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Assumption Taken Lightly

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“Sir, we made your husband’s as well,” the cashier says, reaching at the back of the counter to pull his order, marked with a branded stamp and labeled Strange. “He called in while you were waiting.”

Stephen blinks at the cashier, then looks down, peeking into the paper bag to find a second sandwich wrapped and stacked inside. “Uh. Okay?”

The cashier smiles, bright and probably fake. “Have a nice day!”

“You too,” Stephen mutters, rolling up the top of the bag and tucking it in close to his side.

“I appreciate you taking this consult,” Palmer says, gathering her folders back into place and stacking them in front of her. She exhales a heavy breath, a small, awkward smile at the corner of her lips. “I know it’s – ”

“It’s fine,” Stephen interrupts, before she can say anything that might imply a simple spine fracture has the power to make him emotional.

The office door thankfully swings open to scatter the tension, Wong marching in with an apparent mission. It doesn’t seem to be a real emergency though, going by his beeline straight toward the back of the room without so much as looking up.

“Oh sorry,” Palmer says, sitting up in her seat and looking over her shoulder, eyes tracking Wong for a few seconds and then looking back to Stephen, slightly flustered, “I didn’t know you had anyone over.”

“I live here,” Wong says flatly, keeping his pace and grabbing a tin of leaves from the shelf, popping open the top, whatever he sees inside deepening the frown across his mouth. “We need more mint.”

Stephen rolls his eyes. “You said you didn’t like the mint.”

“I’ve gotten used to having it around,” Wong says, then pauses, turning around with a narrow, judging stare. “Did you offer your guest any tea?”

Stephen presses his lips together, catching Palmer’s stare and deliberately misunderstanding her bewilderment. “Did you want tea, Palmer?”

“No,” Palmer says, her smile stiffly polite when she turns to Wong. “But thank you.”

“Don’t be rude to guests,” Wong says, putting the tea back on the shelf with a clang. He gestures sharply at the set, disapproving in a manner that somehow succeeds in making Stephen feel more scolded than defensive. “This office has tea for a reason.”

“Who is that?” Palmer whispers, keeping her voice low as if Wong is going to be able to hear, or care, from the other side of a two-inch oak door.

“Oh, Wong?” Stephen says, leaning back in his chair and trying to ignore a slight shame at not introducing them the moment Palmer walked in the door. He hadn’t even been sure Wong was on the continent, though, let alone in the house. “He’s my… partner.”

Palmer blinks at him, then looks down at her folders with a short clear of her throat. “Oh.”

“I stopped by your place, but you were – out of the country,” Reed says, folding his coat over an arm. He tips his head, mouth twitching, “I was told.”

“Yes,” Stephen says, able to pinpoint the memory to the very moment he’d deliberately refused to answer the door after seeing who had come calling. He had planned to pretend no one was home, but instead found out Wong takes a bizarre pleasure in telling people off. If only he had come along today, rather than abandoning Stephen in the pursuit of ‘cultivating knowledge in open minds’. “I travel a lot.”

“And wear a cape,” Reed says, with predictable judgment, glancing across Stephen’s shoulders and down to his ankles.

Stephen forces his mouth into a flat smile. “It’s a cloak.”

Reed frowns at the same moment Stephen feels a vague shift at his side. “It waved.”

Stephen manages to hold his look of skepticism until he’s sure Reed feels unsettled. “My cloak waved, Richards?”

Reed narrows an eye, then tilts his head to the side, looking now dangerously thoughtful. “It was good to see you’ve finally settled down, as well. It seems your accident was a blessing in disguise – your ego bowing to reality.”

My ego?” Stephen repeats, feeling his spine straighten and tempted to display one or two acts of unreality that could blow Richards’ mind. Or prompt him into explaining how they’re not magic, which would just be insufferable, and Stephen is unprepared to allow the conversation to continue that far.

“Your partner must be a good influence,” Reed continues, unheeded, switching his jacket between arms and nodding shortly with the usual meaningless approval. “He seemed to take life very seriously. A change for you.”

“He has a sense of humor,” Stephen says, feeling defensive and unable to completely rid himself of old reflexes. “Buried. Very deep.”

“Well. I’m sure you have other qualities that people look for,” Reed says, his voice flat and giving no hint to his underlying resentment, but it’s irrefutably there, waiting for guard to be dropped. He gives another vacant smile, “Secreted away somewhere.”

“That is subjective,” Stephen offers, rather than giving into the unkind urge to tell Reed to jump off a cliff.

The loud squall of a train coming down the track thankfully interrupts their conversation, prompting Reed to move stiffly forward to platform. “Actually. It was good to see you,” he says, pausing after taking a pair of steps. He looks up with a short, almost resolute nod. “We should set something up. I’ll bring Susan. She’s said we need more… couple friends.”

“Sure,” Stephen agrees, with little intent to go through with it. He gets as far as the stairs before his sense returns like a surge, and he turns around to watch Reed quickly get lost behind a closing train door. Couple friends?”


