“So, you broke up with me, ditched all your family and friends here, bolted straight to LA the minute you got that ridiculously generous compensation package but now you are back because of… a… friend.”
“Yep,” Stephen said curtly, lowering his cup back to its saucer.
Christine continued to stare at him, eyes narrowing. She has yet to touch the latte she ordered. “I’m missing something,” she whispered with a hint of amusement.
Stephen rolled his eyes while letting out a sigh, “let it go, Christine.”
“No. The fact you don’t want me to question, you don't want to be the center of attention is telling me that whatever you are hiding, Strange, it’s good,” she finally took a sip from her cup. There was a genuine smile playing on her lips, as she didn’t take her eyes off her long-time friend and ex. “Did you follow a girl?”
“Not a girl, no.”
Her eyes widened briefly, resting her chin on the palm of her hand, “a boy?”
He scowled at her before turning away.
That definitely made Christine laugh, shaking her head in disbelief. “Stephen Strange in love. This IS good.”
“Oh shut up.” And he meant it. He was already feeling stupid enough as it was the more he thought about the whole situation.
But his friend pressed on. “So am I going to get a name?”
He let out a sigh, leaning back in his chair. “Anthony.”
“When do I get to meet him?” she said, unable to hold back the enthusiasm she felt.
Perhaps it was odd she appeared rather happy upon hearing the news that her ex found someone new but when it came down to it, the two were friends before anything more. They had given a relationship a shot confusing the comfort felt for one another as a possibility for something more. But, in the end, Christine definitely knew Stephen was not the type to be satisfied by something just because it was easy and stable. It was in his nature to seek out the type of love that will burn you to the point of consumption. He needed the excitement, the trill… a love that was hard but made you feel very much alive.
The problem was, it was damn near impossible to find someone that will keep Stephen’s interest and affection for extended periods of time. Especially after he decided to nitpick at your life, your personality, life, and issues and deemed you are not worth his time.
“We’re not even in a relationship, Christine. We are just seeing how things go.”
“Okay, you could not have followed him across the country on a chance it might work out. You definitely would not let anyone talk you into that-“
Their eyes met and something in Stephen’s expression made her smile falter.
The war was over. Thanos defeated. Cheering filled the air as many looked to one another with happiness and relief.
…But for some, the relief was very short lived. Because few short seconds later, Iron Man pushed past the crowd to jump into the arms of Doctor Strange.
Many were confused. Most clearly expected the first one Tony seek out from the battlefield to be Captain America, regardless of the fallout events that occurred. And as the Avengers turned questioningly to Steve, they came to the obvious conclusion the Cap… must have also been expecting the same.
And so here they were, once again wondering if they should flee from the scene or try to prevent the inevitable. In the end, they all stayed. They were heroes, after all. But as for trying to prevent the situation, they knew it was a trainwreck.
“We are a team! Whatever problems we have, we will work it out together. And for the last time, it does not concern you, Strange. It’s between Tony and I. Stay. Out.”
It at least started out as a peaceful afternoon. Two weeks since the last standoff between Steve and Stephen, which was quite impressive considering the level of animosity that had escalated in the recent months… although that may have been largely due to the fact Stephen spent much of his time back at the Sanctum, Tony hid in his office or lab, and Steve mostly stayed in the training floors with the several other Avengers, old and new.
But today was the day of Stephen’s return to the compound. And noticing how Tony decided to forgo most meals while he was away, he had taken upon himself to cook in the communal kitchen. He had initially checked with FRIDAY to see if anyone else was already present. Personally, and perhaps selfishly, the sorcerer wanted nothing more than a chance to put some of the rogues in their place but he hadn't planned on going out of his way to cause unnecessary trouble.
However, shortly after he began, Steve, Bucky, Clint, Sam, and Natasha came back from a round of training. A moment’s later, Bruce walked in with the intention of getting a bite to eat closely followed by Rhodes who looked as if he was seriously considering turn right back around and running.
“Steve- don’t…” Barnes stepped closer as if preparing to hold back his friend if necessary.
Stephen had to admit, though his presence had been stressful for Tony initially, James Barnes proved to be much more sensible than Rogers. He at least had the decency to look extremely guilty the few times he and Tony crossed paths. And upon realizing how Tony seems to flinch every time he laid eyes on the soldier, Barnes took upon himself to try and put as much space possible between them, or just making himself scarce if the situation allowed it. It was an effort that Tony noticed and after several weeks, threw an olive branch by initiating small talks when the engineer was feeling more up to it.
Tony ultimately knew the death of his parents was not Barnes’s fault, he didn’t ask to be taken in by Hydra and be brainwashed. Sure he had lashed out badly initially but if he was being honest, it was Steve's betrayal that affected him more than finding out the truth of his parent's death. At the end of the day, however, the brunette felt he had no real right to judge Barnes when he himself definitely did not have a clean record.
