“Well, this is certainly going to be quite a cleanup.”
Tony let out a small huff, a smile already spreading across his lips without so much as a backward glance. It was a voice he recognized all too well.
There were sounds of crunch and soft shattering as Stephen crossed the room amongst the rubbles. Soon, strong arms wrapped around the engineer’s middle in a tight hold, lips pressing down on the nape of his neck. Tony tilted his head forward, giving the surgeon a bit more access.
“Yeah, well, redecorating can be fun,” he said nonchalantly as he continued to stare at the blueprint laid out in front of him.
“Avengers Towers, huh?” Stephen read out loud. “When will they move in?”
“In about a month when this is all fixed up. I’m speeding up the process a bit since most of them decided to stay in New York and now temporarily living in god-awful SHIELD accommodations.” He took a large gulp of the coffee before setting the mug down at the corner. “Plus Thor should be back in couple weeks too. I want them to have some type of home to return to soon…”
There was a grim silence Tony takes note of but waited till the other spoke. He already made this mistake before. Stephen definitely was the type who hated being told how he is feeling or what he is thinking by another… even if it was dead on the mark.
“I admit... I’m not fond of the idea.”
The billionaire turned around with a deep breath, leaning slightly on the edge of the worktable as he faced his boyfriend with a smile. “You can move in with me too?”
The surgeon remained stoic for a moment longer. Though eventually let out a sigh as he placed his hands on the table, either side of Tony, leaning slightly in. “You want me to be okay with you living here with America’s golden boy, a literal god, another brilliant doctor you couldn’t stop talking about- must I go on?”
“And your Nat.”
Stephen gave him an exasperated look, rolling his eyes.
“You forgot Legolas by the way. Which is great because there is this running joke he’s always being forgotten so I’m going to tell him about this. And.. .Hey! I’m okay with you letting her sleepover at your place once in a while, Doc. A beautiful red-headed super spy with piercing green eyes? You know, the one that you even felt threatened by when we all first met-? ”
He gave Tony a glare. “OKAY. Okay- I get the point. Trust. …Right.” Stephen backed away, taking a couple steps to nowhere in particular as he ran a hand through his hair.
Tony fidgeted with the digital pen still in his hand. “You know you have nothing to worry about, right? You know I only want you… Besides we’re all technically living on different floors-”
“I’m not worried about you, Tony. I trust you.” He turned around, their eyes locking. “I just don’t trust them.”
“You trust Nat.”
“That’s because I now know she won’t jump you.“
Tony let out a scoff. “And what? You think the other ones will? Like you said, they are gods and I’m just…”
“Tony Stark.” Stephen took a couple of strides closer. “THE Tony Stark.”
The billionaire smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “That means nothing here, Doc.” He quickly set his gaze to the flooring. “I’m just… someone who pays for all the shiny new things. I don’t measure up to them. They are heroes. Like… real heroes.”
Stephen reached forward, fingers settling under the other’s chin to coax him to look up. “I wish you stop doing that…” Then added as an afterthought. “I also hate how they are making you feel…”
“…Sometimes I don’t even understand how I got you.” It was just barely above a whisper.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “Forget. Delete. I’m just being dramatic. Just probably tired and too much-“
“Tony. Stop.” Stephen said it as gently as possible but that didn’t stop the genius from flinching slightly.
It’s been a thing as of late. Since Loki’s invasion, something in Tony changed a little. There was more jumpiness, anxiety, and nervousness… Of course, the whole city was sort of going through a sort of PTSD. No one can blame them after all that happened, all they have seen… But for some reason, Stephen had not expected that from Tony.
He always saw Tony as strong. Too strong. Someone who had always been the one to shoulder the burden and made it look effortless. Perhaps he should not have forgotten, Tony was human too.
The doctor tugged at the other’s hips, flushing their bodies together as their lips locked. It was gentle, slow-paced, languidly enjoying each other’s warmth. Tony automatically relaxed, the tension starting to slip away as he closed his eyes.
When they parted, a smirk formed on the brunette. “You know… if you are so worried… you can tie something on here that sends a very clear signal I’m taken-“ Tony lifted his left hand to the other’s eye level, wiggling the ring finger teasingly.
That… stunned Stephen for a split second.
He confess it wasn’t as if the thought never occurred to him before. There was no harm in indulging in a little daydream once in a while. But he had always assumed that Tony would never be willing to go for such commitment. This whole monogamous relationship thing was a miracle for the billionaire as it was.
Perhaps it was the odd look in Stephen’s expression, Tony’s playful gaze shattered in an instant. “I- damn I didn’t- It was more of a joke. Bad joke- I just thought it would be…nevermind.”
“It would be what?”
Tony ruffled his hair as he set his sights to the far end of the room. “I don’t know- Something you might be interested in? I mean… let’s be real here, babe, you can be incredibly possessive at times. I thought the idea of tying the knot, claiming someone as your’s… might be right up your alley.”
“It… admittedly is.” Stephen had gotten a hold of the other’s hand in his, removing them from the brown locks. The surgeon absentminded started to play with the area around Tony’s ring finger. Feeling the shiver that ran throughout the body of the smaller male as he held him still.
The doctor let out a soft laughter. “So… are you… what? Asking me to ask you… to marry me?”
“No.” That surprisingly sounded a lot more confident this time.
The next second, Tony gave light push making Stephen take a step back. He watched with curiosity as his boyfriend quickly strode across the room, crouched next to the fireplace, dug around underneath. Soon, Tony pulled out a small box from the tiny space between the furniture and the flooring.
He frowned, though amused, as the billionaire started walking back, a grin on his face.
