Jane Foster knew she wasn’t supposed to be working on Christmas Eve, but her latest set of calculations had some interesting theoretical ramifications...so, Jane had left a sleeping Thor in bed and Darcy presumably dreaming of sugarplums in her room in their Tower apartment to venture out for coffee, then back to the lab at Stark Industries. All of New York City was bedecked in lights and snow. Not that Jane noticed. No, she was deep in mental calculations until she stepped onto the floor of Avengers Tower. Then she looked up. Tony was there, which wasn’t unusual. But there was another man standing in the middle of the lab. Her lab. “Excuse me?” Jane said. “What the hell is going on? Why is Stephen Strange in my lab?”
“We’re working on portal stuff,” Tony said, shrugging. Jane felt--for the millionth time--like the mom who discovered her child’s rock band set up in her living room.
“Tony,” she said fiercely, “I don’t like other people touching my equipment. You know this. It’s my rule.”
“I am sorry,” Stephen said in a strained voice. “I understand your aversion to me--”
“He insulted me at more than a half-dozen conferences! I consider him a personal nemesis, Tony,” Jane said.
“I am very sorry, I regret my past actions--” Strange began, before Tony seized his face with one of his Iron Man gauntlets and patted it.
“He’s not even in your field,” Tony said. “He’s like your Brucie. What’s the deal? Besides, look at this face. His goatee is a work of art, Foster. You’re a fan of the arts, right?” Tony said. He’d held Strange’s chin and was squeezing, not unlike Jane’s grandma might. Strange looked miserable, which delighted Jane. She held in a laugh. “Lewis is always talking about the arts--that’s her booblicious assistant, total hottie, very single. She’s still single, right? She hasn’t met someone since her and Fish and Chips broke up yesterday, right? Her ex was tall and British, Dr. Weird, you’re a shoo-in,” Tony said.
“She would have met someone in less than twenty-four hours?” Strange said.
“I told you, very hot. Incredibly hot, right Foster? And she just got dumped and turned thirty, you being an old, serious British guy might be appealing--” Tony was saying.
“Er, ummm,” Strange said, looking mortified.
“You are not setting up Darcy with him, she can do better,” Jane said. “So much better!” Jane actually laughed.
“He needs a date for my Escape Your Relatives Booze Party, she needs a date, they could go toget--,” Tony began. He threw a crazy shindig between Christmas Day and New Year’s, so everyone could get out of the house.
“Excuse me,” Strange said huffily, interrupting Tony. “I was a renowned surgeon before my car accident. I have a fantastic home, many awards, no children, unless you count the cloak, and I’ve never been married before, I am still quite eligible.”
“Plus, you know how Darce likes ‘em tall and with the Prince Harry accent,” Tony said, nodding. He let go of Strange’s chin and patted him.
“You look like Disco Dumbledore and she is young, intelligent, and beautiful,” Jane said, still laughing, as she shed her coat and walked over to her desk. “See?” Jane said.
“There’s no need to insult---oh, bloody hell,” Stephen said. Jane had deposited a photograph of her and Darcy together at a party in his hand.
“Yup,” Jane said, taking in his stunned expression.
“That is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Stephen said, swallowing.
“That’s not even a good photo. Foster, find one where you can see the boobs. They’re like melons,” Tony said, gesturing vividly. “Big melons.”
“Tony! No,” a crisp voice said from the doorway. It was Pepper. “Stephen, Jane, I am so sorry that Tony is a child.”
“A child who pays for everything, comes up with all the best toys, feeds everyone, lets them live in his house--” Tony began.
“Which Darcy and I appreciate, really,” Jane said. “But she and Ian have been going out for five years and he refuses to propose--”
“He’s useless,” Pepper said, shaking her head.
“I proposed to you!” Tony said to Pepper, afraid the conversation would turn to his shortcomings somehow. “You like the ring, right?”
“I might want another one,” Pepper said, turning to wander away. “Merry Christmas, Stephen, Jane. Tony, come with me.”
“Merry Christmas,” the two said back reflexively.
