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Sardines

CHAPTER SIX

“You okay?” Bruce says to Tony softly as they bid each other good night one more time. Thor will take Loki to Odin and Frigga — from there, they will handle him, and they’re welcome to him as far as Tony is concerned — and the others will stay here, in their apartments in Stark Tower.

Because of course he gathered them close to him. Tony’s always been pretty good at creating a chosen family, no matter how small.

And tomorrow, he supposes, they’ll go back to being superheroes. Tomorrow the world will remember they exist and treat them accordingly. Tomorrow Pepper will remember she’s the CEO of Stark Industries and not his assistant anymore, and Happy will go back to looking after her, and Rhodey may even put on the War Machine suit again — and all three of them won’t look at him with worry and concern anymore.

Well. He smiles grimly to himself. Not as often, anyway.

“Yeah,” he tells Bruce. “I’m okay.”

Bruce nods, like he doesn’t quite believe it yet but is willing to humor him. “And you and Steve?” he asks in an even softer tone. “I figured for a while there was something going on there, but I had no idea–”

“Nothing was going on,” Tony says. “Good night, Bruce.”

“Tony,” Bruce says.

“Sleep,” Tony replies. “Catch some Z’s. Drift off to the Land of Nod. Visit Mr. Sandman. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for almost a year, did you know that? While you guys nestled against the bosom of a pretty girl and communing with nature, I wasn’t sleeping. So, good night, ladies, good night, good night.” He gets back into the elevator and exhales slowly as it bears him to the penthouse.

“Alone at last,” he says to the empty rooms, and then jumps a yard when Steve says, “Not quite,” and gets up from the sofa.

“How’d you get in here?”

“JARVIS likes me,” Steve says, and he even manages not to look smug about it.

“That’s it, JARVIS,” announces Tony. “No Christmas bonus this year and you’re working on your birthday.”

“I don’t have a birthday, sir,” says JARVIS in his mild way.

Tony grabs Steve’s hand and pulls him outside. “I know what conversation you want to have,” Tony tells him as he shuts the glass doors. “We’re having it in private.”

“What conversation is that?” Steve says, looking amused, dammit, and Tony wants to kiss that smile off his mouth. Dammit.

“You and me. Us. There wasn’t one. I swear, Steve, I thought there was but unless my memories aren’t fully restored yet –”

“I don’t remember that either,” Steve admits, the smile disappearing. “I guess you’re right. There wasn’t an us.”

“Right.” Tony deflates with disappointment. “Well. This is awkward. Sorry I jumped your bones.”

“I’m not complaining.” He leans against the wall beside Tony, his hands behind his back. “It was kind of great, you know.”

Tony smiles a little and looks at him. “Yeah?”

Steve looks at Tony steadily. “Yeah.” There’s a pause, as if they’re both waiting for the other to speak, and then Steve says as Tony is inhaling, “Tony, I know there wasn’t an us, but that’s no reason for there not to be an us now.”

“I thought we were in love.”

“I think we were,” Steve says, still steady and calm, and God if that isn’t one of the things Tony loves about him. Dammit. “That wasn’t a lie or a false memory or a reaction to a strange situation. That was true, true enough to break Loki’s spell.”

“Steve, I–” He shakes his head.

“I love you,” Steve says. “And now I know why. I remember why. I think before, neither of us really had the courage to take that step and admit the truth, but when there was nothing in our way –” He smiles. It’s so beautiful. Dammit. “Nothing was in our way.”

“You can talk me into anything, can’t you?” Tony breathes.

“I think it’s mutual, honey.”

“Steve,” Tony says and now he knows how perfectly he fits into Steve’s arms, how easily their mouths come together, and he wants it, he wants it until he draws his last breath, and he want it to start right now.

Steve feels the same, if the way he kisses back is any clue.

***

“My body fought against forgetting you,” Tony says when they’ve kissed and touched their fill. (For now, anyway.) “I think that’s where the migraines came from. I wanted to remember so badly that only physical pain could stop it from happening.”

“That doesn’t explain why I could make the pain go away,” Steve says thoughtfully.

Tony shakes his head. “No, it explains it exactly. When you touched me, my body knew you. Trusted you. Even when up here,” he taps his temple, “it was all fractured and broken, the rest of me knew who you were.”

Steve gazes at him in the way that makes Tony want to turn away and hold him closer at the same time, because who could handle being looked at like you’re everything to someone like Steve? And how can you bear not to be that everything? “C’mere,” Steve says, tugging on his shoulder, and Tony goes and relaxes against him with a sigh. Steve combs his fingers through Tony’s hair, and then says softly, just as Tony has begun to drift, “Poor Loki.”

Tony snorts. “Don’t waste any sympathy on him. He’s got none for us.”

“Still, I pity him. You know why he did this, I think? Jealousy. We have what he refuses to accept anymore. His parents want him back. Thor wants him back. They don’t want to punish him, not really, but they do because they must, because he keeps on hurting people. They’d rather he come home as their son again.”

“And what’s this wonderful thing we have?”

Steve snuggles down against the pillows so that they’re touching again, tips of their noses, knees, shared breath. “Each other, Tony. Family.” He kisses Tony’s forehead. “Let’s get some sleep. I want to dream.”

“Sleep sweet,” Tony murmurs, thinking he won’t sleep because watching Steve is such a pleasure.

He’s never been so happy to be wrong.

END

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