“I’m asking you actually.” There was a pause, the smile didn’t falter but there was something more serious that underlined the whiskey brown eyes. “… Stephen Vincent Strange… Will you marry me?”
The doctor let out a brief laugh, joyous, effortless, with a touch of nerves that were starting to hit. He felt his heart skip a beat as he stared into the other’s intense gaze. Distinct warmth spreading throughout his body that felt it can melt his very soul.
The next heartbeat, their bodies were intertwined once more as Tony nearly leaped into his arms. This time the kiss was intense, passionate.
For someone who always known he can be vain and very materialistic, Stephen didn’t even bother to glance at the ring. He currently already had what he wanted in his hands.
He soon grabbed firmly at Tony’s thighs, turning them around and lifting the other onto the table. Tony laughed as he felt the doctor hurriedly claw at his clothes, his own legs wrapping around Stephen’s waist.
“You know half the wall is blown out in this room-“
Stephen smirked as he stared directly into Tony’s eyes, just before he pulled away the other’s shirt and started on the pants. “Let them stare. I’m about to let all of New York know who you belong to-“
Caught up in the heat of the moment, they both did not hear the soft ding of the elevator before it opened.
That was a voice Stephen did not recognize.
Tony looked up hastily, his eyes locking with Steve Rogers who stood frozen just outside the elevator doors.
There were exactly two seconds of the blonde trying to comprehend the scene in front of him before... “OH GOD-“
Stephen quickly reached for his blazer that he tossed aside earlier, throwing it over Tony’s bare shoulder, covering the other’s body before turning around. Though by then the Captain had his back turned, seemingly trying to press the elevator button at a rapid pace.
“I- I am so SO sorry! I didn’t- I didn’t know you had company-“
Tony chuckled as he shook his head. “Rogers, it’s okay,” he called out. “Just knock next time.”
“Y-YOU CALLED ME HERE!”
Oh, Stephen can literally hear the blushing in that tone. Even completely turned, he can see the man’s ears have gone completely red. The doctor let out a quiet huff of laughter, very much entertained at the idea of Captain America being flustered out of his mind.
“OH RIGHT- …blueprint-“ It just occurred to Tony he texted Steve to come see the plans. Moments before he was distracted by Stephen’s impromptu visit that completely strayed his attention.
“Yes, the damn blueprint, Stark!“
“Language, Captain,” he teased.
The elevator’s door finally opened and Steve tripped on his way in.
“SORRY!” Tony called out, though couldn’t stop grinning. “I really am!”
“NO, YOU’RE NOT!” The blonde had a hand to his temple, perhaps to hide his own flushed face or to block his view. He seemed very intent on keeping his gaze to the ground. “I-I’ll just come back later-“
The elevator clicked shut and Stephen turned back towards his boyfriend… no, fiancé, with an exasperated laugh, shaking his head slightly. “So… that’s Captain America…”
“See- nothing to worry about,” Tony replied as he once again wrapped his arms around the other’s neck. “I’m not into blondes-“
Stephen raised an eyebrow. “You’re very into blondes. That’s your usual type. Fair-haired, blue eyes. I was the weird exception.”
The billionaire shrugged. “Maybe my taste changed.”
Stephen gave him a look.
“No seriously!” Tony said with faux, but thoroughly convincing, innocence. “You would think between the shiny golden locks and baby blue-eyed demi-god and my childhood hero I wouldn’t know where else to look during the Invasion but you should have seen Thor’s brother. Tall, dark, handsome. I offered him a drink actually-“
“I’m seriously reconsidering that proposal, Anthony.”
“I’M KIDDING!” The brunette let out a nervous laugh before draping his arms around the doctor once more. “Here, let me make it up to you-“ He pulls Stephen towards him, claiming the other’s lips firmly, his hands traveling downwards to the belt.
“So,” the surgeon said in between kisses. “under the fireplace-“
Tony pulled back a bit clearing his throat. “Yeah well… remember all your short jokes at me? Reversed. Figured you probably would see it if it… was… that low-“
“Peter?” the doctor gave a firm knocking, waited, then slowly pushed the door open.
The room was pitch dark as he entered carefully. Peter clearly still sleeping, bundled up in thick blankets. He knelt down next to the foot of the bed, a hand gently on the shoulder of the child giving a light shake. “Peter, breakfast is almost ready…”
This was one of the few days out of the week he or Tony went out of their way to wake up the boy. Most of the time they did not even enter the room unless given permission. But Peter had insisted on regular Sunday breakfast together and last time they had let the teen sleep thinking they were being kind… they were given cold shoulder for the rest of the week.
But before he could say another word, something… or someone… shot up from the other side of the bed.
Stephen grabbed a hold of Peter by the collar of his pajama, giving a harsh pull back, basically throwing the teen behind him. The spiderling certainly woke up as he hit the ground in a harsh thud and a groan.
But Stephen only stood to his feet, conjuring up a shield as he faced the unknown form… till he realized…
Harley, who now was rubbing his eyes, turned towards the sorcerer with a frown. His messy hair covered much of his face. “Why are you being so fucking loud?”
Stephen had a definite exasperated look but deactivated his magic none-the-less. “Why…? When did you get here?”
Peter let out yet another groan as he tried to lift himself up.
The doctor spun around, hastily helping the teen. “Sorry- Are you alright?“ he muttered.
“I’m fine- Just… not a fun way to wake up, Doctor Dad-“
Harley let out a snort before looking down at his makeshift bed on the floor, as if contemplating on going back to sleep.