“A bigger one?”” Tony was saying. “I’ll take you to Tiffany’s. Or should I call JAR?”
“Jar?” Stephen said.
“Highly exclusive jeweler in Paris. He actually decides if he wants to take you on as a client,” Jane supplied. “Tony makes many, many trips to Paris. I’m sure JAR loves to see him in the tabloids, given all the apology jewelry he buys.”
“Oh,” Stephen said.
“I’m surprised you don’t know about him, given your taste in watches,” Jane said. Stephen Strange was actually very well-dressed, pre-wizarding. Jane wondered if he ever wished he could redo his cape with, say, Giorgio Armani?
“I haven’t had the opportunity to buy much by way of women’s jewelry. My mother gardens,” he said. “She doesn’t favor jewels. They live in the south of England.”
“No?” Jane said, wondering why he was telling her this.
“I had a rose alley planted for her at home,” he said. “Difficult to gift flowers in winter, but I think she’ll appreciate the new greenhouse when she wakes up tomorrow.”
“You magicked your mom a greenhouse?” Jane said.
“Oh, no, it’s a real greenhouse. I hired contractors,” he said. “Surprise overnight installation, as long as my father has kept the new foundation under wraps.” He tapped the edge of the photograph of Darcy.
“I thought--” Jane began.
“What?” Strange asked.
“You’d spent all your money trying to reverse your injuries,” Jane said quietly. It had been the subject of conference gossip. “I’m sorry, that’s rude of me.”
“As it transpires,” Stephen said. “There was an account that I had overlooked. I had a person then. A financial manager who made my arrangements. It was the only one left when I returned to New York. So, I took over management of my own, rather limited, funds. But there’s a funny benefit of seeing thousands of versions of any potential future on a regular basis. You get an idea, a sense really, of the things people want and need. The essential nature of human nature. So, I invested in wants and needs,” he told Jane.
“Isn’t that cheating?” she asked.
“I didn’t use my knowledge of the potential future directly, so it was more of an educated guess? Anyhow, about 50% of them went belly up--”
“Oh,” Jane said, feeling bad that she’d asked.
“And the other 50% did spectacularly well. So, I can afford to give my mother a real greenhouse for Christmas,” Strange said.
“Oh,” Jane repeated, less guiltily.
“What kind of a man doesn’t want to be with a woman who looks like this?” he asked.
“The kind who wants to run an observatory in the Arctic Circle instead,” Jane said. Ian had been offered a job and had taken it, instead of visiting Darcy at Christmas, as long planned. “He was supposed to be here for Christmas and she’s been baking up a storm--a whole gingerbread replica of the house he grew up in! Then he calls yesterday and tells her, oh, I won’t be around for another four months, sorry.”
“She bakes?” he said.
“She loves to bake,” Jane said.
“The ex-boyfriend sounds like a real wanker,” he said.
“British men are, in my experience,” Jane said acidly.
“I am sorry,” he repeated. “I’m trying to be better, turn over a new leaf, be less self-absorbed, everything.” He sighed. “Tony mentioned you’re having difficulty stabilizing a new magnetized power cell? Perhaps I could help?”
“Fine,” Jane said. “But you cannot tell any of your wizarding world friends--”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said. “But I’m not Harry Potter.”
“Do you want to go on a date with my assistant?” Jane said.
“Yes? I mean, if she’s interested, of course--”
“Then you’re Harry Potter. I would suggest working on your charms and any potions you might have that recreate cosmopolitans or peppermint-chocolate martinis,” Jane said.
“Peppermint-chocolate,” he repeated.
“Actually, she has a little thing for the guy who played Remus Lupin. She’s a total Tonks, really. Darcy would use magic to change her hair color everyday.”
“Okay,” he said, having no idea what Jane was talking about.
They were so busy discussing Jane’s portal technology versus Stephen’s magical portal--he freely admitted that the mystical device worked, but was not flawless, which impressed Jane--that she failed to hear the ding of the elevator. “Well, I was thinking--” Stephen was saying, when the sound of little feet pounding down the hallway was accompanied by a scolding voice.