But that was precisely the reason Stephen has so much issue with the Captain. While Tony was not blameless for certain events, he definitely was aware of his faults. It was to the point it ate him alive from within. Rogers, however, seemed to be under the impression he can do no wrong. No, correction: he lacked self-awareness enough to acknowledge the gravity of his mistakes. He seemed to believe the mistakes he committed was somehow necessarily simply because he himself deemed there was no other option. And yet, when another does something similar, he condemned them to no end. It was a clear double standard. On top of that, he seemed to ignore all his personal flaws or downplayed to an extreme extent. Others around him only enabling the behavior by letting things go just simply because he was Captain America.
The social perception was definitely a funny thing: it can condemn or revere a man just on an emotional whim.
Stephen had wondered at some point if Rogers purposely did not discuss the details what happened between Tony and him because he honestly believed in the idea of privacy or was it more out of pure self-preservation, whether the blonde acknowledged it or not. In the back of the good Captain’s mind, did he know…? That once more reasonable people stepped in and looked into what happened as a whole, understood the details and connected the dots, they may not be on his side wholeheartedly as they are now.
After all, the reason why most of the Avengers and SHIELD simply wanted Captain America and Iron Man to just simply “kiss and make up” largely stemmed from the impression they had of Tony. Everyone had a skewed perception that Tony must be more at fault, whatever it was. The Captain was willing to forgive so why not let things go back to the way things were? Back to the good old days. It was Steve Rogers, how bad could things even have been.
That mere thought always made Stephen feel sick.
“How convenient that would be for you,” the doctor replied coldly. He felt his old temper rise the more he thought about the whole situation.
“What are you talking about, Strange?”
“Doctor Strange…” came a voice from the corner. It seemed as though Peter had come back from school. Still wearing his backpack, looking a bit wide-eyed at the scene that was unfolding.
“Peter, go upstairs.” The teen’s appearance seemed to have softened something in the sorcerer, neither his voice nor his gaze holding the bitterness from just seconds ago.
“Is Tony upstairs?” Steve asked though it wasn’t much of a question.
The teen stiffened in response, which only returned the sorcerer’s anger.
“None of your concern, Rogers,” Stephen snapped.
Steve scoffed at the statement. “What are you? His keeper? Tony doesn’t need you to fight his battles for him. Or are you just afraid to let me talk to him because you know that once we work this out, you’ll be out of the picture.”
It was a stretch. They all knew it. Even Steve knew the situation was far from being that simple. And although he did believe things would be worked out between him and Tony, he did not expect Tony to let Stephen go so easily, he hadn’t in the past. But at that moment, Steve’s frustration had gotten the better of him and doctor's continued interference had been getting to him, to say the least.
Stephen lunged forward, raising a hand. Rhodes quickly jumped in to get a grip on his arm and shoulder, pulling back slightly. Considering the many years, Rhodes knew this particular topic was approaching a sore spot. There had always been one specific topic that made Stephen lose his cool and the Captain just stumbled on it.
Unfortunately, the action did not go unnoticed by Steve who narrows his eyes, analyzing the situation. This had, in the several months of the on and off arguments, been the first time he had gotten a real rise out of the sorcerer. No faux boredom, no carefully considered verbal attack, no above-it-all attitude, Stephen nearly gave into his own impulsiveness.
“So, is that what this is? Underneath all the bravado, you are just an insecure, broken man who knows he can’t hold Tony’s attention as soon as something better comes along.”
Rhodes, Barnes, Clint, and Sam all swore under their breath, looking as if they all were reconsidering running from this situation. On the other hand, Natasha stayed carefully silent, Peter and Bruce just looked horrified… and Stephen…
“Watch your tongue, Rogers. You may find that, unlike many here, I do not put you on a pedestal and more than willing to put you in your place should you push me.”
“Captain- Steve… there is no need for this,“ Bruce pleaded, looking towards Natasha for backup.
Getting the hint, Natasha took a half step forward trying to get the Captain to look at her. “Steve, stop-”
But Steve quickly ignored his teammates, eyes fixed on Stephen. “Come on, let’s go a few rounds then. I’m not scared of you. You act like you are better than everyone but inside you are just a man too afraid to face the fact you are his second choice, a rebound at best.”
“Who exactly is the rebound I wonder-“ there was definitely something dangerous in Stephen’s tone now.
“Stephen,” Rhodes grip tightened, trying to pull him back further away from the Captain. “Don’t do this, man. You know Tony wouldn’t want-”
“Gosh, I don’t know why I didn’t notice it sooner," Steve lets out a dry laugh. "The fact you never take off those gloves and don’t ever shake anyone’s hands should have been a clue. You’re so insecure."