Now that Stephen was getting a better look at the situation, it seemed as though Harley had claimed a spot on the floor to sleep in. A spare comforter, pillow, blanket, laid on the ground in the space between Peter’s bed and the opposite wall. Why the teen didn’t just go use one of the many spare guest rooms when he had full access to FRIDAY’s security system was still a mystery.
“Does Tony know you are here?”
Stephen paused. “…Shouldn’t you let him know?”
“I tried to.”
“He got here Friday night,” said Peter half-heartedly as he crawled himself back onto his bed, plopping down with a grunt.
The doctor continued to look back and forth between the two teens with a frown. Realizing the sorcerer would not drop the subject, Harley rolled his eyes.
“Pete, cover your ears.”
Peter looked up at the blonde with a frown. “Why?“
Harley glared. “Because I said so.”
“Just do it, Peter.” Stephen added sternly before the spiderling can make another retort.
With a dramatic sigh, Peter plugged his ears tightly with his fingers.
That snapped both Harley and Stephen back to glaring at each other.
“I got here Friday night,” Harley said slowly as if trying to make some emphasis.
Stephen crossed his arms. “It’s Sunday morning. You were here two days without letting us know?”
“I tried,” the teen hissed. “Do you remember what you were doing Friday night? Or whom?”
That… snapped Stephen’s memory. He closed his eyes with a slight grimace as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
Stephen, himself, had arrived back at the compound Friday early evening. After so much time apart, he and Tony fell into bed almost immediately, and as usual, the several rounds of sex lasted well into the night.
Then the mid-morning came and… the proposal… Well, technically he supposed it wasn’t exactly “the” proposal considering this was their second time run at this. But none-the-less, after that Stephen didn’t exactly let Tony out of his sight.
Harley sighed. “And seriously? You both didn’t even leave the room yesterday. And I know what you two would be doing all day locked in a room-“
“I-I get the point!” he snapped. Stephen hated to admit but his voice stuttered. A habit he hasn’t done since god knows when. The doctor tried to take few deep breath hoping to regain his composure. “…Why didn’t you take one of the guest rooms? You could at least have had a bed...”
Harley just waved a hand dismissively. “I’m not used to having so much space.”
There was an awkward pause as the doctor tried to not read too much into those words. He knew that tone, one that screamed not to ask further questions.
“Can I stop this now? Please? I want breakfast-” whined the other teen.
Their attention turned back to Peter and Stephen gave a nod and half-hearted wave for the boy to relax.
“Here… let’s all just go eat- Tony must be waiting…” Then with another sigh, the sorcerer straightened up, motioning for the two teens to do the same.
Stephen turned his attention back to Harley once more but despite calling out, the kid now seemed intent on not meeting his eyes. The doctor looked towards Peter only for him to purse his lips shut, looking quickly away as well.
“…What’s going on?”
That was when Harley reached over, flicking on a light switch. As the room splashed with warm light, now Stephen saw, very clearly, a visible bruise on Harley’s left eye, split lip, and dozen of other smaller cuts.
He simply stared, expressionless.
“I had an accident.”
“Accident...” he repeated flatly.
“I was distracted. On my phone. Collided with a bicyclist and landed badly on the pavement.”
Stephen didn’t speak any further. He had to give where credit was due, however, Harley delivered the lie quite convincingly. Not many fully understood the concept of lying well. Not too much detail but not too little, reasonably convincing excuse, confident tone but not too much to the point of defensiveness… If he didn’t know any better he may have just believed the teen.
“I don’t want Tony to worry… I know… you can help- …magic… cover, heal, whatever-“
“You want me to lie to Tony… about your well being. You, his kid,” the sorcerer’s voice was surprisingly even still.
Harley rolled his eyes. “Come on, he’s not going to do anything to you even if he does find out- We all know he forgives you for just about everything.“
Stephen narrowed his eyes. This child clearly underestimated Tony's protective streak. Stephen, however, did not have a death wish. “Oh, he will kick me to the curve. This is different. You two are his priority before I, do you understand?”
He heard Peter gulp off to the side, clearly tensing up now.
The blonde seemed to not know what else to do next, he continued to glare at a corner of the room, hands reaching up to roughly ruffle his own hair in frustration.
“Peter…” The doctor turned towards the younger teen. “Go downstairs. Tell Tony we’ll be there in a minute. Don’t tell him… about this… yet.”
Peter, wide-eyed, nodded before darting out from the bed and out the door.
They remained still for another minute, then two. Harley seemed to be at a loss for words, for once, but Stephen knew better than to think it was due to him. It was clear in many ways that the teen hardly cared much for most people’s opinion… much less his father’s boyfriend he didn’t fully approve of still.
Stephen let out a sigh, running a hand over his face, pacing slightly as he thought.
“I’ll just leave,” Harley said coldly as he stood to his feet. He quickly grabbed for a bag nearby, shoving a handful of books that littered around.
“Hey!“ Stephen reached for the kid’s shoulder but Harley twisted away sharply.
“Look, I get it, okay?” he said throwing up his arms before letting it drop to his sides. “You don’t want to stick your neck out. I wouldn’t either. …I’ll just come back in couple weeks when this-“ He motioned to his face. “looks a bit better.”
“I’m not going to let you leave here after seeing that,” the sorcerer stated in exasperation. A definite frown settled on his face.
After a moment, he took a deep breathe, stepping closer to the teen. He waved a hand near the boy’s face, a green glow emitting from his fingers. In split seconds, the wounds started to heal at a rapid rate.
“Thanks,” Harley muttered, realizing the pain was completely gone now.
“I’m not condoning you to lie to him,” he said firmly. “It was simply unnecessary in having you be in pain any longer… nor for him to break his heart seeing the actual wounds… You still will tell him. Today. Or I will.”