“Jane Foster! Are you working?” Darcy said, appearing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
“Oh,” Stephen said. “It’s--it’s you.” He was actually blushing, Jane realized. The man was smitten. Jane turned back to look at Darcy and almost burst out laughing. Darcy was wearing leggings and a low-cut red sweater belted with a shiny Christmas bow. She--and what Tony called her melons--looked practically gift-wrapped. Plus, she was carrying several trays of brownies and had a Santa hat on that matched her lipstick.
“Hello,” Darcy said. “You’re Bleeker Street’s Harry Potter!”
“Er, yes,” Stephen said, blushing furiously and smiling widely. “I am.”
“You have that cape!” Darcy said.
“The Cloak of Levitation,” Stephen said. The cloak chose that moment to wave.
“Awesome,” Darcy said, waving back. “Hello, Cloak! Brownie?”
“Er, yes,” he repeated. “I’d like that very much. Thank you. Dr. Stephen Strange.” Strange took a brownie and ate some, smiling at Darcy.
“I’m Darcy, Jane’s long-suffering assistant,” Darcy said.
“I know,” Stephen said, swallowing. “Tony mentioned you in passing,” he said. “These brownies are excellent, Darcy.” Jane snorted. He was using a lower register than he used when talking about portals with her, Jane realized. Stressing Darcy’s name.
“Thank you. Jane is not supposed to be working today at all, so technically, I should withhold these,” Darcy said. “But I have so many baked goods, even Thor said to give them away.” She sighed. “My boyfriend--”
“Is a wanker,” Stephen supplied smoothly. “Probably the stupidest man in all nine of the realms and worlds as of yet undiscovered.” Jane suppressed a smirk. He sounded like he was narrating an audiobook or something.
“Thanks, my dude,” Darcy said, “but they aren’t that great. Those were brownies for him. Ian likes plain ones. If you like those brownies, you really should try my Andes mint ones or maybe the Reese’s Cups and pretzel ones.”
“I would love that,” he told her. “I understand that Tony throws a party before New Year’s?”
“Yup,” Darcy said. “Jane, have you told Tony that I’ll just skip it, since Ian’s bailed on me again?”
“Oh, don’t do that,” Strange practically purred. “Why don’t we go together? I don’t have anyone to go with, either. You’d be doing me a favor, really.”
“All righty,” Darcy said. “If you really want to go with me?”
“Absolutely,” he said, all velvet voiced. Jane had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing.
“Isn’t he nice? He reminds me of a happy otter,” Darcy said, when Strange had portaled away in a shower of particularly impressive and elaborate sparks. “I thought you said he was an asshat? He ate half my brownies,” Darcy said. She’d sent the rest of one tray home with him. “I’m going to take some of these to Bruce, too,” she told Jane. She passed Tony on her way out.
“Itty Bitty!” he said. “You meet Dr. Weird?”
“He is so nice, he likes my brownies,” Darcy said. “You want some? I’m taking Bruce these.”
“Are they weed brownies?” Tony asked.
“Nope, I do not care to be in jail at Christmas for drugging the Hulk and causing an incident,” Darcy said strolling past Tony after she handed him a tray. “These are boring Ian ones.”
“Ahhhnnnnt, he sucks,” Tony said.”Stop taking him back, he has all my bad qualities without the charm, money, or dashing good looks.” Darcy laughed.
“Sure, Tony,” Darcy said. “By the way, Dr. Strange offered to be my pity-escort for your party.”
“Fantastic. He’s a great guy. Awesome facial hair, former surgeon, big weird house. You should date him,” Tony said. “It’ll impress your family.”
“We just met!” Darcy said, walking away.
Tony leaned around the door frame. “So, Foster, does Dr. Weird like her brownies or her melons?”
“Both. She has no idea,” Jane said.
“Really?” Tony said.
“No clue. He did the funniest Smooth Strange voice, though,” Jane said. “Like a British aristocrat if he was a radio DJ.”