He took a step forward towards the sorcerer. "You know, I thought it was odd you wouldn't join the Avengers... even for Tony after all your declaration about how you care about him, how you are better than me. But it's because you're a coward. You knew the distance was the only way you can keep up this perfect, tough, infallible impression you gave everyone. Because the more time we spent with you, we would see the cracks in your mask. Does Tony even know? What you are really like? He always liked his men strong and confident. The fact that he's still with you probably means you have him tricked too. You definitely seem the type to be smart enough not to show him. You would have lost your appeal. I mean what else can you be offering him really, Strange? A cripple who can’t even hold him properly.“
There was a cold silence following the statement.
Rhodes gritted his teeth, looking to the god above. He then took a deep breath, patting Stephen’s shoulder before letting go. “On second thought, Tony will understand.“
“Are you not going home to rest?” She swiftly took away the book that Stephen had been using as a shade from the fluorescent light, tossing it to the nearby table.
He blinked several times adjusting to the light. He must have dozed off at some point. Long shifts through the night were always brutal. “What day is it?”
“Thursday,” Christine replied, setting down a cup next to the other doctor. “Here, coffee.”
“I hate Thursdays.” He straightened up from the lounge chair he had been half-heartedly lying on and groaned as he felt the stiff muscles. Perhaps he really should have gone straight home after the last procedure.
“…Well, there are three new projects the chairman wants to commission.”
“I assume they are counting on the Maria Stark Foundation to underwrite some of that-”
“The Chairman certainly seems to be. But they have funded us for the past six years so-”
The two turned towards the newcomers. One of whom Stephen was starting to get a bit tired of seeing, Dr. Nicodemus “Nick” West. He didn’t particularly have anything against the man but Stephen definitely knew when he was at the end of some petty jealousy. He dealt with that treatment from many others throughout his life. He admitted things always came easily to him. He had the looks, top of his class, great background, never short of admirers… He certainly had an easy life. But that sort of life was a magnet for envy and passive aggressive treatment once in a while.
“Doctor Palmer. Strange.” There was a slight shift in tone as West address from one to the other. Stephen tried not to roll his eyes.
“Doctor West,” he greeted back, making his voice even.
“This is Mr. John Holt, he’s on the board of directors. I believe you have yet to meet our new surgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange.”
Stephen rises from his seat, shaking the man’s hand with a smile.
“Ah, Doctor Strange. You’re quite the talk upstairs, you know. Wilson seemed quite pleased he finally convinced you to join the hospital.”
“I hope to exceed the expectations,” Stephen said politely, noting the slight annoyance that flashed across Nick’s face. Well, he had always been fond of the fact he can get under some people’s skin without really trying.
John returned the smile, and after a nod, turned towards Nick once more. “But as I was saying, Nick, with Tony Stark fully taking over all aspects of Stark Industries, it may be a whole new ball game. Wait… Doctor Strange, you are from LA, are you not? I believe I may have seen a picture or two with you and Mr. Stark…”
Stephen kept his face blank. Should he say they are “friend”? He and Tony didn’t exactly get into the whole labeling what they had, though “dating” may be the most appropriate term by definition. However, they also didn’t exactly talk about boundaries in terms of public viewpoint.
“You know- Anthony Edward Stark? By any chance are you two close? Maria Stark grant has always been quite generous to this hospital and I admit we do rely quite heavily on it. Would be great to have someone close put in a good word-”
“Anthony?” a whisper from Christine that Stephen was pretty sure he only heard. Well, she’s never going to let this go.
“I-” but before he could respond, Nick stepped forward.
“It’s LA, John. Besides, we all know what Tony Stark is like. All charm one moment doesn’t even remember your name the next. No offense, Strange. You have an impressive reputation but it’s THE Tony Stark. Remember how he still didn’t know the chairman’s name last year?”
“Oh, I definitely remember. He sulked about it for weeks…”
If the rumors haven’t spread yet (and it did), everyone was certain something royally combusted the moment they were called in for a mandatory meeting. And (if it was even needed) they got the confirmation when they walked into the large conference room with both Captain America and Doctor Strange at opposite sides. If anyone noticed the terrible bruise forming on Steve’s right eye (they did), no one dared to mention it.
It has been a very complex situation after the war with Thanos. SHIELD wasn’t short of internal problems before then and Accords became disarrayed after the snap. Five years later, everything was in complete chaos. At first, they did not know how to deal with the situation but after some time they were slowly putting back the pieces. It was eventually agreed that Nick Fury be put in charge once more of the new SHIELD that had been rebuilt with Everett Ross’s help. It was definitely not perfect and there were plenty of objections, but in the end, it was the best situation for the time being.
