When he first met Steve, everything was complicated. Their personalities clashed, but, somehow, they made it work. The marks on their right shoulders are different, but who cared? Steve was 100% sure that his mate was either dead or old as dirt, so that was one thing out of the way. And Tony honestly didn't care enough to find his. He knew he could, because who didn't want to date Tony Freaking Stark? All he had to do was post a picture of him with the mark and chicks would be lining up at his front door.
But that was the problem, wasn't it? Casual sex was one thing. Finding one's mate was different. They should like him for him, not his money. He figured Steve could do that. The man was unimpressed by his reputation, so there was that.
Of course, because fate hates Tony Stark, Steve's mate was alive and kicking. And shooting, to be more precise. And Steve Rogers chased relentlessly after James Buchanen Barnes. Tony could only watch as his (now ex) boyfriend ruined everything they had built together to chase after some supernatural matchmaking.
Their relationship he could forgive him for. After all, it might have ended in other ways. But ruining the Avengers was not forgivable. Hiding the fact that he knew who had murdered his parents? Quite the dick move. So yeah, screw Steve Rogers. No, wait, don't screw Steve Rogers.
Thanos came and Tony found himself face to face with a wizard brought by yours truly Bruce Banner the Absent. And why did that human feel different from others? His gaze was piercing through him, warm and cold at the same time. He told his story, about the stones and what not, and Tony had to remind himself to focus. The hell? Nobody had ever caught his eye like that.
Then Harry Potter got kidnapped by Squidward. Because why not? And now Tony had to save his magic ass on his own. Scratch that. With Peter. Why he ever expected the kid to listen to him he doesn't know, but he's smart and has good ideas.
They saved the wizard. And the necklace.
After a short discussion about their ultimate unfailable plan, the donut was silent. Peter was looking around, so Tony figured he might as well try his luck and went to sit next to Strange.
"This might sound weird, but can I see your mark?" he asked.
Strange looked at him like he was an idiot and shook his head.
"After we win, if you still want to."
"M'kay. Bad timing. Got it."
But he got his answer, didn't he? If there had been no bond, the wizard would have just shown him and brushed him off. So there was obviously something at least.
Later confirmed by the emptiness he felt when the other man turned to dust in front of him.
After they won (Avengers needed something to avenge and apparently half the universe is the best motivation ever), Tony figured he had to fly back to Titan and get Peter (and Strange, but shush). Just as he was imagining the huge headache that would entail (not to mention the various ways May would kill him for getting the boy there), a yellow circle of sparkles formed in front of him and the boy came through, hugging him tight. Strange and the Guardians followed.
After Peter left to find May, Tony turned towards Strange. He felt something, not sure what, but it was there and he hoped it wasn't the stupid mate bond. Or did he want it to be? To know he could have this man just for himself?
"So..." he began, motioning towards his right shoulder.
"Do you need to ask?"
"Yes, I'm sick of being the side piece. If it's not, I'd rather know."
And Strange rolled his eyes and pulled his sleeve down, showing the same mark that he'd seen in the mirror all his life.
"Sorcerers are more in tune with this energy," he explained.
Well, at least he didn't need to further aggravate his wounds by returning the favour.
They took it slow, both agreeing that the marks didn't guarantee that they would enjoy each other like in a fairy tale. Tony found Stephen (Doctor Asshole) rather distant, all things considered.
"I can't believe I'm the less busy one here," he finally complained on a date. Stephen just shrugged.
"You're not. We're just busy at different times. You're in your lab most of the day."
Of all the...
Tony resisted the urge to facepalm.
"You CAN come in the lab at anytime, you know? I don't work at super secret dangerous stuff." He paused. "Maybe dangerous, but not secret." And Stephen is a freaking wizard who saved their lives when their UFO crashed so he'd be fine either way.
"Oh..." Harry Potter seemed surprised. "Well, you can come at the sanctum to hang out, though I'm afraid I'm not always around."
"I'll be waiting to see you in the lab then."
Stephen took him up on the offer a few days later. Tony was surprised to see the man enter, pick a chair and sit down to read his book somewhere out of his way.
They both worked in silence, occasionally broken by chatting. And maybe Stephen is not a scientist, but Tony likes having him around. He likes having someone be there without invading his personal space.
And maybe that was what he needed. A companion. Someone who tells him to go to sleep at normal times. Someone who sasses him. Someone who rolls their eyes at him with a fond smile. Someone who holds him during nightmares and doesn't freak out when his suits malfunction. Someone who understands him and makes him feel needed.
