his arm. “Maybe we’re not here for a mission…”
“So, what? We’re just here for our honeymoon?”
“And why are our memories gone? It feels a lot like magic, you know. Magic could mean -”
“If Loki’s here… if he did this, he’s got to have a reason. If we leave, if we let this distract us, we could be putting the whole resort in danger. He killed nearly a hundred people in just a few days last time he was on Earth. In the time it takes us to get home and sort out what the story is, he could have levelled an entire town. I can’t -” Steve cut off sharply.
Tony held up a hand. “Okay, okay. I get it. It’s fine, Steve. Let’s - let’s try and figure this out here. And we’ll try and get a message back to the tower. If it’s nothing, they’ll come and get us, if we’re really on a mission, hopefully they can send someone in to fill us in, or stick electrodes on our heads, or something.”
Steve sunk down on the edge of the bed at Tony’s feet. “Is there anything you can do? I mean, you know, science stuff…”
“‘Science stuff’?” Tony laughed. “Sadly, no. JARVIS might be able to tell if anyone had messed with us, but without internet access I don’t have him on this phone and he’d need the sensors at the tower, or in the suit anyway.”
“Shit, the suit.” Steve stared at him sharply. “My shield. Where is our stuff?”
“I don’t know… If we didn’t bring anything, that would be a sign that this really is - is…”
Steve swallowed. “A couples retreat?”
“This is so weird,” Steve whined, dropping his head into his hands.
“Hey,” Tony said gently. “You’ve fought gods, gained a hundred pounds of muscle in five minutes, and slept for seventy years. Surely you’ve done weirder than waking up married to Tony Stark.” Tony spread his arms wide, and Steve shot him a considering look, though Tony could see the corners of his mouth twitch up towards a smirk.
“Nope. You’re definitely the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.”
Now it was Tony’s turn to smirk. “Is that so?” he drawled. “Well, stick with me and I can make me the best thing you’ve ever done, too.”
“Oh, god, Tony,” Steve chastised. His ivory skin was instantly replaced with pink, as if someone had photoshopped him into a full-body blush. He pushed to his feet and walked into the kitchen. Tony got up and followed.
Steve shot him a look as if assessing whether he was setting up for another joke then half-shrugged and nodded. “I’m always hungry,” he admitted with a sigh.
“You didn’t seem hungry before. I still can’t believe I saw Cap hurl. If only I had my phone, cause that was YouTube worthy.”
“No YouTubing your teammates,” Steve said automatically.
“Is that rule number twelve, or thirteen?”
“Forty-six.” Steve poked the schedule on top of the folder they’d dismantled, pushing the marriage license off the stack without looking. “Should we go to breakfast in the dining hall? Maybe we can get some information out of the other couples here. We must know some of them, or have met someone? Maybe someone else is undercover here and we can get some info stealthily.”
“Sure.” Tony started gathering his things. “I’ve got a picture of some hot guy winking on my phone. Maybe he’s a friend.”
Steve frowned. “Right. Well, let’s go.”
They were halfway out the door when Tony stopped and put a hand on Steve’s chest blocking him from leaving. Steve’s eyes dropped to his hand. “Remember, we’re supposed to be married. At the very least, the resort thinks we are, which means these people almost certainly do too, so we have to pretend.”
“I know.” Steve’s brow furrowed.
“Well, you’re just not always the best at pretending things and -”
“I get it,” Steve snapped, cutting him off. “Stop pestering me.”
“Oh good, you’re already in character.” Tony let Steve go, following behind and staring at his back. There was a reason they had Steve do the hitty thing and the planny thing but rarely the acty thing. The only person more ill-suited to undercover work than Captain “What’s my Line” Rogers was Bruce, who was pathologically incapable of lying to people who were nice to him and reacted very startlingly when they weren’t. This was going to be fun.
Breakfast was a buffet, servers in crisp, black suits standing behind a long table and doling out your choice of five-star meal options. There were a lot of couples seated already, clustered in groups, chatting.
Steve bumped Tony’s elbow. “That woman just waved at us.”
A short, curvy woman with curly, black hair was seated at an otherwise empty table, smiling over at them. Tony waggled his fingers in her direction and her smile deepened. “Guess we have made some friends here.”
Steve’s voice dropped low, his mouth coming startlingly close to Tony’s ear. “But any one of these people could be the person we’re here to investigate. Any one could be Loki in disguise.”
“Well then, all the better to mingle, my dear, and find him out.” Tony fluttered his eyelashes at Steve then picked up a plate from the warming stack. Tony barely noticed what food he was ordering, his plate getting heavier as he moved along the line, pointing at random. He focused on the room, on the people. The man from the photo on his phone didn’t seem to be there, and besides the dark-haired woman, no one else showed signs of knowing either of them more personally. There were the normal flashes of recognition, celebrity heart-eyes, but none of those people appeared to expect attention in return.
So, when he reached the end of the food line, Tony made for the woman’s table, Steve following along behind.
“Hi guys!” she called as soon as they sat. Tony greeted her, raking his eyes over her and doing the best cold read he could under the circumstances. He could feel Steve doing the same beside him. She wore a gold wedding band, had a new iphone with a leopard print case and an expensive purse, but her clothes were ill-fitted and well-worn. Someone liked to buy her gifts. There was an open awe to her gaze, but also genuine friendliness that was no doubt the reason he and Steve had been drawn to her.
Tony did a quick checklist: married into money, no kids, good heart.
She could still be Loki, though.
Tony dove in before she could ask any questions. “How has your morning been?” He shot her a winning smile.
“Not too bad. Lena stayed up too late reading so I’m not sure if we’ll see her this morning or not.” The woman chuckled. Steve tucked into his breakfast, apparently going with the approach that if his mouth was full, no one could ask him any questions. “You guys have fun last night?” She waggled her eyebrows.
Tony grinned back. “Always.” He winked then started chewing on a piece of bacon, wondering what they’d said they were getting up to last night. Apparently, getting their memories wiped and waking up in a shed hadn’t been a plan this woman was in on.
They ate in silence for a moment, then the woman perked up. “Lena!” Her wife approached the table, her plate nothing but a stack of pancakes, and pecked a kiss to the woman’s cheek.
“Morning, Kelly, love.” She nodded around the table. “ Steve. Tony.” So, this was the money the women - Kelly - had married into. It showed, in a quiet, careful way. But Tony knew how much that purse was worth and that a manicure like that took upkeep. The couple grinned softly at each other.
“Guys I know I said I wouldn’t say this again, but I can’t help it. I’m just so in awe of you two,” Lena said, cutting her pancakes into squares. Tony’s eyebrows rose in question.
“It was just so romantic,” Kelly added around a mouthful of hash browns. “It takes a lot of bravery to come out like that - and for love too? It’s beautiful.”
She was talking to Steve, and he hesitated a moment before saying, “Oh?” awkwardly. Tony tried not to roll his eyes.
“Yeah. I mean, we all thought it was pretty amazing when you came out. It means a lot, you know? But then the wedding, and you guys are so happy together. It’s romantic. And brave. I just -” She blushed. “Thank you, I guess.”
“Um -” Steve looked completely blindsided.
Tony stepped in. “No, thank you. We couldn’t have done it without support from people like you. We’re all in this together, right?” Tony winked, and Kelly grinned, digging back into her food.
So that much, at least, had been altered for cover. Steve had come out, it was one of the last things Tony remembered, but it hadn’t been for love, it had just been for himself, because he wanted to. Unless… unless later he had admitted to Tony that…
They tried to press the two women for more information but conversations were surprisingly cryptic when you couldn’t remember the last month of them. And there didn’t seem to be anything suspicious about these two. They talked about their lives and their tennis instructor and their plans for the rest of their trip and that was it.
“Hey,” Tony started during a lull in conversation. “Have you guys noticed anything weird going on here?”
Lena laughed lightly. “You’ve asked us that like four times. What do you expect to be going on? Besides the fact that Mrs Anderson is having an affair with her ex-husband who is here with his new wife, there’s not much drama, you know that.”
“Yeah.” Tony shrugged. “Can’t help myself, I love gossip.”
“We can tell,” Kelly snickered. “You’re in the tabloids often enough.”
Steve stiffened beside Tony but Kelly’s smile was kind enough. It felt like an inside joke and not actually mocking. He patted Steve’s knee, and Steve startled. “What can I say? They can’t get enough of all my good sides.”
They finished up the rest of their meal in light chatter, then Steve and Tony packed up and headed back to their cabin. They’d eaten late, and stayed late, so it was already past midday. They took a long route around the grounds, looking for hints as to why they were here, or anything that might jog their memories.
Back at the cabin, Tony made coffee and spent some time trying to wrestle his phone into a signal, with no luck.
“Tony?” Steve called, and Tony followed his voice. He was up the ladder-like stairs that led to the loft. Tony stood at the bottom.
“What?” He called up after him.
“I found something… I-” There was grunt.
Steve grunted again, and when he spoke it was strained. “Yeah… I - I found something. Hold on, I’m bringing it down, watch out.” Steve appeared at the top of the stairs with what looked to be a heavy trunk, and Tony stepped out of the way. Steve struggled down the stairs, then set it down on the floor by the door. He popped open the lid and shoved aside some blankets to reveal his shield, a red and gold case, and a leather briefcase. Tony recognized the first case as one that contained a selection of repulsor related weapons, but not a full Iron Man suit. The briefcase he didn’t recognize.