“I only agreed being summoned to mandatory meeting once a month, you better have a damn good reason to-“
Everyone remained silent as Tony Stark entered the room. They can all see the gears turning in the genius’s head as he noticed Stephen there, who hasn’t been present in one of these since the debriefing of the Thanos’s defeat. And as his gaze land on Steve’s new black eye, Tony definitely doesn’t bother finishing his sentence.
“Right…” he cleared his throat, walking to the chair next to Stephen.
Sitting down, Tony couldn’t help but glance over at Stephen, checking to see if he had suffered any injuries. Stephen stared back with an expression that clearly said something along the lines of I’m insulted. The sorcerer was leaning almost comfortably on one arm of his seat, legs crossed, fingers to his temple, looking surprisingly calm compared to the panic Tony felt once realizing someone must have gotten into some sort of brawl with Cap.
But now that he can see his boyfriend seemed relatively ok, he couldn’t help but also note Stephen was in his full sorcerer robe, boots, thick gloves, along with the cape. A look Tony had not seen in quite a while given their slip into the more domestic life. And although he really shouldn’t, given the circumstances, he can’t help but let his mind go… there…
The clothes always gave Stephen an incredible stature. Heightened his broad shoulders and form in ways that did wonders to his physique and presence. Tony had always been hot and bothered by the white coat the doctor used to wear during his surgeon days but he had to admit that was nothing in comparison to this. Probably didn't help he didn't have good sex in days. Quite frankly if this was any other situation he would have had his hands all over his boyfriend and-
Rhodes cleared his throat loudly behind them, making Tony do a complete 180.
“What the-“ Tony snatched off the glasses he had been wearing. “You-“
Rhodes' lips were split and an ugly bruise on his chin. “I punched first,“ the colonel admitted.
The brunette frowned before turning his attention back to his boyfriend with a look that said then why the fuck are you here?
“I had Rogers fall continuously for an hour,” Stephen replied in a bored tone.
There was a loud cough from the opposite end of the table, from Clint. Tony regarded him questioningly but the archer refused to elaborate, his arms crossed.
Rhodes let out a sigh, “Cap punched me back. Stephen threw him into a wormhole. Clint shot an arrow and…” he motioned to the doctor.
Stephen rolled his eyes. “I had Barton fall continuously for an hour… as well.”
“…oh,” that’s all Tony manages before sitting himself straight on his chair. “Oh…”
Stephen took long strides down the hallway, not bothering to care for anyone he had pasted. He was unsure why he was here. He never actually came to Tony’s work unannounced. The only other time was when the genius disappeared for months in Afghanistan but that had been an emergency. Maybe he should have at least called Pepper or Happy but he honestly didn’t comprehend where his feet were carrying him to till he ended up at the front steps of Stark Industries Headquarters.
“How may I help you, Mr…?”
“Strange. Doctor Strange,” he replied curtly at the woman.
She was quite attractive; fair skinned, dark, medium-cut, wavy hair, seemingly above average in height, quite lean with a narrow waist that was accentuated by the tight pencil skirt… and light green-blue eyes that were quite striking.
“You are not Pepper,” he couldn’t help but say those words out loud.
The woman smiled and there was something about the look in her eyes, a look of cleverness, that Stephen was unsure he liked.
“Ms. Pepper has her hands full with all the new arrangements. I’m just filling in for her temporarily for secretary works. Is Mr. Stark expecting you? I don’t believe I’ve seen anything in the books.”
“No, I'm just dropping by.”
There was something about this situation that was unnerving the doctor but he could not put a finger on the what just yet.
“Is he in?”
“I’m afraid he’s indisposed at the moment. Do you mind waiting?”
He noticed an accent in her voice, faint but definitely there. It was one he was quite familiar with, having grown up in New York in a British household.
“No, not at all,” the statement came out a bit harsher than he intended.
“I’ll send him a message you are waiting if you would like to take a seat, Doctor Strange.”
Stephen took a seat towards the farther end of the room and couldn't help but to tap his foot lightly in impatience. His attention strayed to the woman every once in a while. He just realized he never asked for her name given how taken aback he was to find someone on that desk other than Pepper Potts. Perhaps, that’s what was bothering him. Stephen knew how attached Tony was to Pepper and how much he just about fled from every other staff in Stark Industry other than Pepper and Happy. And after the ordeal with the kidnap and Stane, the genius developed a trust issue. No matter how overworked Pepper undoubtedly was Tony would have fought tooth and nail if anyone suggested having even a temporary replacement.
“Mr. Stark’s office, please hold.”
Stephen had to admit, however, that she was quite good at her job. He had been watching for several minutes now of the woman answering non-stop phone calls while typing proficiently with one hand. It was impressive to watch. But no matter how amusing this may be, his impatience got the better of him.
