It’s the kind of nightmare scenario you try not to think about.
Low on resources, lower on options, back up against a wall quite literally.
The Wakandan forcefield isn’t doing so hot, and Tony can feel it in the way it shorts and ripples against his shoulders. Every so often the suit absorbs a shock, lighting up the front of his Hud. Yes it’s all gone to shit, thanks for the tip Friday.
Tony tries to stand, but a crippling pain shorts up his left side, and he grinds his teeth all the way back to the forest floor.
Fuck, his leg isn’t right.
Gunfire rings so loud in his head, Tony can barely hear the team calling shots in the coms. The lightning stopped out on the front line, and that’s not a good sign.
He’s still not sure what the fuck they’re fighting. Alien – something. Too strong. Too many. Tony could only prepare so much, and he’s still disgusted that he couldn’t do more.
Something comes hauling ass through the trees, and it smacks the shield not too far from where Tony sits. It lights up the forcefield — cracks and splits it, electric ripples waving around like a waterbed. Whatever it is – it falls down to earth in a heap of red, and Tony lifts his helmet and closes his eyes immediately.
“Oh god, don’t tell me that was you, Doc.”
A long pause.
“I’m alive, thanks for asking,” Stephen huffs, barely audible. He sits up, magic dusting his robes. He looks worse for wear; there’s a long wound down the side of his face, and a visible claw mark that tore into his robes.
Tony nods, “You okay?”
“Yes.” Stephen tries to stand, and falls back on a knee, grunting. An alien comes barreling through the trees, and they both tense on instinct, hands raising simultaneously; one fires a repulse, the other a fiery blast. The monster burns, screeching and squelching into the ground, legs curling up to it’s chest.
“That was only a hound,” Stephen pants. “The master must be close.”
“Who cares?” Tony points vaguely to the big red demon-man in the sky. “It means diddly-shit how many runts we kill unless Satan goes down.”
Stephen sighs. “Mephisto is untouchable. There’s no realm where an immortal can be killed.”
“How’s the beta team?”
“Unable to successfully seal him within the relic.” He pauses a moment, and lifts a hand to begin healing the side of his face that’s swelling. “Widow, Panther, and Spiderman are down.”
Tony’s heart takes a hard plunge. He doesn’t let it show on his face.
“Incapacitated, not dead. I portaled them out of the battlefield.”
The sky cracks red, like an ocean fissure. It turns murky, oozing from the crevice at an unsettling pace.
“However,” Stephen whispers, “it won’t mean much, soon.”
Tony looks behind him, through the barrier.
“The heart of Wakanda sits at the center of the earth,” T’Challa had said. “If Mephisto reaches the heart, he might as well have the planet herself.”
His hands are shaking. Tony presses one to the center of the chest plate, where he can feel his heart beating and beating and beating, frantic and irregular. He’s sweating, and his leg is going numb, and he can’t breathe.
“So this is it?” Tony asks quickly.
Stephen looks to him. His green eyes are especially bright against the blood that covers his face near entirely.
He manages to stand, slowly, and then limps over to where Tony is slumped. Falling back to his knees, Stephen braces a hand on Tony’s shoulder and says,
“Fuck,” Tony shakes. “Fuck.”
The ground quakes and the sky cracks open more.
“I can’t see past this,” Stephen says, and even he sounds a bit scared – a little bit raw. “I tried Tony.”
An explosion lights the sky once more.
“I should say…”
“Oh lord, are we doing this?” Tony squeezes his eyes shut, and mutes the mic on the coms. “Are we really doing this?”
“You are the biggest asshole I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” Stephen smiles. “Your shitty friendship means a great deal to me.”
“Shitty!” Tony breathes, almost enough to laugh. “Who bought lunch every Tuesday?”
“Every? Maybe when you bothered to show up.”
“Hey it’s not my fault I have a multi-million dollar co-“
The coms start to static:
“This is Alpha team! We’ve lost the west sector! I repeat – the wes—sssssss- ange! We could use a quick ex—sshhsss- here! I repeat! SOS-ssssss-“
The barrier ripples. It crumbles from the top down, fizzing out until there’s nothing resting against Tony’s back anymore. He presses a fist to his eyes, and bites down on his tongue so it burns.
“Hold on,” Stephen says, and begins to circle his fingers. A portal opens before them, and out falls Steve, Wanda, and an unconscious Thor.
Out in the far, far distance, Mephisto waves an arm with red magic; the Wakandan ship takes a hit, spirals down towards a mountain valley, and eventually explodes.
“Oh, god,” Steve sways to his feet.“That was our last line of defense.”
“Dammit!” Tony slams his fist into the ground. “We were so fucking close!”
“His magic is too strong,” Wanda wipes soot from her nose. “I could not even touch him.”
“It would take a mystic force feasibly unheard of to even pierce his skin,” Stephen says. “Mephisto draws on power from his own realm, an entire universe made just to grow him stronger.”
“We can’t kill him, we can’t stop him, we can’t reason with him,” Steve sags. “So we just roll over?”
Tony hovers over the com at his neck. He pauses.
He doesn’t want to, fuck, he doesn’t want to –
Tony breathes in and out, and finally says.
“I’ll make the call.”
“Tony no- “
“A nuke could do it.”
“We don’t know that.”
“If he reaches Wakanda, we’re all dead anyways!”
“There has to be another way!”
“We have nothing left!”
“Wait-“ Stephen interrupts. He uses his sleeve to shakily wipe more blood from his eyes. “I might — I might have an idea.”
He clears his throat, and turns to look at Tony.
“I need your help.”
“Anything,” Tony says, and means it.
Stephen begins drawing symbols, as if on a chalkboard. Numbers, testing math – some of which Tony is able to follow. He’s drawing out the power cell of an arc reactor.
“There might be a way to double our combined power. Maybe enough to weaken Mephisto so Maxmioff can seal him in the relic.”
Wanda frowns, “That is possible?”
“What’s the risk?”
“It could kill us,” Stephen answers.
Tony thinks for a second, maybe half.
“Tony!” Steve barks, “Are you serious? What if-“
“Who cares!” Tony yells back. “We’re dead in the water anyways – so who cares.” He looks back to Stephen, “What do you need?”
Stephen draws out a final sigil, before drawing the power into his palm, and seeping it into his arm. It begins to glow red, very unlike the magic he usually uses.
“Wait…” Wanda starts. “You’re not seriously….”
“I sure hope I have this right.” Stephen curls his fingers, now in a way that Tony has never seen.
“You and me both,” Tony smiles shortly. Now or never. A death here, or a death five minutes from now.
He extends his hand.
There’s too many regrets clogging his head. Too much to think about. Too much he should’ve said, too much he should’ve done. He should’ve created more, should’ve talked kinder, should’ve loved better. He should’ve been honest, should’ve lived in the moment.
Stephen gives him an open look. Something he’s never seen in the good doctor.
Together they’ve been a beacon for the team. They’ve fought to be strong, to be better than the other – but now they’re half-dead cats desperately trying to claw away from the end of their ninth life.
There might be worse ways to go.
Stephen takes his hand, and it all just – bleeds away.
Sound stops first. Ghostly silent; not even the ringing in his ears. The ground shakes and the sky cracks but the gunfire, the explosions; its gone.
The rest of his senses die next. His sight goes white and his nose runs dry and he cant even taste his tongue. His body starts to burn from the inside out; Tony screams and hears nothing, thrashes and feels nothing –
He’s shaking and screaming and so fucking scared he can’t breathe, he’s dead, he died, his body blew apart and they lost, they lost they lost they fucking lost –
There’s memories that Tony doesn’t recognize. A childhood in the Midwest? Med school?
A car crash.
It flickers like a movie reel – but Tony is so desperate to see, to feel something – that he grabs onto the memories and holds them close. Study and practice. The ancient once. The vishanti. A multiverse filled with realities so mindboggling, that Tony holds on tighter.
He sees himself, he sees his team, he sees tears and wounds and dark pitiful loathing, ego and ergo and pride after a fall –
“Oh,” They breathe. “How utterly brilliant.”
It’s warm and soft and beautiful and serene. There’s peace of mind, flesh, and blood. They feel it all.
They are concord. They are harmony.
Breathing has never been easier. The red sky, the shaking of the earth, plants and photosynthesis, visible air molecules and the sound of a human respiratory system; oh, two. Oh, three.
“What the hell…” Steve gapes.
They smile, “Wow. You breathe so loudly.”
“I can’t believe this,” Wanda scrambles, trying to get to her feet but falling back each time. “This shouldn’t – you should’ve died.”