The teen let out a huff before slightly nodding, though grudgingly. Then, he started towards the door as well.
Harley stopped dead in his tracks.
“Control it. If not for yourself, for everyone around you. You think that pain was bad? It’s nothing compared to what those who care about you will have to endure because of you… who will bleed every time they see you bleed.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.“
“I know wounds from a fistfight when I see one.”
The sharp heels clicked softly as she strode over to an open table. The waiter quickly pulled the seat for her and she sat down gracefully.
“Cosa vuole da bere?” What would you like to drink? the waiter asked.
“Un vino rosso, per favore. Nero d’Avola,” A red wine, please. Nero d’Avola. the redhead replied in well-versed Italian. She crossed her legs, the hem of her dress rising just a little.
“Oh, you’re drinking alone? This is… in Rome, not in the law.” It was in English but with a heavy accent.
Natasha noted the voice. The elegant long neck, accentuated by the sophisticated updo, turning ever so slightly as she set her sights. Two men in stylish suits sat at the next table, both smiling at her now.
She fixed them with an impassive stare. “Ma è legale disturbare una donna?” But it’s legal to bother a woman? It was smooth in delivery, perfect down to the last syllable.
Both looked impressed.
“Parli molto bene l'italiano.” You speak Italian very well.
“Grazie.” Thank you.
He went on with a smirk. “What are you doing tonight? I’ll show you the city.”
The other gave his friend an exasperated look. “He’ll show you the city,” he repeated mockingly. Then turned towards the redhead once more. “He’s not Roman. He’s a bumpkin.”
The corner of her lips twitches upwards. “Where are you from?”
“Naples. …It’s so beautiful. Like you.”
Natasha’s lips form a small smirk as she reached for a cigarette, putting it to her lips while searching for a lighter. As if on cue, one of the men holds out a lighter for her. She leans slightly, taking the light. A short inhale and she blows out the smoke in a long drawl, the cigarette between her two fingers in a delicate hold. “Grazie.”
“If I were that cigarette in your mouth, I would die of happiness.”
She raises an eyebrow, giving one unimpressed stare.
But before they can form any more thoughts, they noticed that her attention was led strayed. Following her gaze, it landed on a man with dark wind swiped hair, sunglasses even at this hour, walking towards their direction dressed in an expensive three-piece suit.
Natasha glanced slightly away as the man easily sat at the next table. Other side of the two Italian's, divided by her table in the middle.
The newcomer took off his sunglasses as he settled, “Whiskey, neat.” He called out to a waiter before fixing his gaze towards the redhead.
She stared back, a sly smile playing on her lips.
“May I join you?” Tony asked with a smirk.
“Yankee. Hey, go home!” blurted out one of the men from the opposite side. But before he can go on his friend muttered, “He’s an American billionaire-“
She tried her best to suppress a laugh before glancing towards the two Italians.
“Vecchio… e brutto,” He’s old... and ugly. One said with a smirk to her, vaguely gesturing to Tony.
The genius let out a snort but didn’t bother to make a retort. Natasha turned her attention to him once more, their eyes locking.
A smile played on Tony’s lips, a look of impressive sincerity visible in those expressive brown eyes. “I’m only in Rome for one night.” He said in a low tone. Confidence etched in them. “I won’t have my heart broken.”
Natasha smiled, amused, playing along silently.
Behind her, the two men let out a sigh, throwing up their hands in exasperation as they muttered to one another. But they soon became completely silent as Tony stood to his feet swiftly, pulling out the seat next to Natasha’s at her table, sitting down casually.
The waiter arrived just in time, setting a glass in front of the billionaire.
“Room 616,” Tony said to the waiter.
She gave him a very suggestive look. “That’s right near my room.”
Having no choice but to admit defeat, the two men huffed, muttered, then stood to their feet.
“Good Night, Signorina,” one said dejectedly in a mock bow as they both walked away.
The two Avengers sat quietly for another minute then Tony raised his glass in a mock toast, “To whatever they were saying-“
“You know exactly what they were saying, Tony,” Natasha retorted with a smirk. “...How you were ugly… and old.”
Tony let out a small laugh, taking a swig of his drink. “Does that bother you?” he said playfully, raising a brow.
The redhead gives him a teasing glance, looking sarcastically offended. “You think because of the way I’m dressed that I’m shallow?”
Tony doesn’t miss a beat. “I was just hoping you were easy.”
A moment and the two broke into soft laughter.
“Nice dress though,” he said after they settled once more. “You look amazing by the way.”
The redhead gave the engineer a look, taking a sip of her wine. “Don’t let Stephen hear you say that. I don’t want to deal with any more of his passive-aggressiveness.“
“Stephen? Passive-aggressive? No… he’s just outright aggressive.” Tony said with exaggerated seriousness. They exchange a knowing smile before he went on. “…I thought you turned in for the night, Red. If you wanted a drink you could have called me up. Unless you really were trying to land a lay but… come on, they were beneath you-”
Natasha smiled, “I was just trying to blend in. I thought you would still be on a call with the pretty doctor.”
He snorted. “You… blending in? In that look?” A short pause. “He had a hospital emergency. The call got cut short. Plus we’re probably heading back tomorrow anyway. This mission was a bust.”
“Well,” she said as she leaned back a little. “Sit here for a bit then. You’re a pretty good deterrent I realized.”
There was a comfortable silence between them as each enjoyed their drink and the open air. Though quite late into the evening, there seems to be no shortage of customers at the outdoor bar. Soft sounds of music filling the calm air, the laughter and chatter of pedestrians mixing with soft clutter of glass and silverware.