He took out his cell, quickly typing a message. And just seconds after it was sent, the large double door flung open.
“Mr. Stark,” the secretary stood up.
Tony seemed to visibly light up as he sets his eyes on the doctor, crossing the room in quick strides. And Stephen, though he will never admit it out loud, felt better seeing the pure fondness in those whiskey brown eyes. He also may have been a little smug Tony had paid little attention to the woman. “Stephen- sorry didn’t know you were here.”
“No worries. I came unannounced.”
“Yeah I mean- more than happy you are but…“ He was already leading the doctor into his office but paused at the receptionist desk. “Kaitlyn, sweetheart-”
“I apologize, Mr. Stark,” she said smoothly without missing a beat.
“Oh no no, it’s fine. My fault. Didn’t tell you. This is Stephen, a close friend. Just give him the clearance as Rhodey-bear.”
An amused smile formed on Kaitlyn’s lips and in a faux whisper, “I believe you wanted Colonel Rhodes to wait like the others.”
A thought seemed to dawn on Tony. “...Yeah, let him sweat it. You can just let Stephen in anytime.”
“Of course, Mr. Stark.”
“Thanks, honey. And don’t let anyone bother me for the next hour.”
Stephen frowned. He was definitely used to Tony freely giving out endearments but something about this situation was bothering him more than it should.
“So-“ Tony started as he closes the door behind him, the trademark smirk on his face. “Sorry about that. I may have told her to have everyone wait at the door for an hour. You know, for them to re-assess if whatever they were coming to me with really is that important I have to be bothered with.” He walked towards the mini bar at the other end of the room. “Want one? I’m guessing you just got off from a shift.”
Stephen slowly paced around the space, stopping in front of the large window behind the desk. “No, I’m fine.”
“Suit yourself,” Tony responded while taking a large gulp of the amber liquid. “I really didn’t think you would ever just randomly drop by, to be honest with you. I do mean it, incredibly glad you did. So what's the occasion? Did you miss me?”
“You like her.” It was a simple statement of a fact. Stephen didn’t even bother turning away from the window.
“What?” the engineer sounded a bit taken aback. “Oh, yeah, Kaitlyn is great. She’s good at her job. Can handle me, which automatically means she should be given a medal. Pepper knows how to pick ‘em…”
Stephen tried to keep a straight face but he mind was already repeating the grating “Mr. Stark” in that annoyingly posed voice with that annoyingly fetching smile.
“I didn’t think Pepper would be so easily replaced for another pretty face.”
There was a short but distinct silence in which Stephen mentally berates himself.
“She’s not. But someone capable makes me miss her a bit less while she can’t be here. Still, gotta say, can’t replace the real deal.” They both knew they were no longer really talking about secretaries.
Before the doctor can fully let the words sink in, the other already crossed the room, stopping only a foot away. “You never answered me. Did you miss me? Because I definitely missed you.”
Stephen absentmindedly traces a finger along the brunette’s jawline. From this distance, he can see every one of Tony’s long lashes, the laugh lines that started to form, and the intense dark eyes that always reflected so much fire and intelligence. He doesn’t know when the feeling started but a side of him wanted to keep all of Tony to himself. “Do you really need a second secretary?”
The engineer rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Doc? Are you actually jealous of a secretary? You never minded Pepper.”
That makes him snap. By now, he figured out exactly what was wrong about this picture. “For god’s sake, Tony. Do I have to spell it out for you? Tall, dark hair, light eyes, the accent- She doesn’t remind you of anyone?”
Tony was taken aback by the sudden outburst, blinking several times trying to process the information. “Oh…”
The doctor let out a snort of disbelief.
“Okay, …I-I didn’t think that-“
“Who really assigned her to your desk? You or Pepper?”
“Pepper! And I didn’t have much of a say-“
“Get rid of her.”
“Jesus Stephen, you’re always saying how Pepper is overworked! We’re trying to re-launch Stark Expo and with the move to New York there is too much going on.”
“Then get another typist. The world is full of them,” there was an edge to his voice that makes Tony flinch back slightly. “And preferably one that doesn’t look like they can pass as an opposite-sex version of me should you wake up one day and decide you rather be back sleeping with women.”
“Okay, first of all, Sunshine, you know as well as I do that it is very hard to replace what we have in the bedroom department and second of all, I need help. Also, do you know how hard it is to find someone I can tolerate while being stuck in this miserable office AND who meets Pepper’s expectations?”
"Oh, I'm sure you more than simply tolerate her presence, Anthony."
Tony set the glass down on his desk while taking a deep breath. “Okay.... Stephen, honey… it's... it's just one more week. It’s definitely not permanent. Then she’ll be back to whatever department Pepper found her in.” He tried to smile, searching for some reasonability in the doctor’s expression.