They look to their hands. There’s four. Two with fine, parallel scars from fingertip to wrist, the others with little nicks and scratches, pinpricks left from metalwork covered in nanotechnology.
“Oh,” They blink. “That’s cool. I bet we look awesome – hey Cap, how awesome do we look?”
“Tony?” Steve blinks. “Tony, are you in there?”
“He’s here,” They say, and lift a palm.
Molecular knowledge twists and floats through their eyes without effort. Mystic practice, along with science and biology, microeconomics, and mechanical engineering, a fine understanding of so much, it’s near elementary to simply turn the skin of their palm into a mirror.
They look like neither Tony, nor Stephen. And yet They are both. The white streak is there, but their face is a fine combination of their best features. Quite handsome, you could say.
They breathe in. Power flows through them natural, and easy.
“Hey Mephisto,” They smile. “How about a round two?”
Wanda is already scrambling to find the relic – but it’s of no consequence. A quick look of the area finds it three miles from here, under the body of the Panther. They portal it to her hands, and phase their material form to Mephisto without effort.
He’s not so big and scary now, huh? Just another Hel mystic with an oversized ego.
Mephisto looks surprised. Good.
“Actiorione,” he draws a mystic weapon, which is easily dodged. Their speed is omniscient. “And here I believed you had died three-thousand years ago.”
“Is nothing truly dead?” They say.
“What the hell is going on?” Steve stands, squinting. He lifts a hand over his eyes, shading out the worst of the light.
“They’ve fused.” Wanda flips open the relic. She works to reset the inner mechanism, mumbling the incantation that Stephen taught her. “Don’t ask me how.”
“They have four arms, Wanda.”
The fusion is tall. The cape half covers a shoulder, bits of iron-man armor molding around the wrists and knees, shifting to cover more skin wherever it’s needed. Shields draw from metal, blasts come from magic. They’re both Tony and Stephen, and it’s very unsettling.
“Shit,” Steve breathes. “It’s- It’s meeting Mephisto punch for punch.”
“I know this is not what you want to hear, but…” Wanda clicks the relic back into place. “It’s arguable that the Fusion form is a god.” She looks up, and watches them change the sky from red to blue, taking clouds and shifting them to metal.
They play with the world around them like the laws of nature mean nothing. Grass become arrows, firing from the ground like a squad of archers. Air turns to liquid power. Blast after blast, relentlessly moving with a confidence unparalleled.
Steve pauses, before saying, “If that’s a god, then I’m not so sure there even is one anymore.”
“Yes,” Wanda nods, “But you best pray anyways.”
They feel when the relic is ready. It calls to them.
Wanda is unneeded, for sealing Mephisto is child’s play.
“This is fun,” They say, drawing a nanoshield, feeling the power flicker around them. “But it’s nap time.”
“There is no power alive that can seal me!” Mephisto shouts. With a draw from his fist, he begins to pull up the earth. The ground parts, a mountain growing from the crack – which is cute, a simple counter spell will do.
They clasp the relic in one hand.
“You will make a nice addition to Stephen’s sanctum wall,” They say.
He roars. They cover their eyes with two hands, flat and straight.
The Third Eye opens.
It’s quite ugly.
Mother cries. Her earth is scorched, her trees are melted, her favorite warriors lie dying in the grass.
Hmm…how sad. Mephisto himself screeches from the prison, and they silence him forever by clicking the final turn on the relic. Bye bitch.
Mother is still crying. Her people are hurt.
Yes, that won’t do. The time spell is easy, yes. Who needs a stone when the power is here. In the universe, in atoms and reality herself, yes it all makes sense now.
Wait– we can’t just erase it all.
That’s right. Time is not time without memory. So they will know, but they will heal, and then all will be well, yes.
Then we can get something to eat, right? We’re fucking’ starving.
Yes, once we heal the others.
Yes, they’re hungry too.
Their feet touch soft grass, and Banner comes scrambling out of the trees, half dressed and caked in dirt.
“You did it! – You – “ He stops. “Tony?”
“Yes,” They smile. “Are you okay?” Obviously, his vitals are fine, but it’s polite to ask anyways.
Banner scrambles back against the tree, and bless his little heart, it’s hammering so fast.
“What the – wh-wh- what did he do to you? Wh-“
“One moment,” They say. They draw their hands into a sigil, all four sets of fingers curled into a three-finger sign. “We need to heal mother.”
They kneel, hands pressing down to the earth. Magic ripples and it’s strong, draining more energy than They were initially prepared for.
It seeps from them, drains as their friends rise from the dead, and They fall to the earth.
Tony wakes up, and is immediately in tears.
It’s lonely, it’s so fucking lonely.
He sits up shaking, clawing at his chest because he’s alone, oh shit, oh Christ –
It’s Rhodey. He’s alive.
There’s a new scar at his forehead, but he’s here. He’s breathing. Tony can’t hear his lungs, and he doesn’t know why he’s so unsettled about that.
“You died,” Tony trembles.
“You brought me back,” Rhodey places a hand at his neck. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”
They’re in a hospital. But Tony is alone.
His thoughts think and think and nothing else. He can’t hear the earth, he can’t see the molecules in the universe, he cant feel Stephen.
A crucial part of him is missing, and nobody seems to care.
“Where is he,” Tony grabs at Rhodey’s arm, nails biting into his skin. “Rhodey where is he!”
“Restrained in the next ward over,” blurts Rhodey. “He- he woke up crazy. He’s still-“
Rhodey pauses. Tony listens. There’s shouting down the hall.
“I have to see him.”
“Tony, you just survived an apocalypse.”
“Take me now,” he hisses.
“Wong said that’s a bad idea.”
Tony flips over the covers and begins to scramble out of the bed. Rhodey grabs him, “Okay! Okay! Just – quickly, before the doctor sees, damn.”
They limp down the hall. Tony’s leg burns and aches with each step.
The yelling gets louder. It bounces around the walls, around his ears, around his brain. Taunts him and sets him on edge like a bull in a cage. His teeth grind and his eyes water and he limps through the pain because he needs to see Stephen now, now, now.
Tony steps one foot in the room, and the screaming stops completely.
Wong jerks their way, saying, “Stark, no-“
But he yanks out of Rhodey’s grip, vaults the chair on his good leg, and clambers to grab Stephen’s hand.
He can breathe again.
“Don’t fuse,” Wong extends a hand, preparing to fight. “Strange, don’t do it.”
“Okay,” Stephen breathes. His voice sounds raspy and wounded. He closes his eyes, and squeezes back Tony’s hand, “Okay.”
“What the fuck was that?” Tony swallows. Hell, he can finally think again.
Stephen is here. Alive. Breathing.
The instinctual drive bleeds out of him, and Tony exhales, memories crawling back at a snail’s pace.
“You’ve really done it now,” Wong takes a seat. Rhodey looks completely lost.
Stephen mumbles distantly, “I know.”
Tony lets go of Stephen’s hand experimentally. He feels okay. The leg still hurts, but he’s okay. He’s okay.
“We won.” Tony’s knees go out, and Rhodey jerks over to catch him. He sets Tony at the foot of Stephen’s bed. “We won as Them.”
“Unbelievable,” Wong begins to undo Stephen’s restraints. “That spell was forbidden for a reason, you fool.”
“I’m sorry.” Stephen flexes his free arm. “I couldn’t think of any other way.”
“Someone needs to start making sense right fucking now,” Rhodey snaps.
“I second that.”
Steve appears in the doorway. He’s a bit banged up, but just as Star-Spangly as Tony remembers. Tony couldn’t have been asleep long, because Cap is still in uniform.
“Fox news is talking about how a four-armed god saved our planet from Satan,” drawls Steve.
Rhodey raises a finger, “Also I apparently died.”
Wong flicks his hand, and shuts the door behind Steve.
“Come, and don’t speak to anyone of this.”
Tony rubs his eyes. He tries to push away the memories that aren’t his own. They pulse at the front of his brain; walking through the streets of Kathmandu, the death of people he never met. The sky opening red and becoming, fuck, something else.
A memory squeezes harder than the others.
A pure, perfect love.
Stephen rubs at his wrists and sits up in the hospital bed. He’s still in his torn robes, and the cloak floats in the corner, waiting patiently.
“A superficial fusion,” Stephen says. “It’s a spell that combines your mind, body, and soul.”
“It’s extremely dangerous,” says Wong. “It’s only been done once, and it was by the two most compatible souls in the multiverse.”
“It generates an unforeseen amount of power and knowledge. Everything you are, combined with an innate connection to reality. Not much is known about it. I took a gamble.”
“You brought back the dead,” Steve deadpans.
Stephen rolls his eyes, “Did I not just say unforeseen power? What do those words mean to you?”