Eventually, however, she glanced towards her teammate only to realize the billionaire’s attention was fixed on a family by the large fountain at a good distance. Two small boys were tossing coins into the water while the parents watched.
“Having second thoughts?”
Tony snapped back towards her. “What?”
“I saw the ring.”
“Oh… Did you-“
“The team doesn’t know. Nor does SHIELD. But you should inform them soon if you two are serious about it,” she replied with a small smile. For some reason, he believes her. “He doesn’t want kids still, does he?”
“Guess not," Tony replied nonchalantly.
“Do you want kids?”
She gives him a look. “You sure?”
Tony looked down at his drink, swirling his glass absentmindedly. “I don’t know… But what I do know is… I want him.”
There was a pause before she reached out, a hand to near his, palms up. Quietly, he sets the glass down, placing his hand over hers. They smiled.
They both looked up quickly, eyes falling onto a very familiar blonde. Tony’s smile slipped slightly as he realized an odd look on Steve’s expression.
Natasha side-eyed between the two subtly.
“I…” Steve paced a little, eyes darting about before meeting their’s. A frown appeared on his face as his sight then lands on their interlocked fingers. “Are you two…”
“No,” they both said in unison, separating in an instant.
“Oh. Uh…” Steve cleared his voice. The small crease between his brows disappearing. “We’re leaving in the AMs back to New York. Just got the call. Seems it may have been a false alert here and Fury wants us back ASAP.”
Tony stared at the Captain for another couple seconds, before taking a quick glance to Natasha’s direction. Gears turning rapidly.
“Great,” he blurted out after a while with his trademark smirk. He gulped down the rest of his drink in one go and stood to his feet in a hurry. “I’ll turn in for the night then. Old man needs his rest. You two kids have fun-“
Steve briefly looked confused, mouth opening to form words without anything coming out.
“W-wait what?” he said eventually but Tony already gave him a firm pat on the shoulder and left. All the while, giving Natasha a teasing smirk.
Steve stood there frozen. Watched as Tony walked away then quickly turned towards Natasha. “I-…“
Natasha gave him a knowing look. “Steve. Sit down.”
The Captain gaped at her, eyes wide. “I- he-… I’m sorry I don’t-“
She rolled her eyes. “I know you don’t like me that way, Steve. Stop freaking out and sit down.”
He swallowed, hard. Still looking a bit flustered as he took a seat opposite her’s.
“He’s way off, I swear-“ the blonde started but was quickly cut off.
“You like him.”
“Don’t worry, it’s kind of cute.” She gave him a half-hearted shrug.
Steve stiffened in an instant.
“The whole team knows you have a crush on him, Cap. Well everyone except Tony it seems like-“
Natasha gave an exasperated huff. “Steve, you give him the puppy-dog eye every time he walks into the room. You two bicker every other day but once he walks away upset, you look like someone took a stab at you in the guts. You always jump in when Fury yells at him about… anything. You make every excuse in the book for him to spend time with you. I refuse to believe you really managed to break your phone five times in two weeks. …You look like a kicked puppy whenever he leaves to spend time with Stephen…”
“I…” He shook his head. “I’m…not…”
Natasha sighed as she leaned in a little. “But that’s… all it has to be, Steve. You do understand that, right Cap?”
“I know,” he said a little too quickly.
“The world needs the Avengers. Iron Man is good for the team… if something happens to jeopardize-“
“I know!” Steve’s gaze darted up, a bit taken aback himself at his own outburst. “I.. I’m sorry-“
She just nodded without a word.
He looked away, running a hand through his hair nervously. “…I think… I met him. Tony’s boyfriend-… well not exactly met-“
“Did you walk in on them? Don’t worry I did that plenty of times. You’ll get used to it.”
Steve chokes on air.
“You’re… dropping out…”
“No… just taking a year off.”
“Why?... just… WHY.”
Peter glanced at Stephen from the opposite side of the table but the sorcerer just shook his head subtlely, silently telling the teen to stay quiet and not get involved.
“Harley, I don’t ask a lot from you. I let you do whatever the fuck you goddamn want 99% of the time. I support you in whatever you want to do-“
“Then support me now!”
“I asked for one thing. ONE thing! I just wanted you to finish your education!”
“Oh come on! You brazenly partied your way through college and grad school!”
“I STILL GOT MY DEGREE! In fact, I don’t flaunt it like someone here, but I have three doctorates. I don’t care what you do with the extra time, kid. You’re smart enough. You won’t even have to put in that many hours. Just get the damn paper!”
“Tony…” Stephen started gently. “It’s just a year-“
“Yeah, why are you being so dramatic about this?!” Harley cuts him off. Then after a moment of silence...“It’s about the will isn’t it?”
That made everyone pause. Both Stephen and Peter looking up while Tony appeared rather stunned.
Harley ruffled his own hair with a sigh. “I-… ran across the paperwork in the lab-“
“You mean you snooped around my stuff-“
“I…” A faint flush came upon his face. “I had a thing, okay?” he said speaking very fast now while making a quick gesture at Peter’s direction. “I really thought maybe you’re leaving everything to him.”
Peter spat out his orange juice but the other teen went on without a care.
“I don’t actually care about the stuff just wanted to know if I just wasn’t in the picture anymore… turns out I’m your successor for SI.”
“What does that have to do with…?” Of course, Stephen suspected something like this to already be in the works. Considering how many near-death experience Tony has had in the past several years, he must have kept up a contingency plan. After all, even with Pepper being the current CEO and having a good amount of control, she did not technically own the majority share of the company. That always remained in the Stark family. And considering Tony didn’t have any biological heirs...