Stephen looked away. This was ridiculous. He was starting to feel incredibly stupid and he HATED feeling stupid. Since when did become the type to lash out like this or let the emotions get the better of him when it was so utterly unnecessary.
He was well aware he had the traits of a person that can potentially become possessive. He was obsessive, stubborn, arrogant, and definitely prideful, a cocktail recipe for jealousy and possessiveness. But luckily, it had never been an issue in the past. Everyone he’s ever been with always had been more invested in him than he was with them. Add the side of him that was cocky enough to believe they will not find someone better than he, he never cared enough to get jealous.
But Tony... Tony was different. As many kept pointing it out to him, he was THE Tony Stark, the self-proclaimed "genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist" who definitely lived up to the name. In comparison, for the first time, Stephen was no longer clearly the smarter, more successful, better-looking one. Despite all the snarky remarks, he was pretty certain Tony can outdo him in every department. In truth, Tony didn’t really need him. Not really. If the engineer applied himself, he undoubtedly can get another doctor to play the boyfriend role should he become bored or annoyed of Stephen. He even wondered quite often if all this was just simply that... Tony's new amusement, a result of temporary boredom... one that eventually had an end once he found something new and shiny to focus on.
“Alright,” he said finally, resigned. What else was he supposed to say? Tony was making sense (for once) and he certainly didn’t feel like parading his issues any longer nor go further into it.
“You know,” Tony started after a pause. The playfulness was back in his tone. “If you are that worried you can just stay here all the time. I won’t mind.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t, Anthony,” he scoffed, “but I have better things to do with my day than be your typist.”
Tony let out a soft laughter while idly playing with the collar of the expensive black button up the doctor chose to wear. “Oh honey, if you were my secretary I wouldn’t be able to leave you alone,” he said with a smirk before closing the distance, planting a firm kiss on the other’s lips.
They spent a couple of seconds just kissing, soon becoming feverish as if both parties were trying and failing to release some of the tension that had built up.
It wasn’t enough.
Stephen lets his own hand travel upward along the other’s spine, soon grabbing a fistful of the chocolate colored hair giving it a hash tug backward. He savors the flash of surprise on Tony’s face as their eyes lock.
“You would like that, wouldn’t you… Mr. Stark,” he drags out the other’s name, lowering his own voice down an octave. Oh, Stephen knew very well what that tone usually did to the other.
Tony doesn’t make his retort, face suddenly flushed and pupils blown wide. Interesting. He can work with this.
Wasting no time, he forces Tony’s tie loose, popping off the top 2 buttons swiftly with his left hand. “Having me at your back and call…” The right tugged a little harder on the locks, forcing the brunette to expose his throat completely. Stephen licks a dirty strip from the collarbone all the way up to the jawline just below the ear. “Indulging your every whim…” There was a precision in which the doctor undoes the other’s belt, rough but efficient. “Meeting all your desperate needs…” He slipped the wondering hand down below the belt line, earning a sharp gasp from his lover. “Oh and you know I always meet your needs... Don’t I, Mr. Stark?”
But really it was Stephen who needed this. A little more control of the situation. A confirmation that he can have Tony’s undivided attention. It was a fix… a temporary fix but a fix to get the edge off nonetheless.
Tony cursed under his breath feeling his knees buckle. He doesn’t dare try to meet those icy blue eyes unless he wants to cum right then and there. “Babe- o-okay… this is fun but anyone can come in-“
Stephen kissed him hard on the lips stopping the words. The long fingers finally letting go of the now messy locks and traveling down, quickly tightening along the jawline. He hears Tony moan, desperate and needy.
“I saw how you locked the doors. You were hoping for this,” he whispers with a sly smile. His fingers wrapped firmly around Tony’s cock which was more than half interested now. He gave a couple lazy but deliberate strokes, watching the other squirm in his hold. “The sudden modesty doesn’t suit you…”
Despite the small protests, Tony’s fingers had been locked onto the other’s shirt drawing them closer. It was likely going to leave wrinkles. Well, there went the chance of maybe walking out of here later decently and unnoticed. Though the petty side of Stephen wants Kaitlyn to see, to notice, to understand.
He retreated his hand from Tony’s well-tailored trousers earning a near soft whine from those lovely lips. Tony tried to buckle forward involuntarily, searching for some type of friction, but Stephen soon held his hipbone in a tight grasp not letting him have an inch.
“So…" Stephen smirked. "how do you want me, Sir?”
There was a pause in which he can visibly see the gears turning in Tony’s head.
“The desk,” his voice sounded wrecked already. “I want you to bend me over and fuck me hard enough I don’t give a shit who walks in.”
