“You could’ve told me you were coming.”
“Oh, don’t pretend you didn’t already know,” Tony says, juggling the cups around in his arms to stash his keys in his back pocket.
Stephen gives him a look from the top of the staircase, but starts to descend anyways, “Like I have the mental capacity to watch you all day.”
“See? This is what I’m talking about,” Tony points. “First I save half the universe, which uh, last I remember includes you, Chris Angel – and then I summon all the kindness in my big black heart to buy you coffee, and this is how you treat me? Appalled.”
“You waited six minutes in a Coffee Bean for me? What is that in U.S. Dollars?”
“Are you asking how much my time is worth? – Because last time I did the math, adjusted for inflation and counted stock –“
Stephen outstretches his hand, and Tony braces himself, half prepared for the coffee to go magically flying out of his hand, but Strange just takes it from him and smiles, kind of exasperated and genuine, “Thanks, Tony.”
He isn’t sure how to feel about the whole ancient Smithsonian look Strange has going on here, but last it was explained to him, these sanctums are pretty important. It could use a little more natural lighting, and a little less dust – but hell, what does Tony know about interior design? (A lot).
Stephen is wearing normal civilian clothes, which makes it a little less awkward when he says, “Come, we can talk upstairs,” like he already knows what Tony is here for.
Tony is not intimidated by a wizard. He’s just...unsettled, still, by the concept of Harry Potter spells and – and – magical floating cloaks. It hovers by to pat his cheek, and Tony summons all his energy to keep a neutral face.
He gets suck on a display of a hovering dinnerplate, spinning and rolling around in mid air. Tony pauses, and waves his free hand beneath the plate; strings, invisible wires, magnetic suspension, maybe?
“Don’t touch that,” Stephen says, without looking. “It will suck all the blood out of your body and summon a sylph out of your entrails.”
Tony yanks his hand back way too fast. He holds it to his chest with aghast, “Usually shit like that has a warning label, Strange!”
“We don’t get many visitors,” Stephen smiles, and leads them to a set of chairs next to an expansive library. Tony stares at the seat for a moment, and Stephen sits first, “It’s just a chair.”
“I knew that,” Tony snaps. He takes a sip of his own coffee to do something with his hands, and it’s a little cold. He tries not to grimace.
But Strange gives a short nod, and suddenly its warm under his palms. Tony jerks a little, mumbling woah, and Stephen looks a little too self-satisfied for Tony’s liking.
“So,” he says. “How can I help you?”
“Well…this normally isn’t my – job,” Tony says, waving around his hand. “The whole – house visit thing.”
“Drew the short straw, did you?”
“More or less.” Tony sighs. He looks around the library; books sort themselves, others giving off low vibrating hums behind chains. Stephen’s cloak floats off by the window, and it makes the hairs on the back of Tony’s neck stand on end. He remembers it ripping, remembers ash and the smell of death. Stephen lifts the coffee to his lips, and Tony watches, stuck on the sight of his hands. Long running scars, dots and dashes like Morse code.
He knows he shouldn’t say it. Every last cognitive filter in his brain cries nooooo- but Tony still says, “Eleven pins, huh?”
To Stephen’s credit, he hardly flinches. “Did your research I see.”
“Like I needed to. World renowned Doctor Stephen Strange – they said you could put the human body back together bone by bone.”
Stephen shrugs one shoulder, and sets his cup aside, letting it hover, “So I was.”
Tony sputters, “I just don’t – I don’t get how. A man of complete science, MDs on PHDs man – you were an atheist on every level.”
“So how did you ever switch to – magic relics?”
“Well, you hit the nail on the head.” Stephen reaches out again, grasping his cup with a slight tremor. “Eleven hours on the table, eleven stainless steel pins.” Tony goes silent, and lets him take a drink, before continuing, “You’d be surprised at what you’ll believe in when you have nothing left.”
Tony knows a thing or two about that. A lot, about that. Enough, that he no longer feels unease when the cup bobs between them again, (and suspiciously, he’s pretty sure it now smells of tea instead).
“I was like you,” Stephen says, smiling in a suave, comfortable way that almost catches Tony off guard. “Prideful and stubborn.”
Tony scoffs, and opens his mouth to snap back, but Strange is looking at him different, with a glow in his eye that wasn’t there a moment ago. Tony scoots back in the chair. He sits up and holds his cup in his hands like a normal person.
He’s not sure what changed. So much happened on Titan – but Strange is significantly less dickish since their return. Well, Tony did kind of save his life. Three days, Jesus style.
He asks, “So why not wish away all your problems?”
Stephen must immediately understand, because he lifts a hand and rubs out the tension with the other, “If only it was so easy.”
“More… a choice. It was my hands, or the mystic arts. There is no both.”
Tony licks at the back of his teeth and nods, “So even wizards have rules.”
“Potato tomato -
“Is there anything else?” Stephan asks curtly, and Tony bites his tongue knowing he’s pushed too far. His chest numbs, where the new reactor sits.
Tony clears his throat and rubs under his nose, “Right. The offer you probably already know about it.”
Stephen half-smiles, “You might as well plead your case.”
“You’re a little short staffed,” Tony looks around, “I mean. I don’t see many interns running around with wands and tiny cloaks.”
“We could use the backup,” Tony says, and hates to be in this role, playing Fury. But he plows on, “The accords are trashed. The feds can’t quite seem to tell the difference between wanted criminals and war heroes, and we’ve got mass paranoia on a global scale. It’s nice to have another player on the team. You know, for when it rains hell again.”