“There is a list of conditions I have to meet to take over Stark Industries,” the boy muttered in answer.
Tony started to sit himself back down, a grimace as he put a hand over his face. “It’s… it’s basic things. Like college education, no felony charge… I know… it’s still not fair.” He let out a heavy sigh. “If you were related to me by blood, the board wouldn’t have even dared… Pepper and I are still fighting it but just… Harley- please…“
“Okay so… I get it. I do. But I have a plan.” Harley stared back in earnest. With a pleasant smile, he clicked threw his phone, pulling out an email, setting it down on the table in front of the engineer. “While I take a year off, I won’t be wasting time. I’ll work. Look, I passed all the entrance tests for working at Stark Industries. Only missed two questions but I really think I’m right actually- I’ll make a case for it later. Anyways- In fact, I was chosen for all the highest internships while competing with people with at least five more years of experience-“
“What-“ Tony’s eyes snapped up.
“Well… of course I forged my name so I won’t get flagged. Did I mention I'm brilliant enough your background checking people couldn't figure out I forged it? But just wanted to prove a point that I can… I can qualify on my own and it’s not some special favoritism-“
A frown came upon the brunette’s face, trying to follow where this was going.
“I just… need you to get me an internship with Pepper instead. A job as her assistant or something… I’ll tail her for business and logistic things and I’ll work with you for the development side. After that, I’ll better know what to pursue in terms of education so I won’t waste time throwing myself at the unnecessary thing.”
Stephen side-eyed Tony. The kid actually thought this out. Even he was impressed.
Tony seemed taken aback as well. But the sorcerer can tell, and by now, he was sure Harley did too… there was something else there.
“Kid… I understand. You’re making sense but…” Tony’s eyes shift, lowering his gaze as he leaned his chin on the palm of his hand. “Just… what if-…”
“It’s just a year,” Harley said, almost pleadingly.
“A lot can happen in a year.”
The teen let out a huff. “I know! That’s why I want to be here! Every god damn time you go out there and nearly get yourself killed I think about how all we do is basically trade texts every ten days!”
That makes Tony hesitate for a brief moment. “I-… Things can happen in a blink of an eye, kid. I can’t always be here to protect you. The sooner you get your own ground where the board can’t even touch you-”
Harley threw his hand up before letting it drop. He gazed at the ceiling, then around the room… then… “It’s not just going to be you on your own anymore. Right?”
Stephen held his breath, trying not to jump to conclusion…
“If you’re so worried about the what if-… by law, he’ll…” he nodded towards Stephen. “have a say in your asset if you can’t-”
“Wait…” Peter perked up from his seat, finally speaking up. “What… is going on…?”
Stephen glanced away and Tony became a bit tongue-tied. They hadn’t really worked out how to tell the two teens but this definitely was not it.
“Well… we… uh…”
Harley beat them to it. “They are getting married, Pete.”
Peter visibly appeared surprised, turning back towards Stephen and Tony, eyes-wide but with a grin.
Tony groaned. “How the hell-“
Harley simply rolled his eyes, leaning back while crossing his arms. “I’m not stupid, you know. Come on, I refused to believe you guys would be cooped up in a room all weekend… for you to not be in the lab once… unless something happened. Besides…” He nodded towards Stephen, who froze from sudden attention on him. “He wouldn’t have pulled the father act earlier unless something secured his position-“
But the teen quickly closed his mouth, exchanging a look with the sorcerer as he realized his slip. The cockiness slipping in a matter of seconds as he muttered a curse.
Tony frowned at his fiancé. “What happened earlier…?”
When no answer came, his gaze fell on Harley, who only glanced up for a split second before looking away, then to Peter, who suddenly seemed very interested in his pancakes once more. Getting impatient, Tony sighed before setting down his fork forcefully with a loud clunk. He savored the way all three of them flinched in unison.
“Stephen,” he said warningly.
“Yes, dear-“ the doctor replied immediately with a sweet smile.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “You do realize that only works on you when it’s me.”
Stephen clicked his tongue. Smile disappearing immediately as he looked away again. “Worth a try-“
“One of you, talk before I lose it.”
Harley gave Stephen one last pleading look that the sorcerer was completely convinced he learned from Tony. He returned it with a solid glare and the teen simply sighed.
The blonde cleared his throat. “I got into an… accident.”
Tony stared at the teen, expression unusually serious. The doctor fixated on his food, half-heartedly thinking someone was definitely getting murdered today and he really rather it not be him.
Recognizing the silence, Harley elaborated hesitantly. “It was… it looked… bad… bruises and cuts… Strange healed it for me earlier… I didn’t… want to worry… you…”
The lack of answer from the teen was already very telling.
Peter choked, coughing loudly excusing himself from the table in a rush. Obviously, done on purpose. Stephen rolled his eyes silently wondering why he didn’t think of that sooner…
“You’re grounded,” Tony’s voice was rising quite rapidly, a particular edge forming. “You’re fucking grounded! …For- till never!“
Harley gives him a look of pure indignation. “For till never…?”
The teen turned to Stephen with exasperation but the doctor didn’t even look up. “You heard your father. …For till never.”
Harley let out a sigh, rolling his eyes. “…So… but this means I can stay, right?”
“YOU LITTLE SH-“
“Agent Romanoff, an incoming call from Director Fury. It’s urgent.”
“Little busy right now-“ She jumped, landing on the roof of the next building.
“Alright,“ Natasha threw her weight behind a wall, the sounds of bullets echoing on the other side. “Patch it through.”