“Compatible…” Tony interjects. “Our souls didn’t reject each other. So what does that mean?”
Stephen looks away. Wong speaks with a typical pokerface, “It means you’re one in quintillion.”
“Are there side effects?” Rhodey asks.
“Yes,” Wong eyes them. “But I don’t know what they are.”
Tony does. He’s feeling them all simultaneously. Chills, twitchiness, a huge hole where something else used to be. He feels stupid. Like he knew everything, and now he’s just himself. Nothing.
Seeing that the animalistic urge to touch Stephen is gone – Tony can hardly look the dude in the eye. He must’ve seen it all. Every memory that Tony had. Every shitty thing Tony’s ever done. All the pain he’s ever caused.
But they were one perfect mind. And it felt so, so fucking good.
That fact alone is terrifying.
Stephen won’t look his way. That’s fine, awkward is a bit of an understatement here.
“Well it’s over then, right? No need to ever ever ever talk about any of this again, yes?” Tony sniffs.
Stephen nods, slowly. Almost sad.
“It’s for the best.”
“Thank goodness,” breathes Steve.
“Alright Rhodes, get me out of here,” Tony stands. “Hospital grey was never my color.”
Steve stops him with a hand on his chest, “Hey are you sure you’re alright – “
Stephen jerks in the bed so hard, it slams up against the wall. Steve yanks back his hand, and Stephen goes still. Embarrassed.
“Uh…” Tony clears his throat. “Yeah. Fine.”
He tries so, so fucking hard not to look Stephen in the eye as he limps out the door, but fuck, he turns back anyways.
Tony sees what he could never see before. A look on Stephen’s face that’s vulnerable and needy, an expression soft and easy to read.
Strange catches himself. Slams down a thick wall, but not thick enough to keep Tony out. They shared a mind. A presence. There’s no going back from that.
Tony is just as open, just as raw and readable as Stephen is, so he turns his head and waddles down the hallway, Rhodey hot on his heels.
It’s hard to stand, so he doesn’t bother trying. The kitchen floor is fine enough.
His hands shake as he attempts to pour whiskey in a glass. It sloshes onto the tile and over his robes, and it’s fine, it’ll come out – he just needs –
“Fuck,” Stephen whispers. Forget the glass then – Stephen drinks right out of the bottle, and it burns down the back of his throat. Gross.
A portal opens into the living space of the sanctum, and Wong steps out gracefully. He takes one look, an open book in hand, and asks, “Still feeling it?”
“No,” Stephen lies. “Totally fine.” He takes another swig.
He is miserable.
It’s near impossible to resume life after a near-brush with death, but Stephen has done it before, and he’s capable of doing it again.
It is the fusion that lingers.
Bits and memories coat his mind, thick like syrup, addicting as sugar. Tony, Tony, it’s all Tony. Unimaginable power. Complete serenity. An overwhelming sensation of being loved entirely.
It’s like, for a few short minutes, everything made sense. The world, the multiverse, everything was one beating unit, and his love for Tony was as natural as one plus one.
Which is especially concerning, seeing as that came out of goddamn nowhere.
Or…Stephen would like to think so. Yes yes Tony is handsome and funny and a damn handful, and maybe Stephen thought about kissing him once – but now it’s like someone else hopped in the driver’s seat, ripped out his heart and shoved feelings in his face that he wasn’t even aware were there – and now it’s fucking insufferable to be apart.
“I’ve been researching what I can,” Wong says, giving a short nod of his head, and evaporating the Whiskey bottle. Stephen grunts. Wong continues, “I haven’t found anything on how to quell the lingering effects of a complete fusion.”
“A memory charm…” Stephen mumbles.
“Very unlikely, the connection seems instinctual,” Wong hums. “Obviously, seeing as you managed to find your modern-day equivalent of a soulmate.”
Stephen scrunches up his face, “Please don’t say that.”
“Have you spoken to Stark?”
“Not since the hospital. I thought you heard the whole lets never talk about this again thing.”
Just saying it sends him into another fit of shivers. His body not only wants, but yearns to see Tony again. Stephen is tempted to phase back that bottle of whiskey.
Wong frowns, “I’m beginning to think it unwise. The connection might be irreversible.”
He doesn’t see Tony for three more weeks. Dreams haunt him at night, and memories tease him in the day. His work is near impossible to complete and he’s unsure why. It gets worse by the hour, and he aches for that morning back at the hospital, when Tony grabbed his hand and everything felt okay again.
They’re back on call; nothing as devastating as Mephisto, but there are multiple targets, and Stephen’s specialty is reduced collateral damage. So he’s here.
He sees Tony in the suit, and the air sucks right out of his chest.
Metal red and gold, repulsers on full blast, and Stephen feels more relaxed than he’s been in weeks. Tony suddenly stutters, catching mid-flight, and whips his head over to where Stephen has just stepped out of the portal, as if he sensed his presence immediately.
Time slows, but Stephen isn’t doing a damn thing. Energy flows back into his soul, a peace of mind that he’s been craving since the war.
Something explodes in the distance, and they both jerk back into action. With a newfound focus, Stephen summons the winds of Watoomb to still the oncoming battle. Tony keeps to the perimeter.
They part ways with little more than an awkward nod, and the uneasiness creeps back into his mind slowly, inch by inch.
The ringtone for Avengers HQ is Psycho Killer by Talking Heads, but it’s only the part that goes run run run run, run run run away –
Tony is always tempted not to answer, but it never turns out well when he doesn’t. Whatever, he’s a bit in need of a distraction, so he waves his hand and Friday picks up the phone.
“Tony,” Steve says. “We need you here ASAP.”
Tony sets down his blowtorch.
“Define okay. I have Hank and Hope Pym here. They’re saying uh, something happened with Scott. It’s all stuff I can’t really – Bruce, do you mind…?-“
The voice changes on the phone.
“Scott has been lost in a subspace of the quantum zone,” Bruce says. “Somewhere crazy untraceable.”
Tony frowns, “That happened before, hasn’t it? They were able to get Lady Pym out a few years back, yeah?”
“This is – they’re saying there’s something else in there. Something’s got him.”
“Damnit,” Tony scrubs his face. “You know this is –” it takes physical effort not to choke, and he forces down a shiver, “—this is more up the wizard’s alley.” Fuck, he can’t even say his name.
“We’re calling Strange in too,” Steve says. “This won’t be a problem, will it?”
The thought of seeing Stephen makes him want to pull out all his hair and also cry in relief at the same time.
But an Avenger is in danger.
“Not at all.”
It’s a short flight at supersonic.
The room already reeks of genius by the time he steps foot in the conference room, and it’s kinda nice – except Hank and Hope are near hysteric, and Stephen is already here, drawing up schematics on an invisible board.
He tenses as soon as Tony closes the door behind him; Tony can see him physically resist turning around.
Christ, Tony can think again. It’s a relief that he’s not relieved about. He wants to touch him, but just breathing the same air seems to lift the fog behind his eyes. Good enough.
“So what’s going on?” Tony manages.
There are instruments all over the conference table, and Hank flips a laptop around.
“There’s something in the quantum realm. One second we had Scott on a tracker, and the next he just –“
“-disappeared,” Hope finishes.
“From all your research notes…that shouldn’t be a surprise,” Banner sets down a stack of papers. “You said there are microorganisms in the quantum realm.”
“But nothing that can produce readings like this!” Hank gestures. “This is – this is – “
“Magic,” Stephen finishes. He turns his drawing around, and it’s math. Tony reads it and squints.
“That looks like a virus.”
“That’s my theory,” Stephen says. “There’s a dark dimension that’s capable of infecting other realities. I fear it’s starting to rub up against ours, beginning at a microscopic level. Scott might just be an unfortunate…casualty.”
“So you think he’s dead,” Tony frowns.
A projector lights up in the middle of the table, and Shuri appears in a digital 3D hologram.
“Sorry doctor, but your math is off. Scott should technically still be alive if he’s continually going sub-atomic. Well, if your theory of magic having a natural molecular-structure is right.”
Hank slams his hand on the table, “That’s what I’m saying!”
Tony sits down and starts to think.
“You can’t go in after her?”
“I’ll go-“ Hope starts.
“A needle in a haystack doesn’t even come close to describing it, and you know it,” Banner exasperates. Hope sighs.
“I’ll look at your research on the quantum realm and see if I can come up with a better tracker,” Shuri says. “I just…don’t know how long it’ll take.”
“How long does he have?” Steve asks. Tony almost forgot he was there. Poor guy looks a bit lost.
“Technically forever,” Hank says, “but every minute lost is another year it could take to find him.”