The coffee in Tony’s hands rises to the brim. Tony misses the look on Stephen’s face, too busy staring at the new swirls of creamer in his cup.
“You’re asking me to become an Avenger.” It’s not a question.
“More of a, you scratch our back, we scratch yours.” Tony shrugs, “The next time Gandalf comes storming down your door, we’ll be there.”
There’s a long pause. Stephen has one long leg crossed over the other, a hand braced against his cheek and his chin. He stares Tony down, and Tony stares right back. Stephen’s eyes are pointed, chilling, like they could cut straight through you. He’s gazing, searching for something Tony can’t see. There’s a soft look on his face, somber, before it’s blinked away.
“I want nothing to do with your stupid accords.”
“Consider it done.”
Preferably, Tony would like to avoid any more moon-wielding space tyrants for a long, long, long time, but as luck would have it, there’s work to do.
Cap is busy dealing with the specifics; Tony just writes checks and fixes the avenger-sized holes in their walls.
He doesn’t sleep at home much. The words “I’m sorry Tony-“ echo around an empty bed, so he finds himself crashing at the Avengers HQ more often. It’s lively there.
Nothing is quite as it used to be. With the stones now scattered across the raw edges of the universe once more, Vision is different. Not so bad, but learning who he is with Wanda at his side. They disappear for weeks on end, but so long as they show up for the important stuff, Tony is indifferent.
The Guardians took off weeks ago. Tony stocked Quill up with a terabyte of music, so he’s not expecting to hear back from them anytime soon.
It’s easier to build suits and fight aliens. Brooding on death, on the extreme size of the universe, on how many bad guys are out there waiting to make their comic book reveal...It makes Tony feel twitchy and anxious, an urge to make and fix and protect.
Everything changed, that day Loki brought an army through space. And again, when a snap rang through the edges of existence. Things will continue to change, and Tony is still coping with that.
He isn’t coping, however, with the random portal that opens up in his workshop. The wheels on his chair scratch against the ground as he slides backwards, ramming against his workbench and nearly knocking his tools off the table.
“What was that?” Shuri’s hologram asks.
“God,” Tony rubs his arm, “Fucking wizards.”
“I need your help,” Strange says, stupid cape whisking all dramatically in the wind. It has the gall to wave at him.
“I know you have a cell phone,” Tony says, standing, “I could really use one less heart attack.”
Shuri laughs. “You are not wrong.”
Stephen cracks a smile, and Tony points to the hologram and huffs, “You shut it. I’ll have FRIDAY send the scans as soon as they’re done.”
“Try not to die of old age.”
Tony starts to quip back, but Shuri is already waving a peace sign, ending the call.
“Gen Z is proving to be the bane of my existence,” Tony sighs. “You too. Why are you in my house?”
“Come with me,” Stephen says, turning and stepping back through the portal.
“Hi, how are you, good, thanks for asking,” Tony mumbles. He isn’t too keen on these things, but he follows, and when the portal closes, it’s colder here.
“Hell,” Tony shivers, “Where are we?”
“Kathmandu.” Stephen opens a giant stone door, fingers drawing symbols in thin air. He stands tall, determined – and Tony straightens to minimize the height difference, matching his eye when Stephen turns his way. “I need your professional opinion.”
Tony actually laughs, “My – what, did your car break down?”
“Not quite,” Strange says. He reveals what looks to be a relic, an octagonal shape of mechanics, buzzing and churning and clicking and grinding.
Tony winces, and braces a hand by his ear, “Jesus. What is that?”
“A Shoton-Knuckle trap. My studies tell me it’s more mechanical than magical, but I’m afraid it has something I can’t touch.”
“Is that right?” Tony arches an eyebrow.
Stephen nods, “Magic won’t do a damn. It’s charmed.”
“Can I touch it?”
It’s the size of a basketball, but not heavy. It jerks a little in his hands.
“It’s like a glorified rubix cube. Where’d you even find this thing?”
“A grindylow was guarding it down in the sewers. I’m pretty sure it has a relic inside.”
Tony grins, “You want me to try and crack this thing open?”
He’s a little surprised when Stephen smiles back, “If you’d be so kind.”
He’s always been comfortable in suit jackets and tabloid covers, and just as at ease with grease under his nails and a spanner in his hand. You grow up with one thing, you grow into another, it all becomes routine more or less. Cameras and engines and flying faster than sound.
Tony is still adjusting to the floating man in the corner of his workshop, legs crossed, arms folded neatly in his lap, hovering two feet off the ground.
“It’d be easier to work without you breathing down my neck,” Tony says, deconstructing another scan and digging in with a microdriver to try and pry another layer off this alien finger trap. “Don’t you have like – a magical library to guard?”
Stephen arches an eyebrow, and it’s frustratingly attractive. “I’m not the only sorcerer in New York.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much worse.”
“It’d be unwise for me to leave you alone with the relic,” Stephen says, “In case it- you know-“ he makes a rough gesture with his fingers.
“Explodes?” Tony finishes. “Wouldn’t be the first time.” He flicks his glasses back down and narrows in on the edge of the puzzle – and that’s all it is; a puzzle. He’s suspiciously sure Stephen has the ability to solve it, but probably lacks the resources, so Tony keeps his mouth shut.