Tony whistled. “Nice!” Having some of his gear around made him instantly feel about a hundred times better about all of this.
“Looks like it’s a mission after all.” There was something sharp and choppy about Steve’s voice, but Tony didn’t bother spending any energy figuring it out. He was too distracted by pulling out the briefcase and hauling it over to the kitchen table.
He felt Steve come up behind him as he popped the latches. Inside was a stack of paper folders and a tablet. “Paper? Really?” he sneered. He dug through it to release the tablet, while Steve leaned around him to pick up the papers. It didn’t have a network either, but it had pictures and documents saved on it that Tony had clearly felt weren’t safe to have on his phone. They both sat at the table in silence, flicking through the documents.
It was a mission. Someone had been dealing in alien weapons and SHIELD had managed to trace it back to Serenity Oasis. There wasn’t much in the way of assignment data - why Steve and Tony had been sent in instead of someone else - but there was pages and pages of reports on the weapons themselves. Despite the hefty word count, there was very little they actually knew.
“We’re here chasing weapons dealers?” Steve asked.
“Looks like it.” Tony set the tablet down and rummaged through the papers, but found they were mostly the same. They must have each brought their own version of the assignment.
“I don't know.” Tony flipped through a few more pages. “There was a death - er - a disappearance. Two agents, married, came in undercover to infiltrate about six months ago and missed a check-in. They were never heard from again.”
“Huh.” Steve’s face twisted, his fingers rattling out a random rhythm on the table. “Maybe they got their memories fried too? Wandered off?”
“Maybe…” Tony set the tablet down with a sigh. “It explains why we’re here at least.” That should have been reassuring, but somehow, it wasn’t.
“Yeah… but…” Steve trailed off.
Steve met his eye. “It doesn’t say anything about why we were chosen, or any, you know, preparations for this mission.”
“Yeah, well they don’t usually include that kind of info in this. We would have had all that before.”
“They don’t expect you to get your memory erased while on a mission with no outside contact and have to build everything from scratch again.”
“Well, now they will.” Tony laughed, but Steve still looked uncomfortable. “What?”
“Well, it’s just… if the marriage was, you know, just for the mission… I feel like we’d have our real IDs and stuff. Something, at least. But there’s nothing here. It’s like - it’s like it was just assumed that we would be the right choice for a mission like this.” Steve’s lips twisted up. “I don’t get it.”
“Well, the last team was really married…”
“Tony, are you suggesting that we’re really married and there’s a mission? It must be a cover for this mission… right?”
Tony’s gaze drifted away, across the room. Unbidden, his memory provided him with a vivid image of the note in his wallet. Love, Steve. “Yeah… sure.”
He could feel Steve’s gaze boring into the side of his head. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make this feel fake. It felt normal to be sitting here at the table, going over notes with Steve. Normal that his glasses and book should be on one side of the bed and Steve’s on the other. It felt normal.
And that was fucking weird.
“Well, at least we know what we’re looking for now.” Tony said, giving himself a little shake to get back on track. “Someone’s dealing in weapons here. One of the couples, or someone who works here, and maybe we found something out and they did something to us so we wouldn’t remember. If we figured it out once, we can do it again, right?”
Steve frowned. “It apparently took us over a month last time.”
“Yeah, well I’ll give you that. But now we have the benefit of desperation.”
Steve actually laughed, and Tony felt the tension in the room ratchet down again. “I guess we should really go over all this with a fine-tooth comb, take notes, get every bit of info we can. We must have had briefings before we left and we don’t have notes from any of that so this is barely going to fill in the gaps.”
“It’s frustrating, for sure. It seems like the mission was just to be here with our eyes and ears open, not get ‘disappeared’ and hope that our mere presence would out the baddies. There must be more to it and we’re just not getting it from this half-blind perspective. But yeah, maybe we can reverse engineer the answers.”
They settled down at the table, the pages spread out between them, each with a notepad and a pen, and started working their way through everything methodically, writing down anything of interest as they went. At some point, Steve made sandwiches, Tony got up to flick the lights on when it started getting dark, and they read on.
The words started swimming on the page and Tony realized how late it was. He yawned and stretched, wincing when his back popped loudly. “It’s getting late, Cap.” He yawned again.
Steve blinked up at him, then gave his head a little shake. He’d slumped down into his seat and there was a red spot on his forehead where he’d been bracing against his palm. “Huh?” He looked at his watch. “Oh yeah, geez.”
Tony dropped his pages on the table and padded into the bathroom, kicking his shoes off by the dresser on his way. He brushed his teeth in a haze, realizing that he had no idea where his heart meds were. He rummaged around in cupboards and bags for a while until he found the bottles and knocked them back, hoping his dosages hadn’t changed in the last few months.
Steve was in boxers and a t-shirt, hovering awkwardly in the bedroom when Tony finally came out, but he disappeared into the bathroom without a word. Tony stripped his own clothes down to the bare minimum and tumbled into bed. He’d apparently claimed the left side, which was weird because he slept on the right at home. Or, more usually, right in the middle, since there was no one there to hog from.
Steve spent a long time in the bathroom, and Tony had almost dozed off, when he heard the door snick closed. Steve’s bedside light clicked off, and Tony breathed a sigh of relief in the darkness. He wondered if they should have had a conversation about the whole bed sharing thing. It seemed pretty obvious that they’d been sleeping together in the same bed for the past month, and even if they couldn’t remember it, it didn’t mean it had to be awkward.
But Steve climbed in without a word, curling away from Tony, tucked up on his side of the bed. Only a few breaths later, Tony was out cold.
He woke up slowly, the haze of sleep still settled heavy over his head. He had the distinct, uncomfortable impression that someone was watching him. It was still dark and his internal clock said he’d been asleep for less than an hour. He rolled over and bumped into Steve who must have traveled to the middle in the night. There was a brief flurry of movement as Steve repositioned himself on the other side of the bed. Resettled, Tony dozed off again.
He woke up again, this time when something jolted his side and he sprung awake with a gasp.
“Sorry,” Steve mumbled, rolling back over.
Tony calmed the sudden adrenaline rush, took a deep breath and a few minutes later, he was out again.
Tony woke again with warmth plastered against his back. It was shapeless and confusing, but the moist heat between his shoulder blades was definitely hot breath. Confused, Tony jerked away and there was a strange squeaking noise. He remembered he was in bed with Steve and calmed himself.
“I’m so sorry,” Steve said into the dark. “I should just get up and let you sleep.”
“What?” Tony blinked into the dark, but all he could see was the soft glow of the arc reactor.
“I’m sorry,” Steve repeated. He sounded awful, rough with sleep and humiliation. “I keep waking you up. I’m a restless sleeper.”
Tony smacked his fuzz-filled mouth open and closed a few times, trying to will his brain into motion again. “I… were you breathing on my neck?” Apparently the part of his brain responsible for filters hadn’t kicked in yet.
“Sorry…” Tony could feels waves of discomfort radiating off of the other side of the bed.
“No worries.” Tony rubbed a hand over his face and fell back down onto his pillow with a huff. “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
The room was silent for several tense breaths.
“I’ll go.” Steve made to slide out of the covers, but Tony reached out and grabbed what he hoped would be a PG part of his body. It turned out to be his wrist. Steve stilled.
“Don’t go. We need to be at our best to figure this out. You can’t fit on that couch. I’ll adjust. It’s just been a while since I’ve shared.” Tony dropped Steve’s wrist and patted the bed encouragingly.
Steve stayed stock-still on the edge of the bed. Tony could feel eyes on him and wondered if the reactor light was enough for Steve’s super-powered eyes to make him out in the dark. “I can’t seem to stay on my side,” Steve said lightly.
Tony chuckled. “Wouldn’t have pegged you for a cuddler, Cap.”
“I - uh… I wouldn’t know. I’ve never… I’ve never shared a bed. Like this.”
Tony had no idea what to say to that. He stayed silent, and Steve eventually did settle back onto his pillow, stretched out stiff and as close to his edge as he could get. Tony sighed; he would never get to sleep with all the tension radiating off of Steve. “You’ve never shared with anyone?” he asked, feeling suddenly daring in the dark.
“No. I mean, in the army, and for missions, we were often packed in like sardines, somewhere shitty, but it’s not the same. It’s not… comfortable.”
“Oh, cause you’re so comfortable right now?” Tony teased.
Steve huffed. “I don’t want to, you know, invade your territory.”
Tony laughed. “Oh god, that sounds so bad and you don’t even know. Come here, I’m a phenomenal sharer. Let me show you.” Steve tensed further. “It’s only as weird as we make it, Steve. We both need sleep, we’ve clearly been sleeping here for over a month. Maybe… maybe your subconscious knows something we don’t, but either way, it’s criminal that you’ve never had a proper cuddle so come here.” Tony wasn’t sure why he was pushing, except that it was dark, he was a little scared with the whole memory loss thing, and the room was a little too cold. He also genuinely felt bad for Steve. Tony had shared his bed with a lot of people he knew less than half as well as he knew Steve, and that was never awkward. The guy deserved a break.
Steve shuffled a little closer, and Tony snuggled down until the covers, wriggling across the mattress until he was in the middle. He pressed against Steve’s side, not wrapped around him, or using him as a pillow, but letting their bodies touch lightly from shoulder to knee. He noted the moment when Steve started breathing again because it took quite a while. Tony pressed his face into Steve’s formidable bicep, warming his chilled nose, and let out a long, humming sigh. “Night.”