“Assumed we were together,” Stephen says, pressing his lips together for a moment, “So now we may – ”

“Oh, have you finally noticed?” Wong interrupts, speaking as he gives a short, bobbing nod. “That took quite a while.”

“You’ve been telling people we’re together?” Stephen asks, feeling like an idiot when he realizes his hands have landed on his hips, but not enough to remove them. He paces in front of Wong’s place on the couch, hearing the television still going behind him and trying not to let that stoke his irritation. “Really?”

“I only let them infer it, which happens easily,” Wong says, carelessly lifting a hand, palm to the ceiling. “And it’s an effective excuse.”

Stephen pauses on his next step. “An excuse for what?”

“Almost anything, it seems,” Wong says, tutting shortly, “Take-out, coffee orders, intrusive guests.”

“Those sorts of things don’t need excuses,” Stephen says, shifting to cross his arms tightly over his chest; he doesn’t understand how Wong can be so apathetic to the wider reaching consequences. He’s not sure what they are yet, but it’ll start to unravel. He’s definitely not going to tell Wong now that he’s more than contributed to the issue.

“Why are you bringing it up now?” Wong asks, a low hint of rare humor bleeding into his tone. He peeks up, a single brow raising, “Is it effecting your busy love life?”

Stephen stares back at him, shifting his jaw and feeling a nervous swallow at the base of his throat. “It’ll effect it for both of us.”

Wong shrugs with a single shoulder, looking back down toward the television. “I’m happy where I am.”

“You want to bring your librarian as a plus-one?” Stark asks, raising a brow behind his rosy sunglasses.

“He’s not just a librarian,” Stephen says, feeling something familiar tick over in the back of his mind and prompt him to speak without thinking about the words; he thought he’d gotten control of it after Kamar Taj, but it seems that was wishful thinking. “We – we’re married.”

Stark stares at him a few seconds, then sighs, gesturing with a short spin of his hand. “Well. Whatever, I’ll RSVP you two together then. No use wasting an envelope.”

Stephen blinks a moment later, realizing his mistake in an instant, but there’s no way to take it back. Not without giving Stark ammunition. “Right."

He rolls his lips together and takes a slow breath once Stark has flounced out of range. “Shit.”


“I panicked,” Stephen admits, the fingers of both pressed into his brow. He sighs through his nose, flattening them against his face and darkening all other perception. “I didn’t know you were already invited.”

“For the record,” Wong says, punctuating himself with a sigh and setting a tea cup onto the table with a dull clink.  “I did not want to go. You’re lucky I have nothing planned at the Temple.”

Stephen peeks through to stare at the tea, then reaches down, carefully wrapping a hand around the cup. “Sorry.”

Wong hums low, still for a few moments, then walks behind Stephen, shocking him with a heavy pat of his head. “It’s fine. I enjoy seeing you embarrassed.”

“You’ll be embarrassed, too,” Stephen says, turning in the chair and watching the door swing shut. He raises his voice, “He’ll make us dance.”

“He won’t,” Wong argues, as little more than a disembodied voice just to the left of Stephen’s ear.

Stephen nearly upends the tea into his lap, setting it down before his loss of composure starts his hand shaking. He exhales hard, “That was uncalled for.”

Wong hums dubiously, the noise fading as the spell drops away to leave the kitchen silent.

”Are you about to kiss me?”

“Do you have to – ” Stephen cuts himself off, feeling his shoulders fall and loosening his grip on Wong. “Just let me work up to it.”

“Alright,” Wong says amicably, spinning them in perfect time with the neighboring dancers.

“It’s been a while,” Stephen says, staring at the seam of Wong's robe; he's wearing something green and vaguely silky that frankly looks incredibly flattering to him. “Romance isn’t exactly my thing.”

“I couldn’t tell,” Wong says, a small smirk across his mouth, eyes glancing up with a mocking sparkle that’s practically familiar.

Stephen rolls his eyes over Wong’s shoulder, trying to cover his nerves with a low scoff. “Don’t act like it’s yours.”

Wong hums lowly, plainly amused, "I think I've done well, actually."

“You could kiss me?”

“No,” Wong says, spinning them in tandem with their neighbors, leading with the particular confidence of a man who absolutely lied about never having danced. “I think this will be good for you.”

Stephen takes a deep breath as the spin leads into a step, then leans forward and presses his lips firmly to Wong’s, feeling his nerves disappear in an instant at the sensation of soft skin and an upward curve. He pulls back a moment later, feeling like a weight has been taken from his shoulders, prompting him to immediately trip out of the dance and nearly drag both of them out of beat with the song.

“Was that so bad?” Wong says, utterly indifferent aside for that smirk, but the tone is actually kind of comforting.

“It was terrifying,” Stephen says flatly, lifting his chin and doing his best to settle his mouth into a grim line; it’s rather difficult with the smile that refuses to be contained. “You’re a very intimidating man.”

Wong hums lowly, nodding just as the dance ends, leaving them still and staring at each other. “That must be why you married me.”