“Anyways,” Stephen stretches, landing softly on his feet and rolling his shoulder to pop the joint, “as stubborn as you are, you’ll get it done fast enough.” Tony’s eyes track the movement of Stephen’s neck as he rolls his head back and around.
“Why not take it to Wakanda?”
“I trust you more,” Stephen says.
Stupid handsome wizards and their friendly cloaks and their long legs. Tony mumbles to FRIDAY, updating the scans and moving onto the next quadrant. He fights the urge to look back up – but loses, and stops dead when he sees Strange staring back.
Tony has been at this for hours. Stephen hasn’t moved, still watching, meditating, waiting calmly, but watching, with something that makes the back of Tony’s neck go hot. It’s infuriating.
Tony sighs. Sets down his tools and swipes them to the side of his desk – “You know, I think I’ve got this figured out.”
Stephen jerks a little, blinking and inclining his head slightly. He folds his hands behind his back and replies, smooth, “How so?”
“You look at me like you’re seeing someone else,” Tony says. He assumes he hit the nail on the head, because Stephens body tenses ever so slightly. Tony spins his chair and looks at Stephen outright, demanding his full attention. “What did you see in those timelines.”
That’s it. The crystal smooth, doctor hardened aura of professionality dissolves with a crack, guilt and pain snapping across Stephens eyes like an open book.
“Tony, Tony-“ he mocks. “Before Titan you could hardly stand me. Now you trust me? What did you see?”
Stephen swallows soundlessly, and looks to the floor. Tony sees how long his eyelashes are, downturned like this. “I can’t tell you anything that would alter the path of our true timeline.”
“Oh that is some bull shit if I’ve ever heard it. I know enough from my own mouth, thank you.”
Stephen cracks a short smile, maybe something sad. “The big bad billionaire needs validation from a magician? ”
Tony doesn’t say anything. He crosses his arms. Stephen sighs, and rubs his forehead in frustration.
“What am I supposed to say? I knew fourteen million versions of you.”
Tony freezes with a record scratch, head snapping up like a bullet, arms reaching for the sides of his chair. He was fishing for hate, for envy, an ulterior motive. Strange would know fourteen million six hundred and four Tony Starks that made the wrong choice, that let the world die, that-
“You never gave up.” Stephen says, solemn. “Even in death.”
His heart churns to a grinding halt.
What was it like? What did he say? What does Stephen know?
“Oh,” Tony manages.
“Sorry,” Stephen smiles. “I guess, I’ve tried not to seem too familiar with you.”
“But you do know me, huh? Some version of me, theoretically, every thread of possibility in my personality, good and bad,” Tony mulls, and absently rubs his hand along the scruff on his cheek. “Everything I might say. Everything I might do.”
Stephen lights up, like Tony is finally speaking his language. “In theory, but Time isn’t so kind. There’s more repetition than you’d expect; something as small as a misstep can cause a ripple in Time, events that-“
“Were we friends?” Tony asks.
“Almost always,” Stephen replies immediately. The air goes thin. Tony takes a moment to swallow, and nod, before turning around in his chair and moving the overhead laser back on the relic.
“Alright. Then you better show up for Spaghetti Saturday, or I’ll be pretty disappointed.”
It’s not just Spaghetti, really. Kind of a ‘Pasta- Party’, you could say. Everything sucks and the planet is repeatedly invaded by lizard people and they’re up to their ears in court marshals, so, whoever the hell shows up for Spaghetti Saturday gets free pasta, shut the fuck up and enjoy your food coma.
There’s a larger turnout than usual. As much as Tony bitches, it’s always nice to have family around.
“I walked this lady to the train yesterday, who said her son’s best friend is a sound guy for Keeping up with the Kardashians,” Peter says around a mouthful of rigatoni.
“Don’t get involved in trash TV, kid,” Tony points. He uses his fork for emphasis. “Bad investment, it’s a cop-out all around.”
“Oh, don’t act like you wouldn’t watch The Real Housewives of Asgard,” Natasha jokes.
“Most of my people were killed at the hands of my sister,” Thor says, throwing a big axe-sized wrench in the conversation. It goes dead quiet; someone clears their throat. At least, until Thor laughs, and slaps his hand against his knee. “It would be quite funny.”
“Just stay in school,” Steve pats Peter’s hair as he passes the pasta bar for the pasta salad bar- “Don’t get caught up in celebrity gossip.”
“If I’m an avenger, that means technically I’m a celebrity,” Peter mumbles. He turns, “Mr. Stark, do you think I could be a Kardashian?”
“Low-balling it a bit there, don’t you think?”
“Yo Tony, round two?” Sam interrupts.
“I’m always down for sloppy tortellini seconds,” Tony stands, happy to leave Thor and Peter to hash out their Ideal Sitcom Trashplot with Natasha.
Tony deserves this pasta, okay, diet be damned. He spent all week cracking that sudoku egg, just to see a glorified beanie baby sitting inside.
“The Doll of Mafatia!” Strange had gasped, like that fucking means anything. Tony watched him snatch it up and pop through a portal, and he hasn’t seen him since. Until another one opens next to his fridge.
“God!” Tony chucks a spoon of macaroni at Stephen’s handsome face, and it goes sailing past him. “Use the front door!”
Strange laughs – laughs! – and tucks his hands in his pockets.
“I thought I was invited to Spaghetti Saturday.”
His voice is a low, deep breeze. Tony finds his toes curling in his shoes.