He was almost asleep again by the time Steve replied, “Night.”
Tony woke up with Steve plastered to his back again, but he didn’t startle away this time, awake enough now to process that he wasn’t a threat. Steve’s face was tucked between his shoulder blades, breathing soft and slow, and various edges and corners of his body poked into Tony’s back. Tony chuckled into his pillow. Apparently, Steve had enjoyed his first time sharing.
Loathe to dislodge Steve, now that he was sleeping well, Tony closed his eyes again and dozed. His mind went wandering off in multiple strange directions, and to his surprise, the next time he opened his eyes it was much later. He must have fallen asleep again. It was getting late enough that they might miss breakfast, so Tony rolled to the side and gently poked Steve in the shoulder.
“Mnuh,” Steve replied.
Tony laughed. “It’s morning.”
Steve sighed, then shifted onto his side, working his eyes open slowly. “Why?”
“Why is it morning? I have no idea. Cruel joke of fate?”
Steve was silent for a moment, and Tony could practically see him going through a boot sequence. “Still no memories?”
“Still no memories,” Tony confirmed.
“Damn. I was kind of hoping they’d randomly show up in the night.”
“That would have been convenient.” Tony rolled up until he sat on the edge of the bed and stretched tall. He was a bit stiff on one side, probably from sleeping in one position for so long. He flailed a lot in his sleep unless he had someone to sleep beside.
He hit the bathroom first, and when he came out, Steve was up as well. He was shuffling around a bit awkwardly, clearly avoiding Tony’s gaze while trying to make it clear at the same time that he wasn’t. So Tony, being Tony, reached over, patted him on the head and said, “Thanks for the cuddle, hubby.”
Steve’s eyebrows shot up as he looked over at Tony, then he glared, then he broke into a smile and laughed. “You’re ridiculous,” he sighed, still smiling. He went into the bathroom and shut the door, and Tony sat on the edge of the bed, reaching for his phone on autopilot. He remembered, once he had it in his hand, that it was next to useless without a network, so he set it back down and pulled his watch on instead.
The movement jostled his book and the chain underneath poked out, reminding him that he had a very heavy piece of jewelry hidden there. He wondered why he hadn’t been wearing it when Steve had. He picked it up and rolled it around in his fingers. It wasn’t what he would have expected to pick out - it was simple and soft, rounded edges instead of sleek modern grooves. It was pretty, but kind of old-fashioned. Like - well like Steve.
Maybe Steve had picked it out.
Tony slid it off the chain and tried it on his finger, wondering if an ill fit was the reason it was here instead of on, but no, it fit perfectly. It must be the workshop then. Wearing jewelry wasn’t really safe around the kind of materials and machinery Tony used, so he had it on a chain to wear around his neck. Here though… here there was no machinery.
He spun it around his finger and it fit there like it belonged, like he owned it, so he left it that way. He wasn’t sure exactly why he kept it on, and he hoped Steve wouldn’t notice cause what the fuck would he say to that, but it wasn’t as heavy as he thought it would be, and it was nice to fidget with, spinning it round and round and round.
He finally pushed off the bed and headed out towards the kitchen. He shoved bread in the toaster and checked for a newspaper, only to remember this place was entirely cut off from the outside world. Someone had shoved a schedule under their door, though, sometime in the early morning. And he was looking through it when Steve appeared, clean and dressed. “Ooo, I booked a boat for this morning. Awesome.”
“Yeah, they have speedboats you can take out on the lake. It’s the thing I miss most about leaving Malibu - I love zipping around in a boat. I must have had the same thought even with my memories because it’s all arranged.” Tony waved the schedule at Steve, and he took it, frowning.
“Got a problem with boats?”
Steve shrugged. “I’m not very fond of them, no. But I haven’t spent much time in one, besides big freighters for missions and stuff.”
“Ahh, this will be completely different. You’ll love it. I know you play all goody two shoes, but I’ve seen how fast you go on that bike when you think no one’s looking. This is right up your alley, Rogers.”
“Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out this mission?”
“It seems like this was the mission. Be here, look normal, have fun. Come on, live a little.”
Steve didn’t look convinced but he let Tony lead him down to the dock after lunch. Tony busied himself with the mooring, then instructed Steve to sit in the co-pilot’s chair while he took the wheel. He started out slowly, taking a wide pass around the edge of the lake, eyeing out the shape of the deep water and any potential dangers. When he had a feel for it, as well as a feel for the boat itself, he shot Steve a cocky grin, then really let her go. The engine roared up and the nose of the boat lifted as they shot across the water.
Steve’s hands clamped down on the dashboard, but his eyes were wide and a small smile was forming on his lips. He glanced over at Tony then frowned. “Watch where you’re going!”
Tony laughed, turning back to the water. He took a wide arc, then cut back across the centre, smacking into their own wake and sending the boat leaping through the hills and valleys. Beside him, Steve gasped, then laughed.
“What do you think?” Tony yelled over the roar of the engine.
Steve smiled quietly for a moment, eyes fixed on the sheet of water the were devouring. “Yeah, alright, it’s pretty fun. I’ll give you that.” He shot Tony an indulgent look.
“Wanna drive?” Tony asked.
Tony eased off the throttle, bringing the boat into small circle until she slowed, then letting the engine idle, floating in the middle of the lake. “Alright, here you go.” Tony shoved Steve over into the driver’s seat and wriggled past his not inconsiderable bulk to settle on the passenger seat. Steve poked at the controls for a moment, a look of intense concentration on his face, then tentatively revved her up and started to move.
He started out slower than Tony expected, curving the boat in graceful arcs and dancing around the one brightly-coloured buoy on the far side. He played with the steering more than the speed, for a long time, and Tony leaned back in his seat, surprised. He’d expected Steve to floor it, the same way he did on his bike, but the more Tony watched him play, the more he realized that it wasn’t all that different. Steve liked the way his bike leaned into the curves, how reactive it was, how tight and controlled and precise it could be. He also, occasionally, liked to use it as a long-range weapon when the shield wasn’t quite cutting it, which was why Tony was near constantly building him new ones, but that was neither here nor there.
As it was, watching Steve drive the boat was more fun than Tony expected. He could practically see the course Steve had laid out in his head, and the speed picked up as he gained confidence. One loop along the far side, open stretch across the beach, around the buoy twice, then back to the centre.
Tony pulled his watch off and waved it at Steve, raising his eyebrows in challenge. Steve nodded, a wild glint in his eye, then revved up. And now, fuck, they were really flying. Steve let loose, tearing across the water and zipping around the buoy on the way back. Tony gripped the dash, grinning ear to ear. God damn, he loved speed. He’d have to introduce Steve to one of his formula one cars one day. Then again, he couldn’t remember the last six months, maybe he already had.
Tony let Steve do the course twice, timing each one, before tapping his arm and bringing him to a stop. He was grinning and his hair was completely wild. Tony stomped down the urge to laugh because he had the strange feeling that once he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.
“2:23 was your best,” he said. “Now shove up.”
Steve relinquished the controls back to Tony and took his watch, setting the timer to zero again. He waved his hand and Tony set off. He focused on cutting the turns as tight as he could, blasting out of each one at full throttle. The boat was a good one - this was a high-class place after all - and it responded beautifully to his urging. They snuck tight around the buoy, cut back across their own wake and over the imaginary finish line. He turned to Steve in triumph.
“You’re fucking kidding me.” Tony frowned. Not possible. He was not going to be beaten in a boat race by a 95-year-old. He turned back to the controls, determined, but Steve rested a hand on his arm.
“Hey, hey. Our hour’s up. And I’m getting cold. We should head in.”
Tony’s frown deepened. “Uh, don’t think I don’t know a cheap ploy when I see one. You were all warmed up when you did yours. Not fair.”
Steve shook his head, but his smile was affectionate. “Alright. One more. Then we go? No matter what?”
Tony took the course again, cutting off every inch he could. And that had to be better. “Time?” he asked as he came to a stop.
Steve bit his lip. “2:29.”
“Okay give me that watch.” He dove across the boat, and Steve yelpd, diving out of the way and sending the whole boat rocking.
“Tony! You’re going to tip us over!”
There was real fear in his voice, so Tony stilled, laughing. “I’m not going to tip us over. You’re fine.”
Steve shot him a suspicious look, but handed his watch back and inched closer again.
“Come on, do you know how much this shirt cost? I’m not giving it a dunking in fish shit.” He peered at his watch. “There’s definitely something wrong with this piece of crap, though. It’s going to get the dunking of a lifetime if it keeps insisting that you beat me in a boat race.” He gave it a shake.
Steve laughed again and pushed past him to take up the wheel. He steered them carefully back in towards the dock. “Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone.”
“I hear that tone, Rogers. I know how you sound when you’re being an asshole. That’s an asshole tone. You’re going to get a shirt made up that says ‘I beat Tony Stark in a Boat Race’ with a picture of my face and you’re going to wear it everywhere.”
Steve nodded. “That’s true. I’m going to get you one that just says ‘Loser.’”
They pulled up alongside the dock, and Tony hopped out, grabbing the ropes. “I will be taking this watch apart when we get back to the cabin. You’ll see. It’s going to have developed a tiny watch personality, a major crush on Captain America, and the ability to lie, all on its own.”