He gives his best fake polite tune he often used at the hospital, “That can certainly be arranged, Mr. Stark.”
“I’m just saying Tony, you didn’t even notice I got hurt. Too busy checking up on your boyfriend.”
“Oh come on, Platypus, I said I was sorry. You know I love you. I’ve been working non-stop for all the upgrades you wanted.”
“Whatever Tony. Just admit it. Stephen is around and you really don’t see any of us little people-“
The meeting had been rough, to say the least. But luckily, no matter how much resentment each of them may have been bottling up, none seemed all too keen to voice their full thoughts in front of SHIELD agents for one reason or another.
It had come up (again) from the rogues, however, that some of these issues may resolve quicker if Tony just stopped avoiding them. To their frustration, like he often did during these meetings nowadays, Tony barely spoke and didn’t even bother with a reply. He knew it often bothered Rhodes and Stephen how rarely he spoke up in the recent months, but Tony knew, from hard experience, this was the quickest way to have things go away. Quite frankly, he did not have enough energy for these types of fights anymore.
Even then, it was a miracle there wasn’t more of an uproar. But that may have largely been due to the fact both Stephen and Rhodes, following Tony’s lead, did not engage the rogues… Excluding the incident where Stephen’s cloak launched full force at Clint for making a threatening comment at Tony. Stephen had insisted that the Cloak of Levitation has a mind of its own, it wasn’t his doing, and he couldn’t possibly do anything to stop it... which Tony was quite certain was a lie.
By the end of it, Fury looked like he was ready to chuck all of them out the window. A sentiment that, as Rhodes pointed out, should be considered favoritism since there were clear advantages for some in the room at survival over others.
The director also especially seemed to have resentment towards a certain non-Avenger who had been center of many disturbance as of late. However, a case could be said that he was bitter the moment Stephen insisted he would not be joining Avengers. After all, since the battle with Thanos, Blank Panther and Dr. Strange had been top of the ideal recruitment list due to their skillsets and understanding of politics. But, of course, there was only so much Fury can do to the sorcerer who wasn't necessarily under his jurisdiction and the director at least had more self-preservation than the Captain. And considering how Clint rushed out to throw up several times during the meeting, Fury seemed not all too keen on finding out for himself what it was like to perpetually fall for an hour.
Tony had been the first to stand up to leave after the meeting was adjourned. Steve calling out his name only making him walk faster.
“You do realize, Tones, that I am human, like you. With no real superpowers up against super soldiers and gods. Your boyfriend, on the other hand, is a sorcerer with actual magic who probably won’t break a sweat going toe-to-toe with the crazies. And you still don’t think to check on me? Do you not care whether I die?” Despite the very evident exasperation in the colonel’s voice, there was no real bite to his words. They both knew this game.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Well, I didn’t think you were stupid enough to actually have a go at them without the suit. What exactly made you snap anyways?“
Rhodes took a sideward glance at Stephen, who had been unnervingly silent since they had left the conference room. “…You know how they are. They were just being assholes.”
The elevator opened as they reach the ground floor and the colonel stepped out looking back at the two. “I should get going. I have a lot to do anyway. When are you two heading to Wakanda then?”
And the real reason the meeting was called.
As it turned out, it was not actually the fight that broke out at the compound that had caused the all-hands meeting. It just happened to have been the final push and a convenient excuse.
They had all been notified a week prior about a formal celebration in Wakanda hosted by the King T’Challa himself. All Avengers were invited, of course, and Ross had been very insistent that they all attend to show good faith. There were also talks about Black Panther formally joining the Avengers and SHIELD seemed keen on not letting anything get in the way.
“Since they were all here anyways” as Ross put it, he just wanted to remind all of them how important it was for all to make an appearance “no matter the internal differences that exist”. They all had to admit, the reminder was a necessary one. Not that any of them had been averse to going to Wakanda (some were far more than ecstatic with the opportunity) but due to the ever-busy life of playing hero, for many, thing like a party simply slipped their minds.
Tony chanced a glance at Stephen who was still soundlessly leaning against the farther wall, crossed arms. He practically can see the black clouds that loomed over the doctor. He turned back to his friend, the trademark smile plastered on his face. “I’ll call. Probably tomorrow early afternoon.”
Rhodes gave a nod before starting out of the complex. “Be careful you two. And call if you need anything.”
Tony watched as his friend disappear and the elevator soon conveniently closed leaving the two to their privacy. “FRIDAY, my room.”
“Of course, Boss.”
“So… are we-“
Before he can finish the sentence, Tony found himself harshly shoved to the opposite wall, the sorcerer’s full body flushed against his. The kiss felt almost desperate, all tongue and teeth, and although the brunette often enjoys Stephen losing control and being rough, the nagging voice in the back of his head telling him this wasn’t the time.