Tony nods, “Send me those files too.”
Hope starts to type into the laptop, and Tony pulls up a hologram, sorting through information.
“It’s a lost cause,” Stephen huffs. “Whatever took him is outer-dimensional. I don’t even think he’s in the quantum realm anymore. He could be in any reality now.”
That turns the room somber.
“Can you track him down?” Hope tries.
“It would take an unbelievable amount of….” Stephen pauses, and like magnets, Tony’s eyes are drawn to his. Stephen finishes slowly, “…power.”
“Do you think you could…you know.” Banner does some half-assed gesture with his hands. Tony immediately understands, and feels his heart punt right into his throat. Touchdown.
“No,” Stephen says quickly, just as Tony says, “I guess.”
Stephen’s head whips around, “Are you serious? There are still…side effects from the last time.”
“If it saves a life, then whatever,” Tony gestures. “Who cares.”
Steve interjects, “You’d really do it again?”
“We can’t even guarantee that we’d be able to control it again.”
“I think we can.”
He wants to. A deep part of him. He wants it back – the serenity, the all-encompassed feeling of being at peace. To be – fuck, to be surrounded by Stephen again. Tony wants.
Stephen stares him down. Tony feels hot, head to toe. There's an intimacy to the fusion. Tony craves that too.
“Okay,” Stephen sighs. “You’re sure?”
“What’s going on here?” Hank blinks.
“I think you might want to take a step back,” Shuri says.
Stephen begins to spin the spell. Tony is so nervous he can’t breathe. Strange draws the sigil with a tremor more pronounced than usual, and Tony wants for his hand already. Slowly his arm glows red, and he extends his palm to Tony.
Tony hesitates a moment. The room has gone pin silent, and Tony feels his nerves in his knees.
He takes his hand, and the pain is unbearable. It’s not a burn, not a slow build, but an instant fire, scorching his insides, burning out his eyes and his ears and his throat. He screams soundlessly, the world a throbbing pain so strong he loses all sense of self.
His body is thrown up against the wall.
Stephen goes back and over the table.
“Oh god, oh god,” Tony pants, feeling his face, his arms, his chest. His eyes snap to Stephen on raw instinct. Stephen is staring right back.
“Was that supposed to happen?” Hope helps Stephen to his feet. Tony instantly fights the urge to snap her neck with his bare hands.
“No,” Stephen pants. There are painful tears at the corners of his eyes, and Tony knows he has some too. “The fusion rejected us.”
“Are you okay?” Steve helps Tony up, and Stephen flinches a little in Hope’s grip. “Are you hurt?”
“I don’t think so,” Tony wheezes. Fuck, fuck, he feels terrible. Seasick. Hungover.
“Well that didn’t work,” Bruce sighs, rubbing his face. “What now?”
“I think we should call a ten-minute break,” says Steve. He lets go of Tony once he’s stable. But Tony isn’t sure he’ll ever feel stable again.
Stephen finds him near the rooftop.
There’s a track that runs around the edge of HQ. There’s no railing, only a shady overhang and a few support beams. Stephen doesn’t come here much, but he’s drawn to Tony’s energy like a personal GPS tracker.
Tony has his legs over the edge, kicking his feet, and he looks young like this.
Tony turns to see him coming, and it’s all there; worn through the years, a past of pain and torture and a childish wonder for the new, for the future. An abandoned love for the stars. An unyielding will to do good.
“Hi,” Stephen says.
“Hey,” Tony nods. He swallows. “You uh. Okay?”
“Yes,” Stephen sits next to him, and lets his legs dangle over the edge as well. “Actually, it feels like my heart has been ripped out a thousand times over.”
“Same. Like every highschool breakup times a billion.”
That doesn’t even begin to describe it. There’s a black pit in his chest, vacant and empty and crying. Stephen clears his throat.
“I think we need to talk.”
“Was uh. Starting to think the same thing.” Tony rubs his nose. “I’m sorry if I made you do that – um, back there.”
“No. I think it was my fault,” Stephen rubs tiredly at his eyes. “I was…afraid. To have you in my head again.”
Tony looks honestly surprised. “Why?”
“What you saw last time…you know now, right? Everything there is to know about me? Isn’t it too much for —”
“But that was the best part, wasn’t it?” Tony scoots closer, and Stephen resists reaching out for him. “We saw – felt everything and, and there was this,” he gestures, to try and find the right word, “– this acceptance. Total acceptance of the other.” Tony blinks, “Didn’t you feel the same?”
“Yes,” Stephen says quickly. “I’ve just. You saw things I’ve never told anyone.”
“And how do you think I feel?!” Tony’s voice raises. “I’ve killed people, I’ve – I’ve made Ultron-sized mistakes that changed the world for the worst. I’ve been to rehab six times. I’ve-“
“You’re beautiful,” Stephen says, like an instinct. Like it’s the easiest thing in the world. “All of it. Even the ugly parts.”
“That’s how I felt too,” Tony says breathlessly. “Like everything was okay. Like we – we were –“
The word rings between them, back and forth like the swing of a bell. Tony wets his lips and stares down past his feet. Stephen looks at him, and finally feels right.
“We could do this.” Stephen tries to hide his nerves by adding, “If you wanted to.”
“You and I?”
“The fusion didn’t work.” Tony looks his way once again, and Stephen wants to kiss him. So, so terribly. “Why?”
“If we were incompatible, it would have killed us. I believe we need to be in an agreement.”
“Then let’s agree," Tony nods. "Every cell in my body is telling me I’m in love with you. Big neon sign and all.”
Stephen sucks in a breath so hard, he nearly swallows his tongue. He says, very smooth, very eloquent,
Tony gives a sad smile, “Shame, I never even got to take you out on a date. I’ve heard I’m great at those.”
Stephen doesn’t bother resisting anymore. He reaches for Tony’s cheek, and the contact sings, lovely, wonderful tingles running up his arm and into his heart. Stephen nearly sags from it, and Tony turns into his touch like he needs it. Tan skin against ugly pink scars. Stephen finds himself smiling, and doesn’t care.
“Then take me on a date,” Stephen says. “But let’s see if we can save Scott first.”
“You’re absolutely sure you want to do this again?” Bruce asks slowly.
“Yes,” they say together. Tony continues, “We’ve got this shit.”
“This is insane,” Steve crosses his arms. “What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
“We just do, so shut up,” Stephen snaps, and Steve sputters silently in the corner.
Stephen signs his fingers. Tony doesn’t feel nearly as nervous. There’s a mutual edge of excitement that crackles between them.
Stephen pulls the symbols to his arm, lighting up his veins, and his hands glow that warm red. He stops. He waits for a nod from Tony.
Stephen is backlit by carmine magic, and he’s fucking gorgeous. Hair in his eyes, heart-shaped lips slightly parted in anticipation. Tony gives him a half smile.
Instead of grabbing his hand, Stephen braces his palm up against Tony’s face and it’s wonderful.
There’s no burn. No fire or sting, but something bubbly and soothing. His hearing slips away, then his eyes and his tongue and it’s great, perfect; Tony embraces it. This time he recognizes Stephen, a beautiful pulse of energy out in the void, and he reaches for it.
Memories flicker in circles and it washes through him, like waves. Steady and calming and not alone. Not anymore. They shift and grow and turn into one living being.
“Hell yes,” They breathe, two hands coming up to push back their hair. “Oh, it feels great to be back.”
“This can’t be real…” Hank has a death grip on Hope, half pushing her behind him like she’s the one who needs protecting. “This – this is –“
“Don’t keel over, old man,” They laugh. “Wow, do you guys know how loud you breathe? You sound like –“ They exaggerate their breathing, in and out, “- morons.”
“Great,” Steve rolls his eyes. “This time we got double the ego.”
“And your pecs are uneven. Next.” They study their nails. Oh, how beautiful the molecular expression of keratin, lovely swirls of dots and feathery DNA.
Steve slowly presses a hand up against one of his pectorals, and They laugh at his attempt at subtlety.
“I need you to locate Scott Lang,” Hope demands.
“Okay, mistress. What else, dry martini on the rocks? You want extra olives with that?”
“Tony – uh, Stephen – “
“Both is fine,” They say.
“Please,” Bruce continues. “We need you to tell us how to find Lang.”
They study their clothes; a messy combination of Stephen’s sweater and Tony’s suit pants. They shift into something more cohesive. Yes, a sleeveless turtleneck and dark jeans will do nicely.
John Varvatos or no shoes at all –
Yes, fine –
“Are you actually concerned about your outfit?” Hank blinks.
“Well you saw what I was wearing before. Didn’t match at all,” They frown.