There’s a few waves and greetings from the rest of the room, Peter especially, “Hi Doctor Wizard!”
Stephen is in a hoodie and jeans, and it’s still so jaunting from the typical Celtic ninja garb he wears in battle. Strange carries himself in a casual way, confident, like his shoulders aren’t glowing with specs of the portal’s magic. It closes, and Tony gestures with his elbow, “Well. Help yourself, Doctor Wizard.”
An eyeroll, “Thank you.”
If Tony will shed a hair of honesty, he’s surprised Stephen showed up. Strange is one of those nerds who will literally memorize a textbook for fun, and prefers tea over a triple expresso. Disgrace. Traitorous.
Strange is picking up a conversation with Steve and Bruce, which, good riddance, they’re a nerd threesome made in heaven. Tony is starting to feel a headache building behind his eyes, so he finds a back corner of the party and falls into a comfortable silence with Rhodey, and the T.V.
He’s skeptical when the couch dips next to him however long later. It’s Stephen, balancing a plate on his knee. His salt and pepper hair is slicked back neatly, except for that one strand that hangs stubbornly above his brow. Tony fixates on it, before Stephen speaks.
“I meant to thank you,” Stephen says, extending a hand. “Last week. For uh. The relic.”
Tony looks between his hand and his eyes, before clasping his fingers and giving them a shake. Stephen’s hands are large, crooked, but they have some strength in them. Warm.
“You ever gonna’ tell me what that thing was?”
“Uh,” Stephen pauses, like he’s searching for the right words. “I guess you could call it a voodoo doll. Except, kind of worse.”
“Alright, well, keep your cursed knick-knacks out of my cottage,” Tony says. He’s a little happy when Stephen laughs. Even sitting he’s taller, broad shouldered and a little too suave for his own good. Dorky, too, in a likeable way. He gives Tony a wink, and it drops right into his stomach.
“Should I bother with a promise?"
On days when the world is just too loud, the sanctum sanctorum isn’t so bad. There’s a soft shht, shht, from the broom brushing dust into a corner across the top floor. Tony is sure to point out the Disney similarity, and the comparison is not lost on Stephen.
Why is Tony here? He doesn’t have a definite answer.
The magic, the spells, as so mathematically revolting as they are, there’s something captivating about it. Mysterious, more so, of that Doctor Strange.
Tony runs his hand along the handle of an old spear and watches it shift color, like a mood ring. Tony’s glasses scan the interior, and he reads through the elements before tossing it aside for later.
“If you’re looking for a scientific explanation, you won’t find one,” Stephen says. He gently closes a book and lets it shift itself back onto the shelf.
Tony makes a mock buzzer sound and says, “Wrong. There’s a scientific explanation for everything. That’s the fun part.”
Stephen looks at him like he’s said something particularly clever. Or charming, maybe. It leaves Tony hot, tugging at the collar of his shirt and mumbling old buildings and their lack of AC – He’s loosing his touch if he gets so bothered by a stare.
But Stephen walks his way, stiff fingers reaching for the spear. It glows a world of color, and he explains it in painstaking detail, all in Tony’s language, numbers, beautiful numbers, the line between magic and reality.
He doesn’t mind this. Putting on a suit of armor and standing at the battle line, bleeding at the hand of evil, if only to see a portal at the base of his stairs by night. Stephen can’t cook for a damn, and conjured food tastes god awful – so Tony buys, and Stephen teaches, on the foot of his couch, pointing through books and explaining the edges of the universe.
No. It’s not so bad at all.
“You’re ridiculous,” Stephen says.
“Or a genius.”
“Or an idiot. There’s no way it’s structurally stable.”
“But that’s the fun part,” Tony chews. “If it works, then I’ve just invented a second element to add to the periodic table, yay me. If it doesn’t, then I get a Forth-of-July party in my own garage. A win-win.”
“I’m convinced the cognitive part of your brain has been fried.”
“Oh, it definitely has, but that’s what makes me a great superhero,” Tony says, and Stephen graces him with an eyeroll.
He was a little surprised when, at the suggestion of walking, Stephen didn’t call it a waste of time. He does, to Tony’s downright shock, own a car. It’s a rickety Toyota, but it’s a car nonetheless. Tony doesn’t ask why the doctorate didn’t buy him a lambo, because the long scars on his fingers are evidence enough.
The scar tissue beneath his reactor starts to itch, and realization comes slowly, like a crawl. They really are two sides of the same coin.
It’s been a while since Tony has had a gross New York hotdog and sat on a park bench, but Stephen seems content to do so. Alright, fuck his diet again, or whatever.
“Technically, I was born in Philly,” Stephen says. “I don’t know why my backstory has any significance.”
“Anything to make you seem more human,” Tony shrugs.
Stephen actually laughs, “I’m not?”
“I watched you ju-jitsu a mermaid into a different dimension last week, so uh, yeah, I’ll need to see your social security.”
Stephen makes a gesture, almost like he was going to reach out into the short foot between them, and grab Tony by the shoulder. But Stephen plays it off, hand dropping down into his lap to rub at the stain on his jeans. “Oh, get with the times. Magic is old news already.”
“I’m with the times!” Tony defends, sounding absolutely not. “I’m just saying, if I ran a background check would I find a suspicious Stephen Strange that only came to exist ten years ago? Or is Strange really your last name?”
“I’m not an alien,” Stephen hums, “I think.”