“I’ll bet,” Steve indulged him.
Tony didn’t dismantle the watch, and by the time they were both changed and cleaned up, it was time for the spa appointment that the concierge, and their schedule, had so helpfully reminded them of. They weren’t sure what they were in for, but their memory-having selves must have booked it for a reason, so they headed off to the large side building with Rejuvenation Spa written above the door in ornate lettering. They approached the desk awkwardly.
“We, uh… have an appointment at five?” Steve tried.
“Of course, right this way Mr. Stark, Mr Stark.” The man lead the way into the spa while Tony pondered the oddness of sharing a name with someone. He’d always assumed that no one he married - assuming there was ever anyone who wanted to marry him in the first place - would want to be a Stark. It carried too much with it, too much baggage. But for someone reason Steve had taken Stark. Steve Stark. That was weird. And alliterative. Tony must have been giving Steve a weird look, because Steve caught his eye and cocked an eyebrow at him.
Whatever he was going to say was cut-off by their arrival in a small, cozy room at the end of the hall. The room was warm and lightly scented, the lights dimmed low. There was a desk with a selection of oils on it, a cupboard brimming with fluffy, white towels, a small stereo playing soft flute music.
And two massage tables.
“Um,” Tony started but the man was already bustling back out again.
“Strip down to whatever’s comfortable and get settled on the tables. Your masseuses will be with you shortly.” He closed the door behind him.
Steve was silent.
“This is a couples massage,” Tony said, as if it needed pointing out.
Steve made a small, unhappy noise.
“We can leave. I’ll say I’m not feeling well.” Tony hovered by the door, but Steve didn’t move. “One of us should really stay, though,” he added, once he gave it some thought. “Masseuses see and hear everything. People tell their darkest secrets when they’re all doped up on happy brain chemicals and incense.” Steve shifted. He wouldn’t meet Tony’s eyes. “I’ll stay. You go. Say you’re sick.”
“People will think it’s weird if you don’t go with me.”
There was a moment of silence. “We can stay. I mean, it’s not that awkward. No more so than, say, being in a sauna together, or something.” Tony wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince himself, or Steve. And the truth was, if this was at all real, they’d probably already seen each other naked. Touched each other, even. A slight shiver wriggled up Tony’s spine at the thought. “They’ll be back any minute. What do you want to do?”
Steve nodded. “Okay, fine. Let’s do this.” His hands went to his shirt, then he stopped. “I’ve never actually had a professional massage.”
“Seriously?” Tony tugged his own shirt off shamelessly, not missing the way Steve’s eyes cut down to the arc reactor. “Oh man, then we definitely have to stay. You’re going to love it.” He shot Steve a wink. “It’s only weird if we make it weird.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “As is the rest of this, right?”
Letting Steve follow his lead, Tony stripped down to his boxers, then crawled under the heavy blankets on the table closest to the door, settling on his stomach. Steve followed suit, then turned to face Tony.
“What if Loki is the masseuse and we have to fight in our underwear?” he whispered.
A laugh burbled up out of Tony’s chest and he buried his face in the sheet under him to muffle it. The door clicked open and a man and a woman walked in. They greeted Steve and Tony politely, then set about preparing oils and adjusting the blankets. Tony waited until the woman’s hands were working their way down his arm before attempting to drum up conversation. “So, I bet you see a lot of crazy go through here, working at a place like this?”
The woman made a small noise, and Tony twisted his face up to see her frowning down at him “Sorry,” she said haltingly. “I… don’t English well.”
Well. There went that avenue of information. Tony gave her an encouraging smile, then turned over to see how Steve was getting on.
Tony glanced towards Steve then did a double take. He’d never seen his teammate look that relaxed before. He was utterly blissed out, limp on the table, a small smile drifting across his face as the man worked his fingers firmly into Steve’s lower back. And that was so much for his teammate helping out. Tony sighed and tucked his face back into the headrest. Since there wasn’t much point in trying to suss out anything here, Tony decided to just give in and enjoy it, like Steve was. He closed his eyes and relaxed his muscles, starting from his toes up to his neck. The woman had gifted hands, working her way across his shoulders and down his back. With the warm room, the soft music, and the firm, efficient massage, Tony found himself drifting into a happy daze.
The hour flew by, and it was painfully soon when the masseuses stepped away and proclaimed them done. Tony regretfully pulled on his clothes, then looked over at Steve. He was still gone, half-asleep, stretched out on the table. “Hey buddy?” Tony tried. Steve blinked up at Tony, then shut his eyes again, his fingers twitching a little. Tony chuckled. “I’ll give you a minute to shove your brain back in through your ears. Find me in the lounge when you remember how to walk.”
Tony pulled a soft robe on over his clothes and padded out into the lounge. A few people were gathered there, reading magazines or chatting quietly. Tony served himself a glass of water from a large carafe filled with slices of cucumber and stopped to drink it while eyeing up the art on the walls.
Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a familiar face watching him from across the room. He had brief moment of celebration, thinking his memories were coming back, before he realized the man was the one he had a picture of on his phone. Tony wandered over to that welcoming smile. This could be a contact, or an informant. Or he could be the bad guy. Or maybe just a hottie.
“Hey, you,” Tony said carefully, leaning against the wall next to the man.
He grinned. “Hi. Enjoy your massage?”
“Sure did. Steve’s still a puddle in there. What are you in for?”
The man shrugged. “Just hanging out. Hannah wanted to get a facial, but there’s nothing I wanted so I’m just killing time. Might hit the sauna.”
Tony’s eyes dropped to the man’s ring. He was married, and it sounded like he was married to a woman - Hannah - but there was no doubt about that tone. He was flirting. Well, flirting was something Tony could work with. He looked up at the man through his lashes. “Oh yeah? I love a sauna. Or, you know, hot tub.”
The man shifted a little closer. He had a few inches on Tony and even though they weren’t that close, Tony got the impression of being loomed over. It was pretty hot. “Mmm, hot tub’s nice.”
A woman Tony had never seen before, walked past and gave them a little wave. “Hey Aaron, hey Tony.”
They both waved back.
“Did you hear she’s fucking her ex-husband again? He’s here with his new wife.”
For the first time since they’d arrived, Tony actually did know what was going on. “I do!” Aaron shot him a look. That was perhaps too much excitement over adultery.
“So, what are you up to later?” Aaron drawled. Tony didn’t miss the way he shifted a little closer.
Tony shrugged. “No plans set in stone.”
“Maybe you can get away from the balls and chain for a bit. We could do something fun? Hit the pool?” Aaron’s voice had dropped low and sultry. Tony found himself leaning in towards it. He felt on steady ground for the first time since they’d woken up in a shed. Steve was almost impossible to navigate, everyone seemed to know them but Tony had no idea what to say, and they seemed entirely unable to make progress on their mission. But flirting? Tony could do that. Closing the deal with a hot guy who was definitely not wearing anything under his robe? Tony could do that. He fell into his usual patter. Besides, a pic of Aaron must have been on his phone for a reason - maybe he had valuable information. Maybe they’d already identified him as their mark and as soon as Tony got him alone, he’d reveal himself.
“Oh yeah?” He looked up at Aaron from under his lashes and smiled softly. “I could probably manage that.” He swirled the rest of his water in his cup. He couldn’t wait to tell Steve that he finally had a lead.
Tony’s eyes flashed back towards the door to their massage room and saw with a jolt that Steve was already out. And he looked horrible. Steve stood by the door, eyes fixed firmly in Tony’s direction, with one hand braced on the doorframe. His cheeks were pink, but his eyes were cold and angry. Tony swept his gaze over the room and realized that several people had been watching him flirt with Aaron. And now their eyes were on Steve, painfully pitying.
Steve turned on his heel, dropping his robe on the ground, and marched off towards the exit. Tony shoved Aaron out of the way and took off after Steve’s disappearing back. “Steve!” Steve kept walking. Tony chased Steve all the way back to their cabin, calling his name every few steps with no response. Steve managed to get the key in the lock and wrenched the door to the cabin open just as Tony came up behind him
Steve spun abruptly around, nearly smacking Tony in the face. Tony reared back. “You know, I really don’t give a shit if you want to sleep your way through the resort the way you sleep your way through Manhattan. That’s your choice, and I’ve never judged you for it. But like that? In front of everyone? I’d really appreciate it if for once in your life you could resist the urge to spend all of your energy making me look like an idiot.” He turned and stormed into the cabin and through the door to the bedroom, slamming it behind him. A moment later, Tony heard the shower turn on. He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face.
Tony crumpled into his chair. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and slipped out the battered slip of paper.
He just couldn’t believe that the marriage was a fake. All these little details… what on earth would be the point of putting a love note in his wallet that no one would ever see? And why would they book a couples massage? Change their names? It was all ridiculous. And the only logical explanation was that they were really married.
He must have done something to prove himself to Steve, to show that he was worthy of having Steve on his arm, earned him somehow, because Steve hates - hated him - or at least never seemed to like him much. He was affectionate and caring with everyone else and distant with Tony. And Tony had tried, in the beginning, but at some point he’d given up. But he must have done something, maybe apologized for something that Steve had always held against him? Or proven himself in some way? Some heroic act that made Steve look at him differently?