Steve pushes off the wall, “This is ridiculous. We need to get Shuri back on the phone.”
“Oh pick your thong out of your ass. Ant-Man is still alive,” They snap.
They bounce on the springs of their feet. Gravity is so elementary, it’s no effort at all to simply alter it. This room is dreadful; these walls keep them from the open multiniverse – hardly of course, but it’s better to feel mother at her core, to feel the pulse of reality herself.
“You want to know where he is right now?”
“Please,” Bruce begs patiently, but his beating heart betrays him. Hmmm, that beast throbs within him. He’s a walking dead man, truly. Radiation kills him by the second, and that beast pushes life back through his cells.
The room is boiling with tension, and oh how fun it is –
“Fine,” They say, “If only to lighten the mood a little, jeez.”
Two hands cover their eyes, flat and straight. The Third Eye opens easy, right above middbrow, and suddenly they can see everything.
Worlds, galaxies, time without number.
Information, information, information.
They extend a third arm, and Scott Lang comes rolling out onto the table.
“Badaboom,” They say, closing the Eye, and drawing their hands down from their face. “One Ant-Man, medium rare.”
Hope vaults the table and curls around him, hugging him so tight he coughs.
“Oh my gosh,” Steve exhales. “You did it.”
“Easy,” They say, rolling up on their heels and bouncing once more.
“Where was he?!” Hank sputters.
“The Dishanti Realm. He was in three thousand, nine-hundred and four pieces.”
“Hell,” Scott coughs, hugging Hope back. “I was in hell.”
“Stephen was right by the way,” They grin. “There is a sickness from the dark dimension that is slowly eating your reality from the inside out.” They shift air molecules into metal, then to a small-mini reactor, just to play with. “We got rid of it for you, so, you’re welcome for that.”
Tony wakes up on his workroom couch, but not really.
Stephen is beneath him, stirring awake with a groggy yawn. He looks so...soft.
Tony nearly falls off the couch he jerks back so fast.
“Jesus!” Stephen jolts.
“Sorry! Fuck,” Tony rubs his eyes. They're tangled completely, and it takes way too much brain power to figure out which legs are his own.
Tony squints under the overhead lights. Stephen is covering his eyes with his forearm, hair ruffled all over the couch, and by god he looks fuckable.
Tony feels like he’s been hit by a truck. That sick, empty feeling is back — but it's not so severe this time. He shifts his hands to press above Stephen's collarbones, and the contact alone ripples through them, waves of relief echoing back and forth.
So Tony says "Friday, fifty percent," and presses his face back under Stephen's neck.
The lights dim. Stephen tenses. Tony holds his breath. But Stephen relaxes into him, a hand coming up behind Tony’s neck, and Tony snuggles in.
"This should be awkward, right?" Tony mumbles.
"Kinda' not though."
"What did we do?"
"I think we got Lang back," Stephen looks around the workshop. "I also think we did everything on your chore list from the last five years."
"Wow, this is kinda’ like the intervention I never had.”
"We might've read a metric ton of intergalactic books," Stephen rubs at his head with his free hand. "Wish I could remember them all."
He smells super fucking good. They’ve been one person, but they’ve never been this close, and it’s something new and awesome.
Tony sighs, and turns his face into Stephen's shoulder. "This feels like the morning after, but without like. The before."
Stephen's hand threads into his hair, and it's fucking amazing. It's Disney fireworks. It's marathon sex.
"The separation isn't nearly as painful as last time."
"I'll say. But I still owe you that date. A bit hard when we're in one body," Tony grins.
"Anywhere you want to go, I'll take you," Stephen says. "Pick your pleasure."
"Jeez, no pressure. What's a firsty when we already know everything there is to know about each other?"
"I wouldn't say that," Stephen hums. "I don't care if I've been in your head. I want to hear you talk about the stuff you like. I want to hear you talk about anything."
Wow. Tony really feels that one, right in the throat. It's hard to say something back without sounding like a sap. But you know, who’s watching.
"Then you gotta’ tell me about all the shit you got into in college, 'cause those looked like some banger parties dude."
"Hardly anything compared to your time at MIT," Stephen laughs.
It’s lightweight and soft and it tingles through them; Tony sucks in the feeling like air.
"You feel that, right?" Tony sits up, and presses a hand to Stephen's face. Damn, what a pretty face. "It's like. Weird. Amazing weird."
"Yes. Wong's theory is a neuroconnection."
"It feels great." Tony traces the curve of his ear, now a bit nervous.
Stephen blinks up at him, long eyelashes and all. "Yes."
They've been one body, one soul, but there's still so much Tony doesn't know. He doesn't know his favorite breakfast food. He doesn't know his take on hockey. He doesn't know what his lips feel like. There's so much to look forward to, Tony almost can't contain himself.
"I want to kiss you all the time," Stephen whispers.
"Not until the first date," Tony grins. “I’m no common Betty.”
Stephen shifts his arms under Tony’s thighs and lifts, forcing him up and against the opposite arm of the couch. Tony gasps from it, folding up easy without a fight. Stephen smiles – wow, twice in one day – and says close enough to tease a kiss, but not really.
“That I already knew.”
He rolls up off the couch, and Tony flings a couch pillow his way.
Stephen takes note of the physical improvements.
Time spent apart is less grueling. There's always a desire to be close, but not so much a painful need, rather than an ongoing pressure.
The chills and the shaking and the urge to claw out your eyes and drink yourself stupid — it's dwindled, knowing he can reach out for Tony without repercussion.
They're a deer on ice and fish in water, fumbling and nervous, but strangely comfortable in the other's presence. Stephen quietly takes note of that, too.
“Wow,” Tony laughs, “You’re an asshole.”
“Evidentially,” Stephen says, “to those who deserve it.”
He subtly flicks his finger behind the salt shaker, and tips over the wine at the table across from them. It pours up and over the man’s meal, spilling right into his lap. The douchebag stands up and shouts, but the already crying girl starts to sniffle into a smile.
“I’m nosy, what did he do?”
“Cheated,” Stephen tips his head away, calmly taking a sip of his cocktail. It’s terribly sour, but he likes it that way.
“I never understood cheaters,” Tony gestures with his fork. “I might’ve cleaned up the dorms in college, but I never cheated.”
Stephen pauses. He speaks slow, eyes fixated on the breadbasket between them. There’s old 40’s jazz playing in the restaurant speakers, but the chatter all fades into white noise.
“I made…various mistakes in my youth. As you’re aware.”
Tony’s demeanor changes. He leans a little closer, his shirt cuff almost catching on the candle.
“Hey. You know I have no right to judge you for any of that stuff. I’m the pot and the kettle and the pan and the fridge – “
Stephen laughs shortly, “Yes, fine.”
The man at the adjacent table leaves in a fury. His coat is bunched up in his hands and he stomps out the front door. The woman is still trying to stifle her tears; Tony stops a nearby waitress with a flick of his wrist.
“Hey, let me pay for that kid’s meal.”
“Of course sir.”
Stephen doesn’t say anything, but smiles at Tony nevertheless.
He looks pretty. Handsome, of course, but his hair is wily and the red shirt goes well with his eyes, and he always holds himself in a cocky way that's just too tempting. Stephen has managed not to stare all night, but it's a bare thing.
“So I gotta’ say,” Tony starts, setting down his fork but immediately moving to fiddle with his glass. “Assuming you don’t already know this, but uh... I had a thing for you before all this.”
“Oh. No, I didn’t know that.”
“That’s good,” Tony grins. “I kinda’ wanted to tell you that bit myself. If it wasn’t the same for you that’s cool.”
“No – it’s—”
Stephen fights the urge to put his elbow on the table and brush back the bangs in his face. Manners. Breathe. Swallow before speaking.
“No. It’s like it was already there – but the fusion just, laid it all out for me in plain English.”
You love him.
“I was fucking terrified at first,” Tony admits. “But now I’m just fascinated with it. Like, how is it we’re able to know things together that neither of us know separately? It’s seriously cool.”
“I have no idea. We haven't been able to find any information about full fusions at Kamar-Taj."
It’s truely eating at him more than he lets on.
Tony shrugs, “Maybe it’s just that Actior-thing.”
Stephen pauses mid chew.
“You know? That name Mephisto called us.”
“I have no memory of that,” Stephen blinks. “I just remember summoning an extreme amount of power to recover the dead.”
Tony gives him a look, "That really happened? I thought Rhodey was just pullin’ my leg."
"I think we might split the memories fifty-fifty," Stephen says quickly, trying not to raise his voice. "Tony-"
"Now that would make sense-"
"I need you to tell me what Mephisto said."