“It’s okay. I’m not totally convinced on myself either.”
“That I can agree with.”
Tony gives him a look, scoffing as if hey, I can say it, but you shouldn't, but Strange just wads up his napkin and shoots it in the trash bin. He totally used magic to make that shot.
"I didn't have to come here," Tony crosses his arms. "I could be doing literally anything else, come get lunch with me - oh, yay, five dollars of compressed meat - "
"You've always got everything all figured out, don’t you? Maybe it's fun to watch you flounder, Mr. Stark." Stephen purrs.
"Whatever you think you know about me - you've got it all wrong," Tony replies, flicking down his sunglasses. "If there's one thing I take pride in, it's my levels of emotional dexterity." He can hardly keep a straight face as he says it, and there's a short shake from Stephen's shoulders, as he laughs honey deep.
Fingers brush against the back of his neck. Cold, and gentle.
Tony's head snaps over, staring slack-jawed as Stephen plucks a stray twig from his hair. He looks transfixed, transformed, hypnotized, as if he's not in control. Stephen pulls back his hand, but leans nose forward, drawing in Tony's eyes like a spell. It's charming; Tony's lungs squeeze tight and he waits, utterly captivated as the mood goes quiet. Stephen's lips part open, and the wind ruffles his bangs against his eyebrows, and the world drops out beneath Tony's feet. God he wants to–
There's children running in the park, the sound of paddle boats and a yoga class off on the hill, but Stephen is looking into him, and Tony's body goes numb.
It'd be really really easy to lean forwards and kiss him. How weird would that be? Not too much - no, not with those green eyes. Stephen fights and he jokes but he listens, he knows what it’s like to fight tooth and nail for what you believe in, and it's the most compelling part about him.
But Stephen leans back and stands, stretching, "I should take you to the Hong Kong sanctum today. Wong has been insufferable since you gave him that Starkphone."
Tony blinks. He pauses to get his bearings; as if they weren't just eyefucking on a central park bench. He clears his throat and says,
"Only if you spar with me tonight. I've given up on the superhumans, Steve almost snapped my arm in half last week."
"I'm sure he felt bad about it."
"Oh I bet you my other arm he didn't."
The world tries to end again.
Like, it doesn't, but it sure does try. The more villains they face, the more allies they gain, the harder they push the more they'll fight back. It's nice to see the hulk again, running headfirst into a moshpit of aliens. Cap is calling the shots and red magic glows along the floor, and despite everything, there's a certain rush of adrenaline that comes with good teamwork.
A particularly hard hit has Tony rocketing headfirst towards concrete. He's got just enough time to cover his chest with the nanobots, braced for impact, but he knows the sound of a spinning portal, and suddenly he's on grass.
"Oh," Tony breathes, bracing a hand against his chest and sitting up. "Thanks Doc."
Stephen is above the ground, arms braced before him, a shield glowing above. He pulls back and fires it, like a bow and arrow, twisting another spell to bind a beast and send it hurling towards earth. His hair is blowing everywhich way; he's half caked in dirt and blood, a slice down the side of his head, bits of his sleeves torn and unraveled.
"Thank me later!" He barks, "There's a dog in a spacesuit distorting the laws of reality - if I have to fight one more half-baked alien screaming bloody murder I am going to shove everyone in the mirror dimension and leave them there!"
Tony stares, because by god if he doesn't get to stick his tongue down Strange's throat soon, he's going to seriously sue someone. Stephen then turns and yells for Tony to get back on his feet, and Tony does, duplicating his repulsers and aiming for the roof deck where there's a very distressed 'oh no, no no please dont eat me, I still haven’t seen the new Jurassic Park movie and Mr. Stark promised he'd take me and Aunt May is gonna' kill me if I die -
Lightning rains from the sky, and they all know the fight is over.
“This is by far the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Ah ah ah-“ Tony wags a finger. “No negative energy in our Relaxation Zone.”
Steve lets out a hearty sigh, and leans his elbow on the countertop, head in his hand. “So why aren’t you at the spa?”
Tony lifts one of the cucumbers from his eye to give Steve a look beneath his mask, “Studies say your living-room couch relaxes the brain more by 23 percent.”
“And,” Thor grins, also lifting his cucumber eye, “This is simply more fun.”
Tony raises his fist without looking, and he feels Thor bump his knuckles. Tony can hear Steve press his forehead against the kitchen counter and sigh.
There’s a familiar wsssshh- and Tony doesn’t bother opening his eyes to say, “Hey Doc, nice of you to join us.”
“Doctor Strange,” Steve greets, stretching out a hand.
Tony peeks long enough to watch them shake hands. He sees Stephen in his stupid magician getup, and its so god ugly, its unfair how hot he looks. Tony would look like a circ-show, and here he is, the good doctor looking like a whole meal. Tony huffs, and leans back into the cushions.
“Captain. There’s been a…” Stephen pauses, looking over to the couch. “What is going on?”
“Male Soul Bonding and Cleansing,” Thor and Tony say together.
“Right…” Strange trails. “Well, the London sanctum was attacked this morning. I worry it’s not over yet.”
“Ugh, come on, it’s our day off dude,” Tony chucks the cucumber, and it lands on the ground with a sick flop. “Take a load off, I’m sure your little apprentices have it under control.”
“Unfortunately, evil doesn’t take vacations,” Steve says, and it’s so cliché both Thor and Tony gag.