And now he was fucking it up. Because whatever he’d done had earned him Steve, but Steve hadn’t wanted the person he was before that, and now he was being that person again, and it was driving Steve away.
He had no idea what had got him here in the first place but he’d be damned if he fucked it up just because he couldn't remember them falling in love. He smoothed out the piece of paper then tucked it back in his wallet. He’d fix this - he could fix this.
Apparently, he wouldn’t be able to fix it that night. Steve didn’t appear for the entire rest of the evening, not even to eat, and Tony decided not to bother him. He’d had to hang off Tony’s arm all day, he deserved a break. Tomorrow. Tony would apologize tomorrow.
Well, it looked like he was sleeping on the couch then. He collapsed onto it with a sigh, then realized he didn’t have the TV remote. He rummaged around in the cushions and his finger hooked on a loop of fabric. Oh. Maybe this was a pull-out bed. He stood, pushing the coffee table out of the way, then tugged on the loop. Sure enough, the sofa unfolded and revealed a bed inside. It was made up, but roughly, not perfectly like the bedroom had been. And there, tucked between the pillow and the wrinkled blanket, was one of Tony’s socks. He sat down hard on the edge of the mattress. This wasn’t the first night he’d slept here.
So now there were two options. Either he and Steve weren’t really married and this was all a very complicated cover story.
Or they were, and something was going horribly wrong in their relationship.
Tony woke the next morning determined to be a better husband, whether it was real or not. It might be his only chance to get to be one, and if it was real, he didn’t want to be responsible for fucking it up. If it wasn’t, well, he still owed Steve better than to embarrass him by making him the subject of everyone’s gossip.
When he heard Steve moving around in the bedroom, he folded the sofa up, turned on the coffee maker and tucked two bagels in the toaster. Steve shuffled out, hair sleep-wild and t-shirt wrinkled and huffed into one of the chairs by the kitchen table. Tony pushed a mug of coffee and one of the bagels in front of him, then sat down on the other side. “Steve, I’m sorry.”
That brought Steve’s eyes up to his. Then he sighed. “It’s fine, Tony. It’s not a big deal. I overreacted. We’re not really - I mean, you can flirt with whoever you want to.”
“I can’t. Because it doesn’t matter if we’re really married or not. Those people think we are and it’s not fair of me to treat you like that. And if I were married to you, I would never want to embarrass you like that. Or hurt you. So I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me.”
There was a full beat where Steve processed Tony’s words, his brow creasing as he stared down at his coffee. “Uh yeah. Of course, Tony. It’s alright. I - I appreciate that.”
“Okay good.” Tony shoved the other bagel in his mouth. They ate their breakfast in silence, but at least it was comfortable silence.
The rest of the day went by quickly. There was a volleyball tournament they went to watch, shuffling through the crowd and keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. After that Steve went for a run on one of the fancy treadmills in the gym, while Tony, apparently, had a regularly scheduled kickboxing class.
They met again at lunch and picked at the food while griping about the lack of progress. They ran into a new couple who also apparently knew them - Mark and Deirdre Wiley. Tony attempted to ask them about weird goings-on, but the couple never gave space to wedge a word in edgeways. They talked incessantly about the resort, their own kids, and The Avengers, and all Tony and Steve could do was listen on in stunned silence. The Wiley’s wafted away after a while and Tony and Steve fell back into quiet grumbling. Tony wondered for the nine hundredth time what they had been doing before the memory loss hit. Had they just hung out? Enjoyed themselves? Done… coupley things? Was this mission really that simple?
They agreed to take a break from their notes for the afternoon, then dive back in again after dinner. They spent their break at the cabin, curled up on the deck chairs out front. Tony had shown Steve one of the drawing apps on his tablet, and he was tapping away with the stylus while Tony read a book.
It was a boring murder mystery - he’d solved it a few chapters in - but he enjoyed the kind of mindless buzz that came with unengaging reading. It was one of the few times his brain would shut up and let him just be.
They ate dinner in their cabin, more of a continuous snack while working than an actual meal, and hauled out their notes again, sitting side-by-side this time and cross-referencing. It had been less than an hour of fruitless review when Steve groaned and rubbed both hands over his face. “I can’t do this anymore,” he muttered and pushed out of his chair.
Tony followed him outside across the grass, and down to a gazebo that looked out of the lake. Steve sighed and sat down on the bench. “Everyone seems so… normal. And those notes aren’t getting us anywhere.”
There was a bit of a vine twined around the foot of the bench and Tony kicked at it with one toe. “Maybe…” He trailed off.
Steve caught his eye. “Maybe there’s no mission? What? We already solved it and now we’re just on vacation?” It came out as half-words, half-squeak.
Tony shrugged. “Maybe we should just leave then. Go back to the tower, find out what’s going on? We’re clearly too clueless to solve this on our own.”
“Yeah…” Steve’s fingers twined in his lap.
A new kind of fear gripped Tony’s stomach. He didn’t want to go back, and he wasn’t quite sure why. They were suspended here, in a safe bubble where anything could be the truth. If they left, if they found the other Avengers, they might find out that this memory loss was not as innocuous as it seemed to be. “Tomorrow? No point in letting the day go to waste. Check-out is at 11 and it’s already four, so we might as well stay tonight since we have to pay for it anyway.” Something like guilt squatted in his gut reminding him that people might be in danger, but he hushed it. They couldn’t always be the ones responsible. They deserved to relax for one night, didn’t they?
Steve seemed to agree. All the tension had slipped out of his shoulders. “Okay, yeah. That seems fair. One more night. If nothing happens, we leave tomorrow morning.”
“Deal.” Tony looked around the field. “So… what do you want to do?”
Steve looked around, and Tony followed his gaze. It was a beautiful day, sunny even this late into the evening, but not oppressively hot. Various couples were dotted around the sprawling grounds, playing games, swimming in the lake, or walking hand-in-hand.
“Want to go for a hike?” Steve offered tentatively.
No, Tony very much did not want to go for a hike, but Steve looked so eager, while at the same time trying to appear not to be, that Tony’s heart softened, and he laughed, resigned, and nodded. “Sure.”
There was a path into the woods next to the lake with a map posted at the entrance. It claimed to be a 2-mile, easy hike with a small incline and a lovely lookout point. It wasn’t that he was out of shape, Tony hastened to point out as soon as the hit the trail, it was that walking without a purpose seemed like a waste of energy.
“It’s not without a purpose,” Steve said. “It’s good for you, and it’s relaxing, and you get to see nature. We don’t get any nature in the city, this is good.”
Tony watched a butterfly flit by. “But you just end up back where you started.” Instead of replying, Steve shot Tony a silly smile and Tony found himself unable to resist smiling back. It was such a relief, like the release of a too-long held breath, to have Steve relaxed around him, smiling at him, spending time with him. He could have so easily pushed to go back to their room, or hike by himself, but instead he’d asked Tony to come with him. It was so different. So… nice.
Tony was tortured once again by cruel curiosity. What on earth had changed between them? It was like they were both living out a new dynamic they couldn’t remember forging.
The path was wide enough that they could walk side-by-side and they did so, in comfortable silence, for quite a while. It was quiet in the woods - somehow much quieter than the open grounds where Tony had been sure it was quiet.
After about forty minutes, the path opened up and they found the lookout point the map had boasted. It really was an amazing view - Tony liked being high up. There was a rock that clearly served as a makeshift bench and they sat on it together, tucking up close so they wouldn’t slip off either side.
“You know what I find hardest to believe about all this?” Tony asked. “That anyone accepts that Tony ‘One Night Stand’ Stark would settle down and get married.” It was supposed to be a joke, and he chuckled, but Steve didn’t.
“I don’t think that’s hard to believe.”
“Well, yeah, but only because you’ve got a ring on your finger.” Tony snorted, watching as Steve’s eyes cut down to his hand where it rested on his knee.
“No, I would have anyway. I don’t think anyone who actually knows you would be surprised.”
Tony opened and closed his mouth again, struck by the intense urge to look at his own ring finger. “Are you going to say something about how all my hookups are a desperate plea for attention or because daddy never loved me or something?”
Steve’s eyes flickered up to Tony’s. “No… I just think you’re a romantic at heart. I know what it feels like to keep people at arm’s length. Maybe…” He looked back at his hand. “Maybe we both had things we needed to get over.”
Well that was cryptic. “Okay…” Tony swept his gaze over the grounds below them, wondering if he should press this topic or not, when his attention was caught by an unusual cluster of antennas over a wooden roof. “Is that…” He shifted up to the edge of the lookout drawing paths in his mind. “Is that the shed we woke up in?”
Steve followed the line of his pointing finger. “Hmm, I think so?”
“Those antennas… I think that’s where the cell jammer is.” Tony did some range calculations in his head.
Steve appeared beside him. “Do you think that’s why we were there?”
“Maybe…” They shared a look. “Should we go check it out?”
Steve chewed on his lip, and Tony could see his strategic mind whirring away, running through their options. He glanced at the sky. “Yes. But tomorrow morning. By the time we get back down it’ll be getting dark and considering we have no idea what we’re walking into, I think we should take every precaution we can and go in the daylight.”
Tony nodded. “Okay. Whatever you say, Cap. Back to the cabin, then?”
Steve answered by setting off for the trail again, and Tony followed. True enough, the sun had dipped below the horizon by the time they reached the trail head, and it was nearly dark when they reached their front door. Steve slid down onto the sofa with a sigh, kicking off his shoes and Tony couldn’t help but wonder if he’d be sleeping there again tonight.