"Oh, uhh. He called us — um, Actiorione? He said -"
And here I believed you had died three-thousand years ago.
"And we said —"
Is nothing truly dead?
Stephen gazes into the ripples of his drink, watching it shake as a waitress walks by. He taps his finger against his lower lip, and then half-smiles at Tony from under his lashes.
"Would you be interested in coming to the sanctum after dinner? I think you just solved a piece of my puzzle.”
"Would I be interested? It's a bookworm's candyland." Tony grins, "I'd love it a whole lot more if you'd let me redecorate."
"Not in this lifetime."
"C'mon dude, you have a two-million year old demon sitting in a Russian doll on your shelf. Don't you think you could use a little high-tech security?"
"I've already got it," Stephen says. He taps his finger against his glass, and rights Tony's crooked tie. "Not much slips past me."
Tony gives Stephen a look from across the table — like he could strangle him, or kiss him silly. But all is better when Tony is laughing, so Stephen taps his finger twice, and sets the tie back crooked.
They don't bother with dessert. Stephen takes Tony’s hand behind the restaurant, and opens a portal into the alley wall.
"Don't let me forget about my car," Tony says.
"Is that a common problem?"
"You'd be surprised."
The sanctum is quiet. The students have completed their work for the day, and the door to Kamar-Taj has long been locked.
He has to tug Tony up the steps and through the display room. Tony always tries to touch everything within reach; the railing and the swords and the fidgety relics. Stephen has locked it down to a simple kingpin of his personality. Tony’s hands are the windows to his soul.
He likes the way Tony holds his own. Strong and unafraid to hurt him, grip tight and unwavered by his scars. Stephen is reluctant to let go, but does so in order to float to the higher shelves and search through the older Ibertium Primes.
He reads aloud, "Delta Minor, Ares, Sath'yar..."
"What is it we're looking for?"
"Oh - sorry - I just," Stephen trails off, and then catches his thought once more, "- I think there's a text that can help us understand the fusion better."
Tony makes a face like hmm, okay, and says, "Well I'm all for that."
Tony picks up a book and thumbs through the pages. He plucks his glasses out of his pocket, and his AI begins to translate through the lens.
"Blood prisons," Tony reads. "Is that as fun as it sounds?"
"Definitely not," Stephen says idly. "You'd do better with that section over there. It deals with electric spells."
Tony skips over and picks another book at random. The cloak then decides to make a dramatic appearance, flipping into the room and attaching itself to Tony's shoulders.
It snuggles up close, flapping at Tony's cheeks. It then flips up and hooks on Stephen, giving him a friendly fwap as well.
"Yes yes hello," Stephen counts down the shelf.
Tony smiles up at him from the ground, his shoulder pressed against one of the support beams.
"Friendly little guy."
"I've never seen it like anyone else," says Stephen. He freezes halfway down the shelf, and pulls out the spine that says Tribunal T'Chula, Seventh Edition. "Ahh."
Stephen phases them both to the couch, and Tony jerks, hand flying over his heart, "Jesus- "
"This deals with Mephisto's realm. Well, not exactly, but a sub-space so to say. This book describes cryptids from his time."
"You can't do that to me," Tony glares. "Humans evolved for walking, you know that right?"
"He called us Actiorione. The Siamese twin of the old gods." Stephen flips through the book — and sure to fruition, there is a four armed, three-eyed man illustrated on the page. It's been magically restored, and it moves along the page, arms extending up and down. He holds a sword, a shield, a book and a heart.
That seems to get Tony's attention.
"Well...I've definitely been pronouncing that name wrong."
Stephen skims the text just as Tony does, but says it aloud anyways.
"He held the status of a god. The Third Eye was all seeing, using the power of a singularity without holding it."
Tony puts it together faster than anyone else would.
"The soul stone."
"Exactly," Stephen turns on the couch, pressing a hand to Tony's shoulder. "There could be a connection between the Siamese god and the fusion spell. I don't know what it means precisely, but all the unbound knowledge would make sense."
"Drawing power off a dead god..." Tony rubs at his chin. "This is overwhelming. But kinda' addicting— I see why you like it so much."
"Magic is hardly limitless, but it goes beyond imagination," Stephen smiles. "It's changed me."
Tony hesitates. His hands are fiddling with his cuff sleeve, but he holds Stephen's eye, demanding his attention. It’s funny. As if Tony doesn’t take up all the air in a room anyways.
"I wasn't peachy keen on this stuff before. I liked things I could make sense of. Science that I can touch with my hands," Tony's eyes flicker down, and then up. "But now...is it bad that I like fusing?"
Stephen is not so disciplined. He brings a hand up to Tony's neck, and feels his pulse beneath his thumb.
"It would be hypocritical of me to say so."
"We — we should come up with some kind of regulation," Tony swallows. "That's too much power to be showing off at the circ."
"We fuse only if we're both in agreement," Stephen nods.
Tony nods back. He turns fully, and folds his leg up under him so he can face Stephen head on. He clears his throat.
"Alright, so lay it on me. Good first date?"
"Oh — quit the wizard talk. Tell me straight. Or uh, tell me gay."
"Fucking awesome," Stephen says, and curls his hand to cradle the back of his head. Tony's hand comes up to draw in the hem of Stephen's dress shirt, likely subconscious. Tony's knee is pushed into his thigh, and his hand tingles where it's pressed against his skin, and Stephen feels a physical pulse, a need to somehow be even closer.
Kissing Tony won't solve all his problems, but it just might.
Tony’s voice turns soft. Not a billionare, or a superhero, but a man who guards a still broken heart.
“What if your magic is wrong about us?"
Stephen hums, and pulls his gaze from Tony’s lips, back up to his eyes.
“I think I might like that better." He pauses. "But I highly doubt it. I've never seen anyone else consume so much pasta while simultaneously naming every single rock album from 1975. You are most definitely the man for me."
Tony laughs, unashamed and gorgeously genuine.
"Really. I still ought to kiss you for that."
"Yeah," Tony winks. "You ought to."
Stephen breathes a laugh through his nose. He tips in, shifting last minute to press a kiss against Tony’s cheek.
"Oh you cheater-" Tony laughs, and grabs a handful of his tie to yank him in for a kiss proper.
The contact thrives between them. Like a plucked wire, vibrating before it settles, humming before it sets itself right. Stephen tips his head back only to kiss again — and Tony licks against the brow of his lip. Stephen lets him, parts his lips and holds Tony's head right where he's got him.
God, they're a bit needy, aren't they?
But Tony is all talk, so Stephen gives him a run for his money. Rips the metaphorical rug out from under his feet, and controls the kiss at the drop of a hat. Tony makes a noise like that's what he wanted all along, and Stephen's brain shuts down hard.
"Alright, okay," Tony leans back, hooks a leg over Stephen's lap and pushes him back down against the couch in one (surprisingly) graceful move. "Clear up your schedule, we're definitely doing that for the next five hours."
Stephen laughs and holds him by the hips, and they make out for forever and ever.
"This is so not fair," Peter whines. He swings off a crane and lets himself free fall, before flinging a web and circling around the lip of a ten-story building. It always makes Tony a bit sick to watch, but the kid could stop a bus with his bare hands, so Tony has no right to nag.
"Sorry dude. Life isn't fair."
"Everyone else has seen it!"
"Everyone most certainly hasn't," Stephen says, circling a shield and stopping an energy blast from leveling a whole quarter block. Tony feels a bit bad for him — they were kinda supposed to be on a date. But Tony feels worse for himself, he had to abandon a beautiful blanquette de veau back at the restaurant.
"I feel like -" Peter grabs a robot with his web, and flicks it back up over the rooftop, "- now would be a good time for a powerup Mr. Stark."
Tony fires in his line of sight, throwing out an arm to stabilize himself mid-flight. "Don't Mr.Stark me. We have this totally under control."
"Backup incoming, boss."
"I see it—"
A giant robotic worm comes barreling out of the ground, chewing through the first story of a building, and back into the ground. Oh fuck, he didn't see that —
Tony flies out of the debris, checking for civilians before he clears the area.
"Friday what the hell!"
The worm is way quicker than it ever should be; it breaches out of the ground once more, and catches Tony with the flick of its gross wormy tail. Tony goes flying like a bat out of hell, and there's nothing his suit can do to stop him from slamming into an office building at five-hundred miles an hour. Tony clenches his teeth through the pain, but he hears Stephen distantly yell, "Woah - ! I've got you—" and suddenly he's on hard ground.
"Sorry boss. I said incoming."
"Fucking ouch," Tony groans. "Peter, you didn't hear that."