“What attacked the sanctum?”
“Dark elves,” Strange says, gaining the attention of Thor. “I figured I’d give you a fair warning.”
“Dark elves? Like Lord of the Rings?” Tony sits up. “What’d they want?”
“A relic of their forefathers, or of the sort-“ Strange pauses, and stares, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to take you seriously with all that shit on your face.”
“I’ve never been serious in my life,” Tony swings his legs over the couch. “Martini please?”
Stephen sighs, and conjures a martini into his hand. Tony grins at the look Steve is giving him. It tastes like shit, but by god its the principle of the thing.
“We shall keep an eye out,” Thor says. “Thank you Wizard.”
“I’ll give word to the others,” Steve says, using the excuse to leave. Stephen nods, and prepares to make his exit as well.
“Hey hey, don’t go,” Tony waves. “Come hang out, we were just about to paint our nails and watch Karate Kid.”
Strange blinks, long and slow, like he’s trying to figure out if he’s joking or not.
“Come now,” Thor grins, slinging an arm over Tony’s shoulder and hauling him close, chin over his head, “Don’t tell us your masculinity is so frail.” Tony nods twice.
Stephen’s face hardens, and he wrings out his hand, fingers straightening to create a portal.
“Thanks, but I don’t have time to play today.”
Orange sparks fling around he room, and soon he’s gone as quick as he came.
Thor frowns, “Was it Karate Kid?”
Tony bites along his cheek, and gives Thor a friendly slap on the back, something he probably didn’t even feel.
He has his suspicions.
Strange likes 70’s dad music, which is, whatever. They’ve already had the argument of classic rock vs jazz a million times over, so they’ve called it a truce and agreed to take turns with the radio. Some music is better than no music; the sanctorum is too big to just sit in silence.
It’s a nice break. Tony has been staring at microscopic bots for way too long, and his headache has reached his shoulders. However, Strange invited him over on a slow day, and he’s got this real cool remedy for headaches, so Tony doesn’t mind laying down on a couch, both of Stephen’s hands on his temples, little circles of orange flecking at the edges of his vision.
“And then what happened?”
“Well, I dragged my suit two miles through the snow.”
Stephen frowns, “You didn’t leave it behind?”
“Leave it? Are you stupid? No, I found a ten-year old’s garage and stole his stuff.”
“Your moral compass is seriously broken.”
“I’d like to think of it as more of a roulette wheel. But hey, I sent him like a hundred-grand worth of shit later, so, at least give me a little credit.”
“You’re incredible,” Stephen says, and it almost sounds like a compliment. The alchemy symbols hum by Tony’s forehead; he looks up at Stephen, despite being upside down. His features suddenly squish, and he closes his eyes, fingertips trembling along Tony’s temples, “Jesus, your nerves are all over the place.”
“Should I act more surprised?” Tony tries a few different faces, and there’s a tap against his forehead for reprimand.
“Shut up, I’m trying to sort out all the garage in here.”
“Do you want the headache gone or not?” Stephen shifts in his chair, and the weird tingly feeling in his head turns painful, making him wince. Tony fidgets his hands between his knees. He tries to keep still, yet he says,
“Must be interesting. Mixing medical and magical theories.”
“I discovered a book on mystic healing in the Hong Kong sanctum, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Stephen says. “It technically goes against everything I was taught to believe in, but,” he draws back his fingers, and Tony grunts, something purple and blue ghosting from his head, before it dissipates, along with his headache. “I couldn’t do that before.”
“Wow,” Tony mumbles, and presses a hand to his forehead. He sits up a little too fast, and Stephen leans out of the way just in time. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Magic is a fickle thing. I’ve hardly scratched the surface.”
“I think you’ll get it,” Tony says. “Photographic memory, and all that.” He pauses to snap, real quick, “Song, go.”
Stephen listens. “Der Komissar, but this is a remake. The original was recorded by Falco in 1981.” Stephen moves to sit next to him on the couch. He tucks one leg under himself, and Tony finds himself smiling at the casualness of it all. “If I’m being honest, I find your specialty pretty interesting.”
“What, old fashioned nuts and bolts?”
“You know it’s more than that. All I do is read the work a bunch of old guys scribbled on parchment paper a thousand years ago,” Strange says. “You – you see past that. You rewrite the books.”
“Why, Doctor, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were flattering me,” Tony grins.
”I am, not that you need it,” Stephen teases. Tony really, really wants to play with the hair between his eyes. Fuck, like really.
Tony swallows; Stephen’s eyes follow the line of his throat. Quick, down and up.
“Oh, I always need it,” Tony says, and fails to keep the flirt out of his tone.
Stephen’s voice is so chocolatey thick, deliciously rich, “You should give yourself more credit, Mr. Stark.”
All Tony has to do is lean his head back on his shoulder, falsely nonchalant, so he can look up at Strange and dare him, beg him – to do something. Stephen’s eyes glaze over. You could cut the tension with a knife, and Tony is kind of living for it.
He doesn’t know why he wants this to work out. Rich geniuses with nice cars and a red leger always get a girl, but never the girl. The girl is pretty, the girl has nice eyes, the girl has a sentient cape, but the bad nights and the scars and the world’s eye scare her away, every time.
But Tony wants the girl, wants him so fucking bad.
Tony sighs, “Are you going to kiss me in this century, or what?”