“Thank you,” Steve said.
“For walking with me. I needed that. I’m not good at sitting still.” Steve stretched out, and Tony could see now that the tension in his shoulders had lessened, the pinched look around his eyes was gone.
“Well, that means it’s my turn.” Tony shot him a grin, and Steve raised a suspicious eyebrow.
“Your turn to what?”
Tony couldn’t help but tease him a little. He sauntered across the room and turned on the full force of his charm. “My turn to decide what we do…” He curled his lips up into a smirk and gazed down at Steve.
To his shock, Steve looked sad. His eyes dropped to his lap and he wound his fingers together there. He remained silent.
“Movie?” Tony stepped back and stopped his teasing. Steve shot him a careful look, then nodded, obviously relieved.
Tony found himself twisting everything up into a confused mess in his head. Was Steve so disgusted by Tony’s wanton ways that he couldn’t even take a little joke? But he hadn’t looked grossed out, he’d looked... heartbroken. Why?
Steve went into the kitchen and a few minutes later, Tony heard the miniature gunshots of popcorn in the microwave. He grabbed the remote and flicked around until he found a sufficiently interesting action movie to keep both of their attentions. Steve returned with a bowl and sat down with a careful cushion’s space between them. But Tony didn’t like this new distance. They’d just spent half an hour sitting on a rock together, pressed from shoulder to knee. This was ridiculous.
Tony shuffled closer, tucking his feet up beside him on the couch and leaning just a little into Steve’s space. Steve let out a breath, but didn’t move.
As the movie went on, Tony kept shifting closer, using the popcorn, then his feet, then needing a blanket as excuses until he was full against Steve, his head pillowed on his chest. Steve’s arm came down from the back of the couch to rest along Tony’s side, his fingers falling against Tony’s hip. He didn’t seem uncomfortable anymore, curling in towards Tony as much as Tony was towards him. It was so cozy, Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this snug. And surely Steve, who had been so stunned to discover the joys of sleep-cuddling the other night, must be enjoying it even more.
When the movie ended, they let it run right into the next, but before that one was over, Tony found himself yawning every few minutes, his eyes heavy and hot.
“Bedtime?” Steve whispered right into his ear, and Tony startled, not realizing he’d nodded off, safe in the warmth of Steve’s hold. He nodded, hoping this cuddle would translate to the bedroom, and that he wouldn’t be abandoned to the couch again.
Steve stood and pulled Tony up after him, leading him towards the bedroom. Steve went straight through to the bathroom, but left the door open, so Tony followed. Steve was at the sink, hip cocked against the counter, toothbrush in hand.
“Why do you think you took my name?” Tony asked, pressing in next to Steve at the sink, and reaching for his toothpaste.
Steve’s cheeks pinked again. “I mean, really, we both took each other’s names.”
“Sure, technically. But you know what I mean. You clearly go by Mr. Stark, here.”
Steve shot him a grin so flirty, Tony actually took half a step back under the power of it. “Maybe it wasn’t me, maybe you insisted.” He shoved his toothbrush in his mouth. “Egomaniac,” he mumbled around it.
Tony laughed, but then an intense desire for honesty washed over him, and he paused as he squeezed toothpaste on his brush. “I would never ask anyone to take Stark. Not a burden I want to saddle someone with.”
Steve finished brushing his teeth and was quiet for a long time, his brush hanging forgotten from his lips. Then he leaned over and spat into the sink, cupping some water up to rinse. He set his brush down and turned to Tony, meeting his eyes. The intensity of that look was enough that Tony leaned in towards it, drawn in. Steve’s voice dropped to barely a whisper, close enough that Tony was able to hear it clearly anyway. “Then that’s why I took it.”
It hit Tony like a freight train - the sudden understanding that Steve wasn’t appalled, pained, or embarrassed by their supposed marriage, he was pleased by it. The gentle warmth, the flirty smile, the confidence that he would take Tony’s name for no other reason than to show Tony it was worth taking… There was something there. Tony wasn’t sure what it was, or where it had come from, but he couldn’t leave it alone, now that he sensed it. The note in his wallet, the rings, the names… somehow, at some point in the last few months, he and Steve had sorted this out and animosity had turned to friendship then to love and then marriage. There was no other explanation. It had to be real.
He should probably leave his revelation to discuss tomorrow, because pushing this could very well lead to sleeping on the couch again, but it was like a scab he couldn’t help put pick. “Steve?” Tony asked, his toothbrush dropping to the counter. Steve shifted even closer, staring at Tony’s lips as if he could see the words falling off them.
“I think it might be real.” Tony wrapped his hand around Steve’s wrist, his fingers on the pulsepoint at the base of his palm. He knew his ring was pressing against Steve’s skin. “I think it’s real.”
Steve hesitated for only a moment and then he leaned forward, his lips barely brushing Tony’s, not a kiss, but the promise of one. “Me too. I think it’s real too.” His words were rushed, tumbling out of his mouth on top of each other, in a race to get them all out before their mouths met and he couldn’t speak anymore.
Kissing Steve was not at all like Tony expected. He thought Steve would be soft and careful and tentative, but he was fire. Fierce and unforgiving, he dragged Tony in against his chest, giving him no chance to catch his breath, one hand tight around his waist, the other against the back of his head furrowing up through his hair, drawing the kiss deeper. It was heady and wild and unexpected, and Tony was instantly dizzy.
Words piled up behind Tony’s occupied lips, words like yes, and more, and Steve, and when Steve finally released him they all rushed out at once as a tangled, wordless moan.
“I guess I finally pulled my head out of my ass and told you that I’ve been in love with you for years,” Steve said, voice hushed, minty breath tingling Tony’s nose.
Tony’s everything screeched to a halt. He pulled back and looked Steve in the eye. His eyes were bright and open wide. His bottom lip was trapped between his teeth. He was hanging on a knife-edge.
Tony felt a smiling blooming on his face and then Steve was smiling too. He tugged Steve close, laughing now and backed them both out of the bathroom, his fingers hooked in Steve’s belt loops. Tony stopped suddenly, and Steve bumped into him. He took the opportunity to steal another kiss. “I guess I pulled my head out of my ass and asked you to marry me.”
They tumbled backwards onto the bed, Steve’s weight warm and solid over Tony. “Pfff.” Steve kissed a line down Tony’s neck. “I bet I was the one to ask you.”
“I bet I said yes,” Tony muttered, tipping his chin back to give Steve better access.
“Apparently you did.” Steve nipped at his neck.
“I bet I - ah - said yes please.” Tony arched up, grinding against Steve’s thigh and heard his breath catch.
“Tony,” Steve whispered against his skin.
They fell into silence, only broken by soft gasps and moans. Tony slipped his leg between Steve’s and rutted shamelessly against his thigh, hands petting and stroking and groping every inch of skin they could reach. The tension between them ramped up, heady and wild. Tony was hard, and he could feel Steve was too. It would be so easy to slide his hands into Steve’s pants, to take him in hand…
“Tony,” Steve whispered again, but this one had stop wound through it. Tony’s hands stilled. “Unng, no, I-” Steve’s hips kicked forward, pressing his erection against Tony’s thigh. “I think maybe we should wait - slow down - until we know what’s going on. Until we get our memories back.”
They continued to pant against each other for a few minutes, then Tony rolled away with a groan. “Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. But I’d like to point out, for the record, that this sucks.”
“Duly noted,” Steve said with a chuckle. He stood and stripped down to his boxers while Tony watched openly in appreciation. Tony followed suit, then they tucked back under the covers, meeting in the middle of the bed to wrap around each other.
“If this turns out to be Loki, remind me to send him a fruit basket - with a live grenade in it,” Tony muttered.
Steve chuckled, and Tony could feel the movement of his chest under his head. He felt astonishingly safe and warm and right, here. There was no way this wasn’t real. It was setting something deep inside him thrumming with pleasure, awakening some dormant need inside him to be in Steve’s arms. They must have done this before. They must have.
Tony woke up slow and happy. Steve was pressed against him, like he had been the first night, but this time they were wrapped around each other like two, warm, comfy octopuses. Tony had his chin hooked over Steve’s shoulder and his face pressed into the pillow. Their legs were twined together and he had a handful of something that very well might be Steve’s ass.
And they had to get up.
Tony eased back, and Steve huffed adorably, clutching him close again. “We have a sketchy shed to check out,” Tony reminded him, but Steve just pulled him close again.
“Two more minutes.” Steve found Tony’s mouth with his own and they fell into languid, easy kissing. The bed was warm, and Steve was all soft hands and even softer lips, and Tony found himself floating, sinking into the comfort. It was so odd, to be stuck in something so confusing and feel so confidently, perfectly right. There was no doubt in his mind that this was real and he thrilled with the idea of getting their memories back and finding out what exactly had changed between them, getting to relive their love story all over again.
Steve finally pulled away with a small sigh. “Okay…”
“So, it’s fair to say that you’re into the bed sharing thing, yeah?” Tony teased, brushing his nose down the column of Steve’s throat.
Steve’s breath caught. “It - it has its moments.”