“Agent Romanoff. Strange has been in an accident-“
She stilled. “…How bad-“
“His car drove off the cliff. Emergency surgery. Doesn’t look good. This mission was a set up to get you and Stark away-“
“Does Pepper know?”
“Most likely. The hospital would have called-”
“I need to call you back.” She hung up quickly, switching intercoms. “Tony?”
There was no answer. She looks around for any sign of the flashy armor of red and gold. “I NEED EYES ON TONY!“
“Nat?” It was the Captain’s voice.
“Cap, find Tony! NOW!”
Then they see it. The Iron Man armor crashing through the window of a nearby building, falling five-six story down, hitting the ground with a thud.
“Dammit-“ She jumps.
Natasha stared… stared and stared till she wasn’t sure if she was actually seeing anything anymore. There was ringing in her ear she couldn’t quite shake off… getting louder and louder.
She turned quickly, eyes landing on her best friend. She gave her usual stoic smile.
Clint stares in the same direction. Tony was crying… actually crying, near hysterically, as Steve held most of his weight up.
“They were going to get married.”
That snaps his attention to her once more. “…It’s not your fault.”
“I told him I’d keep the doctor safe. It was my job.”
“And you told the same to Strange about Tony. Nat…We can’t… always win. It’s part of the job. It’s a reality.”
“I know.” She let out a scoff. “…I shouldn’t get attached.”
Clint shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that…”
The redhead frowned.
“Ever wondered why Fury assigned you to them?” he said almost nonchalantly. Natasha knew better than to get offended. Clint always had that tone even when he was being serious. They all had their own ways to cope. “Maybe he wasn’t just testing Tony… He needed to see if you could get attached. To be in a team.”
“How’s that supposed to make any of this better?” she replied flatly.
“It doesn’t.” He let out another sigh. “I’ll go debrief about what happened in the mission. You guys stay here. Bruce already contacted Jane Foster… tried to see if we could somehow reach Thor. Maybe he’ll know some Asgardian… medicine or… something-”
One more squeeze on her shoulder, then he started down the hall.
A second pasted… a minute… then an hour. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure. But Tony looked about the same, crying still… but perhaps that was not the best indication of time. She leaned against the wall, still staring, watching.
She blinked fast, trying to clear her vision. “Fury."
Fury took a few additional steps forward until he was standing next to her. “We need to talk.”
“They are saying he’ll make it. But barely.”
“Not about Strange. We’ll get to that but…” He nodded towards the two co-leaders of Avengers.
She followed his gaze, now noting that Tony had fallen silent finally, though probably lost his voice rather than actually calming down. The brunette was still resting his head on Steve’s shoulder.
“They seem closer.”
Natasha paused for a second. “They had to be. They've been in the front line together for almost a year.”
“We both know that’s not what I meant,” He gives her a look.
She remained silent.
There was a sigh as he walked towards a chair, sitting down. “How much do you know about project TAHITI.”
“Terrestrial Alien Host Integrative Tissue I. Level 9 project designed to revive a fallen Avengers. Shut down when the subjects started losing their minds.”
“Well… we’re completely shutting it down now… for good.”
She straightened up, a frown coming upon her expression. “What do you mean… why was it even revived…? Who… did you test it on?”
There was a chilling silence that followed. Natasha turned around sharply, pacing. “What happened-?“
“We’re still handling the situation. But what you need to know is… it’s being shut down. For good.”
“What does that have to do with this?” her voice remained remarkably blank given the circumstances. “Even if it worked, SHIELD wouldn’t have wasted it on Stephen Strange.”
Fury leaned back against the wall. “We both know who that contingency plan was ultimately designed for.”
There was a pause before…
“So now… we need a new backup plan.”
She let out a short laugh, empty and detached. “Clint… he actually thought you sent me to them so I’ll learn attachment-“
“I did. Originally. … Stark and Strange are intense. They are the type of people that naturally draws out emotions from others. Whether it’s love, hate, anger, sorrow, loyalty…”
She turned back at him abruptly, "Then why now?”
The Director stood to his feet, hands coming to rest on his hips as he slowly walked towards the agent with a heavy sigh.
“Stark… is many things… He’s obsessive, emotional, sometimes borderline unstable… But unlike Strange, his problem was never that he cared too little, it’s that he cared too much. Someone that extreme, that intelligent, but still oddly moral, it’s rare. He’s the type who will do anything to save the one he loves. And he can do... a lot. For now, that focus has been on the doctor. What if, that focus can be re-directed?”
“You…” She spoke slowly, trying to comprehend herself. “You want him to be with Steve… so that he’ll be a martyr if…”
“Romanoff, Tony Stark has always been meant to be a martyr. At least this way, it will be a worthier cause. ...It would also help him to focus a bit more on the Avengers team rather than his attention straying unnecessarily elsewhere.”
She could feel the heartbeat in her ears. She had to try to remember to breathe.
“How are you so sure that he will…” Her mind was racing a mile a minute. Parts of this weren’t making any sense. Nick Fury knew Howard Stark, to plan for his son's… “You said before how important Tony is. You don’t even actually dislike him as much as Tony thinks you do-”
For a split second, he withdrew eye contact, a thin smile coming on his lips as he visibly swallowed.
Natasha took a step forward. “What are you not saying?”
There was a silence that washed over. A quiet only interrupted by footsteps and equipment being moved far away.
“Before… A week prior to Thor’s crazy psycho brother arriving and all hell broke loose... there was a small malfunction involving the Tesseract during a test. I got hit with an energy wave. Flatlined dead for over a minute. But what I saw was more than just one minute.”