He can see the exact second Stephen inhales, sharp as a knife. Thank god, Stephen throws an arm over the edge of the couch and leans up and over, hovering down and kissing him, not fast or slow but purposeful, like every last second better fucking count. If Tony groans in sweet pining relief, then that’s between him and god.
The couch has them twisting, and Tony chases it, eyes rolling back when Stephen presses in, cups the side of his head and lets him have it. Tony curls a hand into his thigh and squeezes, and the tiny noise he gets in return is so fucking satisfying.
Stephen exhales into him. His other hand comes up to hold Tony’s face still, and it’s kind of dirty, the background music not loud enough to hide the sound of their kissing.
Strange pulls back and it’s sticky – it leaves Tony licking his lips and tasting green tea.
“Oh –“ Stephen breathes. He holds Tony’s face a little too long before he lets go, “I’m so sorry.”
Stephen’s eyebrows are squished together, his forehead wrinkled in frustration. He seems winded and confused. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Damage control, damage control, damage control.
“I’m so sorry-“
“No it’s – fine, um.”
Stephen braces the back of his hand against his mouth and stares, disoriented, past Tony’s face and into nothing. His neck is red and his breathing isn’t right and hey –
“Stephen.” Tony grits. “When are you actually going to tell me what you saw?”
There’s a long silence. Stephen idly brings a hand up to his chest, where the eye of Agamotto usually sits. Tony waits.
“I never looked past the week,” Stephen says, so low Tony has to still his breathing to hear him. “There weren’t any scandals. You never spilled any deep dark secrets.” He pauses, to catch Tony’s eye, “We were friends. I didn’t lie.”
“Then what’s the big deal?”
“I fell in love with you,” Stephen blurts, and then quickly whispers, “Oh no.”
Some pieces fall into place, and Tony doesn’t even have enough time to react. He only opens his mouth, before Stephen is rambling, “You – in every possible timeline, you never ran away. Whenever you died, it was protecting someone else, Parker, Mantis, me- “ Stephen cuts off, and then looks away, to where the cloak is fluttering with, what you could assume is encouragement. “I came to know someone other than the public’s favorite playboy. Someone who saw a bigger picture than himself. That’s why, when it mattered, it was easy to give up my life for yours.”
Tony takes a long time to think about that. He thinks about a lot of stuff all the time, but now he squints, and Stephen’s face is hardening – he’s slipping, walls sliding back into place, so Tony acts fast.
He punches his arm, and Stephen flinches.
“It’s not fair!” Tony shouts.
“You had a bajillion years to know me – and I’ve only been hanging out with you for a handful of months,” Tony bristles, firey hot to his toes. “I don’t remember any of those timelines. You didn’t even give me a chance to fall in love with you.”
Stephen looks utterly lost.
“You – really?”
“I only flirt with you all the time, asshole.”
“You flirt with everyone all the time!”
“Okay, but you shouldn’t say it like that.”
Stephen gives an incredulous laugh. He doesn’t flinch when Tony turns to hold his Morse-code hand between two of his calloused ones.
“Go out with me,” Stephen says. Soft, relieved.
“Finally,” Tony breathes.
Earth is a tiny, insignificant fleck of a planet in a vast, almost unimaginable universe. In the grander scheme of things, they must be so trivial, completely and utterly irrelevant to any other technologically advanced society –
So why, in god’s green sandals, so they keep fucking –
“Fuck!” Tony vaporizes an alien peon, and rolls to avoid getting a spear through his neck. “This is such bullshit.”
He watches T’Challa pick up a street sign and bat a giantass bug with it. “Stark, they’re attracted to the light in your suit.”
Tony bites his tongue – no shit sherlock –
“I can’t divert any more power than I already am,” Tony grunts, and kicks one of the bugs in the face, and green stuff gushes everywhere. “Ugh, not my ideal Saturday night.”
“Maybe you should sit this one out Tony.”
“Shut up Nat,” Tony snaps. “FRIDAY, lower it to 50 percent.”
Steve and T’Challa are running around like little ninjas, mowing them down in small groups, while Tony takes on the swarm, damnit. There’s too many civilians to use long-range weapons, and the more power he diverts, the more effort it is to move.
“Vision, take out the street lamps,” Steve says. “Lets get them out of the city.”
“No!” Tony hisses, “Then they’ll all come after me!”
“They already are, so what does it matter?”
He’s sideswiped along the street. There’s fifteen, twenty of these things, and Tony has to kick them off one by one as not to fire and attract more. He grunts when something sharp digs into his side; he forms a sword by his hand and chops off the head, ripping out the fangs and blocking another hit-
But they’re gone.
Sam’s voice chirps, “Oh look, the princess has come to save the knight in shining armor.”
There’s laughter through the coms, and Tony mutes them. Not that he’ll say it out loud, but fuck is Tony glad to see Stephen. Thats’s not to say Tony can’t rely on the team, but it’s nice to know that Stephen will always have his back. Fuck it, “Fuck I’m glad to see you.”
“You have it all wrong,” Stephen says. His arm’s are glowing with symbols. “You need to give them more light.”
But he’s spinning something in his hands, and suddenly there’s a sun, so bright Tony’s censors go haywire. When he opens his eyes again, there’s only half the swarm there was before. Steve and T’Challa stand at the end of the street, staring dumbfounded. Vision lands on a rooftop.
“They are called Cyzus,” Stephen says. “They’re nocturnal, the sun will kill them.”