And Stephen Strange seems to be all that. Who would've thought?
Intimacy should come easy between two men of their age. Tony remembers the way it used to be with Steve. Intimacy came easier than anything, unfortunately even talking. They only ever had sex or argued. It's different with Stephen.
He was nervous the first time, which was ridiculous, because he's Tony Freaking Stark. But that's the problem. The scar on his chest is still there, always will be. He had gone through a long dry spell, not to mention that magic still made him uneasy. Stephen's magic included, although less so.
Sure, they had done everything else at that point. It was the normal progression of things. But when Stephen's trembling hand slid up his chest, under his T-shirt, Tony pushed him away. He expected a long, confused argument and was already in defensive mode. He didn't expect the magician to respect the boundary he'd just set. Surprisingly enough, the man backed off accordingly and didn't push it, nor did he give off any particular negative feelings. Not until the next day.
Tony was already relaxed, content to work while Stephen was practicing whatever new spell he'd found in that museum piece he called a book.
"Are we going to talk about yesterday?"
There was no accusation, just concern. Strange. The man hadn't even looked up from his reading.
"Beautiful weather, too bad we stayed indoors," Tony deflected. As if his soulmate would fall for that.
"Tony." He knew that tone, too familiar with it from Steve. They both used it before an argument.
"Stephen," he replied, same tone, knowing an argument would follow.
"At least give me a reason." Oh, the prelude was longer with this one. No matter, Tony Stark was not one to back down.
"Don't play dumb. You're a genius, it doesn't suit you." Stephen got him there. Tony chose silence. "Communication might be a new concept for you, but it's vital in relationships."
"Then let's talk."
"Well, we're talking."
"Tony, I'm trying to do this the normal, no argument, no fighting, no tears way and you're not helping." The engineer looked away. "You know, I'm starting to do guesswork and believe me, you don't want that."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Is it me?" Stephen pressed, a lot gentler than earlier. Tony concentrated on the metallic arm he was working on.
"No. Well, not really." He gulped, realising how that sounded. "I trust you and all that shit, I'm just wary of all this." He vaguely gestured to the two of them. "There's also the scar and..." He shrugged.
"You may not remember, but I've seen it."
Tony froze, slowly lifting his gaze to the other man.
"I patched you up a few weeks ago." Now that he mentioned it, Tony did remember waking up with stitches on his chest after a bad mission. "It's not that bad."
"I have a fake sternum, Strange, what's not that bad about it?"
The doctor winced, but didn't back down.
"There's also the fact that you were intimate with Rogers, so that can't be it. Therefore, I am starting to believe that you lied and my earlier assumption was the correct one: it is something about myself." Stephen met the other man's gaze. "In which case, I'd rather know."
Their right arms burned at the same time and they both hissed in pain, gripping their shoulders over the marks.
"Of course there's something about you," Tony replied, but didn't let the hurt look linger on the other's face. "You're my fucking soulmate and you deserve better." Stephen scoffed in disbelief. "You do, Magic Mike."
"I deserved to be left to die when my car crashed, not saved by the colleagues whose skills I mocked daily. You deserve better, but I try to make up for it.'' Tony wanted to retort, but Stephen continued "We're stuck together, so we might as well make the most of it. I know I don't always properly express myself, so I'll say it now: you're my soulmate and I like you. I thought this whole mark thing was wistful thinking, but I'm starting to believe in it if it decided that we belong together." There was a pause as the other man registered his words.
"Wow," he finally said. "That's sadly the most romantic thing I can remember hearing." Stephen rolled his eyes with a smile. "Do your teleporting thingy and get over here to kiss me."
The wizard obeyed, kissing his soulmate breathless. He briefly pulled back.
"I thought you hated magic." It was why he'd instructed his cloak to either stay at the sanctum or act normal around the other man.
"I do, but it's a part of you so I have to grow up and accept it." He received another deep kiss for his words. Tony started working on Stephen's clothes, but was stopped by a pair of shaking hands.
"You don't have to."
"Now that you said that, I want you even more. Get naked. Now."
Sex is fun. Love is fun. For the first time ever, it occurs to Tony that other people don't have to hurt him. He doesn't have to feel pain. He can just... just enjoy everthing. It's not all kisses and hugs, but that's alright. There are enough of those to make up for the bad times.