He sighed as he paced. “I saw flashes of what seemed to be alternate realities. I admit, I only saw bits and pieces…” he let out a scoff. “Maybe because I’m just human. Couldn’t handle the energy." he let out a short laugh. "…But what I saw of worlds without Captain America. When he had fallen. Trust me, one life is a very small price to pay-“
Natasha continued to stare, mouth slightly a gap, questioning.
He gives her a look. “Considering the things we saw, does this really seem far fetched?”
When their eyes meet next, her mouth felt incredibly dry, her voice hoarse. “Did… Tony… in other worlds-“
“Most of the time, yes.”
“Yes. …Without hesitation.”
“Were there times he didn’t?”
But she already knew the answer. It comes out in a whisper, “…When he’s in love with Stephen Strange.” A whisper, more to herself.
After several seconds, she walks to the nearest wall, leaning and sliding down to a sitting position. A hand coming up to her temple. She can feel the massive headache forming. “We’re ruining… their lives. We're potentially messing with fate-”
“Even without the Captain in the picture… Strange will not recover from this. Not really. As of now, he just became Stark’s greatest weakness. A very public weakness. In this line of work… one day, Stark will undoubtedly die protecting the doctor. And what a waste that would be..."
There was a short pause before Fury went on. “No one can know about this, Agent Romanoff. Not Barton, not the team… certainly not the Captain.” he let out a harsh sigh. “We make the hard decisions, so other people don’t have to.”
They walked silently down the corridor, their footsteps echoing softly. Tony was dressed in one of his dark grey three-piece suits, fidgeting to re-adjust his cufflinks, Stephen in his full sorcerer robes.
Surprisingly, at least to Tony, Stephen seemed very calm, composed as ever. But as if sensing his nerves, the corner of the sorcerer’s cloak wrapped around Tony’s shoulder. The engineer smiled, giving the red fabric a soft stroke.
As they neared the double doors, they both came to a stop. A silence, then Tony reached for the handle.
Tony let out a small huff. “…You sure about this?”
There was a pause. “…You remember what it was like? You won’t be able to get a moment of peace… the press… the questions… the stares…”
Stephen let out a low chuckle. “Well, now if I get irritated I’ll just magic myself away.”
Tony shook his head with a small smile.
“It’ll be fine, Tony.”
That made him glance up, eyes meeting the sorcerer’s piercing gaze.
“It was a small price to pay… hell, maybe I even enjoyed the attention back then.” The doctor threaded his fingers in the other’s hair, giving it a light stroke. “After Thanos the existences of sorcerers are not exactly a secret. I already had a talk with Wong about the details… The public already knows the Sorcerer Supreme exists within the Avengers…”
“It’s just… this is a different type of scrutiny-“
“It seemed like your life was finally more peaceful… away from me.”
“Would you like for this to stay in the quiet?”
Tony looks at him directly in the eyes. “I want what you want.”
There was a pause. Then the sorcerer leaned down to claim the other’s lips in a brief, chaste kiss. “I want to be part of your life. In every way. I can finally do that… if you let me.”
Tony smiled, sincere and honest. “Okay.”
Another silent exchange of a look, Tony pulled the door open.
The sudden noise of a crowd filled the air as they yelled for his attention. Cameras flashed, there was spew of questions being thrown as the pair made their way to the center podium of the pressroom.
But as soon as the billionaire spoke, they all fell quiet. “As you may already be aware who this is next to me… Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme… who fought by my side and played a key role during the battle with Thanos, a hero… and recent addition to Avengers team. There have undoubtedly been speculations in regards to his past or association to the other popular name of ‘Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange’, who appeared frequently in the press over a decade ago... many time, alongside mine.” He paused, taking a quick glance towards his right at Stephen’s direction. “I’m confirming now that he is the same person. And today, we are announcing our engagement-“
The muttering soon became shouts as questions were being yelled from left and right. Many stood to their feet, reaching over as far as they can. The flashes of cameras nearly blinding them as the reporters and cameraman pushed and shoved.
Tony still calmly went on. “No date has been set but it will be a private affair amongst family and close friends.”
“Mr. Stark, when did you two get back together?”
“Was this a recent affair-“
“What about Captain America-“
“Doctor Strange, how did you jump from being a neurosurgeon to-“
Stephen ignores them as he stepped closer, pulling Tony in by the waist. As they share a kiss, the flashing of lights became near excessive, brightening up the room like no other times before.
As they broke apart shortly with a smile, a certain blonde reporter manages to get just a little closer, staring directly at the sorcerer. “How does it feel to be have landed arguably the most eligible bachelor of our time, some might consider you to be the luckiest man alive-“
But before Stephen could even try to make a reply, Tony lightly pushed forward, saying directly into the recorder, “Pretty damn amazing. Not even sure how I did it.”
Behind him, Stephen let out a huff of laughter and Tony’s sight lands on the far end of the room. At the back corner, slightly away from the crowd stood Pepper, Happy, Rhodes with Peter and Harley… all laughing and smiling at him.
Clint got up immediately at the shout, at Sam. “What’s going on-“
“No idea. Maybe downstairs?” Hawkeye slowly stood to his feet from the couch, realizing the odd look in the other. “Hey, where’s the fire?”
Sam let out a sigh. “Turn on the news.”
Clint reached for the remote, turning on the TV quickly. “…ah shit-“
Sam paced a bit before running a hand over his face with a groan. “I’m going to find him just in case he does anything stupid-“
Clint nodded. Then stood in silence as he watched the other leave the room in a sprint. He eventually turned back towards the flat screen, a moment... then plopped onto the couch once more…the corner of his lips twitching upward as he closed his eyes.