Tony turns the coms back on to silence the beeping in his ear.
“What just happened?”
“Pseudoporphyria,” Tony mumbles.
“Then whats with the moth thing?”
“It’s not light, it’s sound.” Stephen presses his palm to the reactor, and Tony flips his helmet down to meet his eye. “They can only hear an extremely fine decibel.”
“Holy shit guys, my wizard boyfriend is so fucking smart.”
“Isn’t he like, the supreme sorcerer of the universe?”
“And my personal magician,” Tony squeezes his shoulder and grins at the eyeroll he gets. Fingers slip around his waist quickly, fingers covering the wound in his side, and Tony knows the tingling of medical magic by now.
Tony clicks his tongue, ”Captain, I have an edit to your idea.”
”Should I be worried?”
Stephen leans in to speak into Tony’s mic by his neck. “Probably.”
They go out for sushi burritos afterwards. Partly because Natasha said it just opened last week, and mostly to apologize for the giant bug they chucked through the window.
A hand runs over that scar, later. It’s a perfect circle, kinda’ ugly but kinda’ cool, right under the wound Thanos gave him.
“I haven’t figured out how to reduce scarring yet,” Stephen mumbles. “You’ll have to rely on traditional medicine for that.”
Tony shrugs, and tries not to jostle too much, because he’s really comfortable. “Shuri could probably do it for me, if I asked.”
“You should.” Stephen draws his hand to rest below his ribs. His hands are big, but not strong enough to bruise, and Tony kind of likes that. He wiggles a little to force his head under Stephen’s chin.
“Why, am I not pretty anymore?”
“Oh shut up,” Stephen snorts. “I’m just saying you have options.”
“Eh, I’m not any different from you.” Tony grabs his hand and squeezes it. “It’s a reminder.”
Stephen doesn’t respond. Tony doesn’t bother breaking the silence. His room is a little cold today, fall blowing into New York earlier than expected, but it’s not bad. The week has been hell but the month has been good. There’s so much to see out there, lots of friends turned family, too much to do in such a short lifetime.
Tony thinks he’s got it right this time, maybe. There’s spellbooks on human transfiguration scattered across Tony’s nightstand, a shelf now fully devoted to tea in the kitchen, and if Tony is to allow himself a shred of pride – now a coffeemaker in the sanctum sanctorum.
They’re adjusting. Stephen doesn’t want much to do with the public eye. Tony could care less about talking frogs and cauldrons. But that’s okay. They try to cook dinner on Wednesdays, and Stephen meets him for lunch after the Miserable Monday Meetings, and they watch TED talks together, when Tony has something to tinker with in his hands. They’re horribly different in all the best ways.
Lips skim his temple, “What are you thinking about?”
“It would be really, really cheesy if I said ‘you,’ so I’m not going to say that.”
“Oh, then it’s a good thing you didn’t.” Stephen kisses further down his cheek, and he breathes in as if he can’t get enough of him. Tony curls his toes into his calf and turns his head a little, Stephen’s beard scratching along his ear. “I visited the Asgardian colony,” Stephen says.
“What? You didn’t tell me that.” Tony stops and lets Stephen kiss him, before saying, “How’s Thor? We miss him at HQ.”
“Busy,” he kisses him again, a little tired but no less good. Tony doesn’t believe in bad kisses with wizards. “He’s a good king.”
“Well that doesn’t surprise me,” Tony says. “But I am going to yell at him for not showing up to the bug thing last week.”
Stephen sighs, “Can we not talk about that right now? I’m still finding green goop in my hair.”
“Hmm, let me check,” Tony cards his hand through Stephen’s hair, tightening his hold and gently tugging back. He loves the salt and pepper color; it reminds him that they’re not young. That there’s no such thing as being too old for love. Stephen’s head tips, and Tony kisses the side of his neck, “Nope. No goop.”
Stephen’s hand glows as it touches the swell of his spine, and Tony jerks, a soft shock running down his back and setting all his hair on end. He spazzes, “Oh my god! We agreed on no magic in bed, fuckhead.”
“You really have no idea how fun it is.” Stephen wraps him up and rolls them over, pressing Tony into the bed and smiling down at him. Fuck that piece of hair between his eyes.
Tony tips his head away when Stephen tries to kiss him again. “Do I need to print out the rules and post them on the wall? We can go kindergarten style, three strikes and I move your popsicle stick to the red light. FRIDAY, write that down-“
“Then I get a rule. No talking to FRIDAY in bed.”
“You are asking the impossible from me.”
“I feel like it’s a pretty fair trade off.”
Fingers push his shirt up to his collarbone, and Stephen isn’t trying to kiss him again which is sooo frustrating – so Tony caves, “Fine, fine,” just so Stephen will let him stick his tongue behind his teeth. It’s slow and deep and totally great. Tony digs his fingers into the back collar of Stephen’s shirt just to have something solid to hold on to.
But it disappears beneath his fingers, and Tony shivers from a chill, his own shirt now neatly folded across the room.
Stephen grins too hard to kiss him.
“Sorry love. Last time, I promise.”
Tony hooks his fingers behind Stephen’s neck, and hums, “FRIDAY, remind me to kick Stephen’s butt tomorrow.”
Stephen breaks out into a hard laugh, forehead falling down to brace against Tony’s chest, and Tony laughs too, swatting him on the hip.
In the distance, the speakers hum, “Sure thing boss," before clicking off for the night.