“Mmm, sure does.” Tony pressed a last kiss to Steve’s lips then rolled up and out of bed. “Okay, let’s find this jammer and get a message out, so we can spend the rest of the day enjoying ourselves. He shot Steve a heated look, then rushed off into the bathroom at the sight of Steve’s responding blush. If he didn’t get away he’d be too tempted to trace that line of heated pink skin right down to its source.
It took far too long, but eventually they were both dressed and fed. It was early and they slipped across the lawn, looking out for any wanderers who weren’t at breakfast or still in bed.
The shed was locked, but Steve gripped the handle and pushed down. There was a whimper of desperate metal and the lock gave, letting the door swing open. At the back of the shed was a fuse box, and wired directly into it, a black box that Tony now realized was the cell jammer. If he could, he’d be across the shed in three steps, switch off, give Fury a call, and be right back in bed with Steve within the hour. But he couldn’t.
Because there were two figures standing in the middle of the shed in front of an open crate, and one of the two was pointing a gun right at Tony’s chest.
“Fuck,” Tony bit out, darting backwards. Steve hadn’t brought his shield, figuring it wasn’t exactly subtle carting it across the lawn, and everything had been so quiet up to this point, neither of them had considered that they might run into trouble. Tony spun around with his back to the outside wall, seeing Steve do the same on the other side. He poked his watch a few times and popped the watch-repulsor free, tugging it up over his fingers. It wasn’t the best design, but it would do.
He caught Steve’s eye, then spun into the shed, going low and aiming for anything that moved. The two figures sprung apart and Tony could see now, it was a man and a woman; he didn’t recognize them. He caught the woman with the gun in the ankle, and Steve swarmed up on the unarmed man, slamming him into the wall. Tony tried to grab for the gun, but despite her injury, the woman got it first, raising it up and starting to fire randomly. Tony felt a tug on the back of his shirt as Steve pulled him sharply down to the floor. He fell hard enough to rattle a grunt loose, as two bullets lodged themselves in the far wall, right where his head had been.
The couple sprung back together, and the man reached into the crate and pulled out the most threatening - and most alien - looking weapon Tony had ever seen. He decided it was time for the hail mary. He aimed his repulsor at the man, then dropped it low until the crate was in sight. He fired.
The inside of the shed exploded in bright lights as the weapon inside was struck by the repulsor blast. Tony had a brief view of the crate falling to pieces and revealing a large silver ball, dancing with reflecting light before a different kind of blast bounced back and hit him square in the chest.
Later he would describe the feeling as that of getting kicked in the stomach by a horse on steroids, then slapped across the face while he was down. Memories rocketed into Tony’s mind as he crumpled to the floor under the force of the pain and mental shock. Every new memory came with a new punch to the gut.
Fury explained that SHIELD suspected the owners of Serenity Oasis of dealing in alien weaponry but the agents they’d sent in had “disappeared”. “We need a well-known couple to go in so there’s publicity and they can’t be quietly gotten rid of.”
Clint and Natasha were deep in a long op. Steve had just come out as gay. Tony was well-known for dating anyone who was interested. It made sense…
The press conference… “I wanted to come out for a lot of reasons,” Steve explained to the clicking cameras. “But one of them was that I wanted the chance to share my relationship without having to keep it a secret anymore. I’m engaged and we’re getting married next month.”
The crowd exploded in calls of, “Who is he?” and Steve turned and smiled at Tony. He stepped forward to the microphone, his eye catching on Nat who was in the front row taking a picture, smirking. This was the craziest thing he’d ever done for an op, but there were worse things than the world thinking Captain America was willing to marry you.
The marriage license was faked, along with new ID. The reception was real but only attended by a few people they knew. The pictures were released on social media and spread like wildfire. Steve and Tony were the hot ticket celebrity couple.
“People sent us presents?” Steve said, shocked. He stared at the towering pile of gifts stacked in the corner of the Avengers common room, looking pained. “It’s so dishonest.”
“People are happy for us,” Tony grinned at Steve as he swanned by him towards the bar. “Let them have their fun.”
Steve’s frown deepened. “What’s DUM-E doing?”
“He’s writing our thank you cards. Oh yeah, that reminds me, I need a copy of your signature so he can sign them for you.”
Steve crossed his arms. “I don’t want DUM-E to sign them. If people were nice enough to send things, I’m going to thank them myself.”
Tony sloshed his drink in his glass and smirked at Steve. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah…” Steve shifted under Tony’s gleeful stare, clearly sensing an unpleasant punchline. “...How many are there?”
“If you include charitable donations in our names, eight thousand and ninety-eight.”
“Oh my god.” Steve choked, coughed.
“What can I say? We’re very lovable.” Tony took a sip of his drink and watched Steve putter around the kitchen looking for a paper to sign his name on. “You all packed for tomorrow?”
“Yes.” Steve’s jaw clenched. “I still don’t know how we’re going to pull this off.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re a natural at being married to me.”
Steve shot him a look. “Tony…”
“See you’ve already got the tone of voice down pat.”
Steve huffed when he couldn’t find a pen, then a lightbulb went off, and he pulled a note off the fridge. It’d been up there for weeks and no one had bothered to take it down. It was a quick letter to Nat when Steve was going to be leaving for a mission before she got back.
Just going to miss you by a few hours. I left a book I thought you’d like on your table. Be safe.
Tony watched Steve carefully crease the paper and tear it so it was just the signature. Steve was nice like that, always leaving notes for people and offering them books they might like and telling them to be safe. Well, for everyone who wasn’t Tony, that is.
Steve handed him the paper, a torn sheet that just said, “Love Steve.” Tony looked around wildly for a moment. He needed to put it in the scanner downstairs, so DUM-E could copy it, but it was so small, he didn’t want to lose it. He almost put it in his pocket, then opened his wallet instead and tucked it in the billfold so it wouldn’t end up a ball of mauled paper pulp in his pocket after five minutes of fidgeting.
The paper had never made its way out of his wallet. He’d forgotten to scan it in before they left the next day.
They’d arrived at the resort after a tense, argument-filled car ride up. Their fake smiles for the concierge did little to make Tony feel better about an indefinite stay trapped in a cabin with Steve Rogers. No matter they had booked the nicest, biggest cabin there. This was going to be torture
They flipped a coin for the bed. Steve won. After the first night, Tony left some of his stuff on the bedside table and folded up the couch each night so housekeeping wouldn’t get suspicious. They were having enough trouble keeping up appearances as it was, there was no need to make it worse.
Deciding to pamper himself while they were here, Tony booked himself a massage. Steve agreed to fake sick that afternoon so Tony could enjoy it alone. They only had couples spa options here.
Aaron. He’d been hot and willing, and Tony hadn’t cared what it looked like, or how it might make Steve feel. Rough hands had felt him up in the sauna and he’d groped right back. The door had opened and Aaron slid away, only pausing to whisper, “We should meet up sometime,” in Tony’s ear.
He had wanted to.
The shed. They’d snuck out to inspect it one night and, much like tonight, found the couple there, taking stock. Only then, Tony had recognized them as the owners of the resort. There was a secret panel behind the jammer, and they’d stored a massive stack of dangerous weapons there. Before either of them could do anything, they had dropped the same silver ball on the ground in front of them, only this time Tony and Steve were faced with a gaping, black hole in the side. Tony stared into that hole… and it was the last thing he remembered.
Tony reeled back with the force of the memories slamming into him, panting through the pain it twisted through his body. None of it was real. Not even close. He and Steve had barely been talking, let alone actually in love, when they’d arrived. Hot tears sprung to his eyes, which he blamed entirely on the immensity of five months of memories filling his mind at once.
When he could finally push up to his feet, he looked for Steve. He was in the corner, crumpled against the wall, his arms around his middle and his face hidden. Tony raised the repulsor towards their attackers in defense, but the couple was unconscious, slumped on the ground in an uncomfortable looking pile.
Tony reached around the side of the machine and flicked the power off on the fuse panel. The cessation of the hum hit his ears, almost like noise itself, bringing with it the intense relief of quiet. Steve finally uncurled himself from the floor but he wouldn’t meet Tony’s eyes, or even look his way. Well, that answered the question of whether his memories were back too.
Now that the jammer was off, he pulled his phone out and typed in the emergency code for SHIELD. They’d be here in ten minutes, max. Steve had crossed the room and shoved the two weapons dealers on their stomachs, tying their hands together with their own shoelaces. Tony wondered if the weapon would affect them the same way, wiping out the last few months of their lives and leaving them lost and confused.
“You alright?” Tony asked, and Steve merely nodded, jaw tense. It seemed they wouldn’t be talking while they waited. Sure enough, SHIELD hit the ground with the helicopters after only eight minutes of waiting, and while that was plenty of time to be painfully awkward, neither of them had given in and broken the silence.
The next few hours went by in a blur of debriefs and explaining for the four hundredth time that yes, they really had lost their memories completely, and no that wasn’t just an excuse for failing to check in. Apparently there had been a secret check-in point, out of range of the jammer, at the edge of the lake, that had failed to be mentioned in any of the files they had taken with them. It’s what the boat ride was meant to be about. Tony spent most of the time glaring at Fury, and Steve spent all the time very pointedly looking at anything that wasn’t Tony.
Finally, blessedly, they were released, and Tony was able to go home and lick his wounds in the safe solitude of his workshop. And, shit, those wounds were deep. He felt like he’d lived two lives in tandem and now they’d crashed into each other. He could remember, clearly, how irritated he’d been with Steve on the drive up, and every day after that. The sure frustration of living with a man who disliked him so much, for such a long time. And then, as if their timeline had been snipped off and restarted, fresh, the comfort and happiness of the three days they enjoyed in blissful ignorance.