"Sure, but uh-"
"You okay?" Stephen tries to help him up, which is cute, the armor probably weighs more than both of them combined, even with nanotech.
Tony manages to stand, blinking away the inertia.
"Yeah, uh. Thanks for the catch. Homerun - yada yada. Three points to Gryffindor."
"Did you hit your head?"
"That's a possibility, yes."
"Uh, guys—" Peter strains through the coms. "Um, I've uh, there's—" he appears around the corner, swinging around the edge of a building, a little blur of red and blue. “We’ve got company.”
The ground begins to roll. Three mechanical worms come out of the ground at once, chewing right through the whole quarter block of skyscrapers. Tony's heart dives right into his knees, and all he hears is "Shit!" before several buildings come down. Peter disappears in seconds.
Stephen and Tony tense simultaneously, panic and grief and genuine fear ricocheting through their contact like a deathly ping-pong ball.
One second they're on the ground. The next — They are covered in iron-man armor, two arms holding up a section of the building, two braced on either side of Peter, shielding him from three-thousand pounds of solid concrete. All in perfect harmony.
Debris settles around them, dust and smoke and distant screaming.
"Oh my god," Peter coughs, "You look so cool."
Insolent, adorable child.
They grab him tight, and phase to a safer part of the city. A rooftop with less earth—shattering mechaworms, yes.
Peter coughs into his elbow. He lifts the mask to his nose, and coughs more. They take a scan of his injuries, and decide he’s without damage.
"No way! There's — there's civilians out there."
"Consider it handled," They say, extending their arms to prepare several spells. "Sit down and have a fruit snack."
"Huh?" Peter looks to his hand, "Oh! That's so-"
"Cool yes," They say. "Sit tight kid."
They fix what they can. Which is effectively most of it, you're welcome. There is a limit to their celestial power, and it's much too early to pass out from energy exhaustion.
The city can deal with the physical cleanup. They have their culprits, for now. A revenge-crazy Darwornian, and a portal-spinning traitor from Kamar-Taj. Stephen will not forget this.
Peter begs to be taken back to HQ, so They comply. The Avengers are halfway into the quinjets when they arrive.
"It's taken care of," They say, dumping Peter on the couch and mentally raiding the food cabinets. "You don't stock this place much, do you?"
"Oh no," Steve tenses. "Was it that bad?"
“This one — forced our hand,” They point.
Steve squints. Peter throws up his arms.
“I was meeting my friends at the mall! It’s not my fault alien-robots crawled out of the ground.”
“You should’ve waited for backup.”
"We just saved Harlem, you're welcome," They frown. “Ignorant h—“
Thor peaks into the room, "We only just heard the alarm." He smiles, "It’s you, new friend! I don't think we've met."
"Separately," They shake his hand. There is power in his arms.
"They saved me!" Peter hops over the back of the couch and rips off his cowl. "What is your name anyways?"
"Strange or Tony or anything, really. Names are superficial," They say. "We're a perfect accumulation of two souls."
Thor frowns, "That is unfortunate. Names bring power."
Peter rubs his chin, "What about something dope? Like - Tophen. Or, or Sony - no wait, that's already a thing."
He is quite cute. Against all forces of nature, They find themselves unable to diminish his spirit.
"Any is fine," They smile. "In a past life, we were Actiorione."
Thor pauses, "Of the tenth realm?"
"I'm going into the city," Steve calls, obviously eager to leave. "They might need help with search and rescue."
"They don't, but enjoy yourself," They wave. "Boring work suits you."
Steve rolls his eyes, and gathers the rest of his buddies to drag them along. They choose to bounce up on the counter, and watch Peter come up with more senseless names.
“Nah. Tony has his own doctorates and hates being called Doctor.”
“Shoot. Uh, Tony Strange?” Peter sighs, “Nah, that just sounds like you’re married.”
"Oh, the Iron Doctor!" Thor points.
Peter slaps his leg, "Shit! That's a good one!"
"Tony will remember your language," They say.
The separation is quick that evening. Stephen runs off in a flustered hurry. Tony can still feel his grief, so he takes a rain check on the rest of their date.
Stephen opens his portal, takes one step and then falters back. He grabs Tony quick by the back of his head (in that stupid, super-sexy way), and kisses him straight on.
"I'm sorry. I have some-"
"Stuff to sort out, I know," Tony kisses him, drinks in that last bit of peace. "It's fine."
Stephen holds onto him like he can't bear to let go. But he does, and disappears with the flip of his cape.
Tony never likes this part. The walking away bit. He's left in a big empty tower with a big empty hole in his chest, and he always wonders if it's too late to call him back
He's sluggish getting ready for bed, so he decides against it all together. Tony settles in his bed and e-signs through the files piling up in his email. It's an okay distraction. Boring enough to keep his head on straight.
This last one was weird. Not any worse, but different in a way he can't really remember. He's always...slow to separate the fusion. It's Stephen's energy that gently reminds them that they cant stay that way forever.
And that's fine, that's cool. Tony likes being himself, occasionally.
He passes out somewhere sometime, and wakes up feeling the same. Groggy and a bit yucky, and still thinking about - what, his boyfriend? Soulmate, or something. He's worried about him. But Oprah says space is good and healthy and bleh, (and Tony trusts Oprah more than himself), so he puts on his suit and skips half his meetings for a chance to fiddle in his garage.
Like usual, the more time spent apart, the worse Tony feels.
Not so much in a magical, soul-binding fever, but in a I really just wanna see you kind of way. It's unfair that Tony is expected to do all this paperwork without talking or sitting or breathing next to Stephen. They've spent so much time together as of late, Tony just misses him.
He's in Seoul, a record two and a half weeks after the worm disaster in Harlem, when Tony's finally had enough of the meetings.
Tony pulls out his phone, and texts from his hotel room.
Can I come over?
He fiddles with the room service cart. Plays around with the air conditioner. Flops back on the bed, rolls over, chucks off his tie and rolls over again. The windows are tall enough to see the whole skyline from here. The penthouse view is his favorite part of every city, but today it leaves him especially lonely.
An orange and gold portal opens into the wall of his room, and Tony lights up like it's Christmas. He jumps on through, almost forgetting his shoes along the way.
"In here-" he calls.
Tony crosses the sanctum library, and feels his way towards the office space. Tony can't hear him but so much as, uh, sense him. Tony peeks into the room and grins.
Stephen is in casual clothes. He’s curled at his desk with, hmm, roughly a hundred books scattered around him. He's more disheveled than usual, and it's really cute. Stephen looks up quickly, and smiles before looking back at his desk.
Tony steps over a stack of books, and starts to make his way over.
"Doing some reading?"
"How'd uh, everything go after the fight?"
"It's typical to lose a few zealots to dark magic. The other masters are working on a prevention effort, but some will always be lost nevertheless."
Tony frowns, "That's a bit sad. You take these kids in, and they stab you in the back."
Stephen looks up, and his face is cold.
"Did you need something?"
"Alright grouchy pants," Tony huffs. "You could've just told me you were in a bad mood."
"I'm not - it's just-" Stephen runs a hand through his hair, and the distress comes off him in waves. Tony slowly reaches for him, and rests a hand at the back of his neck. His skin is warm. Stephen leans into it, and the connection sizzles with stress.
"Are you okay?"
"Each time I think I’ve got an answer — I find another inaccuracy, another fault in the crossspells, another text that tells me it shouldn't be possible."
"You're not making any sense. What inaccuracy-"
"The fusion! What else?!” Stephen shouts. “It's mystically, mathematically, and physically impossible. The power of a dead entity. Soul compatibility. The Third Eye!" He spins his chair to face Tony head on, and he's shattered to pieces. Tony knows that look. Broken and festered in his own mind. "I used the spell thinking it would kill us at worst, and give us a power-boost at best. Now all I have are more questions."
Tony combs his hand through Stephen's hair. He pushes back his bangs, smooths his thumb over the scar on his eyebrow. He loves the white streaks in his hair. The small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Tony wants to bottle him up and keep him forever.
"What does it matter?"
"Harlem," Stephen's voice drops to a whisper. "We fused without the spell."
Tony stops. He blinks.
"Huh. I guess you're right."
"Tony. I need you to understand how impossible that is."
"And? Who cares?"
"Who c-" Stephen sputters, "Tony. You're a modern genius. How is this not driving you insane?"
"It probably would've, a couple years ago." Tony shrugs. "But. I kinda' almost died like, seven times. And I'm learning to let stuff go." He cups Stephen's cheek, and it's more stubbly than usual. Tony likes it.
Stephen sighs, circling his arms around Tony's waist, and pulling him to stand between his legs. He bonks his forehead into Tony's chest and exhales.