He turned his head slightly to the left breaking the lip lock. “I was going to say talk by the way,” Tony said with as much sarcasm as he can muster. He wanted to keep the mood as light as possible.
Stephen watched at him for a moment, hands clawing at the formerly pristine dress shirt the engineer had changed into for the meeting. “Either we argue or we fuck. I rather choose the latter.”
These are the moment that makes Tony think. Think and look really hard at this relationship between them. He wonders how many times he must have missed the signs years ago. The signs of Stephen spiraling and using the momentary gratification to somehow convince himself everything was fine. And how many times he, Tony, had must have let him - too distracted by the wicked smile and clever hands. To be fair, the engineer had a similar way back then. He too was a pro at avoiding the real problem, deflecting things that were hard, a master at deluding he and the rest of the world that everything was fine and dandy.
Tony thinks he must have not seen the signs …or perhaps he just did not fully understand at the time… or worse, maybe Tony knew but didn’t know how to deal with it so he jumped at any indication Stephen showed that things might be okay.
But things were different. It had to be different. There was just too much to lose. Tony couldn’t lose this, not a second time. He doesn’t know if he will survive that heartbreak.
“...You just assume I’ll agree with you,” he frowned, eyes hard. “That I’d rather just have you fuck me into some bliss than actually make sure you are okay. Okay. …just…off. Get off.” Tony firmly shoves at Stephen’s chest making the other take a step back with a blank look on his face.
He took a deep breath, hands falling onto his hips. For a moment he paces trying to discern the unsettling feeling in his chest. “Shit-… shit- SHIT!” He slammed his hand hard on the emergency button making the elevator come to a halt.
“What did he say to you?”
Stephen holds his gaze in silence.
“What. Did. He. Say.”
He waits. But the doctor makes no effort in saying another word.
“Stephen. I swear to god say something before I go back there and punch the shit out Rogers till he repeats exactly what he said to-“
“I SAID ENOUGH.”
The sheer intensity in Stephen’s voice made Tony involuntarily step back. He stared at the sorcerer a bit longer then shook his head looking away. He felt his eyes starting to sting. God, he cannot be crying right now.
“Then tell me what I need to say to you,” he tries to make his voice even as possible. “Tell me what I can possibly say to assure you that whatever the hell Steve fucking Rogers said doesn’t matter.”
He started to pace again, running a hand through his hair nervously before turning around to fully face the sorcerer once more. “I love you?” he shrugged, letting his hands fall to the side. “Because I do love you, Stephen Strange. I don’t… I don’t want anyone else. I don’t have anyone else. I’m goddamn unsure about so many things in my life and half the time I wonder if my whole existence is a mistake but one thing I am damn sure about is that I. Love. You.”
"Is that not enough?" Tony took a step closer. “Because I can’t lose you, not even to yourself. I don’t think I’ll survive that another time.” He paused before going on. “You… never actually tell me what’s really bothering you. Okay, yeah, you show the surface level things, you make your snarky remarks, throw a tantrum, you brood but you don’t ever show me any vulnerability, things that actually get to under your skin. When something is really wrong, when you are actually hurt, you never say a thing. I don't find out till you are gone. Is it... is it me? I-I know I have given you too many reasons to doubt me, maybe that’s why you feel you can't trust me-”
“I do trust you, Tony.” Stephen’s arms were crossed, once again leaning against a corner.
“Really? Do you even believe that? One moment you seem like you are completely in this, the next you seem to like you are ready to run. I know you are the type to have one foot in the door and building an exit plan at the same time. I get it, I really do. And honestly, if I was dating me I would do the same.”
“But it just hurts!”
He felt himself tearing up and promptly looked away, embarrassment threatening to eat him up alive. “Because I… I don’t know what else to do or say to prove to you that I love you.” He takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. “…I was just playing dumb. I knew how much you doubted me since day one and I knew you were just protecting yourself… so I tried SO hard… so hard to prove to you that, even if you aren’t yet, I’m completely in this. Hell, I tried to in ways I never thought I had in me. I opened myself up to you in ways I never thought I could for anyone. I just wanted you to see you may be unsure about us but I’ve never been more sure about anything else in my life.” When Tony turned back around, he can see Stephen trying hard to keep his expression blank.
“You’re spiraling. I can see that now. But I fucking don’t know what else to do to help because you still refuse to tell me anything… not when it counts. And I know that may be my fault but I don't know what else I can do..." Tony reached forward, hands on either side of Stephen’s face, trying to get the other to meet his eyes. “Please... just trust me. Tell me what’s bothering you, Stephen… just tell me so we can fix this together…”
"...Nothing. Nothing's wrong, Tony."