Without the weight of their past and with the assumption that they were getting along, they did get along. All they needed was a little distance and then somehow it was easy to be friends - why? Tony remembered Steve’s lips on his like a ghost passing by, making him shiver.
Steve hated him - it was the only explanation he’d had before. But for some reason, after the wipe, Steve hadn’t acted like it. He’d been nice, caring, interested, down right fucking flirty. But Steve had always hated Tony. Losing five months of memories wouldn’t change whatever had made him come to dislike him in the first place. And now Tony knew he hadn’t done anything to win Steve’s favour, Steve had never stopped hating him.
Until he did.
So the only thing that had changed was that Steve wasn’t sure, just as Tony wasn’t sure, if their relationship was real or not. He’d seemed to think it probably was. So maybe, like Tony, Steve had assumed that they’d gotten over whatever had come between them. That somehow, like magic, in the lost five months, the tension between them had broken, the smashed bridge had been repaired. But it hadn’t. They’d both thought it had. Maybe… maybe that meant they both wanted to?
Tony’s mind brought him back to that first kiss, ignorant and carefree, all toothpaste and sleep pants and giggling into each other’s mouths. Something Steve had said that night drifted back into his mind, but the thought was cut off by footsteps behind him. He turned, and to his shock, it was Steve standing there. He was stiff and unhappy, still refusing to meet Tony’s eyes. But he was here.
“I don’t want this to affect the team.” He bit out. “The longer we avoid each other, the worse this will be.”
I wasn’t avoiding anyone, Tony couldn’t help but think. “I think it already has. Clint hums ‘Here Comes the Bride’ every time I enter a room.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Steve’s voice had dropped low and pained. Tony pushed himself to his feet and crossed the room.
“Hey, don’t worry. It’s fine. We can survive a little awkwardness, we’ve made it through worse.”
Steve almost smiled, but it died before it was fully formed. “Yeah, alright.” He turned to go.
“Wait. Steve?” Tony stuck his hands in his pockets and started fiddling with the tiny screwdriver he found in one and the three coins he found in the other. The thought he’d been rolling around had welled up again, and well, now he had Steve here to ask. Steve stopped and turned. “There’s just one - can I just ask? Why did you lie to me?”
Confusion twisted Steve’s expression. “What? About what?”
“Back at - back at the resort, you said…” Tony’s voice failed, and he wondered if he was actually going to chicken out, but then the words spilled out. “You said you must have finally pulled your head out of your ass and told me you’d loved me for years.”
Steve’s mouth opened then closed. He frowned, then shook his head. “How could you accuse me of lying about that? I didn’t know what happened, neither of us did. We couldn’t remember. Why -?”
“No, no. Not about the head thing - not the how we, uh, got together thing. I meant, that we only lost a few months, but you said you’d loved me for years. But you knew that wasn’t true so why did you -? I just can’t stop thinking about it. Like you felt like you had to make it seem realer or something? I don’t know. I didn't really think about how crazy it was at the time - I was a little distracted. It just, uh - it was kind of… cruel… to say…” Tony forced himself to stop talking.
Steve somehow managed to look even more uncomfortable than he already did. He sighed heavily. “It doesn't matter why I said that, okay? Can’t you let it go? I just want everything to go back to normal.”
“Normal, huh?” There was venom in his voice that he hadn’t intended to put there. “Yeah, sure, whatever. We’ll go back to the fighting and the snapping at each other and pissing everyone around us off. Perfect.”
“No, I -” Steve huffed something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a string of impressive expletives.
“I don’t want to go back to that, no. I just want -” Steve’s voice broke, and Tony could suddenly see the depth of feeling there - the fear, the pain, and something else…
“What do you want?” Tony took a step forward, and Steve startled like a frightened deer.
“I can’t have what I want, so it doesn’t matter,” Steve bit out, under his breath and so quietly that Tony wondered if he’d been meant to hear it.
“It does matter,” Tony said. Steve’s jaw clenched. “Tell me what you want.” But Tony knew the answer now. He could see it in the line of Steve’s shoulders and the way he leaned in a little and the pained twist at the corners of his mouth. “Tell me.” He took a step closer - they could touch now if he reached out. He remembered the thrum that Steve’s warmth welled up in him and he wanted it back.
“I - I want…” Steve’s eyes flickered from Tony’s to his mouth, then down to the floor. Steve leaned forward until his forehead touched Tony’s, ever so lightly. A painfully intimate gesture and it took Tony’s breath away. “I want it to be real,” he whispered.
“Steve.” And it wasn’t a whine - it wasn’t.
“I never lied, Tony. It’s been years. I push you away because it hurts too much to have you joking and flirting and touching me like you do with everyone else. I fell for you almost immediately, and you were so… indiscriminate, and I couldn’t bear it. It was cruel and heartless and I’m so sorry. I figured you had enough friends, you wouldn’t care about losing out on me being one of them. I don’t want to be everyone else. I want to be… the real one.” Steve sucked in a sharp breath before continuing. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair to say that when I didn’t know what had happened. I just -” His voice cracked but he plowed on. “I wanted it to be real so badly. I’m so sorry. And now that I know...”
“Steve,” Tony repeated, stronger this time. He took Steve’s face in both his hands and eased him back so their eyes could meet. “Steve… it is real.”
Steve’s mouth fell open and his brow twisted with pain. He stepped out of Tony’s grasp. “It isn’t. It isn’t. The paperwork was all faked, the pictures, the party… I kept that damn picture of us at the fake wedding in my wallet like an idiot, torturing myself... I remember it all. I remember…” His hands twisted between them, and Tony saw he was still wearing his ring. Tony was wearing his too, he had completely forgotten it was there at all.
Tony grabbed Steve with more force this time, waited until their eyes met. “It is real, Steve. I don’t give a shit about the paperwork or the parties or whatever we did for this cover. That’s not what I meant. That night at the cabin? That was real. The way I feel right now? That’s real. What we have between us is real. You’re not everyone else to me, Steve, you’re not. I always liked you, and I never understood why you didn’t like me.” He could feel his throat closing up as his chest ached with desperation. He didn’t know how to explain it. “It is real,” he repeated. His fingers twisted and clenched on Steve’s arms.
“Really?” His voice was tiny, nearly broken, only a thin thread holding it together so Tony could catch the words.
“Yes.” Tony tipped forward until he brought their foreheads together again. “Yes. Please. I want that. I want what we had. I want the boat and the movies and the sharing and the hike - okay actually I could probably leave the hike out but you like that shit so whatever, I’ll suffer through, but I want it. Please, please.” He was begging now and it wasn’t pretty, but Steve wasn’t fucking saying anything, and he’d been the one to admit he’d loved Tony for years, that he wanted it to be real, that he wanted to be Tony’s one but -
Steve pressed forward, sure and firm, and slotted his lips against Tony’s. It was nothing like their first kiss at the cabin, hesitant and spun through with laughter, this kiss was desperate and passionate and terrifying. And so fucking real. Tony melted into Steve’s hold, sliding up against his chest and shifting his chin until they fit together like two puzzle pieces.
They kissed for a long time, not pushing further, but not pulling apart either. When Tony legitimately started feeling light-headed, he leaned back.
“I’m so sorry,” Steve whispered immediately. “I’m so sorry.”
“Shh, love, why -? You don’t have to be sorry.” Tony tried to pet his hands soothingly over Steve’s back.
“Are you kidding? I was horrible to you. You were nothing but nice to me and I acted like I hated you for ages. And then as soon as we got a chance to play house, I was all over you. I knew I was torturing myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I just - I wanted to pretend, for a while, that you were really mine.”
“I am yours - I mean, I can be.” Tony kissed Steve again, soft and quick this time. “Is that what you want?”
Tony chuckled. “Those are the two words that got us into this mess in the first place.” He winked, and was rewarded with a perfect, glowing smile.
Steve drew him in close and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I do want you to be mine,” he said. He moved on to Tony’s left cheek. “I do love you.” His right. “I do want to be yours.” Each of his eyes. “I do - I do.” He kissed Tony on the lips and when he pulled away, he pulled a soft sigh out after him.
“Okay, okay.” Tony was grinning now, giddy and light-headed. “But this time I think we should go with Stark Rogers.”
Steve’s lifted an eyebrow; his fingers wandered up under the hem of Tony’s t-shirt. “I don’t know, Rogers Stark was growing on me.”
“You complained about it!”
Steve shrugged. His fingers worked higher, along Tony’s spine, and Tony was starting to have trouble focusing. “Yeah, but now I like it.”
“Bad choices, sweetheart,” Tony squeaked, out, writhing under the dancing hands working their way up his back.
Steve bent down to whisper in his ear. “I’ll race you for it. You own a couple boats, don’t you?”
“Alright, that’s it!” Tony shoved Steve backwards and he tumbled onto the couch, snagging Tony’s wrist and pulling him down after until the were a mess of limbs and laughter. “I’m never going to live that down, am I?” Tony asked with a frustrated huff.
“I’m never going to let you,” Steve said. And somehow he was saying something else, something more. Something that hummed through Tony’s core and made him feel like he was finally - finally - where he belonged. Home. Real. Safe. Right.