"I dragged you into this."
"Something tells me it would've happened anyways."
Stephen's eyeroll is near audible.
"Don't listen to Wong, the soulmate stuff is nonsense."
"Of course it is. And magic isn't real either."
Stephen presses his palms flat against Tony's back. They shake a bit to do so.
Okay, that’s enough. Tony runs his tongue along the back of his teeth, before he tugs on the back of Stephen's hair, and forces his eye.
"Trust me. Of all the shit that's happened in the last ten years, this — is not something I regret."
Stephen looks straight through him. There's no mindreading here. Just them, in a creaky old building, surrounded by the smell of yellow pages and dusty shelves. They're vulnerable.
Stephen pulls gently at Tony's lower back, and Tony goes easy, one arm up and over the back of the chair, his legs straddling Stephen's thighs. The chair squeaks.
"We won't fit here for long," Tony says. He dips down to kiss him, using the height difference to control the kiss. Stephen's lips are warm. He kisses tenderly and slow. Tony smiles, "Mmm, but I do like being taller than you."
Stephen's hands slide naturally down and over his butt, squeezing once before he gets a loose grip on Tony's thighs. Tony knows damn well Stephen doesn't have the hand-strength to catch him if he falls, but Tony loves that he's willing to try anyways.
He licks into Stephen's mouth knowing it'll drive him crazy. Competitive douche — Stephen rears up and bites his tongue, sucks on it and slips it against his own, soft and possessive. It all goes south anyways.
Tony ragdolls. Swaps spit and groans when Stephen breaks the kiss to nose at his throat. Just a single press does him in, a suck right at his pulse point, and Tony digs his nails into the leather chair so he doesn’t fall when he grinds into Stephen’s lap.
“Oh, I’ve needed this,” Tony moans.
“I know,” Stephen says, and kisses him again.
Fuck, Tony wants everything. He wants to be eighteen. He wants their first kiss under the bleachers, to hold his hand at the football game and fuck like rabbits in his car. He wants back all the time he never had.
Stephen’s hand slides back over his ass. His palm slips under his shirt, and presses to the skin of his lower back, and Tony shivers from the immediate buzz in the contact. Stephen shivers too, and it’s sexy as shit.
“I have to suck your dick,” Tony states. “I have to suck your dick right now or I’m going to die.”
Stephen swallows, and has the gall to chew on his lip before saying deep,
Stephen hooks his thumbs in Tony’s waistband and tugs, knowing it won’t budge over his hips, but does so just to rile up Tony with the manhandling. Jokes on you, asshole. It works.
“You think I’m kidding, but I’m so fucking serious. If I can’t bury my face in your crotch within the next ten seconds I will throw myself out that window.”
“You have such a way with words,” Stephen hums. He tips his nose again, perfect height to bite down softly at the base of Tony’s neck. “So romantic.”
Tony’s voice cracks, “Stephen, please.”
That gets his attention. Stephen’s eyes snap up quick, and they’re hot. Fired up and ice cold all together. He pulls away, just to brush his lips against the corner of Tony’s mouth.
“Okay,” he says. “Impress me.”
Tony was never a religious man, but he falls to his knees at a record pace. He spreads Stephen’s legs, one palm on each thigh, and the look Stephen gives him is enough to have Tony rock fucking solid. As if he wasn’t already.
Tony’s not one for wasting time, so tick tock. He undoes the button and takes down his zipper, and the metal sound makes Tony’s mouth water. Stephen is in blue boxers, which is cute, but they’re in his way so they gotta’ go.
Tony grabs his jeans and his underwear and yanks them down in one tug, and Stephen gives a surprised noise at his arm strength. Hell yeah, Tony doesn’t work out for nothing.
Stephen is half hard and a damn meal. Tony already knows his throat is going to be sore tomorrow, and it’s going to be a-mazing.
He has no fuss about grabbing him by the base and slipping him down to the back of his tongue. Stephen’s hand flies to his shoulder, and the way his thigh tenses against Tony’s left hand? So awesome.
There’s a sensory overload in every place they touch. Tony bobs his head and they both groan, too many stimulants bouncing between them. Tony sucks him down, and has to abandon his thigh to grind his palm between his own legs.
Stephen says his name. Curse that voice of his. Tony has to close his eyes and concentrate.
Stephen bucks his hips, and Tony nearly chokes.
Tony pops off to breathe.
“Oh my god, no, more of that please.”
Stephen stares. Carnal and dangerous. Tony opens his mouth and waits. They're both breathing heavy, but Stephen doesn't hold out long. He tips his hips up as Tony bobs his head down. He fucks to the back of his throat thrust after thrust, and Tony comes without even touching his zipper. Not his classiest moment, but hell if it doesn't have Tony's toes curling.
He moans something crude and trembles on his knees, and Stephen watches him with a slackjawed adoration.
"Fuck - Tony-"
He swallows like a fucking champ, and even opens his mouth to prove Stephen otherwise.
"Impressed?" Tony grins.
"Get up here," Stephen pants.
Tony laughs and climbs back up into the chair, one knee between his legs, arms wrapped up around Stephen's shoulders. He's bubbling from the inside out, tingly and sated and so happy just to have Stephen grab him by the waist and squeeze. They kiss - or they did, just barely, before Tony is falling and falling and -
It's an all encompassed peace. Sprawled over the floor, feet still caught in the arm of the chair.
"Shit," They say.
Stephen doesn't care much for parties anymore. In rooms where he once demanded attention, he finds himself shying away from it now. Always acquaintances at best, nothing but memories of a different life entirely.
But Tony's parties are always nice. You expect a rooftop frathouse with girls in bikinis, and walk into a room full of veterans, sitting around with beer and board games.
Stephen isn't friends with many avengers. It's not really his division. But he gets along with some (most), and doesn't mind sitting at the sofa, listening to Thor go on about space quests and mystical realms.
It's the later part of the night. Where the extra guests have gone home, and it's down to the main HQ residents. Loki is here, which is weird, but Stephen is indifferent. More so than Steve, who chooses to sit far on the other end of the couch.
Bruce is one of the few who seems to like Loki, cause they're sitting hip to hip and getting along like old friends.
"No," Loki and Thor say together. "A Contest of Champions."
"And the Hulk won?"
"You cheated!" Thor points.
Bruce lifts his hands, "I wasn't there!"
"The beast won," Loki says.
"I"m not following," Steve blinks.
"You wouldn't," Stephen deadpans.
Steve ignores him. "Aren't you made of electricity? How did a taser have any effect on you at all?"
"I'm not made of-"
"Hey baby," Tony appears around the back of the couch, and slips an arm over Stephen's chest from behind. He leans down to kiss at his upper cheek. "I thought you left already."
Stephen tips his head back, and lets Tony kiss him again, straight on. "Well I wouldn't leave without saying goodbye."
"You're prone to random disappearances, don't blame me."
"Do you need any help?"
"I actually have a couple trays of dip sitting in the fridge. Wanna' grab a handful?"
"Sure," Stephen stands. The conversation carries on blissfully without him, and Stephen steps over Peter, half-asleep on the floor, to follow Tony to the kitchen.
"Having fun?" Tony grins.
"Sam did thirteen shots and threw up on Steve's shirt," Stephen says. "So yes."
Tony laughs. He opens the fridge, and grabs a few relish trays.
"Why do you hate him?"
Tony turns, dumping a tray on the island.
"I - you know I saw what happened. How could I possibly trust him after what he did to you."
"I'm over it," Tony says, pushing a tray into Stephen's arms. "Sorta. It's not your problem. We're friends now."
"You can't make me like him," Stephen says.
Tony laughs, and leans up to kiss Stephen, pushing him back up against the kitchen island.
"I can make you do lots of things."
He is so horribly beautiful. Clever and loud and loving in the most vulnerable way. A real pain in the ass, never around when you want him, but always there when you need him.
"Oh, absolutely," Stephen purrs.
Tony laughs, and Stephen sets the tray on the counter so he can reach for -
The building shakes. They freeze.
"The hulk?" Tony blurts.
They wait. The floor trembles again. No glass breaking, no shouting. Not an earthquake.
"No," says Stephen.
The noise in the living room has stopped completely. Everyone listens. There's a long stretch of silence, almost long enough to think it's over; before all the windows smash in, and a giant gust of wind blows into the tower.
"Fools!" A voice calls, "You thought a simple spell could hold me!!!?"
The sky starts to bleed red. There's a flurry of movement in the livingroom; gods pulling on shoes, humans reaching for armor.
Tony sets a hand at Stephen's hip, and draws his eye. Tony nods. Stephen nods back.
In perfect, concord harmony, They grin.